Jabberwocky Album Front Cover
Image © 1999 Verglas Music
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Album Review

© Russell W Elliot 1998

Last Updated: 09 February 1999

Based on the Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) poem of the same name, Clive Nolan has teamed up with Oliver Wakeman to create the all-new progressive rock masterwork Jabberwocky (VGCD014). In development for three years prior to the Verglas Music (UK) release in January 1999, this stunning concept album features Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman's tremendous keyboard work with contributions by a vast array of artists including Peter Banks (Genesis) on drums, Ian Salmon (Shadowland, Janison Edge) on guitar and Tracy Hitchings' (Quasar, Gandalf, Strangers On A Train, Landmarq) vocals. Rick Wakeman narrates the piece and further vocals are provided by Bob Catley (The Boy), James Plumridge (The Jabberwock) and Paul Allison (The Tree). Images of the performers are provided at the conclusion of this review.

Oliver Wakeman, successful outside the business, returns to his music roots in this first major project with Clive Nolan (Arena, Pendragon, Strangers On A Train, Shadowland). Indeed, Jabberwocky combines Wakeman's foundation, steeped in father Rick's epics (Journey To The Centre of the Earth, Six Wives Of Henry VIII, and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable) with Nolan's dynamic soundtrack-oriented progressive rock style. With Rick narrating the poem's verses across the album's tracks, the individual songs interpret the story in a highly theatrical style perfectly performed by the four vocalists. It is interesting to note that the band Ambrosia used a narration of portions of Carroll's "Jabberwocky" withinin the song "Mama Frog" found on their self-titled album almost twenty-five years ago.

Nolan & Wakeman's Jabberwocky album is instrumentally very strong and quite symphonic throughout with amazing keyboard riffs in several of the tracks with "Shadows" being the most stunning instrumental example of their collaboration. However, as a 'concept' album written to tell the story in a musical style, it has very strong vocal performances by the three male vocalists and Tracy Hitchings. An extensive choir, including Dave Wagstaffe (Landmarq, Janison Edge) and Michelle Young, provides backing vocals and incidentals throughout the album. The instrumental parts, lead vocals and choir are perfectly arranged and orchestrated to develop the mood, setting the scene through musical animation, for each chapter of the story.

James Plumridge's excellent interpretation of The Jabberwock is similar to The Landlord in the musical Les Miserables at times, especially in the introduction to "Dangerous World," more closely aligning to The Phantom ("Dancing Water") at others. Bob Catley's emotive performance of The Boy is somewhat reminiscent of Meatloaf (The Intergalactic Touring Band) at times, moreso in the beginning of the album and the track "The Mission," while Paul Allison's sensitive interpretation of The Tree evokes memories of Moody Blues vocalist Justin Hayward. The choir also achieves a Moody Blues-like sound in "The Forest." Tracy Hitchings plays The Girl delivering unique emotionally-charged theatrical vocal performances throughout her parts of the album.

The lyrics of the album interpret Carroll's poem (from the 1872 Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There). The story involves a fantasy or even a dream where the Boy confronts the Jabberwock, an imaginary culmination of the Girl's fears and nightmares ("Dangerous World"). The Girl's faith ("Glimmer Of Light") and sage advice from the Tree ("Enlightenment") give the Boy the strength and courage ("Dancing Water," "The Burgundy Rose") to conquer the beast ("The Mission"). In the triumph of their victory ("Call To Arms"), the Boy and Girl join together as the album concludes ("Finale"). The music and the storyline are discussed further below.

The instrumentals in the "Overture" begin after Rick Wakeman narrates the first verse of the "Jabberwocky" poem. With bold percussion, symphonic keyboard work and guitar, the album opens in full splendour to support the initial vocal performance by Bob Catley expressing his need to overcome his fears and be with his true love. The stunning female choir comes in singing in Latin ("When will my love come home to me") to compliment the symphonic instrumentals during the bridge. The final vocal verse is performed with synthesized woodwind voices concluding the instrumental work. Rick narrates the second verse of the poem as the track concludes.

With the scene now set, fierce keyboards introduce the rocking "Coming To Town," also sung by Bob Catley supported by the choir, before a short and sweet verse is sung by Tracy Hitchings. A keyboard solo precedes the final verses of the song. The Jabberwock makes his first appearance in "Dangerous World," seducing the Boy in both opening and closing verses, sounding much like the cunning Landlord from Les Miserables. In contrast to the sinister intentions of the Jabberwock, Tracy Hitchings as the Girl, continues in the second passage, singing a lovely ballad about her nightmares and her feelings for her protector, the Boy. The narration of the poem's third verse leads into "The Forest." The song is a majestic march-like instrumental with Latin vocal harmonies to express the danger that lies ahead ("Make haste slowly, give up hope those who enter") provided by of the male choir.

"A Glimmer Of Light" is a short, yet stunning, emotionally-drenched solo ballad sung by Tracy Hitchings. Musically mating perfectly with "Dangerous World," the sensitive "Glimmer Of Light" is one of the highlights of the album. The Boy is given inspiration through the Girl's belief that they could conquer all. The narration of the poem's fourth verse concludes the track. The keyboard riff-filled instrumental track "Shadows" follows; it summarises the instrumental and vocal themes thus far and is a perfect overature to what could be called a second act with introductions to the music that follows. It could equally be a scene where the boy and girl are haunted by things that leap out from the dark or are chased through the forest by the Jabberwock.

The Boy and Girl encounter The Tree; Paul Allison leads the song with a tremendous, at times multi-tracked, solo in "Enlightenment" supported by keyboard and guitar themes introduced earlier in "Shadows." The Tree encourages the Boy to confront his fears without hesitation and to have faith in himself to conquer the Jabberwock. The Boy sings a short verse accepting the Tree's advice. A powerful guitar-led instrumental bridges to the concluding verse of the song as Rick summarises the danger ahead.

In the buildup to the confrontation, Bob Catley sings a heartfelt solo, as the Boy gathers his strength in "Dancing Water." The Jabberwock's lure builds in an almost "Phantom"-like vocal passage in contrast to Tracy Hitchings' short verses where the Girl warns of impending danger. The song concludes with all three singing their differing views in opposition. The final bits of strength and courage are gathered in the vocals of "The Burgundy Rose," where keyboard passages underscore the confident mood expressed in this sensitive Bob Catley / Tracy Hitchings duet.

In "The Mission" the Boy sets out to destroy the Jabberwock. With vocals led by Catley and supported by Hitchings, dynamic keyboard work and soaring electric guitars build the excitement delivered by the song. The highly instrumental "Call To Arms" reaches a climax when the fight against the Jabberwock takes place. The fifth verse of the poem is begun and as the tension builds with the choir's vocal repetition of an Italian phrase (written on the top of the gateway to hell within Danté's Inferno -- "Through me you enter the suffering city, through me you enter the never ending pain") the Jabberwock is slain. As the poem's fifth verse is completed, the Boy and Girl join together having overcome their ordeal. They revel in their triumph over the beast in a last, albeit brief, duet. Rick's narration of the poem's final verse leads to the orchestrally lush instrumental "Finale."

While there have been many interpretations of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, this is the first musical work to do the story justice. Here the artists have created an instrumentally rich, theatrically symphonic work, with sensitive lyrics and outstanding vocal performances to guide us through their interpretation, musically animating the magical world within Carroll's poem. A stage performance with this album as its soundtrack would make an outstanding modern production. A true masterwork, Nolan & Wakeman's Jabberwocky is an outstanding album in all respects. Bravo!

Jabberwocky Cast
Image © 1999 Verglas Music

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