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Sky: Toccata: An Anthology

Beautiful representation of a sublime band.

There’s always been a tendency to regard this particular supergroup as somewhat serious and studious. Talented musicians, certainly, but Sky also took a classical approach to progressive music, and were therefore regarded as staid and devoid of any character or humour.

Yet that was always rather unfair on a collective who were actually a lot more diverse than they were given credit for at the time. You can hear how challenging and open the band were to a myriad of styles on this impressive compilation, one that shows the span of their operations across all of their albums and a near decade-long march from 1979. Naturally, what strikes immediately is the breathtaking musicianship, and the ability of John Williams, Herbie Flowers, Francis Monkman et al to make it all sound so unfussy and simple. But there’s also an underlying ploy to take sudden, unexpected turns. You can hear this on Westway, which opens the first CD, or Hotta. Both have an underpinning funk groove, against which is nestled a confident classical stride. Such tunes prove Sky to be more innovative than interpretive, and help to explain why they built up such a large, dedicated following. Of course, there are highly intellectual theses; the vast Fifo (Monkman’s elegant symphony); their insights into Mozart’s Romanza from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or Wagner’s Ride Of The Valkyries. But even here, the band inject some of their own personalities, making these more than glib recitals. Spread across two CDs, Toccata is a superb sample of what Sky were all about, bringing elitist music into a modern idiom, showing due respect to the classical form, while never being weighed down by its impositions. The third disc is a concert DVD from May 1979 filmed in Bremen. You get the distinct impression that, as they sit there, all five band members are relaxed and embracing the experience, but the audience seems uncomfortable, never sure whether to applaud or rub their chins thoughtfully. But that was the delight of Sky: even as they entertained they also confounded.