Review – The Emerald Dawn – Visions – by James R. Turner

This is the 2nd album from the St Ives based prog quartet and I admit I was a little lax in getting round to reviewing this, as the album has been out since August, and as is often the way with those of us who have day jobs and hectic lives, time often gets the better of us.

This album is a beautifully contructed 4 parter, clocking at 45 minutes, which to a child of the 80’s & 90’s like what I am, is perfect length, one side of a C90 tape, ideal for the bus. Job done.

Their sound is very much widescreen expansive prog, and this album is a real grower, there are some amazing musical pieces that hit you the first time round, but it’s when you listen more, there is so much more going musically that it grabs you and continues to grab you as you play it.

Starting with the 20 minute opus Musique Noire, this is an fantastically wonderful slow burner of a track, that to these hears has echoes of Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond track, maybe it’s Ally Carters wonderful sax that runs through the piece like Bridlington runs through rock, or the keyboard and piano work of Tree Stewart that is both symphonic and intimate, whilst her vocals throughout are sublime.

The band as whole, with Jayjay Quick providing not just bass, but also cello and violin, Tom Jackson on drums and Ally and Tree also providing guitars and violins, means their musical palette is a wide one to draw from, and adds to the complexity and musical layers the run through this album.

As Musique Noire builds to it’s fantastic climax there are some sublime languid solos, and the piece is a fantastically bold way to open an album, and is a statement of intent from the band.

A Vision Left Unseen, is a more gothic noir kind of track, the vocal counterpoint between Ally and Tree on here, and the slightly darker edge is fantastic, again running at 7 minutes it’s the shortest song on here, and still packs more musical and emotional clout that some bands fit into an album.

Waves, is a fantastic piece of guitar driven music, with some absolutely sublime soloing, whilst Tree puts her stunning vocal range to great use, over some heavily symphonic synth sounds that have echoes of classic Moody Blues or Strawbs epics, again not so much influenced by, but more evoking a mood that those bands operate in.

The closing 9 minuter Stranger in a Strange Land, is all shimmering synths, and slow build as it starts until an absolute belter of guitar solo kicks in, before it pares right back down to some stunning flute and violin interplay, the way the band blend the sounds together to create songs like this are a joy to listen to, and closes a mighty fine album with style and grace.

In this genre it’s hard not to reference bands, and The Emerald Dawn are very much their own beast, and the sound this album pulls together makes a shoe in for any record collector who likes their prog widescreen, their sound epic, and their musicianship taut and on point throughout.

The performances on here are exemplorary and the production is sublime as well, it’s so often you hear bands who are self financing, and they have the songs and musical chops but lack a sympathetic producer who knows how to get the best sound out of the album, luckily being produced by Ally and Tree who also wrote the songs, they have a specific vision of how they want their music to sound, and how to present it, which is carried throughout from artwork, to lyrics, to sound and production and they should rightly be proud of this record.

Released 21st August 2017

Buy ‘Visions’ from bandcamp

Review – no-man – Returning Jesus re-issue – by James R. Turner

A long awaited welcome re-issue from the 4th album by the No-Man pairing of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson, ‘Returning Jesus’ was the follow up to 1996’s ‘Wild Opera’, and was originally released in 2001, which was quite a big gap for the group, due to Steven Wilson’s profile raised somewhat by the success of Porcupine Tree no doubt.

Fully remastered and expanded to a double disc set, including a new remaster by Steven Wilson of the album, and plenty of b-sides, EP material and unreleased tracks, this is the definitive edition you might say.

As a connoisseur of remastered products, particularly those where Steven Wilson has been given a free hand, it’s a little disappointing that there isn’t a 5.1 mix, as No-Man records are perfect for 5.1 (the mix on ‘Together We’re Stronger’ for instance is sublime) still, that’s my only quibble with the reissuing, and as ever it should always be about the music and not the medium.

It’s hard to talk about ‘Returning Jesus’, as I tried it once but didn’t have the receipt, so Jesus is now living in my cupboard, still it’s nearly his birthday so I might get him out then…

I digress, the music maketh the album, and this is an excellent example of the collaborative skills of Bowness & Wilson, I have long stated the opinion that Tim Bowness is one of the finest vocalists around today, and having seen him perform with Henry Fool and his own solo shows, I can without a doubt keep repeating that opinion without fear of contradiction. Here, the beautifully haunting low key, almost minimalism of the opener Only Rain (which features performances from guests like Ben Christopher (guitar) the late Ian Carr (on plaintive trumpet) and David Kosten (synths) is the perfect symbiosis of Bowness’ vocals and Wilson’s music, the slow build and the evocative imagery is sublime.

The hauntingly wistful No Defence is one of those song stories that Tim specialises in lyrically and with some wonderful trumpet from Ian Dixon, it is another one of those wonderful No-Man songs that could be from a soundtrack.

In fact No-Man specialise in making movies using music, and these albums with their evocative lyrics and sublime widescreen performances transcend the normal, and take music into a different stratosphere.

(Both pictures of Steven and Tim by Carl Glover)

I adore the work of No-Man, and love the trilogy of albums that Tim has done recently, however I understand that this kind of music is very much mood music, you have to be in the right space mentally and emotionally to listen to No-Man, and bittersuite slow burners that grow like Close Your Eyes (8 minutes long on the main event, 7 minutes on the EP version from 1998 included here in the bonus tracks) is one of those heartwrenching songs that will either have you sobbing with the melancholy, or fill you with some kind of uplifting joy, and the guitar solo in there is an absolute belter by the way.

