Orr, Roy Yates, Bruno Lord, Derek Hyett, Mick Peberdy, Keith Bonthrone.)
This is the history of Janus, born as a progressive rock band made up of English musicians in Krefeld in Germany in 1970, retired broke and unknown in 1973, despite being signed to the prestigious EMI "Harvest" label, alongside such bands as Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, and Edgar Broughton. Re-born in 1990, and just achieving success in 2001
The original band, shown above, were Colin Orr (Guitar/Keyboards), Roy Yates (Classical Guitar), Bruno Lord (Vocals), Derek Hyett (Vocals), Mick Peberdy (Bass) and Keith Bonthrone (Drums). Style was truly original, and it has been said that Janus were the originators of the genre that became "acoustic rock". That probably misses the fact, that like the name, the band had two very distinct, schizophrenic, sides. Capable of soft, beautiful melodies, they also cranked out some mega-decibel material, which a few years later would have had them tagged as a punk band.
Signed to EMI Harvest in 1970, in 1971 they recorded the classic "Gravedigger" album. Remarkably, the whole album, including mixing was put together in 24 hours of studio time. The band were almost another "J" statistic (you know, artists with a "J" in the name dying early?), when Colin Orr fell asleep whilst driving the band back to their base in Holland from the session
For two years, the band lived in Holland, partied on - making the "summer of love" a 36 month event - and managed very few live appearances. The second album, which should have been made in 1972/3 included some dramatic concept pieces, and a 25 minute track "Under the Shadow of the Moon", which included elements that other artists would not make popular until the 1980's. Sadly, EMI never took up the option on the contract, due to the disappointing sales of "Gravedigger", so the album never got further than the rehearsal studio.
At the tail of 1973 Janus came to England, and managed to perform to one or two appreciative university audiences, before becoming the only band in history to be thrown out of the Cavern Club in Liverpool (too heavy.... read loud). By 1974 it was time to call it a day, so that was the first end of Janus.
In 1989, Colin Orr was contacted by a friend, who showed him an article in the UK "Record Collector" magazine. The Janus album "Gravedigger" was being re-released as a CD, and the band were now seen as ...." a turning point in German popular music." As well as having achieved cult status, the original album was selling to a new audience.
Orr who was always the "strange one" in the band, had been many things in the intervening 16 years. A teacher in the Falkland Islands, an office worker, and finally a mad scientist who had published scientific papers on microbiological work, despite having left school at 15 years of age. He ran his own business which had been successful enough to enable him to put together a private recording studio, which he had used for his own amusement.
Orr got together most of the original members of the band, and put down some new material in 1990, but was so disappointed with it, most was junked. In his own words, "it was too old. I didn't want to be one of those people with a 1970's hair style (although hair of any kind would have been nice....), clothes, and music stuck in a time warp."
Orr started a new Janus, involving several young, very talented, musicians, including Dave Harrold an Irish bass guitarist, Doug Boyes on Cello, and Paul Phoenix a phenomenal classical vocalist, graduate of the Royal Northern College, and somebody who had had a worldwide number 1 at the age of 11, as the lead in the St. Pauls Cathedral Choir, with the theme to a BBC TV show, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". The resultant collaboration was released as "Out of Time" on CD, subsequently changed to "Agnus Dei" CD, following the release of the track of that name as a 20 minute single that made the Dutch top 50 in 1992. Had it made the top 40, and got some daytime radio play, who knows where things might have gone, but.......... "Agnus Dei" was a rare cross-over of musical styles, with rock guitar, Latin plainsong, classical cello, on 4 tremendously atmospheric mini-pieces.
The first sniff of chart success was intoxicating for Colin Orr, so he immediately proceeded to write a completely uncommercial follow up album, entitled "Journey". Strangely enough, this probably has some of the best Janus tracks on it, but is not really "immediate". From 1993 to present day, pieces from this album crop up as background music on TV stations throughout Europe, which given the volume of library music that is available, are quite a compliment to the atmosphere generated on this album. The majority of the tracks were instrumental, and half the CD was given over to a tale penned by Orr, for which the music was meant to be the story. In the interests of those who never managed to get a copy of the album, here is the story as it was printed in the CD cover.
"Journey" sold hardly at all, but the people who liked it, REALLY
liked it. It looked like Orr had blown it by trying to be too original. The
music industry hates original.
The next album changed direction dramatically. Orr decided to collaborate with heavy metal specialist Paul May from the band AND (he had first been involved on the "Journey" album), and to write an album of more conventional music, with heavy rock underpinnings. Janus at this point was joined by Sandy Bartai, a young Scottish Cellist, good enough to have been one of the best to graduate from the Royal Northern College, but wild enough to want to play cello in unconventional ways.
Janus lay moribund for a couple of years after "Innocence", but Orr (with assistance from Sandy Bartai) continued to make music, some of which was released as library music, and which ended up on TV backgrounds all around the world. The next Janus album showed an introspective, pure instrumental style, which incorporated some of the strong melody the band has always produced, but which concentrated on atmosphere. During the making of the album, Orr noticed another "Janus" had appeared on the west coast of the USA, with two tremendous musicians, Barry Hall and Richard Smith (they play lots of instruments, but specialize in Violin and Percussion respectively) so naturally the two bands collaborated on the production of a track on the new album.
Check out Barrys site for more info on US Janus, and other interesting snippets.
1995 was the second death of Janus, with Orr convinced that time and age had buried what should have been recognised as one of the real innovators in progressive/popular music. But, the original "Gravedigger" album kept selling, the 1990's albums kept appearing in unexpected areas (like being used to teach music theory in European Universities), but most of all, Janus - who as the god, after all, represents looking forward as well as back - had more music left to write.
In 1998, Paul Phoenix, now a member of the world famous Kings Singers ( Dean Houston, one of Britains best jazz saxophonists, Sandy Bartai, Paul May, and the beautiful and super-talented 17 year old Natalie Brown, made what was originally intended to be the final Janus music. The album melded together all the disparate threads that had gone before, and expanded upon the theme that had been started 7 years earlier with the "Agnus Dei" track.
The completed album, "Agnus Dei 2000", was picked up by a major European label, Arcade Music, who released it in November 1998, with genuine support through TV advertising and a first class video for the title track from the album. This album sold in the thousands, and was released in countries as diverse as Taiwan and Portugal. The single - amazing for Janus music - was given good air play in Quebec (at last, people with good taste ....), made the Canadian charts, and at one stage was number one in the Inuit Indian areas (Thanks!).
The “Sea Of Sighs” album is dedicated to the real Janus fans, who have been kind enough to buy the albums for what is now 30 years! Happily, the music is more 2002 than 1972, thanks to the regular infusion of new blood, and exceptional talent, which constantly polishes, improves, and modernises, the music from the warped mind of Colin Orr.
It features some searing guitar work, mournful-to-
manic cello, sweet sax, the power and majesty of Paul Phoenix, and a larger role
for Natalie Brown, who has
looks and a fabulous voice. Powerful melody,
classical music with modern rhythms, and rock flavours, as fresh and new as
today's newspapers, but with the depth and soul that only 30 years experience can
give, “SEA OF SIGHS” Is the best Janus album yet.
UPDATE APRIL 2006
There are 3,000 people a month hitting this website .... so here's a present for you. The new Janus "S Album". Free. Just one thing.... if you enjoy, and can afford pence or pounds, a contribution to Francis House will be something that pays us in good karma.
So click here and help yourself.
We'll add more tracks as we finish them.
Tell your friends. Tell them to tell their friends. Etc.
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