STEVE HACKETT Genesis Revisited – Band with Orchestra – TICKETS ON GENERAL SALE: Friday, 26th January

Following last year’s sell-out Genesis Revisited tour, prog icon and former Genesis guitarist, Steve Hackett, announces a 6-date UK tour in October. Treating fans to many favourite Genesis and Hackett numbers, this time Steve and his band will be accompanied by a 41-piece orchestra.

The decision to undertake this tour was cemented following the critical success of last year’s one-off US performance of the Genesis Revisited music with his band and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the charismatic Bradley Thachuk.

It went down a storm with the audience and sounded amazing, with the orchestra adding even more texture and colour to these classic tracks, prompting Steve to want to perform more shows in this way. Such was the gusto and verve brought to the performance by conductor, Bradley Thachuk that he will fly over to the UK to conduct the October shows. This show promises to be a transcendent experience!

Steve explains, “I always hoped that the Genesis music would one day involve an orchestra and I’m proud to say I’ll now be able to make that dream a reality on my next British tour, involving my own extraordinary rock band alongside a full-sized orchestra.”

The show will feature some of Genesis’ best-loved songs, including Supper’s ReadyDancing with the Moonlit KnightFirth of Fifth and more. Steve will not be neglecting his remarkable solo repertoire and there will be tracks included such as Shadow of the Hierophant, El Niño and The Steppes.

Tour details are as follows: –

Monday, October 1st Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
Wednesday, October 3rd Manchester Bridgewater Hall
Thursday, October 4th London Royal Festival Hall
Friday, October 5th Birmingham Symphony Hall
Sunday, October 7th Gateshead The Sage 1
Monday, October 8th Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Tickets available from http://myticket.co.uk/ http://www.hackettsongs.com/ and venue box offices.

Joining Steve on the tour are his regular musicians Roger King (keyboards), Gary O’Toole (drums/percussion), Rob Townsend (saxes/flutes) with Nad Sylvan on vocals. They will be joined on this tour by Jonas Reingold from The Flower Kings on bass.

Review – Galahad – Seas of Change – by Kevin Thompson

A columnist from an upmarket daily mentioned recently, that this time of year isn’t good for new music. How do these people get employed?

Two weeks into the new year and the quality of releases out and arriving are breathtaking, in scope and variation. Anticipation is at fever pitch at the expectation of numerous releases from new artists and old hands and I for one am looking forward to what the year brings.

Galahad’s ‘Seas Of Change’ is one of my most eagerly awaited. Having been a fan of Stu and the band from the earliest days I have always admired that, whilst they have their trademark sound, they have never been afraid to experiment and push the boundaries. Having followed a heavier path of late (last year’s release, ‘Quiet Storms’, being an exception) ‘Seas Of Change sees the band mixing their various musical guises to give us a veritable melting pot of all that was, is and now will be Galahad.

Though I was sad to hear of long term guitarist Roy Keyworth departing the fold, the return of the wonderfully talented Lee Abraham riding on the crest of his excellent solo album ‘Colours’ and formidably wielding the guitars here, adds a refreshing impetus to the band demographic.

Talking of sound, keyboardist Dean Baker should give himself a huge slap on the back for writing all the music and compositional arrangements on ‘Seas Of Change’. He has done a impressive job in creating an ‘epic feel’ of an album, a feast for the aural senses. A sweeping panorama of sound that crashes like a tidal wave through your sound system, drenching you in it’s thrall. That’s before we get to mention just how good he actually is as a keyboardist and conjurer of effects.

As for Mr Stu Nicholson’s vocals, they have to my ears never sounded or fitted the material better. Let us also not forget the valued contributions from the formidable engine room, Spencer Luckman on drums & percussion, combined with the return of Tim Ashton on bass guitar. The album also features long term Galahad honorarian, the lovely Sarah Bolter, sprinkling the album with fragrant flute, clarinet and soprano sax.

It takes someone of a certain quality to harness all this energy and polish it into a glistening diamond. No problem there as ‘Seas Of Change’ was mixed and mastered, most ably, at Thin Ice Studios in Surrey by the magician that is Karl Groom, producing a sound as clear and fresh as a crystal lake, all nicely wrapped in a wonderful album cover by the ever talented Paul Tippett.