Music like this from No-Man seems to grow organically, and the length of the tracks show this, the shortest Slow it All Down being cut from the 5 minute demo on the 2nd disc to a 3:43 song on the actual album. I know some people think bonus tracks that weren’t originally released , were unreleased for a reason, but as an anorak I do like hearing demos and seeing how the final piece ended, it gives an interesting insight into the songwriting process, and whilst for some it’s the equivalent of breaking the 4th wall, for others it’s a part of the process we don’t always see, and I don’t see it as breaking the spell, for that reason the 5 demos on disc 2 are an interesting place to visit.

The fact that only 2 songs clock in at under 5 minutes shows how the music on this album grows into itself, there’s plenty of soft sounds and spaces that give the music room to live and breathe, and is very much a fantastic example of where less is more.

The star of the record is undoubtedly Tim Bowness’ vocals, and Steven Wilson sensibly allows the music to build around these, and on this album (and their others) the lyrics are as important as the music, and lets face it, when you are making an album with Tim Bowness singing, you don’t want to drown his voice out in a sea of instrumentation do you?

Carolina Skeletons, with its wonderfully evocative title, it’s laid back groove and it’s reprise (Carolina Reprise on disc 2) is one of the standout songs on the album, and showcases all that is good about No-Man.

Returning Jesus, the title track is full of low fi percussion, bubbling electronica and metronomic beats that skitter and pulse, whilst Tim’s voice again pulls the song together, one of the more experimental tracks on the album, it seems to fit the flow, despite it jarring slightly in parts.

The fantastic Lighthouse, features guests like Theo Travis and Colin Edwin, whilst Steve Jansen (who drums throughout) out does himself here. The track builds and grows into an absolute treat throughout, foreshadowing Tim’s later solo work, and work with Henry Fool.

This album ebbs and flows throughout with sublime musical work, and Tim’s fantastic vocals, and I have always found that people either love No-Man or have never heard of them, this re-issue is an excellent place to dip your toe in if your new to the band, and as a long time fan, is a fantastic addition to the catalogue.

Released 3rd November 2017

Order ‘Returning Jesus’ from Burning Shed here

Review – Human Pyramids – Home – by James R. Turner

As ever our esteemed editor has an uncanny knack of being able to listen to the piles of albums he gets for review and then a few days later you’ll receive a message on Facebook with those immortal words ‘I reckon you’ll like this’ and, as I like a challenge and new music, I will always say ‘ping it over then’ and then usually ask for it to be re-sent as I forget to download it before the deadline runs out.

The latest of Martin’s picks that he thought would reach the parts that other records wouldn’t reach, is ‘Home’, the new album from Human Pyramids.

Brain child of Paul Russell, the Glasgow based composer from instrumental outfit Axes, this see’s him meld a chaotically brilliant fusion of orchestral arrangements, pop and electronic sensibilities, performed by a cross country collaboration 16 piece band.

Now I am a sucker for big ensemble sounds, and having heard the mighty sound that bands like the Polyphonic Spree or Bellowhead can make, that definitely got my spidey senses tingling, and with the band having performed at festivals like the End of the Road, 2000 Trees and Glastonbury, these guys have the chops to back up their ambitions, and ‘Home’ is their second release.

As an inquisitive teenager rifling through my parents record collection, and devouring anything they had that was slightly different (remember I grew up in the Britpop era where everyone sounded the same and there was nothing exciting musically happening) I discovered bands like ELO and Sky, who were using different compositional forms and sounds, and (certainly in the case of ELO) plenty of strings.

Thus I have always had a soft spot for ensembles that push beyond the four-piece sound and look to do something new and exciting.

The fact that Louise starts off with some wonderfully stirring strings and then develops into a fantastic string and brass off (again being from South Yorkshire the stirring sound of the brass band runs through my veins like Henderson’s Relish, and there is nothing more uplifting than the sound of a brass ensemble going some). So to hear the two meeting in a fantastically stirring piece that mixes a great riff and some superb musical duelling/duetting certainly drew me straight in.

Canned Thunder does exactly what it says on the tin, with an absolutely brilliant drumbeat and more of that amazing brass. Paul Russell has an amazing ear for a melody and a knack for putting the right instrumentation in the right place, he makes it sound so easy, which is why this is such a well made album.

Slush mixes piano led riffs, some subtle electronica bubbling under the surface, and slowly the rest of the ensemble seep in, those driving strings, the heart tugging brass, the wonderful countermelodies.

The press blurb describes this as a mix of punk energy fused with electronic elements and orchestral sounds. I would say this is the musical sound of humanity, there is so much depth and power behind each song, that even in the quietest moments there are little riffs and licks, subtle string tones, a small brass part here and there, from the almost dance like infusion that ripples through Crackle Pop (reminiscent of Rob Dougan’s work) and the driving strings and powerful brass.

There is a country tinged sound to Your Flag, with a mellow and relaxed vibe that just builds as song grows and counter melodies weave and intermingle as the sinuous drum beat helps hold it all together until the brass kicks in for the massive elegiac finish that is full of power and emotion, reminiscent of the closing part to one of Mike Oldfield’s opus’.

With the strong use of brass and shorter tunes it reminds me at times of the tunes of The Home Service or Bellowhead, and the intricate musical composition quality reminds me of Mike Oldfield in parts, but that is probably coincidental, as lets face it when you’re pulling music of this nature together with such a powerful ensemble you’re bound to get a touch of the Oldfield in there whether consciously or not.

This is no homage though, this is living breathing music, and the stuff that gets in your veins and into your soul, the driving power of Blast Off for instance is widescreen film music.

Nico is a wonderful uplifting piece of music full of life and light, whilst the closing Home rounds off a highly emotional and enjoyable album with some sublime piano work and another great brass section, bringing the album home.

I’d never heard of this ensemble before, and the description was vague enough to get me interested, and the music is sublime enough to keep me hooked and listening again and again.

