Reviews – Esoteric Reissue Round Up – Hawkwind, Atomic Rooster & Curved Air – By James R Turner

There have been plenty of reissue of classic rock and progressive albums hitting the desk here at the Bristol branch of Progradar recently, so, without further ado (and in the sense of catching up after having moved house and had no wi-fi for over a month) let me draw your attention to a few that those nice people at Esoteric have been kind enough to send for our perusal and enjoyment.

Hawkwind – The Emergency Broadcast Years: 1994-1997

First up they continue their collection of clamshell boxes collecting classic remastered Hawkwind Albums, The Emergency Broadcast Years 1994-1997 (ATOMCD51044), the latest in a fantastic budget series gives you the opportunity to grab 4 albums released in the mid 90’s where the line up had coalesced around the ever present Dave Brock, Alan Davey and Richard Chadwick, and the first two in the box 1994’s ‘The Business Trip Live’ and ‘Alien 4’ showcase the best this tightly honed trio could achieve.

Does the world need another Hawkwind live album? was the question back in 1994, and the answer, undoubtedly was yes, the fact that the line up has been so fluid over the bands history has meant that each new line up, and musician who has stepped aboard the good ship Hawkwind has brought something new to the party, and so the three piece line up that brought us the brilliant ‘It is the Business of the Future to be Dangerous’, get to show us how tight they were on stage as they blitzed their way through a set full of classics like Quark, Strangeness and Charm, Void of Golden Light and Wastelands mingled with newer material like This Future, LSD and Berlin Axis and show how they could reinterpret classics with style and aplomb.

1995’s studio album ‘Alien 4’ with it’s overarching theme of alien lifeforms seemed to chime with popular culture at the time (this was the era of the original X-Files after all) and sees the band, augmented by guitarist Jeremy Richards, pull together one of their finest latter day concept albums, mixing a wonderful re-working of Death Trap with new future classics like Beam Me Up and the 7 minute plus Alien (I am). It shows the band giving it all and finding new ground, even as they released this, their 20th studio album.

‘Love in Space’, another live album from 1996, this time a mighty double, sees Ron Tree joining the band as vocalist and taking some of the heavy lifting from Dave Brock and Alan Davey. The band run through a set that cherry picks the majority from the ‘Alien 4’ album with some classics like Silver Machine and a blinding version of Assassins/Space is their Palestine. Hawkwind have always been a fantastic live band who put out some cracking studio albums and the joys of these live albums, despite them only being a couple of years apart is that the interpretations of some of the same songs are so different and that is what makes it worthwhile.

Finally, from 1997 is ‘Distant Horizons’ which sees Jeremy Richards on board as a full-time member, his guitar fleshing out the distinctive sound, whilst Alan Davey left, with Ron Tree picking up the bass. Again, this is classic modern Hawkwind with some great tracks on here like the opening title track and Clouded Vision leading into the epic Reptoid Vision.

5 great discs in a clamshell box at budget price shining a light into a lesser known quarter of the Hawkwind universe, this collection is great for anyone who’s after the music and interested in discovering albums they haven’t heard before.

Hawkwind: The Emergency Broadcast Years 1994 – 1997, 5CD Remastered Clamshell BoxsetHawkwind

Atomic Rooster – Sleeping For Years: The Studio Recordings 1970-1974

In another box and from another time comes ‘Sleeping for Years by Atomic Rooster, the studio recordings 1970-1974 (ECLEC42612)’, across these four discs are the complete output of British blues rockers Atomic Rooster. My only slight niggle is that they’ve shoehorned 5 albums across 4 discs, meaning you have to change discs to hear 1971’s ‘In Hearing Of…’ in it’s entirety. But that’s a mere quibble.

As you probably know judging from the releases they have lined up, Esoteric are the Classic Rock reissue label du jour, and with the care that’s gone into this package, great remastered sound, fantastic sleeve notes from Malcolm Dome (& contributions from the members of the band) this is a fantastic collection that pulls together the whole gamut of Atomic Rooster’s output.

You may know the band for their hit singles Tomorrow Night and Devils Answer, two stone cold classic hits from the early 70’s, but there’s far more going on here that that.

Like so many bands from this era the line up was always in a state of flux, the one constant being the powerful and driving Hammond Organ and piano playing (& latterly vocals) from founder and former Crazy World of Arthur Brown member Vincent Crane.

Whilst Atomic Rooster was his vision, the list of musicians that ran through the ranks looks like a whose who of 70’s rock, with the self-titled debut album from 1970 featuring the talents of Carl Palmer on drums and Nick Graham on bass, vocals and flute, with songs like Friday 13th, Decline and Fall and Before Tomorrow, it’s a superb slice of 1970, the performances exemplary and the distinctive mix of blues, rock and Crane’s Hammond work, make this a very satisfying album indeed, and as is obligatory the album is rounded up with versions from the American album that differ slightly in that John Cann was involved in reworking, and it provides an interesting counterpoint to the originals.

Moving forward, and with Crane needing to assemble a new line up due to Carl leaving for ELP, and Graham being edged out in favour John Cann as a guitarist and replacement drummer Paul Hammond, the band’s sound evolved on ‘Death Walks Behind You’ (again 1970), if nothing else you have to admire the creativity and determination of bands who could release two albums of this quality in the same year, with two different line ups, that wouldn’t happen in this day and age. With the single Tomorrow Night nestling alongside the powerful title track and tracks like Sleeping for Years, it was clear the Rooster wasn’t missing its founder members, as this groove and style propelled the band to number 6 in the charts, with the non-album track Devils Answer here as a bonus on the 2nd disc.

For 1971’s ‘In Hearing of…’ the trio became a quartet as Vincent wanted Pete French in on vocals (& an interesting alternative is a version of Devils Answer with Pete on vocals), this freed up Cann on guitarand the resulting album is a superb piece of heavy rock,

With Vincent’s song writing dominating the band, he takes the lead vocal on the intensely personal Black Snake, a song about his mental struggles that would ultimately lead him to take his own life in the late 80’s.

