Although original keyboard player Robert Webb has been keeping the England flag waving for a long time, only recently the band found their way to Bandcamp, making their recordings available there as well. As a music fan, I stopped buying CDs and shifted to vinyl and digital releases in at least 16/44.1, so for me this move was very welcome.
With only their second album having been reviewed here on DPRP, we feel that this is a good time to give the music a little more coverage.
A few years ago, after the 2015 reissue of Garden Shed, I collected all the information I could find about the reissues, remasters, and bonus tracks. That became useful when preparing for these reviews, so I gathered some more recent info as well. A lot has been said about the music already, so I wanted to tell a bit about the differences between the released versions.
Taking notes, it became so confusing that I just had to make an inventory first. So here we go. These are the recordings used on the albums reviewed here:
- 1975: The Imperial Hotel
- early 1976, Olympic Studios: Three Piece Suite (first version) and Mister Meener
- late 1976, Air Studios: songs on the original Garden Shed album plus the single B-side Nanagram
- late 1976, Ridge Farm Rehearsal Studios: Ridge Farm
- 1977, Surrey Sound Studios: songs used on Last Of The Jubblies (Creepin' Instrumental, A One-Legged Day Tale, Tooting Bec Rape Case, Sausage Pie)
- 1976 or 1977, rehearsal at Hazlett Theatre, Maidstone: Flying Saucers
- 8 and 9 July 2006, Club Citta', Kawasaki, Kanagawa, Tokyo, Japan: as released on the Live In Japan - Kikimimi album
- 2018: the long-awaited Box Of Circles album was released, although a preview EP was released in 2010
And some non-England but related releases:
- 2014: the release of Robert Webb's solo album Liquorish Allsorts
- 2014: The Samurai Of Prog released their album The Imperial Hotel with the title track being a TSOP interpretation, including Robert Webb
Webb also wrote and recorded the Intro track on the second Decameron album but that one was not used.
For all three releases, I also compared the mastering, and found some interesting differences.
England — Garden Shed
Garden Shed Remasters
Originally the band's first and only album, Garden Shed (1977) has been re-released in a number of different versions and remixes / remasters, which in itself is confusing, even disregarding the bonus tracks. I don't have all released versions, so cannot compare all of them, but besides a copy of the first LP pressing, I have the first CD issue from 1997, and the 2015 release to compare to the new Bandcamp release. But my notes from a couple of years ago had some info about the other versions as well:
The 2005 re-issue was mastered too soft. The 2008 reissue had too much compression on the album tracks and on the Nanagram bonus track. Three Piece Suite (Olympic Version) on the 2008 reissue was mastered too soft, though, and was exactly the same as on the 2005 reissue. The 2015 reissue had much better amplification, seemingly without compression, on both the album tracks and the bonus tracks.
Apparently, the best and band-approved remaster has been made available in this series of Bandcamp releases. I compared the mixed of the 1997 release, the 2015 release, and this Bandcamp release, and the latter is exactly the same as was used on the 2015 Green Tree release. My ears prefer that last mix as well, so that's good!
If you like this band just a little bit, I am 99% certain you have one of the issues of Garden Shed. This album was recorded in late 1976. During the same sessions, the band had recorded a track called Nanagram which was released as the B-side of Paraffinalea in February 1977, shortly before the album was released.
The quality and musical importance of this album is undisputed. 1977, however, was a hard time for progressive rock, especially since the band broke-up not long after the album's release.
What I really love about this album, is that while it shows a certain level of complexity often compared to Yes, it is delivered in a way that is not so cold. The warmth of the symphonic side famously found in early Genesis makes it an album loved by fans of both those bands. Sitting between the styles of those big names, I really think this album will appeal to fans of both. Simply, if you like symphonic progressive rock, you have got to listen to this album. This has been a favourite among my collection ever since I heard it in the early 1980s. I have not met anyone who thought this album was "just OK".
And what about those bonus tracks? I admit to having a bit of chronology-based OCD, so I am having a bit of a problem here.
Before the Garden Shed album was recorded, the band had recorded two tracks at Olympic, which actually got them the deal to do the album. These tracks were Three Piece Suite (that would be used as a bonus track on some versions of this album), and Mister Meener which appeared on the next album (or Mister Meaner as it would appear on later issues for some reason). This Bandcamp version also contains just Three Piece Suite (Olympic). It's not too different from the album version, it really fits the rest of the album, and therefore is an excellent choice for a bonus track.
The 2005 reissue had Nanagram, another 2005 reissue had Three Piece Suite (Olympic), a 2008 reissue had both, a 2013 reissue had the latter plus a song called Destiny from a 2010 "taster" CD for the announced Box Of Circles album. Then in 2015 there was the Golden Edition on Green Tree Records, which had Nanagram and Three Piece Suite (Olympic) but also The Ladies' Valley from Webb's 2014 solo album Liquorish Allsorts, HeeBeeGeeBee from a 2016 various artists 4CD release called Decameron Ten Days in 100 Novellas Part 3, some different tracks from Box Of Circles, and finally a 2006 live version of Nanagram. My OCD is playing up.
The Bandcamp version contains the same bonus tracks as the 2015 release except for Carmina Burana. Including the version of Nanagram that was released as a single B-side is a no-brainer. Personally I would have selected Mister Meener as well and leave it at the complete 1976 recordings.
The difference in style is another indicator. The Box Of Circles album has a different musical style. England, but a modern version. An album in its own right. The tracks feel a bit out of place on this collection. The same applies to HeeBeeGeeBee, which is just too different. The live version of Nanagram is by a completely different band (except two), and 30 years after the original recordings.