This is one of those albums that ebbs and flows like life itself, and is full of emotional highs and lows, and above all the musicality, the sublime performances and the compositional chops on show here, this album is brimming full of heart and soul, and one you can’t help be swept away by as an aural emotional sucker punch.

This is what music is meant to be like, and this album deserves a place in everyone’s Home!

Released 10th November 2017

Order ‘Home’ from bandcamp

Review – starfish64 – An Altered State Of Joy – by James R. Turner

Martin dropped me an email, as is his wont, and asked me to have a listen to these guys and see what I thought. Instead of the massive introduction that I wrote and then deleted, I am going to go straight in, after all, this is about the band and not me, and at the end of the day all you want to know is what this sounds like and did I enjoy it?

Starfish64 is the musical project of German guitarist and vocalist Dieter Hoffman, who has been working with a musical collective since 2006 as Starfish64, and this is the band’s second full-length album. The collaboration has been fleshed out by Henrik Kropp on drums and Dominik Suhl on guitars and keyboards.

It snuck out towards the end of last year, and whilst the name and music is new to me, I will never say no to listening to something different and original.

There’s only 4 tracks on here, and musically this is very much at the melodic end of the music scene, reminiscent of the more chilled out parts of Gilmour era-Floyd, south coast Americana, ‘Summer Teeth’ era Wilco and if you’d like a more contemporary comparison, they occupy the same song focused area that Fractal Mirror sit in.

Here the album is all about the song, and the melodies, so if you’re expecting chaotic time signatures, prog metal, or something that sounded like it was recorded by Yes or Genesis back in 1974 then you’re in the wrong place.

If you’re looking for a more contemplative, chilled out, mellow vibe man, then this is the journey for you.

I have spent the past few days immersing myself in this album on my commute to work through the cold winter mornings, and it feels like a perfect autumnal album, one to be listened to inside the pub, with a roaring fire, a leather armchair and nice glass of something alcoholic and relaxing.

The opener is the longest track on the album, and is nearly the title track, Altered States ebbs and flows with some sublime guitar moments, musical breaks and Dieters impassioned vocals that bring the whole piece together, his warm vocals have a hint of Mike Scott (from the Waterboys) about them, and they match the music perfectly, and even though it’s a 20 minute plus piece with great musical peaks as it pulses and flows, the greatest knack is that it doesn’t feel like you’ve listened to 23 minutes of music, you feel like that no sooner has it started then it’s stopped, and listening on headphones, phone away, really immerses you in the music.

The album continues a pace with the brilliant and beguiling The Black Dot, with some suitably wistful and mournful trumpet from Christian Wahl, and the brass adds so much to the track, (I’m a Yorkshireman, the sound of brass stirs something primeval in our hearts) and the beautifully reflective and ominous lyrics about the mysterious ‘Black Dot’, I think its about one subject, but I’ll let you make up your mind, and it builds and finishes with a superb ending arranged by collaborator Jan Thiede (guitars/flutes).

So Is Life, with it’s wistful feel, pulls a Beautiful South trick of a melodically haunting track, with some fantastic keyboard work, and dark lyrics, that have more of an impact tied to a melodic tune, this is again a sign of the bands fantastic craft.

The closing track Dusk, with it’s melancholic feel, it’s 70’s style synth sounds and laid back guitar vibes is one of those brilliant happy/sad songs, you can feel the mournful regret seeping through the lyrics, whilst the music is uplifting and soars with a sublime beauty. This simple, but potent mix encapsulates the feeling of dusk for me, and is one of those songs that have anthemic quality, another blinding solo, and that touch of late 70’s FM rock, mixed with something more as it builds to it’s haunting climax.

This is one of those deceptive albums, one that feels shorter than it should be, and yet gives you a good 40 plus minutes of music, ideal for one side of a C90 tape to listen to, on your way to work. Yet you don’t feel musically short-changed. There is plenty going on here, and like a well written book or TV drama, it reveals more and more of it’s magic as you listen to it.

This is not a revolutionary album, and it’s not meant to be, instead it’s an evolution of intelligent melodic rock, that gives you songs you can sing along too, melodies you can hum, and a feeling of pleasure and emotion that lasts long after the album has finished, and after all, when it comes to evocative albums, who can ask for more than that?

Released 28th October 2016

Buy ‘An Altered State Of Joy’ from bandcamp

 

 

Review – Thumpermonkey – Electricity – by James R Turner

Festivals, there’s no better way to get out the house for a day or two, or even longer, than spend time at one of the may prog festivals that happen across the country and tend to cater for most tastes.

The beauty of the festival is that it’s the live equivalent of the ‘sampler’ CD’s that are glued to the front of magazines, the chances are you’ve heard one or two of the bands, or the draw is a band you want to see live.

I can also guarantee (unless you can afford to go to every festival/gig/showcase out there, which sadly I can’t) that you’ll see names on the list that you have never heard of before.

Those are my favourite types of acts at festivals, because it’s a blank canvas, a total step into the unknown, and my definition as to how good a band is at a festival or support act used to be, have I walked away shelling out my festival spends on the bands back catalogue?

I’m sure there’s plenty of you out there who know exactly what I mean, and we end up with shelves full of CD’s from bands who we saw live but don’t quite dissect the Colmans when it comes to the record, so I updated my definition, as to are they someone who I would listen to again and again at home?

This is how I got introduced to Thumpermonkey, there I was back in Bristol in 2014 after the end of a marriage, in a one bed flat in Bedminster with a rare Saturday off in the next few days, and I spotted that Ian Fairholm’s Eppyfest was on in Stroud at the weekend. Henry Fool and The Fierce and the Dead were the draw bands for me, as I’d never seen Henry Fool, and I loved TFATD in Camden, so this was a great way for me to spend an afternoon. So I ordered my ticket, drove the scant 30 odd miles to Stroud, met Mike and Julie Kershaw and Brian Watson for the first time and renewed my acquaintance with Mike Whitfield, an old regular from my CRS days, to settleback for an afternoon/evening of great music.

