Though it made little impact on its original release in 1972, Rare Bird’s “Epic Forest” has since been widely acclaimed as a classic of the pre-punk era: a unique album that fuses the emotional reach of classical music with the harmonies of Sixties pop, yet without ever succumbing to the excesses of the period.
In the whole history of rock, only two bands have ever achieved any degree of prominence with a line-up that included two keyboards players and no guitarist, Rare Bird and Greenslade. The original Rare Bird, formed in 1969 comprised of organist (and principal composer) Graham Field, electric pianist Dave Kaffinettti, vocalist Steve Gould and drummer Mark Ashton and it was this line-up that made an immediate impression with their eponymous debut, which was also the debut of Charisma records. Its successor ‘As Your Mind Flies By’ was equally a success, with the band also making Billboard magazines Top Ten New Bands Of The Year while ‘Sympathy’ reached the UK Top 30. It was an ever bigger hit over in Europe more, particularly France where it was a huge Summer hit and became the disco-smooch soundtrack of choice for a generation!
Yet with Rare Bird’s course for greater things seemingly well set, it came as a something of a shock to fans when Field upped and left to form the short lived Fields. This would result in a change of direction that would surprise all! Much of the classical tendencies went with Field, alongside the addition of second lead vocalist / guitarist Andy ‘Ced’ Curtis and Gold’s decision to take up the axe resulted in a sound that owed more to the lush harmonies of Harmony Grass and the duelling guitars of Wishbone Ash than ELP or Yes.
When any band re-invents itself quite so comprehensively there is always a price to pay in the terms of those fans that cleave the earlier style. Those who had claimed them for the Prog-Rock movement felt especially betrayed by the shift. Yet to anyone without such narrowly defined loyalties, ‘Epic Forest’ has clearly weathered the decades better than either of its two predecessors. In purely commercial terms it failed to capitalise on the success of Rare Bird’s first two albums yet it contained no shortage of songs that would enable the band to cement their reputation as a storming live act with songs that afforded Gould and Curtis scope to dovetail their guitar to thrilling effect. ‘Epic Forest’ stands as one of the most inspired and individual albums of an oft-derided period, while Rare Bird are remembered as one of the handful of bands who found a genuinely distinctive way of fusing the harmonic languages of Sixties pop and classical music without ever resorting to the empty flourishes and pointless virtuosity that so discredited Prog-Rock and finally brought the whole edifice crashing down in 1976.