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SFF, 'Symphonic Pictures'

Symphonic Pictures  (1976,  35.55)  ****½/TTTTT

Tao
Solution
Dialog
Sundrops
Pictures
SFF, 'Sunburst'

Sunburst  (1977,  35.16)  ****/TTTT

Wizzard
Autumn Sun in Cold Water
Artificial Energy
Driftin'
Troja

1580
Explorer
SFF, 'Collected Works'

The Collected Works of Schicke Führs Fröhling  (1976-8/93,  121.17)  ****½/TTTTT

Tao
Solution
Dialog
Sundrops
Pictures
Wizzard
Autumn Sun in Cold Water
Artificial Energy
Driftin'
Troja

1580
Explorer
Open Doors
Song From India
Ticket to Everywhere
Spain Span Spanish
Here and Now
Slow Motion
Folk'n Roll
Every Land Tells a Story (live)
Explorer/Wizzard (live)
SFF, 'Live 1975'

Live 1975  (2002,  72.20)  ***** (or **)/TTTTT+

Tao
Dialog
Gedankenspiel
Modimidofre
Prickel Pit
Ammernoon
Dadadam

Ticket to Everywhere

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Schicke Führs Fröhling, better known as SFF, metamorphosed out of Spektakel (an archive CD came out in '96), and were already playing live in 1975, sporting two Mellotrons, along with a butchered Ricky 4001/gold top Les Paul twin-neck and sundry other instrumentation. Their style was classic lush instrumental symphonic progressive with an electronic edge, with little of the 'German' feel of so many of their countrymen; the now sadly late Gerhard Führs played various keyboards, Heinz Fröhling tripled on guitar/bass/Mellotron, with Eduard Schicke on drums.

Gerhard Führs with M400, from 'Symphonic Pictures'

Symphonic Pictures is absolutely fantastic, although it almost pales in comparison to a live recording doing the rounds from '75 (see below). Anyway, the four tracks on the album's first side are pretty bloody good, with Mellotron all round; mostly strings, with the odd bit of flute thrown in. The side-long Pictures is the album's (and their career's) pinnacle, though; sixteen minutes (cut down from nearly half an hour live) of 'Tron-soaked prog, moving through various moods, including a choppy single-note choir part near the beginning that I'd swear Änglagård heard somewhere along the way. This one piece justifies the band's entire career, just in case it needed justifying. An essential album, whose only fault is its brevity.

Of course, Sunburst could never quite live up to the hype, so while it's pretty damn' good, it doesn't quite match Symphonic Pictures for sheer welly, or indeed, quality of composition. Don't get me wrong; it's still a great album, but not quite up there with its predecessor. I suspect much of it was recorded live in the studio, as an Eduard Brumund-Rüther plays bass on most tracks, but I suppose SFFB doesn't have quite the same ring to it. There's Mellotron on all but one track, but the use is more 'subtle' (i.e. background) than on their debut, although there's some nice string and choir parts to be heard, particularly on the album's best track (along with Troja), the opener Wizzard, despite its dodgy synth intro.

Heinz Fröhling with M400, from 'Symphonic Pictures'

Sadly, by third (and last) album, the synth-heavy Ticket to Everywhere (***), SFF had gone pretty much off the boil, even including the odd vocal part; the album isn't quite as awful as I remember it, but it really only shows the occasional spark of their previous genius. It doesn't even have the saving grace of any Mellotron, despite the pictures on the back cover, cribbed directly from the Symphonic Pictures sleeve of two years earlier. Before its release, Führs and Fröhling had formed a subsidiary duo, er, Führs and Fröhling, whose Ammerland is every bit as good as the first two SFF albums, if very different in feel. The duo lived beyond the trio, but still split around the turn of the decade, like so many other prog outfits of the day.

That could've been it, but in the mid-'90s a double CD was released, The Collected Works of Schicke Führs Fröhling, consisting of all three albums plus a couple of live tracks. This is, basically, utterly essential, given that none of the original albums are otherwise available on CD. I'm not sure when the live tracks date from, but while the otherwise unavailable Every Land Tells A Story is mainly a piano piece, the segue of Explorer/Wizzard, with the two pieces linked by a drum solo, features 'Tron strings and flutes on the first part, and strings on the second, but too far down in the mix.