Laura Kidd (She Makes War) had recommended Thumpermonkey to me, and I quote ‘They are da bomb’ and as Laura has superb musical taste, you don’t dismiss one of her recommendations.

She was right, they were ‘da bomb’ and I left exhilarated after an exciting and eclectic set clutching both their albums in my grubby palms, and they got listened to on the journey back (and on a regular basis here at Turner towers).

(Photo by Simon Kallas for Chaos Theory)

Released on 13th October on physical and download, ‘Electricity’ is the first release of new music from the band since ‘Sleep Furiously’ in 2012, and is packing more ideas in it’s 20 minutes of music than some bands get in a lifetime.

According to bandcamp this is a concept album around the story of human misadventure from Victorian MP Lord James Badger, who went to conquer the civilisations of Mesopotamia using electricity and covers the whole gamut of human foolishness.

I will start by saying that Thumpermonkey are never going to be everyone’s mug of Darjeeling, as there are some out there who prefer the mass produced generic sounds that lots of bands who get thrown into the ‘prog’ label produce, the aural equivalent of a Big Mac or Burger King that gives you a quick fix, but will never satiate your appetite, think of Thumpermonkey as your favourite secret restaurant, where you go but don’t want to tell anyone else about it case it becomes too popular too soon.

I will go have a sandwich, as I’m obviously hungry judging by all the food analogies going on above.

If like me you prefer your music to get you thinking, have some originality to it, a lot of quirk, strangeness and charm, then Thumpermonkey are your boys. If you want a crude idea as to where they fit into this crazy musical Pandora’s box of prog then, their EP launch party saw them supported by The Fierce and the Dead and Ham Legion.

The fact that they are only a four piece surprises me, as the sound that they make, and their intrinsic musical dexterity, always makes me think there’s more of them, this is as obvious live as it is on record.

The mix of musicianship and technicality is split beautifully here across the four tracks and it’s a pleasure to listen to.

The EP starts with Garmonbozia, which starts with some wonderful guitar work and vocals that build and build, as the music kicks it, with the vocals producing an excellent counter harmony, as Michael Woodman accompanies himself, his vocals and guitar work almost working against each other, producing a complex sounds that draws you in, and condenses the Thumpermonkey sound into a bite sized single.

This also shows another facet to their songwriting and performance, with the emphasis being fully on the song, and all intricate tricks and quirks that set them apart from the crowd are now part and parcel of their musical bag, giving them a stronger and more musical edge.

Tzizimime has some fantastically jaggy guitar riffs, and the beauty of the band as musically adept as this is that keyboard player Rael Jones is also a superb guitarist and their twin guitar effect is superb, like Wishbone Ash if they ever went into free form improvisation of the King Crimson stylee.

This is not a Fire is as different again, there is plenty of emphasis on guitar work here, the drum and bass of Sam Warren and Ben Wren provide the bedrock for the Thumpermonkey town of sound to be built upon, and throughout all this Woodman’s vocals (again something that polarises listeners) impress. Personally I think they are fantastic, and his range is superb, hitting both the higher and lower notes, and utilising his voice as a 6th instrument. Building the songs as much around the vocal lines as the riffs, and then setting them off against each other.

Woodscrivened see’s Rael’s keys to the fore, with some delicate and sublime piano work kicks off the final part of this quartet, rounding off the ‘Electricity’ story, one of those great concept pieces that are fitted together from disparate influences, as the guitars and full band kick in, and the vocal talents of Woodman again show their power.

Thumpermonkey live in top gear are a sight to behold, and here on this 20 minute EP you get a taster of them, they have successfully managed not to tame their live tiger, and instead let it roar throughout these tracks, managing to pull back when needed, and unleash their full power in controlled measured bursts, this is no mean feat, and it bodes very well indeed for the album due next year.

If you get the chance to see them live do so, they do not disappoint, and whilst we’re waiting for the new album, this EP is as perfect ‘tease’ as possible, whilst being a fully rounded piece of work.

To misquote Laura Kidd, ‘Thumpermonkey are still da bomb!’

Released 13th October 2017

Buy the ‘Electricity’ EP from bandcamp

 

 

James R. Turner Talks To David Palfreyman and Nicholas Pegg about ‘Decades’

A chat across the Decades with Nicholas Pegg and David Palfreyman.

Further to James’ review of ‘Decades’ he sat down with Nicholas and David to talk about the album and quite a lot of other things:

How did you two meet & where did the idea for ‘Decades’ come from?

Nicholas Pegg: David and I have known each other since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Or possibly longer. We can never quite remember exactly when we first met, but we know that it was something to do with a certain TV show that we both loved as kids.

David Palfreyman: Yes, Nick and I met through our mutual admiration for Doctor Who, back in the grainy, 16-millimetre days of the mid-1980s. I was running a Doctor Who fan group at the time, and I think that Nick may have come along to one of the meetings.

Nicholas Pegg: Or else we met at a Doctor Who convention somewhere, queuing up for Jon Pertwee’s autograph. Wherever it was, we’d have been about 16 or 17 at the time. Just two teenage Doctor Who fans, our memories now lost in the vortex.

David Palfreyman: It remains a mystery, waiting to be uncovered in a long-lost compartment of the mind. Actually, that’s a great idea for a concept album!

Nicholas Pegg: Ha! But getting back to your question, the idea for ‘Decades’ came initially from David. He’s the songwriter on the album, and he came to me one day with a pile of demos, and he asked me if I’d like to write a story to link the songs together. And three years later, here we are. Essentially, Dave wrote the songs and I wrote the story, but that’s a bit of a simplification. It was a very organic process from start to finish – we both creatively interfered with each other’s work in the most positive way, so the end result is a true collaboration between the two of us.

