Byzantium


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1970)

- Steve Corduner -- drums, percussion

- Jamie Rubenstein -- vocals, guitar

- Robin Lamble -- vocals, bass, guitar

 

  line up 2 (1970-72)

- Steve Corduner -- drums, percussion

NEW - Chaz Jankel -- vocals, guitar (replaced Jamie Rubenstein)

- Robin Lamble -- vocals, bass, guitar

NEW - Nico Ramsden -- vocals, guitar

 

  supporting musicians: 1972

- Frank Ricotti -- percusion

- Alan Skidmore -- sax

 

  line up 1 (1972-73)

NEW - Mick Barakan  (aka Shane Fonayne) -- vocals, guitar  (replaced Nico Ramsden)

- Steve Corduner -- drums, percussion

- Chaz Jankel -- vocals, guitar

- Robin Lamble -- vocals, bass, guitar

NEW- Jamie Rubenstein -- vocals, guitar

 

  supporting musicians: 1973

- B.J. Cole -- pedal steel guitar

- David Henschel -- synthesizers

- Frank Ricotti -- percussion

- Robin Sylvester -- synthesizers

 

  line up 3 (1973-75)

- Mick Barakan  (aka Shane Fonayne) -- vocals, guitar 

- Steve Corduner -- drums, percussion

- Robin Lamble -- vocals, bass, guitar

- Jamie Rubenstein -- vocals, guitar

 

 

 

 

 

- The Blockheads (Chas Jankel)

- Boys Don't Cry (Nico Ramsden)

- Ian Drury and the Blockheads (Chas Jankel)

- Chaz Jankel (solo effort)

- Gong (Nico Ramsden)

- Jazz Sluts (Nico Ramsden)

- Jonathan Kelly's Outside (Chas Jankel)

- Kilburn and the High Roads (Chas Jankel)

- Robin Lamble (solo efforts

- Lone Justice (Mick Barakan)

- Merchants of Venus (Mick Barakan)

- Nasty Pop (Steve Corduner)

- Ora (Mick Barakan and Jamie Rubenstein)

- Nico Ramsden (solo efforts)

- The Secret Police (Chas Jankel)

- Shot In the Dark (Robin Lamble)

- Al Stewart Band (Robin Lamble)

- Twist (Steve Corduner)

 

 

 


 

Genre: progressive

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Byzantium

Company: Warner Brothers

Catalog: BS 2659
Year:
 1970

Country/State: London, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: still in shrink; opened; promo flyer

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 20284

Price: $75.00

 

Best time to play:  Grey Sunday morning.

 

Attending London's University College School singer guitarists Jamie Rubenstein and Nico Ramsden started playing together in the mid-1960s.  By the late-1969s Rubenstein was playing in the band Ora, culminating with the release of an obscure album "Ora" for the small Tangerine label (catalog number DPLP 0025).  With Ora calling it quits, Rubenstein formed Byzantium with former Ora bassist Robin Lamble.  Sounding like a soap opera, before the band got very far Rubenstein quit, being replaced by singer/guitarist Chaz Jankel.  Their big break came in early 1972 when they were signed to play London's Roundhouse as part of  the Greasy Truckers Party line-up where they were the opening act for Man, Brinsley Schwartz and Hawkwind. Unfortunately a power cut wiped out their appearance, though they still attracted the attention of A&M Records which promptly signed them to a contract.

 

Co-produced and arranged by Stuart Taylor and long-time friend and former Ora member Robin Sylvester, 1972's "Byzantium" is one of those album that leaves me on the fence.  As a naturally sucker for pretty melodies and sweet harmonies, the collection was swimming with those ingredients.  Largely written by Rubenstein (who was no longer a band member, but guested on the album), tracks like 'I Am a Stranger To My Life', 'Come Fair One' and 'Into the Country' were great examples of the band's knack for writing highly melodic material that showcased their sweet harmonies.  I'll also readily admit to adoring several of these songs.  While it wasn't a classic tune, the funky opener 'What Is Happening' has always struck a chord with me.  Elsewhere, Lamble's 'Trade Wind' may be the best CS&N song they never recorded.  At the same time, their tight musical recipe helped explain why so many reviewers seem to dislike the album.  If you weren't paying attention, it was easy for the collection to fall into a deadly sounds-the-same mode.  You were also left with the feeling these guys were searching for a formula that would offer some commercial sales (not that sales are a bad thing).  Interestingly, while clearly a group effort, outside songwriter Jamie Rubenstein was credited with penning six of the eight songs.  Jankel and Lamble each turning in one song ('Why or Maybe It's Because' and 'Trade Wind').  

