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Sky 2

Originally released in North America as...

Sky 2

Sky lineup

John Williams

Herbie Flowers

Kevin Peek

Francis Monkman

Tristan Fry

Released: April 1980

Peak position in UK charts: 1 (July 1980)

Availability: A remastered CD was released in February 2005 on the Castle Music label (part of the Sanctuary Records Group and should be fairly easy to find. In case of difficulty, you can always try HMV (No, I don't make money from suggesting them).

I seriously advise against buying the 1994 Music Club edition (which is also the basis for various European and Australian pressings), of which multiple copies float around on eBay at any given time) because it doesn't sound as good.

In the meantime, click on the track title to hear/download an MP3 sample from the track (roughly one minute in all cases). I don't include the full tracks for a multitude of reasons, and never will.

Short Review: Encouraged by the response to their album and tours, this double album was far more representative of a Sky concert, including studio recordings of several pieces which were already aprt of their repertoire. Existing fans were not disappointed, and the huge success of the Toccata single got them many more. Anyone buying the album having heard the single was in for a surprise, though. The sheer energy of Hotta, the descriptive power of Sahara, not to mention the silliness of Dance of the Little Fairies and Tuba Smarties, showed that this was a band capable of a lot more than making noise to a (in my opinion) badly arranged piece of one of the most famous classical pieces ever. And then there's the sheer majesty and complexity of FIFO, probably the pinnacle of Sky's output before or since. I prefer to think of it as a sonata for rock band, the finale of which, as Francis says in the notes, deserves to played out LOUD! And the icing on the cake, side three of the original LP version, featuring each musician as virtuoso, playing relevant classical repertoire entirely straight (just as they did during live performances). Magical! Agree? Disagree? Have your say in the Forum!

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

Hotta (Peek/Flowers)
This piece got its name from being (in its original conception) very similar rhythmically to a Spanish dance called a "Jota" Herbie and I wrote it one afternoon at his house with him cheerfully banging away chords on a Prophet synthesiser and gleefully singing the tune (as only Herbie can't) while I followed on after him in the best busker's tradition on acoustic guitar (but with great enthusiasm). When we together played it to John he was heard to mutter "well, it's not quite like a Jota" and so Herbie and I agreed to compromise and spell it HOTTA so as not to cause too much confusion with the real thing. We tried the piece out on tour and virtually changed the arrangement each night before settling on its present recorded form with a small solo part from each of us. K.P.

Dance of the Little Fairies (Flowers)
This one's got five beats in the bar, unlike a march with two, a waltz with three, or a tango, quickstep or foxtrot, which have four. This is intended to evoke five little fairies dancing, or that's how it felt to me, with lots of cross-rhythms. H.F.

Sahara (Peek)
This is a mixture of musical cultures as the main theme is based around a flamenco scale (or mode) which was originally introduced to Spain by the Moors and is a scale still widely used in Arabic music. Because of its flamenco adoption it obviously is quite at home on guitar and John (on Ovation Classic) and Francis (on acoustic piano) improvise around the scale first before going into the main theme (just after the rest of us have joined in). I then take the melody on the Gibson LS5 which is repeated an octave higher (the sample included) before going into the slow middle section of the piece (a sample from which you can hear on the Five Live page), and then back into the main theme again to finish.
My concept of this number was that of the main Arabic-like themes being the union of the harsh power of the desert (very memorable for anyone who has seen one) and the slower, gentle middle theme being the oasis unexpectedly arrived at bringing peace and a short rest before returning back into the harshness again. K.P.

FIFO (Monkman)
This piece is in the form of a question and answer (F.I.F.O. = first in-first out, a data-handling procedure in computing). Working on the socialist maxim that for every two good guitarists, a rock band needs at least one bad guitarist, I have (not too reluctantly) picked up the old plastic axe for this one. Tony Clark has thoughtfully placed it on the left side of the stereo, so that by careful adjustment of the balance control on your hi-fi you can lose it altogether. Those of you with mono are stuck with it. F.M.
1st Movement - Fifo
States the question along with urgent interjections from John's guitar and a lot of dominant bashing from Herbie and Tris, leading into the Fifo tune which, together with the name, formed the original nucleus of the piece. This acts as a kind of temporary answer, but the question keeps re-asserting itself until, at the end of the movement, it builds along with its interjections which carry it headlong into the...
2nd Movement - Adagio
This sounds a bit like Liszt, but not so sentimental. Thematically it comes from part of the "urgent" material in the 1st Movement. Just before the end a tune from "Scipio" finds its way in and can't get out.
3rd Movement - Scherzo
The first part sounds like it should have words. Write your own. Almost anything in the language fits the meter except "basically". Next, a recap of Fifo leads into the Scherzo itself, which is an offshoot of the Fifo tune. Then a guitar cadenza puts the question again, this time inverted; this bit sounds rather eerie. Finally...
4th Movement - Watching the Aeroplanes
The Answer. Turn this one up loud.