“So what of the album itself?” I hear you cry,  “the subject, content and the tracks?”

There is dear reader, only one ‘Cecil B. DeMille’ size track that comprises the whole album.

According to Stu it was intended to be all of seven minutes but grew into the force formidable to which it now stands. Galahad have never shied from difficult, thorny subjects and if you are looking for English, pastoral poetry, with hearts and flowers, look elsewhere.

Stabbing at the heart of the government, this merry band of men (and lady) take politics and politicians skilfully and tactfully to task over Brexit, the public debates surrounding and following it, as the politicians have circled like sharks with the British public as bait, causing much confusion.

With a wry nod and a wink Galahad deliberate through the music as it rises and falls, majestic one moment, reflective the next. The quality of the material, musicianship and sound is faultless. This album cannot be dipped in and out of, but must be consumed as a whole which if you do, you should find most satisfying, whether your palate be to a fine glass of merlot or a huge feast.

If you have sampled the band before and found them not to your taste I will not force feed you, but merely ask you try this album or you could miss out on one of the tastiest releases of 2018. Me? I’m off back for seconds…

Released 22nd January 2018

Order ‘Seas of Change’ direct from the band here…

 

 

 

Review – Arcaeon – Balance – by Emma Roebuck

A band so new they have not reached their first birthday release their first EP and stamp a clear identity on the music they create. Based in Reading, self defined Prog Metalcore band Arcaeon give us 4 songs and try to show the variation and style they are writing and performing.

The album opens with Endeavour and a deceptive ethereal guitar riff and what I assume is guitar synthesised melodic line that begins to intensify and then drops into a power chord and heavy bass line as William Alex Young begins his vocals. Like a shock trooper in a musical war he hits hard and strong with deep and rasping tones for the first verses and to reinforce the Prog credentials the Metalcore shifts, the manic becoming calm and the storm fades. A voice not entirely dissimilar from James Hetfield comes from the speakers but, like the eye of a hurricane, that passes and the storm returns.

Fade has a similar mix of vocal styles and rhythm variances with harmonies and screaming and pounding bass lines. It is intricate and technical along with a high level of skill involved, the discipline and control involved is impressive. The contrasting use of clean vocal harmonies and the intense growling gives an interesting and additional element to the music. The guitar lines shift from frenetic then calm soloing eases the mind lulling it into a false sense of security.

Mind’s Eye opens up and immediately I am reminded of Maschine’s last album and Kyros, tight and melodic before they shift into the powered vocals for the verse and an out of nowhere a guitar solo that comes straight out of the classic rock playbook. There are moments when the intensity relaxes and shows that these guys are capable and talented musicians and can deliver more than just one style.

Dysaxis opens with a dial up modem connecting and drops into a similar pattern of mixed rhythmic and bass driven sound with the guitar and effects dancing round it! Eifion and Joe are in tune with each other totally.

Arcaeon are one of the increasingly large number of band that are coming from influences such as Muse, Animals As Leaders, Opeth and TesseracT rather than the route of bands from 40 years or more ago. They are young, keen and ambitious and appear at first glance to have no real connection to Progressive Rock in the traditional way. It was inevitable that the “golden age bands” would lose their grip as an influence as time distanced them from young musicians. BUT they draw from bands that had those bands as influences, so the experiences are second hand and so less precious to them. The metalcore aspect will not be for everyone but it does have merit and skill and is progressive. They are learning their art and will grow and that will be an interesting journey to follow. I can see this being a great and powerful live experience as well.

This is not music for the faint-hearted neither do I think that the fans of the pastoral and symphonic silo of the Prog genre will enjoy this EP. Fans of Opeth, Dream Theater, Ne Obliviscaris and Animals As Leaders will find something to love here. This is one area of the Progressive Rock movement that is getting young and talented bands coming through more and more. They have a young audience too, I think if any band will break through the wall into mass acceptance it will be Arcaeon or of their ilk.

Released 26th January 2018

Order ‘Balance’ from bandcamp

 

VLMV ANNOUNCE UK/EU HEADLINE TOUR – NEW ALBUM ‘STRANDED NOT LOST’ DUE FEBRUARY 2018 ON FIERCE PANDA

South London duo VLMV will release their debut album ‘Stranded, Not Lost’ on February 16th, the follow up to their 2016 mini-album which garnered the self-proclaimed “ambient-ish, post-something” outfit praise from the likes of Lauren Laverne, The Independent, Killing Moon, London in Stereo and more.

These previous releases have earned the band tours with post-rock stalwarts Nordic Giants and New Zealand trio Jakob as well as performances at festivals across Europe where their live show, a blend of the delicate, emotional vocals of Keaton Henson, the compositional beauty of Olafur Arnalds and a touch of the crashing and climactic soundscapes of Sigur Ros & Explosions In The Sky have wowed and hushed audiences all over the continent.

The band, up until recently, known as ALMA (until several cases of mistaken identity with the BBC Sound of 2018 nominee necessitated a branding rethink) have announced their new album ‘Stranded, Not Lost’ is to be released on Fierce Panda on the 16th February 2018. A collection of 10 new compositions from the band that perfectly recaptures the fragile, fragrant essence of their esteemed debut ‘ALMA’ album which hoovered up comparisons to fellow explorers Sigur Ros, Patrick Watson and Explosions in The Sky.

‘Stranded, Not Lost’ is a gorgeous and moving record replete with the kind of brooding, ambient soundscapes, soaring vocals and crashing intensity that have earned the band a small legion of dedicated fans and a fearsome live reputation.

The band, which was formed in 2015 by songwriter Pete Lambrou have been described as sounding like “the background music to an ambient explosion in space”, which is perhaps unsurprising when one considers that as mainstay of Codes in The Clouds and Monsters Build Mean Robots Lambrou’s gently cosmic post-rock provenance is impeccable.

Joined by fellow Code In The Cloudser Ciaran Morahan, VLMV deploy a loop station, multiple delay pedals, a piano and strings to create a slow-moving, high-flying soundscape of luscious gravitas.

When asked about the new album, VLMV’s Pete Lambrou said: Stranded, Not Lost is the first album I’ve written as a whole album, and not just songs that are pieced together to form a sort of best of after a certain period. I built a retreat studio in the basement of my house and buried myself there for a while. I wanted to keep this spatial feel that our previous album had, but create something more intimate. Thematically it’s a very inward album, which I haven’t really done for a long time. I think you can really hear the isolation in there. It’s personal, lonely and regretful.”

The band have also announced a set of UK & EU Tour dates in support of the album:

  • 19/02 – LWL Museum – Munster
  • 20/01 – Le caf & Diskaire – Lille
  • 21/02 – Galerie vom Zufall und vom Glück – Hanover
  • 22/02 – Plama -Gdansk
  • 23/02 – It’s a Bar – Berlin
  • 24/02 – Mózg Club – Warsaw
  • 25/02 – Noch Besser Leben – Leipzig
  • 26/02 – NoD – Prague
  • 27/02 – Andel Music Bar – Plzeñ
  • 28/02 – Le Farmer – Lyon
  • 01/03 – Pole Sud – Saint-Vincent-de-Tryosse
  • 02/03 – BeGood – Barcelona
  • 03/03 – Convent Garden – San Sebastien
  • 04/03 – Mami Txula – Bayonne
  • 16/03 – Archspace – London (Album Launch Show)
  • 22/03 – Glad Cafe – Glasgow
  • 23/03 – The Fox & Newt – Leeds
  • 24/03 – Dubrek Studios – Derby
  • 25/03 – Prince Albert – Brighton

PARADISE LOST TO RELEASE ‘HOST – REMASTERED’ IN MARCH – AVAILABLE ON VINYL FOR THE FIRST TIME

On March 16th, Britain’s cult metallers Paradise Lost will release a remastered version of their legendary seventh studio album, ‘Host’ and a first-ever pressing of the songs on vinyl. Originally released in 1999, ‘Host’ earned Paradise Lost their reputation as West Yorkshire’s musical chameleon, as it saw the band moving further away from their previous death metal roots to a melancholic and catchier electropop sound.

Singer Nick Holmes comments: “With the ‘Host’ album we wanted to take the ‘One Second’ concept further and make a very dark album with even more subtlety. It was a bold leap from all our previous albums, a leap too far some would say, but for me, the new remastered version really shows it’s still one of the band’s strongest albums in terms of song writing, atmosphere and sheer misery.”  

The album will be available as digipack and in three different vinyl colours (black, clear and mint) for the first time ever. Pre-order started yesterday, you can get your copy here:

http://nblast.de/ParadiseLostHostNB

Pre-order digitally and receive ‘So Much Is Lost’ instantly, here: https://smarturl.it/HostRemastered

The band’s latest doom metal monster ‘Medusa’ is now in stores and has been featured in a number of end of year lists for 2017 in the likes of Metal Hammer, Decibel and Rock Hard Italy.

http://nblast.de/ParadiseLostMedusaNB

You can catch the band live on their upcoming UK tour or on the following festivals:
15.02.  UK       Colchester – Arts Centre
16.02.  UK       Portsmouth – Wedgewood Rooms
17.02.  UK       Bristol – Thekla
18.02.  UK       Nottingham – Rescue Rooms
20.02.  UK       Belfast – Limelight 2
21.02.  IRL       Dublin – Tivoli
 22.02.  UK       Glasgow – Classic Grand
23.02.  UK       Manchester – Gorilla
01.04.  D         Munich – Dark Easter Metal Meeting
04.04.  BG       Sofia – 12 Years of Tangra Mega Rock
04. – 07.07.     D         Ballenstedt – Rockharz Open Air
11. – 14.07.     E          Vivero – Resurrection Fest
 20./21.07.       FIN      Laukaa – John Smith Rock Festival
08. – 11.08.     CZ        Jaromer – Brutal Assault
10./11.08.       NL        Leeuwarden – Into the Grave
15.08.  D         Dinkelsbühl – Summer Breeze
PARADISE LOST are:
Nick Holmes | vocals
Greg Mackintosh | lead guitars
Aaron Aedy | rhythm guitars
Steve Edmondson | bass
Waltteri Väyrynen | drums

Leprous to tour US with Between the Buried and Me & The Dear Hunter

On the heels of their critically acclaimed 2017 release ‘Malina,’ Leprous are excited to announce a US tour alongside progressive metal giants Between the Buried and Me. Also joining the tour are The Dear Hunter making this one of the highly anticipated tours in 2018.

The tour kicks off March 2nd in Chicago.

Pre-sale tickets go on sale now and general tickets go on sale Friday at 10 AM (local time).

Pre-sale: http://www.showstubs.com/btbam

Tour Dates

3.2 – Chicago, IL – House of Blues
3.3 – Minneapolis, MN – First Ave
3.5 – Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre
3.6 – Salt Lake City, UT – The Complex
3.8 – Seattle, WA – Showbox
3.9 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
3.10 – San Francisco, CA – The Regency Ballroom
3.11 – Anaheim, CA – House of Blues
3.13 – Los Angeles, CA – Belasco Theater
3.15 – Las Vegas, NV – House of Blues
3.16 – Phoenix, AZ – Marquee
3.17 – Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine Theater
3.19 – Austin, TX – Come and Take It Live
3.20 – Dallas, TX – Canton Hall
3.21 – Houston, TX – Warehouse Ballroom
3.23 – Orlando, FL – The Beacham Theater
3.24 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Revolution
3.27 – Nashville, TN – Cannery Ballroom
3.28 – Asheville, NC – Orange Peel
3.30 – Pittsburgh, PA – Mr. Smalls
3.31 – Philadelphia, PA – Electric Factory
4.2 – Albany, NY – Upstate Concert Hall
4.3 – Boston, MA – Royale
4.4 – New York City, NY – Playstation Theater
4.5 – Silver Spring, MD – Fillmore Silver Spring
4.6 – Cleveland, OH – Agora Theatre
4.7 – Mount Clemens, MI – Emerald Theatre

 

Single Review – Sleeperman – Bleach Blonde Pharmacist – by Progradar

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be…”

Forgive the terrible pun but I’ve been listening to a song that has just brought back wonderfully wistful memories of the sepia tinged days of my youth. Hey, lets’s be honest, they weren’t always great times but I can now look at them with a kind of indulgent fondness.

So, what has me yearning for the days when vinyl was the only format and I used to wear my brother’s hand-me-downs and my Mum was West Hill’s most eminent knitter? The new single (single? remember them?) from East Yorkshire’s Sleeperman, that is the catalyst. Bleach Blonde Pharmacist comes in a superb cardboard 45rpm single style cover and the CD even looks like a 7″ single, replete with ‘B’ side!

