In May 1999, Pendragon released two Archive CDs, called "Once Upon a Time in England". These two CDs consist of material from 1978 onwards... Some of these recordings have been released as "The Beginners Tapes", but have never been available on CD. Other tracks have been added on special request. This is Volume One...
The Pleasure Of Hope
Derk: Live version for the BBC Radio One Friday Rock show in 1983. This track later appeared on the The Jewel album and is presented here very close to its final version.
JJ: This is a great starter of the album. It is remarkable how close Pendragon already was to its definite sound, two years before the first album was released. Great rhythm and lovely keyboards.
Derk: Demo from 1982, sound quality is not too good. Musically it reminds me of IQ's Seven Stories into Eight if you want a comparison. Aggressive vocals by Nick Barrett. Well, suffice it to say that such a singing style is not his strongest point.
JJ: Although the sound is a bit 'thin', this song starts off in a great way. I especially like the long instrumental introduction. I wouldn't mind to hear a re-recording of this track at all. The combination of keys and guitars is very nice. I can imagine it was a 'bummer' for the band when keyboardplayer Barnfield left. The end is simple but very nice.
Derk: Quite a heavy track. Probably the closest thing to metal that Pendragon have ever done! Nice keyboard melody in the middle of the song. In the booklet Nick says about this song "Lyrics not a strong point!" and I must agree. The widdly intro and ending of this song are a bit Yes-ish.
JJ: This song is from the same period and I think I am used to the sound at this point already. The introduction is very nice, keys and guitars do different things but still it fits together. At two-and-a-half minute there's a break, after which a slower and lesser interesting part follows. The end is great again though.
Dawn in Vienna
Derk: One of the "newer" songs on the album, this one is from 1987. Short instrumental ballad. Features just Nick on guitars and keyboards.
JJ: The atmosphere is very nice, lovely acoustic guitars. A great contrast with the former song. I wouldn't mind such a resting point on every Pendragon album.
The Pleasure of Hope (piano/vocal version)
Derk: Recorded by what comes closest to Pendragon's current line-up, missing only drummer Fudge Smith. I actually think this version has more going for it than the original. Very nice!
JJ: This version doesn't have the power of the 'electric' version. The vocals get much more attention, especially the "Goodbye Hope"-phrase is very nice. Still I miss the nice keyboard-melody of the '83 version.
Catch Me If You Can
Derk: "THAT Moog sound", Nick exclaims in the booklet, and indeed at times it seems like Patrick Moraz is making a guest appearance on this song. Actually it is John Barnfield with whom Nick formed the writing team during Pendragon's early years. Nigel Harris, the drummer for the The Jewel album, sings lead.
JJ: Since this is an '81-recording sound quality is much lesser than the previous two songs. The keyboard-part is very nice and it's funny to hear Pendragon as a two-guitar band (Peter Gee playing rhythm guitar at the time). The breaks feature acoustic guitar-chords combined with the on-going keyboard-theme. Nice!
Derk: One of the oldest tracks on the album, harking back to the late seventies. Very Camelesque, has some really nice parts. Quite acceptable sound quality for such an old song, too.
JJ: Very funky/jazzy guitar-chords to start with, with a keyboard-lead that indeed reminds me of Camel. Julian Baker (rhythm-guitarist at the time) who wrote the song, can also be heared on lead-vocals. The melody of the vocals is not to inspiring. The instrumental parts are nice though.
Derk: This song could have made it to the The (B)Rest of Pendragon compilation album. The vocals are a bit weird though.
JJ: For some reason, I think I recognise the introduction-theme. The chorus is not much more than one (repeated) sentence. Besides a nice instrumental middle part, one of the lesser songs on the album.
Derk: First part of the song reminds me of Camel again. Apart from the vocal parts, which are a bit too poppy for my taste (luckily Nick admits as much in the booklet!) this song has some really nice bits.
JJ: Very funky guitar-chords again. Sound quality is quite good. Especially the bass-lines are much better audible than on other tracks from that time ('80). The guitar-break, followed by a keyboard-solo, is very nice. Nick is singing a bit too high here and there.
Dream Of Tomorrow
Derk: Again a very old track (1978), written by the drummer Nigel Harris. Pretty good track, more AOR than prog though.
JJ: Another 'Camel-esque' song, not unlike Melody. Vocals, again by the writer of song, are not the strongest part (especially the chorus). It also shows that Nick really became the singer by accident. The middle part of the song is slower and bluesier than the rest. Nice!
Stan and Ollie
Derk: This was sort of like Pendragon's Market Square Heroes. A song that, when played live, can really get a crowd going. Longest track on the album, clocking in at over ten minutes.
Pendragon actually resurrected this song live for their 1999 mini-tour celebrating the release of the rarities albums!
JJ: After a long keyboard-intro and a fun guitar-solo, the song slows down after 3-and-a-half minutes and the vocals come in. Unlike most of the other tracks I think the vocals are quite good here. There are several rhythm changes in the song but the main theme is always returning after a few bars.
I wonder why this one has never been used on a (live) album before. Since the resurrection of the song this might happen in the future. This time with a bigger audience ;-)!
Loving The Stranger
Derk: Very poppy track, quite unremarkable, this has nothing to do with what Pendragon is about.
JJ: Although this is one of the more recent tracks ('88), it doesn't sound as good as it could have done. It's poppy, but in a nice way. Nick's doing everything here, including programmed drums. Very 80's!
Eye For An Eye
Derk: In the booklet Nick says that they decided that they would leave this kind of songs to bands like Bon Jovi. Well, that's probably the band this songs reminds me of. This is exactly the kind of poprock that I think has nothing going for it.
JJ: I think the 'Eye for an Eye'-phrase has been used by Nick somewhere else, but it's very catchy here as well. The banjo in the chorus is funny. Again everything has been done by Nick himself. It's a nice joyful song. The funniest thing are the 'Michael Jackson'-like vocals. Wooh-how!
Is This Life?
Derk: Yeah, Pendragon jumps in on the bandwagon of white reggae bands of the late seventies, early eighties. Although this track does have its moments, overall I can't really warm up to it.
JJ: It's really a pity this CD ends with this track, because it has very little to go for. I would have put Stan and Ollie at this spot.
Derk: This disc has some really nice songs on it, especially the piano/vocal version of The Pleasure Of Hope, Stan And Ollie, Dream of Tomorrow, and Dawn In Vienna. On the other hand I must say that this album is not very suitable for the new or occasional Pendragon fan. A lot of the tracks come from old demos and as such the sound quality isn't too good on most of them, and there is a reason that most have not appeared on subsequent studio albums. So if you're new to pendragon, start with the last three studio albums and then work your way back through the years, and finally some back to this one, Once Upon A Time In England, Volume 1.
Having said that, this disc is a must for the real Pendragon fans since it reveals a part of Pendragon's musical history that has not been available on CD before.
JJ: If you keep in mind that this is an archives-album, it's a nice album. What bothers me is not the sound-quality, but the changes in sound-quality. This is a result of the fragmented way of presenting the songs. Since this apparently is a 'fans'-album, I would present things from the same era (same line-up) together. Sound-quality differences would be less annoying than when you try to 'mask' them by mixing good and bad things. Overall I like the instrumental side of most songs a lot, especially the Camel-esque songs. The vocal-side of Pendragon still had to develop, but this happened soon after Nick was the definite choice of the band.
Therefore, two marks:
For Pendragon fans: 7
For others: 5