(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
Even though they didn’t receive much initial success, Rainbow Theatre didn’t change much for their second album. In fact, Fantasy Of Horses sees the group delving further into the eclectic symphonic style originated on the first album, The Armada. While utilizing a strong classical element mixed with a healthy dose of jazz was not uncommon in European bands of the time, it was literally unheard of for a band from Australia. Rainbow Theatre would probably be best compared to a band like King Crimson or Banco than other bands from that country like Spectrum or Khvas Jute.
The core band remained onboard for the second album, consisting of composer/guitarist/keyboardist Julian Browning, drummer Graeme Carter, bassist Ferg McKinnon, trumpeter Frank Graham and classically trained vocalist Keith Hoban who would also contribute some keyboard parts. Augmenting the lineup was a new wind section featuring Martin West on saxophone and clarinet, Ian Relf on trombone, Tricia Shevenan on flute and Chris Stock on oboe. If this weren’t enough, there was also the string section of Karin McGechie, Stephen Durant and Nya Murray (violins), Rowan Thomas (viola) and Sara Glenie (cello). To say that this colossal group should have been a formidable strength in the progressive world is a great understatement but alas, it was not to be. Luckily, the master tapes were preserved and now this highly sought after treasure is finally available on CD in all its remastered sonic glory from the fine folks at Aztec Music.
The album starts off with a short but very potent, jazzy instrumental entitled “Rebecca”. Beginning with a nice mellotron upsurge (yes, this album has plenty of really tasty mellotron passages) not much time is wasted showing off the talents of the entire ensemble. In the 3-minute span, we get several quick solo spots from many instruments including trumpet, bass, saxophone and acoustic guitar. What a great way to open the album!
The second track is the first epic on the disc, entitled “Dancer.” Things start out rather slow and moody with a mellow organ accompanied by the wind section. Keith Hoban’s chilling operatic vocals come in and cuts through the music like a knife. His unusual vocal style took quite a bit of getting used to for me but once it really hit me I was hooked. This piece becomes very dynamic, quickly with a must more upbeat section. For some reason, some of the faster reminds me of more traditional Spanish music, especially the trumpet parts. They go back to the softer moments later in the track, and finish things off with a wonderful reprise.
“Caption For The City Night Life” is another powerful piece inspired by Browning’s respect of King Crimson. There’s a great percussion movement in the piece that sounds inspired from Michael Giles work on the first couple of Crimson albums.
Obviously, the centerpiece of the album is the title track “Fantasy of Horses”. Inspired by the brumbies from the mountainous regions in Northern Australia, these wild horses are considered a national treasure by some and a nuisance by others. A very wonderful suite in 7 movements, there are some really nice piano parts in the beginning and the string section is featured prominently, especially towards the end. Hoban’s vocals are especially breathtaking on this track.
As with the first album, the cover art was done by Julian’s father George Browning and is represented spectacularly in the triple foldout digi-pack CD packaging. Also similar to the first CD reissue, Fantasy Of Horses features a bonus orchestral piece composed by Julian Browning and recorded with The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. This piece goes with the original album remarkably well, as if it were intended to be there in the first place.
Unfortunately, Rainbow Theatre dissolved shortly after the second album’s release. I would imagine there wasn’t a whole lot of support for a band doing this kind of music in Australia at this time and it wasn’t for several years until the LPs started commanding high prices with collectors that the group got much notice. There have been several bootlegged versions of Rainbow Theatre albums that have cropped up in the past few years but I seriously doubt any of them could come even close to the Aztec versions in terms of quality. Hopefully the release of these extraordinary CDs will spark a renewed interest in this absolutely wonderful but sadly forgotten group.