The band will release a new single on the fourth of each month throughout 2018 culminating in theirChristmas single in December.

Bass player Steve Skinner, guitarist Neil Scott and singer/poet John Hilton, joined by new drummer Phil Sharp are from a generation brought up to pick the bones from a confusing diet of Clint Eastwood and Germaine Greer. They have a collective soft spot for a well-made sandwich and Nordic Noir and though sandals are not a compulsory item of their dress code they are fond of and cling to the notion of everyone getting along.

Their unique blend of pithy, witty and often irreverent lyrics and excellent roots/folk/alternative music comes to the fore on the new track. Bleach Blonde Pharmacist opens with a driving bass and guitar riff, giving a sardonic, even laconic feel to the song. John delivers each line as if he he is biting off the words and it works brilliantly. It’s a song of real people in real situations, delivered with a tongue-in-cheek, off the wall wit. Imagine Northern humour mixed with an Americana vibe and you are on the right track,

“In the end you’ll have to pump up the tyres, pack tuna for a fortnight, take your Swiss Army knife and a whistle and head for the hills… You’ve got your family and your friends, your Transit and your bluetooth…”

And that’s just a smidgeon of the lyrical genius that Sleeperman impart, the wry observations come thick and fast, at all times backed by the stylish music.

The ‘B’ side (if we call it that) is a totally different beast, the flippancy is nowhere to be seen on as the opening notes to Sleep play out. Hilton’s vocal takes on a wistful tone and the music takes on a laid back sentiment. Laid back, relaxed and carefree, the nostalgia and humour have a much gentler air.

“And the ice cream van plays Greensleeves, when the sun goes down they’ll all leave…”

A bittersweet feeling piece of music that seems to yearn for times gone by, I nod my head in quiet appreciation as it comes to a close.

Following on from last year’s E.P. ‘Late Onset Optimism’Sleeperman have once again delivered a wonderful eight minutes of music that delivers on a personal and honest level. You feel yourself sympathising with the characters in the songs because you know, if not for the grace of God, it could have been you. Surely that is what great songs are all about!

Released 4th January 2018

Download ‘Bleach Blonde Pharmacist on iTunes here

 

Review – Marco De Angelis – Next Station – by Progradar

“If, like myself, you are a child of the 80’s and loved the great classic and prog rock bands of that era or, if you just want to hear some fantastic songwriting and music, then you could, and should, listen to ‘The River – Both Sides of the Story’.”

I wrote these words about Italian virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and producer Marco De Angelis’ first album ‘The River – Both Sides of the Story’. Released in 2013, it was one of my favourite releases of that year. When I heard that he was writing new songs for the follow up I eagerly followed any updates.

Well, fast-forward to December 2017 and that sophomore album was upon us. ‘Next Station’ consists of six songs all written, arranged and performed by Marco and is enriched by the collaboration of vocal heavyweights such as Nad Sylvan ( steve Hackett Band, solo), Robbie Wyckoff (Roger Waters Band) and Göran Edman (Yngwie Malmsteen, Karmakanic), percussion is courtesy of Cristiano Micalizzi, one of the most sought after drummers in Italy.

“Crazy dreamer, that’s the way they’re used to call you, ’cause your free will fills their life with fear..

Marco cites himself as being ‘Art Rock and Progressive Rock’ but I’d have to say there’s a huge dose of Classic Rock thrown in there as well, much like his debut release. Freewill has an involving introduction, all intricately ‘proggy’ before the velvet tones of Nad Sylvan give it a definitive authority. I love the elaborate instrumental fills, guitars, drums, bass and keys all making their presence felt but it is the cultured vocal that brings this song together. It’s catchy, edgy and quite jazzy in feel, as if Marco has been widening his musical horizons in a very good way. “Believing in them would make life easier, Though far more boring, Wouldn’t it Mr Captain.” 

