Greenslade - The Birthday Album – Live Switzerland 1974 album review

Grainy but great in-concert rarity from Greenslade

Greenslade - The Birthday Album cover art

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Frequently overlooked in progressive music’s development and history, Greenslade remain one of the great unsung bands of the 70s. Quite why this might be is baffling when you considering the band possesses a lineage that includes Colosseum and King Crimson. Add to this and the compositional strength of their first two of albums resplendently housed in Roger Dean-designed covers, and the matter of their obscurity seems all the more mysterious.

Though lacking an obvious focal point such as a lone vocalist or a leading instrumentalist as with some of their contemporaries, their unique selling point came instead from their twin lead keyboards. With Dave Greenslade handling vocals, Hammond and Mellotron and Dave Lawson majoring on synths, Greenslade’s sound was determinedly orchestral in its layering and arrangements.

Their self-titled debut and its follow-up, Bedside Manners Are Extra, both released in 1973, form the basis of this recently discovered live tape. Recorded on Dave Greenslade’s 31st birthday, it’s sourced from what sounds like a somewhat stygian audience recording. Unsurprisingly there’s still a significant amount of hiss and distortion remaining here despite heroic degrees of revivification by the remastering boffins. Nevertheless, once your ears acclimatise to the murky sonics, a well-drilled band is revealed.

With several of the pieces extending outward into multi-sectioned suites of such proportions that would give ELP or Yes a run for their money, they command a bristling with intricacy and a hard rock edge that occasionally recalls the baroque complexities of Gentle Giant. Driven by the Wetton-esque crunch of Tony Reeves’ bass, Dave Lawson’s synths provide textural contrast to Dave Greenslade’s blues-rooted soloing. Andrew McCulloch’s nuanced drumming suffers in the aural soup but if you can get past the audio limitations these spirited and road-tested renditions of their studio counterparts pack a considerable punch.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.