Other tracks like the superb Decision/Indecision and Head in the Sky showcase how Atomic Rooster took the power trio sound and moved it on, Vincent Crane deserves to be recognised as one of the keyboard players of the 1970’s prog/rock movement, and like the work Jon Lord was doing with Deep Purple, he has a distinctive sound, so you know that you are listening to Atomic Rooster.

It would have been nice for this set to have included some live tracks to get a feel for how they translated to the stage, but you can’t have everything.

By 1972 the line-up had fractured again, and ‘Made in England’ featured the vocal talent of Chris Farlowe, fresh out of Colosseum who had split up earlier that year, with his bluesier vocal sound seeing the band moving in a more bluesy direction. This encapsulated the musical experimentation that runs throughout this set, with new guitarist Steve Bolton and Ric Parnell on drums completing this line up. Again, there is plenty of darker edges with songs like all in Satan’s Name for instance, but when you have a vocalist like Chris Farlowe on board, the band step up, and this has some superb musical moments, although other parts of the album sound like a new line up finding its feet.

By the last Atomic Rooster album of the 70’s, 1973’s ‘Nice ‘n’ Greasy’, Bolton has moved on, replaced by Johnny Mandala, and their musical feet had been well and truly found, with a re-working of the debut albums track Friday 13th, retitled as Save Me (with a vocal tour de force Farlowe is renowned for) and Farlowes’ personal favourite Can’t find a Reason, which again showcases not only Farlowe’s powerful voice, but also Crane’s superb keyboard work. This, when you look at the mighty informative booklet, is one of those wonderful records that are let down by a godawful sleeve (a cigarette stubbed out in a fried egg, lovely) despite an odd single, included here at the end by Vincent with a group of session musicians, ‘Nice ‘n’ Greasy’ was the bands last gasp in the 1970’s.

This is a fantastic collection that showcases the evolution in sound throughout the early part of the 1970’s and the ethos that bands like Atomic Rooster had, in that anything musically was possible, and so they did what felt right.

Sleeping For Years – The Studio Recordings 1970-1974: 4CD Clamshell Box SetAtomic Rooster

Curved Air – Air Conditioning (1970) and Air Cut (1973)

Towards the end of last year, it was announced that Esoteric had picked up the rights to part of the vast Warner Music back catalogue, and the first fruits of this (with plenty of really exciting re-issues including Barclay James Harvest, Be-Bop Deluxe and Chris Squire coming soon) are the remasters of the Curved Air back catalogue from the early 1970’s. Starting with the first and last albums released by the band in it’s first run we get the album where it all started 1970’s ‘Air Conditioning’, and 1973’s ‘Air Cut’.

Formed out of the ashes of the band Sisyphus formed by Darryl Way and Francis Monkman (who later went on to form Darryl Way’s Wolves and Sky respectively) the band was completed by Rob Martin on bass and Florian Pilkington-Miksa on drums, with the pre-eminent female prog vocalist of the 1970’s, the sublime and incredibly influential Sonja Kristina upfront.

The melting pot of Way’s violin, Monkman’s guitar and keyboard sounds, Sonja’s voice and the bands compositional and musical chops made them a massive live draw, and a record signing to Warner Brothers, championed by John Peel and the novelty of the debut album released on picture disc (the first in the UK) which is all well and good but the biggest question is how good is it?

As a record that is rightly described as ‘influential’ and ‘ground-breaking’ presented here in a double disc set, with a collection of alternative takes, single’s A&B sides and contemporary BBC live performances, this is the definitive edition of one of the definitive albums of 1970.

From the opener It Happened Today the band set out their stall, with the duelling violin of Way and keyboard pf Monkman providing a driving sound for the sensual and quite frankly amazing vocals of Kristina to weave her magic over the album. With strong compositional skills across the band and intelligent lyrics, this album also had the benefit of being honed on the road, so by the time it was recorded, it is a practically perfect debut album.

With Way’s mix of classical and rock comes the albums defining instrumental Vivaldi, which is still as stirring and powerful now as it was then, and in musical twist they revisited it at the end with Vivaldi with Cannons where Monkman and Way give the track and tweak and kick.

Tracks like Hide and Seek and Blind Man showcase Sonja’s amazing vocals skills, and it’s no wonder with the band this honed and tracks these refined and powerful, that ‘Air Conditioning’ was such an influential and successful album.

By 1973, the only remaining founder member was Sonja Kristina and she was joined by Mike Wedgewood on bass, the only remnants of the band that had made the third album ‘Phantasmagoria’. Unphased at having to put together a new band, they recruited the young Eddie Jobson whose electric violin playing, and keyboard skills could replace both Monkman and Way in the band, getting Kirby Gregory in on guitar and vocals and Jim Russell on drums. The result was 1973’s ‘Air Cut’, the bands fourth album, and the difference between the two is obvious. Hung together by the vocals of Kristina, this is undoubtedly Curved Air, but a very different beast with a different guitarist in the band and the skills of Jobson, the band push the boundaries and add a lot more of a rocking element.

Losing Way’s improvisational skills and Monkmans precision could have damaged the band, and whilst it didn’t, it’s very clear the compositional style is very different, from the rock tinged opening The Purple Speed Queen followed by the pared down Elfin Boy, where the star of the show is Sonja’s vocals.

This is 1973, so there’s an obligatory prog epic, Metamorphosis which makes the most use of Eddie Jobson’s keyboard and piano skills, this is more him than Sonja and listening to how adept he is, and how he weaves mood changes and soundscapes out of his instruments, it’s astonishing to believe he was only 17.

This is a truly democratic album, with all members contributing to the song writing, it certainly sounds fresh and vibrant, and showed how the band had been rebuilt. The energy that 19yr old Gregory and 17yr old Jobson brought adds so much to the album, from the epic Metamorphosis to Mike Wedgewood’s bluesy World and the violin driven Armin, where Jobson puts his musical stamp all over it.

