Overture could easily have been arranged like Music. However, John did not want to be known as the man who played piano with an orchestra. Overture, like Music blows hot and cold. Bob's words are strong and John's keyboards and guitar skills are shown off to the full. Record Mirror commented `The highlight is a steaming guitar solo on Overture' NME noted `Overture is a dignified lament on a clichéd subject - the sad lot of a misunderstood artist'.
Regarding Borderline they called "it fine angry rock song" while Record Mirror described it as "musty and gutsy In my mind it is John Miles in Rock and Roll mode."
`I have never been in love before' is in my mind a classic. Sounds said: "For once you actually get to the heart just what a fine guitarist he is, I Have Never Been In Love Before - for example he lifts a pleasant but unassuming medium-paced song with a concise and flawless solo." Record Mirror described it as "shamelessly nice". It appears to have been released in the US as a single on the Arista label (as was the album). However, the version I know of has some more backing and supporting instruments. It would have been interesting to see if it would have sold well in the UK.
However, the only single released from Zaragon in the UK was No Hard Feelings. There was not much reference to No Hard Feelings in the press. The NME called it "an agreeable ballad". In the Newcastle journal they noted that John regretted "that Decca chose to issue "No Hard Feelings", a romantic ballad, since his preference was for the title track".
So the above 4 tracks comprised the first side. Only one reviewer that I read disliked these tracks preferring instead the 3 tracks on side 2 as vastly superior.
The disco feel of "Slow Down" from Stranger is not taken any further but the track "Plain Jane" is described as "adequate compensation" by Sounds which is compared to Genesis and described as "a stimulating excursion, both musically and lyrically, into a different and rewarding area". One paper was worried that the track may have caused offence to feminists as it dealt with "cynicism about the ambitions of women". In my view the track is about one specific type of person and not necessarily talking generally.
Nice Man Jack is the track most highly praised by music journalists. Hugh Fielder of Sounds said "Miles himself seems to have developed a sturdier, almost `heavier' guitar tone that sometimes gave the band an almost heavy metal flavour which they positively revelled in during `Nice Man Jack', a new number that takes 'Miles' taste for switch-tempo songs a stage further." Another commented that "Nice Man Jack paints a vivid picture of schizophrenia.. the fierce break.is abrupt enough to startle the unwary" NME noted." Heavy Metal riffs are rarely deployed with such success". I particularly like the quiet break just before Mitre Square. If you listen to the opening of Michael Jackson's Thriller you will hear a tremendous similarity although JM did it years earlier.
The last track on the album is the title track. Interestingly, in an interview with John they were looking for words to fit into the track. Apparently they tried "Tin of paint" and "Shredded Wheat" Try substituting the following words for Zaragon and you will see that it does work! Another source indicated that Tarragon was the previous name until they realized that it was a herb. Zaragon was described as the "smokeless zone" and "a weightless space odyssey". I interpreted the latter as not being a demanding song rather that a weak track. I think that John dressed in his Karate outfit on the "Star Wars" type background on the cover gives the title track and therefore the album a recognisable identity.
Brian Chatton joined in December 1977 replacing Gary Moberley which was after the recording of Zaragon but prior to the UK and US tours which followed. So that was Zaragon. A concept album? Not quite but there are themes of age, which run through the tracks and of moods. The album showcased a rawer, tighter sound with John showing his musicianship without all the production and orchestration. Simply a superb album. Hopefully Decca will eventually see the light and release it on CD
My favourites are:
1) I have never been in love before John is terrific at writing the music for lovely ballads. In this case its downbeat and the music and the lyrics complement each other well. It is a crisp ballad not cluttered in the way some love songs are.
2) Nice Man Jack Tremendous telling of the Jack the Ripper tale. John could have done a film soundtrack based on work like this. I love the changes and the "heaviness" of the guitar work is refreshing. The tension build-up is brilliant.
3) Overture Considering there is no orchestra this track has a wall of sound. Like Music it is an epic but more reflective and profound.
4) Plain Jane A much underrated song in my opinion. The song creates a world in which she lives. I am sure we all know a "Plain Jane"
Stephen Carson

