Review – Plenty – It Could Be Home – By James R. Turner

I think Mabel Greer’s Toyshop probably have the record for the longest space between being formed and releasing their debut album, however Plenty are running them a close second, originally being formed back in 1986, and with this, their old material rediscovered, reworked and released here for the first time, it’s an album that’s only been 32 years in the making. Hell, I work with people younger than that (which makes me feel old). Anyhow why should a band who didn’t record anything in the 80’s and reappear here matter?

It matters because Plenty were Tim Bowness pre No-Man band. Made of Tim, Brian Hulse (keys/synths/guitars, drum programming) and David K Jones (bass/bass pedals) who got back together to record and finally put down their music for posterity. All this complete with the Carl Glover cover (he truly is the Hipgnosis of modern music).

So, what we get here is the songs of their youth revisited and reworked with the wisdom of years and experience weighing on them.

Now Tim has one of the finest voices in contemporary music, that is a given, and he can add poignancy and emotion to so many things, hell he could even turn my shopping list into an emotional rollercoaster. As he (as we all have) gets older his voice, like a fine wine, is maturing and it’s fascinating to hear the words of his youth on tracks like As Tears Go By or Foolish Waking, and the title track, filtered through the years of experience.

Sitting firmly on the more atmospheric song writing side of the 80’s that threw up bands like The Blue Nile, How We Live and Miracle Mile, Plenty are almost the proving ground for ideas and sounds that would come to fruition in No-Man (and, indeed, Tim’s later solo career).

That doesn’t mean that this album is a historical curio, to be filed away under listen once out of completists interest, oh no, ‘It Could Be Home’ is a gem of a record with a plethora of special guests that help enhance the already strong tracks on here. When you get Michael Bearpark adding his guitar work to Foolish Waking and Every Stranger’s Voice and Pete Chilvers on those and Never Needing, you know you’re listening to an album that oozes class and quality from every musical moment.

In fact, as these 10 tracks breathe and grow, you are drawn into their world as Bowness’ vocals take you on their journey. However this isn’t all about Tim, this is a true group album and it’s wonderful to hear him part of the group where he cut his teeth.

It’s an interesting hybrid of 1980’s musical ideas with 2018’s production techniques and that makes it harder to categorize. Is it a reissue? Is it a new album? Or is it a curious amalgam of the two? Either way, there’s lots here for any fan of ambient song writing and, of course, fans of Tim’s voice to love.

It’s quite ironic to think that had this been released in the late 1980’s it probably would have got lost in the whole Madchester phase that was sweeping the nation and become a cult classic to maybe a dozen students in a bedsit somewhere, with the vinyl commanding huge prices on eBay.

Here, on release it’s now likely to hit a far wider audience, who will appreciate the delicacy and beauty in these songs, as well as the song writing skills here.

This is one of those albums that slowly insinuates itself into your soul until you find yourself humming sections of it to yourself as you’re filling up the kettle and is one of those albums that Tim perfected with No-Man, where the space in between the music is just as important.

As an exercise in minimalist pop/rock it works to perfection and reveals itself to be far more than just a nostalgia ride, this is living breathing music for the heart, mind and soul, and as such is a fantastic piece of music.

The best things in life come to those who wait, and this was well worth waiting for, maybe best not leave it so long next time chaps.

Released 27th April 2018

Order ‘It Could Be Home’ from Burning Shed here

Review – Colin Edwin & Robert Jürjendal – Another World – By James R. Turner

I’ve been doing this for over 20 years now in one form or another, this getting new albums to listen to, review and share my thoughts with whoever’s reading. To think when I first started back in 1994, I’d been handed a package in a brown envelope in a local hostelry, disappeared home to listen to them in the comfort of my own home, write out (by that I mean hand write out) my opinions, drop them back in a different brown envelope in the same pub (where, being 17, naturally I was drinking orange juice) and await for the postman to deliver the magazine with my words in. Hopefully then (& now) people have thought I’ll give that one a punt.

I was thinking of the old way of doing things when I was sat on my bus into work the other day, I had this album on a download, straight from emailed link to laptop to mobile, headphones plugged in and immersed in the music whilst I was commuting. I could even make notes on my mobile, ready to transcribe into something meaningful to send, again hoping that if one person reads what I’ve read and is influenced to try this record out then, my work here is done.

I was thinking about timelessness and being of the now, whilst listening to this record, it’s not the longest by any stretch of the imagination clocking in at just over 30 minutes long, not even enough to fill half a C90 tape. It might be short (certainly by today’s terms – where we’ve been conditioned to expect the entire CD to be full) but it isn’t any longer than it needs to be, a definite case of less being more, and that ethos runs through the whole record.

This collaboration between former Porcupine Tree (& current Henry Fool amongst many others) bassist Colin Edwin and Estonian guitarist Robert Jürjendal is one of those records that just grabs you slowly, the way the two musicians work together is a wonderful sound to behold, and with trumpet from Ian Dixon and electronics from Isak Nygaard, this contemporary ambient electronic musical journey is an exploration of musical space, straddling the shifting borders that prog/jazz/ambient music rub along against.

From the muted trumpet and electronic background that introduces the opener Blue Mint, this is a true musical journey, where the space created by Nygaard gives both Edwin and Jurjendal the room to weave intricate and exciting musical sounds, space and distance evoked, all topped off by Dixon’s sublime trumpet sound.

