❉ Mabel Greer’s Toyshop were the precursor to Yes – and they’re back, looking to the past with one foot in the present.
Mabel Greer’s Toyshop morphed into the band ‘Yes’ in 1968 and reformed in 2013, releasing the album New Way Of Life featuring Billy Sherwood & Tony Kaye.
Founder member and guitarist/vocalist Clive Bayley looks to the past with one foot in the present on The Secret, a tribute to himself and to dearly departed bandmates Peter Banks and Chris Squire. Reuniting with founding drummer Bob Hagger, Mabel are completed by bass player Hugo Barré and Max Hunt on keyboards for nine brand new songs, the stratospherics of prog rock embellished with the added, posthumous presence of Peter Banks final guitar performance on the title track.
Bayley’s lyrics point to the spiritual, the greater good, admitting his songs to The Progressive Aspect come from “Years of looking at eastern philosophy and engaging in some of that ethos. My early song writing was always the same… I guess it’s a searching for truth and reality mixed with the joy of material life balancing act! Music is in my opinion the best method for communicating these deep ideas… better than preaching!
He’s right, this doesn’t sound like Sunday Mass to my ears, it’s a nice pilgrimage to promises pioneered. “A starlit night, a game of dice, a gamble with life’s desire, a memory, a way of life, a vision from afar” Bayley sings on the album’s best track Angel Sent, a prog pop resonating the ethero pop of Genesis’ Follow You, Follow Me and Led Zeppelin’s All My Love. What the song is about isn’t important; but there’s a sense of the other, stoic, spiritual even. (The track gives a loving credit of thanks to Ludwig Van Beethoven as Bayley’s guitar plays the beloved ninth as a closing coda).
Big Brother, Little Brother is one melange of interior intellectual creation, somewhat fraught with regret and nothingness, there’s a sense of the optimistic Autumnal here jazz scaped in pyrothenic landscapes. Love’s Fire borne naked on acoustic instruments is a startling track, haunting through deathly images. In the progressive tradition, the minutae of radio airplay is not at the forefront, only two tracks here under the time frame of pushing the radio boundaries Bohemian Rhapsody six minutes.
You is pleasantly Barrettian, pictures of golden curls of hair and butterflies flapping wings in China floating through around. Hagger plays pitters that precisely percuss to the further continents, Barré plays lead bass and Bayley proves himself an accomplished lyricist, the vulnerability of Peter Sinfield and ethereal longing of Ian Anderson available in Bayley’s songwriting.
Not all of it works. More and More is uncomfortably reminiscent of Eric Clapton’s MOR Blues days, Image of Existence goes on two minutes too long and Swan is yet another example of Tchaikovsky transposition in rock (nobody ever did it better than John Lydon and PIL). But there’s a presence to the proceedings, and the moment Peter Banks plays the final chords he ever played, it is hard not to feel that this is a prog album that shouldn’t be kept a secret; it should be listened and enjoyed, a nice addition to the ever-growing prog canon. More than just another branch on the rock family tree, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop are a band that have enough musical mastery to merit them as a band on their terms.
❉ Eoghan Lyng is a writer, part-time English teacher and full-time lover of life.