If you were asked to pick a piece of music by Argent, the chances are you’d proceed directly to their early to mid-70s chart-topping hits, Hold Your Head Up High and God Gave Rock ’N’ Roll To You.
As is so often the case though, such headlines often fail to convey any depth or nuance in the Argent story. Away from the crowd-pleasing hits, a jazz-rock vein always pulsed within the body of much of their work, surfacing more prominently in pieces like The Coming Of Kohoutek on 1974’s Nexus. Following that album, and with it, Russ Ballard’s departure, Rod Argent grasped the opportunity to overhaul the band’s sound and direction. The recruitment of guitarist and vocalist John Verity and the remarkably gifted lead guitarist John Grimaldi added obvious weight and punch, with Grimaldi’s fiery technique infusing the band with a pronounced fusion glow. Originally released in 1975, Circus’ lyrical content was largely driven by a loose conceptual narrative about life being all part of a circus. The opening bars of the title track burn with a Mahavishnu-esque intensity and as the album moves through dense, Mellotron-laden, Moog-heavy overtures, darting instrumental passages erupt and then slot seamlessly within songs. With pieces such as Trapeze presented in a series of multi-sectioned suites, this is clearly the product of a band renewed and re-energised in its most progressive incarnation. It’s not all jazz-rock bravado however. Shine On Sunshine harks, at least in part, back to The Zombies’ wistful ballads, and in the close vocal harmonising of The Jester there’s even nod in the direction of Queen’s pomp rock. With a reissue of the equally good follow-up Counterpoints mired in contractual difficulties and unlikely to appear any time soon, at least the reissue of Circus allows us to remember and celebrate a criminally underrated and neglected part of Argent’s history.