Now this is another great, truly forward thinking, one album English neo-folk wonder. How about a 6-piece band where the real thrust of power comes from its 3-piece string trio? Fuchsia a Devon band fulfilled the promise that nascent artists like the Electric Light Orchestra, and similar ilk rarely accomplished as well…the idea of marrying lush string arrangements with a truly experimental English sound. A sonic idea, as heard in “Shoes and Ships” that presents a sound which goes beyond the drab sad baroque-style accompaniment favored by lots of symphonic rock music, and favors the much more vivid tale end of this style, when people were celebrating life and its glory with wiser, expressive music.

Lead by acoustic guitarist and poet/vocalist Tony Durant, he had the seed of  a thought to present his apocalyptic lyrics influenced by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in a stage format. His lyrics already so out there from traditional pop fare required music to match its theatricality. He came upon the idea to create a set of songs one end would be heavy and electric to match the intensity of rock music, for that he’d enlist the help of an electric bassist and a rock drummer. However, as the set progressed he’d want to incorporate the much more panoramic sound string melodies, for that he enlisted the help of three female schoolmates: Janet Rogers on violin/backup vocals, Madeleine Bland on cello/harmonium/backup vocals, and Vanessa Hall-Smith on violin/backup vocals. Their live performances were so popular that they got signed up by a label immediately.

Fuchsia album front and back.

Kingdom Records saw that the most popular songs in their set were the orchestral songs and pitched to them the idea of following that muse. That they did, they scrapped nearly all of their exclusively electric songs and went down a much more varied route where they could use their string trio to make a new type of neo-folk music that could go from Gothic to stridently Romantic at the drop of a hat. 1971’s Fuchsia now stands as a monument to this completely brilliant and unique sound. 

The string and rock interplay in “Shoes and Ships” just sounds so far ahead of anything out there then and now, including Roy Wood and ELO’s early attempts at this. Its such a shame that the group shortly dissolved after this album because the technology didn’t exist to properly mic the group live and they themselves (as the classical intellectuals they were) didn’t want to completely leave their university studies to join the rock circuit. On a drab gray day, after listening to the colorful glory of “Shoes and Ships” how about taking a waltz step back and hearing a “Tiny Book”, then stepping forward to check out the rest of the album? We march on towards 1972 tomorrow though…

Listen to Fuchsia at Grooveshark.

Bonus track, a great modern performance of “Shoes and Ships”: