|Covers shown: LP 1972 (& CD 2005, 2009, 2011),
|NOVA SOLIS (1972)
RCA Italy LISP 34154
Re-issued on CD in 2000, UK: Angel Air Records SJPCD067
And in 2005 on CD, Japan: Air Mail Recordings AIRAC-1098 (cover is a replica of the original gatefold LP sleeve)
And in 2009, UK: Esoteric Recordings eclec2152
And in 2011, Japan: Marquee/Belle Antique 111845
(cover is a replica of the original gatefold LP sleeve)
1. Samarkhand The Golden
From: David Marshall (Atavachron) at Prog Archives
**** Morgan Fisher is a genius.
Nova Solis is an extravaganza of what had become possible with the rock format, a parade of idea after idea passing like giant floats, each eagerly waiting in line to be revealed. This is prog when things were closer to the wild west, with as many snakeoil salesmen and roaming criminals as reliable merchants and ranchers. But among the scoundrels, Morgan Fisher and songwriting partner Tim Staffell were legit. Simply put, this LP was the sh*t-- the absolutely real thing, authentic, strong as aged goat cheese and stinking of a far off place where no good things were happening. It's what the guys who have heard it all and know classic era prog inside & out quietly listen to when no one else is around. Every aging, coffee-swilling cigarette smoker with a bad hankerin' for prog and a tragically steady paycheck who's collection from Britain between 1969 and 1979 is larger than that thing they launch the space shuttle from will deny to their death this is the godsmack of second tier symphonic prog. But it is and they know it.
Similarities are hard to peg for these guys, it was such an original group. Certainly the brilliant descriptive and incidental work of Raymond Scott is apparent in Fisher's material, as well as Syd Barrett's sense of adventure, the circuses of Dave Greenslade and maybe a whiff of Zappa. 'Samarkhand the Golden' is wonderful vintage stuff enhanced liberally by Fisher's VCS 3 synth, Hohner & DK1, Mo Bacon's eager drums and bassist Rob Sapsed doing a heroic job enhancing Fisher and Staffell's arrangement. Derivative 'Alone' is a miss but 'War Games' rocks, Bacon tearing up his drums, Staffell's vaguely biblical lyric and giddy vocal, and Fisher terrific on all number of keys from a Steinway Grand to a Hammond to a Spinet as he knits up the background, always sure to never let a good moment go to waste. Holst's 'Jupiter' from The Planets starts the second half, the nine part title piece. It's not long before things start melting apart into sound effects and space sickness but Morgan picks it up and pumps out the prog; mean organ flurries, unexpected jazzplay, piano lines merging into squealing synths, descriptive mood-setting, carousels, calliopes, histrionic dramaturgy, and more Holst at the end.
A one of a kind release by a band that epitomised the working prog musician and what a few inspired guys could do with some good equipment. Someday along your listening journey, Morgan Fisher's work deserves your attention. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of your life.
From Classic EuroRock, by Jeff Perkins
Many years ago I sat in the corner of a smoke filled room alongside similar weirdo teenagers listening to the albums that we had brought along with us. I have a vague recollection that I had brought King Crimson, someone else had The Yes Album, and I’m sure someone else had Nova Solis by a band called Morgan.
The subsequent winds of time have covered the album in dust and despite several re-releases it remains a lost diamond in the crown of early seventies prog. In fact I didn’t hear the album again until very recently when I received this new digitally re-mastered edition. Quite how such an innovative and accomplished work was allowed to drift away is beyond me. Maybe it was merely poor timing as this particular time slot for progressive rock was amongst the richest in its history. Sadly, whereas many of their contemporaries went on to produce a wealth of work, Morgan dipped below the surface after only a couple of albums.
In hindsight their pedigree was obvious. Vocalist Tim Staffell had been with future Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor in Smile. When he left to be replaced by a certain Freddie Mercury the rest, as they say, is history. Morgan Fisher had been the keyboard player in The Love Affair, who had a number one hit in 1968 with “Everlasting Love”, released whilst he was on a break from the band.
