Monday, February 5, 2018

Aliens: Flight of the Moorglade

Jon Anderson: Flight of the Moorglade

Reading my music writing probably might give you the impression that I listen to prog rock all the time, but I don’t. More than anything, I listen to what would be classified as Americana music, but I am clearly an unrepentant lover of progressive rock. But just because I enjoy the music, that doesn’t mean that I can’t mock some of its excesses. And maybe the easiest things to make fun of about the 70s prog that I enjoy are the concept albums, with their often bizarre narratives. I mean, there are some pretty straightforward ones, like Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, essentially a dramatization of the Jules Verne novel, or Gryphon’s Red Queen to Gryphon Three, about chess (a hidden gem, by the way), or even Pink Floyd’s The Wall, basically a story about a person's difficult childhood and life.

But then there are the crazy ones, like Gong’s acid-fueled three album Radio Gnome Trilogy, or pretty much anything by Magma, or Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which purports to be about a Puerto Rican youth living in New York City, but turns surreal (and is one of my favorite albums, anyway).

This genre of music, which is often tied up with fantasy and science fiction, is ripe for stories of aliens and interplanetary travel (although as we have seen, other genres go there, too.) And thus, we come to Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow, the Yes singer’s solo debut, released in 1976, after Yes released Relayer (an album that I have zero memory of) and before Going For The One (which I enjoyed more), during a period when the band’s members were all releasing solo albums. Wikipedia describes the album as telling:

the story of an alien race and their journey to a new world (the story printed in the LP jacket calls it "the earth", lowercase 'e') due to a volcanic catastrophe. Olias, the title character, is the chosen architect of the glider Moorglade Mover, which will be used to fly his people to their new home. Ranyart is the navigator for the glider, and Qoquaq (pronounced 'ko-quake') is the leader who unites the four tribes of Sunhillow to partake in the exodus. 

Now, let me start off by saying that I like this album, and particularly the featured track, very much. Anderson is credited with all of the voices and instruments on the album, which took two years in conception, and 8 months of work, to record. There have long been rumors that Vangelis, who had unsuccessfully auditioned for Yes at that time, and who Anderson collaborated with, played some of the parts, but both men have denied this, and unless Devin Nunes has a memo to the contrary, I see no reason to dispute that (actually, if Nunes had such a memo, it might be more likely that I’d take a contrary position, but I’m going off the rails here).

If you want a chuckle, go ahead and read the whole elaborate story, which was printed on the inner album sleeve. And because most of you won’t buy the album, here’s a link to a website devoted to Olias of Sunhillow which contains the story, and more.

Meanwhile, it appears that Anderson has been working on a sequel to Olias since 2001, to be called The Songs of Zamran: Son of Olias, and as recently as 2014, Anderson confirmed that he is still working on it. Based on his comments over the years, it will be a multi-hour work, and possibly released as an app, including visuals. Here's a preview, from 2013.  And why not, I say?

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