Reminiscent of musical explorations by artists like Keith Tippet or Billy Cobham but with plenty of that fluid sound that Edwin is known for (and which was always the secret musical weapon in Porcupine Tree’s armoury), with Jürjendal he has found a sublime guitarist who is just as keen to push the musical boundaries and see where it takes them.

With the longest song here, Hybrid Horizons, clocking in at just over 6 minutes there is no note wasted, no over blown unnecessary moments, everything is here for a reason. With tracks like Sancho Panza, that showcase Jürjendal’s guitar and the title track, the beautifully pulsing Another World, this is a well-made album.

Everything has been thought about and structured, and the collaborative work is so good that its hard to tell where Edwin ends and Jürjendal begins, the meeting of two like-minded musicians who have, wisely, kept external collaborators to a minimum helps create the coherent whole. This means that you get absorbed in the musical journey this album takes you on, so much so that it’s very easy to nearly miss your bus stop.

This has that electronic undertone and contemporary compositional technique of working from different studios in different countries and then pulling it all together through the power of the internet, yet it is a timeless collection of fantastic ambient and modern jazz infused sounds that will still sound both current and timeless in ten, twenty or thirty years ago.

When I first started I would never even have thought of listening to anything remotely jazzy, and yet now I can think of nothing more natural than letting the warmth of this album wash over me, and I have no doubt it’s one I will continue to return to. Timeless and contemporary, it is simply a fantastic record.

Released 9th March 2018

Order ‘Another World’from Burning Shed here

Review – Richard Wileman – Veil – by James R. Turner

Many years ago, I had a column in a well-known North of England organization for the promotion of classic and progressive rock. I was a contrary individual, and part of my ‘work’ was to listen to classic prog and rock albums with a fresh pair of ears, without the baggage of the genre.

I quickly concluded that what passed for Prog in the mid to late 1990’s and early part of the 21st century wasn’t progressive in it’s truest sense, and instead of actually progressing, was in fact standing still.

Then I was introduced to the work of Karda Estra, the name for a loose collective of musicians working around the compositional and musical skills of multi-instrumentalist Richard Wileman, and as anyone who is familiar with the band will know, that Richard has been a restless composer, always happy to try new things, weave together new sounds and arrangements in search of his muse.

Over the last decade or so albums like ‘New Worlds’, ‘Weird Tales’ and ‘Eve’ have subtly insinuated themselves into my musical consciousness and become go to albums for different moods, and ones I have never tired of listening to.

Now ‘Veil’ see’s Richard stepping out from behind the Karda Estra name, and crafting an album that has echoes of the sensibilities and styles from Karda Estra, with some dark folk songs, and ethereal music, coming across as like a soundtrack to some long-lost Tigon or Amicus horror mo vie from the 1970’s.

Of course, there’s a lot more going on that that, as the mix on the album veers from the dark gothic atmospheric chamber music that he’s perfected beautifully on The Sea Witch for instance with it’s haunting chords and strings or the opener Ghost, which see’s Richard musically anyway, stripped back with some wonderful acoustic guitar and vocals.

Mephisto Portrait is another one of these songs, with some wonderful pastoral echoes, but something more going on underneath, with some fantastic guitar and Floydian bass, this in fact sits in the similar sort of territory that Matt Berry has carved out a career in. The nod to the 1970’s horror films continues with a version of Paul Giovanni’s The Tinker of Rye, from the Wicker Man soundtrack, and which fits neatly with it’s subtle (ish) innuendo, and tongue in cheek nod to trad folk smut.

Reworked versions of Karda Estra material sit alongside Richards newer songs, and blend perfectly, Cassiopeia weaving it’s magic, whilst the wonderfully evocative Three Occultations (which has been played by Stuart Maconie on his Freakzone show) reminds me of elements of bands like Comus, Spyrogyra or even Trees, whilst Richard’s elegant compositional skills and the way he’s honed his craft working as Karda Estra really make this album work.

Subtle musical accompaniment from Amy Fry, whose duo vocals with Richard are an absolute joy, whilst her clarinet joins with the trumpet of Lauraine Phelan and the bass clarinet and alto sax of Jo Court, which gives depth and a sense of different styles to the album, Richard, as mentioned elsewhere, plays everything else, and with his vocals forefront, and his name on the sleeve makes this a much more song focused album than Karda Estra works.

This is not a re-branding exercise as such, more a case of Richard extending his musical chops above and beyond the Karda Estra name, and with this is mind this is a perfect progression of his musical journey, part singer-songwriter album, part soundtrack for a lost British classic, and overall a thoroughly enjoyable and eminently listenable album.

Released 16th February 2016

Order ‘Veil’ from bandcamp

Live Review – Paul Draper – Bristol SWX – 21st February 2018 – by James R Turner

It’s been a long time coming, but former Mansun frontman Paul Draper reappeared recently onto the music scene with a new album called ‘Spooky Action’ (wonder where he found that title…..) and a fresh young touring band.

This year, on it’s the 21st anniversary of Mansun’s debut long player, ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’ and, ahead of K Scope preparing to release it in a remastered and expanded (and 5.1, oh be still my beating heart) deluxe set, Mr Draper set off on a UK tour performing two sets.

The first made up entirely of solo ‘Spooky Action’ material, and the second being ‘Attack…’, performed in its entirety for the first time ever.

Now, I know the gig was back in February, and we are now into April, but in my defence I have moved to a new house and so when I looked on the calendar and arranged a date to complete (and be out of the flat complete with all our wordlies boxed up and ready for the removal van) I had agreed Feb 22nd.

