Golden Pavilion Dragon -LP- (B,1976,re.2010)****
Dragon started actually as Burning Light founded in 1967 and was led by singer/guitar-player Jean Vanaise with his brother George and some friends, with several line up changes during its history. The band were braking out of the pop and party circuit with something more serious, under stimulants of ie.the alternative Belgian rock festival in Coq Sur Mer where most progressive minded bands had played (Irish Coffee, Lagger Blues Machine, and Arkham). According to the biography I have read the band must have had an influence and interest in bands like Pink Floyd,Golden Earring (which you can hear in the way some song elements were made) or Iron Butterfly, with a strong attention to the instrumental part of them, as their strongest point, a reference. In that way somehow the mellotron and keyboards with different guitars including fuzz guitar succeed to dominate the underlying atmosphere like an anchor of attraction besides other elements like the rocker song tracks, in such a way and with progressive ideas the Dragon album succeed to keep the association strong for me to recall progressive bands with moody use of mellotron like the Canadian Harmonium or the Swedish Bo Hansson for instance. Dragon of course also has these other elements in the rock songs too, buried partly in heavy bluesrock without ever coming to it. They used to have a strong singer who left for Zaire, so that's perhaps how the repertoire changed towards a more instrumental, progressive direction. Live they used coloured slides, smoke machines and they wore masks on stage since 1973 in a theatrical fashion like Arthur Brown perhaps. When Lagger Blues Machine keyboard player/saxophonist came to the band in 1976 they felt the opportunity to expand with new possibilities, a promising line-up (having also Jean-Pierre Houx on trumpet & trombone, Bernard Callaert or Jean Vanaise on bass, Jean-Pierre again on second keyboards and Christian Duponcheel on saxophone or guitar).
The record was privately released in 1500 pieces (reissues after the original never had that many copies), which was a lot at the time because in Belgium there was still too little interest for more serious music except in some places of mostly the French part perhaps, the Belgian pop form of punk happen to have much more direct impact on public life. The album had been recorded at the 16-track studio Acorn in London in 5 days with the help of sound engineer Colin Bateman and some help from EMI to cut the record. For the recording they changed their name to Dragon.
The first track immediately is keyboards dominated, a fastly played melodic introduction (the Iron Butterfly influence ?) with a small sequenced element, which turns rather quickly into a more rhythmical pop-groove atmosphere, with a rhythmic theme repetition like Brainticket's Cottonwoodhill but into a slower and much more poppy rhythm, with fuzz guitar solos added and more keyboard layers. “Lucifer” is the first rockier track rooted in bluesy improvisation, slowly developing with thoughtful changes out of a sea shore imitating atmosphere, and developing a groove. The very short song which comes out of this is somewhat forgettable, the groove and fuzz guitars with organ makes up for that and it gives a theatrical song image, before a slower improvisation on buzzing organ and flute. This became a beautiful instrumental moody atmosphere, a total change within the song, from which another part appears with harmony vocals and hazing wordless singing, a skyscraping mood, with slow fuzz solos behind. With a small progressive break the band returns once more to rock singing, possibly directing once more towards an Arthur Brown's sort of theatricality again. “Leave me with tears” after that is a rather catchy ballad with beautiful vocal harmonies, with a bit of nice organ with lots of dominating emotional fuzz guitar led arrangements, which include a bit of Pink Floyd-alike piano, some mellotron in the background, some acoustic guitar, besides some small parts of arrangements with vibraphone. “Gone In The Wind” directs another song into poprock primitiveness, while jazzy piano and mellotron arrangements transform the mood, and psychedelic guitars and the refrain with post-60s harmony vocals are able to uplift all elements well into the concept once more. “In The Blue” starts with an electronic music experimental intro, followed by an addition of heavily echoing guitar strums and a few vibraphone-alike sounds, as the intro of the next track, which brings us to a new slower moody passage. This part is led by keyboards including mellotron with guitar pickings which are carrying rhythmically a trumpet solo on top. More and more improvised keyboards then are added. This nice long and stretched mood is also broken for a new intro led by the not too good singer, but with nice harmony vocals and a convincing progressively rocking band with attractive organ and fuzz. Again this is rewarding and convincing through its totality. Last track has a vibraphone and whispery voice intro, returning once more to the beautiful sound of the mellotron with strummed amplified guitar, a slow progression with a head-spinning nature, leading to a last song with an attractive melody, beautifully arranged with lots of psych organ, and some successful fuzz, a bit of mellotron. A convincing long ending with psychedelic evolution, with increasing theatrical aspects with a few screams here and there, and with rhythmical breaks, and with a growing heaviness in the electric guitars.
The album fits well with the English examples, still is different and rooted in something that grew out of some of the examples in mind and perhaps the group's past repertoire too. The growing out and the progressive transformations in this musical process have a rewarding effect because all necessary elements that wind the combination together were surely successfully cooperatively tight, to keep the attention in the album enjoyable through its most attractive and well processing elements. Therefore, this still is a very good album.
Soon-after this studio effort the band did a second recording called “Kalahen”, an album with some great moments too. Christian Duponcheel and Jean-Pierre Houx later joined the rock group Alcool, which later became Graffiti.
The gatefold cover with artwork and heavy vinyl as a physical presentation makes you wish people would not have forgotten the charm of vinyl. Only 400 copies, so be quick.