The closing Easy encapsulates the power of this line up, and the beauty and grace in Sonja’s voice, and is a satisfyingly wonderful conclusion to this album, one which seemed to pass fans by at the time yet has so much to offer the listener.

A great set of reissues from Esoteric, and I am looking forward to the next batch of Curved Air remasters.

Air Conditioning: 2CD Remastered & Expanded EditionCurved Air

Air Cut: Newly Remastered Official EditionCurved Air

 

 

 

Progradar Best Of 2016 – Gary Morley’s Top 10 With Statistics

I was supposed to have compiled a list of my top 10 ( I Think it was) albums of the year to be added to the sum worth of Progradar’s scribbling…

But I got sidetracked, applied work head and started an analysis what I’d bought and the statistics it presented me with. I blame being off sick with ‘flu or a cold as my wife insisted! J

So, an introduction is the formal way of working.

Set out the aims and objectives of this presentation.

Provide the data capture information etc.

Well ,all the CD’s were released in 2016 and purchased by my good self using either a credit card, PayPal or cash in a variety of transactions, involving human interaction, human to machine and machine to machine interfaces.

For statistical purposes, all are treated as “sales”.

Total number of “sales” of 2016 releases to the subject (me) was recorded at 159 units.[1]

These 159 units form the basis of our data extrapolation

Analysis and a breakdown into the main music food groups took place and we cross checked our data with the standard sources (A mate on Facebook, Wikipedia, a man at a bus stop and the local feline)

We then carried out advance statistical sampling and came to the following conclusions:

1 I spent far too much money on CD’s …again! Good job Wifey doesn’t read this J

2 I keep finding new bands and artists to listen to. This is a self defeating sub routine, s the more I listen too, the more get added to the library, so the more follow up CD’s and back catalogue CDs come under scrutiny, so the limited finances are spread across an increasing collecting field. Rationalisation will have to be implemented and decisions, tough decisions will have to be made in regards to future funding shortfalls.

3 I’m a sucker for a pretty cover. There are a number of “wild card” CDs here that have no discernible links to the others, they were chosen purely on a whim as I liked the look of the cover. To avoid embarrassment to both creator and listener, these will not be separated from the data and will be treated as equal contributors to the sum of all musical knowledge.

[1]  Unit – a physical Compact disc, either as an individual or as a multi unit (known as a “box set”)

Breaking down into the 9 detailed groups, we see that Prog is the most voracious in terms of numbers, accounting for 30% of my “spend”

Generic “Rock came a close second, at 28% , with Blues taking the final podium position with a sterling take of 20%. Specialist genres spilt the remaining funds between them with Soul and Ambient / Dance taking 14% each – a merger there could reap dividends next year.

That was the gross figures; there was no taste bias or cultural drift applied.

No additional “worth” was assigned to individual persons or products.[1]

The second part of our research was to “rank” the releases in order of “enjoyment” and “appreciation.

We pored over the raw data and assigned arbitrary plusses and minuses to each, factoring in musical dexterity, lyrical relevance, aura of cool, instrumental prowess, humalongabilty, ability to raise goose bumps, and “star Quality”

[2] For our research purposes, all “units” are assigned an equal cost, regardless of actual cost. This is to remove smugness bias and inferred value capping

The top 50 were assembled and separated from the 2016 subject group and were reassessed using the “Wallet emptier matrix”

Results were then sense checked and subjected to a “blind “listen to confirm that there were no tactical substitutions or last minute reappraisals.

And the top ten were dusted off , polished and are here for your pleasure.

In reverse order:-

10 – iamthemorning – Lighthouse

Glacial Russian Prog duo take everyone by surprise , this is a thing of beauty , genre defying and a Prog album that you can play to your non prog friends ( you do have them , don’t you? )

Beauty in both voice and spirit with a beast of a piano player, play it loud and get lost in their world.

9 – Joe Bonamassa – Live At The Greek

Yes, I know, Progradar writes about Prog. My ears listen to all sorts, this is my top ten of the year, and a lot of great music passed through my ears to get here.

Joe pays tribute to the 3 Kings of the Blues as only he can. By assembling a crackingly good live band, rehearsing them and then letting them loose in a concert environment. Where the joy and blues magic is captured by Kevin Shirley for us to enjoy, and I for one did. Highlight – the good vibes shining through the whole project and a full horn section powered blues band.

8 – Hawkwind – The Machine Stops

The first one in my list that I reviewed, so I can happily put this here. Hawkwind sound reenergised here, no more rehashing their own past, instead a thought provoking and relevant concept album about modern life, based on a story written 75 years ago. Fired up, rocking away, an album that thoroughly deserves the accolades it has received this last year.

7 – William White – Open Country

Switzerland, land of many things, but Rastafarian hotbed home of politically charged soulful reggae in the personable Mr W is not top of most people’s lists. In fact, after chocolate, mountain views and tax evasion, most people couldn’t provide much more of a picture of Southern European Alpine lining until Toblerone changed the shape of a chocolate bar- then every pub “expert” trotted out a variety of half facts, none of which prepare you for the sheer charm of this album. A double, one side is a fine collection of politically charged songs that anyone familiar with Ben Harper or Michael Franti would approve of .CD 2 is where the top 10 votes pile in. Live, William and his band are downright funky! Superb playing in front of a lucky crowd elevates this album into the top 10. Just listen to “Soul Rider” and defy your legs not to get all funky on yo’ Ass!

6 – The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream

I’ve reviewed this, but you won’t know that yet, as review is still being written. This is a Prog fan’s dream Prog album. Concept album – tick, double album in fantastic artwork – tick. Musicianship bordering on the fretwankery – tick.

