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Earth & Fire, 'Song of the Marching Children'

Song of the Marching Children  (1971,  33.49)  ***½/TTT½

Carnaval of the Animals
Ebbtide
Storm and Thunder
In the Mountains
Song of the Marching Children
  Theme of the Marching Children
  Opening of the Seal
  Childhood

  Affliction
Damnation
Purification
The March
Earth & Fire, 'Memories' Earth & Fire, 'Memories' 7"  (1972)  ***½/TTTT

Memories
From the End Till the Beginning
Earth & Fire, 'Atlantis'

Atlantis  (1973,  33.40)  ****/TTTT½

Atlantis
  Prelude
  Prologue (Don't Know)

  Rise and Fall (Under a Cloudy Sky)
  Theme of Atlantis
  The Threat (Suddenly)
  Destruction (Rumbling From Inside the Earth)
  Epilogue (Don't Know)

Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Tonight
Interlude
Fanfare
Theme From Atlantis
Love, Please Close the Door
Earth & Fire, 'Love of Life' 7"  (1974)  ***/TTT

Love of Life
Tuffy the Cat
Earth & Fire, 'To the World of the Future'

To the World of the Future  (1975,  42.19)  ***½/TTTT

To the World of the Future
How Time Flies
The Last Seagull
Only Time Will Tell
Voice From Yonder
Love of Life
Circus
Earth & Fire, 'Only Time Will Tell' 7"  (1975)  ***/TT½

Only Time Will Tell
Fun
Earth & Fire, 'Thanks for the Love' 7"  (1975)  ***/TT

Thanks for the Love
Excerpts From 'To the World of the Future'
(or Only Time Will Tell)
Earth & Fire, 'Gate to Infinity'

Gate to Infinity  (1977,  35.38)  ***/T

Gate to Infinity
  Recognition?

  A Princess in Egypt
  The Joyous Untruth
  Infinity
  A Life-Time Before

78th Avenue
Smile
Green Park Station
Dizzy Raptures
Driftin'
Earth & Fire, 'Reality Fills Fantasy'

Reality Fills Fantasy  (1979,  37.11)  **/TT

People Come, People Go
Fire of Love
Weekend
Can't Live Without it Anymore
Where Were You
Season of the Falling Leaves
Answer Me

Reprise
Earth & Fire, 'Andromeda Girl'

Andromeda Girl  (1981,  40.05)  **/TT

Dream
Singer in the Rain
Andromeda Girl
What More Could You Desire

Tell Me Why
Love is an Ocean
You
From Shore to Shore
Just One Change
Earth & Fire, 'In a State of Flux'

In a State of Flux  (1982,  39.55)  **/TT½

Twentyfour Hours
Jack is Back
The Two of Us
Wish You Were Here

Strange Town
Love is to Give Away
I Don't Know Why

Hide Away
In a State of Flux
Dona Nobis Pacem

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Earth and Fire were a fairly major pop outfit in the Netherlands in the '70s, so it's quite odd that they should also cross over into prog territory, but they certainly do, with side-long suites on three of these four albums. Their 'progressive pop' isn't going to appeal to everyone, but there are nice moments on most of the above albums, and they shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Jerney Kaagman's strident vocals are rather an acquired taste, to be honest; she's often compared to Rose Podwojny of their French contemporaries Sandrose, but to my ears that's a lazy comparison, as the bands really don't sound at all alike. Their debut, 1970's Earth & Fire (***), is a late-period psych-pop album really, and isn't wildly interesting, despite being a UK Vertigo label rarity. The CD is bolstered by a slew of non-LP singles, making it worth the effort for the collector, including a 7" pairing of 'Tron tracks unavailable elsewhere.

