Review – Gazpacho – Soyuz – by Jez Denton

I am by no means a huge fan of progressive rock, there are bits I like, some I don’t, some I find clever and some I find completely over the top and pretentious beyond words. However, I do like to try new stuff, or at least new to me, and when it comes from an act that I’ve heard lots about from friends and acquaintances I’ll certainly give it a good go.

So when I was sent through the new album, released this week, from Norwegian alt-rock experimentalists, Gazpacho, I started listening with great expectation, having heard the name mentioned a few times by people whose thoughts on music I respect.

What I love most about hearing new music is picking up on the references that shape that music, and this album, ‘Soyuz’, is rammed full of great influences that have shaped the sound, whilst not diluting the bands own distinctive voice. It is an album shaped by the experiences of this band growing up in a period of huge political uncertainty, the Cold War, in a country very close to the borders of that conflict.

The sphere of influence that the USSR held over the countries of Northern and Eastern Europe have led to the music on this album having a sinister and dark, perhaps even fearful sound, a sense of foreboding. Across this the band tell stories such as that, in the first single, Soyuz One, of the doomed space mission by the Russians where cosmonaut, Colonel Vladimir Komorav, died; the first in-flight fatality in the history of space flight. The way the stories are told are engaging; making parts of this album seem like a pretty cool history lesson.

Musically the band are very adept at creating clever melodies and tunes, that, in common with many of their contemporaries, wash over the listener, enveloping them in the senses they try to create. However, the band are also more than happy to throw in the odd curve ball, a contrasting surprise. The ending of Soyuz One, for instance, which is a beautiful piece of piano music, is something Vaughan Williams would, no doubt,  have been proud of.

The album has a number of these little vignettes through out, it’s as if the guys have visited Cecil Sharp House and had a go through some traditional English folk tunes with which to enhance the sound of the album. With a bit of folk fiddle or a pastoral piano piece thrown in the album has, in places, the feel of a Fairport Convention album with production by Brian Eno.

This is an album of superior tunes, interesting and engaging subject matter and a brooding Nordic sound that will both appeal to fans of progressive music whilst also be surprising enough to make the album stand out amongst contemporaries and attract new devotees. The band have created a fine work that works of many levels. A mighty fine effort that will reward the listener over multiple listens.

Released 18th May 2018

Order Soyuz here

Review – Dream The Electric Sleep – The Giants’ Newground – by Roy Hunter

I think this is a strange one!! It was written and recorded back in 2008 before the band was even formed… It pre-dates all of the other three releases from these Kentuckian souls, before they had even chosen the band name!!

The 16 songs are shortish (for a proggy album) with The Stage being the longest track at 7 minutes 18 seconds just… However, despite their collective shortness, Matt Page and Joey Water’s efforts show the promise that has been realised and recorded in their later releases!!

The sounds? From a light picky start, the 1st track Home swiftly develops into a post rock song of surprising quality. Only a short track though @ 2:42, It left me wanting to hear much more from the duo…

Track 2, We Smell The Blood, a more sedate number with some heavy guitar work – good song but hard to pick out the words at times – that post rock fuzz builds up!! From around 3 and a half minutes though everything calms down again to some ethereal guitar picking…

Track 3 Father Francis – a melodic song, Matt’s vocal range brought right to the fore here.

Track 4 reminds me of some Oasis songs – Ok if you like them I suppose… Come to think of it, the whole album shows some influence from the Gallagher brothers???  On repeated listening, one can pick out influences from other sources – Muse, early Anathema, to name just two…

Overall, I liked this prequel album, it justified my purchase of their earlier (later) publications. Matt has a fine voice and his song writing talent is in no doubt. The guitar work is excellent throughout the album too – the gentle track 7, One Last Fix proves my point.

Halfway through the album at track 8, It Will All Be Over Soon you hope it won’t! The River Current is a light and wistful song (a Dylan influence?) which balances a lot of the heavier music heard earlier. Track 11 Sounds Like Magic is a pure Oasis clone with a better guitar lick now and again.

Acoustic guitar over a mushy radio broadcast reminiscent of some Roger Waters work for #12, and then that excellent guitar jolts one back to the real world for Soulful which, for me, has the best vocal work of the album… I’ll not forget the phrase – Apostle of Hypocrisy – I’m gonna use that in my own writing I think! By far the best track on this album.

The last 3 songs deliver more of the same – high quality musicianship leavened with some thought provoking lyrics…

Buy it – there is much to cherish here!

Released 18th May 2018

Order the album from Amazon here

 

Reviews – Esoteric Reissues Round Up Part 3 – Blonde on Blonde, Anthony Phillips and Tim Blake

This time round, those busy people at Esoteric have been rooting out some of the best albums you’ve never heard to continue building an amazing archive of lost acts, those who were fantastic and never quite made it.

For every Yes, there’s about half a dozen no’s littering the path, who, for whatever reason (bad management, no record label support, right album wrong time), never hit the history books.

