Alquin were one of my favourite progressive bands of the seventies and I knew nothing at all about them until I saw them live supporting Golden Earring at Liverpool Stadium in 1973 on the Moontan tour. They had released two albums, The Mountain Queen was their second. A more consciously progressive affair than their other records, the following two albums, Nobody Can Wait Forever 1975 and Best Kept Secret 1976 had shorter songs and were funkier rock and had added lead singer Michael Van Dijk.
The first album Marks 1972 had a range of styles throughout, whereas The Mountain Queen was a progressive jazzy record with long arranged interesting instrumental passages. The vocals on both these albums were more of an afterthought, although better realised on the latter. Getting a proper lead singer in Michael Van Dijk helped them technically, but for me they were at their best when the band was more the focus than the singer. They had an interesting 6 piece line up: a rhythm section of Paul Westrate on drums and Hein Mars on bass. Ferdinand Bakker on guitar, violin, piano and vocals, Dick Franssen on organ and piano and then Ronald Ottenhof on sax and flute and Job Tarenskeen on sax, percussion and vocals. (Tarenskeen later became the band’s drummer when Westrate left).
The album opens with Dick Franssen’s classic organ riff on The Dance. Then Ferdinand Bakker’s electric guitar comes in with a great sounding fuzz tone. All up tempo with drums and bass and surging sax, after 3 minutes it all breaks down to the perfect low key vocals c/- Job Tarenskeen:
Cry if you want
And dance if you can
But never look at me again
With eyes like that
Instrumental passages lead back to the riff and that excellent sounding guitar, (it’s not the part, it’s the sound). And after 6 minutes in true progressive style, the song goes to a completely different place – great organ part and more surging brass. The song is 13 minutes long and goes through so many different sections, in the same way as The Snow Goose (Camel), except with intermittent vocals. Although the band were known in Holland, unlike Camel they didn’t make much of an impression critically or commercially in England, although after this supporting slot they did come back and headline a tour that I also saw.
Two short songs follow, the instrumental Soft Eyed Woman and the magical Convicts Of The Air. There seems to be a theme of flight and air stewardesses? Although I can’t see where the convicts come in? I think they are transalting something from Dutch that’s not quite working in English! Ha Ha! Guitar and flute set the song up and Tarenskeen makes the stewardesses sound really creepy, “Smiles are frozen on their cheeks”. Again, it’s the low key vocals and the interesting early Roxy instrumentation that makes it so appealing.
Side 2 has the 15 minute title track, brass lines and fey lyrics turn into a Genesis like instrumental track, vocals reappear and disappear. The instrumentation is also very like Caravan – something Canterbury about it, whatever is in the water in the flatlands of Kent is the same brew in the flatlands of Holland. Bakker’s round fuzzy tone the difference in the guitars – and of course the sax.
Another very short track, under two minutes, but in reality Don And Dewey is a short violin intro into the last 8 minute instrumental track, Mr Barnum Junior’s Magnificent And Fabulous City (Part 1), that goes through all kinds of instrumental fun and games. A 5 minute live excerpt (more jam version) of this track appeared on Marks, the first album. You’d think this recorded version might be Part 2, but unless there is an error on Spotify they just didn’t see it that way. The song ends most abruptly too.
Well known in Holland with charting albums and voted most innovative band by Oor magazine in 1973, they split up in 1977 after some minor success with the new singer and with the unfortunately named Wheelchair Groupie single. Bakker formed The Meteors with Tarenskeen, a more New Wave sounding band. Dutch language wikipedia links have more information about both bands than the English Wikipedia – if you speak Dutch. Ultimately, If you want to discover a jazzy, proggy, Caravan/Genesis type, Dutch 6 piece with sax, flute, violin, lead guitar and organ all equally prevalent on one album then The Mountain Queen is it.
Added note: The cover used to drive me nuts, trying to figure out a pattern in the heads? The back cover had a particularly ugly and out of context picture of a man beating someone to the ground with his fist – very odd?