The Phantom Tollbooth
Greenbelt 25 (1973-1998)
Artist: Various Artists
Label: ICC Music
Time: 19 tracks/77.46 min.

The most diverse festival in Christendom celebrated its 25th birthday this year. Many of the artists took the opportunity of their platform at this year's event to explain why they enjoy the festival and how much it means to them. This album is a collection of recordings from some of the artists that have become favourites with festival attendees.

The obvious favourites from the past few years are all present. This album could not have been made without including Iain Archer's phenomenally successful (at the festival at least) "Wishing"--a delicate song of unrequited or distant love in a John Martyn vein. Archer didn't have to sing the words when he performed this track on the mainstage a few years back. Similarly Fat And Frantic's rather more manic "Last Night My Wife Hoovered My Head" -- a song which shows many sides of the group's persona, the nods to 50s rock 'n' roll and folk rock, with some quirky sides and distinctly odd lyrics:

Last night my wife hoovered my head
Was going a-round the house
Hoovering about
My wife got the hoover
And my hair fell out
Eden Burning's "Deep Blue Sea" is perhaps an odd choice, their earlier material was probably more popular at the festival, but it shows the band as they were hitting their mature stride. They are still missed. Steve Taylor is another artist who has been missed for several years, the version of "We Don't Need No Colour Code" will be familiar to fans from the "Limelight" live album (recorded at Greenbelt) and the "Now the Truth Can Be Told" box set retrospective. Maybe Taylor will return for the new look festival. Vigilantes Of Love's "The Opposite's True" is also a nice addition, the band have only played Greenbelt twice, but they more than made up for their many years of absence with the quality of their sets.

The festival's refusal to accept a Christian musical ghetto is apparent in the inclusion of tracks by Runrig, Mike Peters & The Alarm, and Deacon Blue's Ricky Ross, all of whom have proved popular at the festival, and had mainstream success, over the years. Of these the Mike Peters & The Alarm track appeals the most to this reviewer, building from acoustic openings and returning to them after moving through a track that manages to be anthemic and atmospheric without being cliched. Runrig's track is a slight anti-climax as an album closer. It's very obviously an album closer, spacious and with lyrics which seem to suggest moving on, but lacks quite the substance that would have been nice.
 
Festival chairperson Dot Reid's band Lies Damned Lies are present, with the track "The Divine Image" from their 1993 album The Human Dress. Showing the band's much lauded ability to make spacious arrangements say much more than many bands can do with much orchestration, the acoustic underlay and the exquisite harmonies make this a standout. Martyn Joseph and Tom Robinson are present with their recording of Joseph's "He Never Said," a song listing the many sayings that are wrongly attributed to Christ. Another song which has become an anthem for many festival goers, the chorus breaks everything fown to get to the crux of matters:

He said:
Answer a stranger's cry for help
Love your brother as you love yourself
Don't judge others and you won't be judged
You only need to seek and you will find
From the more mainstream CCM market, Michael W Smith and All Star United are both present. Smith's track, "Secret Ambition" is an older song, with very strong 80s pop influences, but fits in nicely. "Bright Red Carpet" from All Star United has been popular over the past couple of years as ASU have conquered the guitar-pop loving portion of the festival. The recording doesn't match the energy or fun of their set on the tiny bandstand in 97, but is one of the standouts from their self-titled debut.

The only new track on the album is from Split Level. "Window Shopping" was written for this album as the band wanted to produce a tribute to the festival.

Always looking through the glass
Making movies in my head
I'm dreaming
About the things that might ... me
Should I stick with what I see
I'm waiting
The song is slightly more muscular than their last album, global, thankfully the drums have more presence, but retains the harmonies and melody which characterise the best Split Level offerings.

Like any album, this one has its weak points. But the songs all portray some of the many faces of the diamond that is Greenbelt. Many people will have favourites that are missing from the album, (I'd love to know why Bruce Cockburn isn't present) and a number of tracks do veer towards the mainstream, but it is a good retrospective collection and you needn't worry about predictability.

James Stewart (09/26/1998)