Blonde On Blonde – Rebirth

Released in 1970, ‘Rebirth’ was the second album from Welsh prog band Blonde On Blonde. Having returned to Newport after they weren’t making enough cash in London, the band signed with Ember records (home of BB King & Glen Campbell at the time) and with new vocalist, 18-year-old David Thomas, the band set about crafting this masterpiece.

With effusive sleeve notes on the original album from the effusive Tommy Vance (who was a big supporter of the band) this experienced live act, who had played the Isle of Wight Festival twice, brought all their skills honed on the road into the studio.

As the band freely admit in the sleeve notes the opening Castles in the Sky (written by Eve King & Paul Smith) was included on the album at the behest of a BBC producer John King who had got the band a showcase performance on a BBC Bristol TV show, and his wife wanted to be on the album. Blonde On Blonde (yes, they were named after that Dylan album) didn’t feel it representative of them, though overall as songs go, it is of it’s time. However, if you feel it jars then we have the beauty of the CD skip button.

The band had been compared to the Moody Blues but that did get used quite a lot when you have a band who are rock in their outlook and symphonic in their vision.

The band, Gareth Johnson on guitars, Richard Hopkins (bass, organ) and Les Hopkins on drums, had a wide musical palette to draw from, having been influenced by the R’n B scene and with taut instrumentation, great vocals and an ear for a melody, I find they fit into areas Wishbone Ash would sit in. With some sublime extended work outs on tracks like Colour Questions and Time is Passing, they showed a maturity of song writing, whilst the closing piano driven You’ll never Know Me/Release, with it’s wonderful vocal refrain and driving beat, is a real delight for anyone who appreciates good quality classic rock and the powerful musical coda is up there with anything else recorded in this period.

These guys were the real deal, and as the band grew in musical power they really pushed the boat out on their next album.

Rebirth: Remastered and Expanded EditionBlonde On Blonde

Blonde On Blonde – Reflections on a Life

Released in 1971, the epic ‘Reflections on a Life’ saw another change in personnel as Richard Hopkins moved on to be replaced by Newport based guitarist Graham Davies who also added bass, acoustic guitar, banjo and vocals.

Now with the music written by both Thomas and Johnson, this epic collection of tracks that widens their musical horizons more with blues, country music and more, is a conceptual song cycle telling the story of someone’s life from birth to death. Recorded at the legendary Rockfield studios and on a tight budget, the band utilised all their creativity and, indeed, turned in a fantastic collection of songs dealing with some seriously dark lyrical matter tied to some wonderful rock. The powerful driving rock of I Don’t Care, all about incest, contrasted with the wonderfully mellow blues folk of Love Song.

The band really took the ball and ran with it, despite, or because of, the disdain of the record label. They threw everything into this album and, with tracks about family murder (the nicely ironic Happy Families), the incredibly experimental Gene Machine and some suitably iconic artwork, it makes for a fantastic listening. The addition of Graham Davies helps widen their sound, bringing a fantastic vibe to tracks like Bar Room Blues and The Bargain.

This has some fantastic musical moments throughout and a great set of lyrics as well, superbly observed and well written. From it’s striking cover to it’s brilliant contents, this is a fantastically well-made record and was, musically, the last recorded statement the band made. Having lacked record label support, slogged their hearts out on the road and never achieved the success they deserved, the band had dissolved by 1972.

Now this can be reappraised and enjoyed, especially by anyone who likes a well written, tightly produced exciting journey, that mixes musical genres and showcases the bands versatility.

Reflections On A Life: Remastered and Expanded EditionBlonde On Blonde

Anthony Phillips – Invisible Men

Esoteric are continuing their extensive and comprehensive reissue of the Anthony Phillips back catalogue and this release, originally from 1984, marries up the two versions of ‘Invisible Men’ including the respective tracks missing from the American and UK edition, as well as a second disc containing alternative songs and demos from this period in Ant’s career.

Persuaded by his management that he needed to do something a touch more commercial, Ant and collaborator Richard Scott had developed an excellent working relationship and the use of a drum machine to underpin the songs.

As a result, the lush orchestration of some of Ant’s earlier albums is replaced here by a harder edged sound that is entirely of it’s time. However, don’t let that distract you from the music as Ant has always been a fantastic songwriter. Writing with Richard Scott, the two developed an excellent working relationship, and this album is well worth investigating.

From the incredibly 1980’s cover which mixes their promo photos with all the visible skin removed and the bright colours, to the programmed drums, this also sees Ant taking vocals on for the first time and he has a fantastic voice which really comes to the fore on the lovely Traces.

Meanwhile, influenced by outside events, both The Women were Waiting and Exocet (the latter featuring the sample of Iain MacLeod) are highly charged comments on the Falklands War, whilst the wonderful Going for Broke is proper old school prog, with some fantastic guitar work for Ant, and is a successful mix of the old and the new.

The blend of guitar and flugelhorn on Falling for Love provides a sublime musical moment whilst Sally is a slice of pure 80’s power pop that has a great blend of synth sounds, vocal power and a pure 80’s sax solo, it could have been used in any number of 80’s movies.

The second disc (complete with the copious sleeve notes) has some interesting different versions of album tracks like Falling For Love, Golden Bodies and My Time Has Come. Other tracks recorded over the same period are just as fascinating including tracks like Darling and Shadow in the Desert, being almost finished and never heard before.

Whilst this might not be the first place to start looking into the work of Anthony Phillips, it certainly shows his experimental side and that, as a musician and performer, he isn’t prepared to stand still. Whilst sometimes the drum machine does slightly jar (and you wish for some real live drums), overall this is a fantastic collection of complex pop/rock songs that are very much of the era they were made and yet still shine over 30 years later.

INVISIBLE MEN: REMASTERED & EXPANDED 2CD EDITIONAnthony Phillips

Tim Blake – Noggi ‘Tar

Influential electronic musical pioneer Tim Blake has performed with both Gong and Hawkwind and is, to my mind, more influential in electronic composition than his French contemporary Jean-Michel Jarre.

Blake released some fantastic albums in the 1970’s and in the current century worked again with both Gong and Hawkwind. He decided that, on this album, he should be the lead guitarist on an electronic record with no guitar, hence the title, a wonderful little pun, and, whilst this was originally recorded and released back in 2012, it never had a physical release, being a digital only album.

Marrying the old and the new is something Tim has always been good at, right from his Crystal Machine and Blake’s New Jerusalem days, where he was at the cutting edge of electronic music (if you don’t own those albums, hunt down the Esoteric remasters, they are essential to any fan of electronic music).

The four tracks on here are, again, the pinnacle of how electronic music should be done, the conceit of using the keyboard as lead guitar is one that works so well and, of course, we know what a Master of Music Blake is.

It could have ended so differently had Blake not survived the car accident, the resuscitation and the subsequent three-day coma that Blake references here in The Blue Light Zone, where he pulls all aspects of his subconscious together in a sublime electronic journey.

The songs, over less than 40 minutes, are ambient, transcendental and are a real musical journey. Working hard here he makes it seem effortless as The Arrival of Migratory Cranes segues into Absent Friends, rounding out with Contemplating the Southern Cross.

There might be no guitar on here but, putting the keyboard in place of the guitar is a masterpiece, he uses it to create riffs, runs and moments, and front the whole album, whilst the mighty wall of synth sounds that washes over you is sublime.

This is electronic music at its finest, a fantastic example of how composer and instrument can become one and take you on a sonic journey that leaves you exhilarated and wondering where the time went.

I love this and highly recommend it.

Tim Blake: Noggi Tar, Re-Mastered EditionTim Blake

Reviews – Esoteric Reissues Round Up Part 2 – Atlantic Bridge, Little Free Rock and Sky – by James R. Turner

Those great people over at Esoteric Recordings have a great job, they are the equivalent of musical historians, rooting around in the record company archives like audio archaeologists and finding some neglected, hidden and indeed well-known treasures that they tease and bring back to life.

Here’s a round-up of some of their more alternative and eclectic discoveries.

Atlantic Bridge – Atlantic Bridge: Remastered and Expanded Edition

Let’s start with the self-titled album from jazz rock crossover quartet Atlantic Bridge, originally released on the progressive imprint Dawn Records back in 1970. It takes the four-piece’s improvisational jazz tendencies and mixes them up with some stirring and interestingly re-arranged versions of contemporary rock classics.

Heavily influenced by re-interpreting the Beatles, both Something and Dear Prudence get radically rearranged and mixed up by the four-piece. Pianist and arranger Mike McNaught was instrumental in getting bassist Daryl Runswick, Flute/saxophonist Jim Philip and drummer Mike Travis to turn their jazz hands to rock reworking.

Not only was he a Beatles fan but the album also contains three re-workings of classic Jimmy Webb songs, including the inimitable Macarthur Park, jazzed up to the max.

With the self-composed Childhood Room (Exit Waltz) closing the original album, this is one of those innovative and ‘between two stools’ records, where it was too jazz for the rock crowd, too rock for the jazz crowd and now sounds like they were having a blast recording it.

Well worth an investigation if jazz rock is your thing.

Atlantic Bridge: Remastered & Expanded EditionAtlantic Bridge

Little Free Rock – Little Free Rock: Remastered Edition

This self-titled debut and, ultimately, only album from Preston power trio Little Free Rock was originally released back in 1969 on, of all places, the Transatlantic label, home to folkies like Ralph McTell and the pre-fame Billy Connolly band The Humblebums, which was, as the honest sleeve notes reveal, a bit of a mismatch.

However, what you do have here are 9 tracks recorded by a hugely talented and inventive power trio, led by guitarist, vocalist and song writer Pete Illingworth, co-writer, bassist and vocalist Frank Newbold and drummer Paul Varley.

Unusually from this period, and with bands who had honed their craft on the road, this album is all originals, no random reworking of Beatles songs or that ilk. Instead, you get one of those albums that could only have been made in 1969, where the optimism of ‘anything is possible’ musically filtered through.

You get big choruses on tracks like Making Time (complete with obligatory drum solo) whilst you get some fantastic riffs on songs like Evil Woman and the opening Roma Summer Holiday.

