(Hagger Bayley Music, out now)
Mabel Greer’s Toyshop were part of the supporting cast in London’s glorious psychadelic heyday of 1967, playing the famous UFO and Middle Earth clubs at a time when everyone from Pink Floyd to Marc Bolan were finding their feet doing likewise. The bulk of the band went on to become prog overlords Yes, but founder and guitarist Clive Bailey drifted off into a career in marketing, only reuniting with drummer Bob Hagger in 2014. In the process, MGT set something of a record by releasing their debut album nearly half a century after they formed. This album, The Secret, is their second, and incorporates a recording made with the late Yes guitarist Peter Banks.
Despite its origins, The Secret has managed to escape the time warp. It’s not merely a nostalgia exercise from two guys hoping to relive youthful glories. The 60s roots are there, but it still sounds like other things have happened in the meantime. Psychadelia is only hinted at in the melodies, not the production, which tends to 80s/90s AOR. Unexpectedly (and presumably unknowingly) certain moments suggest Britpop fops Gene (Turning To The Light, You, and the title track), largely due to the inflections in Bailey’s voice. Elsewhere, classical motifs can be spotted. Swan subtly lifts from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake for one of its riffs, and Turning To The Light‘s middle eight has classical roots.
Naturally, it isn’t long until the prog asserts itself. The nine minute opener Big Brother, Little Brother isn’t ashamed to feature an extended guitar outro the album hasn’t earned yet. They also whip out classic lines like “He sold me for the price of tavern’s wine” (from Love’s Fire) which reveal where the album’s spiritual heart lies. The fairground/choral segue from More and More into Swan is another typical proggy flourish which lifts the album and closer The Secret disappears off into the sounds of a lapping tide for a nice finish.
One assumes very few people were holding their breath fifty years awaiting this reunion, but there’s absolutely no shame in Bailey and Hagger enjoying a second act which could’ve been denied them. The odd track is overlong, but the sense of enjoyment in playing is palpable.