Graham Reid encounters a legendary lost rock classic that some think never existed.
In late 1976, keyboard player Rick Wakeman - riding successes with his prog-rock concept albums The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Citizen Kane - was interviewed by New Music Maker magazine. He mentioned a remarkable album he'd just heard.
"No one knows who's on it, but it's this wonderfully evocative journey to a better place. The story is fantastic and the music has made me rethink what I am doing. It'll change anyone who hears it."
A few weeks later, David Bowie, speaking about his film The Man Who Fell to Earth, used much the same language about this mysterious album.
"The film is about travel across space and time. But there's that marvellous concept album by those unknown guys. It's also about a journey into hope. It'll really change you. It's certainly changed me."
Unfortunately very few did hear this album - Immram: The Voyage of the Corvus Corrone - because only 200 copies were pressed and almost overnight prog-rock and concept albums were wiped out by the arrival of punk.
By being caught in the tide-change of history, the album disappeared, but the story behind it is intriguing.
In early '74, Akashic Records in Paris received an anonymous parcel containing mastertapes of the album, related artwork, some accompanying text and the address of the nearby Chateau D'Mercier. Akashic boss Jean Claude Onsager visited the chateau-cum-recording studio and learned only that it had been hired on a day-to-day basis by three men - two musicians, the other possibly an astrologer-mystic - who decorated the studio with arcane symbols and diagrams during recording sessions.
Akashic released the limited pressing of Corvus Corrone but shortly after, Onsager mysteriously disappeared, the album went unpromoted and punk arrived.
Later the chateau was abandoned, then demolished in the 80s after a fire. Curiously, some of those arcane symbols - notably that of the mysterious "Cog" design on the album cover - began appearing on neighbouring buildings in subsequent decades.
Corvus Corrone became entwined in rumour and legend, like Brian Wilson's Smile and Dylan's unreleased psychedelic rockabilly album Snakeskin Mescal recorded in early '67 with Ronnie Hawkins and The Band. In '98 Seattle's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame paid US$3.2 million for a mint condition copy, Stephen Hawking says it is his favourite album and taped copies were on all five Voyager flights into deep space.
The cult surrounding Corvus Corrone grew because so few had heard it. But - through events no less strange than those surrounding its creation - that has now changed.
Two years ago a former employee of the long-defunct Akashic received a package from a French law firm. It contained a deed from the estate of label head Onsager charging him with the album's re-release. By coincidence, Auckland's fledgling Escape Artists Recordings was looking for a project to launch itself and through a mutual friend of electronica artist Rhian Sheehan, the label's Paul McLaney was contacted by the Akashic employee inviting Escape to release it.
With beautiful remixing and remastering (by Escape's Jeremiah Ross) Corvus Corrone now appears in an album-sized, gold embossed 64-page book with striking artwork (the dark side of Roger Deans-meets-The Flying Dutchman), lyrics, the story behind it and the fantasy tale Escape from Xanoths based on the Corvus Corrone story, which hasn't been seen in over 30 years.
It is an appropriately lavish package for this dreamy, richly textured astral-synth music with poetic lyrics that was decades ahead of its time and could, may still, change you.
If no one had recorded Corvus Corrone, it would have been necessary to invent it. As Escape has done.
Verdict: The reissue of a prog-rock concept album which could have changed the course of music, if anyone had heard it.
Available as a limited edition CD/book (1000 copies only) or by digital download from www.voyageofthecorvuscorrone.com.
-TimeOutBy Graham Reid Email Graham