Graham Reid | | 4 min read
In late 1976 keyboard player Rick
Wakeman of the progressive rock band Yes – riding a string of solo
successes with his prog-rock concept albums The Six Wives of Henry
VIII, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Citizen Kane
– gave a revealing interview to the British magazine New Music
Maker in which he described his forthcoming project, a concept album
based on Sir James Frazer's study of myth and religion, The Golden Bough.
But in an aside which went largely
unnoticed at the time he also spoke of a remarkable prog-rock album by an
unknown group he had just heard.
“No one knows whose on it, but it's
this wonderfully evocative journey to a better place. The story is
fantastic and the music has made me rethink what I am doing. It'll
change anyone who hears it.”
A few weeks later, David Bowie,
speaking about his film The Man Who Fell to Earth, used much
the same language about this mysterious album.
“The film is about travel across space and time. But there's that marvelous concept album by those unknown guys. It's also about a journey into hope. It'll really change you. It's certainly changed me.”
Unfortunately very few did hear this
album – The Voyage of the Corvus Corrone – because
only 200 copies were pressed and almost overnight prog-rock and
concept albums were wiped out by the arrival of punk.
In an illustrative aside here, my own
band Ozymandias for example immediately abandoned our adaptation of The
Brothers Karamozov, I fired the cellist and two keyboard players and
renamed the group BorstalDogz.
Punk had that kind of cleansing effect
in rock, but it also meant albums like The Voyage of the
Corvus Corrone were lost to us.
By being caught in the tide-change of
history, the album disappeared. But the story behind it is
In early 74, Akashic Records in Paris
received an anonymous parcel containing master tapes of the album,
related artwork, some accompanying text and the address of the nearby
Chateau D'Mercier. Akashic boss Jean Claude Onsager visited the
chateau-cum-recording studio and learned only it had been hired on a
day-to-day basis by three men – two musicians, the other possibly
an astrologer mystic – who decorated the studio with arcane symbols
and diagrams during recording sessions.
Akashic released the limited pressing of Corvus Corrone but shortly after Onsager mysteriously disappeared, the album went unpromoted and then punk arrived. Later the chateau was abandoned then demolished in the 80s after a fire. Curiously, some of those arcane symbols – notably that of the mysterious “Cog” design on the album cover – began appearing on neighbouring buildings in subsequent decades.
There was also some confusion over the album's actual title and attribution. In the "Cog" design the word "Immram" appears and many presumed that was the name of the band, but the word in fact is drawn from Celtic mythology and means approximately "voyage".
So the album was known in some circles as "The Immram of Corvus Corrone" and in others as "The Voyage of Corvus Corrone".
Right from the start the album and artist was clouded in mystery. Edgar Rouse of Tangerine Dream was rumoured to be behind it but while he refused to officially to deny his involvement many doubted it, Irmin Schmidt of Can said he knew one of the album's creators but refused to name him.
Corvus Corrone became entwined in rumour and legend, like Brian Wilson's Smile and Dylan's unreleased psychedelic rockabilly album Snakeskin Mescal recorded in early 67 with Ronnie Hawkins and the Band.
Seattle's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame paid US$3.2 million (NZ$3.8
million) for a mint condition copy, Stephen Hawking says it is his
favourite album and taped copies were on all five Voyager
flights into deep space.
The cult surrounding Corvus Corrone
grew because so few had
heard it. But – through events no less strange than those
surrounding its creation – that has now changed.
Two years ago a former employee of the long defunct Akashic received a package from a French law firm. It contained a deed from the estate of label head Onsager charging him with the album's re-release.
By coincidence, Auckland's fledgling
Escape Artists Recordings was looking for a project to launch itself
and through a mutual friend of electronica artist Rhian Sheehan, the
label's Paul McLaney was contacted by the Akashic employee inviting
Escape to release it.
Oddly the master tapes sent to Escape
ran considerably longer than that of the original vinyl – hence the
seven track, 60 minute album appearing on CD – but the music exists
in a strange realm somewhere between Tangerine Dream and the work of
Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, with a sprinkling of esoteric fairy dust
in the narrative.
With beautiful remixing and remastering (by Escape's Jeremiah Ross) Corvus Corrone now appears in an album-sized, gold embossed 64-page book with striking artwork (the dark side of Roger Deans-meets-The Flying Dutchman) based on the original drawings which only recently re-appeared.
Also included in the package are lyrics, the story behind it and the choose-your-own-adventure/fantasy tale Escape from Xanoths based on the Corvus Corrone story which hasn't been seen in over 30 years.
It is an appropriately lavish package
for this dreamy, richly textured astral-synth music with poetic
lyrics which was decades ahead of its time and could, may still,
If no one had recorded Corvus Corrone it would have been necessary to invent it.
As Escape has
The Voyage of Corvus Corrone is available as a limited edition CD/book
(1000 copies only) or by digital download from Escape Recording Artists here.