Songs – oh yes , it has more tunes that an entire karaoke bar in Kyoto on a wet Wednesday ( traditionally the optimum time and place for karaoke )

Deep Purple collide with Genesis , listen to Queen and Led Zeppelin , all get kidnapped by God fearing Christian fundamentalists with an overzealous approach to redemption . All that and more wrapped up in the Prog Concept album of the year. It’s another exciting chapter in Morse’s book of tunes, not a radical departure from Spock’s Beard / Transatlantic output but still head and shoulders above many of the releases from the “big boys” this year.

5 – Big Big Train – A Stone’s Throw From The Line

To capture that rarest of events, a Big Big Train live concert required an engineer of skill and dexterity: Rob Aubrey proves that he is both with this album. Recorded last August in front of a, shall we put it politely, “devoted” “slightly biased” crowd ( I plead guilty to attending the first night) you can relive the experience in glorious Technicolor on the blu- ray  released earlier this year. But the release of the entire set as a 2CD set is the icing on the cake. Stripped of the need to spot faces in the audience, here you focus on the sound made on that stage. A glorious, very “English” sound too, but in an inclusive melting pot of traditional folklore , contemporary urban life and a celebration of the common man.

Listening now, with 2016 fading into the night, it heralds a better place than the one we are in now. Our heroes were still with us, we were united as a people, hoping for better times and reflecting on the past, not with rose tinted glasses, but the lenses of modern technology and science.
One modern “myth” is that the death of David Bowie in January started the slow unravelling of the space time continuum that played out in 2016, ?I think that without the white heat of beauty this event generated, things would have been worse. Not quite sure how, but we are still here, I’m writing this, and if my theory is correct, the chance of someone reading this far is greater because of the subject within.

Just listen to the glory that is / was “East Coast Racer”.

4 – Colin James – Blue Highways

Colin James made this album for me… Or so it felt when I saw that he’d done an album of his favourite blues tracks, a sort of musicians mix tape. On here are 13 reasons why he is the greatest Canadian guitar player / singer out there. Greater than the God, Neil Young by virtue of the fact Colin plays the blues and is therefore probably human whereas Young is almost certainly not  .

Over the years I’ve followed James from a hot shot hyped up “future of the blues” gunslinger period through his “Big Band” period where he made Jools Holland sound like a school music project, to his dabbling with funk and soul up to his 25th anniversary celebration live album, always a bit of a secret pleasure for me, until this album cracked it for him. From full blown funky band to solo acoustic, all facets of his talent are here , impeccably produced ,an album that just oozes class.

3 – Skye & Ross – Skye/Ross

Morcheeba were the band that turned my head onto contemporary UK music , post rave. I’ve always loved soul and funk, but the rave scene and the endless splintering of genres across the spectrum meant that a lot of good stuff passed me by at the time. However. Watching “the White Room” TV show back in the day , 2 bands caught my ears . One was Kula Shaker with their retake of psychaedelia , the other wasn’t so much of a band , I heard this stunning slide blues guitar over a wash of samples and rhythm duelling with an angel. Looked up and there were 2 geezers and an angel! My first experience of the genius of Morcheeba. I tracked down their debut album and started a musical journey that continues to this day. Through line up fluctuations, fame and fortune, downsizing and fallow years, I persevered, collecting their albums, solo material and those of other bands they turned me onto. The whole “trip hop” fashion scene produced some great musicians, all of which now form part of my musical DNA – Banco De Gaia , Massive Attack, Thievery Corporation, Desert Dwellers, Shpongle, Ott, Dreadzone  , The Orb and Leftfield, all these unfolded from that first Morcheeba experience) .

So my excitement was piqued when I saw that 2/3 of the original line-up were promising a return to their roots. Not a rehash of old material nor old demos but new material! I paid my money ( a pledge music adventure) and waited.

That wait was worth it, 10 tracks of class and beauty, a “proper “ album of 2 sides , all killer , no filler as the clichés states. These are perfect “pop” songs with sparse instrumentation that allows Skye’s voice to pour like honey from the speakers. No showboating guitar fretwankery drowning everything, just well crafted songs played and sang to the benefit of the listener.

2 – Banco De Gaia – The Ninth of Nine Hearts

Coming from a very Rock centered youth, my musical tastes expanded rapidly as I was exposed to new sounds. My youth was spent emulating Friends elder siblings, declaring allegiance to the Gods of Rock – Free, Deep Purple and  Led Zeppelin were our local pantheon, I added Pink Floyd, Santana, Queen , Bad Company and more by the time punk exploded in our area.

XTC were our hometown band , we al rushed out and bought the 3D Ep, placed it on the communal stereo… and half got up and left after 2 chords!

Through the punk years and the new romantic desert afterwards, we were student, learning about life , love and David Bowie.

Employment beckoned it’s fickle finger and I followed my ears. Discovering Reggae, Soul, Funk, Jazz, African , “Electro”( hip hop ) , Acid House, and so on.

Throughout ll of these expansions, the one thing that linked the music that became part of me was melody. I love a good tune, no matter what label is put on it. Through the new romantics I discovered early electronic pioneers, the post punk movement produced This Mortal Coil for me to love , We Banco De Gaia latest album sits firmly in that melodic bag. It’s not “dance “music, it’s not “Electronica” , neither is it folk or classical. IT sits at the centre of a web with strands linking all of these . Pat Metheny group influences the vibe, as does Psych dub via hallucinogen style rhythms and synth use. It’s very trippy, but not in a 4 to the floor house / euro beat manner.

The only album that springs to mind as I listen is Jakata Visions with it’s up beat up-tempo tracks. Much of 9/hearts is a slow unfolding of layers of beautiful sound, sculpted to lose yourself in. Time is outside this album. Listen on headphones and the world around you fades and you are on a trip Toby Marks has constructed for you to enjoy. A rollercoaster between your ears, one I loved riding time and time again.

Listen to “Burn the Witch” and tell me that’s not “Progressive”!Isten to the Sax and synth on “the Princess and The Skygoat” – Pink Floyd meet Sly n Robbie . Bliss, sheer aural bliss.

