I think the answer might be no. So here’s a pointer. I was writing about the band tonight for my music book (which is nearly finished – hooray!). Here’s what I said and a YouTube version of one of their best songs.
Espers are a band who are little known, judging by the internet, and are described by Wikipedia as psych-folk. The psych being psychedelic, as opposed to psychotic or psycho. I first came across them through the Word magazine’s monthly compilation CDs, when they included a track called “Mansfield and Cyclops”. A strange combination I thought, Greek mythology and an industrial town in Nottinghamshire. What could it mean? I forget which year I had these thoughts. The song was on an album released in 2006, but I think it was a few years on before I realised how good it was. I used to keep all those monthly CDs and only occasionally listen to them at the time. So much to do, so little time! But I then spent a bit of time uploading all of them on to my iTunes, on one big playlist. I added a few other CDs, from Q and Uncut. Put the lot on shuffle and you got to hear some really interesting sounds. And that’s when “Mansfield and Cyclops” came up, and “Cruel Storm”. Two fantastic tracks, both from Espers’ second album, called “II”. (The first in 2004 was called “Espers” and the third in 2009 was called “III”, so the band clearly didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about album titles!).
When I first heard the band I thought they must be Irish – or maybe an English prog-folk combo. Irish because of that sense of celtic soul – like an ancient version. The female singer – the duties were shared – reminded me of Clannad. Whatever, the sound of “Mansfield And Cyclops” and “Cruel Storm” was mystical, beautiful, with a real sense of the past – centuries past – but also with some striking guitar shapes. I knew I was getting sucked into the dreaded prog here. I could hear Wishbone Ash’s “Warrior”, the pastoral side of Genesis, and who knows what that Yes and others conjured up in the seventies. But most of all, I heard songs of astonishing beauty. There was clearly no alternative but to buy the album and delve into the rest of Espers’ past.
And what I found was those three albums and a few EPs besides. All filled with magical music. A sort of clash between the mediaeval and seventies folk rock, with some seriously good guitar thrown in. I couldn’t really listen to too much in one go, because it was just too prog for me, being a simple rocker really. But there were some wonderful tracks, and the whole blurred into this classic British folk thing, stretching back into the Middle Ages. I so I thought. In fact, the band are American, from Philadelphia. So I guess you have to look to influences like Jefferson Airplane and even The Doors – some of the amazing guitar on songs like “Cruel Storm” and “Mansfield and Cyclops” aren’t so different to The Doors’ epic, “The End”. There’s a third track which stands out for me, which is on the first “Espers” album. It is called “Riding”. It’s sung, I assume, by frontman Greg Weeks. It’s a lovely tune, punctuated by some extraordinary distorted guitar. The ultimate Espers combination. As I was thinking about how to describe it, I imagined Jimi Hendrix being transported back to Sherwood Forest and teaming up with Robin Hood, Maid Marian and the Merry Men. Daft, I know, but that’s what it feels like.
The band don’t seem to have done a lot in recent times, as far as I can tell. I would really love to see them live. I suspect I never will. But they are my greatest prog guilty pleasure!