The Palace Of Light – Beginning Here & Travelling Outward (reissue)

The Palace Of Light – Beginning Here & Travelling Outward (reissue)

Having delivered a no-frills yet solid reissue in 2013 of Wish I Was, the one-off 1993 album from late-‘60s/early-‘70s Elektra Record enthusiasts Mabel Joy, it was only a matter time before Spain’s Hanky Panky Records commissioned archival curation of the British group’s earlier incarnation as The Palace Of Light.  So now arrives an expanded edition of 1987’s Beginning Here & Travelling Outward LP, which charts the band’s close-to-complete career journey. Originally released on the Bam-Caruso label, this sole album from The Palace Of Light was perhaps destined to disappear in the more culturally homogenous 1980s, to be rediscovered in our more open-access listening epoch.

Rendered by the core unit of vocalist/guitarist Geoff Smith, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Mark Brend, bassist/multi-instrumentalist Matthew Gale and drummer/percussionist Charlie Llewellin, with empathetic bolstering from a string quartet led by the near-legendary Audrey Riley, Beginning Here & Travelling Outward is an album of ornate ambitious density that understandably failed to reach a wider audience, despite some critical acclaim at the time.

Certainly, ‘80s indie followers could probably not have easily taken to Smith’s lofty crooning, which blended strong shades of Scott Walker, Gene Clark and Tim Buckley. Although, in hindsight, more open-eared Morrissey fans should have been more sympathetic. Musically, the long-player’s compendium of chiming psych-infused folk-rock (“Safer” and “Silver Thread”), grandiose balladry (“City Of Gold” and “See You Fall”), baroque chamber-pop (“If She Should Blame You”) and early-Tom Waitsian piano-driven gut-spilling (“Unknowing”) captures The Palace Of Light admirably set on a course that few more faddish peers would have dared to follow.  As a whole, the richly-crafted Beginning Here & Travelling Outward still stirringly soars in its high points, although it does overwhelm and tire the ears a tad in its more verbose passages.

Contrastingly and fascinatingly however, the 18-track bonus disc of contemporaneous rarities and previously unreleased material reveals a far warmer, less sonically jam-packed and arguably superior secret history of The Palace Of Light that makes this rerelease a genuinely revealing retrospective pleasure.  Six acoustic tracks from a shelved covers-led mini-album are especially lovely – featuring Smith’s tones dialled-down to resemble a more relaxed home counties David McComb of The Triffids – with serenely uplifting renditions of Nick Drake’s “Northern Sky” and Tom Rush’s “No Regrets” being true keepers.  Songs recorded in 1988 and 1989 but left largely unreleased also capture an endearingly lighter and looser side to the band; with the strings-bolstered jangling “Lost”, the balmy wistful sweep of “So Simple”, a rousing cover of Micky Newbury’s “Wish I Was” and the lilting “Catherine” being amongst the key delights.  Proceedings on the second disc close with a charmingly twinkling yet lyrically dark 2016 studio reunion recording, in the shape of the “Theory Of Everything”, that will no doubt stoke interest in a full-blown return to active duty.

Had Beginning Here & Travelling Outward just been given a vanilla repackaging it might have been more of an acquired taste.  Yet extended to document the fuller – albeit still brief – tale of The Palace Of Light reveals an ensemble that have been waiting the best part of thirty years for a fonder and deserved reappraisal.

Hanky Panky Records