“Change alone is eternal, Perpetual, Immortal, Taking nothing for granted, It’s the only way to live…”

It’s a pretty impressive start to the album and things just get better with the blinding and bluesy Keep Going where Marco really lets rip with his elegant guitar technique on the slow burning opening to the song, the fiery solo is dynamic and soulful. This track has the most in common with that Floyd classic/hard rock vibe but has added layers of intensity and class thanks to Nad’s superb vocal delivery. Simona Rizzi and Cristiana Polegri give added shine with their ritzy backing vocals, especially on the great chorus. This track is six minutes of classy rock music, best listened to late at night with the lights down low and a glass of vintage red wine in your hand (other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are available), it oozes sophistication, the cultured close a fine accompaniment to the blues-filled intro.

“Sitting on a bus, here I am, Old memories in my ears, They saw me growing up, It looks like I’m home to me, here I am, Redolent streets my mind has already walked through, I almost recognize them…”

It may have a bit of an unwieldy, cliche filled title but A Proggy Night In London certainly delivers. By a country mile, the most progressive song on the album, split into five sections, it is a totally engrossing listen with Nad’s voice almost narrating events as the music meanders across your mind, an involving and ever changing soundscape. I have to say that Nad Sylvan gives one of the best (if not THE best) vocal performances I have ever heard by this great frontman, he really seems to be performing right at the top of his game and leads this track along its lengthy, nostalgic feeling journey. Marco performs all the other instrumental duties (Bar the drums) and seems to be everywhere at once, delivering guitar, chapman stick, bass and keyboards wherever they are needed.  It is a musical tour-de-force as each section ends and segues perfectly into the next and it is one that you must listen to while still enjoying that glass of wine, this is music that tells engrossing stories and ones that you absolutely have to hear.

“Dream on, /dream on/, worn out heart of mine, Don’t let the darkness hide away our sun again, Wait for that glimmer of light on the horizon, Sometimes the light can be so hard to find…”

Laid back, bluesy and soulful, Back Again introduces Robbie Wyckoff to the vocal duties and his touching delivery matches the music perfectly. There’s an intimate atmosphere to this song, as if you’re sat in a small downtown bar, one of a handful of lucky people to hear such a personal performance. Marco fires off yet another incredibly impassioned guitar solo, all too brief to my ears and the soothing backing vocals from Simona and Cristiana just emphasise the intimate feel that this track engenders. The emphatic and electrifying guitar playing that helps to close out the song just makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise in utter appreciation.

“We all search for happiness, It’s what we always do, From the first breath that we take, ’till the last tear we’ll cry…”

Funky and edgy with cool, hard rock inspired riff, title track Next Station explodes onto the scene ready to take on all comers before realising it has no competition and taking a metaphorical step back to chill out with the rest of us in a funky progressive style. Robbie delivers a subtly powerful vocal performance, stylish on the verse and then forceful on the chorus, aided and abetted, once more, by Simona and Cristiana, “New day, New Life, New Pain, Next station on my road…”

Marco delves deep into his musical box of tricks to deliver a sublime instrumental section in the middle of the track and Cristiana lends her beautifully impassioned saxophone to the melting pot to add some real spirit and fervor. A wonderfully evocative smorgasbord of influences and themes is laid before you on this inventive nostalgic musical pilgrimage through Marco’s musical life to date.

“Some red wispy clouds, slipping over a light blue sky, a blazing sunset is about to be staged, A new night, a new day, A face on the wall to fly me away from here…”

Moments of near perfection like the utterly addictive and captivating guitar motif that opens  Last Train are what makes music so incredibly appealing to me and why I still listen to hundreds of new albums a year to seek them out. I’m a huge fan of Göran Edman, his expansive vocal performances with Karmakanic are amazing but we hear a much more chilled and relaxed version here and it is magical, his link up with the backing vocals is sublime. The music transfixes you from one note to the next, a song that is calm, classy elegance personified, the vocals hypnotise and mesmerise and Marco’s guitar seems to have a wistful, almost intangible life of its own. What a way to close out the album!

I’l cut straight to the chase here, you’d best open that bottle of red you were saving for a special occasion as ‘Next Station’ is it. A collection of songs that are more than that, it’s a captivating and involving musical journey led by a musician at the absolute zenith of his career. I think Marco De Angelis, joined by a stellar cast of musical guests, has just delivered the performance of his life!