Earth and Fire found their own voice on their second album, Song of the Marching Children, defining a style later partially borrowed by fellow countrymen Kayak, although In The Mountains has more than a hint of Focus about it. I believe the band owned an M300, with its fairly distinctive sound, although it's not always easy to tell. Apart from the title suite, Storm And Thunder is the album's only 'Tron track, with strings a-plenty, plus what sounds like cellos towards the end. Song Of The Marching Children itself is a seven-part epic, opening with Gerard Koerts' organ, before 'Tron strings and brass burst in on part two, Opening Of The Seal, carrying on through Childhood. The strings cut back in on Damnation, which tries its level best to be doomy, but blows it completely with a jaunty little Mellotron oboe (?) part, before a reprise of the brass theme from earlier on heads everything back in the right direction. Purification's strings actually sound like a real string section, although there's none credited, but the 'Tron comes back in properly on The March, rounding the album off nicely.

Unusually for the times, Earth and Fire didn't release an album for two years, but filled the gap with various singles, including the 'Tron-heavy Memories/From The End Till The Beginning pairing. Memories starts with an ominous Mellotron string part, but quickly shifts into pop song mode, despite reprising the intro throughout the song, while From The End Till The Beginning is a slower, more reflective number, certainly not a b-side throwaway, with heaps of Mellotron brass, strings and flute. As mentioned above, you'll have to buy the German Repertoire issue of Earth & Fire to hear these, along with various other non-LP tracks.

Atlantis carries on in a similar vein to Song of the Marching Children, with the side-long title track opening this time. Their style is a decidedly uneasy marriage between two genres you wouldn't imagine would mix for a second, but somehow or other, they seem to make it work. Well, sometimes. There's plenty of Mellotron throughout Atlantis, and this time, it sounds more like an M300; maybe they used a Mark II on Song? Anyway, mostly strings, with that rather thin M300 sound to them (two violins instead of three), with the odd bit of cello thrown in, and maybe a touch of brass, although the flute is real. Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Tonight is hilarious; an insanely cheesy, pure pop number with jaunty organ and the odd bit of strings somewhere in the mix. Interlude is practically all 'Tron (including flutes), and Fanfare is mainly brass, appropriately enough, with some 'stabbed' chords before a full brass section part halfway through, followed by a gorgeous upfront string part. Superb. Theme From Atlantis has more strings and brass, as does Love, Please Close The Door. Cheesy, but great 'Tron.

Earth and Fire must have been a busy bunch, as two-year gaps between their albums seem to be the norm, defying '70s convention, although the first single from 1975's To the World of the Future, Love Of Life, actually appeared the previous year. A clear step towards a more commercial direction, its only standout feature is the Mellotron strings used throughout, although its flip, the non-album Tuffy The Cat, is the opposite of the lightweight fluff its title suggests, being a dark, yet groovy instrumental piece, featuring more of those strings. The album is their one 'wall to wall' Mellotron release, although Atlantis runs it a very close second. Actually, minute for minute there's probably less Mellotron on this album, although it's on every track; the ten-minute synth-heavy opening title track has plenty of strings, though I suspect quite a bit of it's string synth, with more of the same on the balladic How Time Flies. Incidentally, the title track rather unnerved me with a vocal melody almost identical to Chic's Le Freak, but several years earlier. Moving swiftly on, instrumental The Last Seagull has more of that brass, along with an excellent little Mellotron string melody and is possibly the album's best track; it's certainly its least cheesy... Only Time Will Tell is another strings'n'brass Mellotron-fest, although Voice From Yonder's strings and funky Rhodes are a little inessential. More of those strings and brass on Love Of Life, and a string-heavy Circus to finish, complete with a vaguely, er, circusy feel to it. I keep hearing what sounds exactly like Mellotron strings, but stretching way over the 8-second limit, so I don't know if they used some sort of multitracking trick, or it's actually something else I'm hearing, but it sounds like 'Tron to me. It's all a bit lightweight, but more Mellotron than you can shake a stick at.

