DARK SHIPS (2008)

TRACKLIST
1 Dark Ships (8:14)
2 Red Sky at Morning (2:03)
3 Sails in the Sun (5:53)
4 True Blue (3:33)
5 Holy Voices (7:56)
6 Nothing on Earth (3:58)
7 The Voyage of Doby Mick (7:23)
8 Goin' to Shanghai (6:42)
9 Silent Solos (4:43)
10 Dolphins and Oceans (4:18)
11 The Coast of Peru (Away Santiago) (6:52)
LINE UP
Doug Boyle - guitar
Jimmy Hastings - flute, sax
Jan Schelhaas - keyboards
VERSIONS
year/format/label/cat/country
2008/CD/Esoteric Recordings/ECLEC2063/UK
REVIEWS FROM VARIOUS SOURCES

Perhaps surprisingly this is the debut solo album from Liverpool-born veteran of the Canterbury scene Jan Schelhaas. His tenures in Caravan and Camel produced some wonderful moments in the late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s, but prior to these he also worked with Gary Moore and National Head Band. Lately he has again been playing with the revitalised Caravan after a period out of music where he seems to have worked as a driving instructor. This album does not have a concept flowing through it but the songs are thematically linked by seafaring and travel references in the titles and lyrics giving it a nice complete feel. Jan is helped out by fellow Caravaners Doug Boyle (lead and atmospheric guitar on 6 tracks) and Jimmy Hastings (sax and reeds on 3 tracks) but aside from this does everything himself: - writing, playing, singing, recording, engineering, mixing and producing. My guess is he also made the tea and swept up around the studio. Andy Latimer was apparently also due to contribute but his ongoing illness obviously forced him to pull out. The result is a very polished and well put together album of laid back and relaxing melodic prog that fans of his Camel-era albums (Breathless, I Can See Your House From Here and Nude) will enjoy. The commercial direction means that the songs are direct in their approach with very few fiddly bits, but the lush instrumentation makes for an enjoyable listen. Jan’s voice is quite deep in the mix and echoed giving it a faraway vibe but despite not being the strongest voice I’ve ever heard the overall effect is an enjoyable one. With the exception of the title track, which I liked immediately, it took a couple of spins to really start to enjoy the songs. The first time I played the disc I was in the car at the coast looking out over the sea on a calm yet cloudy day and this vision seems to sum up the feel of the disc – not bright and sunny nor cold and wintry but with a sort of autumnal feel. The lyrics aren’t bad on the whole but some of the lines do make you scratch your heard a bit so I think the best way to approach it is to ditch the lyric book and let the music just wash over you. The album starts with its strongest track, Dark Ships, which is reminiscent of early ‘80’s Camel with a strong melody and nice lead guitar from Boyle. This lengthy and enjoyable track is followed by the short atmospheric instrumental piece Red Sky At Morning with some evocative flute from Hastings and the sounds of gulls and the sea. Next is Sails In The Sun with good use of a stomping Camel rhythm and a nice keyboard solo. True Blue is a slow and lilting piece, the vocal line offering a hint to me of The Beach Boys' God Only Knows in the phrasing – but don’t be fooled, it doesn’t sound at all like them! The other standout track is next, Holy Voices, a strong piece with sparse piano and sax before a good chorus kicks in. Doug’s lead is excellent here and takes the track on into another Camel stomp with nice keys and a harsher vocal at the end offering a bit of variety. Nothing On Earth is a quiet ballad and The Voyage Of Doby Mick has the feel of a weary and road worn traveller. Pleasant if a little inconsequential until a very nice piano solo opens the track up and some excellent lead guitar takes the track somewhere else. Goin’ To Shanghai has a haunting feel and again a nice chorus, Hastings adding a gorgeous sax solo that oozes class. Silent Solos is slightly more up-tempo than the other tracks here and the soaring chorus and multi-tracked vocal is a highlight, Jan putting in another lovely solo. Dolphins And Oceans starts quietly before building into a stately piece. The vocals are still a little hidden so don’t make the impact that would be necessary to raise this track above the rest, which is a shame. The Coast Of Peru [Away Santiago] is another light and airy piece that keeps sailing ships and the high seas in mind. If a lilting and laid back sea shanty were possible then this could almost be such a thing. Another short instrumental, Soon Be Dreaming, brings things to a conclusion with no fuss, an orchestral opening leading into the sound of the sea with some gorgeous solo piano. The playing throughout is not flashy or over the top but totally in keeping with the overall feel of the album. Drums and bass are fairly rudimentary but the keys are great and just right for the material, too much soloing and flourishes would spoil it. This is a mature and considered work that isn’t out to impress technically but delivers a good batch of songs and give a rounded listening experience across the album as a whole. It won’t be an album that I will play often as there isn’t a massive amount of variety present, but it is certainly a good album to put on when the right sort of laid-back mood occurs.
Jez Rowden 7/10 01.08.2008 (DPRP.NET)

Released in 2008, Dark Ships comprises of mainly Caravan members in the line up as in Doug Boyle on guitar. A very accomplished player too. Jimmy Hastings on flute and Sax and of course Schelhaas lending vocals, keyboards and general mixing and production. The music is very much a pastiche of Camel and Caravan and laid back with a popular influence not disimilar to some of Alan Parson Project's material. The title track " Dark Ships" has great keyboards from Schelhaas and catchy vocals with some great guitar riffs. " Nothing On earth" is a lovely languid tune where the vocals get really high almost sounding like Pye Hastings at times. Naturally the album is going to have the Canterbury feel and overall it is quite a laid back piece of work. "Soon Be Dreaming" is a great piano driven ballad of a song with interesting backdrop sound effects. If you know both bands referenced you will like this work as well as other artists like John.G.Perry. Good stuff!
Chris S 3/5 31.08.2010 (PROGARCHIVES)

Review by octopus-4 I'm the one who suggested Jan Schelhaas for inclusion on PA, so reviewing this album is quite a duty for me. I was digging in the various CAMEL lineups to see if anybody had released anything new and I have found this album. The opener and title track is for me the best of the album. I can hear echoes of CARAVAN in the vocals, the electronic ambients of the late PETER BARDENS and a generic Canterbury flavour. Good guitar solos and a captivating melody with light jazz moments. "Red Sky At Morning" wants to be evocative. A soft keyboard base with "seagulls" and Hastings flute above. Two minutes reminding of "Breathless". This track fades into "Sails In The Sun", a song in a CARAVAN late 70s style. Keyboards again for "True Blue". If I forget the vocals and think to the instrumental part only, it makes me think to Nude. The seagull of the second track appears here for a short while, too. Things are better with "Holy Voices". The musical line of this song is non-trivial even though it's very melodic. It's one of the album's highlights. The central section is something that will appeal CAMEL and CARAVAN fans. "Nothing On Earth" is a mellow song good for a drink after dinner in a quiet environment. This is one of the characteristics of this album and it's true for "Goin' To Shangai", too. The sounds used by CARAVAN, and sometimes by CAMEL in the 70s where still a bit acid. Replacing them with the mellow keyboards and a better production has caused it to sound too chill-out. "The Voyage of Doby Mick" is almost identical to the previous song, melodic and chill-out with a tone of Caravan in the vocals. "Silent Solos" seems to be another version of the same song. I think a shorter album would have been better. However this last one is good enough. "Dolphins and Oceans" is a terrible title. After all this chill-out a title like this is scaring. Taking alone this song is not bad, like the others, but all this "sugar" can cause a diabetes. "Soon Be Dreaming" interrupts this sequence of "honey and sugar" with a jazzy piano piece. Unfortunately too short. Ususal seashore at the end. "The Coast of Peru (Away Santiago)" is an interesting song even if in the mood of the previous "oceanic songs". Let's just say that Santiago is not in Peru, I think. But there's a lot of towns called Santiago in South America so I could be wrong. A two minutes closer and the album is gone. Have I been right in suggesting Jan Schelhaas ? I think yes in general, but this addition didn't bring any masterpiece to the PA. 3 stars to the career.
octopus-4 3/5 14.02.2011 (PROGARCHIVES)

True blue. Keyboard player Jan Schelhaas is mostly known from being a member of Caravan in the mid to late 70's and then Camel in the late 70's to early 80's. Like other reviewers have pointed out, this first (and to date only) solo album of his can fairly be described as a fusion of Caravan and Camel. It has that distinct "whimsical" Canterbury feel characteristic of Caravan which also infected Camel when members of Caravan migrated to Camel in the mid 70's. Other members of Caravan even contribute to this album including Jimmy Hastings on flute and saxophone. However, Schelhaas is very accurately placed in the Crossover Prog category as the music present here is a very streamlined and laid back take on the Caravan style. Bands like The Moody Blues and Alan Parsons Projects are equally accurate comparisons. The track True Blue even reminds a bit of The Beach Boys! Overall, Dark Ships features a pleasant set of songs. The mood is mostly relaxed and the music has a soft feel and generally slow tempo. I enjoy listening to it, but it hardly takes me by storm. The highlight is the opening title track which features very nice guitar work. Good, but hardly essential.
SouthSideoftheSky 3/5 26.01.2014 (PROGARCHIVES)

Comme son nom l’indique Jan Schelhaas est … Anglais?! Enfin je vous rassure tout de suite, il est né à Liverpool d’une mère anglaise, mais d’un père Néerlandais (qui l’eût cru?!). Jan Schelhaas est avant tout claviériste et grand amateur de la scène de Canterbury. Vous savez, ce mouvement né dans les milieux estudiantins anglais au début des années 70, proposant une musique de type Jazz-Rock (progressif) et mettant en évidence la virtuosité des musiciens. Le point de chute de ces formations étant la petite (et charmante) ville du Kent, le nom de la ville est devenu l’emblème du mouvement. De grands noms en sont issus?: Steve Hillage, Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, Andy Latimer, Peter Bardens, David et Richard Sinclair, pour ne citer qu’eux?! Au niveau groupes?: Soft Machine, Hatfield and the North, Gong, Caravan et Camel. C’est précisément avec ces deux formations que Jan Schelhaas a joué, formations voisines et amies, puisque les cousins Sinclair, ossature de Caravan, ont joué au milieu des seventies sur des albums, et même sur scène avec Camel. Jan a joué fin des années 70 sur trois albums de Caravan, dont «?Better By Far?» puis en 79 sur l’album «?I can see your house from here?» et surtout en 80 sur le magnifique «?Nude?» de Camel, en lieu et place du désormais regretté Peter Bardens qui venait de quitter le groupe d’Andy Latimer. Ces albums de Camel marquent un changement dans la carrière du groupe qui laissera définitivement de côté son caractère Jazz, pour proposer un Rock Progressif plus traditionnel. Les présentations sont faites, venons-en à l’album. Jan nous propose un recueil de compositions personnelles, qu’il nous interprète en jouant quasi de la totalité des instruments. Seuls deux musiciens l’accompagnent?: Doug Boyle à la guitare, qui possède également une belle carte de visite?: il est notamment le guitariste des albums «?Now and Zen?» et «?Manic Nirvana?» de Robert Plant, mais également le guitariste de … Caravan depuis les années ’90 (tiens donc?!). Jimmy Hastings au saxo et à la flûte?: c’est le flûtiste, saxophoniste de… Caravan (mais oui?!!!) première époque, donc du fabuleux «?In the land of grey and pink?», il a d’ailleurs largement participé à l’écriture de cet album, indispensable à toute discothèque qui se respecte. Il a été membre du groupe jusqu’à l’album «?Blind Dog at St Dunstans?», sur lequel figure… Jan Schelhaas?!!! Que peut donc bien nous produire Jan Schelhaas en solo?? Eh bien, on peut dire que ce ne sont pas les idées mélodiques qui manquent dans sa tête?!!! L’album s’écoute d’une traite (en sirotant un bon verre de vin, par exemple, ou alors pendant un bon repas?!). C’est une petite friandise qui vous coule dans l’oreille discrètement, sans en avoir l’air. La virtuosité de jan aux claviers en flagrante. Pour les parties de guitare, c’est à s’y méprendre, on dirait vraiment du Camel, époque «?Nude?» (bien entendu?!). Andy Latimer étant souffrant et ne pouvant actuellement plus rien produire, on se consolera à l’écoute de ce «?Dark Ships?». Quant aux solos de Sir Hastings, il sont tout simplement splendides?! Je ne peut vous parler d’un titre en particulier, les morceaux s’enchaînent et constituent une suite logique, à l’instar d’un album de… Camel?! Deux petites ombres au tableau?: à force de vouloir (presque) tout faire seul, Jan nous offre des percussions un peu trop métronomiques (façon boîte à rythme), et l’interprétation vocale, un peu «?vocoderisée?» manque quelque peu de vie. Jan pourraît peut-être s’offrir les services d’un batteur et d’un chanteur pour ses prochaines productions (ou alors éviter de synthétiser sa voix, elle est plutôt agréable, pourquoi ces artifices??). Ceci dit le résultat global est franchement bon. L’ombre d’Andy Latimer plane sur un album, certes non révolutionnaire, mais bien agréable à écouter?! Petite anectote?: la photo de Doug Boyle figurant dans le livret a été réalisée sur la scène du… Spirit of 66 (quand on vous dit que ce club est une référence internationale?!!!).
Laurent 3* 06.07.2008 (MUSIC IN BELGIUM)