Empire had its origins in the demise of the band Flash -- in fact, for a short while its name was simply Flash Mk. II. Guitarist Peter Banks, formerly of Yes, emerged from management disputes of Flash to pull together a band of jam-mates in the loosely structured ZOX and the Radar Boys. These jams had featured Phil Collins behind the drums, though his commitment to Genesis meant that he could only sit in on a few tracks of the 1974 recording sessions for the newly named Empire.
The sound of Empire had distinct progressive elements, as one might expect with both Banks and Collins around. Their recordings, though, were marked by a willingness to dip into a wide variety of musical genres, from blues to country blues. The band was also unusual among progressive bands in being fronted by a woman. Although Renaissance had the ethereal voice of Annie Haslam, Empire's Sydney Foxx provided a notable counterpoint to the band's complexity by with her strong bluesy vocals, not unlike Lydia Pense or even Janis Joplin at times.
Empire's work brought little success, though. Despite some anticipation among the pop music press, Banks and Foxx were unable to land distribution for their work either in Britain or the U.S. Still clinging to hope, the group recorded two more albums in the '70s but to no avail. It was to be two decades before One Way released them on CD; and while not exactly lost classics, the albums are of a high enough quality that it's unfortunate that the band was unable to get any footing before its breakup in 1980. ~ Paul Collins