In fact, the skills of the song writing duo of Illingworth and Newbold are on display throughout the album and it belies their youth and inexperience in the studio. Sure, bits of this album sound naïve and, as it was recorded on a budget, that also tells but it never distracts from what is a fantastically exciting album. As snapshots of an era go, this is a perfect encapsulation of all the bands in that era that dreamed big and had the ambition to put their sound on record, and also of the record labels willing to give them a go.

Little Free Rock: Remastered EditionLittle Free Rock

Sky – The Studio Albums 1979-1987 – 8 Disc Clamshell Box Set

Doing exactly as it says on the tin, this impressive clamshell package contains all the studio albums (Sky, Sky 2, Sky 3, Sky 4, Cadmium, The Great Balloon Race & Mozart) recorded by the legendary cross over rock and classical band Sky. This provides a condensed collection of the remastered albums reissued a few years ago on Esoteric containing none of the bonus tracks but, as an extra to the package finally released on DVD after many years of being unavailable, the superb last gasp ‘Live in Nottingham 1990’. Formed in the late 70’s by legendary acoustic guitarist John Williams, session musicians de jour Herbie Flowers and Kevin Peek, Curved Air keyboard player and composer Francis Monkman and orchestral percussionist Tristan Fry, the band successfully fused classical pretensions with progressive and mainstream rock styles and were an absolute phenomenon in the early 1980’s, yet their legacy seems to have been forgotten and it probably didn’t help that these albums were unavailable for many years on CD.

‘Sky’, the debut album originally released in 1979, showcases the bands style, and is a definite statement of intention with the driving power of tracks like Monkman’s Westway, the brilliant Carillion and the powerful closing Where Opposites Meet, again by Monkman.

With the wide range of styles that all 5 members brought to the band, you get Williams’ acoustic classical style mixed with Monkman’s progressive keyboards. Flowers and Fry on bass and drums are one of the most powerful rhythm section you’ll see anywhere, with Fry as powerful a drummer as John Bonham, and with a fantastic touch that adds so much more to the sound, whilst Kevin Peek’s electric guitar complements Williams’ acoustic touch perfectly.

‘Sky 2’ was an ambitious follow-up, a sign of strength and confidence in the band that built on the back of their success and what better way than releasing a massive double album. This shows the full power of the first Sky line up, as Herbie Flowers (bassist on the Lou Reed song Walk on the Wild Side) brings his tuba to the fore on the brilliant Tuba Smarties (which never fails to bring a smile to the face) whilst Tristan’s Magic Garden showcases Fry’s superb percussion skills and sound.

Traditional progressive rock bands from the first wave (Yes, The Nice, Genesis) were always trying to compose and perform in a rock and classical crossover and whilst some were more successful than others, Sky, with its blend of rock musicians, classical musicians and composers, I would argue, managed to blend classical styles and rock techniques in the most successful way possible. This made them one of the more successful second wave progressive rock groups, particularly as they managed to make their albums hit the top ten (‘Sky 2’, for instance, hit the top spot) whilst performing complicated, intricate and intelligent instrumental music. It also included a side long composition (again from Francis Monkman) called FIFO, which is the pinnacle of Monkman’s compositional style in Sky.

There is no bad track on this album, and the way it ebbs, and flows is magnificent. I also must admit to having a massive personal connection to these albums, my Dad used to play the Sky albums regularly when I was a child and, as I drifted off to sleep, I could hear the bass of Herbie Flowers or the percussion of Fry sneak through the wall. This is music that I have grown up with all my life, so I think it’s wonderful to hear it remastered in such clarity.

‘Sky 3’ saw a change in the band as Francis Monkman moved on to be replaced by another session musician, Steve Gray, who brought a different compositional style and focus to the group. Losing a member could end some bands, particularly one with the composing skills of Monkman, but Gray steps in perfectly and adds his own song writing style to the group.

‘Sky 3’ isn’t quite the sound of a band in transition as it could have been, in fact, of the three albums so far, I think it is probably my favourite with some amazing group work on tracks like Westwind, Connecting Rooms, and the band classic Meheeco. Gray fits perfectly into the band, and the work on here is again a logical progression from the previous two albums, with every member giving their all.

It is so difficult for instrumental bands to ensure that they don’t keep making the same album repeatedly or for the music to get lost in the background. The members of Sky have enough musical skill, song writing expertise and the comfort of working together, to ensure that each album is different, fresh and musically exciting.

‘Sky 4; Forthcoming’ was a slight change of direction for the band, as they were classically influenced, they decided to record an album of interpretations of classical pieces (a bit like the almost traditional cover album that contemporary artists still do) and each piece was rearranged and reimagined by the members of the band.

Highlights include the wonderful reinterpretation of Ride of the Valkyries (by Steve Gray), John Williams showcases his trademark dextrous sound on Bach’s Fantasy and there is a fantastic version of Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark, whilst Kevin Peek’s My Giselle is the only original track on the album.

The diversions into classical pieces are excellent and deconstructing the original and rebuilding it into a Sky sound pretty much shows the blueprint as to what the band were trying to achieve originally. With musicians as good as these 5, it is exciting to hear where they are going to take well known pieces.