 

Shortly after the recordings sessions a personnel shake-up saw original guitarist Ramsden quit over musical differences.  He was replaced by founding member Jamie Rubenstein and Mick Barakan (aka Shane Fonayne).

 

"Byzantium" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) What Is Happening?   (Jamie Rubenstein) - 5:10   rating: **** stars

Given what I'd read about this outfit, I wasn't expecting something as funky and rocking at 'What Is Happening?'.   Nah, it wasn't George Clinton and Funkadelic, but for four pale London-based Englishmen who are often slapped with a progressive label, the track had considerable energy.  At the same time, the song served to underscore their tight harmony vocals.   

2.) I Am a Stranger To My Life    (Jamie Rubenstein) - 4:54   rating: **** stars

While I can appreciate the pretty melody and the thoughtful lyrics, 'I Am a Stranger' also underscored why so many reviewers slam the album as being forgettable ...   While I liked the unexpected mid-song  jazzy interlude, this one certainly won't appeal to everyone.   Ear candy for folks who loved vocals hamonies.

3.) Come Fair One   (Jamie Rubenstein) - 5:54   rating: **** stars

Opening up with a wall of acoustic guitars and those sweet harmonies, 'Come Fair One' was a song that should have sent acoustic music fans into spasms of ecstacy.  The song got even better when the electric instrumentation kicked in.

4.) Baby I Can Hear You Calling Me   (Jamie Rubenstein) - 5:20   rating: *** stars

'Baby I Can Hear You Calling Me' sounded like it was destined to me yet another pretty, harmony rich ballad, and it was, but these guys changed things up a little, toughening up the sound and adding some killer twin electric guitars to the mix.   

 

(side 2)

1.) Trade Wind   (Robin Lamble) - 3:00  rating: **** stars

Lamble's lone contribution, the acoustic ballad 'Trade Wind' was certainly pretty.  To my ears the intricate harmonies, the arrangement (and the topic), bore more than a passing resemblance to Crosby, Stills and Nash.  Very pretty.  Easy to see why Al Stewart was interested in having Lamble join his band.

2.) Into the Country   (Jamie Rubenstein) -  4:13   rating: ** stars

Forgettable country-tinged acoustic numbers ...   and by the time it broke into an electric arrangement, it was too late to rescue the tune.  Yeah, this one was petty, but  just wasn't anything special.

3.) Lady Friend   (Jamie Rubenstein) - 4:40   rating: *** stars

'Lady Friend' was the album's most pop oriented tune.  Yeah, the sweet melody and pretty harmonies were still here.  Alan Skidmore's sax solo briefly added a strange, psuedo-Pink Floyd feel to the song.

4.) Why or Maybe It's Because   (Chaz Jankel) - 10:00   rating: *** stars

Not to be unkind, but Jankel's ten minute closing suite has always reminded me of a bad Moody Blues effort, combined with some discarded "Magical Mystery Tour" outtakes.   Yeah, musically it bounced all over the place and there were some nice segments (guitars come to the fore around the eight minute mark and mellotron fans should be happy), but by the end of the ten minutes, you were ready to move on.

 

 

 



Genre: progressive

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Live & Studio

Company: Arkarma

Catalog: AK 322/2
Year:
 2005

Country/State: London, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: double LP

Available: 1

Catalog ID: --

Price: $75.00

 

Released from their recording contract with A&M Records, original guitarist Chaz Jankel dropped out of the band, reappearing as a member of Ian Drury and the Blockheads and later as an in-demand sessions player and a solo act.  In an effort to find a new recording deal the remaining members recorded 1974's self-financed and self-produced "Live & Studio".  Featuring eight songs, the collection repackaged three previously recorded 1971 demos ('Oh Darling', 'Moving with the Time' and 'Flashing Silver Hope')Those tracks were augmented by five new live in-the-studio performances.  Reportedly 100 copies were pressed for promotional purposes.  Assuming you could find an original copy, your savings account would take a heavy blow. 

The 2017 Arkarma reissue featured an expended twelve track, double album set.  The original eight tracks were rounded out with the addition of 'Morning' and three selections from the previous "Seasons Changing" album - 'What a Coincidence', 'Something You Said' and 'I Can See You'.  

I've always enjoyed the band's two studio albums, but among hardcore fans the "black and white" album is the one that attracts the greatest praise.  Personally I'm not sure what the attraction is.  Perhaps the fact it was so damn rare?   Just remember not everything rare is good.  Sometimes things are rare because the aren't very good ...  My big problem with the material on this album is that it found the band moving away from their earlier strengths.  Penned by Barakan, both 'Cowboy Song' and 'Feel It' embedded country influences in the mix.  Similarly Lamble's 'If You Wanna Be My Girl' featured a country "hoedown" flavor.  That's simply a big no to my ears.  In another move away from their earlier sound the band also stepped in a more commercial direction.   Barakan contributed the pop-oriented 'I'll Just Take My Time', while Rubenstein recorded the ballad 'Surely Peace Will Come To Those Who Try'.  Both performances were nice enough, but only served to dilute the band's image.  Bottom line is I would suggestion checking out the debut LP first - it is still quite affordable.  Move on from there.  Quick note - the Arkarma release credits all of the compositions to "Byzantium".  To the best of my ability I've reflected the correct writing credits.

