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DECAMERON 'Parabola Road: The Decameron Anthology' Castle Music CMDDD929

Some of us spent the early Seventies in a haze of smoke and staggered about under the influence of various other illegal substances. As a result, we have a similarly hazy memory of the plethora of artistes who worked up and down the Folk Circuit. But you'd have needed to be COMATOSE for several years in order for Decameron not to have made an impact on you. From 1972-1975 they were possibly the biggest "box-office" band (Steeleye and Fairport excepted) performing under the FOLK banner. They produced four albums: the first, strangely delayed until 1973, the second came out in 1974, and one each in the following two years. And by 1976, a decision was made to call it a day.

But anyone who saw them will - like me - never forget them. They oozed quality, and had no real peers. What they did, no other band even remotely emulated. By that I mean the combination of instruments voices and vocal styles. Listening to their material again after all these years, I can now see that a lot of what they did was not quite as ORIGINAL as I recall feeling it was at the time. You can hear major influences at work here: CSN&Y, Beachboys/Jan&Dean-type West Coast surfin' sounds etc..but perhaps these are not so much "influences" as candidates for a gentle parody or two.

But as we learn from the informative liner-notes, the band would practise harmony on the long journeys between gigs. Indeed, they would beat time on the dashboard of their Ford Transit. And as a result, they got mighty good at it, and could authentically produce a variety of vocal harmonies, and could change musical horses in mid-stream . or, if you prefer, mid SET. Thus it was that their gigs always left me feeling that the time had gone very quickly: that was inevitably because they did not go in for repetition, and thus the sheer VARIETY of their performance made one never think of looking at one's watch.

It is great to hear Decameron again. Alas their first album "Say Hello To The Band" is out of bounds for this anthology: apparently - according to veteran music journalist Paul Weir (responsible for much of the liner booklet) - the tapes are "lurking undiscovered in a vault somewhere" ! And so it is that this double CD basically consists of the total output of albums 2-4, with a few bonus tracks thrown in. A couple of live tracks from "Reunion" concerts and the aforementioned "West Coast" stuff that they'd made under the alias of The Magnificent Mercury Brothers. It is a pity that their first album is out of the reckoning, but if ONE album has to be out of the equation, let it be the first and not the second, "Mammoth Special". This was the album that really pulled up some trees for them: and this is the one I recall in a dozen bed-sitters next to the hookah pipes. Listening to their output all these years later, some things become self-evident. Johnny Coppin's voice really WAS that remarkable and pure; some of their sounds have dated somewhat and haven't travelled too well down the years; the Coppin/Bell songs are respectable stabs at memorability rather than top-drawer; and above all, it is clear to me that Decameron were a band to "see perform", rather than "listen to recordings of" some 30 years later.

In live performance there were no better. And thus this twin CD will be a "must" for all those people who remember them as nostalgically as I do. But if you are too young to have seen them, then I would probably say save your money for something special. This is merely ("merely"? Ha!) "very pleasant".

Dai Woosnam.

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This album was reviewed in Issue 58 of The Living Tradition magazine.