So, a gig I’ve been waiting to see since ‘Attack…’ first hit my stereo back at the fag end of Britpop over 20 years ago (and it’s astonishing how many influential albums that I consider contemporary are getting the 20th and beyond anniversary, ‘OK Computer’, ‘Urban Hymns’, ‘His and Hers’, ‘Be Here Now’, ‘Boys for Pele’, this was, amongst many others, the sound of my adolescence and dear reader it makes me feel old) and yet I needed to have every boxed up and ready to go without any stress.

So I did what any sensible human would do, and go the gig, but drive – best of both worlds and in hindsight the right move, as it took me back 20 years and the stress of the moment was relieved.

If anyone here doesn’t believe in the healing power of music, then my friends you’re missing out.

Now the gig had been moved from the Bierkeller which shut down in conflicting circumstances at the start of February, luckily SWX round the corner is a nicer and more modern version, with an excellent sound system, and from where we were we had an excellent view of the stage, so as an aside, if you see anyone promoted here and wonder if it’s worth going, it’s a Yes from me (& it’s very close to town and about 20 minutes’ walk from Temple Meads – see, who needs trip advisor?)

Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the name of the support act, who was a local lad with a guitar and a penchant for checked shirts and listening to Nick Drake and Bob Dylan, it was pleasant enough and I’m sure his Mum enjoyed it, but it didn’t set the world alight, and his acoustic guitar sound was lost at points in the venue.

Then came the part we were waiting for, Mansun always exuded an aura of mystery and a certain disconnect that set about as far away from the Britpop scene that they were lumped in with, like a square peg in a round hole, and it was great to see Paul Draper, slightly older, bearded and full of chat between songs and with plenty of stage presence.

Even better, he still has the power in his voice, and an incredibly tight and talented young band around him, with Ben Sink on guitar doing a lot of the heavy lifting, allowing Draper to focus on the singing and being the frontman, he has always been.

I know the audience were there for ‘Attack…‘ but the ‘Spooky Action’ material really holds its own with the gig opening as the album does with the superb Don’t Poke the Bear, and songs like Grey House, Jealousy is a Powerful Emotion, Friends Make the Worst Enemies and Who’s Wearing the Trousers all went down a storm.

Then, after a brief interval, the band came back on stage with a nod from Paul thanking his ‘support act’ and then, the rousing strings of the best James Bond theme there never was The Chad Who Loved Me came ringing out, and the auditorium was lost in a magical musical time warp, as the classics like Wide Open Space, Stripper Vicar, the legendary Taxloss, Dark Mavis and the rest all came out in a blaze of glory.

Don’t get me wrong, this is no nostalgia act, as the first half proved, and as a band who were always slightly out of time, Mansun’s tunes have proved timeless, as this album still sounds fresh, exciting and contemporary even 21 years later.

I went into this show not knowing whether it would be worth my money (&yes dear reader – this is one of those rare occurrences where I review something I paid for!) and it was worth every penny.

During the gig Paul Draper said he would back soon, performing ‘Six’ in it’s entirety – take all of my money, now!!!

 

 

Review – VLMV – Stranded Not Lost – by James R. Turner

Genres, funny things aren’t they? It seems that as human beings we are happiest when we can look at, listen to or read something and think yes, that definitely belongs in that category. Label it nicely and then go have a beer.

There seems to be something within us that isn’t satisfied until we’ve exhausted all the permutations and decided that x, y or indeed z fits into that little category, and woe betide it if it tries to escape the little box.

That is the only reason why I can think of a certain type of listener or internet commentator exists, you all know the one’s I mean, The ones who aren’t satisfied until they’ve proven beyond reasonable doubt that so and so is ‘prog’ and won’t listen to anything that doesn’t fit into their little boxes.

Well, gentlemen (and it is always gentlemen), let me tell you, life is so much more fulfilling when you step out of your little comfort bubble and not just listen to the music that falls between the boxes, but start living your life outside the boxes.

This is where haunting duo VLMV (pronounced ALMA) from London come in, their second album ‘Stranded Not Lost’ is released on Friday 16th February, formed by Peter Lambrou and joined by Ciaran Morahan, VLMV specialise in the sort of post rock ambient soundscapes and haunting ethereal melodies that fit outside the traditional musical box, occupying the same universe as artists like Explosions in the Sky or Bristol improv group Jilk.

This is music Jim, but not as we know it, whilst the psychedelic warriors of the late 60’s & 70’s pushed the barriers by going in search of space and beyond, this is the opposite, this is emotive, expansive and introspective music.

The sort of thing that No-Man used to do quite well, and which VLMV do with great skill, is the art of the slow build, the sonic build and soundscapes where the space between the noise is as important as the noise, with songs like the hauntingly beautiful All These Ghosts (which is the lead single from the album) it’s atmospheric stark soundscapes, mixed with the steel guitar picking and some emotive lyrics bring this ballad to life, and it’s this juxtaposition of music as big as the universe, and lyrics as close as your deepest thoughts that are part of what makes this album so effective.

With a sonic palette that brings real warmth to what initially seems to be icy and stark (the aural equivalent of a long country walk on a frozen landscape) the warmth, the depth and the humanity that is teased out through these songs grows and delights.

