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When in late 1969 King Crimson's IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING was released, it profoundly changed the course of rock music, becoming the unwitting progenitor of Progressive Rock, and setting in motion a variety of imitators, some of whom produced worthy music of their own.

The first several albums (those released in Britain by Harvest/EMI) by Barclay James Harvest are one example. Far from copies of King Crimson, they nonetheless drew upon the modal motifs, extended codas, and pseudo-symphonic aspects pioneered by Crimson. A variety of other bands over the years have drawn upon aspects of early King Crimson for their own inspiration. And Crimson's early music was so rich in variety, texture, and dynamics that one could distill from it the inspiration for many kinds of bands and music, all of them more ambitious than simple pop dance bands.

In 1976 an Australian band called Rainbow Theatre released an album called FANTASY OF HORSES on the Clear Light of Jupiter label. It was the work of guitarist and keyboardist Julian Browning, and it is one of the very best of the Crimson-inspired albums ever produced. Not a copy of King Crimson, it nevertheless clearly owes Crimson a profound debt.


Rainbow Theatre was a 14-piece band -- a small orchestra. In addition to Browning (whose keyboards included a Mellotron), it included bass and drums, plus organ, trumpet/flugelhorn, trombone, saxophone/clarinet, flute, oboe, three violins, viola, and cello. With this kind of instrumentation (which rivaled Barclay James Harvest's use of a student orchestra in addition to the band itself), Rainbow Theatre could cover a lot of musical ground -- from the most delicate to the most bombastic -- and certainly did.

But this is only one aspect of their similarity to Crimson. A more compelling aspect was the compositions, the melodies themselves, which are "Crimsoid" in the best sense, capturing the same wistful, minor-key, quasi-Elizabethian folk melodies that Ian McDonald introduced to Crimson with songs like "I Talk To The Wind." And these are contrasted with heavier excursions. Crimson's early models were Holst's "Mars" (from his "The Planets") and Ravel's "Bolero," out of which was fashioned such epics as "Epitaph" and "In The Court of the Crimson King." Rainbow Theatre draws directly upon Mussorksy's "Night on Bare Mountain" for its piece, "Caption for the City Night Life," although the quotes from "Bare Mountain" are used as riffs and submerged in the composition as a whole.

The original album had three pieces on its first side, and an extended suite, the title track, took up all of side two. But it was a short album, barely over 35 minutes long. The opening track, "Rebecca," opens with a burst of pure Mellotron, signaling what is to come. It's followed by "Dancer," a suite broken up into five separately titled tracks which segue into each other without pause. "Caption for the City Night Life" closes out the original side one, and offers a darker and more powerful music than that which preceded it. "Fantasy of Horses" has seven separately titled tracks, and tells a story which can be glimpsed through those titles: "Early Light," "Frolic," "Trappers," "Captives," "Frolic," "Escape," and "Cliff Edge." Wild horses have fueled more than one fantasy, and this is a good one. The use of the horns is reminiscent of their use on King Crimson's LIZARD, and the singing (by organist Keith Hoban) is very much like that of Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield on his solo album, STILL (now available on CD as STILLUSION), although in places it sounds too "straight" -- almost operatic -- for the music.

This album is a true forgotten (or never known -- outside Australia, and little known there) classic. One wonders if Browning or Rainbow Theatre ever recorded anything else. This album whets the appetite for more by these people.

However, its release on CD poses ethical problems for me.

The CD is the (uncredited anywhere on it) release of a Japanese company, Poorhouse Records. They've released it (and a bunch of other albums, mostly but not all from Australia) in the format currently popular in Japan, especially for jazz releases, the "mini LP." You may have seen some Yes imports in this format. Instead of a jewel box, the CD is packaged in a pseudo-cloth inner sleeve (like the old inner paper sleeves LPs came in) inside a miniature replica of the original LP jacket. Reputable labels modify the jacket sufficiently to include bar codes and identification of the CD manufacturer, etc. Poorhouse does not.

Like Germanophon, Poorhouse is "bootlegging" its albums, stealing them and releasing them without contracts or royalties. The actual CDs are direct transcriptions of the LPs -- not made from master tapes -- and prone to the occasional click or pop or other surface noise found on the LP that was used, as well as possible tracking errors. Unlike bootlegs of live performances, which exist in a gray area, these CDs are unauthorized copies of LPs to which others hold the rights. (Germanophon brought out a lot of German albums which seemed at the time unlikely to ever be available legitimately on CD -- but those very releases have prompted the labels which do own the albums to release them on CD, so some good has come of it, especially since the legal releases always have better sound and often have bonus tracks. Poorhouse is too new for similar results to have occurred yet.)

So I can't recommend the CD release of Rainbow Theatre's album, since none of its sales revenues will reach the artists who made the album. And yet, had it not been for the Poorhouse CD I would not have heard of this album, which I regard quite highly. I'm tempted to recommend you steal a copy -- but that only rips off a middleman (the store or dealer) -- compounding the ethical problem.

We can only hope this album is someday -- and sooner would be better than later -- put into legitimate release by Clear Light of Jupiter or its legal heirs, or by Rainbow Theatre (or Julian Browning) itself. It's a great album of marvelous music.



Not long after I posted the above review Bob Karnes (at Tower) told me there was another, earlier Rainbow Theatre album, also released by Poorhouse. I wrestled with my conscience and then bought it. My desire to have and hear the album triumphed. I review it here in hopes that with sufficient publicity about both Rainbow Theatre and the way Poorhouse is ripping them off perhaps Something Will Be done. One could hope for the legitimate release of these albums on CD -- they are genuine treasures and incredibly little known to most fans of progressive music.

THE ARMADA was made a year earlier than FANTASY OF HORSES, and with a slightly different band. Julian Browning is credited here with guitar and Mellotron, as well as the music, arrangements and production. About half the band's basic personnel are the same as that which made the second album, and the instrumentation is similar, but lacks the strings and woodwinds. Instead we have, in addition to the lead vocalist, a choral group of seven singers. There are only five compositions, two of which are multi-part suites, with "The Armada" closing the album.

The horns start out raggedly, but perhaps deliberately so. My ear hears what sounds like a student band, out of tempo and out of tune, but this may be intentional since there is no hint of amateurishness in the execution of the music which follows. That music seems to me less well-focused than the music on FANTASY OF HORSES, however. It also has some of the earnestness of a student recital, and this is underlined by the decidedly non-rock nature of the vocals, both lead and choral. There is in fact very little of any "rock"-like qualities to this music. It has instead the feeling of an ambitious, but rather academic conservatory work. But the appearance of a "Bolero" section in "The Armada" reminds us of Browning's Crimsoid influences.

It's not the album FANTASY OF HORSES is, and in an ideal world -- where both are legally available as CDs -- it should be heard first, so that the second album can be appreciated for the improvement that it is over the first. But of course this is the real world and far from ideal.

I remain curious about what Julian Browning did after FANTASY OF HORSES.

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