Sunday, April 18, 2021

Roger Recruited Rock Royalty for a Rock Opera

Any project starring Roger Glover, David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, Ronnie James Dio, Tony Ashton and John Lawton (to name a few) would normally get the juices flowing. However, back in 1974 when (not long after leaving Deep Purple and moving into production) Glover was approached to write the music to accompany a TV cartoon series based on the stunning illustrations of Alan Aldridge, which showed his interpretations of the poems of William Plomer, the record buying fans…didn’t bite. (I have the book, by the way, and stunning is not an exaggeration.)

This may seem like an odd choice for a RAMzine, but if any other musical work listed performers such as those, it would certainly be a feature. The album is The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast, and while it may not be rock all the way, it has some marvelous performances from those names and a few others.

Ronnie James Dio sang the part of a frog on the most famous song from the album, and the only one to have the animated ideas realised. ‘Love Is All’ is a good time; it’s a soft rock song that you can’t help but love! He also sings a froggy ballad called ‘Sitting In A Dream’ with an almost ‘Rainbow Eyes’ adjacent vocal approach, and it’s irresistible. Glenn Hughes shows his usual strong vocals as Harold The Herald (a Gadfly), heralding the day of the ball backed by another quality, soft rock song.

David Coverdale puts in a remarkable performance as he pours emotion into ‘Behind The Smile’, warning all of the attendees to beware of the fox. In under two minutes, he is peerless and the album is worth it for this one alone. Another class and rolling rock song is (hard to believe I’m typing this) ‘Sir Maximus Mouse’, sung by Eddie Hardin with a Hammond solo slotted in, and it also features Nigel Watson playing a saw…you couldn’t make this up! Another piece of classy, orchestrated rock is John Gustafson giving it rice on the fast moving ‘Watch Out For The Bat’. There are a couple of less rocky songs, but even the Helen Chapelle vocal that is almost only audible to dogs has oodles of charm. Tony Ashton’s performance – just him and piano on ‘Together Again’ – as a totally inebriated newt is pure genius. The John Lawton song incidentally is the ballad ‘Little Chalk Blue’, which was only available on the single yet remains on the remastered versions of the album.

The TV series never materialised and the whole thing was performed live only once. It featured Ian Gillan in place of Ronnie James Dio and, after the reception he got from the crowd, it helped persuade him out of ‘retirement’. There is a DVD of the concert available, but the director keeps cutting away from the performers to some ‘specially shot footage’ of a load of prats prancing about in shit costumes and renders it almost unwatchable.

So, there you have it: a strange mix of genres, performers and, in all, twenty short songs that will entertain. It does deserve more recognition that it got or gets. Give it a try and be swept into the froggy, moley, spidery, foxy, batty and adorable world of The Butterfly Ball.

Tom Dixon
North East born, South West domiciled music lover - mainly heavy rock & blues but not averse to other genres. I'm fortunate to have retired early & I can now take full advantage of the 40+ years I have spent collecting, listening, watching & playing (badly) & have enjoyed researching how blues in particular has shaped the music we know & love today. Now if only I could get my Strat & Musicman to sound in reality how they do in my head!

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