The opening instrumental mood setting He Has Already Divided Us, with it’s enigmatic title leads us brilliantly into the album, where songs like the title track, with it’s alt country guitar, big orchestration, and vocals reminiscent of an OK Computer Era Radiohead crossed with Josh Rouse, is one of the most affecting tracks on the album. It’s beautiful lyrics, haunting melodies and beautiful string work complement the guitar and synths perfectly. The barely restrained vocal performance and musical accompaniment suggest repressed emotion fighting to get out, and I think it’s one of the most beautiful and evocative pieces of music I have heard so far this year.

Evocative is the word that keeps coming up again when listening to this album, it has the widescreen feel of a soundtrack for a British Indie movie that hasn’t been made yet, I can see the main characters falling apart in the pouring rain on an anonymous street in a big city to the heartstring pulling and piano and string laden And There Was Peace in Our Time, breaking down as the music builds up, the blend of strings and synths is pure class, the melody filling the speakers as it soars beautifully. This is strong stuff, and really gets into you, especially if you listen on your headphones on the commute to work.

It’s not often that music conjures up such vivid imagery for me, not even powerful instrumental stuff, but this hits the spot every time, its power is in its simplicity, and that runs through the album. These are all well crafted, well thought out and beautifully executed songs, with space to grow and room to breath.

Guest vocalist Tom Hodge joins in on the brilliant Little House, which again reflects on the personal with some more of that fantastic guitar and synth work. The beauty on this is giving space to the vocals, focusing on the everyday, the real concerns of individuals. Where the space within the music is as important as the music. There are no overblown histrionics here nothing so crass is required. This is music in its purest form, no notes wasted, no unnecessary pieces. Every song has what it needs and nothing more, and this economy of sound, and distillation down to the purest emotion is what makes this album so affecting, especially on tracks like the ambient Lunokhod.

Having gone from never hearing of VLMV before, I will now be visiting their bandcamp site to order my copies of their earlier work and I strongly recommend that on Friday when this album hits the streets, you hit their bandcamp site, have yourself a listen and get into some seriously great music.

Released 16th February 2018

Order ‘Stranded Not Lost’ from bandcamp in all formats

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Acqua Fragile by James R. Turner

Following the release of their new album, the first in over 40 years I spent some time chatting with the charming Bernardo Lanzetti, vocalist and song writer with Acqua Fragile, about his musical career, reforming the band and the brand new album ‘A New Chant’.

I started by asking Bernardo how did you go about reforming and what spurred the reunion?

In May 2013, I did celebrate my 40 years in music with a unique event called “VOX 40”. Welcomed by an exhibition of my artwork, the audience attended a concert where up to twenty seven musicians gathered to play tracks off the different bands I had done vocals for, over the years.

On that occasion, all five original members of Acqua Fragile happened to meet after a long while and Piero Canavera on drums plus Franz Dondi on bass, even got a chance to play a couple of tracks off “Acqua Fragile” and “Mass Media Stars” along with Tango Spleen, a smart modern classical ensemble.

The idea of working on a new album took form quite naturally even though Gino Campanini (guitar and vocals) and Maurizio Mori (keyboards) confessed they could not join in. Quite nice though, Alessandro Mori, Maurizio’s son – a talented young drummer previously with Glenn Hughes and Bobby Kimball – right after that show, suggested he could be guest on one of the brand new tracks.

The start off was not that easy. The band wanted to keep A F vocal harmonies but we were missing one voice and we had no key man! A few characters, hanging around the band, enthusiastically, were giving suggestions and advice resulting in slowing down the whole project.

A few keyboardists and guitarists showed up and quit but we had a bit more of luck with Alessandro Giallombardo on guitar, backing vocals and keys too. Even though he wouldn’t join the band, Piero, Franz and Bernardo could find energy enough to carry on the project. Ok! We had no dedicated hands on keyboards but we could have strings, piano and intriguing bandoneon from Tango Spleen! Some minor health issue would, temporarily, keep Piero away from his kit? Well, Alessandro Mori could drum along!

Alessandro Sgobbio, formerly with “Acqua Fragile Project” (an experiment carried on by Franz Dondi where young musicians would live perform A F music, around 2004 ) and now jazz pianist and composer for “Charm”, “Pericopes +1” e “Debra’s Dream”, popped up at Elfo Studio to do a flashy synth solo. Michelangelo Ferilli, also from “A F P ”, left some acoustic guitar arpeggios!

I had been quite busy in the last two years so I thought I could get some help with lyrics. As special guest, we were lucky to have US drummer Jonathan Mover (Joe Satriani, GTR) on the trickiest piece of the album succeeding in making a quite complicated composition sound simple. Though some additional actions were taken in centre Italy and Costa del Sol in Spain, main recordings took place at Elfo Studio in Tavernago (PC) Italy where sound man Alberto Callegari was sharp and patient enough to produce it.

I wondered what difference in recording and working together did you find after reforming?

From 72 up to 74, the band would gather at least four times a week. We had no recording facilities so we would memorize all we were playing, I mean dozens of changes in every session. We wouldn’t even take notes or write score on paper as most of us were just self-taught in music.

Actually, every now and then, somebody, may be an older chap, would show up with a reel to reel or, let’s say, some freak with a cassette recorder would promise to do magic but distortion was all we could get down on tape. We knew very little about recording studios but we were blessed getting Claudio Fabi to produce our albums with Gaetano Ria as sound engineer – I mean – top guys in recording studios in Milan.

After that, please, do know that Piero and Franz kept away for many years from the recording world so, when we got back together, everybody around us – I mean fans, fellow artists, guys who wanted to be producers etc. – they were all saying we should go back and start on the old way, rehearsing every day to “capture back the old flair”.