Tuba Smarties (recorded live) (Flowers)
When SKY began, Mr. Flowers was the only bass player to turn up for the audition. He offered so much to join that they couldn't refuse. He then proceeded to hypnotize everyone and managed to force them to sign an agreement permitting him to play at least one tuba solo on tour.
A light-hearted highlight of the band's live shows, it was penned by Herbie who had learned to play tuba in the air force. "I wanted to show off what the tuba could do, and so I devised this as a humourous encore number for our live concerts. It got such a good reception at our shows that we realised we would have to record it. So we did, and the version on this album is from the Dominion Theatre, London.
It's a Boosey & Hawkes tuba (serial no. 587195). Tristan Fry insists it's not him on trumpet. The rest of the band, when asked what instruments they play on this work, just slammed the phone down. H.F.
(A word on the title: Are Smarties known anywhere outside the UK? They're chocolates, like the more famous M&Ms, but are sold in cardboard tubes...)

Ballet-Volta (Praetorius, Arr. Williams)
In 1612 a collection of over 800 popular tunes was published and called Terpsichore, after the Greek goddess of dance. The composer was Michael Praetorius and he arranged the tunes in 4 and 5 parts to be played on any instruments available. One day in the studio nobody turned up except Kevin and myself... J. W.
I think it's John on the left speaker and Kevin on the right

Gavotte & Variations (Rameau)
Rameau didn't call them Variations, he called them "doubles' (he was French), and it's not really a Gavotte because according to him, the tune (or "simple") should be played slowly. Many of his other keyboard works have less sedate titles ('The Chicken'; 'The Idiots of Sologne' and many more), but this remians one of his most popular pieces, with both pianists and harpsichordists.
J.-P. Rameau was also the most famous composer of operas in mid- 18th century Paris, as well as founding our modern system of harmony in his theoretical writings. F.M.
How many rock concerts include the keyboard player presenting a piece of classical music, played entirely straight? And on a harpsichord, of all instruments? Sky concerts always included this kind of strangeness, and here it is on record as well...

Andante (Vivaldi, Arr. Williams)
A transcription by us of the beautiful second movement from Vivaldi's Concert in G for 2 mandolins.
J. W.

Tristan's Magic Garden (Fry)
I'm not quite sure how this piece got its title. I think it just evolved from everybody else after the first time we heard it. Just as well, because I was going to call it "Half a Pound of Timpani Ice"
Anyway we start with the vibraphone (without motor) playing a tune, with a marimba, bass marimba and timps accompanying. Then we go into a more rocky section featuring the marimba and vibraphone taking the melody with shouts from the xylophone and the timps playing a bass line with drums. Then the last section is ad-lib round the timps; seven of them. When we play this at the concerts, John and Kevin are on marimba and vibes and Francis goes on the drum kit, which only goes to prove one thing - if you can join 'em, beat 'em. T.F.

El Cielo (Williams)
I have always loved Spanish folk tunes - the songs and dances are so varied in their character and mood. This piece (which we call "El Thingy") uses two of my favourite songs: it centers around the two acoustic guitars (of course!) although the first tune sounds most noble as played by Francis on one of his 397 keyboards - actually the Oberheim synthesiser. Kevin plays the second tune and I try to sound generally busy. (Something of an understatement, as ever from John Williams!)
J. W.

Vivaldi (Darryl Way)
Curved Air almost invariably used this as the big finish to a set. It was written in the style of Vivaldi and conceived really as a barnstormer for Curved Air's violinist Darryl Way. When Curved Air split up, it seemed too good a number to lose so it was carried over into Sky, with John Williams playing a rather more concise guitar cadenza at the point where Darryl would have had his extended violin freakout (just before the sample included here). F.M.

Scipio (Flowers)
Scipio is the first piece of music to have Parts I & II running simultaneously. It is supposed to be a happy little interlude rather like a musical wedding reception. John is on Ovation Classic, Kevin the same until the harpsichord solo, then he goes on to his Gibson LS5. Mr Monkman is on harpsichord, Prophet 5 synthesiser, Oberheim OB-I and old fashioned steam piano. H.F.
Note for the eagle-eyed (or -eared!): In order to fit the original (double) album onto one CD, the end of Scipio fades out with fewer repetitions

Toccata (Bach, Arr. Peek, Holmes)
J. S. Bach originally wrote this piece for organ. It has subsequently been arranged and played in numerous musical permutations and I'm sure it would be safe to say that the opening few bars have been heard by just about everybody in the Western world at some time or another. The arrangement that we have done was stimulated largely by the use of the piece as the theme for the film "Rollerball" some years back which had the main theme played on piano with a traditional pop rhythm section and strings accompanying. I felt that it would suit a smaller group arrangement and, in particular, that the main melody would sit very nicely on guitar instead of piano (I used a special guitar tuning to do this; the 6th string down to D and the 2nd string down to A). Francis has the introduction on harpsichord linked with the Prophet synthesiser and is soon joined by Herbie on Fender bass. Tristan then sets the main rhythm and John and I play the melody in unison and the arpeggios following that in harmony. I am again on the Gibson L5S and John on the Ovation Classic guitar throughout. The high synthesiser runs in the middle section of the piece are played by Francis on the Oberheim. K.P.
I have deliberately chosen a (musically incomplete) section as the sample here which gives classical music purists heart attacks!

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