Zaragon is, without doubt, my favourite John Miles album. It is the one album of his which has a recognisable theme or story, and could have been taken from or form the basis of a musical of the 70s. The fact that it is recorded without an orchestra means that it is just as effective in concert as it is on disc. Indeed, those who have been fortunate to have heard the BBC Radio 1 In Concert recording, broadcast at about the same time as the release of Zaragon, will understand what I mean.
Overture sets the scene, and paints an excellent picture of the characters as they could have been in this imaginary musical. The guitar playing is magnificent in its flow. The piece has all the characteristics of JM in its change of tempo, at its ending taking us neatly into
Borderline. This is a cry for help from the heart. It is essential to listen to and understand the lyrics, and appreciate where the singer is coming from; more than just down on his luck, but teetering on the edge.
Light is at the end of the tunnel with I Have Never Been In Love Before, a beautiful melody, and a song of encouragement. Perhaps things can get better after all. Unfortunately, it was not to turn out that way after all, although philosophically there are
No Hard Feelings. This piece has a brilliant lyric, which must be so appropriate for many in this age of uncertainty in relationships. Life is too short for regrets, and some of the acquired wisdom is passed on to
Plain Jane, in an attempt to help a friend. Life is never as bad as you think, and there is always someone worse off. The simulated harp sequences are most effective, emphasising the need for dreams and where they can lead.
Nice Man Jack is a puzzle. I suspect that it is a description of our leading character as seen by others, and just how deceptive appearances can be, meek by day, and quite a raver by night. Would they feel the same if they only knew?
Was it all a dream? The question asked in the final track - Zaragon. A very neat way to conclude a most successful album.
Of course I suspect that none of this was thought of when putting the album together, but I think it does show that some albums should be listen to in their entirety, and that to pull tracks out for individual release is a mistake. Also I feel that to concentrate too much on one aspect, most reviews tend to look at the music, misses the point that some albums are a complete works, music, lyrics and the interplay and progression of tracks, and should be viewed as such.
I would echo Stephen's comments here. If only the album were to be remastered and released on CD, I am sure that the sales would make it worth while.
John Webster

When I first bought Zaragon, I played it almost endlessly for a day. By the end of the first day I knew all the lyrics, I could da da dada along to all the guitar breaks and I could wince at the gradual accumulation of Scratches and static (I now have three copies on vinyl).
I loved every moment because it was so long awaited. The Zaragon tour was the first time I saw John Miles Live (Hammersmith Odeon as far as I can remember). I still have my copy of the tour program. I remember him seeming very shy when talking to the audience (which I think comes across in the radio broadcast of a Zaragon concert I heard recently).
"Overture" is made by the stunning guitar break. The way it drops off only to be picked up again in superb fashion. An epic, which just has to be played again straight after.
"I Have Never Been in Love Before" is in my humble opinion the best ballad of the Decca days. Again superb guitar sound. It shows a style of writing and playing which shows up on many JM tracks in that it builds up and up and up again (I know what I mean, as ever my complete lack of musical knowledge and phraseology prevents me letting anybody else know!).
"Nice man Jack" is a very clever song. You just never know who is amongst us. A song only for headphones or detached houses. The volume needs to be up to catch the full effect of the creaking door and the footsteps, so why bother turning it down again.
Keep the volume up for the phaser(?) intro to "Zaragon".
Close run thing for "Borderline". "Plain Jane" is just too long. "No Hard Feelings" is a pretty little ballad but does nothing special for me.
Oddly "Plain Jane" and "I Have Never Been in Love Before" Were favourites amongst my friends who, at the time, were fans of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and their ilk.
John Taylor

