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Dancing Flames

Dancing Flames was conceived, recorded, mixed, duplicated and sold inside a month. It's aim was actually to raise funds to bring Gael Baudino, author of the unbelievably excellent book 'Gossamer Axe' over to Mabinogicon, and, well, it succeeded. I think we'd all admit the odd flaws show, and a remix would be No Bad Thing. But hey, it's fun, and it's Sold Out.

We asked Tim and Annie to review it, cause the rest of us are all variously biased:

Side A:Tim

Having done various semi-pro studio sessions on the Trumpet, and knowing the NORMAL sort of timescales that people talk about when recording music, I still find it a mark of achievement that Dancing Flames was put together in such a relatively short period of time. Apparently, this included Anne learning to play the bass.

A review?..well, where to start?

First, try getting hold of a copy...slightly easier said than done if you're on the European side of the Atlantic, but once you have one you'll notice the variety of well-known songwriter's material: Bill Sutton, Valerie Housden, Talis Kimberley and, of course, Philip Allcock and Mike & Anne (then Rundle) Whitaker. The recording quality is sound and doesn't seem to have suffered from the timescale of the studio schedule. Whether by skillful engineering, on the part of Pat Brown (now Silver) & Andy Morris, or due to the singing style of some of the various vocalists, the lyrics are clearly distinguishable even over the crunchy guitars and driving drums - unusual for a rock album. The only sacrifice that seems to have been made to the time shortage is some of the sequencing tightness on one or two tracks.

Side A opens with a great track called Midnight at the Well - written by Bill Sutton. Solid, driving rock with a really tight harmony intro guitar riff. Mike sings lead on this one, but listen carefully for the backing vocals in the chorus'.

Next up an X-Men song..Valerie Housden guests on vocals, pop-style. Not necessarily my favorite song from this tape or my all time fave song by Valerie, but a cheery, bouncy tune that can endanger your safety if you bounce along whilst driving your car. Nicely structured guitar solo in the middle (by Mike -who else?).

Track 3 - Just One Chance - written and sung by Mike. A song about the character Diamondback from Captain America. Reminiscent of Late 80's AOR style. The sort of stuff I used to spend more-than-the-occasional Thursday night wiggling my head to when I was at College. In the top 5 songs on the tape.

Change of tempo for track 4 - a love ballad written by Anne & Mike and sung by Anne. Nice song, nice arrangement and the rim-shot drum track is just slurpy.

Last track of this side - penned by Bill Sutton, sung by Phil. Some clever stop/start sequences, doubled up bass & lead riffs and Mike's guitar sounding kind of like a Harley-Davidson Neutron Warp drive to finish up.

Side B: Annie

Aha! Tim has turned over the keyboard to me, Annie! I get to say silly things about my friends' recording history. Of course, I can't be too unpleasant, or they'll never let me play drums again... (Annie wanna hit things...)

Don't break the Rules, I am assured is based on the thoroughly brilliant book, "Gossamer Axe". Very Magnum-ish lead guitar and keyboards. Anne's voice comes through powerfully on this track, slamming out the vocal warning of the title. The instrumental features a guitar solo which just winds higher and higher to a wonderful crescendo... Love it. Tim plays this tape in the car a lot and tends to save this track for the long, straight "pedal to the metal" bits.

Ceinwen's Bow. My favourite track on this album, and worth buying (if you can find a copy) just for this. Talis Kimberley sings a composition of her own, and is amply backed up by the instrumental talents of Phoenix. What really makes this track for me is the stunning effect of the massed choir voices backing the whole track. Glorious. Rock in the Sistine Chapel is the general feeling...

Someone Else's Dreams drags the tape into smoky, grungy world of the Blues. You can almost hear the barmaid wiping down sticky tables at the end of the evening on this track. Really solid rhythm guitar underpins this whole track, providing the perfect foil for the vocals. I expected a really raspy vocal line, but Anne comes in with a surprisingly pure soprano line which shocked me at first - but the contrast really does work here.

Only the Innocent is something which many Phoenix fans or Whitaker fans are almost certain to have heard. In my opinion, this track drags. I'd like to hear it done about twice the speed or so, and to hear Anne leaping at the vocals full pelt. It is a great song, with a lovely melody line and story, and the rhythm backing in the last verse is wonderfully relentless. But I've heard the speed that they do it now...

War. Another episode in the 'Before the Dawn' saga, it explains the not-quite-so-poetic side of the storybook conflicts. It manages to fit an amazing amount into a rock song... It also features Mike doing the most interesting two note solo ever. I never knew there was so much in it... This is one of the tracks that would benefit from a re-mix - the harmonies are only really hinted at in this mix, and I'd love to see them come out more, as the close harmonies are something that Phoenix have never been afraid to tackle.

The last track of this tape is Midnight at the Tower. It vaguely reminds me of some of the more recent Def Leppard material in its feel, and is very heavy on the keyboards, presumably because Mike is somewhat busy singing the darned thing. The instrumental isn't so much 'widdly-squee' and 'wild scream', ripping through the bridge with lingering tension and release. It also has an appallingly catchy chorus. I defy you not to sing along with this one, even after the stereo has auto-stopped.

A great tape, considering the amount of time it took, I think. As Mike has said, some of the mixes are rough and some of the vocals and pacing need work. It's a shame that the drums were sequenced (this was pre-Lissa), but on the whole, it's a great tape. I hadn't even heard of filk when this was produced, so I'm not too biased, but this tape LIVES in our car tape collection. If you see a copy, but it NOW!!!

Song List

Side A

  • Midnight At The Well
  • Beautiful People
  • Just One Chance
  • Halfway There
  • Cruiser Dreaming

Side B

  • Don't Break The Rules
  • Ceinwen's Bow
  • Someone Else's Dreams
  • Only The Innocent
  • War
  • Midnight At The Tower

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