You have a fantastic cast of musicians, singers and actors involved, were the parts written specifically for the actors, or did you have the story in mind before you approached the individuals?

David Palfreyman: The basis of the story was already there before any of the actors and the majority of the musicians came on board. The whole thing then blossomed, grew and branched off in all directions, achieving different bursts of energy and sunlight as it went along on its journey.

Nicholas Pegg: That’s a lovely way of putting it! Yes, the initial ideas were in place before we started thinking about specific artists, but by the time I was actually writing the script, I certainly had some of the actors already in mind. When I’m writing dialogue, I often find it helpful to imagine a particular actor playing the role, just in my head – it helps to create a consistency of tone in the character you’re creating, even if you later end up casting a completely different actor. But on this occasion, we were lucky enough to attract the actual people I’d imagined, which was a fantastic bonus. I wrote the main part of Kelver Leash very much with David Warner’s voice in my head, so I was thrilled when he said he’d like to do it. The same goes for Jacqueline Pearce. I absolutely wrote that part for her, so again it was a magical moment when she said yes. I knew I was writing for Richard Coyle and Edward Holtom as well. The other actors were simply a case of getting the casting right, and fitting the right people to the right parts. Exactly the same principle with the musicians – fitting the right singers to the right songs.

What inspired Kelver’s story?

Nicholas Pegg: I suppose there are countless inspirations. We came up with a lot of detail that you don’t hear on the album, because the scenes themselves are deliberately impressionistic. It was always our intention to create something quite nebulous and elusive, which we hope will resonate with the listeners’ imaginations. Dave and I know the full story – or rather, we know our version of it, but we’re very happy for people to bring their own interpretations to ‘Decades’. It’s not as if it’s a crossword puzzle with a single correct solution. What’s that line from Douglas Adams? ‘What we demand is rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!’ I love that. As for the story itself – well, I wrote the script, but right from the beginning Dave already had the basic notion that he wanted a story about a man looking back on his life.

David Palfreyman: My initial idea behind ‘Decades’ was actually an idea for a short film I had been kicking around for a few years. A guy who has everything, a great life full of beauty, vibrant colour and conversation. However, cracks begin to appear, and the ‘reveal’ at the end is that he is sitting slumped in a stupor surrounded by empty wine bottles and takeaway wrappers. A damning juxtaposition to the glorious life he had been daydreaming about. Now of course, ‘Decades‘ has not ended up quite like that, and it has far more depth in storytelling since Nick came on board, but that was the spark that lit the flame. I’m not really sure what inspired that, but maybe I was writing about myself.

Nicholas Pegg: I was certainly writing about myself in places. Not in a direct autobiographical sense – ‘Decades’ is certainly not the story of my life, that’s for sure – but in terms of certain philosophical ideas that interest me, and certain preoccupations, and things that trouble me, and things that amuse me too. Some of what unfolds on ‘Decades’ is quite close to home, so it’s been lovely when people have come up and said that a particular line or a particular scene strikes a chord with them. Gosh, I’m making it sound terribly po-faced. Some of the subject matter ‘Decades’ is pretty grim, but I think it’s actually quite a funny album as well. You’re allowed to laugh!

Are you pleased with the reaction the album has received?

David Palfreyman: We have had some amazing reviews, quotes and accolades from all over the world. Websites, online magazines, Record Collector, people posting on the album’s Facebook page, and even the Irish Sun newspaper! Long may it continue. Absolutely wonderful stuff. Yes, we are chuffed to pieces.

Nicholas Pegg: Yes, people have been very kind. A lot of love has gone into ‘Decades’, so we’re thrilled that it’s getting such a positive reaction.

Nicholas – as an actor/writer, is moving into working in music something you always wanted to do?

Nicholas Pegg: All my life I’ve been dipping my toes into the music world in one-way or another. I’ve written song lyrics for theatre shows, and I play a couple of instruments, not with any great virtuosity, and I’m a pretty decent singer. I’ve sung on stage professionally on many an occasion and, as far as I know, nobody ever asked for their money back! I’ve also been heavily involved in writing about popular music for a long time – among other things, I’m the author of a great big book about David Bowie. So music has always played a big part in my professional life. But you’re right, in terms of actually co-writing and co-producing a rock album; this is new territory for me. I’ve loved every minute of it. Another great treat has been directing the videos for ‘Decades’ on location and in the studio – what a joy. I’ve directed plenty of other stuff before, but never a music video. The first day on location with Sarah Jane Morris and the crew for ‘We All Fall Down’, I was like a little boy with a new train set. Pure delight!

David, did you have the musical ideas before Nicholas got involved, or did the songs come together as part of the story?

David Palfreyman: When Nick first started to work on the drama segments, I think I initially sent him around 15 songs or so. And as Nick kept working on the script, I kept on sending new songs. I can’t remember how many tunes we eventually had in the ‘pool’, maybe 30 or 40, but I thought it best for Nick to choose which ones would fit within the story, as otherwise I would have used everything. It would have been a triple album! Giving Nick the final choice of track listing worked really well, as the songs fit in with his script seamlessly.

Any thoughts of performing ‘Decades’ live?

David Palfreyman: We are about to perform two songs from the album with Jessica Lee Morgan, one of our vocalists, in a live session for the Vintage TV channel. We’re recording that in November. As for performing ‘Decades’ as a whole – oh yes, I would love to do a stage version of it. In my mind, that’s always been the plan. Followed by a film. We managed to get the album done, which has been a huge undertaking. Anything else should be a piece of cake!

Any plans for a sequel?

David Palfreyman: I already have around 100 songs to sift through for the sequel. I’m ready. Nick? Niiiick?