‘Cadmium’, the first album of new material from the band since 1981’s ‘Sky 3’, and the last to feature founder member John Williams, was released in 1983 and, with the opening Troika (better known to millions as the basis of Greg Lake’s I believe In Father Christmas) adding festive cheer to the album, it does seem business as usual. Overshadowed as it was by Williams’ departure after recording, it has a lot of charm and plenty of Sky classics to endear it to the audience. It includes wonderful track from Herbie Flowers, the excellent Telex From Peru, whilst Steve Gray’s Son of Hotta does exactly what it says on the tin. Bonus tracks include an extended work out of Troika plus a blinding version of The Fool on the Hill.

Without a replacement for Williams, Sky continued as the core four piece with additional help from extra musicians to fill out the sound, this is obvious on 1985’s wonderful release ‘The Great Balloon Race’, probably one of the most misunderstood albums in the bands catalogue and, now 20 years on, the time is right to reappraise its status.

Having lost the big name from the band, as Williams was a massive draw (not to mention a key member of the song writing team), Sky could have collapsed and folded, instead they carried on with one of the most striking and original songs that have ever opened up an album, The Land sounds like nothing they had ever written before. With vocals from composer Tony Hymas (English composer best known for his work with Jeff Beck) and Clare Torry (best known for her work with Pink Floyd) this atmospheric and powerful song sets out Sky’s stall, influenced strongly by their time spent touring Australia.

The Land is inspired by the Aboriginal struggle whilst the title track is one of Herbie Flowers’ most memorable compositions, touring musicians Ron Asperey (on sax and flutes) & Lee Fothergill (guitar) help flesh out the sound and with the addition of pan pipes on some of the tracks, the additional instrumentation enhanced the key Sky sound. ‘The Great Balloon Race’ takes their sound and pushes it into a widescreen format, and is the sound of a band moving forward.

The final Sky studio album saw them head right back to their roots, a re-interpretation of classical music with rock orchestration and sees them joined by the Academy of St Martin’s in the Field to record the album, ‘Mozart’, released in 1987. Fry’s work with the academy was long standing (he played on the soundtrack to the film Amadeus) and, in conjunction with conductor Sir Neville Marriner, they planned and adapted a broad collection of Mozart material and interpreted it in the unique Sky way, with the key four-piece band embellished and enhanced by the orchestra.

Works like The Marriage of Figaro, Symphony No 34: last movement and Alla Turka: Rondo are all reworked and performed to perfection. Remastered here, the clarity of the interplay between the band and the orchestra is sublime.

The last gasp of a band who had been so peerless and innovative throughout the late 70’s and 1980’s, ‘Live at Nottingham’ captures the line up of Flowers, Fry, Gray, Hart and Peek on fine form, as they run through an almost ‘best of’ set, with the usual musical dexterity and power that they are well known for. With old favourites like Son of Hotta, Meheeco, Tuba Smarties and Toccata (previously unreleased on DVD – available here for the first time), this album rounds off a well packaged and excellent value set.

The only omission here is the live double ‘Sky 5’ which is still available on CD if you want to complete your set.

Sky: The Studio Albums 1979-1987 – 8 Disc Clamshell Box SetSky

Review – John Hackett Band – We Are Not Alone – by James R. Turner

Following on from ‘Another Life’ released back in 2015 this, the sequel by John and band (Nick Fletcher, Jeremy Richardson & Duncan Parsons) came out last year in a special two disc set, one featuring the new album and another featuring a bonus disc recorded live at the Wesley Centre in Maltby back in May 2016 for our old friends the CRS.

I will come back to Maltby and the live disc later (having family from Maltby I could tell you all sorts of stories!) but first..

‘We Are Not Alone’, adorned by a striking cover painting by Lizzie Spikes, and opening with bluesy and powerful Take Control, is an album that grabs you from the get go. John needs no introduction and, as you can imagine working with a guitarist like his older brother, John is used to powerful guitar work. With co-writer and collaborator Nick Fletcher providing said fantastic guitar, particularly as Take Control stretches it’s legs, and with some fantastically soulful vocals from John and some great flute as well, the whole band give it some welly and, at well over 8 minutes long, it has time to grow and doesn’t feel like it’s outstayed it’s welcome.

It’s a perfect opener to what is an excellent sequel to ‘Another Life’.

With some more of that wonderful guitar work and some great vocals and, indeed, lyrics on Never Gonna Make a Dime, also with his brother providing some wonderful harmonica (his only appearance on this record), it’s clear that musically and thematically John is his own man.

This album continues in its melodic rocky fashion as the tracks alternate between instrumentals that showcase the full range of this tight band’s ability, from Nick’s wonderful acoustic guitar work on the beautiful Blue Skies of Marazion, to Johns wonderful flute and keyboard work, whilst Jeremy Richardson’s vocals shine on his track Jericho.

The track by Duncan Parsons, Queenie & Elmo’s Perfect Day, is a fantastic instrumental as well and it showcases that the whole band are highly talented instrumentalists and musicians, each bringing something special to the table.

