Album review: THE ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA – Plays Prog Rock Classics


Purple Pyramid/Cleopatra [Release date 20.04.15]

Classical rock is an often maligned genre, when done well it can bring new dimension to time-worn classics, done badly and it can fail to enhance the originals.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have always done it better than most, and in recent times they’ve orchestrated Queen and Fleetwood Mac and – even further back – the music of Pink Floyd and – where it all started – Deep Purple in 1969.  I suppose it all comes down to the arrangements and the interpretation.

Having well known rock musicians as “soloists” (and in one example the original artist) stops any over-egging or extravagance and a core rhythm section including the Cottle brothers – Laurence and Richard – at least keeps the foundations rocking.  They are particularly impressive on ‘Watcher Of The Skies’ and it’s perhaps a little surprising that Steve Hackett is conspicuous by his absence.

Amongst the guests,  Ian Bairnson stands in for David Gilmour on ‘Comfortably Numb’ whilst one-time mediaeval rocker Richard Harvey (Gryphon) excels on ‘Thick As A Brick’.

The heaviest almost big band diversion is King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ which features Gavin Harrison and the fusion guitar of Guthrie Govan.  Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith is featured on Rush’s ‘Red Barchetta’.

Elsewhere, as you might expect, this is a production job of widescreen proportions, especially evidenced on ‘Think Of Me With Kindness’ the lesser-known Gentle Giant song (from ‘Octopus’ in 1972) that now comes across as Vaughan Williams mixed with Big Country (the movie theme not the band).  Yes’ ‘Roundabout’ (featuring the late Jimmy Greenspoon on keyboards) sounds like it could have been a Bond theme.  Of course this treatment may not appeal to all tastes but it is very well done.

Hopefully this will be the start of a series (there’s also a “More Symphonic Rock” album released in May although not on the same label).  It demonstrates that in amongst prog rock there was always a damn good classical musician trying to get out, and an even more durable tune.  ****

Review by David Randall

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 14 February 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at for that week.

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