1 – Prince – 4Ever

It took me months to accept that he had died. The cornerstones of my musical DNA took a battering in 2016. Losing Lemmy in December last year was a shock, he was an old festival warrior that wifey was friends with. David Bowie went out inder his own terms, leaving behind a final “great” album , Blackstar that I cannot listen to without getting the feeling that it’s an elaborate joke on his part. He knew that he next journey for him was imminent so left us with an enigmatic, dense jazz puzzle , guaranteed to sort  the men from the boys as it were.

Come April,  I get home from work, sit with a green tea and turn on my PC. Before it’s even on, my phone explodes with friends asking how I feel, that it’s a joke. Not a joke. Not true . can’t be… Life sucks., Raging friends “FUCK FUCK FUCK NO NO.

The greatest musician It was my pleasure to see, hear or be aware of had died.

The world has not been the same since. Prince was my world in many ways for the last 30 years, my family and friends were aware that I devoted hours listening to, talking about and sharing music produced, composed, arranged and played by this man.

IT took his death for them to see the genius.

His notoriously robust removal of unapproved live footage from the internet meant that most people saw the skills I (and my virtual family) had been banging on about.

Guitar players- this guy could eat them all for lunch (except, as a strict vegan, no animals were harmed in the playing of his guitars)

He was a master musician, able to play any instrument, ant style, at any time.

Not in a look at me techno-wank speed guitar ego boost, but in a very understated but forceful way. Live, when he let rip, you stood there, jaw dropped, staring. And he knew it. Impish smile as he solo’d furiously during the secret 3rd Eye Girl gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 3 hours of high octane funk n roll guitar melting fun that I’ll always remember.

He controlled that stage, the others following his lead as he took the band (and us) with him on his trip.

Then there are the songs. Throw away ditties, ballads, songs he gave away, songs people didn’t realise he’d been involved with, let alone written…

Kiss, Sign O The Times, Purple Rain, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, Raspberry Beret, Nothing Compares 2 U. I could carry on listing them, but I think you get the picture painted here.

So 4ever is the first posthumous Prince album, and a corker it is too. Planned by him as a career overview, it contains all the hits, a smattering of rare edits and, for the hard core faithful, an official release of “Moonbeam Levels” at long last.

His vault contains much material unreleased, unheard and unreleased, how much of it gets released depends on the lawyers, but I’ll be there, in line saying take my money, I want that live album, and that one, that box set too.

Live the man was untouchable. In 40 years of gig attendance, he was the apex performer. Better than Led Zeppelin at Knebworth, better than Stevie Ray Vaughan at Reading, better even than Marillion in the Brunel rooms Amphitheatre in Swindon, where I watched them stun a crowd from the relative safety of my DJ booth.

No, there could only be one album of the year, one artist of the year and this is that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progradar – 2016 – Best of the First Six Months

David

(Yours truly and Prog Guru™ himself)

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the first official Progradar Reviewers and Friends ‘Best Of…’ feature.

I asked those who wished to contribute to cogitate over what great music they had heard, released 1st January to 30th June, in the first half of 2016 and come up with a list of their definitive five favourites.

Not an easy task, let me tell you but, here are the selections of nine (including me) erstwhile wordsmiths and friends, including a few words as to why these particular releases made the cut.

Emma

Emma Roebuck (Progradar reviewer)

Cover 2

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

This is Robin Armstrong on some amazing form.  I loved ‘Capacitor’ and I thought ‘Man Left in Space’ was a hard one to beat. I was clearly wrong and happy about it too. Robin is at his best when looking at the human condition when viewed through a less than regular lens. The mythology of Sisyphus and alien abduction combine to make such a lens.  I will treasure seeing his one and only live performance so far at Celebr8.3 fondly. The album is dark and melancholy which is the way I like my music to be honest.

This film might change your life and Relativity being high points in an album that is a mountain range of achievement.

Aftermath

Preacher – Aftermath

Their second album, and independently released like the Cosmograf album (and another 2 in my, selection if I remember rightly.) Preacher craft both songs and albums exceedingly well. ‘Signals’, the previous album, shows signs (poor, but unintentional, pun) of a band with tons to offer. They draw their roots from 70s Floyd and the melodic side of the genre.  It could be said that this is the album that Floyd should have released instead of ‘The Endless River’, I could easily agree but this is not that Floyd this is a band that use melody, harmony and song in a way that could go beyond the genre.

Stand out Tracks

War/ War reprise and Vinyl show how we look to emotions and actions and make things or deeds of them as people.

Cover

Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum

I was too young to be really aware of the genuine impact of the classic period of Prog rock. I caught the periphery in my early teens but felt no ownership of Yes, Genesis, VDGG, Floyd, Gentle Giant, etc only a serious attraction to the music as a 14 year old in 1975. In the early 80s, having ridden the horror that was punk, I remember seeing Marillion, IQ and Pallas in small pubs and clubs in 82 and it was a pure emotional and intellectual epiphany. It felt like I was hit in the heart and the brain with a piece of 2 by 4. I found home and ownership of music.  I liked ‘Trip the Light Fantastic’ immensely and when I heard this album I felt all those emotions again. I was in the Sheffield Limit club again hearing something of very high quality and I connected immediately to this music. It is Neo Prog of a very high standard.  They sound like themselves with echoes of the last 40 years resounding through the music.

Standout Tracks Intruder and DesolationRetribution.

Jump Over The Top Cover

Jump – Over The Top

I have been a fan of Jump for the best part of 21 years. It is the Classic rock society that I owe big style, not just for these but many others, in times of musical desolation.  I found my first sample of these by old school recognition and recommendation by word of mouth. Fast forward to many Jump gigs later, the new album ‘Over the Top’ comes out and it was ‘yes, get in!’. Some of the current live set had been used to fine tune some of the songs over the last 18 months or so and it shows. John Dexter Jones is a storyteller par excellence and the band are an excellent vehicle for those stories. The words are heartfelt and the music comes from the same place. If they lived in medieval times they would be the bards of old. The use of the past to illustrate the way of the world we live in now is the stock in trade here.

