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The Story of Sky

Known in America as...
(Thanks to Jaime Fastag for the picture)

Herbie Flowers

Kevin Peek

Steve Gray

Tristan Fry

Guest Musicians: Academy of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.

Released: November 1987

Availability: If you're looking to buy this album, you're out of luck. It's not been available for a very long time, since shortly after its release.

There is usually at least one copy floating around on eBay at any given time, but be prepared to pay collectors' prices for it on CD (you can usually get it on vinyl or cassette for a fair price). If the seller isn't aware of the CD's potential value, then be prepared to find stiff competition from other bidders.

In the track listing below, each track title is a link to a short MP3 sample (approx. one minute). Don't ask me to include full tracks on this site - it'll never happen for a multitude of reasons.

Short Review: The last studio album Sky released, in my own opinion very deservedly the least comemrcially-successful. I find the majority of the arrangements painful to listen to (knowing the originals). I like a bit of schmaltz every now again, so occasionally I can bear to listen to the two Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik movements. The Don Giovanni aria is perhaps the single high-spot, and the Musical Joke (which is regularly arranged for all kinds of instrumentations) is capable of raising a smile. Regrettably, I am NOT one of the people described in the notes to that piece, so I'm rarely capable of hearing the whole track before breaking into a sweat. As for the opening track, I find the arrangement downright criminal. Agree? Disagree? Have your say in the Forum!

Track listing (including original liner notes from the band):

The Marriage of Figaro: Overture (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
About eight years ago when the idea of forming a group, which become known as Sky, was just beginning, I was spending two weeks with The Academy in Aix-en-Provence, France, performing The Marriage of Figaro opera. I had already played with the orchestra for a number of years. Even then I secretly hoped that one day we could bring these two organisations together,both of which are particularly dear to me. The idea was not merely to add a rhythm section to an orchestra but to collaborate musically so that both units could integrate properly. Since that time The Academy and SKY have individually achieved world renown and so it is especially exciting for me that we have managed to do it, with great help from Sir Neville, The Academy and SKY's managements, to re-organise our schedules and actually record together. We feel that this Overture, which is one of Mozart's liveliest pieces and for me was the catalyst far the whole project, should start the album. We're sure that Mozart, who was very much a popular composer of his day, would not have objected to these ideas and we hope you agree. T.F.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Rondo (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
Oh no!! Steve's written me a really hard part. I knew I should have stuck to rock'n'roll. The group are all very understanding (on the surface): "Shall we slow the tape down?" - "Do you want Herbie to play the part on bass?" - etc, etc. I am left red-faced: possibly because I had also broken a tooth and was stuffing myself full of curries and cloves. For the first time in years, I start to practice - slowly, meticulously. My fingers protest like an unhealthy man suddenly trying to run a marathon. Titters from the guys - dark mood from me. I try to console myself that I can still play "Apache" - well, almost! Herbie is calling out "Studio time's a pound a minute, you know" (more like two pounds, actually!). I get moodier - tooth still hurts - think about the nice weather back in Australia ... K.P.

The Marriage of Figaro: Non so piu, cosa son (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
Younger listeners may not know this, but there used to be a time when AIDS was what LUCOZADE did to RECOVERY, and STD was connected to the GPO and not GPI (Americans won't understand any of that, I won't even start explaining!). In those balmy, innocent joys I would occasionally lay down my copy of the Eagle, and wonder why it was that 50% of the population appeared to be engaged in shoplifting melons out of Sainsbury's (or, more rarely, tennis balls from Mr. Hazell's Sports Emporium, or rolls of uncut moquette from Harris Carpets) by the somewhat unsubtle expedient of shoving them up their jumpers. I'll never forget the wonderful shock when I realised that these were women, and although they tended to be supremely indifferent as to whether Roy of the Rovers would score the winner in extra time for Melchester in the Cup Final, they made up for this deficiency in many delicious ways. (It was around the same time that it occurred to me that high heels were not only useful for seeing over nextt door's hedge, which is why I thought the shoplifters wore them, but did something indefinable to the curve of the calf.)
Mozart understood all this, of course, and his aria 'Non So Piu, Cosa Son' is a masterpiece in portraying the delighted confusion of the page boy, Cherubina, who has obviously just given up Dan Dare and the Mekon forever. Phrases dart hither and thither as the possibilities inherent in every woman who ever lived reveal themselves to the baffled young man: - this one? - that one? - there goes another - what do I do?? (Actually, this particular baffled young man has a surprise up his sleeve; not to mention other parts of his clothing. That - as they say - is another story.) S.G.