I would just keep scrolling my head – you know, after all in a band there’s got to be some form of democracy – ‘till I got the other guys on my side and started to work in a most proper way. Somehow, I would provide the music and the lyrics, recording a home demo good enough to start with. Drums and bass would then get together to work out modifying the existing patterns and lines of the chosen piece.

Electric guitars and most keybords came out from the work of Alex Giallombardo who we were lucky to have over three quarters of the album even though he wouldn’t join the band. Tango Spleen is a terrific small unit which I define smart & classic. I remember them recording “My Forte” at first take.

Lately, I’ve been moving around a lot so my lead vocals were recorded in different places around Italy and Andalusia. Vocal harmonies were recorded mostly at Elfo Studios or in Milan. In the final rush I played a few synth lines and played acoustic guitar that was missing.

So how do you see A New Chant fitting into your canon?

OK: We got the vocals with the three part harmony, we got friendly odd tempo signatures, we got acoustic guitars, we got synthesizers, we got original riffs, we got nice arpeggios and, yeah, we got good lead vocals too. On the lyrics side we are missing some social issues and science fiction stories.

On the other end, also thanks to Pete Sinfield and Nick Clabburn, we did get more poetry. The music still holds drama in it as well as humour, epics, rock, folk and classical flare.

How did the collaborations on the album come about?

The Orchestra 6 piece specialize in tango, I met them as guests when I did my vox 40 concert, they did a great job, I thought it would be good to have them guest, they did a terrific job, they got the 1st song as a 1st take, and it was the fist time they had drums in their cans. Jon Mover, track in 11/8 he doubled that into 22, then subdivided to 7/6/5/4 meaning each bar has a different beats per minute and from the previous and the following, this is prog definatley, Mariano the pioano player needed more information, he looked at the score and then they both did it. One to be guests, Mover, he’s American, he loves progressive music, he played for Marillion, after that he got involved in GTR, he booked a studio and invited them down to hear me play, he then got hired. I found out I’m his favourite singer, so I got in touch and we’re working on my new album. We had guests for lyrics, I found this website where Pete Sinfield has his lyrics/poems/haikus, there was a poem I liked so much that I put some music to it, but how do I contact him? I had the song but no permission to release it. I had been doing gigs with David Jackson, he was in my house, and when he was staying he talked about moving. I asked David when we next spoke if he had moved and he’d moved to a small town, turns out it’s the same village that Pete Sinfield lives, so David’s son is a famous engineer, and his daughter Dorie is a singer, and she sometimes helps Mr Sinfield, so we had a connection, Dorie got a CD from me and once they went to supermarket she put the CD on for Pete, he said I love it and that’s how it worked out. I got a mail confirming I could use the poem as lyrics. Also Nick Clabburn wrote the lyrics for me, I knew Nick from when Steve Hackett came to Italy, he came to visit me in Umbria, he took inspiration from the lake I lived at, and he got the lyrics I’m drowning.

Alesso Lombardo, we did a few gigs and asked he could join in, he was contributing and we were lucky. Where your Car Proudly, the only one we wrote in the 70’s, we had no recordings, the drummer remembered the lines to play, but I didn’t remember the words, only the title, and asked a friend to write the lyrics, the song is quite interesting, if you play it when driving you get carried away. Allessandro Scorpio on keys, was in a band Aqcua Fragile project, didn’t quite work out, and he became a jazz player. When I played Vox 40 all original members but the guitarist and keyboard player didn’t play, but the keyboard players son is a drummer who joined.

I wondered what inspired Bernando as a writer?

Conscious and subconscious pull up bubbles from education and personality. Lyrics are one topic. Music is another one. I keep written notes around with phrases and words with a sound and may be more than just one meaning. I store them for future use..

As for music, I used to write singing on top of my guitar playing but, in the last ten years or so, I developed other techniques the most interesting being the one that I think about a melody, memorize it and study in my head but may be I’m floating on a swimming pool or riding shotgun (better not driving when doing this) so I’m totally free of instrumentation and kind of draw diagrams in my head. Of course, later on, I try to get sounds off instruments, mainly starting with the ol’ guitar.

Talk me through the album A New Chant.

Well, we wanted an Italian song, we’re the only Italian prog band with no Italian song, the Tu per Lei song is about music, saying if you work hard for music, then it’s done. Taking the line from Jamie Muir, he once told Bill Bruford, ‘when you approach you don’t have to think about what music can do for you, you have to ask what can I do for music’ then the acoustic one, How come, I wanted Lombardo to be more involved, I pushed, so he said I’ll write something acoustic and you sing, then we had an argument, so he said I’ll take the music but you keep the lyrics, which were my words, so I ended up having to write a new melody to the lyrics. A new way of composing. All rise – when you write songs for an album you don’t think about the concert, then you have to rejig the order for the power, so I thought why don’t I write a song for the first encore, using the courtroom line, the drummer did a great job,

A New Chant, I can do many things with my vocals, but I can do something that resembles opera, but I never learnt to push without a microphone, they can push up to 50 metres, I never learnt to do that, so that’s what I wanted to, which is crossing prog with opera. Artwork from 1973, it’s guy carrying round chairs as an invitation to a concert, the bassist had it and kept it, and it seemed ideal to use.

Will you be playing live?

We are working on two options. We could call other musicians to fill the gaps or be surrounded by an orchestra.