"Live & Studio" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Flashing Silver Hope  (Robin Lamble) - 9:39   rating: **** stars

Originally recorded in 1971 and considered for a single (an acetate 7" exists), if you've ever wondered what a combination of funky and progressive would sound like, then 'Flashing Silver Hope' might be worth checking out.  Admittedly the song stretched on way to long; around the five minute mark it actually sounded like they might just run out of steam, but they recuperated making the song interesting and worth checking out.  Admittedly the sound was a little harsh; the microphones sounding like they'd been shoved down Jamie Rubenstein's throat, but that didn't detract from the song's overall appeal.

2.) Cowboy Song   (Mick Barakan) - 3:27   rating: ** stars

'Cowboy Song' opened up with a surprisingly commercial but but quickly lost that edge when a country edge crept into the tune and the tsunami waves of lyrics kicked in.  

3.) Feel It   (Mick Barakan) - 4:30  rating: ** stars

Another country-tinged performance, 'Feel It' quickly degenerated into hoedown territory.  The tune sounded like it was recorded live in-the-studio.  Not sure why so many British bands find the genre fascinating.  

 

(side 2)

1.) What a Coincidence   (Robin Lamble) - 3:57  rating: *** stars

'What a Coincidence' was the first of three tracks originally appearing on the band's "Seasons Changing" LP.  A conventional rocker propelled by some first rate fuzz guitar, it was one of the band's most commercial offerings, perhaps explaining why it had been released as their fourth and final single:

 

 

 

 

- 1973's 'What a Coincidence' b/w 'My Seasons Changing with the Sun' (A&M catalog number AMS 7064)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.) Something You Said   (Jamie Rubenstein) - 6:23   rating: **** stars

Another track originally found on the "Seasons Changing" LP, 'Something You Said' started out with some jazzy guitar riffs before revealing itself as a pretty and progressively-tinged ballad.  There were a couple of tasty guitar solos and the song again highlighted the band's tight harmony vocals. 

3.) I Can See You   (Jamie Rubenstein) - 6:12   rating: **** stars

The final "Seasons Changing" selection, 'Something You Said' was another progressively tinged ballad.  This one's leisurely, slightly stoned vibe has always reminded me of a Pink Floyd tune.  Once again, the soaring group vocals provide the highlights.

 

(side 3)

1.) Morning   (Jamie Rubenstein) - 8:26   rating: **** stars

Progressive moves for people who don't like progressive music ...  'Morning' managed to take a progressive structure and make it surprisingly commercial.  I've always loved Lamble's busy bass on this one.  It almost stands as the lead instrument in a couple of sections.  

2.) I'll Just Take My Time   (Mick Barakan) - 4:43   rating: **** stars

Given how close 'I'll Just Take My Time' skated to top-40 pop, I'm guessing Barakan penned it as an effort to showcase the band's commercial potential.  With a pounding Motown-ish rhythm section, personally I think it's one of the album's highlights and would have made a wonderful 45.  Longstanding progressive fans were probably horrified to hear the song.

 

(side 4)

1.) Surely Peace Will Come To Those Who Try   (Jamie Rubenstein) - 3:11   rating: **** stars

With a beautiful melody and nice vocal from Rubenstein, the pastoral 'Surely Peace Will Come To Those Who Try' is one of those songs that can drop my blood pressure.  Hard to give the song higher praise.

2.) If You Wanna Be My Girl   (Robin Lamble) - 2:35  rating: *** stars

Back to country hoedown territory.  Okay, it was radio friendly, but just too cutie for it's own good.

3.) Oh Darling   (Jamie Rubenstein) - 3:08  rating: *** stars

Recorded in 1971 and considered for release as a single (an acetate pressing exists), 'Oh Darling' captured the band at their most mainstream and commercial.  Not a hint of progressive influences on this one.

4.) Move with My Time   (Robin Lamble) - 3:59  rating: *** stars

The flip side to the 1971 'Oh Darling' demo, 'Move with My Time' (originally titled 'Move with the Time'), featured a decent country-rock feel.  

 

 

The band have an active Facebook account at: https://www.facebook.com/byzantiumgroup/?view_public_for=950631548346143 

 


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