Zaragon was muted as something of a departure for John in terms of musical direction. Whilst many artistes in the late 90' s take credit for re-inventing themselves the music critics of the late 70's only appeared to be confused as to what John Miles was all about.
Perhaps this was understandable because during this era many of the singer songwriters were not multi instrumentalist who were equally adept at playing guitar and piano. After all, up to the release of Zaragon the perception of John Miles was that he started out as James Dean Lookalike pop rocker (Highfly) who played a bit of guitar but then developed into a classical rock artiste (Music) but then changed this by having a chart number 10 disco based hit (Slowdown). In other words they could not label him as an artiste.
John's ever increasing hair do's did not help either, ranging from the slicked back to the side parted wispy look to the dodgy Kevin Keegan Perm. The fact of the matter was that this quality and versatility confused the hell out of the critics who preferred to comment on the latest hairstyle or John's rags to riches acquisition of a Rolls Royce rather than the highly crafted songs. Indeed NME wrote in reviewing "Stand Up and Give me a Reason" live in concert "it should be entitled Stand Up and Give me Another Haircut".
Zaragon was not really a conceptual album in my opinion. The Karate suit on the front cover along side a future world graphic theme was no real evidence of this, no more than had he have been wearing a black top hat and tails with London as a backdrop.
"Overture" is to me the definitive composed guitar solo , period . The song itself though brilliant pales into insignificance when compared to the guitar solo which is the art of rock guitar at its best. Of all the guitar solo's I have ever heard nothing for me quite reaches its dizzy heights and I'm sure in this age of bedroom producers and dance tracks probably ever will. This track for me is the album's best, just for this reason.
"Borderline" for me is the worst song on the album. I did not like John's early attempts at blues / rock n roll , though the later albums proved he could do it well . Maybe the old adage of "you need to experience life to play the blues" is true. The vocal though on this track is very good showing good gruff tones in John's voice.
"I have never been in love before" is a nice simple song with a semi sad tone to the verses but a more up beat chorus. Another great guitar solo features but this time melody rather than passion being the feature. John really was cooking on gas as the outro solo 's not bad either.
"No Hard Feelings" is a great song but as a single was a bummer of a choice. It's not that kind of a song, actually its not that sort of album, and the lack of the obvious single from this album probably did not do much for John's career longevity as a solo artiste in the UK .
Excellent though this album is, in the late 70's the market place was very singles orientated for "pop rock artistes" and they needed big selling singles to push their albums.The Bee Gees once said that without "How deep is your love" being the success it was, then the 2nd greatest selling album of all time "Saturday Night Fever" would never have made the level of success it achieved. This was after all 1978/9, the years of the disco explosion, satin shirts and white suits. the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was 3 years away and had Zaragon been released then it would have been a more critically acclaimed album.
Sorry but "Plain Jane" should have been a 3 minute record. It goes on far to long and at times sounds like it was deliberately strung out to fill the album up .
"Nice Man Jack" to me is still a awesome song and very well crafted. Featuring John playing out and out unashamed rock guitar in part two of this magnificent track "Mitre Square" (though again a tragic single choice). For me this is John at his best. However again the timing was awful. The Yorkshire Ripper was rapidly becoming the country's most wanted individual at the time. John was allegedly questioned by West Yorkshire Police some time later after playing the song in concert in Bradford the night a girl was murdered. The police apparently been tipped off by fan, who remarked at the maniacal fervour John displayed whilst playing the song (the tour dates and locations did not help either, nor the fact that John has a Jarrow accent). Fans do not always appreciate a good performance...... what a pillock.....though then again, I suppose, if it had have been John he would never have forgiven himself for not saying something so I retract that earlier comment just in case he's sat somewhere reading this.
"Zaragon" is probably the most complete track on the album and is out and out favourite of the non Mileophiles I have lent the album to over the years. Having said that, these were mainly prog. rockers who like Genesis, Rush et al during the same period. To me it pales into third place behind Overture and Nice Man Jack at fav.'s 1 and 2 respectively.
Mark Burgess