Morgan, formed in 1971, continued in the direction that the now defunct, and renamed L.A. had been heading, away from pop, and towards the world of keyboard rich, experimental prog. It was a style inspired by the likes of The Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The band brought together the talents of Staffell, bass player Bob Sapsed, and fellow Love Affair drummer Mo Bacon. The material that became Nova Solis evolved and they soon became a frequent and popular feature at London’s legendary Marquee Club. The album was recorded at the RCA label’s studio in Rome where they, all but, took up residence and utilised the cutting edge technology available. The resulting album represents an incredible achievement by anyone’s standards.
Nova Solis consists of four pieces, the vivid opener “Samarkhand The Golden”, “Alone”, “War Games”, and the nine part epic “Nova Solis”. The concept for the latter was centred on an astronaut who whilst journeying through space sees the planet Earth’s destruction. It opens, and closes, fittingly with interpretations from The Planet Suite by Gustav Holst and continues its journey, through “Floating” and the majestic “Earth”, revealing the compelling story along the way.
Unfortunately, the album found itself cast adrift without a budget sufficient to do it proper justice, a fact reflected in the sales. Subsequently, it has become something of a collector’s piece. Fortunately Esoteric Recordings have now re-released a re-mastered version which comes complete with extensive and informative album notes, photographs, and reproduced letters and documents regarding the recording of the album.
Part of the magic of this recording lay within the lyrics. Any album that can paint an instant picture as vividly as this, in its first line, simply has to be heard. “Desert sun, scald the sky, scorch the land, bake the desert dry”, opens the imagination to “Samarkhand The Golden”, a near ever present in their live set. It's an evocative track during which the central character finds himself alone and lost in the desert. It's powerful stuff.
Nova Solis is a complex work that successfully resists the temptation to become overblown or even pompous. The musicianship, and brave readiness to push technical boundaries, make it an important addition to those who appreciate the history of progressive rock music. Meanwhile the bands individual qualities produced some excellent moments. For example Tim Staffell’s vocals were never better than on the lovely “Alone”. His lyrics on “War Games” address the age old question of war in the name of religion, surely a contradiction in terms.
Of course, all this leads to the epic triumph that is “Nova Solis” which filled the second side on the original vinyl release. Incidentally the opening Holst theme was also used by Morgan Fisher’s next band Mott The Hoople. A second album The Sleeper Wakes recorded in 1973 was destined to remain on the shelf before finally seeing the light of day in 1977. By then Morgan were no more.
The best way to rediscover a band who could easily have become a household name is by visiting the Esoteric website to obtain a copy of Nova Solis. Morgan Fisher also has a website with some interesting background information on the band and the album.
***** Incredible English prog, May 28, 2006
***** MORGAN/NOVA SOLIS:
***** Pre-Mott Morgan Fisher. Prog heaven! 7 Jan 2009
Several more listener reviews can be found here, including a nice one in Russian for our comrades:
Most of the above reviewers are from listeners, i.e., "amateurs," i.e., people who love with a passion. Now let's see some really balanced, intelligent, factually accurate reviews from the "professionals."
|Morgan's sleeve notes for the Angel Air CD re-issue:
The Story Of This Album (primi piatti...)
This album was the first album recorded by the Morgan band, and “mamma mia!” are we glad it has finally made it onto CD! After years of letter-writing, faxing and emailing, mostly by the indefatigable Maurice, an extensive search was carried out in the back of a cupboard somewhere in the offices of RCA Rome and - “eccola!” - the master tape was finally spotted growing mould that would do an undiscovered renaissance painting proud. Otherwise we might have had to take tweezers and pick the dust off the LP version I have festering in the back of my cupboard. Or worse still - been forced to track down an 8-track cartridge player (remember those? the next Big Thing, at least for truck drivers) so we could play the 8-track version I also have fermenting in the bottom of my wardrobe.
The story of the band's formation and related anecdotes are included in the notes for "The Sleeper Wakes", our second album (also available on Angel Air-SJPCD049) so I won't go through all that again here. But if I may reminisce just a little...