Nicholas Pegg: This man can’t stop writing songs, you know. They pour out of him. Do you know the amazing statistic about Turner, that he left something like 400 oil paintings and 30,000 watercolours, which means that he must have averaged about two paintings per day? Well, Dave is like that with songs. Okay, Dave, here’s the deal. Just give me a couple of weeks’ holiday. And then we’ll get going…

You can order ‘Decades’ here:

decadesthealbum.com

 

Live Review – The Pineapple Thief (featuring Gavin Harrison) and Godsticks at Bristol Bierkeller – by James R Turner

I once stole some coconut shampoo, I don’t know why, I didn’t have a coconut, however Bruce Soord has been getting away with Pineapple Thievery for over 18 years, and despite the gig being on a Sunday night, I was glad to finally see them on their latest musical jaunt, a worldwide tour de force promoting the latest long player ‘Your Wilderness’. In fact these dates were added later, as it seemed very odd when the tour was first announced that they bypassed the West Country entirely, and we can’t all afford to ship off over to that London for a gig

In fact this was the last gig of the tour, and practically a local one, as Bruce doesn’t live a million miles away, so it was almost a homecoming for him.

It’s always strange to go to a venue that is so intimate to see bands that you think should be playing such bigger venues, particularly when the venue is the Bierkeller, which is an odd little place. A cross between a traditional rock club and a German drinking haus, managing to not quite be one thing or t’other, and it’s also funny to go to the merch stand and see the latest release by the band being an audio/visual document of the show that you’re about to watch. (Where we Stood).

(Godsticks)

Support was by Welsh boys and K-Scope label mates Godsticks, whose set was made up of a majority of new material from their forthcoming album ‘Filled with Rage’, I had never heard of them before, and as I have probably said elsewhere one of my criteria for what makes a great gig is how good the support band are.

Godsticks are good, very good indeed, they have a wonderfully chunky sound, big riffs and big beats, and have that knack of turning up the amps but not losing the melody, whilst the set was bias towards the new record, ‘Faced with Rage’, which is out on October 13th, the older material from ‘Emergence’ fitted in superbly.

As a rock band go Godsticks are entertaining, musically adept and according to someone who was with me in the audience who had seem them before, they have come on leaps and bounds. All I know is they were a superb start to the show, and got the audience warmed up before the main event.

Last time I saw Bruce and the boys was on the ‘Magnolia‘ tour, back in The Fleece in Bristol in 2014, and then I thought they should be playing somewhere far bigger.

Now, with the addition of the busiest man of the night Godsticks guitarist and vocalist Darran Charles, who joined The Pineapple Thief live line-up, the amazing Gavin Harrison on drums, the Thief’s live sound is suddenly enhanced, and those simple tweaks helps take the burden of Bruce, so he can be the frontman he was always destined to be, and with Gavin on board this group of excellent musicians suddenly have raised their game even more.

There is a reason why the tickets say The Pineapple Thief with Gavin Harrison, and that is because Gavin is the contemporary musical equivalent to Bill Bruford, and is mesmerising to watch and hear as a drummer, astonishingly despite being a massive fan of his work, both solo and with bands like Porcupine Tree or King Crimson, this was the first time I have ever seen him live, and whilst I love The Pineapple Thief, and their latest album, seeing Gavin Harrison in action was something I couldn’t miss.

Being biased towards some of the later albums, and of course ‘Your Wilderness’, the entire album hits the stage at one point or another tonight, and songs like In Exile, Where We Stood and Tear you Up come across with power and intensity, the sound that a band confident in their ability can deliver with panache.

With Darran doing some of the heavy lifting, Bruce is like a man freed, playing to the audience and turning in some fine banter (‘forgetting’ to remember the album title of Godsticks new release being one of many exchanges), whilst material from ‘Magnolia’, including The One you left Behind (the strongest track from that album), absolutely rips the place apart with the power and skills of the band. With long term collaborators Steve Kitch on keys and Jon Sykes on bass, a lot of the focus is of course on the man in the corner of the stage. Every note is timed to perfection, every fill, every beat is on point, and nothing is superfluous, I feel a lot of prog drummers can get a lesson in how to do it from Gavin Harrison. Everything he does added so much to the songs that every so often I would get a great big grin on my face, as the whole sonic template meshed together to create an almighty sound.

I said before when I saw them at The Fleece a few years ago how I couldn’t understand why they aren’t playing bigger venues, and ironically the Bierkeller is slightly smaller than the Fleece, and I wish I could fathom why a band this powerful, with songs this melodic, this intelligent and this epic aren’t selling out and playing to the sort of crowds that bland wallpaper peddlers like Coldplay are doing. There is more musical intelligence in one of Bruce’s riffs or one of Gavin’s fills than there is in Coldplay’s recorded output for the last 5 years, and music this big and this powerful and emotional deserves a bigger platform. I guess that the benefit for us is that we get stadium-sized performances in smaller venues and to hear this music, this close is something we should all be thankful. If, and I say if, Gavin Harrison is still playing with The Pineapple Thief next time they tour then you owe it to yourself to go see them. If not, then we’ll always have ‘Where We Stood’, and the Bristol Bierkeller.

Review – Robert Reed – Variation On Themes By David Bedford – by James R. Turner

I like Robert Reed, I think the work he has done with Magenta is stunning, and I do wish he’d finish the sequel to Chimpan A.

I also love David Bedford (and indeed Mike Oldfield) and the influence that both Bedford and Oldfield had on contemporary classical and rock genres are there for everyone to see.

So you’d think that the merger of these great musicians would work? Well…

Following on his successful ‘tonight Matthew I’m going to be Mike Oldfield’ ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Sanctuary’ II homages, Robert brings his not inconsiderable talents to bear on rearranging three of David Bedford’s shorter and more commercial pieces.