Zaragon was the first JM album I ever bought - believe it or not, I found it in a music shop in the discount section a few months after it had come out... Suffice to say, I also had a pressing which was damaged - a piece of dirt had been caught between the two halves of the disc (records were pressed as the two sides which were then joined together) - it affects track one on each side... Oh well! I have subsequently acquired another copy, via my first wife, so I do actually have a copy which plays without clicks. I love this album, and I really wish it had been released on CD.
I never viewed it as any kind of a concept album, but I have always been impressed by the fact that JM is doing everything except bass and drums. I seem to recall hearing him say that he gets other people to program in synthesiser sounds, and then he just does the playing, not that that makes any difference! The album just smacks of quality and sheer musicianship. As always, my being a guitarist slants my favourites heavily, and in fact I view this album as one of JMs best guitar-orientated albums: the playing is faultless, and is a lesson to loads of more vaunted guitarists. As a result, I sat down and learnt as much of the album as I could, in the hope that it would improve my own playing, and that I might learn about JMs style of playing from the study!
My favourite track is Nice Man Jack. I just love the contrasts: it starts totally keyboard dominated, with loads of complicated counter-melodies (particularly in the minor-key nursery rhyme part). It took me ages to learn how to play that on a piano, but I can now actually do it: in fact, I have performed the track several times in solo gigs, and even start and finish on piano, with the middle section on guitar! And what a middle section! The guitar is the most aggressive, savage guitar I think I've ever heard JM play, but it's always melodic. Also, the difference in the quality of his voice between the "gentle" parts and Mitre Square! Boy, I wish I could get my voice to do that! But I can't, so my rendition always pales very badly vocal-wise, but I have managed to learn the entire solo note for note, and sounds passable on my Les Paul. And then the ironic ending - "It's a pity there aren't more like him..." - I think that's a very skilfully crafted song, in all ways, hence my No. 1 choice. Incidentally, JM was questioned by the police when the Yorkshire Ripper thing was happening - I have a radio interview where he is talking about it, and he says that they provided the police with a lyric sheet and stuff. Every time I've seen JM in concert, he ended up with Nice Man Jack as the second encore, and always let rip on the lead break, sometimes playing over 5 minutes of superb lead work! Love it!
Second favourite for similar reasons is Overture. What a beautiful opening to an album - just listen to the beautiful guitar lines, which are harmonised, and then way the song builds into the middle instrumental section. And what a lead break! For those of you who don't play guitar, let me just explain (apologies to those of you who do!) that an electric guitar with the high level of distortion/overdrive that JM is using on that lead break, is very difficult to play cleanly: it's very easy to accidentally catch the wrong string, or to just let a string ring a bit longer than it should. Even seasoned professionals do it - I can point out loads of places on recordings where the player has been a little untidy, but usually it's covered over by the other music, so 99% of the people never hear it! But for Overture, the break is played with instrumental stabs - the bass and drums and other sounds just come in for little bits, and most of the solo is against... nothing! As a result, if JMs playing was not 100% spot on, it would stand out a mile. As it is, it is 100% spot on, and the lead break is a tribute to his superb technique! Again, I sat and spent hours learning it note for note, although I haven't performed this one, as I could never find a gig opportunity where it would fit (so far!). I also love the lyric, plus the fact that you can tune your guitar up at the end, as the song goes into a real orchestra tuning up to A! Incidentally, I like Borderline, and think this has some very sharp lyric content, as well as more voicebox guitar (very subdued compared to Slow Down!), although it's not in my top 4...
Third has to be Zaragon - the beautiful haunting melody and the lovely piano (listen carefully to the complex effect that it on the piano by the way...). It does seem to be a science fiction-type story, but most of all I love the way the song builds up and then leaves us with the haunting last verse: I've tried to learn the piano for this one too, and can do the first couple of verses, but then it gets too much for me!
Fourth is No Hard Feelings - "I've got no hard feelings - I've got no feelings at all..." - what a line! I agree that it was a bad choice for a single, and I also agree that the album didn't really offer an obvious single (Mitre Square was stuck on the B side, and then faded out in the midst of the gorgeous lead break...). I think No Hard Feelings is a very classy ballad in the same kind of vein as other JM piano ballads, and I could empathise with the sentiment quite a lot when my first wife left me, and I found myself turning increasingly to my music to get me over the pain... But I really did almost feel as if I'd got no feelings left, as they had been ripped from me... Sorry to get so personal!
Anyway, there you have it. I must confess I have always thought Plain Jane was overly long, and I couldn't quite see what was being driven at... It's a good song, but doesn't need the long dreamy bits which double it's length needlessly in my opinion
I Have Never Been In Love Before is a lovely song, with nice lead guitar (yes, I learnt that too! Played on a Les Paul with the toggle switch up, using the neck pickup to give that rich sound rather than the savage sound on Nice Man Jack!), but not a patch on my favs I'm afraid (again, IMHO...).
Bimal Jangra