Only Time Will Tell was released as a single in April '75, with the non-album Fun on the flip. The track's a slightly disco-ish instrumental, quite good for all that, with a 'Tron strings part that livens it up a little. It was followed by non-LP single Thanks For The Love, backed with Excerpts From 'To The World Of The Future', though I don't know if this was a straight edit, or different bits of the piece tacked together. Thanks For The Love starts well enough, with a high 'Tron string line, but clicks into funky-ish pop almost straight away, backed with more single-line 'Tron, although the brass on the chorus is obviously real. This is a bit of a clunker, to be honest, and hardly a 'Tron classic either, although if you really feel the need to hear it, it's also on the Repertoire Earth & Fire. Incidentally, it appears it was reissued later the same year backed with LP track Only Time Will Tell.

Sticking to their two-year schedule, Gate to Infinity appeared in '77, and, unsurprisingly, is even nearer the mainstream than their previous efforts, despite the inclusion of a rather apologetic side-long suite. Saying that, Recognition?'s a damn' good song, with some nice 'Tron choirs (Koerts must've bought an M400 by this point), also heard in Infinity and A Life-Time Before, although that appears to be it on the 'Tron front, as all the strings appear to be real, although I'm not entirely convinced about closer Driftin'. Musically, side one's as good as anything on the earlier albums, but side two's basically commercial drivel, without even any 'Tron to sweeten the deal. I was amused to see a song called Green Park Station (on the London Underground, fact fans), written by a Dutch band; sadly, it sucks. I'm also not entirely sure why Dizzy Raptures is listed as being 'instrumental', when it's nothing of the sort. Anyway, if you can extract the title suite from a CD version and ignore the rest, do so.

'79's Reality Fills Fantasy opens with an 11-minute number, proving that they hadn't entirely thrown their progressive instincts out of the window, although it has to be said that People Come, People Go is more an extended dance-pop track than 'prog' per se, but I suppose the intent was there. The rest of the album is an unappealing mix of pop and soft rock, which is, er, similar to the pop stuff but with more guitar. There's even an instrumental here, Answer Me, although it's still quite poppy. People Come, People Go features 'Tron choirs drifting in and out of the mix, and while some of its strings are real, some sound tape-generated, though (as so often) it's hard to say. Definitely 'Tron strings in the frothy Can't Live Without It Anymore right through to Answer Me, all used in a 'can't afford a string section for the whole album' kind of way.

Into the '80s, and '81's Andromeda Girl is largely even cheesier than its predecessor, although it does have its 11-minute (again!) title track, with some interesting use of (real) strings and voice in its first part, before moving into a sort-of driving rock thing with some cool synth work. Proper progressive pop, and far better than almost anything else in the field at the time. Unfortunately, side two is really cheesy, apart from closer Just One Change, which only rates medium cheese. Those 'Tron strings again on Dream, Andromeda Girl itself, What More Could You Desire and (faintly) on Just One Change (and did I hear some choirs at the end?), but not enough to recommend the album.

Amazingly, there's one more relevant Earth and Fire album in the shape of '82's In a State of Flux. At least as cheesily poppy as its immediate predecessors, it doesn't even have anything as listenable as Andromeda Girl to lessen the pain. Plenty of 'Tron, though, with strings all over Jack Is Back, The Two Of Us, Wish You Were Here, Love Is To Give Away (less obviously), the relatively lengthy I Don't Know Why and Dona Nobis Pacem, although the choirs on Strange Town emanate from something else (Roland Vocoder?) and the strings on Hide Away sounded synthesized.

As far as the above albums are concerned, if you can cope with Earth and Fire's cheesy take on early-'70s prog, at least think about buying their early work (not their debut). They do get cheesier as they go along, but there's some killer 'Tron on Song of the Marching Children, Atlantis and To the World of the Future, and Gate to Infinity's at least half good. Even Reality Fills Fantasy and Andromeda Girl have their moments, but they're very few and far between, while In a State of Flux is pretty much a dud.

