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Released in 1971 on the Pegasus label, Big Sleep's “Bluebell Wood” represents a brief stepping stone between the Eyes Of Blue and several other groups who feature in Man's history. Big Sleep was the name chosen in an attempt by Mercury's UK A&R chief Lou Reizner to revitalise the Eyes Of Blue, but the group never performed live under the new name and folded within months of its release.
Of the players in this short-lived project, Phil Ryan would quickly join Pete Brown's Piblokto! for a few months before teaming up with Clive John and forming the abortive Iowerth Pritchard and The Neutrons. Phil's next step was to join Man. John 'Pugwash' Weathers would follow Gary Pickford-Hopkins into Wild Turkey and then join Graham Bond's Organisation before Gentle Giant beckoned. Weathers would eventually become Man's longest-serving drummer, taking the stool between 1983 and 1995.
"Bluebell Wood" is an accomplished album although the quirky nature of the production does sometimes fail to integrate the music into a seamless whole. Sombre in overall feel, Phil Ryan described it in 1976 as "the most miserable LP - it makes Lou Reed look like the Bay City Rollers!" With two keyboard players the album is laden with piano/organ textures and, as Martin Mycock noted in his 1993 TWC review, "Overall the album is definitely more coherent than previous [Eyes Of Blue] efforts with more emphasis on instrumental work - rightly so with players of the calibre of Taff and Phil".
The album opens with 'Death Of A Hope' from John Weathers which features a liberal sprinkling of strings and an almost orchestral arrangement. Gary Pickford-Hopkins supplies the next track, 'Odd Song', with its subtly syncopated acoustic beat. Another, more successful Weathers song follows, 'Free Life'. The five remaining tracks all stem from pianist and bassist Ritchie Francis and these nicely bridge the gap between sixties pop and seventies progressive rock. 'Aunty James' includes some simple but beautifully appropriate organ fills from Phil Ryan, and then 'Saint And Sceptic' is introduced with some baroque if unimaginative wah-wah guitar from Williams.
The title track, 'Bluebell Wood', is a progressive tour-de-force, mainly instrumental but with an occasional quasi-mystical lyric thrown in to season the recipe. 'Watching Love Grow' is a straight-forward acoustic-tinged ballad which leads to the final track, 'When The Sun Was Out', which seems slightly misplaced being a more obviously commercial number, perhaps conceived as a single.
Phil Ryan (Organ, Piano)
Ritchie Francis (Bass, Piano, Vocals)
John "Pugwash" Weathers (Drums, Vocals)
Raymond "Taff" Williams (Guitar)
Gary Pickford-Hopkins (Vocals, Guitar)