Review – Riversea – The Tide – by Progradar

“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.”
― Alphonse de Lamartine

What a wonderful quote and it fits perfectly how I feel after listening to the long awaited second album from Riversea, the on/off musical project of my good friends Marc Atkinson and Brendan Eyre.

The music and lyrics that they have written come from their very heart and soul and when it is conceived like like, it has the ability to almost come alive and infuse the listener with all the joy and love that went into creating it. It’s not just music it is alive, vibrant and soulful.

The core band of Marc, Brendan, Dave Clements (bass) and Alex Cromarty (drums) are joined by a veritable who’s who of the progressive rock world adding guitar, flute and backing vocals. Where ‘Out of an Ancient World’ was a spiritual offering, ‘The Tide’ focuses on the realities of living in the world of today with meaningful lyrics adding a touch of social commentary to the music:

“If God can’t save us from his followers, how do we save us from ourselves. If all they see is blasphemy, what will they make of  you and me.”

The opening of The Tide sees Peter Aves powerful guitar give a dramatic edge before the subtle layers of Brendan’s keyboard work adds a real sophistication. This is an album full of exquisite nuances and he distinctive soulful vocals of Marc leave a cultured trail wherever they lead, is there a more emotive singer around at the moment? I think not! These songs are created with layers of beauty and polish and seem to flow organically. There’s a funky edge to Shine that is punctuated by the uplifting chorus and the superb guitar work of Lee Abraham who delivers a vibrant solo.

Marc and Brendan have spent a long time creating this musical work of art, fitting it in around their daily lives and other projects and it is the level of care and attention to detail that stands out across the meticulously crafted songs on this album. I can imagine the painstaking process that went into each note, there is nothing here that doesn’t belong and it makes for a quite wonderful release.

The passionate Blasphemy is another highlight among many with Paul Cusick’s sensuous guitar work adding layers of intensity to what is a really powerful song, the music intense and impassioned and Marc’s voice a commanding presence. Brendan Eyre weaves an absorbing web with his refined keyboard playing throughout this amazing sonic tapestry and the rhythm section of Dave Clements’ bass and the drums of Alex Cromarty provide a suitably assured back drop.

Every track is exceptional, it’s rare to get an album without at least one throwaway song but the songs intertwine perfectly with each other, the wistful and nostalgic Your Last Day sees a wonderful low key and slow burning guitar solo from Robin Armstrong and the silken six string of Simon Godfrey joins the guys on the touching strains of Strange Land, a song that has strong roots music foundations.

The gentle feel of Fall Out Warning is added to by the flute of Tony Patterson to give a contemplative, melancholy atmosphere but there is beauty, charm and artistry to every single song. The sombre overtone of the excellent Uprising is added to by the reflective keyboards and Tony’s ethereal-like flute. Marc’s vocals are almost pleading,

“Their voices will be heard, their chanting becomes one. But a nation stands divided with a bullet from a gun.”

It is a haunting piece of music and one which makes you look inside at your own heart and is followed by the contrast of the gloriously uplifting The Tide Reprise to close the album on a more thoughtful and hopeful note.

There’s been some good music released this year already and also some utterly outstanding albums and ‘The Tide’ definitely falls into the latter category. Marc and Brendan have lovingly crafted twelve pieces of music that come together to create a release of beauty and refinement and one that will stay in your heart for a very long time. It’s not just music, this is something that is actually life-affirming and I can’t give it higher praise than that.

Released 20th April 2018

Order The Tide from the band’s website

 

 

Review – John Holden – Capture Light – by Progradar

Life never stands still, the world rotates on its axis at around 1000mph (it’s less as you get North but you get my drift!) and day becomes night. The years pass quicker, or so it seems, and the sheer volume of music that is released gets bigger and bigger all the time.

Because of this it is impossible for me to hear every new release that would perhaps pique my musical curiosity and it pains me to think that I will have missed some gems as the clock keeps ticking. However, I can console myself with the wonderful releases that I do get to hear and enjoy.

I’ve been talking to John Holden about his great musical collaboration ‘Capture Light’ for well over a year now and I was honoured to be one of the first to receive the completed article a couple of months ago. I have listened to it multiple times and now feel ready to write my review…

Over two years in the making, an immersive and evolving album opens with the Joe Payne sung track Tears From The Sun. A symphonic and operatic tour-de-force featuring Oliver Wakeman’s keyboards, it has a feel of where The Enid could be now if they hadn’t imploded. After a quelled opening the bombast begins with multi-layered instrumentation before Joe’s distinctive vocal gives the track life and shape. As opening tracks go, this really does take some beating with John’s great music being complimented by his and Elizabeth Buckley’s fine lyrical accomplishment. A complex musical mosaic that keeps your rapt attention all the way through, Joe is on fine form and gives the song a flamboyant drama.

