The British musician David Bedford died on the first of October 2011 of lung cancer, aged 74. During his career he worked with many musicians and he recorded several solo albums. In 2011 we published a review of The Odyssey Live (see review). Now, one year later Bedford's first album for Virgin Records got a perfect re-release by Esoteric Recordings. The newly remastered edition of Star's End (1974) shows one of the many faces of this musician.
Star's End was a piece of music especially written to be performed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. For this occasion this famous orchestra was conducted by Vernon Handley. Special guest musicians were Chris Cutler of Henry Cow, who played the percussion, and Mike Oldfield on guitars and basses. The fact that these rock artists worked together with the orchestra was disapproved of by the classical music scene. Bedford originally intended to call the album Heat Death Of The Universe. This was changed at the request of Virgin leader Richard Branson, who didn't want the word 'death' in an album title.
Despite the involvement of both rock musicians Star's End cannot be described as a progressive rock album. I would rather call it a full-blown orchestral avant-garde piece of music divided into two parts. On the original LP one part covered one side. While listening to both tracks you'll hear hardly any melodic passages, but all the more dissonances. On part one harmonies tend to rise only occasionally. Towards the end of part one you'll hear the interaction between Oldfield and the orchestra. His electric guitar parts are very recognizable, but flow together with the avant-garde nature of this piece. Oldfield most of the time used an undistorted guitar and he played the bass in a rather non-tonal manner.
Compared to the first part, the second part contains slightly more harmony, although it's still avant-garde music. Some people compared this music to classic avant-garde composers like Bartok and Stravinsky. On this part Oldfield more often continues his interplay with the orchestra. It's not clear to what extent Chris Cutler was involved in both pieces. I guess he most of the time played along with the orchestra as if he were a member. Maybe it's nice to know that Steve Hillage initially played the guitar parts during rehearsals for the recordings and Mike Oldfield should only play the bass guitar. However, for the first live run of the album Oldfield couldn't join because his mother passed away. Well, guess who replaced him...
I wonder how many devotees of progressive rock will be interested in this album. It's true that many of them enjoy classical music as well. The fact that Mike Oldfield plays along on this release may be a nice bonus and probably for some people a good reason to buy the album. However, I think many Oldfield-fans already have the Excerpt From Star's End in their collection, but then they'll miss the remainder of this orchestral piece of music. In a way I loved this album since every time I played it I heard new things!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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