You get Rio Grande with great vocals from Angharad Brinn, King Aeolus (featuring Mikes brother, Terry Oldfield on his trademark flute) and Nurses Songs with Elephants, all reinterpreted in the Robert Reed does Mike Oldfield style, right down to the Oldfieldesque languid guitar and production techniques.

Now as pieces of music, they are all superb. Bedford was after all an amazing composer, his work of melody and structure are known to all, and it would take an absolute fool to mess them up. Robert is no fool, and the performances on the tracks are great, musically adept, and as homage to Bedford set out all they achieve to do with great skill and dexterity.

However the whole EP, especially with 3 different versions of Rio Grande and Nurses Songs with Elephants (definite overkill there) is a bit of an unnecessary extravagance, surely it would have been more fun musically, not to mention more challenging to reinvent the ‘Stars End’ suite?

I like the music, I like the performances, but something about it doesn’t grab me where it should do. It doesn’t resonate emotionally with me like the originals do, and whilst it’s pleasant to listen to once or twice, I will reach for the original Bedford albums every time over this.

It seems to me that this is a bit of musical self-indulgence and a trip too far down the Oldfield road, with the musical returns diminishing every time.

There are people who will love this, however I think I’m going to go and make a cuppa and put ‘Stars End’ on.

Released 12th June 2017

Buy ‘Variations On Themes By David Bedford’ from bandcamp

Main feature image of Robert Reed by Howard Rankin.

Review – Sky Architect – Nomad – by James R. Turner

This is the fourth album from Rotterdam based Sky Architect, following up 2013’s ‘A Billion years of Solitude’, and while 4 years may seem a long time to make a record, in this era of everything now and instant gratification it is wonderful to hear the sound of a band who have taken the time, and the energy to put some real thought into their music.

And real thought indeed, as while this is a musical pot pourri of sounds and influences, not so much crossing genres, but tearing down the musical boarders and playing what fits the song, let me answer the bloody annoying question that seems to be hitting every single internet forum for intelligent well thought our music, is it prog? No it isn’t, it’s far better than that.

I do despair sometimes of the current scene where old bands continue to milk their fans dry for every last penny (enamel badges anyone?) whilst new young vital bands like this almost slip under the radar.

This five piece of Tom Luchies (vocals/guitar), Rik Van Honk (keys/horns) Wabe Wieringa (guitars) Gus van Mierlo (bass) and Christiaan Bruin (drums and percussion) are one of those bands where you know they have spent so long working together that they play by instinct and feel, no note is wasted, and the way they musically spar and bounce of each other (like in the wonderful opener Wasteland for instance) brings a big smile to the face.

Endless Roads evokes elements of classic 70’s rock with it’s wonderful mix of guitar and horns, and some fantastic keys, whilst the propulsive percussion and production sound roots it in the contemporary, and the astonishing extended coda with the way the instruments work together is fantastic before the chorus kicks back in, it’s absolutely OK to be influenced by and pay a homage to certain sounds of certain era’s, and then make something new from it, which Sky Architect do with aplomb, it’s not OK to get stuck there and bring nothing new to the table.

The title track Nomad mixes some wonderfully squelchy synth sounds and a great beat, crossing jazz, rock and who knows what to pull together a wonderfully anthemic chorus, and in certain elements, reminds me very much of Ritual, another band who weren’t just pushing boundaries but tearing them down.

Dune shows that the band aren’t just talented instrumentalists but that they can also pull some big riffs out of the bag, and whilst I’ve not mentioned Tom’s vocals much, they are the glue that binds the songs together, and he has a great range going from the higher end for the anthems to being able to rock out, and it is one of those brooding songs that builds and builds, with some great guitar work, whilst the drum and bass anchors the sound, allowing the riffs to grow and grow until the whole band just kick in with another piece of complex and intricate music, that is the hallmark of their sound.

What I love about this band is that there is no obvious musical ego, no one person pushing themselves going ‘me,me,me’, it is all about the music, and whatever works best for the song, and on tracks like Sandwalker, with some sublime guitar playing to the fore, this shows that they are a band, and not just a front man and some session musicians, and the music is all the better for this. The great guitar riffs, and wonderful keyboard sounds make this song for me.

Race to the Sun is probably the ‘pop’ song on this album, being one of the shortest tracks, and it has some fantastic musical moments, with elements of harder rock and funky breaks making a perfectly fitting contrast to each part. In less skilled hands the counterparts would sound forced or jarred, with Sky Architect it just works.

The final track, the epic Into Singularity rounds this excellent album off in style, brings all the elements that make them such an exciting band together in one glorious blast of sound, with some amazing horn work and vocals, an absolute belter of a song that is allowed room to grow and build.

As a reviewer I love getting albums like this because it brings new music into my life, and refreshes me as I listen to something I have never heard before, and it also saddens me somewhat to know that whilst these bands are making amazing new music it won’t get anywhere near the attention that *insert name here’s * latest boxed set of recycled music that we’ve heard a thousand times before will get more likes and shares and purchases than fresh, vital and vibrant music like this.

Sky Architect are a joy to listen to, pulling together complex and intelligently written songs that bounce across genres with ease and joie de vivre, and are one to add to your must hear list.

Before being sent this to review, Sky Architect weren’t a name that had tripped into my play list before, and that has obviously been my loss, as I always say there’s only three types of music in this world, that which I like, that which I don’t like, and that which I’ve not heard yet, and I’m happy to move Sky Architect from the third list to the first category. I think you should too.

All band photographs by Maartje Dekker.