Crimson Sky takes a more symphonic rock oriented route with Julie Gater’s vocal giving it a Celtic rock infused tone. Hard edged and heavier, there’s a feel of early Karnataka to my ears. The powerful music is complimented perfectly by Julie’s dulcet tones, especially on the catchy chorus. Listen out for the superb guitar solo from Billy Sherwood (yes, THE Billy Sherwood) which adds a real sheen of class to what is already a pretty impressive song. I’m already beginning to love the diversity that John has brought to this album and we’re only two tracks in!

John proves he can tell a great story with the excellent title track, full of drama and intrigue, you’ll have to buy the CD to get the whole story but the musical journey is an engrossing and compelling one that will hold your attention throughout and I had to read the credits twice to realise it was Joe Payne who was performing the fantastic vocals again, this guy is pure talent. Oliver Wakeman’s elegant piano playing once again graces the song and adds real pathos to what is already a dramatic and emotional piece of music and let’s not forget Oliver Day’s stylish guitar, lute and mandolin. Let’s be fair, music has forever been about telling stories and John Holden is already proving to be very adept at it. Capture Light will be one of the most enjoyable and absorbing history lessons you’ll ever have…

A choral mantra that could fit a Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice musical, Ancient of Days is an uplifting track that just seems to bring a ray of sunshine along with it with it’s tribal feeling music and the great vocals of Jean Pageau, ably backed by Lee-Anne Beecher and Marc Atkinson. I could quite imagine this song being part of something like Lion King or Joseph with its great theatrical feel. A real shout out must go to Emily Dolan Davies whose skill on the drum kit is utterly evident here.

A song all about Jesse Owens and THAT race in Berlin, One Race is possibly the most progressive track on the album while not being that progressive (if that makes sense?). Joe Payne delivers another consummate vocal performance and the harmonised parts with Max Read give a real Celtic overtone, in fact the whole track reminds me of Clannad or Enya in places. It’s another well crafted song with a great storyline that works brilliantly along with the rest of the tracks on the album and the guitar playing just gives added impetus to the sensation of running along with the narrative.

Now onto the one track that I didn’t click with straightaway, Dreamcatching seemed a bit trite and twee to me on first listen, not quite gelling with the other songs on the album. Trying to explain the legend behind dreamcatchers using spoken word, song and music, this piece of music will either captivate or alienate in my opinion. Repeated listens have led me to appreciate it a lot more, while not actually loving it like I do the majority of the other songs. What does work very well though is the lovely flute and sax work from the ubiquitous Peter Jones who does a good job of adding whimsy and warmth as well as backing vocals along with Julie Gater.

London Grammar, that’s what I thought when I heard the first ultra-cool strains from No Man’s Land with it’s jazzy backdrop to Julie Gater’s silky smooth vocals. A song for lazy days in hazy summers, its chilled and easygoing vibe seems to seep into your very being. The feel good atmosphere seems to infuse every instrument, Gary O’Toole’s polished drum playing and Oliver Wakeman’s relaxed piano and keyboards are the height of sophistication.

A dreamy and contemplative song, Seaglass Hearts is full of longing and the vocals give pause with their elegant reminiscing. A nice interplay between the voices of Peter Jones and Julie Gater give a modern folk feel to the track, one full of wonder and playfulness along with Peter’s soulful sax playing. A sentimental ending to the album, enforced by the sparse piano that fades us out to a close.

A captivating journey through the mystical and historical, ‘Capture Light’ is an accessible, melodic tour-de-force that reveals more of its hidden depths with each listen. John Holden has collected an impressive group of musicians and given us a release that could well be a highlight of the year already.

Released 23rd March 2018

Pre-order ‘Capture Light’ on digital from bandcamp here

Pre-orders for the CD will be available from John Holden’s website soon at this link

Progradar’s Best of The Year For 2016 – Editor’s Choice

So we have had a wonderful selection of Top 10 picks from some of my great collaborators and now it is my turn. I’m going to stray from the norm because mine is going to be a Top 20 to keep it in line with my TEP selection that I spoke with David Elliott about.

Yes, it is a bit of a cheat but it is my website so I don’t have to follow the rules. Anyway,without any further ado, here are my top albums of 2016,not in any particular order but they have all made a big impact on my life this year…

You will also notice that there are no Bad Elephant Music releases in my Top 20. The label I work with had another superb year but it would have been a bit unfair of me to include any releases from the artists on BEM.

