Olias of Sunhillow

September 20, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Readers of this blog may have realised by now that I’m a bit of a Prog Rock fan at heart.. and this post will of course do nothing to dispel that idea.

Olias of Sunhillow was the first solo album by Jon Anderson, better known as the voice of Yes, a little man with a high voice and a gift for stringing disparate words together to create what he called sonic poetry, but which most other people dismiss as nonsense…

Olias of Sunhillow was that singularly 1970’s thing, a full blown concept album. Written and recorded over the winter of 1975 whilst taking a break from seemingly constant touring with Yes, it was released (to limited critical acclaim it must be said) along with other solo albums by each of the band members, in the summer of 1976.

I was probably about 15 or so when I first bought it and I was immediately taken with the epic science fantasy concept, (inspired by Roger Dean’s wonderful paintings for the cover of Yes’s 1971 album Fragile) the mesmerising, almost ambient electronic music and the rich and beautiful artwork.

Jon Anderson was credited with writing, singing and playing every instrument on the album, locking himself away in his home studio over a period of many months, with over 30 instruments, a multi-track recorder, some early electronic keyboards and sound advice from some music mates, including non other than his later 1980’s collaborator, Vangelis. This approach to doing everything himself was, if I remember, a direct result of Anderson being disgruntled that he was only ever thought of as the singer and occasional tambourine player with Yes. As such he looked to address this by using Olias to demonstrate to the world his multi instrumental abilities.

The concept for the album revolves around the complex and slightly confusing story of Sunhillow, an alien planet destined to destruction, whose inhabitants are forced to leave on a space ship called the Moorglade Mover. Three key beings, Olias, Ranyart and Qoquaq are each called upon to perform various tasks, so allowing the ships occupants to survive their journey and arrive safely at their new home (which may or may not be Earth…)

The original gate-fold sleeve is a wondrous thing to behold. Thick expensive card, with additional inserts, allowing the English artist David Roe (famous for his pictures of dragons) to create a series of detailed and intriguing images over four panels, with each panel illustrating an excerpt from the story… Marvellous.

All in all a real treat for a teenage music fan, and it’s a record I’ve never tired of, I must admit.

Listening to it again, (for what must easily be the 1000th time) it doesn’t sound as dated to my ears, as much of the music from the Seventies. Chris Squire’s solo album A Fish Out of Water from the same year, whilst also being pretty good, is very much rooted in the bombast and excesses of the times; big production, orchestras etc. Olias, I would argue, with its rich electronic textures, understated tribal rhythms and layered vocals, stands the test of time far better.

Give it a listen, see what you think…  Olias of Sunhillow.

There’s a worryingly obsessive site here I came across, if you fancy knowing more about Olias…

To end with a little known fact of the day… the little girl you can see holding a kitten and nestled in below her dad, to the right of the image above is Deborah Anderson. Now better known as a photographer, she was however the voice on one of my favorite tracks from the 90’s, Alex Reece’s sublime Drum & Bass classic, Feel the Sunshine

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