With songs like Summer Lightening and Castles, this album really shines, it has a real groove and chilled out vibe in parts. This is another fantastic and strong album.

Live on the second disc, the band treat us to a selection of great material from ‘Another Life’ with the title track and Life in Reverse getting an airing.

On stage, the band are taut and dynamic, their musical interaction spot on and their execution flawless. This must have been one hell of a gig (one I would have liked to have seen but, you know, it’s not like the old days when it was round the corner, I can’t just pop up to Maltby from Bristol for a gig these days) so it’s great that this is documented here and even nicer is the dedication to Stephanie Kennedy, someone I got to know really well throughout my CRS gigging days, and who I’m sure there’s lots of us out there who miss her.

This is a perfect combination, as I end so many reviews wishing I could hear the band live, and with this disc, well, you can! Win, win I say!

Released 29th September 2017

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

We Are Not Alone: 2CD Deluxe EditionJohn Hackett Band

 

Review – Year of the Kite – With Sparks Flying – by Jez Denton

It is this reviewer’s belief that the only worthwhile type of music is miserable music. Indeed I believe I can make a case for almost any song being miserable; ‘Happy Birthday’ for example, a song that heralds a descent into the void of encroaching years, bodies failing and falling apart before eventual and unavoidable death. It is, therefore, no surprise that the sub-genres I most enjoy, and the ones that make up my music collections are ones like Blues, Grunge and Goth Rock. I love to listen to maudlin murder folk ballads, songs about unrequited or lost love. You can’t beat a sad song, as, to paraphrase Bernie Taupin, they say so much. Who’d prefer to dance, when you can wallow in the misery of a Nick Drake lament?

The debut album, ‘With Sparks Flying’, by Year of the Kite, released last week on Diversion Records, is an album that starts with a grungy slowcore bluesy slice of total miserablist beauty. Reminiscent of the great Mark Lanagan, Wild Blood, Wild Light, sets a mood of dreamy nihilism, with a dirge like vocal growling over a down tempo backing that has a druggy sense of impending doom, a descent into madness and horror. A lo-fi scream of abject despair all wrapped up by a hypnotic accompaniment. Like Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’, it’s a song that hints at terrors seen or unseen, ones that can neither be unheard or forgotten.

The first half of the album continues in this vein, songs that give voice to a whole range of uncomfortable emotions. It takes the listener on a journey into places that challenge, that are frightening and which leave the listener raw and exposed to feelings that, whilst scary and disturbing, are also very rewarding. Which is a slight shame as the second half of the album doesn’t quite keep its foot on that emotional pedal, with later songs drifting off on a dreamy tangent. That’s not to say they are not good songs, far from it, as musically Year Of The Kite are a very talented bunch whom have spent the eighteen months recording this album, perfecting, as they have, their sound and production. It’s just that I really, really, really loved the first 5 or 6 tracks and wanted so much more despair and misery! Weird I know!

What can be said is that ‘With Sparks Flying’ is a really very good debut. There are moments of greatness that will fulfill the darkest recesses of any deep and miserable music soul. There are also moments of exceptional potential and plenty to say that this band will have a success with this album and any future work they produce. Not far off being a miserablist masterpiece.

Released 27th April 2018

Order ‘With Sparks Flying’ from Diversion Records here

Review – Tangerine Dream – Quantum Gate & Quantum Key – by Jez Denton

In 2015 German Electronica visionary and leader of the band Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese, died, two years before the band celebrated its 50th anniversary. However, Froese had elected as his successor as leader of the band Thorsten Quaseschning who, along with Frose’s wife, Bianca Acquaye and other members Hoshiko Yamane and Ulrich Schnauss, have continued to work as the band. The result of this work is the album released as ‘Quantum Gate’ which was released in September 2017.

In line with Froese’s vision the album has now been re-released with the edition of the earlier ‘Quantum Key E.P.’ as a two volume edition. The release continues and develops Froese’s and the bands traditional and trademark sound, featuring sequence-driven electronica  to bring to the listener atmospheric moods that envelop and wash over them; taking them on a journey of aural exploration.

When I was very young, during the white heat of space exploration of the early 1970’s, through the films we saw of moon exploration, the space lab and unmanned journeys to Mars and further planets I was taken to the London Planetarium. I remember being awe inspired by the opening up of the mysteries of the universe as stars and constellations were lit up all soundscaped by futuristic music that seemed somewhat other-worldly. Listening to these two pieces of art, took me back to that time of wonder, evocative as it is of quantum physics and exploration.

The music has a kaleidoscopic quality to it, the sounds washing over you in waves, as visions of colours and shapes are suggested to the listener. It is clever music that, despite its lofty scientific ambitions. still does work on a level of just being able to listen as a piece of wonderfully crafted and melodic tunes. It is music that’s leads the listener into rooms of opened perception, whilst challenging preconceived ideas of realities. It is a fitting tribute to Edgar Froese’s vision for Tangerine Dream whilst ensuring the band can move on and forwards with its founders aims and desires at the forefront.