I love this album, perhaps because my 3 favorites all fit into such a moody theme - both in the music and in the lyrics.
l. Overture, my favorite, is mournful at times, much of it in minor key I think. It switches back and forth between hope and sadness, and don't we all. Love the keyboard - a perfect beginning - and some killer guitar!.
2. I Have Never Been in Love Before, I picked because of the wonderful guitar work. Originially I was drawn to JM for his voice, but I am a real sucker for the guitar in this one. It is superb and I believe it has some great "bottleneck" (whatever the fingertube is called that gives the steel guitar effect) work. Mark or Bimal can tell us again what that is?
3 Zaragon is also terrific. I love the way it contrasts from mornful to vibrant energy. I particularly like JM's voice on this one as well as the lyrics. Probably the thing that appeals to me most is that Becky named her cat Zara! Also, I think Becky did a great review.
Jean Hickman

1 Nice Man Jack- A top 5 John Miles epic for me. The scene setting Kensington Gardens in part 1, lulling the listener into believing there is a ballad coming up, the pause, sound effects, then crashing into part 2, Mitre Square , a full on Led Zep/ Deep Purple/ Black Sabbath onslaught, with a mighty Guitar lead and powerful and mean vocals. Then the dawn of the next day, represented by Harley Street, with it's sinister and ironic play out. I never tire of this track, astonishing live.
2 Overture- Another classic, with all the attributes that make John's music so good. A slow reflective start then building up into a strong rock track, with yet more excellent guitar playing.
3 Plain Jane- A more melodic song, with a slightly pomp rock rift, giving way to a more plaintive refrain. It is a hopeful song with it's message of a Girl wanting to make strides in life, often at the expense of others, and not really achieving her goals in later life, but, perhaps one day she will fly.
4 Zaragon- Just a good song, and a strong finish to a classic LP
Richard Townsend

Having taken note of John's comments a couple of days ago regarding past album reviews, I've put my bunch together. As there are so many I haven't commented on the individual tracks (I'd be at it for hours), so with no further ado the run down is as follows:-
1) Overture
2) Borderline
3) Nice Man Jack
4) Zaragon
Zoë Pinchin

1) Plain Jane
2) Zaragon
3) Overture
4) No Hard Feelings
Chris Greenwood

This is my fave album, difficult to choose because the standard is so high throughout
1) Overture
2) Nice Man Jack
3) I Have Never Been in Love Before
4) Borderline
Neil Martlan

1) Overture
2) Nice Man Jack
3) No Hard Feelings
4) Zaragon
Malcolm Leeves

1) Overture
2) I Have Never Been In Love Before
3) Borderline
4) Nice Man Jack
Dan McVeigh