Symphony No. 34: Last Movement (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
Steve phoned one day in November and asked myself and Tristan to come up with one more piece for this album before travelling to his place in Somerset the following week for the last 'routineing' session before the recording date.
Well, that meant that Tristan and I should have spent a day or two round my place or his (preferably mine, because Tristan's record and tape player is really duff) listening to a pile of Wolfgang's stuff - ostensibly to pick out something that would suit adaptation for The Academy orchestra and SKY.
Needless to say, for one reason or another, we didn't. But, as luck would have it, on the way to Steve's my motor ran out of petrol on the M4. So in the forty minutes that it took for the RAC to arrive, Tristan and I listened to a few cassettes he'd brought with him. We'd play a bit and if it was a slow piece we'd press the 'fast forwrd'. We kept doing this until we arrived at the last movement (or is it the first?) of the 34th Symphony (what an amazing number of symphonies Wolfie wrote). "That's the one!" was the cry - just as the RAC man arrived.
We then arrived at Steve's at three o'clock - he had the hump a bit because we were late but on hearing '34' was delighted with all the hard work Tristan and I must have done listening to and deciding on such a lovely piece.
I have not received any payment from the RAC. H.F.

Symphony No. 35 ("Haffner"): Andante (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
This is the slow movement from one of Mozort's most famous symphonies - sometimes sub-titled "Yes we Haffnerbananas". It begins with SKY, featuring piano. The orchestra then enters and the rest of the movement continues in this combined form giving an impression of a piano concerto. This arrangement, as with some other tracks on the album, is in essence quite different from Mozart's original orchestration but still shows how strong his melodies and flavours shine through whatever we mere mortals can do. Having only recently begun to appreciate truly Mozart's genius, after having played his works most of my life, I hope that you enjoy these pieces as much as we have done working on them. T.F.

The Magic Flute: Overture (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
Stirring stuff! I had not been too much of a Mozart devotee before doing this album (although like millions of other people I loved the film 'Amadeus') and consequently I approached the recording sessions with some trepidation as to the content and quality of my input. However, the Academy performed marvellously (as did Herbie, Steve and Tris) so there was little left that I could muck up. All in all it really was a stirring few weeks. Biting my broken tooth (or was it biting me?) and longing for another curry added to the mixture, but there was no connection really between the two events.
Loved the curries: hated the tooth. K.P.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Romanza (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
'Romanza' is the second movement from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music) whose subtitle, Serenade for Strings, is somewhat more revolutionary than it at first appears.
The serenade originally evolved as a piece of music designed to commemorate an event and was intended to be played out of doors (at 9 P.M., according to the New Grove Dictionary). Often this stipulation would result in compositions of a workmanlike, subservient character. Mozart, on the other hand, appeared in Eine Kleine Nachtmusik to be following a 'music first' policy. He dispensed with the wind and brass previously considered essential for open air music, and composed a suite for strings intended to exist on its own merits.
We have arranged the Romanza for strings, two clarinets and solo classical guitar; an intimate setting which takes the piece even further from its outdoor antecedents, and yet ironically brings it closer to a present day definition of a serenade. S.G.

Horn Concerto no. 4 in Eb: Rondo (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
There aren't many nice tuba solos. Almost all of them are silly or nigh on impossible to play. So: if ever an opportunity arises to increase the repertoire for all us tubists (?) I'll jump at it. All I've ever had the chance to have a go at is 'Tuba Smarties' (which is daft); 'Tubby The Tuba' (which is really a story with a bit of tubing in the middle); and the 'Vaughn Williams Tuba Concerto' (and that's really hard). If ever I attempted that on stage the audience would either be laughing, crying, or just embarrassed at the number of mistakes I'd make.
So the three choices I have are:(1) Stay indoors and amuse myself by playing scales 'til they come out of my ears. (2) Join a brass band (actually I will one day when I can find more time). (3) Adapt pieces of music composed for instruments other than the tuba - hoping to dodge the purist's flak!
Well: hard luck Mr. Purist.
Wolfgang wrote this particular horn concerto - he composed four in all - for an acquaintance of his who, apart from playing the French horn, was a cheesemaker, what we now term a "semi-pro". Either he was the only horn player in Salzburg and there wasn't much work about, or he was lousy and there was plenty of work about. Either way it appears that Woifie liked him because the text books say that the scores were written in different coloured inks - a lovely idea - and Mozart always referred to the cheesemaker affectionately as a scoundrel.
Anyhow: I'll look forward to your comments. My delight when recording the piece was doubled when the two French hornists (horners?) in The Academy orchestra gave me the thumbs up sign. Good job I had my bins on ('bins' is a Cockney rhyming slang expression for 'bins and receptacles' - spectacles). H.F.