Earth & Fire playing Storm And Thunder on Dutch TV.

...And the ridiculous Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Tonight.


bootlegs

Ijmuiden, Netherlands, 17th June 1972  (79.12)  ****/TTTT½

In the Mountains
Storm and Thunder
Memories
Song of the Marching Children
Song of the Marching Children reprise
Invitation
From the End Till the Beginning
Semi Touch
Instrumental 1
Instrumental 2
Instrumental/drum solo
Instrumental 4

Zur Grille, Minden, Germany, 21st March 1974  (94.11)  ****½/TTTTT

Atlantis Theme/In the Mountains/Atlantis reprise
Song of the Marching Children
Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Tonight
Theme From Atlantis
Atlantis (prelude)
Fanfare
Memories
Storm and Thunder
From the End Till the Beginning

Delft, Netherlands, 1976  (71.06)  ***½/TTTTT

Voice From Yonder
Circus
The Last Seagull
Vivaldi
How Time Flies
De Tijd Zegt Niets
Thanks for the Love
What Difference Does it Make
Storm and Thunder
Love of Life
To the World of the Future
Memories

Mellotrons used:

Earth & Fire's set at Ijmuiden, on 17th June 1972, was recorded, possibly from the desk, the resulting bootleg being of reasonable quality, even if several tracks cut off at their conclusions. We get a pre-Atlantis set, including both sides of their current single and some instrumentals which might be readily identifiable to hardcore fans, although I'm afraid I can't place them. Gerard Koerts clearly only has a Hammond and a Mellotron on stage, so it's hardly surprising that he uses the latter so much. Opener In The Mountains, unlike its studio counterpart, is awash with Mellotron strings, as is Storm And Thunder, complete with full-on solo and brass part, with more strings on Memories, strings and a jaunty, pitchbent brass part on Song Of The Marching Children, strings on the reprise, background strings and choppy brass on Invitation, brass and strings on From The End Till The Beginning, brass on Semi Touch and, just for a change, flutes on the second untitled instrumental. You should be able to find this online if you look around; worth it for the Mellotron, even if you're not a fan.

The so-called 'semi-official' Storm & Thunder, released on a dodgo Japanese label in 1999, is effectively a bootleg, recorded at Zur Grille, Minden, Germany, 21st March 1974, featuring a pre-To the World of the Future set, heavy on Song of the Marching Children and Atlantis material. Sadly, it's a CD-length edit of a longer performance, which I managed to find online before posting my original review. This can only be described as a superb document of the band at their peak, playing all their best material to date with aplomb, not to mention inordinate quantities of (presumably M400) Mellotron, despite Koerts adding a synth and a stage piano to his rig. Highlights include the Song... and Atlantis material, with no real clunkers. Mellotron all round, a major highlight being the point at which Koerts switches from the strings to the brass (complete with slurry pitchbends) in the middle of Song Of The Marching Children.

Delft, 1976, more than hints at the band's future, Europop direction, although their set is still heavy with progressive material. Highlights? The opening few numbers, the acoustic Vivaldi and a shorter-than-it-had-been Storm And Thunder, although the longest piece here, To The World Of The Future, is slightly disappointing. Mellotron on every track, with background brass and upfront flutes and strings on Voice From Yonder, strings on Circus, a complex string part and chordal brass on The Last Seagull, strings backing the solo acoustic guitar on Vivaldi, How Time Flies and De Tijd Zegt Niets, strings on Thanks For The Love (although the brass sounds more like synth), more strings and synth (?) brass on the cheesy What Difference Does It Make, the expected string and brass parts on Storm And Thunder, strings and a brass solo on Love Of Life and, finally, strings on To The World Of The Future and Memories.

Earth & Fire bootlegs seem to be worth hearing more for their insanely heavy Mellotron use than for the music, which only really rises to the occasion on selected tracks. I'm sure you can find all of these online, so what have you got to lose?

links

Official site


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