Stand out tracks, I want to say all of them but if I was to choose The Beach and the Wreck of the St Marie are those choices.

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Kiama – Sign of IV

Just when you think you have Rob Reed figured out, Sanctuary, Magenta and so on, he does something out of the blue and blows the socks of you. Take good old rock sensibilities from the 60s and 70s, put them in the hands of some very talented individuals and they become a band which sounds like they have been a unit for years. I recently saw them support Frost* and wow, just wow.

This is a hybrid, musically drawn from the past in a very real sense, and is a homage to how they used to work but it does not feel like a tribute band in anyway.  It results in a multifaceted album of light and shade with some fantastic songs and heartfelt lyrics. It is some of Luke Machin’s best work outside of Maschine & Rubidium.  Rob Reed has a blast playing with sound and tone to create things like ‘Muzzled’, which is a tribute to the Floyd Album ‘Animals’, using the tones from the period to reflect the music and the time it came out. Dylans voice is amazing, we need more Kiama …

Stand Out Tracks  Muzzled and Slip away.

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Leo Trimming – (Progradar and TPA reviewer)

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Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase

This was my TPA’s review’s conclusion early in the year for this surprise package, and I’ve had no reason to change it since…

This is an excellent collaboration: Red Bazar have helped Peter Jones express more of his serious, darker side and also allowed him to display more vocal dexterity. In return Red Bazar have gained a talented and very fine rock vocalist who has added great lyrical skill and vocal feeling  to their own fine emotional musical palette…

This may be a bit of a dark horse, but Red Bazar may just have released one of the Prog albums of the year.

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Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays

A favourite on two levels – it’s a great album of subtle artistry and fine music, and on another level the artist & his music  touched me personally. My Progradar review concluded:

Matthew Parmenter has stepped aside from the magnificent, gothic group dynamic of Discipline to create a solo work of art suffused with dramatic shades and emotional lyricism, conveying tragedy and hope. This is an album that is likely to captivate and beguile with subtlety and delicate emotion. It certainly gave me unexpected comfort – Inside.’

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Nine Stones Close – Leaves

A darkly trippy and psychedelic album. Part dream, part nightmare – this is an album for which repeated listens gradually unpeal the layers, like all the best progressive releases. My Progradar review observed:

Nine Stones Close create rich musical landscapes suffused with a sense of the dramatic and psychedelic… They do not stick to their old formula and want to progress. My advice is stick with these guys because you are never quite sure in which direction their songs or this albums may turn, but it sure is an imaginative and fascinating ride!’

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Big Big Train – Folklore

A much anticipated release does not disappoint as the album describes modern folklore, ancient legend, elegies for lost love and epic stories of heroism and loss … plus bees (!) in a rich tapestry of folk tinged progressive rock. Lyrically intelligent and insightful, conveyed with integrity and emotion, and played with consummate skill and passion. Impossible to ignore – we all sort of knew it would be great. Of course it’s great!

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Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Simply stunning. Robin Armstrong has imagined a rich narrative of alien incursion (or paranoid breakdown?!) with sonic brilliance. The imaginative story is unnerving, whilst the music is captivating on a human level but cinematic in scope – ranging from crunching Purple riffs, through atmospheric acoustic passages to sweeping Floydian soundscapes. Undoubtedly, major contender for Album of the Year already from one of the best Progressive Rock artists of this generation.

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Gary Morley – (Progradar reviewer)

HAWKWIND The Machine Stops

Hawkwind – The Machine Stops

Everything that Hawkwind evoke distilled into one disc. Great musicianship, tunes and tons of atmosphere make this the top of the pops for me. It’s been a long time since a Hawkwind album had such a buzz about it. Biggest regret – that I missed the live shows. Biggest hope – a proper live blu-ray & CD set is coming.

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Preacher – Aftermath

Prog at it’s best for me needs a driver. Preacher use guitars. Proper guitars like your dad waffles on about when he talks about Pink Floyd, Steve Hillage, Jimmy Page and that time he watched Rory Gallagher play for 3 hours at the Hexagon Theatre and your mum was drinking pints and ended up paralytic, singing along to “Wayward Child” sat on his boss’s shoulders…

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I Am The Manic Whale – Everything Beautiful In Time

Local boy’s debut embraces everything that is good about music. It has great tunes, off the wall lyrics and subjects that place it head and shoulders above most of what passes for modern music from the under 30’s. I’m looking forward to their next offering, be it a live gig in Reading or more music.

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Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

‘The Clockwork Fable’ is a Steam punk opera, like a space opera or a soap opera but without the bad romance and dodgy backdrops.

I loved the variety of musical genres used to tell a totally bonkers tale of clockwork suns and steam powered boys looking for missing cogs in a giant machine all played out in a cavernous underground city. There are rock tracks, some great drumming, some “epic” prog , some plaintive melodies and a host of guest vocalists and musicians, all of which add to the mix without overegging the lily.

The first time you listen you get sucked into the world presented here. It’s a Post apocalyptic, dark dystopian world but there are flashes of humour and the absurdity does not detract from the sheer brilliance of the effort here.

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Steven Wilson – 4 1/2

“left over’s” from ‘Hand .Cannot .Erase’ these track might have been, but as a snapshot of Mr Chuckletrousers ( © Angus Prune I Think) and his Zeus like stature in the modern Prog pantheon  this is sublime in its perfection. Hints of Zappa referencing impossible “stun guitar”, epic soundscape that demonstrate his skill as an arranger and bleak yet beautiful lyrics are all wrapped in a package that sticks 2 fingers up at the download and go generation. This is a quality production in every detail, lovingly constructed and presented for your pleasure.

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Shawn Dudley – (Progradar reviewer)

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Messenger – Threnodies

It took several spins for this album to truly work its magic on me, but once hooked it just won’t let me go.  A beautifully organic record, informed and powered by vintage sounds but not a slave to them.  The tastefully arranged guitar work on this album is a particular highlight.  Favorite tracks:  Balearic Blue, Celestial Spheres. 

