I would make the case for Stormcock being the greatest album of all time – a multilayered gem that can be appreciated on many levels with constant new discoveries and a complexity that that is so haunting that you can never tire.
It was recorded in the best studio in the world – Abbey Road – with the best recording equipment, unrestricted studio time and engineers who were second to none.
The Producer is credited to Pete Jenner (fresh from his involvement with Pink Floyd) but really it was a joint collaboration with Roy. They had already worked together on Flat Baroque and Berserk in 1969 and formed a formidable team. Roy had familiarised himself with the soundboard and recording process. He had a vision for the album and the two of them set about bringing it to life. Where Flat Baroque and Berserk had been kept quite simple in its production Stormcock was much more ambitious. There was a different level of instrumentation, layering, multitracking and the advent of those exquisite Harper harmonised choirs, where, through multitracking, Roy angelically harmonised with himself. It took the music to new heights. The two of them were keen to push everything to the limits, to experiment and create new techniques and that’s what they did. There was synergy.
Just four extended tracks, each an elaborate work of art, 41 minutes and 29 seconds of perfection.
The five sound engineers – the great John Leckie, John Barret, Alan Parsons, Nick Webb and Peter Bown were all the best in the business.
The album was recorded between July and December 1970, when Roy was riding high on the success of Flat Baroque and Berserk, being lauded by top musicians, and was at the height of his song-writing. It was a time of great musical creativity in the wake of the Beatles, Crosby Stills and Nash, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Mothers of Invention and the rest. Anything was possible. There were no limits.
One of the major factors in the creation of this masterpiece was the introduction of the great David Bedford with his orchestral arrangements and organ that took Roy’s music to another level.
The other was the introduction of Jimmy Page (as S. Flavius Mercurius) on The Same Old Rock. The two of them created their own duelling guitars.
Roy and Pete set about arranging the tracks, starting from Roy’s solo acoustic guitar and vocal, adding layers, instrumentation and strings. Roy’s amazing acoustic rhythms, fingerpicking and chords were augmented, extended and added to. Roy’s voice was perfect, expressive, emotional and with great range.
The end result were four epic tracks, each different, unique and a masterpiece of complexity, sophistication and power that rivals anything produced in the field of progressive rock, or a level with classical compositions.
Then we come to the poetry. These were not ordinary pop songs. Each of these tracks was based around a poem full of imagery, meaning and structure. These were not lyrics, they were packed with levels that required thought and interpretation. Very few songwriters have ever achieved such heights – Dylan comes to mind, few others. The range of the poetry was vast – religion, society, life……………………..
The result of this concoction of sublime music and incredible poetry was an album that is perfect and I do not think has ever been bettered.
This was an album you had to sit back in a comfortable seat, put on your headphones, turn off the world, and get lost in.
Here I am – fifty years later – still immersed in it, returning again and again to bathe in the flow and absorb the words.
So I would say, after yet another immersion, that it is indeed the best album I have ever heard and I was immensely privileged to have been there in the studio while it was being recorded.
I do not think EMI realised what they had. It went over their heads. They were looking for a single they could promote it with and could not see one so they allowed it to slip away. Fools. This should have been an absolute monster!
Never mind – we have it (and all the other gems).
That album is now fifty years old this very month. It was released in May 1971. It holds up today as good as it did back then. A work of pure genius.
Happy Birthday Stormcock – fifty this month!