Let Your Prog Flag Fly

I’ve been having a less-than-stellar few weeks, but thankfully I found an album so amazingly bizarre that I think it could actually be sold as a cure for depression…well, if it came with a bottle Prozac and some vodka. Good triple play if you ask me.

Les Cathedrales
Centurion (Tales of Fireball Kids)
The Fireballet
Night on Bald Mountain
I have a odd relationship with prog rock. I worship Pink Floyd, but I really don’t consider them “prog” as much as they are psychedelic. On the flip side, I used to think Rush was the worst band in the history of the universe, but someone forced me to listen to 2112 and I came around (but I still hate Geddy Lee’s voice). More recently I’ve become interested in King Crimson and have discovered some pretty amazing obscure 70s prog bands like Magma and FM. And even in the prog I don’t like (such as Jethro Tull) I recognize the talent behind the music and can usually appreciate it on that level (notable exception: Traffic – I fucking hate that band).

However, what I like most about prog rock is just how damn stupid it can be. And I mean that as a compliment. There is no shame in prog, no restraint, it is what it is, like it or not. And that’s how we get stuff like a theatrical performance of King Arhtur ON ICE (thank you Rick Wakeman) and Peter Gabriel performing as a flower.

Fireballet definitely encompasses everything I love about prog rock, preposterous concepts, technical ability and a hard-to-define wackiness, all in one amazingly odd and quirky album.

Night On Bald Mountain was Fireballet’s first release and came out on Passport records in 1975. In ways the album is actually restrained when compared to other prog rock releases, most of the songs hover around the four-minute mark, and keyboard solos are kept to a minimum on those numbers. However, it’s the other two pieces in which Fireballet really let their freak prog flag fly in all its insane and ludicrous glory.

The first is “Les Cathedrales” which apparently borrows liberally from Theme One by Van De Graff Generator. Even though, they mix it up a bit, adding a great spacey intro and moving the originals sax melody to various keyboards and other electronic instruments. The vocals by lead singer Jim Como are also an addition to the original, and his forceful delivery really drive home the energy of the tune in the bridge before it delves off into solo insanity.

The real highlight of the album though is the title track, a 19-minute take on the Modest Mussorgsky composition that features every damn instrument you could possibly imagine (more on that in a minute) and some original lyrics about wizards…and stuff (okay the lyrics are kind of out there). Needless to say it’s totally insane/inane/brilliant stuff. It’s definitely the kind of thing that could only be created in the 70s that’s for sure.

If you decide to download these songs (and if you’ve read this far I’m assuming you have) then you might be wondering what the hell you’re hearing. There’s a lot going on here man. Thankfully the back cover breaks down the instrumentation by performer for us.

Jim Como was the Phil Collins of the group, going double-duty as a drummer/singer. In addition to drums he also played timpani, xylophone, vibes, glockenspiel, Chinese bell tree, gongs, finger cymbals, tubular bells (which is apparently more than a Mike Oldfield album) and triangle. I do love that he felt the need to credit his gong playing separately from his drum playing, hell I love the fact that he had multiple gongs! Bryan Howe backed up Jim as the organ player, rocking out on a Hammond and pipe organ as well as a celeste. And while Howe may have been the organ player, Fireballet also had a pianist. His name was Frank Petlo and he played piano, electric piano, ARP 2600 Synthesizer, Mellotron, electronic strings and the Oberheim DS-2 digital sequencer. Ryche Chlandra was the guitarist of the group, playing both acoustic and electric. He also performed various “electronic devices” which is probably the coolest credit in the history of music. Rounding out the group was the Marytn Biglin who played bass, 12-string guitar, bass pedals and Moog Taurus pedals. Their producer, one Ian McDonald of King Crimson and Foreigner fame, also contributed to the mix, playing sax and flute on a couple tracks.

That is…a lot of instruments. One can only imagine what their practice space looked like. Did these guys ever go on tour? I couldn’t find any information on their live show. I do know that they released one more album (the hilariously-named Two-Too) before calling it quits. They have a MySpace page however, and Ryche is even on Twitter!

Despite these all work remains out of print, never released on CD – which is why I am putting up all of Night On Bald Mountain here for download. If anyone from Fireballet objects, please let me know and I shall remove its progtastical greatness in due haste. Until then I recommend everyone check it out, its’ great stuff. And it’ll make you want to watch Fantasia (which for some reason I have on LaserDisc – so I got that going for me, which is nice).

One Response to “Let Your Prog Flag Fly”

  1. Leo Rattans says:

    No comments yet…too bad.

    Your writing says it all, I have nothing to contribute except perhaps I really liked, and like Yes, and Genesis before Gabriel left.

    This post is great, I’ve only heard it twice yet but this stuff takes time to get into. Only in the 70’s, children, only in the 70’s….

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