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Haken – Affinity

Haken leaves the 1970s sounds of ‘The Mountain’ behind, makes a brief stop in the 1980s for the song 1985 and then ventures forward into the future on Affinity.  An endlessly inventive collection of intricately designed and passionately performed pieces it’s one of the most thrillingly forward-looking albums of 2016.  It’s time to drop the “Prog Metal” genre tag, these guys have transcended it.  Favorite tracks:  The Architect, Red Giant

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Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre

Purson’s follow-up to ‘The Circle And The Blue Door’ is essentially a solo album from Rosalie Cunningham who wrote, arranged, produced and performed the majority of D.M.T. herself.   A conceptual psychedelic journey influenced by her Father’s record collection and her own experimentation with mind-expanding substances.  Another case of an artist using the canvas of vintage instrumentation and production techniques to create very personal and unique modern music.   Favorite tracks:  The Sky Parade, The Bitter Suite.

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Big Big Train Folklore

Another beautiful collection of immaculately arranged and produced “pastoral prog” from this master collective of musicians.  I recommend going for the extended track-list available on the LP and High-Res download editions, I believe an even stronger collection than the shorter CD version.  Favorite tracks:  Salisbury Giant, London Plane

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out OF Eden

A wonderfully quirky concoction of pop sensibility, progressive experimentation and the harmonic sophistication of jazz all mixed together into a thoroughly accessible brew.  And it’s fun!  Favorite tracks:  I Am Lost, I Must Set Fire To Your Portrait.

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Roger Trenwith – (TPA reviewer and Astounded by Sound blog)

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Bent Knee – Say So

An unparalleled triumph of invention, melody, and strangeitude, it will take some beating for album of the year.

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David Bowie – Blackstar

Hardly seems right relegating this poignant artistic statement and full stop on a career of a true visionary to No.2, but from a purely musical point of view, them’s the breaks.

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out OF Eden

A chronicle of loss leavened by hope, Knifeworld get better with each release. Criminally underrated.

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Body English – Stories of Earth

Is there a sub-genre called “prog-pop”? If not, this is it. A truly joyous record shining a light in this dark Year of Stupid.

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King Crimson – Live In Toronto – Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto, Canada, 20th November 2015

Whatever I put here means leaving out at least half a dozen albums equally as good, so this came out on top after a complicated mathematical randomisation process involving dice, incantations, dead frogs, toads, and copious amounts of single malt. The mighty Crim remake, remodel like no-one else. The version of Epitaph will make you shiver, unless you have no soul. Superb!

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Kevin Thompson (LHS) – (Progradar reviewer)

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Big Big Train – Folklore

Does this really need a reason?, best of the Band’s excellent output so far and an album that will always be on my desert island disc list. As near to perfect as it gets…

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Long Distance Calling – Trips

There are so many bands in this area of music it’s hard to stand out, but, on this release, Long Distance Calling have…..

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Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

A tremendous 3 disc concept package of such quality. Never been better value for money and shames the bigger bands!!

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Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

A delicately beautiful album from this Russian duo added further poignancy with the heartfelt vocals from Mariusz Duda on the title track.

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Downriver Dead Men Go – Tides

Another band who came recommended and I’d not heard before buying. Slow, dark and emotional, this Dutch band surpassed my expectations.

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David Elliott – (Prog Guru™, TEP, Bad Elephant)

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Lazuli – Nos Âmes Saoules

There is nothing else quite like them, and they keep on going from strength to strength….

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Bent Knee – Say So

My first exposure to this amazing American band…genuine innovators, and hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck exciting!!

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The Dowling Poole – One, Hyde Park

Unashamedly unoriginal, but huge fun, and immaculately crafted. Big smiley music.

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden

Banging tunes, a great groove, and more bassoon!!

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Frost* – Falling Satellites

A great return to the arena from the masters of modern progressive. Progressive rock with pop sensibilities – what’s not to like?

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John Simms – (Progradar reviewer, Rev Sky Pilot blog)

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Big Big train – Folklore

Consistently turning out excellent pastoral English progressive music, BBT have hit the motherlode again with this suite of songs celebrating the British folkloric tradition. From the sublime beauty of ‘Transit’ to the quirky tale of ‘Winkie’ the Pigeon, this is music of the highest calibre.

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Anderson/Stolt – Invention of Knowledge

This, for me, is simply the best music anyone connected with Yes has produced since ‘Awaken’. It draws on the bestaspects of Yes and Flower Kings and produces something sublime and beautiful. It was a very close call between my Top 2.

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Southern Empire – Southern Empire

One of the up sides to Unitopia folding a few years ago is that we now have both UPF and Southern Empire to carry on the legacy. This is a fine collection of melodic progressive rock music, exhibiting high levels of virtuosity and songmanship.

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out of Eden

Another band with a unique style and approach to music making. This is a wonderful follow-up to ‘The Unravelling’ and Kavus and his band of minstrels continue to delight.

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Mothertongue – Unsongs

The best music is that which stands out from the crowd, and Mothertongue certainly do that. Ecclectic, bizarre, unexpected and bonkers, this is a wonderful collection of (un)songs.

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And finally my thoughts, this selection of five albums was incredibly difficult to pick but I’m pretty certain that, at this moment in time, it is my definitive top five!!!

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Mothertongue – Unsongs

With its incisive, intelligent lyrics and first-class musicianship, Unsongs is unlike anything you will have heard in recent years. The music will lead you on a roller-coaster journey of acid jazz inventiveness that’s a big heap of noisy and light and also includes a lot of brass because everyone likes brass, right? A musical breath of fresh air that you will return to again and again, it’s just brilliant!

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Big Big Train – Folklore

The acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling return with a fresh collection of tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life.

