Fruupp: Maid In Ireland (Cherry Red Records)
If good things come to those that wait Fruupp have in many ways served their time in the game of patience. Last year saw their entire output given the box-set treatment. Four albums, refined and eclectic in nature remastered, but with no new morsel from the vaults to enhance the pleasure of such a compliment. Hot on its heels comes Maid In Ireland, a compilation that can only serve two purposes. Either as a primer for beginners unfamiliar with their rich offerings, or a bauble to beguile their completists. Vinyl copies of their output have rocketed in price in recent years, so if you are arriving as a curious novice, this is the purchase with which to begin your education. Compiled by Paul Charles, their former manager and collaborator, a man blessed with a good memory for detail and diligence, virtues that have gifted him the role of Fruupp's scribe and Boswell.
Northern Ireland wasn't a suitable home for a band of their kind. They didn't do a neat line in country and western, hadn't a catalogue of covers to placate a restless crowd. and there was nothing cabaret or cruise ship in their repertoire. They left their native shore and headed towards London like four Irish Dick Whittington's in search of something more. Their foppish romantic classicism was strikingly odd in a province that had begun the long sad process of tearing itself to pieces. Such refinement was a direct rebellion of psyche and sentiment. to the backdrop that had initially spawned them. Mysticism, a touch of folklore and penchant for elegant piano didn't gel terribly well with, bombings, strife and sectarian murders. Ambition meant a term of semi-permanent exile. Following in the foot-prints of Them, Dr Strangely Strange, Taste, and Thin Lizzy, as well as a myriad of others, they hit the metropolis, secured a deal with Dawn Records, and what happened there after is what is compiled revisited on this new offering.
Things kick off with the breezy and up-tempo "Janet Planet" a mix of keyboard jauntiness and a coach and horses drum motif and bass driven intro. ELO with a touch of 10cc. The song a ditty for Van Morrison's Laurel Canyon lover and muse, it should have been a single, but only appeared as one in the Irish Republic. "Decision" is a rumbling monolith of a song, proof positive they were a consummate rock band beneath their refinements but it has so many elements that take it beyond any pedestrian journey, Screeching guitar from Vincent McCusker, crazy strings, a pastoral psyche interlude, then banshee-like wailing ghosts above the rumbling drums. It is also home to one of the best screams ever committed to vinyl thanks to Peter Farrelly at one crucial dramatic point letting his tonsils rip. A relentless and passionate effort.
"Three Spires" implies a suggestion of Yes at their most refined at its heart, but it leans more towards their Italian contemporaries PFM who dwelt within the same elements of classical pastoral refinement.. There is also a late- period Beatles edge to the song's conclusion. "White Eyes" too operates with in the same subdued and mannered eclecticism. Oboe and guitar blend into a fleeting reflectiveness before Farrelly pipes into action and the whole thing is suggestive of a Irish collision between Chopin and Bach. Things couldn't get much more considered as it drifts off into a loose jazz-combo amble.
In "Sheba's Song" there gleams an element of Supertramp in its relaxed and confident swirl of keyboards, with the guitar sound suggesting Focus, and a lovely sense of jazziness from the sparkling illusions from the electric ivories of the late John Mason. Peter Farrelly is a uniquely sensitive singer, his voice glides melds and soars in cahoots with the the rich tapestry of music, to which he also adds some sublime bass notes. Epic and controlled it is a song that is perfectly taut in its seemingly languid execution. "Wise As Wisdom" emerges like the intro to a ballet and builds into a mini opera with a Stranglers-like organ motif and wistful layered vocals. Restrained and classy with an unusual toy-town cohesion between the bass,, keyboards and percussion. Elements occur and repeat like a refined classical jig. A deceptively effortless execution, and one that reveals the band at the height of their cohesive powers.
"Knowing You" stands as a particularly baroque laden song graced with space and a perfect melody it builds like a hymn, neatly underscored by Stephen Houston astute sense of piano and oboe. Melancholy it drifts along and then lets fly with another perfect shout from Peter Farrelly it sounds like the song to close a massive stage production with. Florid, fey and effortlessly flowing it really tugs at the heart strings as it drives itself to a conclusion egged on by Farrelly's exceptionally tender and laconic vocal. It exits with a dervish-like palette of voices before he again strides in like a strident chorister as power chords abound. Slicing guitar licks slice and dice with empathic drum rolls.
A neat similarity of tone allows "Graveyard Epistle" to sweep in, glistening amongst it's keyboard embellished beauty, before rumbling into a reel of jazz and Eastern elements, suggestive of dervishes in full whirl and swirl guided by Martin Foye's perfectly paced drumming. All hits a crazy Irish reel-like bridge and back to Farrelly at his angelic best, and finally to a manic conclusion like Riverdance on acid. Proceedings wind to goodnight and goodbye with the up-tempo "Prince Of Heaven" a synopsis of their concept album of the same name, and their sole UK single. It fits perfectly as a conclusion, and leaves the listener, like Oliver Twist, wanting and hoping for more.
I approached this selection with a certain degree of scepticism and suspicion, but Paul Charles has done a mindfully difficult job in creating a sense of cohesion with songs that were never destined to be combined. It is refreshing to hear them in their rearranged contexts. He has carefully dressed certain jewels and they sparkle still, giving a sense of freshness to the songs. Fruupp never were press darlings. The beard-strokers of the day either sneered at their kookiness or damned them with faint praise and in doing so missed the point completely. Outsiders at home, they were more, but never altogether at home in London. Punk saw them fall apart in 1976.
Their music remains vital, varied and supremely gifted. It speaks loud and clear in the present day and that's because it has one thing that cannot be crafted, bought or cultivated. Integrity travels lightly through time, and therefore their efforts have a permanent ticket to ride.
This is the link to the official Fruupp Facebook group if anyone is interested in keeping up with the latest news and archives. https://www.facebook.com/groups/63773410349/