How did you get the deal with Esoteric?

Ernesto De Pascale, journalist and producer got them in touch with me when they needed the original art work for the re-release of Acqua Fragile’s very first album.

Where next for Acqua Fragile?

Perhaps a live album or…..

What influenced you as a musician when you started out?

When I was a kid I wanted to become a mad scientist. Somehow I kept that attitude working with music. I am not such a good player, not fast fingers or feet, no strength in my hands or arms but I can do total vocals. I can do harmonies and my range spans over three octaves.

I always admired rock and blues, suspended chords, things hidden or not totally outspoken. Progressive rock gave me all the other topics I was missing.

How different is the music scene now compared to when you started out?

The people behind the music scene have taken over. They don’t need musicians or artist ‘cause they actually control all platforms that distributes music or what they push to become “music”.

Tell me about your time in PFM?

When I joined PFM I thought I was called in to complete the delivery potential of the band. Only one of the original member is still in the band, actually becoming its leader, but, along with the ones that left ,when being interviewed they all say they were forced to get a lead singer. I recall them knowing nothing about singing except, perhaps, the key man Flavio Premoli. They didn’t even know the words to their songs!

On stage, nobody wanted my vocals in their monitors and, when having only three lines, I would end up singing along with drums and fretless bass! We were recording in LA, the studio time expired so we moved to Scorpio sound and we flew economy on a students ticket, we arrived at midnight in Luton, got the bus to the centre of London, at 2am we were still on the bus. Franco said ‘this is the new day’ so instead of heading to the hotel so we took two cabs to the studio, we wanted to start recording. We knocked on the studio door at 3 in the morning and said ‘We’ve got the studio booked’ and the people running the studio said we’ve got no engineers in yet. Franco said, ’You got a microphone?’ OK Bernado, sing! And we started.  After a long flight and journey how can a guy sing after that?

After a career spanning many years what’s your favourite musical memories?

I have a lot, we started opening for bands like Soft Machine & Gentle Giant they were our heroes and we hoped we did our best and we even played before Alexis Korner, Tempest as well, We were exposed to terrific players. With PFM my first concert was in Tokyo, and we played the Royal Albert Hall and the Queen Mother wanted to meet us, so there’s a photo of us with the Queen Mother, so when I left they erased me, I then did my own and I erased them, so there’s three copies of this photo, one with all of us, one with them and not me, and then one with me on my own!

‘A New Chant’ was released 13th October 2017.

Read James’ review of the album here:

Review – Acqua Fragile – A New Chant – by James R. Turner

 

 

 

Review – Acqua Fragile – A New Chant – by James R. Turner

They may be a new name to you, they certainly were to me, but Italy’s Acqua Fragile were originally active between 1971 & 1975, and vocalist Bernardo Lanzetti joined PFM for their ‘Chocolate Kings’ and ‘Jet Lag’ albums, leaving in 1977.

The catalyst for this reunion record came when Bernardo celebrated his career with his Vox 40 concert, and the revived band consists of Bernardo Lanzetti (vocals, animoog, guitars) Pierro Canavera (drums/percussion/backing vocals) and Franz Dodi (electric bass), as well as guest musicians like Jonathon Mover (on opener My Forte) drummer Alexander Mori (son of original keyboard player Maurizio Mori) as well as members of the Acqua Fragile Project, a collaboration put together by Franz Dodi of younger musicians playing the original music of Acqua Fragile.

You wait a while for some bands to get on with the ‘difficult’ third album, but it’s taken these guys over 40 years!

Joking aside, the musicians have worked hard in Italy, and Bernardo is a well known name on the progressive scene, having worked with Mangala Vallis amongst others, and with new blood in the group like collaborator Alex Giallombardo, who provides guitars, vocals and keyboards this blends the best of traditional Acqua Fragile with new sounds and contemporary production values.

This blending of old and new is probably exemplified by the track Wear Your Car Proudly, which was a track the band used to perform in the 70’s, which had never been recorded. The music was intact, with some driving guitar and bass, and wonderfully squelchy mid 70’s synth sounds, (it’s also reminiscent of the neo-prog sound of the early 80’s) yet the lyrics had gone, no trace, so Bernardo’s friend came up with some new lyrics, and hey presto, a wonderfully eclectic song all about motor racing. It’s in the Italian blood, and the passion comes across in this song.

They have even recorded a track in Italian, Tu Per Lei (You for Her) with some wonderfully emotive vocals from Bernardo, and a great electric guitar solo, and it’s true that Italian is a beautiful and emotive language, I don’t know exactly what’s being sung about, but it sounds fantastic.

In fact that’s a good word to use to describe this album, fantastic, I always admire musicians who can write in their second language, and their English is probably better than mine (I am also probably a little jealous as I am no linguist, cunning or otherwise) and to flit between their native tongue and English, is wonderful.

The Drowning meanwhile utilises the lyric skills of Nick Clabburn, who paints a wonderful picture, for Bernardo to fill with his rich vocals.

Meanwhile Rain Drops is a poem, by the legendary Pete Sinfield, that Bernardo loved so much he wanted to adapt, he even explained how he got permission from the elusive Mr Sinfield to include this on the album (in the interview elsewhere on Progradar that I did with him) and the orchestral, almost Oldfieldesque accompaniment works perfectly in drawing the nuances out of the lyrics, and Sinfield’s imagery is both wonderful and very emotive, again showing Bernardo’s voice off to the full.

