"...to friends" 1972
Despite being born in England, Mick Greenwood was bought up in the USA. While at high school in Halifax, Pennsylvania, he took the not uncommon step of forming his own band and, after school, he continued his apprenticeship with a number of other outfits before being spotted and signed by Columbia records in 1971 to start a solo career.
His initial backing group was pulled together from members of the band Fotheringay and with them he made his debut recording - 'Living Dream' which was to be the first in a set of three albums that would make up 'The Teenage Trilogy'. Also in the band at this time was Tony Cox, who may be better known to many as the man responsible for many of the string arrangements for Yes.
After touring with the same group that had appeared on the album some lineup changes were made prior to performing in the States, and it was with this mark II version of the band, often referred to as 'The Cockington All Stars', that the second part of the trilogy, 'To Friends' was recorded in 1972. The concluding chapter, 'Midnight Dreamer', followed two years later in 1974.
'To Friends' was produced by Tony Cox, who was also responsible for production on 'Living Dream', and the main players were: Mick Greenwood - vocals, guitar, piano; Jerry Donahue - guitar; Dave Peacock (later of Chaz'n' Dave) - bass, banjo, fiddle; Barry De Souza - drums, percussion, fiddle, trumpet); and finally Tony Cox - keyboards. Additional guest musicians featured were Barry St. John, Doris Troy and Jimmy Helms.
There are eleven tracks featured in all ranging in mood from those with a delicate air to those with a harder edge; giving the lasting impression that this is a well balanced collection of songs.
From the outset it is Greenwood's vocals that really hold the listener's attention and he delivers a series of powerful performances incorporating a variety of styles taking in rock, blues, and even country. While it would be fair to consider the album as a showcase for Greenwood's ability as a singer / songwriter, the performance given by all the musicians is smooth and the delivery is executed with a degree of subtlety that is often lacking in many present day performances.
Tony Cox's keyboard work tends to be predominantly piano based and it provides a solid base for the vocal sections but is more than capable when it comes to taking the lead, while Jerry Donahue puts in a sterling performance whether he be providing acoustic backing or taking a more dominant electric lead.
In fact, the style of many of the songs with the combination of vocals set against a strong musical background is not really far removed from the type of music Elton John was playing in his early period, but that is not to say that you could ever confuse the two.
The title track 'To Friends', really sets the tone of what is to come, using a soft vocal melody set initially against a piano and acoustic guitar backdrop, but later incorporating some very effective but understated electric guitar playing. This together with the closing piece, 'How Do You Feel in Your Bones', more than the other tracks seem to capture the real essence of Greenwood's distinct vocal style.
For me two of the strongest tracks on the album are 'Mother Earth' and 'Show Your Colours' and it is not surprising to learn that these tracks were chosen for release as singles in 1972 and 1973 respectively. Both songs exhibit Greenwood's softer side, and the blue grass guitar style that flows throughout 'Show Your Colours' is of particular interest.
Interestingly the tracks chosen to appear on the b-side of each single, Spooked' and 'Share the Load' provide a nice contrast and demonstrate a harder funkier edge to the sound, accentuated by the bass playing.
I have already touched upon the fact that aspects of the album have taken influences from the blues. 'See Yourself', although closing off with a heavier rock finish is a prime example, with its backing harmonies which draw heavily from gospel music, while 'All Aboard the Train', follows more acoustic lines.
Along with 'Show Your Colours', 'Space Captain' is another piece which stylistically seems to follow the early Elton John style. The powerful blend of an intense vocal line, piano backing and again the use of gospel style vocal harmonies, make this another winner in my book.
There are two further pieces on the album which I have not mentioned so far - 'Charlie' is a swinging R'n'B number, noteworthy for the strident honky-tonk piano and lively banjo work from Dave Peacock, while 'Berzerk' is another bluesey R'n'B number, this time with some superb electric guitar playing over the excellent honky tonk piano sounds.
It is sad to reflect that Mick Greenwood's music has been rather badly neglected over the years, but hopefully now that Voiceprint have made all three albums available for the first time since their original release in the seventies, new audiences will have a chance to judge his undoubted talents as a performer and songwriter for themselves. While his may not be a household name, the music is true to the spirit of the early seventies scene and should be listened to by anyone interested in the music of that era.
Mick Greenwood: Guitar, Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Tony Cox: Synthesizer, Piano, Accordion, Vocals
Dave Peacock: Banjo, Bass, Fiddle, Violin, Vocals
Jerry Donahue: Guitar, Vocals
Barry DeSouza: Fiddle, Percussion, Trumpet, Drums
Barry St. John: Vocals
Doris Troy: Vocals
Jimmy Helms: Vocals
Produced by Tony Cox
01. To Friends
03. See Yourself
04. Mother Earth
05. All Aboard The Train
06. Share The Load
07. Show Your Colors
10. Space Captain
11. How Do You Feel In Your Bones