Released 15th December 2017

Order ‘Next Station’ direct from Marco’s website here

 

 

Review – The Strawbs – The Ferryman’s Curse – by James R. Turner

If, like me in the early 90’s, all you knew about the Strawbs was the Hudson-Ford penned hit Part of the Union, upon discovering the album ‘Hero & Heroine’ in my parents record collector, it was hard to believe it was the same band, my love for the Strawbs grew as their albums were finally remastered and reissued (with some gems like ‘Deadlines’ being picked up at a Record Fair around 1994 on the original vinyl) and their transition from folk to rock (being placed in the prog bracket) a far more dramatic metamorphosis than that of Fairport Convention (who ironically went the other way, from psychedelic proto prog to the folk rock pioneers we know and love) with David Cousins unique vocals and lyrics, and Dave Lambert on electric guitar, and band members like Rick Wakeman, John Hawken, Blue Weaver, Chas Cronk and Tony Fernandez passing through the ranks in the 1970’s, they were a who’s who of top quality players. Through their reunions throughout the 80’s, their acoustic Strawbs and return of the full Electric band, and resurgence with albums like ‘Deja Fou’‘The Broken Hearted Bride’, as well as classic live albums and archive releases, the bands legacy is assured. If you ever catch them live both the full electric, and acoustic trio are musicians at the top of their game, putting together some fantastic shows.

Now 8 years after their last studio album ‘Dancing to the Devils Beat’, the Strawbs return with what is probably their finest record since their golden period of the 1970’s. Produced by the legendary Chris Tsangarides (who sadly died in January) and with the core line up of David Cousins, Dave Lambert, Chas Cronk (three of the five members who recorded the classic albums ‘Hero and Heroine’ and ‘Ghosts’) and long term drummer Tony Fernandez are joined by  ‘new boy’ multi-instrumentalist Dave Bainbridge (currently touring in Lifesigns with former Strawbs keyboard player John Young – it’s such a small world isn’t it?), and whose work with Iona nicely dovetails with the original folk rock orientated sound of the Strawbs, and he fits perfectly in here, contributing considerably to the sound (on both guitar and keyboards) and songwriting with a writing credit on 5 of the 10 tracks on here.

Opening with the hauntingly wonderful symphonic In the Beginning, which segues nicely into The Nails from the Hands of Christ, where David Cousins is a lyrically sharp as ever and a subtle nod to older songs like the Man Who Called Himself Jesus.

In fact the band references themselves even more on the epic title track, a sequel to the equally magnificent The Vision of the Lady of the Lake from 1970’s ‘Dragonfly’ album.

It is of course one of the finest songs the Strawbs have done for many a year, echoing the original and rounding off the story superbly.

However that doesn’t mean that the band are merely relying on old glories and lazily retreading the past, that is absolutely not the case, as the classic Strawbs sound is there, along with the unmistakable vocals of David Cousins, but this is a contemporary Strawbs album. Musically the band are as tight as they have ever been, and Dave Bainbridge sounds like he’s been in the band forever, his keyboard work opening up the beautiful When the Spirit Moves has to be heard to be believed, whilst Dave Lambert’s caustically brilliantly bluesy The Ten Commandments shows he’s lost none of his edge either.

In fact the guitar work throughout this album is stunning, from the beautiful solos on The Familiarity of Old Lovers (with it’s lyrical twist being a contemporary classic piece of Cousins wordsmithery) to the closing We Have The Power, this is a band on top form.

With superb instrumentals like The Reckoning that leads into The Ferryman’s Curse, there is so much to love about this record. From the vocal contrasts between Cousins, whose voice is nicely maturing, Cronk and Lambert, a Strawbs trademark if ever there was one, to the sharpness of Cousins lyrics, showing the wit, the bite and the observation of human nature is still there, right through to the fact that this is a band who, despite being around in one form or another for over 50 years, are not going down the easy route of playing the nostalgia circuit.

The material on this album will more than fit into a set that showcases the best of the Strawbs, and proves that they still have plenty to say, plenty to play and on this album show bands that are much younger than them, how it is done.

Released 3rd November 2017

Order from Cherry Red:

The Ferryman’s CurseThe Strawbs

Review – Lunatic Soul – Fractured – by Kevin Thompson

Life, like glass, is a fragile thing. Blows to both cause them to crack and fracture, delicately hanging the shards together as fissures creep across the surface, threatening to shatter at any moment.