When we had formed the band we did what all self-respecting bands did in the early 70's - "went to the country to get it together, man". Our resourceful manager, the late, much-loved and much-teased, completely bald Sid "Skinhead" Bacon (father of Maurice) rented us a cottage somewhere in deepest Kent, and off we trundled for three weeks of, er, getting it together. I thought it was a wonderful idea until, the next day, I entered hell and stayed there for the entire three weeks. You see, it was hay-fever season, and I was more prone that year than I have ever been in my life (escaping to Japan has not helped much, I'm afraid). And what delighted me the first day was sheer agony for the next twenty days - namely, the ten acres of waist-high, lush, pollen-emitting grass that completely surrounded the house. What made it worse was that for some reason I couldn't quite fathom, the rest of the chaps seemed to enjoy burning some kind of exotic weeds - from Thailand I think - every bloody evening. So while I was in my lonely room trying to write scores with eyes that looked like over-ripe tomatoes, the lads would be laughing all through the night - without even telling any jokes. I still can't figure that out...
But get it together we did, while Sid negotiated us a deal with RCA Italy, who were, luckily for us, bananas about prog rock at the time. Before you could say "millenovocentosettantadue" we were entering the hallowed halls of the fabulously high-tech RCA Studios outside Rome. Aaaahh, La Bella Roma - what a city! With no grass! Well, at least of the hay fever variety.
This studio was so modern that they had actually floated the entire building (housing four studios from rock band to opera company size) on oil. This apparently was to insulate it from the vibrations of Fiat trucks roaring by on the neighbouring Via Tiburtina. We never found out whether it was real virgin olive oil, though.
A month later the record was finished, everyone was happy, and we had all gained several kilograms. The RCA promotion staff had this habit of whipping us out of the studio at least three times a week for extremely long, in-depth interviews which were invariably held in gourmet restaurants. Naturally, the entire promotion staff of RCA needed to join us at these much-lubricated feasts. Yes I know, isn't life tough at the top? Well, we were actually somewhere in the environs of the absolute bottom, but being treated like Il Duce himself made us warm to the Italian hospitality and generosity. I think the resulting mood of contentment and cheerfulness comes through nicely on this album.
And once again, Maurice, Tim and I would like to raise our glasses and dedicate this release to the memory of our dear departed friend, Bob Sapsed.
Morgan Fisher - Tokyo, May 19 2000.
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1. Samarkhand the Golden
This was one of our most well-received live numbers, a real corker. RCA Studios had one of the new (at the time) autopanning devices which we used all over this album - I suggest not listening on headphones while under the influence in case you get vertigo or worse! After an intro featuring organ and pianet, a sequencer type repeating figure starts up on a spinet (a beautiful harpsichord-like instrument), and Tim sings a duet with himself. Once the rhythm picks up on verse 2, Tim's voice is fed through the VCS3 synthesiser's ring modulator, giving it a nicely robotic quality. The VCS3 leaps in for an extended Moog-type solo. I'm sure we used to stretch this part out when performing it live; poor old Tim probably had to make himself look useful with a tambourine or maracas. Can't understand why we didn't use his fine guitar talents here to fill it out - I guess I was too much into ELP at the time. At the end of the last verse Bob's fretless bends rise higher and higher until he falls off the top of his bass guitar. Meanwhile, the Mellotron adds simmering lo-fi strings. Once or twice you can hear it running out of steam - its notes lasted only as long as the tape loops it utilised. I still love the sound and use a digital sampler to do it these days - no steam required. Tim ends up alone in the desert (I hope there is a desert near Samarkhand - I was always useless at geography), and we segue into...
A beautiful song by Tim which got him the job as our singer when he performed it at his audition and knocked us all out. I had a wonderful time "orchestrating" it and I hope I did it justice. The tenderly compassionate opening verses feature Tim's delicate and too-rarely heard acoustic guitar playing. Then the VCS3 takes over, simulating a flute ensemble, with Bob playing a lovely sliding counter melody on the bass. Just before going into the organ section there's a single bell sound - this always made Bob laugh and he would say "ooh look - there goes the vicar on his bicycle - morning reverend!". I hope Tim won't mind me saying that the gorgeous background melody he sings in the choruses reminds me of Freddie Mercury's ballad-style singing - easy to see why Smile chose Freddie to step into Tim's shoes.
