Clear Blue Sky were still in their teens when they were discovered by Nirvana's Patrick Campbell-Lyons, and their youth shows. Clear Blue Sky, the trio's one and only album, is a mishmash of hard rock leanings, prog rock fascinations, and occasionally jazzy delivery that is best regarded today by collectors of classic Vertigo albums and early Roger Dean artwork. John Simms' vocals are extraordinarily uncertain, and the record itself sometimes sounds more a youth club rehearsal than a major-label release. Campbell-Lyons' production doesn't help much either, remaining strictly in the sonic background. That said, it is certainly an ambitious effort -- a freshman term paper for aspiring young metalheads. Side one is devoured wholly by "Journey to the Inside of the Sun," a three-part thunderclap that not only provided labelmates Black Sabbath with the title "Sweet Leaf," it also rode rock's current fascination with the classics by hijacking an element of Gustav Holst's The Planets suite for an occasional quirky interlude. Other diversions crop up on side two, as "Tool of My Trade" and the almost acoustic "My Heaven" at least kick off with something less than the full frontal riffery of the other numbers, while the closing "Birdcatcher" (the band's best-known number, courtesy of its inclusion on the fabled Heads Together, First Round Vertigo label sampler) sounds extraordinarily close to period Budgie and, "Sweet Leaf" aside, is the best-developed track on the album.
John Simms - guitars, vocals;
Ken White - drums;
Mark Sheather – bass
1 Journey to the Inside of the Sun
a. Sweat Leaf 9:30
b. The Rocket Ride 5:51
c. I'm Coming Home 3:05
2 You Mystify 7:45
3 Tool of My Frade 4:50
4 My Heaven 5:00
5 Birdcatcher 4:10
Considered a classic of the early seventies by a number of critics, the debut album from Clear Blue Sky was released at a time when the rock world was undergoing a number of radical changes. The psychedelic era was coming to a close with progressive rock taking over the mantle of rocks' leading genre. However, not all bands followed the modus operandi of progressive rock bands, using classical music and jazz music as the platform for their musical trip. Some bands, most notably those within the hard rock genre, used a form of heavy blues as their launching pad.
Clear Blue Sky were just one of these bands that have a most definite blues influence. However, their ability to introduce a number of variations within their musical structure such as subtle classical influences as well as a degree of complexity that went beyond the average band enabled their music to be appreciated by a wider range of audiences.
The album starts with the suite, Journey To the Inside Of The Sun which occupied the whole of Side 1 of the original vinyl album, and is in itself subdivided into three tracks. The opening Sweet Leaf is a real stomper, with a classical blues riff. As can be expected, a line-up comprising guitar, bass and drums could be rather limited in the amount of musical diversity that can be created, yet on the other hand the band manage to carry this off well. The opening nine and a half minutes (all of Sweet Leaf) are instrumental with John Simms belting out one guitar solo after the other, ably backed by Sheather and White. On the other hand one can note the classical influence on these musicians when occasional the stomp is abruptly stopped with a short classical interlude (played on guitar of course!) taken from Dvorak's New World Symphony. This is the same symphony that The Moody Blues were meant to record for Decca to promote stereo sound, and which ended up as The Days Of Future Passed, and the subsequent birth of progressive rock!
The Rocket Ride, is the track that tends to feature on most compilations that include a track from Clear Blue Sky and starts with a Hendrix-like riff, however the track takes an unexpected twist with some rapid changes in time signature and key just before the entry of Simms on vocals. The track proceeds on a blues-based foundation though the occasional twist and turn does occur, as happens also with I'm Comin' Home. At times there are traces of Cream, whilst at others one feels that the riffs that shift from an almost acoustic feel to a more abrasive distortion are on a par with Jimmy Page's riffs with Led Zeppelin.
You Mystify has the band letting all hell let loose with Simms' searing guitar work. The shifts in time signature are continuous, once again proving the group's ability to go beyond the routine twelve bar format. Tool Of My Frade also has a backing Hammond, which stays firmly in the background, just adding to the fullness of the sound thus allowing for Simms to do away with the distortion, and even introduce an acoustic guitar. As always the guitar work is fantastic, but a word must be put in for the rhythm section, most notably Ken White's drumming which is constantly changing creating the perfect backbone for Simms and his guitars.
My Heaven and Birdcatcher bring the album to a close. My Heaven could be considered to be the mellower of the two with the backing resembling a style that many alternative musicians would utilise to great effect in later years, Jeff Buckley being an example. the track itself blends both hard and acoustic rock, making it one of the more easy listening tracks on the album. On the other hand Birdcatcher is a straight forward track with another Zeppelin-esque riff featuring plenty of blues influences. Of particular interest on this closing track is use of a flute which adds that Jethro Tull touch to the track. This touch as well as the interlude halfway through the track which has just flute and guitar with footsteps used to keep the beat create and incredibly fantastic atmosphere.
After hearing this album, one can understand why this band was labelled as a progressive rock band. It is true that prog-rock bands are normally associated with keyboards, something which this band lacks. However, on the other hand Clear Blue Sky managed to introduce a number innovative features that places them well above the majority of similar blues-based trios from the same era. The occasional classical innuendo coupled with their ever changing time signatures allowed for them to be classified well within the progressive rock genre, as is fitting. When one listens to this album, one can understand why this band were seemingly destined to greatness, but unfortunately fate had other plans!
Rip from CD 256@ (full artwork included)