I was so deterred by the loss of two years of content that I hadn’t had the heart to pick up where I left off in terms of highlighting interesting lesser-known pop, rock, soul, rare groove and singer/songwriter albums. Then this – William Lyall’s gorgeous 1976 solo album – came back into the forefront of my imagination. Rob Cochrane introduced me to it a couple of years ago.

It’s a beautiful work, a kind of romantic fantasia (as suggested by the cover art) of interlinked songs. Lyall, who was better known for his work in Scottish group, Pilot, plays keyboards throughout and also arranges some of the orchestral parts (with Paul Buckmaster handling others). The album is produced by Robin Cable and there’s a to-die-for band featuring Phil Collins, Ian Bairnson, David Paton, Robert Ahwai, Barry De Souza and other greats. Lyall’s voice isn’t one you could necessarily call stunning, but it has enormous charm, character, individuality and sweetness and it serves his songs extremely well. When he sings, I find it prompts in me a feeling of empathy, of almost wanting to be protective towards him. There’s a theatricality to the performances and the arrangements which particularly suits the ballads, such as The Deeper You Get and Take Me Up. Every song is full of delightful, imaginative flourishes and embellishments, balancing accessibility with a satisfying level of musical complexity.

I wish I knew more about the artist – the facts of his career are reasonably well-known, including a stint, up to around 1982, of being a prominent part of Dollar’s band. But, oh, what a shame there wasn’t more of this stuff. It’s his finest hour. Partly because of personal experience, I wonder what life was like for him in the period leading up to his premature death, in 1989, from AIDS-related illness. That would have been still in the peak of the bigotry and misunderstanding. I hope he found kindness during what could well have been considerable suffering. According to various online reports, he lived in West Kensington and had done for some time. Streets I would have either walked or been driven by, on and off, at the time, though by the time I had friends who lived there, it was 1993 and William Lyall had gone. He looks quite dreamy in the sleeve photographs, which are titivated with cartoon flowers and petals. The gatefold image (see below) shows him dreaming by a side table on which rest an open book and pack of cigarettes, with his floral dreams drifting out into the street (or perhaps coming in from it and into his mind). It seems to capture very well the yearning, wistful and whimsical qualities of this unforgettable LP.

Solo Casting has had a reasonable second life in the CD era. The late See For Miles label issued it with bonus tracks (single versions of two songs) in the mid-90s. Then, post-millennially, it appeared once in Japan and twice in South Korea, with at least two reissues using the lovely mini-LP-CD style of packaging (so much nicer than a jewel case or hideous digipak). The See For Miles reissue sounds great; I can’t vouch for the others though there’s possibly a greater risk of them being victims of either the loudness-war or de-noise-software problems of that era of remastering. 

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