Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Mountain Queen


I get the feeling that everyone has at least one album in their collection that they would risk a burning building to recover, but about which few people would be acquainted. (‘You mean you narrowly avoided third degree burns for ‘what’ by who!?’). If this isn’t the case I’m sure there will follow a deluge of comments telling me I’m completely wrong. Nevertheless, I do have a few of these gems by relative unknowns, but the one that rises to the top of the list in the burning building stakes is a 1973 effort by Dutch progrockers, Alquin and it is entitled ‘The Mountain Queen’.

The Mountain Queen will always merit a place in my heart (music division) because a) it was a bugger to find in the first place – and that fact alone gives it a sort of rarity mystique and b) it contains some of the finest instrumental rock outside of Focus despite the band looking like a bunch of hippy rejects. As with most card-carrying prog albums it contains two lengthy pieces clocking in at around 13 minutes each surrounded by a smattering of shorter fillers. There are some vocal moments, sung in a hushed whispery Dutch-accented voice but generally it is the instrumental sections that really shine.

Being a 6 piece band, Alquin had variety of sound as a major asset. It means that the two long pieces, the title track and ‘The Dance’ are constructed of a number of sections of differing moods including not just the usual guitar based rock but softer parts making use of flute, saxophones and keyboards. As is usual for bands of that era, the playing is fabulous and the musical dynamic carefully built throughout the length of the piece. This is why I like it – it is the mixture of great musicianship and the constructional understanding which prevents it from being a boring extended jam.

I first saw them when they had a TV guest slot on that holy of holies of serious music programmes, ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ doing a cut down version of ‘The Dance’ and decided that I would take a chance on them (to coin a phrase). After an age of trekking around all the local record stores in the district I finally secured a copy. Thankfully, they didn’t disappoint and my slightly warped vinyl copy has been a constant companion until I finally managed to get hold of a CD copy (a twofer twinned with the previous album, ‘Marks’) only a year or so ago.

Would I still do the burning building bit now? Hmm...definitely.

4 comments:

drewzepmeister said...

My deep cut classic would Armageddon's only album (1975) It's the last thing Kieth Reif did before he died. The album contains tunes like Silver Tightrope and Buzzard. Still on a lookout for the CD

musicobsessive said...

Interesting choice! I don't know this but recognise Keith Relf from The Yardbirds and Renaissance. Looks like the CD was released here in the UK but not in the US. Amazon.com sells import copies for $30 but you can order direct from Amazon.co.uk at £9 or even cheaper if you look in the market traders list.

Happy hunting!

Jayne said...

Just popping by to say great header! I think that snippet of photo looks really good - love the glimpse of the mural behind as well!

musicobsessive said...

Thanks Jayne! The mural was drawn in chalk on the wall of my friend's living room some time in the 1980s prior to a 'Greek Evening' dinner party. It showed a stone balustrade with view over a typical Greek bay beyond. I wonder what the subsequent purchasers thought of it!?