Sharp edges and words cut deep red like blood and run with the dark crimson of passion. The reflections distort and twist our outlook on life.

Glittering and glistening in the light like fond memories slipping between the cracks into darkness, as we try to grasp what we had but see it slipping away and out of reach, things will never be the same.

We pick up the pieces to try and fit them back how they were, but there will always be a difference. How we deal with the changes makes us who we are, the person we evolve to be in the aftermath.

Travis Smith’s album design for ‘Fractured’ captures the essence of this album perfectly, a good start.

Pain can weigh heavy as we seek ways to lighten the load, allowing us to move forward. Not to dwell on Mariusz Duda’s own dramas that have befallen him of late, but the theme of this album under the Lunatic Soul guise, by his own admission is about coming back to life after personal tragedy. It’s inspired by what happened in his life in 2016 and by everything that’s happening around us and what’s making us turn away from one another and divide into groups, for better or for worse.

This catharsis involves him spreading his talents further from the paths run by his previous albums and taking a leaf out of the musical parchments of such luminaries as 80’s electronic masters Depeche Mode and others.

Mixing synth and programmed beats with loops of Duda’s voice, and adding his distinctive complex bass grooves, he creates what is probably his most commercially accessible and varied solo output to date.

From the throbbing beats and looped voice samples, almost aboriginal in tone, with synths and piano building in layers on the first track, Blood on the Tightrope marks a route through the jagged edges of doubt and indecisiveness, a fine balance without falling and edging forward to end on a determined note.

Baring his soul so honestly on this album, the music sometimes reflects a little uncomfortably. As in second track Anymore where sounds and notes flit in and out over the rhythms, jerking as if to remove some of the painful crystals buried in the exposed heart. There are also traces of Peter Gabriel buried in there somewhere.

Crumbling Teeth And The Owl Eyes may be the closest in sound to his Riverside roots on this album and is the first of two tracks on which the Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra weave their magic nurturing the mood of the song. Mariusz’s struggles with his pain and the way he yearns for the age of childlike innocence to relieve him of this heartache, are hauntingly beautiful.

A darker feel as Red Light Escape scratches at anguish on track four. He explores the way people try to come to terms with tragedy. How some search for an emotional crutch to cling to rather than face their fears and slip back into dependency on things they find comforting, even if it is not necessarily a good thing and prevents them from dealing with the problem, so they can move on.

Title track Fractured has a sparser feel, with Mariusz’s signature bass pulsing as synth and other sounds inject like dark drugs into the grooves of unnerving beat pattern, that leaves you on edge and unsettled.

A hopeful ballad, A Thousand Shards Of Heaven is delicately ushered in with acoustic guitar and the emotional vocals from Mariusz then joined by the wonderful  Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra once more. It offers glimmers of hope amongst the sadness, as the silky saxophone of Marcin Odyniec floats into the mix and gentle ripples, torn into submission by Wawrzyniec Dramowicz’s syncopatic percussion, a feeling of calm bringing it to a close.

Synth bubbles on Battlefield awash with digital waves and electronica, in this slow burner that builds with rolling, rhythmic percussion. A cautionary warning of the dangers of holding things inside and letting them destroy you and a reflection of the inner fight he has faced and stood strong echoed in the assertive ending.

Moving On with it’s Depeche Mode influences worn on it’s musical sleeve, could easily have been a single. Melodic and catchy, Mariusz bares himself one last time for the listener, to let us know he is not going to let what has hurt him stop him moving forward, climaxing with a few positive notes from the saxophone.

It’s an awkward review, as this is so personal to Mariusz. As you look deeper into it you can feel a little voyeuristic and that you may be prying. But the attitude and bravery he shows in releasing this material is a testament to the man and those around him. He has put a positive spin on everything that has happened and fully embraces the adage ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

Clearly his best solo output to date, ‘Fractured’ is in some ways a huge departure from previous works, a progression and isn’t that what this album is all about. A tremendous album that I believe everyone should have a copy of, certainly one of the best releases of 2017. Fans may have been concerned for his welfare after what befell him, but Mariusz has reassured us all that he is stepping into the light and the future looks bright.

Released 6th October 2017

Order ‘Fractured’ in all formats from the Kscope store:

Lunatic Soul