The core band here sound relaxed and enjoying each others company, whilst the self-explanatory All Rise is a fab rockier number, showing the band kicking up a storm, in a nod to the live arena, a self confessed first encore track, utilising the traditional courtroom phrase to great effect, and providing the energy and power that every good encore needs.

The mood slows a little, with the lovely acoustic How Come, where Bernardo’s vocals continue to shine, and his personal and moving lyrics work in this stripped back environment, providing a brief period of reflection prior to the closing power of the albums title track.

A New Chant see’s Bernardo projecting his voice in an operatic finale, the music and lyrics working together, a beautiful merging of sound, topping off what is, to these ears an excellent record.

It’s great to see that bands can reform after a long period of time, pull together in the studio and rediscover the old magic, this is Acqua Fragile reborn for the 21st century, and is worth a listen. I really enjoyed it.

Released 13th October 2017

Order ‘A New Chant’ from Cherry Red Records here:

A NEW CHANTAcqua Fragile

Review – Perfect Beings – Vier – by James R Turner

Now, I like listening to bands I have never heard of before, because I like discovering new music, new sounds, and if you review something from a band you have never heard of, I find you are coming to the music from a fresh perspective, not being clouded by opinions of previous records or previous sounds.

I’ve been listening to ‘Vier’ for the past few weeks on my commute to work, headphones on; the sights of Bristol (Clifton Suspension Bridge, Ashton Gate, The Floating Harbour) have all been sound tracked by this, the 3rd album by Perfect Beings.

Based in Los Angeles, the bands consists of Johannes Luley on guitar and bass, Ryan Hurtgen on vocal and piano, Jesse Nason on keyboards and Sean Reinart on drums the band have had a few personnel changes since their last album ‘II’ in 2015.

This latest album is epic in both its scope and it’s performance, being split into 4 symphonic musical parts.

Guedra (18:23) The Golden Arc (16:47) Vibrational (18:17) and Anunnaki (18:42) makes this album their ‘Topographic Oceans’ a rather expansive symphonic CD or, in old money, a double vinyl set (with each side being a song suite, just how the traditionalists like it!)

After losing their original bassist Luley stepped up to the mark contributing both bass and guitar to this album, which will make it interesting if they ever do tour it, as, whilst he is one of the most interesting guitarists working currently (comparable to a Luke Machin or a Matt Stevens), he’ll need to be an octopus to recreate the intricate guitar and bass sounds on here.

There is a lot for music fans to admire on this record from the lush multilayered harmonies that open the record with A New Pyramid, to the sort of instrumental prowess that runs throughout the record.

Luley’s sound has grown and matured, with elements from his two solo albums finding their way into the compositional melting pot here, which stretches and pushes the Perfect Beings’ sound out of bog standard prog territory and into something that bounces gleefully through time signatures, across genres, through the past 50 years of prog and even through the different movements of the record as themes from previous songs appear in the closing suite of Annuki.

The rest of the band seem just as energised as they diffuse the spirit of classical prog sounds through their own musical filter as the sounds of Guedra lead you into The Golden Arc, which is a more symphonic piece of work, with the piano, keyboards and guitar building up, this is not something that is in your face and immediate, these 4 differing musical facets of the band are like a musical game of pass the parcel.

Every time the music stops and you press play to resume the album, another layer is revealed until slowly you get the musical present that is ‘Vier’.

Hurtgen has a unique vocal sound, and use of multilayering and certain effects again remind in places of the style of Jon Anderson and early Yes, whilst some of the song titles have dropped straight out of the I-spy book of prog, things like A New Pyramid or The Blue Lake of Understanding are much better songs than their titles would suggest, whilst The Persimmon Tree on title alone brings to mind a local newspaper headline about house builders and a protected woodland, and yet it’s a rather good song on the album. In fact the shorter songs on here work just as well (if not better) than some of the longer ones, and in the way of song cycles I like the fact that snippets of riffs and musical themes echo across the album, creating a coherent whole. The closing Everything’s Falling Apart is a superbly crisp almost pop song, with some sublime lyrics and musical performances.

Hurtgen’s work on keyboards mixes perfectly with the sound of Luley’s guitar and Nason’s keyboards swathe the album with superb sonic textures and beautiful musical moments, more Rick Wright than Wakeman, his musical skills add to the sound and are a part of the bigger picture.

In fact that’s one thing that stands out about this album, when you have a band like Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer, for instance, filled with egos bigger than their talents, you do end up with songs that are nothing more than a glorified solo to pacify and massage those egos. This is one of those albums that are the total opposite, there are some amazing musical sections but on this album the magic happens because the entire band are there pulling together, on the same page, and whilst these are mighty musical talents all the egos are left at the studio door.

There is a lot to like about this album, and there is also a lot of album here for you to like, and the band suggest you turn off and immerse yourself in this record, which is a great thing to do with headphones and a long commute.

A lot of other people have been raving about this record and already proclaiming it album of the year. Now that’s a bold statement to make in January, and yes, there is so much to like and admire about this record, from it’s immersive production to the astounding musical ability on display here, but calling it album of the year is as premature as calling January the best month of 2018. It’s a fascinating and interesting listen with plenty going on musically, and lots of themes that prog fans will love. However to me this is not an album to love, more one to admire. For it’s musical ambition, it’s scope and it’s depth.