3. War Games
VCS3 fighter planes roar overhead and we blast off into another of our most powerful live numbers, with Bob's fuzz bass and Maurice's drums thundering splendidly throughout. I scored much of Morgan's music note-for-note, but when Bob was free to let rip he took the chance and ran with it magnificently. Most of this song uses a simple bass/drums/piano instrumentation, except for the tongue-in-cheek instrumental section which adds spinet and a giggling VCS3. I guess I was responding to the satirical content of Tim's lyrics, which in my opinion are an incisively intelligent comment on the uselessness of all crusades. How many wars have been fought, and are still being fought, in the name of religion? "Thou shalt not kill", anyone?
4. NOVA SOLIS (A Suite).
We decided on our debut album to try for something prog-rock lovers delight in, a suite to fill up side 2 of the album. It worked well on stage too, but now I think people ought to be given more of a chance to applaud - 20 minutes or so is rather a long time to stand letting your beer go flat and listen to music without responding. Space was the place for this concept piece, but I must say that Tim's lyrics add an admirable humanity and warmth - he has really given some thought to what it must be like for a man to be lost in the desolation of deep space, far, far from earth.
Imogen Holst needed a lot of persuading to let us use her father's "Jupiter" melody for this intro, but thankfully she relented in the end - perhaps because RCA Italy were known for their fine classical releases, including a huge series of Toscanini albums. By a strange coincidence, Mott the Hoople, who I joined shortly after Morgan disbanded, used the same melody on the opening tape for their shows. A grand tune indeed! Over the closing verses Morse code pans across the speakers (in retrospect, not very chronologically sound - this is supposed to be a space suite after all!). If anyone speaks Morse, please forgive me if I have "said" anything offensive.
The Morse code turns into a repeating rhythm, then we dance across the stars in this light-hearted , jazzy number expressing just how amazing it must be to travel through space. After a bouncy little piano solo backed by bubbling wah-wah Hammond, the slow last verse is expanded by the mellifluous harp-like tones of the Neo-Bechstein electric grand piano, a 1930's museum piece I discovered to my delight in the bowels of the RCA studios. Tim held the final high note interminably while I "alien-ised" it through the VCS3, then he ran out of air and collapsed, calling out for caffe latte freddo.
25 seconds of Morganic free-form scrubbing take us through the gravity barrier and we arrive at:
Featuring Bob's ring-modulated bass and echo splashes created by yours truly tapping on my trusty Hammond organ's spring reverb unit. For some odd reason this crossfades into the synthesised sound effect of a passing train - chronologically off the wall again (the 5.15 to Pluto is leaving on platform 3). But it makes for a nice segue into:
Another of Tim's audition-winning songs, this was also recorded by his previous band Smile, featuring Brian May on guitar and the then-known-as Roger Meddows-Taylor on drums. I read somewhere online that Tim feels that this song has never been properly recorded, so here's hoping he'll take another crack at it in the future. Still, I like this version meself. It starts out with Tim singing and playing guitar robustly in true folk singer style (as he has done in many pubs and clubs since the demise of Morgan). The opening verse reminds me of when I was once drinking draught Guinness in an authentic Irish pub in Moscow airport a few years ago - I felt extremely disoriented - sorry to digress! That out-of-place train effect returns halfway through and we're back to the quiet glory of Tim alone. It might have been good if Tim had recorded the whole song by himself - another idea for your much-hoped-for new album, old bean?
(vi) Hyperspace: The Return Home
A ululating VCS3 oscillator sweeps us into this rambunctious instrumental section based on "Floating". Once again Bob's fuzz bass and Maurice's drums drive the whole thing along fabulously.
The Big Bang!
(viii) May I Remember
The third of the excellent Tim Staffell songs on this album. He wrote some really fine, moving melodies, which were a delight for us all to play, and a delight for me to arrange (even with hay fever). Here he sings some amazing high notes in the middle eight. If this song had not been part of a suite we might well have recorded a longer version of it. As it is, it makes a fine closing episode to this voyage through the universe - and as I hear how joyfully I'm playing piano here I remember just what a great time we had making this album.
We leave where we came in, with a short but rousing rendition of Holst's magnificent Jupiter (expanded by some rather interesting parallel harmonies), and float off to the skies - or was it to the RCA studio bar? Maurice, on cymbals, has the last word - as usual.