Released 20th April 2018

Order ‘Quantum Gate/Qauntum Key’ from Burning Shed here

Featured image by Jim Rakete.

Review – Talitha Rise – An Abandoned Orchid House – by Progradar

“Some people have lives; some people have music.”
― John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Music is what makes my life complete, it fills the holes and spaces in time and I honestly couldn’t be without it. Some music is so compelling that it can take over your life, pausing you in a moment in time, not caring or worrying about anything else and the elfin, ethereal vocals of Talitha Rise (better known as Jo Beth Young) definitely belong in that category.

Following on from the beautiful EP ‘Blue’, Jo is releasing her debut full length album ‘An Abandoned Orchid House’ on June 1st. It is a release full of captivating, wistful songs wound around themes of isolation and abandonment.

Ten stripped back creations full of emotions, sometimes dark and despairing and often passionate and full of desire, this is a sentimental and uplifting soundscape that leads, through sacrifice and estrangement, to hope and optimism.

Jo Beth Young has a sublime and refined voice that has a haunting aura and reminds me of an early Kate Bush or Tori Amos and it is her most potent weapon. When added to the intelligent, captivating lyrics it gives wonderful songs. ‘An Abandoned Orchid House’ was recorded in many locations from living rooms and kitchen tables in Devon to a beautiful manor house in Sussex.

“I like to think this has given them some real sense of isolation, even when the tracks are very big.” Jo says, “I wanted them to feel like a personal and intimate conversation between myself and the listener.”

That is exactly what you get. Listening to this enchanting record, you feel like you are cocooned by the music and living in your own, private performance of the songs, very intimate indeed.

There’s a who’s who of guest perfomers including Juldeh CamaraPeter Yates, Arnulf Linder and Rory McFarlane and everything is complemented to perfection by long time collaborator Martyn Barker.

The nostalgic wonder of songs like Valley and Incantation and the Clannad-like River leaves you mesmerised and lost in time and space in your own mind. The profound imagery comes to life in your head as you listen to the soulful music and beguiling vocals, these songs are written for the pure joy of music and you feel a surge of love rise up in your heart and soul as you hear every bewitching note.

There’s a stark elegance and charm to songs like Orchid House and the stunning Chapel Bell, an honest melancholy that filters through and captures you in its embrace and you feel every emotion and affectation.

Every song on the album is a mesmerising moment in time but my personal favourite is the utterly wonderful The Lake, a spellbinding song that lingers long in the memory after it comes to a fascinating close.

I’ve been waiting for this new album for a long time and have not been disappointed by what Talitha Rise has composed, it comes to a close with Twisted Tree and the haunting Lifeboat ,two more exceptional and captivating pieces that complete the amazing musical tapestry.

In my humble opinion everybody needs music to complete their life, to give you a reason to get up every morning and go out to work and Talitha Rise has delivered one of those perfect moments in time, an album of songs of such rare quality, delivered by the most wonderful voice, that stands out like a ray of light in the darkening world that increasingly surrounds us. My music loving friends it just doesn’t get any better than this!

Released 1st June 2018

Pre-orders for ‘An Abandoned Orchid House’ will open soon, order here

 

Review – The Slyde – Awakening – by Progradar

There’s some powerhouse artists that have come out of Canada, Rush and Bryan Adams immediately come to mind, but it’s not known as a hotbed of emerging talent on the whole.

Last year I reviewed an EP full of intelligent and complex ‘heavy-prog’ songs that showed a huge amount of promise from four piece Canadian band Slyde. They have taken the four tracks of ‘Back Again’ and added six new songs to create their first full-length offering ‘Awakening’ and also added ‘The’ to the front of their name.

The new tracks are the first six on this impressive release, Nathan Da Silva’s soaring riffs and Sarah Westbrook’s dynamic keyboards dominate the band’s edgy and high energy sound with the energetic and potent rhythm section of Brendan Soares (drums) and Alberto Campuzano (bass) providing the up-tempo drive. This potent brew is topped off with Nathan’s distinctive vocals (comparisons with Geddy Lee are indeed merited) to deliver some quality melodic prog-rock that brings to mind bands like the aforementioned Rush along with Haken, Coheed and Cambria and Circa Survive.

The short intro of Awaken leads you into a powerful collection of tracks that have this forceful and charismatic feel and a seemingly boundless supply of high octane energy that carries you along on a wave of compelling and vitalising music.

You want a catchy, addictive chorus? The Slyde tick that box, thunderous riffing? yep, that too, coruscating guitar solos? of course! There’s nothing that this highly impressive collection of musicians seem to have left out of their locker.

Highlights of the new tracks, for me, are title track Awakening and So Blind but every song is a compact ball of progressive magnetism and captivate with equal force and hearing the final four tracks that made up ‘Back Again’ brings a huge grin to my face, remembering what I enjoyed about them in the first place, Fading and Divide especially.

The Slyde have returned with one of the year’s more idiosyncratic and left-field releases and, once again, they deliver a thunderously powerful and yet thought provoking collection of songs with an aggressive and weighty edge but never forgetting that melody is king, highly impressive.

