Clouds – Scrapbook
Chances are you won’t find a Clouds song on any of the prog rock compilations that have recently hit the rainbow-hued ether, following the genre’s apparent rehabilitation.
It may no longer be necessary to secrete a prog purchase inside a copy of Razzle, to avoid the embarrassment of being seen out with something as shameful as Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII, but the smorgasbord collections that have emerged to cash in on this newfound respectability tend to stick to very much the same blueprint, taking few chances and recycling the same artists and songs over again. The two-disc edition of Wondrous Stories is a perfect example of this and what to expect from any number of similar releases hoping to bag their share of the prog/curious pound.
As I said, it’s extremely doubtful you’d find any songs by Clouds gracing these cynical exercises in bandwagon jumping, as this three-piece ensemble, originally from Scotland, flew just a little too low beneath the radar. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
Clouds’ debut album, 1969’s The Clouds Scrapbook, is a curious mix of prog, jaunty psychedelia, flowery pop and balladry. Even with the largest of shoehorns it would be difficult to prise this album into any singular category, where the likes of HFoS could point at it and say “yes, that goes there.” Such is our wont.
As such, Scrapbook is an uneven piece, benefitting from flashes of brilliance that are all too often countered by moments of the mundane.
It’s an album bookended by its title-track; an acoustic lament to the loss of childhood/happier times that strikes a melancholic chord with anybody who looks upon their past with a rose-tinted air of sadness. But this sombre mood is quickly swept away by the first track proper, the Hammond organ saturated, innuendo-laden punnery of ‘Carpenter’; the breakneck pace of which well and truly blows away any cobwebs formed during the titular intro.
Following some prosaic passages of lacklustre balladry that sound as though they’re being beamed in straight from 1964, we’re suddenly plunged into the realms of the quaint, with a healthy dose of Ray Davies-style homespun whimsy, typified by the bittersweet music hall quirkiness of ‘Grandad’. And then there’s ‘Union Jack’, fashioned from the jauntiest of British psych, which is a warm tribute to shop stewards, convenors and Trade Union men everywhere; an endearing antithesis to the poisonously snide sentiment of the Strawbs’ ‘Part of the Union’.
The progressive chops get a run out on the instrumental ‘Humdrum’, in preparation for the extravagant prog blowout that is ‘Waiter, There’s Something in my Soup’, rounding off Scrapbook in eccentric and eclectic fashion.
Like the weather, Scrapbook is uneven, occasionally dreary, but prone to spells of glorious sunshine and the very fact you won’t find them on any of the no-frills, carbon copy compilations doing the rounds is reason enough to dig deeper.
A second album, recycling tracks from Scrapbook, was released to the US market only, before the more consistent Watercolour Days followed in 1971, after which Clouds dispersed and called it a day.
Scrapbook by Clouds is reissued along with Watercolour Days by Beat Goes On Records and available to buy from Amazon.co.uk
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