Some years after the Collected Works set, an album called Live 1975 appeared, also known as Live in Papenburg. I don't quite know how to review this because, on the surface, it's an incredible document of an excellent band, until you learn that it's edited down from a rather longer recording. The trouble is, rather than chop a track or two, what the compilers of this disc have done is (wait for it...) edited almost every track, the only survivor being Modimidofre, better known as Pictures from their first album, here nearly half an hour (!) long. The worst-hit is Gedankenspiel, which loses around five minutes, but despite a tape-speed issue, and a considerable amount of between-song faff being edited, I reckon over ten minutes of music has gone up the swannee.

To add insult to injury, the editing (from the original 90 minutes) is so heavy that they've found room to stick a later (and highly inferior) live track on the end, and still leave eight minutes of empty space on the disc. Gee, thanks, chaps... I've never heard of anything so stupid; what on earth are they trying to achieve by chopping lumps out of pieces like this? OK, so they've kept costs down and got it onto a single disc; big, fat, hairy deal. I think fans of the band would be happy to fork out a bit more for the full set, and given that there's obviously more live stuff in the vaults, why not flesh out the second disc with more 1980 material? This is cretinous.

Given that the non-bowdlerised version isn't officially (I do stress 'officially') available, I really can't do any more than review this album as it stands. The music is stupendous, as you'd expect, clearly stating their unique style well before the release of their first album, with several excellent otherwise unreleased tracks. Apart from Modimidofre/Pictures, parts of Gedankenspiel sound familiar, and Ammernoon eventually turned up on the first Führs & Fröhling album, but most of the material is unfamiliar, edited or otherwise. The instrumental interplay between Führs and Fröhling is excellent, with both 'Trons going at once at some points, and the band sounding considerably larger than a three-piece. This is a total Mellotron classic, in case you hadn't noticed, with more 'Tron per square inch than almost anything else in my collection, leading to my first-ever 'TTTTT+' rating, as five Ts just don't seem to be enough to describe such monumental 'Tron overkill. It isn't just the amount of Mellotron on offer here, as much as the frequently innovative playing and unusual chord structures the band employed.

Anyway, Symphonic Pictures is utterly essential, and Sunburst is well worth the effort, both progressively and Mellotronically, so I highly recommend tracking down the Laser's Edge double-disc set. As for Live 1975, given that the full version isn't officially available, you're left with this, or nothing, in which case this will have to do.

Führs & Fröhling, 'Ammerland'

Ammerland  (1978,  38.20)  ****½/TT

Ammerland
Gentle Breeze
Dance of the Leaves
Street Dance
Sarabande
Circles of Live
Every Land Tells a Story
Ammernoon

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Gerd Führs (keys) and Heinz Fröhling (guitars) recorded Ammerland together while still members of SFF, or Schicke Führs Fröhling, but their partnership endured beyond the breakup of the trio. Ammerland is one of those absolutely wonderful albums you encounter every now and again, then wonder how you'd done without it for so long. It's an almost unique mixture of classical guitar and monosynths, with the odd other keyboard, and a plethora of superb tunes, at least one dating back to SFF's pre-deal days, going by bootleg evidence. Influences are the usual suspects, including Romantic era classical composers, but the CP70 piano work on the thirteen-minute Every Land Tells A Story is heavily redolent of Genesis' Tony Banks, which shouldn't come as any major surprise.

There isn't that much Mellotron to be heard, actually, but the album is bookended by superb 'Tron tracks in the really quite beautiful title track and Ammernoon, with its ethereal choirs (Mellotron cliché no.5. Go to the bottom of the class, Thompson). More choir, faintly, in Circles Of Live, but sadly, that's it. So; a superb album that anyone interested in progressive rock should hear. Was that unequivocal enough for you? BUY! Incidentally, despite rumours, there's no obvious Mellotron on either of Führs & Fröhling's subsequent studio albums, 1979's Strings and '81's Diary, nor on 2007's archival Live 1980.

links

Official site

See: Spektakel


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