Released 18th May 2018

Order ‘Awkening’ from bandcamp here

Review – Sanctuary III – Robert Reed – by James R Turner

Since Robert took some time out of the ‘day job’ to release his first homage to Mike Oldfield back in 2014, his own little sub-genre has grown, with two full length sequels (‘Sanctuary II’ in 2016) as well as numerous EPs including variations on David Bedford and his own alternative take on the Doctor Who theme tune. Now Sanctuary III (funnily enough the third in the ‘Sanctuary’ series) is here, available as ever in 5.1 and on vinyl, in a very nice cover indeed.

Rob has taken the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ philosophy to this album, with, as per the first two (and indeed Mike Oldfield’s first three) albums, being a full-length song-suite parts 1 & 2, both emulating the Oldfield approach, which worked so well on ‘Sanctuary’.

Rob has worked with Oldfield collaborators Simon Phillips, Les Penning‘Tubular Bells’ producers Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth and on vocals with Angharad Brinn and Synergy Vocals.

Now I am a massive Mike Oldfield fan, and I would argue that its harder to find a greater run of albums than that encompassing ‘Tubular Bells’, ‘Hergest Ridge’, ‘Ommadawn’, ‘Incantations’ and ‘Platinum‘, and, as with previous ‘Sanctuary’ releases Rob wears his Oldfield inspiration on his sleeve. This is as well as showing off his amazing instrumental prowess as a multi-instrumentalist, playing all the instruments bar recorders and pipes, which are contributed by Les Penning and Troy Donockley respectively.

The themes throughout are standard Oldfield fare with plenty of soaring guitar and repetitive, charming themes that slowly build and grow and, to Rob’s credit, he has widened the palette somewhat on this album. There is an excellent vocal piece at the start and an interesting diversion into folk themed parts via the twangy guitar of The Shadows at one point.

However, there is a touch of an over reliance on the nonsense female vocals that are almost ‘Ommadawn’ but miss out the emotional resonance of that piece and also of the vocoder vocals that sound like they escaped from Five Miles Out. These are familiar Oldfield tropes and ultimately trap the music into being a facsimile. Which is a shame, as if Rob threw out the Oldfieldisms, he could create some truly wonderful original music, instead of pretending it’s 1974 all over again.

That’s fine for a nostalgia trip but I would always return to the original rather than an imitation.

More interesting is the Moonsinger Suite, ChimpanA Remix which, whilst referring to the main Oldfield touchpoints, at least brings it up to date, being more reminiscent of ‘Songs of Distant Earth’ or ‘Tubular Bells III’ (so only 20 years out this time, getting closer!).

The Tom Newman remix on the second disc is also superfluous, being not quite different enough to the original to warrant being included here. Things like that are best suited for anniversary editions or special editions rather than the standard release, as it all gets a bit too samey after a while and you lose where you are at.

If you reading this are Mike Oldfield fans and wonder whether ‘Sanctuary III’ is worth a punt then, well, sadly not. Like I said, I really like Rob’s work, his musicianship and craft and skills are never in doubt and I really want to love this album, I absolutely enjoyed the first one as a piece of nostalgic entertainment. However it seems to me that Rob, whilst putting together an excellent facsimile of an early Mike Oldfield album, has drifted into tribute band territory. The music is good, the performances outstanding but it seemed to me that the Doctor Who theme tune a la Oldfield was an idea too far and ‘Sanctuary III’, whilst being well made, just doesn’t hit the spot.

It doesn’t give you the goose bumps that the opening riff to ‘Tubular Bells’ does, it doesn’t send the shiver down the spine that the closing finale to ‘Hergest Ridge Part 1’ does, and it doesn’t conjure up a sense of wonder like ‘Ommadawn’. Somewhere online I have seen people claiming that this is even better than Mike Oldfield or at least, that it’s better than the albums Mike makes these days. I doubt Rob was thinking of usurping his hero in that way, and ‘Sanctuary III’ doesn’t. It is the musical equivalent of a Big Mac meal, it satisfies at the time because it’s easy and familiar but, in the end, after ten minutes you’re hungry again and want a steak.

After listening to this all I want to do is grab ‘Hergest Ridge’ or ‘Return to Ommadawn’ in 5.1, bang up the volume and lose myself in the pastoral waves as they wash over me.

I would much rather wait and spend my hard earneds on the forthcoming ChimpanA album, as that debut is probably the best thing Rob has done outside of Magenta, being fresh, clever, original and contemporary.

The dictionary defines Sanctuary as ‘a refuge or safety from pursuit, persecution or other danger’ and this is definitely a refuge in the past, ultimately this music sits in a very safe place indeed.

‘Sanctuary III’ is fine as a nostalgia led piece but when there are so many interesting contemporary instrumental bands out there like Agusa or Zombie Picnic, revisiting music from 40 years ago isn’t pushing the boundaries, it’s more like a cup of tea and a pair of slippers, and a musical cul de sac.

Released 20th April 2018

Buy ‘Sanctuary III’ from Rob Reed Official Here