Released 19th January 2018

Order ‘Vier’ direct from the band:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 3rd November 2017

Order from Cherry Red:

The Ferryman’s CurseThe Strawbs

Reviews – Rob Gould – More Huru For Your Guru and The Sad Robot Declared Peace With Himself – by James R Turner

Many moons ago one of the bands I used to se on semi-regular basis playing at a rundown old Leisure Centre in Rotherham that had long seen better days (like pretty much of all of Rotherham at the time tbh) were Fula, a Buxton based prog rock band, and one of the founder members and driving forces behind the band was multi-instrumentalist and song writer Rob Gould, who would conduct proceedings from his behind his rack of keyboards on stage, as well as joining Brazilian band Ashtar on keyboards.

Since Fula have been on an indefinite hiatus, Rob has continued to plough his own furrow, a one man Peak District Psych composer, putting out ambient electronic albums, inspired by the caves in which he works, as well as more rock and song based audio albums like his last full length album the critically acclaimed ‘The Broken Road’.

Now he’s got two albums out for our delight, and they both are as different from each other as is possible to get, reflecting the many sides to Robs musical personalities.

I will start with the first one of the collection, the wonderfully titled ‘More Huru for Your Guru’, with it’s startling psychedelic cover (great hat Rob). It collects together 10 tracks of cover versions that Rob recorded between 2014 and 2017 for the Fruits de Mer label, and shows where Rob’s influences lie.

From two fantastic interpretations of David Bowie songs, a brilliantly haunting version of We Are the Dead, which takes the tension and power of the original and makes it more sinister in Robs skilful reworking, and the fantastic Sense of Doubt from Bowies “Heroes” album, where Rob shows his musical chops off in fine style. Kudos also has to go to Rob for having the balls to cover A Saucerful of Secrets, in it’s entirety, I have no idea whether Rob is crazy or inspired to take this Floyd song (that to many is one of those Marmite tracks) and reconfigure it and make a bloody good job of it, but either way, the only time I have seen anyone attempt this was again at that Rotherham leisure centre where a Floyd ’67-’69 only covers band called Ummagumma gave it a go.

I was also pleasantly surprised to hear on this album the cover version of The Purple Gang’s Granny Takes a Trip, I thought I was one of the only people in the world who have love for The Purple Gang, and Robs version is a perfect homage to the original whilst making it work in his own style.

With guests of the likes of Hawkwind’s Mr Dibs (who provides vocals on Robs trippy version of the Beatles’ Tomorrow never Knows) Fula’s Nigel Moss on bass on Saucerful amongst others, Rob has assembled an excellent ensemble that help him filter others songs and turn them into his own.

A covers album is always a difficult thing to try and perfect and here Rob manages the balancing act of staying true to the songs, whilst putting plenty of himself in there to stamp his personality on them and not just make a straight forward ‘boy-band’ retread. Extra points go, as always to anyone who covers Pink Floyd and doesn’t pick Comfortably Numb. This is a fantastic album, full of fun, great songs and shows Rob really enjoying himself doing something slightly different to what we’ve known him do before.

‘The Sad Robot Declared Peace with Himself’, is one of Rob’s companion piece albums, and this time it forms a companion to ‘The Broken Road’, containing, as it does, variations on themes of songs recorded for the album, and indeed music recorded at the time and not included, this follows previous companion albums like ‘Black Holes and Empty Spaces’ and ‘An Ocean in a Drop’.

It is a fantastic companion to ‘The Broken Road’, opening with an extended version of Daybreak in the Graveyard of the Sentient Robots, one of the standout tracks from that album, here, in all its’ glory, Rob gives it room to breathe and grow, its soundscapes immersive and complex, pulling you in and washing over you in waves of ambient electronica.

This is Rob back in his electronica territory, a whole world removed from being a Guru, this is him pulling soundscapes together, allowing his ambient and electronic ethos to run through the record. From Starmaker? The Broken Road revisited, which refines and returns to themes on the original album, to the longest track on here The Last Hurrah, which ebbs and flows between almost krautrock minimalism and stunning piano composition, this is where Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre and Michael Oldfield meet, on some windswept moor in the North of England.

The vast open spaces are evoked gloriously here, Rob is at his compositional finest, and like all the best soundscapes the music here has room to build and grow, the waves filling the room, and the underlying shimmering synths and recurring piano motifs layering and building to a shimmering climax, where the understated beauty of the unaccompanied piano work has a neo-classical edge to it, with tinges of melancholy and beauty fades into a pulsating, pounding electronica musical climax, all Radiophonic synths and minimalist beats, there is a certain thrill to be had as the repetition builds and changes to a driving insistent climax.

The sleeve notes state that these were all pieces completed around the time of ‘The Broken Road’ (which for my money is Rob’s finest solo album) between 2008 and 2013. All apart from The Fireclown, which was originally recorded back in 1990 and re-arranged here and has that almost dance edge to it, darker edgier musical stabs combined with half spoken lyrics, brings to my mind anyway Pulp circa ‘Separations’, and is a brilliant way to end this collection.

Instead of seeing this as a companion album, see this more as the ‘bonus disc’, the bits that fit in-between the spaces, and the songs that didn’t quite get away.

As such it works perfectly, and these two vastly different but both suitably interesting albums, that really show Rob Gould’s multi-faceted talents, and remind us (if we needed reminding) of how consistent and interesting a musician he is. Highly recommended.

Both albums released in 2017.

Order ”The Sad Robot Declared Peace With Himself’ from Rob’s website and receive ‘More Huru For Your Guru’ free here