Don Giovanni: La ci darem la mano (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
This piece was originally a duet for man and woman from the opera Don Giovanni, written in 1787. Our idea was originally to treat it purely as an instrumental song in the same way that orchestras take songs, re-arrange them, and Bob's your uncle.
Really all that happened was that the orchestration has virtually been left untouched and we employed a cello for the male voice and firstly tried Kevin playing the woman's part on classical guitar.
That didn't seem to work too well; the guitar was, we thought, a little too percussive and didn't really suit the lovely, smooth melody.
So, after a mini band meeting, the decision was to try Steve playing it on his 'gob synth', which is a synthesiser with an attachment that is blown into at the some time as pressing a note down; enabling the player to inject a measure of control over each note played. Sounds a bit like a saxophone crossed with a musical saw.
The bass guitar is 'tacet' on this one so whilst they recorded it I wrote and sent off all my Christmas cards. H.F.

A Musical Joke: Presto (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
Mozart completed the Musical Joke on June 14th 1787; seventeen days after his father's death. The timing of the composition has therefore been a source of puzzlement over the years, for the Musical Joke is a particularly vicious satire on the compositional methods employed by the various nobly-born amateurs who littered the courts of Austria in the late 19th century. Mozart père, it must be said, was a very fine composer when his hand was in: it also must be said that Mozart fils wasn't too lavish with the compliments as far as his contemporaries were concerned. So an enigma remains: was the Musical Joke Mozart's farewell to his father?
One thing is certain: Mozart, being Mozart, was incapable of writing a bad tune and the Presto from the Musical Joke (which will be familiar to British T.V. show jumping fans) is a very good one. The ridiculous fugue which follows the theme, and which must qualify as the world's shortest, always makes me laugh. To celebrate the piece's bicentenary we've added a 1987 ingredient. We play the first half (relatively) straight and then a liberal application of electro-pop pays homage to those who believe that the world is made a finer place by walloping a drum machine and sequenced bass synthesiser over anything that moves. S.G.

Come, Sweet May (Spring Song) (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
About ten years ago my dear cousin Paul got married and, believe it or not, the organist failed to turn up.
Can you believe that the only person in my large family that makes a living out of writing and playing music - me - couldn't even get up and play the 'Wedding March', etc on the organ. Happily a family friend managed it; nervously, but beautifully, and thus making it a memorable service.
That day I vowed that one day I would go for piano lessons. So, last year (only nine years later) I bought a couple of grade one and two piano tutor books and for several weeks did an hour's practice a day.
Needless to say it's fizzled out. But I will start again one day. I don't fancy playing the bass guitar all to myself when I'm seventy. Anyway: in one of these books was a little study called "Come, Sweet May", or "Spring Song", and a little note said that the piece was exactly as Mozart had written it.
After two weeks or so I could manage to play it, at about half the required speed, and when the band had a get-together to decide on the choice of material for the album and how we should approach the arrangements or orchestrations, I sat and played it on the Joanna (Cockney slang - pianna). I can't say that my playing moved anyone to tears but we decided to do the piece, at the slower tempo, leaving Wolfgang's notes as they were until half way through where the orchestra joins in. The second half is how we see it.
It's my favourite track, being a sucker for a soft ice cream. The lady oboe player also likes it. On the recording session she nudged me and said how pretty it was and cleverly pointed out that the theme occurs in the slow movement of one of Mr. M's piano concertos (is there an'e' in concertos?).
My Dad also liked this piece. To my bass player pals: please note the bottom C in the second chorus. Is it flat or sharp? H.F.

Rondo alla Turka: Rondo (Incorporating The Laughing Policeman and Aftermath - The 9th Variation of Alla Turka) (W.A. Mozart, Arr. Sky)
When I began to learn the piano, many years before Herbie, I used to have to practice Alla Turka (The Turkish March: more properly the 3rd Movement from the Piano Sonata in A; K.331). Whatever its title, I used to hate it; partly because, unlike Mr. Flowers, I had a natural tendency to dislike anything I had to practice and partly because, in Mozartean terms, it was very static harmonically.
When SKY decided to include the piece on this album, we reasoned that one way to help me over this entrenched hump of aversion would be to explore the harmonic possibilities suggested by the melody. This led first to the slow piano solo section, and eventually to the incorporation of the chord changes to 'The laughing Policeman'; a simple song possessing a more complex harmonic structure than one might at first realise. It seemed dishonourable not to acknowledge the source of our plunder, so a swift gallop through 'The Laughing Policeman' itself brings us to the end of part one.
Having experimented harmonically, it seemed reasonable to do the some melodically and the germ of 'Aftermath' (the 9th Variation ...) derives from taking the first three notes of the third full bar of 'The Turkish March' and flattening the first one (the 9th of the scale; hence the 9th Variation. There aren't (as yet) eight previous variations). The main theme of 'The Turkish March' recurs at the end, on (in order) oboe, clarinet and flute, and with the 9th restored to its rightful glory. (You can also interpret it as this arranger's making his peace with 'The Turkish March' if you so wish.)
As the last chord dies we hear an echo of another great composer, an earlier manifestation of that pure musical genius that many believe found its supreme embodiment in Woifgang Amadeus Mozart. S.G.

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