Beggar’s Opera – Act One

Act One, debut album of British prog-rockers, Beggar’s Opera, is a fun, timeless work in an early British post-psychedelic style. Most notable among the instrumentation is Alan Park’s fantastical keyboard and organ playing, at times breaking into classical pieces (similar to contemporaries Emerson, Lake & Palmer), from Grieg’s famous Peer Gynt suite (best known for its “In the Hall of the Mountain King,”) to Mozart’s “Rondo allo Turka,” suggesting that Park was, at the very least, well-trained.

Besides Park’s defining keyboard style, vocalist Martin Griffith adds a distinctive element to Beggar’s Opera, with his dynamic, booming style that, perhaps, hadn’t quite reached the realm of post-psychedelia when Act One was released in 1970. Griffith’s style has had a lasting influence, though, namely on The Aquabats vocalist, “The MC Bat Commander,” who utilizes the uniquely derived vocal styling in what must be a tribute to his musical influences. (Interestingly, The Aquabats also pull influences from other progressive rock groups, namely Rush-style keyboard riffs.)

In what may be the defining piece on Act One, “Raymond’s Road”, Alan Park takes Beggar’s Opera on a nearly twelve minute excursion through guitar shredding-style organ solos, sections of classical and baroque pieces, and the “usual” progressive keyboard and organ riffing and progressions (though in 1970, they were hardly usual, what with the progressive genre being a relative youngling.) This continues into “Light Cavalry,” complete with bouncy bass work and drumming and, again, a nearly-psychedelic feeling guitar.

New to Act One (as of the 1997 reissue) are the tracks “Sarabande” and “Think.” “Sarabande” seems rightly cut from the album — while an interesting glimpse into 1970s progressive rock, it fails to captivate in the same way the original album did with ease. “Think” presents Beggar’s Opera’s obvious psychedelic influence; while psychedelia played a large part on the album, it never took such a leading role. At times, “Think” sounds almost like a track pulled straight from Pink Floyd’s “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” As far as Griffith’s vocal style lends itself well to such a meandering, “Think” succeeds, though it’s a disparate track on a fairly straight-forward album. In all, Beggar’s Opera created one of the more interesting works of post-psychedelia and early progressive rock with Act One.

Matthew Montgomery

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