I just have a hard time relating to a compilation of mostly unrelated tracks, just to fill a second disc. Especially since on a digital release you're not limited to disc lengths. But another aspect to digital releases, of course, is that I can just skip a few songs in a play-list. And what an album it is! Simply essential.
England — The Last of the Jubblies - Silver Edition
The Last Of The Jubblies Remasters
The Last Of The Jubblies was, as far as I can check, released in "just" two versions. The original release in 1997 and the 2010 remaster. Later versions were dubbed Silver Edition, as is this Bandcamp issue. I have no copy of any other Silver Edition issue to compare, but I can compare the 1997, 2010, and 2021 versions. Take a look at the image below. The top two waves are the left and right channels of the 1997 master, then come the channels of the 2010 master, and finally the channels for the 2021 version.
The 2010 master is unnecessarily soft. More importantly, some compression was added, which is usually done for making the whole sound louder. Then limiting the output, just means you're removing some contrast between soft and loud.
However, the 2010 mix is clearer than the 1997 mix. I am glad to say the band selected the best of the three mixes / masterings available as the Bandcamp issue!
I remember I was very happy, when around 1997, besides the first proper CD release of Garden Shed on The Forward Organisation, a collection of previously unreleased studio recordings made not long after the first album was released under the title Last Of The Jubblies on The Vinyl Tap label. Garden Shed was recorded in 1976, released in 1977. Most of Jubblies was recorded in 1977. It contained the non-album single B-side Nanagram from the first album sessions plus Mister Meener from early 1976.
The music was a clear continuation of what the band was doing on Garden Shed. Perhaps slightly more compact, but using the same style of symphonic progressive rock, a tad on the complex side, and still excellent in composition and performance. The way that all the different sounds are arranged to blend, is a remarkable feat.
This second album has also been re-issued almost a dozen times, and by the looks of it in two different versions, the second receiving the suffix Silver Edition. There's my OCD again, so bear with me. The Silver Edition left off Nanogram (which by then was a bonus track on Garden Shed where it's more in place) and added Ridge Farm and Flying Saucers (recorded November 1976 and a rehearsal either 1976 or 1977, so very much in place here).
But then there's an inexplicable six-minute excerpt of Hotel (Live) (meaning The Imperial Hotel), taken from the 2006 live recordings that were released officially. A six-minute excerpt of a 10-minute performance from a completely different time and by a different line-up. That's just filling space with unrelated stuff. Pity, I have to skip something again.
A little more confusion has been added by changing the word Rape to Rope in Tooting Bec Rape Case, and a spelling change of Mister Meener to Mister Meaner.
If Mister Meener was moved to Garden Shed to join Three Piece Suite (Olympic) there, and the excerpt of Hotel was just left off, this would still be an excellent second album at 43 minutes, and that's how I am going to listen to it.
England — The Imperial Hotel
The Imperial Hotel Remaster
There are two releases of England's 1975 recording of The Imperial Hotel. The first time it was released was in 2006 on a mini CD, with just the one track. And now it has become available on Bandcamp as well.
The 2006 release contains a 14-second intro of sound effects that was removed for the latest version. The rest of the new version is 5.4 seconds shorter than its counterpart from 2006. It means the speed has been increased a tiny bit, although across a total of 24 minutes, this is nothing.
A bigger difference is that the 2006 version was mastered just a little too loud, leading to clipping throughout the song, which you can see on the image above. And although what looks like some compression (softer bits made louder and vice versa), to me it sounds a little too good to be just compression. It sounds more like a remix. Only some of the instruments have been given a bit more amplification. The result is much better than the 2006 version. So for the third time in a row, the Bandcamp release has the best sound available!
When preparing for a few concerts in Japan in 2006, the band self-released a mini CD single. The single track it contains is The Imperial Hotel, a 25-minute composition that was recorded at the Marquee Studios in London in 1975, so before the Garden Shed album. (The line-up was Robert Webb, Jamie Moses, and Mark Ibbotson.) I love this recording, as it brings the best in progressive rock with sections where the blues-base still breezes through.
This is 24 minutes of very symphonic progressive music. The lyrics are a story, and the vocals are being highlighted here and there to tell it. It never distracts, as the track keeps flowing. In that sense it reminds me of Neuschwanstein's Alice im Wunderland. Never going complex for complexity's sake, it still sounds organically written and performed.
The people of The Samurai Of Prog covered this track on their 2014 album The Imperial Hotel, on which Robert Webb also plays. That version, 28 minutes long, has been included in this Bandcamp re-issue of that mini-album. It's a modern recording with slightly different arrangements based on the line-up of TSOP. It is both true to the original composition as well as a testament to all people involved. Perhaps this is the weirdest track to include, as it is a cover, but this one I do understand, and the only time I would skip this bonus track is when I don't have the time to listen to the complete song!
The fact that this is now available on Bandcamp is a welcome and excellent move. The gathering of recordings from different eras is a pity for someone like me. Having different track-lists on different reissues is confusing. I hope Bandcamp will introduce play-lists or collections soon, so I can listen to all England recordings in chronological order or at least by collection. I mean, there's something to say to have Garden Shed contain all the Air Studio recordings and keep all other 1976/1977 recordings for Jubblies.
But the music stands, of course, and I won't let a few out-of-place bonus tracks spoil any of the enjoyment. When you like symphonic progressive rock, these three releases are just excellent. My ratings here reflect the way I listen to them and the effect they have on me. Three excellent albums with a couple of very interesting bonus tracks. I just hope the Box Of Circles and Live In Japan will follow one day. None of these really outshine another, except that I just had to give Garden Shed the absolutely perfect score for it being the one and only original release and having been in my top list of favourite albums ever since I heard it.