Released 16th June 2017

Buy ‘Nomad’ from FREIA Music UK

Buy ‘Nomad’ in Europe from FREIA Music:

Sky Architect – NOMAD

Review – Nicholas Pegg & David Palfreyman – Decades – by James R. Turner

The concept album, in some quarters it’s a dirty word, the worst excesses of the 1970’s, to some they are bloated behemoths all style and no substance.

To others, the concept album is the pinnacle in musical achievement, to paraphrase something Andy Tillison once said to me, “They are the equivalent of a soundtrack where the film hasn’t been made yet.”

The best and most fulfilling concept albums use all the space the record can provide to build atmosphere, layer on layer of dramatic and musical counterpoints and draw the listener in, and most crucially leave them wanting more.

This is what ‘Decades‘, the new project by acclaimed singer/songwriter David Palfreyman and actor/director Nicholas Pegg (a highly renowned David Bowie expert, and a Dalek in Doctor Who) does. Across four acts and 20 songs (one whole double album, yes it’s available on vinyl, as well as CD and download) it tells the story of the mysterious Kelver Leash as an old man, looking back over his life of fame and fortune.

I had an email conversation with Nicholas and David about the album, which you can read further down however before that, here are my thoughts on this ambitious release.

The beauty with the story is that it’s ambiguous enough for you to put your own interpretations on who and how Kelver became famous, and the musical backdrop fits the whole back story, with the styles and sounds genre hopping and crossing the genres and decades with verve and aplomb.

Some albums which blurs genres and sounds can seem contrived or forced, not ‘Decades‘, the way each song evokes a particular era, and is used to tell Kelver’s story is well thought out, and works perfectly as the acts move on.

With some sublime spoken word dialogue, and an astonishing cast of actors, with character actor David Warner (a name familiar to fans of British horror, and one of the finest actors of his generation) playing Kelver in the present day, and the scenes between him and his agent played by the incomparable Jacqueline Pearce, absolutely crackle with dramatic tension and personality, and the they bounce off each other like they are having a ball.

Kelver as a young man is played by Richard Coyle, and as he is living the celebrity life old Kelver is looking back on, he walks through the play like he owns the stage, a knowing wink here, and a twinkle in the eye throughout, whilst it’s talented newcomer Edward Holtom, who plays Kelver as a young boy that adds to the back story.

With Jan Ravens (Dead Ringers, Spitting Image) playing Jemma/Kelvers Mother and the mysterious Lady Blue, she gets to use her dramatic talents to the full, and the versatile voice artist Simon Greenall (Benidorm, I’m Alan Partridge) plays the roles of 60’s TV news reporter and 1970’s chat show host with aplomb and absolutely authentic to the era that Kelver is reminiscing about.

When you have a cast of actors as strong as this, it’s a case of either go hard or go home with the music and performances, and as the concept grew organically, it doesn’t put a foot wrong musically, covering all bases and all era’s, from the wonderful theme to ‘Decades‘, with it’s fantastic groove and sax sound, to the brilliant There Goes my Darling, with Mitch Benn providing a wonderful lead vocal.

In fact the vocalists and musicans on here are top notch, you have the powerfully soulful Sarah Jane Morris (whose duet with Ian Shaw, Kick On, brings to mind that big show stopper sound of the late 60’s, with Shaw (awarded best singer at the BBC jazz awards for two years) bringing his best Tom Jones to the table. Morris also shines on the albums lead single, the powerfully poignant All Fall Down.

The wonderfully wistful Faraway Day is sung by Jessica Lee Morgan, another powerful female vocalist (whose parents happen to be Tony Visconti and Mary Hopkin). Whilst David Palfreyman showcases his impressive vocal talents on Dead End Morning and Love you ’til Burn Out among others.

The hauntingly beautiful Lady Blue, with it’s beautiful guitar work, and gorgeous vocals is sung by Eliza Skelton, who also contributes vocals to the darker and more intense Blue Requiem, two songs that perfectly contrast each other.

Each vocalist has been hand picked for the songs and with talents like Cassidy Janson’s vocals on the fab Eyes Wide which draws on the best electro pop, and in the tradition of the greatest electronic songs has a wonderfully metronomic beat and powerfully soulful vocals, and Beth Cannon (Escape to Dream, Who knows what is true? Full Circle & Broken Trend). As an aside, there is a name familiar to us all, occasional Oliver Wakeman vocalist, the wonderful Paul Manzi cropping up on backing vocals, no expense has been spared, and this adds so much depth and soul to the album that it is a joy to listen to.

There is an amazing music collective performing on this album, and Palfreyman and Pegg prove themselves adept at bringing together a powerful ensemble to give each song the performance it deserves, with the cream of the musical crop bringing their all, special mention has got to go to the saxes of Gary Barnacle (who also provides wistful flute work), Terry Edwards and John Fordham, as the sound of a sax solo always sends a shiver down my spine and keeps me listening.

All Fall Down, as mentioned earlier is one of the tracks on the album, and it encapsulates the story in a nutshell for me, and is an astonishing piece of musical beauty, and the video is also worth a watch as well.

Who is Kelver Leash? I have my ideas, but I will let you make up your own mind, as the beauty of this record is that like all the best books/plays/films/records treats us as grown ups and allows us that space to fill based on our interpretation and imagination.

The way the music and the story intertwine is a lesson in the art of how to make the concept album work, this is ambitious, this is bold, this is well written and executed, and most of all, this album is an absolute delight from start to finish.

Nicholas Pegg and David Palfreyman should be applauded for the way they have brought this concept from paper to production, as well as perfectly matching every song to a unique vocalist and getting the casting perfect, as you can’t ever underestimate what Warner, Coyle and Holtom bring to the role of Kelver. This is one of those classic records that keep pulling you back, and one where you get something new from every listen.

This is how concept albums should be, and is for me one of the albums of the year.

Released 14th July 2017

Buy ‘Decades’ from the official webstore here