“The esteem in which his talent was held is reflected… Yet some of the most fascinating tracks here are by his pre-fame 60s bands”: Greg Lake’s Magical box set

7-disc compilation celebrates his solo endeavours in style

Greg Lake - Magical box set
(Image: © Manticore Records)

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It seems remarkable that Greg Lake – one of rock’s classiest, most regal-sounding singers, and a man who was a match for any one of the genre’s greats – made just two studio solo albums before his sad passing from pancreatic cancer in 2016 at the age of 69.

As Prog Editor Jerry Ewing points out in his detailed sleeve notes for this extensive box set, Lake knew that anything he recorded was unlikely to stand shoulder to shoulder with the masterful LPs he made with King Crimson and ELP; works that were part of the very fabric of prog’s late-60s/early-70s reign. If Lake felt his muse had gone AWOL, he was perfectly content to down tools, “remain silent” and turn his attention to family life in rural Dorset instead.

Magical has plenty to cherry-pick from, all the same. Lake’s brief stint replacing John Wetton in supergroup Asia; his ace, 1975 Yuletide critique of commercialism, I Believe In Father Christmas; his, on the face of it, unlikely recordings with AOR giants Toto, and his fleeting Ride The Tiger project with keyboardist Geoff Downes – these and many other ventures are thoughtfully plundered, revealing his considerable breadth as a singer, songwriter, bassist and guitarist.

Featuring both Nuclear Attack – the Gary Moore penned/propelled riffer, which flagged 80s fears of mutually assured destruction – and the extraordinary coup that was Love You Too Much, Lake’s roots-rock co-write with Bob Dylan and Helena Springs, Lake’s eponymous 1981 solo album material is a highlight. Magical also teases out his longstanding gift as an acoustic balladeer, hence various live takes on ELP classics C’est La Vie and Lucky Man, and a cover of The Beatles’ You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.

Greg Lake - Magical box set

(Image credit: Manticore Records)

The esteem in which Lake’s talent was held by his contemporaries is reflected in the line-up of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band he toured with in 2001 – it also featured Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson, Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter and Prince’s favourite drummer, Sheila E. Yet some of the most fascinating tracks here are by Lake’s pre-fame 60s bands The Shame and Shy Limbs, both of whom dealt in more-than-decent pop-psych.

Wonderful, too, that disc four – part-subtitled Deeper Into The Mine, An Official Greg Lake Bootleg – has Gary Moore bringing rip-roaring fusion energy to ELP’s Fanfare For The Common Man. And even if Lake and Toto’s You’re Good With Your Love sounds like some long-lost US sitcom theme from the 80s, it grooves mightily. All told, this is a worthy tip of the hat to the great man.

Magical is on sale now via Manticore Records.

James McNair

James McNair grew up in East Kilbride, Scotland, lived and worked in London for 30 years, and now resides in Whitley Bay, where life is less glamorous, but also cheaper and more breathable. He has written for Classic Rock, Prog, Mojo, Q, Planet Rock, The Independent, The Idler, The Times, and The Telegraph, among other outlets. His first foray into print was a review of Yum Yum Thai restaurant in Stoke Newington, and in many ways it’s been downhill ever since. His favourite Prog bands are Focus and Pavlov’s Dog and he only ever sits down to write atop a Persian rug gifted to him by a former ELP roadie.