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Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Thought provoking, questioning and inventive, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ has all that I ask for in my music. A well constructed and intelligent concept brought to reality by a gifted musician with incomparable support from some incredible guests. It makes you really think about what you have heard and, above all, is a peerless, outstanding and incomparable listening experience that you will not forget any time soon.

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Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

‘Lighthouse’ is an amazing musical journey from the first note to the last. It is bewitching and beguiling and removes you from your everyday life to a place of wonder. Darkly captivating, it is not all sweetness and light but is a musical legacy that iamthemorning can build on and the ‘Lighthouse’ can light the way. These two exceptional artists have now moved into the major leagues and it is well deserved, album of the year? why not!

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Tilt – Hinterland

A superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. By the way, three of these guys are better known as Fish’s backing band but, oh my god, have they risen well above that soubriquet now….

So, there you have it, a small selection of our own, very subjective, opinions on what has been the best music of a highly impressive first six months of 2016. You may agree, you may not but, one thing that everything agrees on is that the music just keeps getting better, and long may it continue!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Hawkwind – The Machine Stops – by Gary Morley

HAWKWIND The Machine Stops

Hawkwind. Ah, Hawkwind.

They have formed part of my musical DNA. An alien strand possibly, but a strand nevertheless.

I’ve been a technician on Space ship Hawkwind since hearing ‘In Search of Space’ back in time.

Whilst at college, we scoured second hand shops for copies of ‘Space Ritual’, fantasised about getting hold of a copy of ‘Captain Lockheed’, dreamed of seeing them live and snapped up bootleg cassettes at Record Fairs.

Over the years they remained a firm favourite; I bought albums on vinyl, saw them live (‘Chronicle of the Black Sword’ tour and at Reading Festival), upgraded the collection to CD and followed their musical journey as they ploughed their way through space and time.

That journey has now taken a trip into the universe of top 40 albums with ‘The Machine Stops’, based on a 100 year old dystopian fable written by EM Forster.

When  you are in the business of the future, 100 year old novellas seem counter intuitive  but the concept of humans living isolated from each other, communicating indirectly and having all their needs met by the ubiquitous machine is as relevant today as ever it was.

This relevance has struck a chord with the people that buy Hawkwind. Hard core fans (Hawknerds) have elevated the art of supporting the band to a new level, with communal weekends; events and building on the bands counter culture philosophies to construct their own world. A world that intersects with the “normal” one in the shape and fabric of this album.

And it’s a cracking piece of art. From the disturbing cover (David Lynch does Red Dwarf) you know that this is a serious concept album.

Luckily, the music is able to match the lofty concepts that the story evokes.

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If you’ve heard Hawkwind, you know what you’re going to hear. Synths burble, guitars and bass crackle and paint a vivid canvas for the lyrics to tell their story.

The album starts with a great little piece, All Hail The Machine that sets the bleak scene of the machine as benevolent dictator and god, satisfying all the protagonist’s needs. It evokes memories of the classic “sonic attack” piece from ‘Space Ritual’, with its angular narration and call and response coda.

We then rip into a Hugh Lloyd Langton style guitar riff and an up-tempo Hawk rock piece, simply titled The Machine

As with all dystopic tales, the status quo is soon in question, with the bleak reality being unveiled through the next hour.

The machine’s descent into erratic dysfunction and the effects on the people is told through the various tracks, using the entire musical palette that 40 years of invention can bring to bear.

You get post industrial percussive tracks that would give Test Dept a run for their money, those synths painting broad swaths of sound , crunchy guitars to please the Metal heads  , energy and attitude to satisfy the punks drawn to the anti establishment myth of Hawkwind.

They also were the forerunners of the Ambient and post rock movements , all of this goes in the mix , the end result is a fine album that sounds stunning, lyrics that were not scribbled on a fag packet  and a story worth the effort the band have spent in putting the package together.

The Hawkwind that made this album sits alongside the band that made ‘Levitation’, ‘Astounding Sounds’ and ‘Hawklords’ all of which still sound as good today as they did when first released.

The album is best consumed as a whole, either through a “real” hifi or good headphones. There are some fabulous details in this musical canvas that deserve the benefits of a good set of speakers, notably the gorgeous synth washes and chirrups in Katie, a nice little instrumental interlude that leads into King of The World, which utilises that great Eastern type vibe the Hawkwind developed with ‘Hassan’ / ‘Assassins of Allah’ on their legendary ‘Quark, Strangeness & Charm’ album, mixed with the driving mantra of ‘Psychedelic Warlords’.

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I’m referencing old Hawkwind in celebration of this new incarnation. It’s the band’s DNA reproducing itself down through the corridors of time. The echoes of great men departed are all over this album. Calvert, Lemmy, Dik Mik, Simon House, The Late Hugh Lloyd Langton all have helped shape this sound and it is more than the sum of its parts. In my Room shares a melodic opening with ‘Zarozinia from ‘Chronicles of The Black Sword’, another great Hawkwind literary album based on the ‘Elric Chronicles’ written by their long time fan / collaborator, Michael Moorcock.

As you may have picked up on, I’ m a bit of a SF fan and Hawkwind were always the most SF leaning of bands, followed by Blue Oyster Cult in my reckoning.

That post industrial percussive Test Dept feel is heard at the start of Thursday which also features founder and sole original member, Dave “The Captain” Brock steering Spaceship Hawkwind through this mid paced number splashed with artificial beats and hammerings echoing through the golden void.

In conclusion, this album sums up Hawkwind for the uninitiated without alienating the hard core Hawknerd fan. There are, as with all their recent albums, echoes of their past reverberating through the threads, but this adds to the feeling of “belonging” that it encourages.

The band has just completed a well received and visually spectacular UK tour with a stage show based around this album. The reviews have been great, I’m amazed at the love for a 40 year old institution that was always outside the norm and thrived in the space between.

Hawkwind, with this album have stopped being a shared secret cult and become an institution for all the right reasons.

Released 15th April 2016.

Buy ‘The Machine Stops’ from Cherry Red Records/Esoteric