Bad Dreams – Déjà vu

‘Déjà vu’ is an album that will stand the test of time and is a great achievement for Bad Dreams. I was impressed from the first note by the accomplished musicianship and the superb vocals, add in the exemplary songwriting and it was sure to be a winner in my book. What makes it stand out even more is the way the music becomes almost part of you and can make you stop what you are doing and just listen for the sake of it and that, my friends, is what truly great music can do to you.

Blue Mammoth – Stories Of A King

Proper seventies epic prog of massive proportions from these excellent Brazilians. The artwork alone is very striking but the music will literally knock your socks off, play it loud,VERY loud!

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

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

Tony Patterson – Equations of Meaning

Well I was utterly mesmerised by ‘Northlands’, Tony’s collaboration with Brendan Eyre and this album deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. To get the utmost from the album you must listen to it from start to finish, preferably with headphones on, in  a darkened room and with your choice of relaxing alcohol. To me, ‘Equations of Meaning’ is not merely a great release, it is a state of mind that we should all aspire to when our Life in the Fast Lane gets too much for us. Superb and highly recommended.

Big Big Train – Folklore

It was always going to be hard to follow ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ albums but the acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling have returned with a fresh collection of stories and tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life…

Damian Wilson – Built For Fighting

Funny how music fits in with your life isn’t it? I was listening to this album walking back home last night and it just struck me as to how much it was a soundtrack to how my life has turned out this year. Painful lows, beautiful highs and, ultimately, balance has been restored.Taking a break form his Prog-Metal roots, Damian delivers a solo release of sublime brilliance.

David Foster – Dreamless

The usually modest and self-effacing Dave Foster has stepped out of the shadows and onto centre stage to deliver his second solo opus and is to be applauded and admired for doing so. Such a variety of moods, styles and colours doesn’t always mix well but when it is done with consummate skill, like it is here, you are treated to a cornucopia of musical delights. While neither ground breaking or game changing, what it is is really rather good.

Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

Gandalf’s Fist truly believe that this is the finest musical work that they have ever created. There’s a mix of all of their influences and, were you to put all of the best bits of our discography into a huge melting pot, you’d end up with something quite close (but not as awesome) as what the guys have created! But don’t just take their word for it – head over to the pre-order store and have a listen to a whopping 10 minutes of audio previews!

Ghost Community – Cycle Of Life

‘Cycle of Life’ is a thought-provoking, beguiling and fulfilling musical journey that excites and satisfies at every turn. Ghost Community may have had to endure trials and tribulations while making this record but the experiences have enabled them to deliver something quite magical and rewarding that will stand the test of time, worthy of a place in anyone’s musical collection.

Glass Hammer – Valkyrie

With its insightful, thoughtful lyrics every bit as important as the mightily impressive music, ‘Valkrie’ is a concept album in the true sense of the word. With some delightful departures from what some would call their signature sound (The Beatles anyone?) Glass Hammer continue to evolve into one of the world’s foremost Progressive Rock bands. This iconic group of musicians lead you on a journey through the horrors of war with a totally immersive sixty-five minutes of music and you will come out the other side changed forever. I can’t recommend this album enough, one of the best albums of 2016? One of the best albums of recent years more like…

iamthemorning – Lighthouse

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

Nerve Toy Trio – Accidental Bar-B-Que

A really impressive and ultimately satisfying release that really gets into your psyche and has you reaching for the repeat play button again and again. Nerve Toy Trio has given us one of the best instrumental releases of the year with ‘Accidental Bar-B-Que’ and one with which the music really does stand comparison to the excellent album art. Seems my gut feeling was right once again, a highly recommended release.

I Like Trains – A Divorce Before Marriage

A real late comer to the party, in fact I haven’t reviewed it fully yet! This sublime and haunting collection of instrumental marvelousness from these Yorkshire musicians is a soundtrack to the film of the same name. Ethereal and yet solidly powerful, I haven’t heard anything like it all year and it demanded to be in this selection of top releases.

Patchwork Cacophony – Five Of Cups

There is intelligence and a wry humour than runs throughout this remarkable album. Ben Bell has an immense talent and really knows how to put it to good use. Intelligently crafted songs that make you want to listen to them show him to be a great songwriter and what he delivers proves what a notable musician he is as well. In the world of progressive rock a new star is set to rise.

Blue Rose Code – …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing

Blue Rose Code is Edinburgh-born songwriter Ross Wilson. At the edge of contemporary alt-folk, Wilson’s music evokes a meeting of Van Morrison and a young John Martyn, both shipwrecked with a bunch of Motown records. A deep emotive well of stunning music that affects you at a core level, another late discovery of 2016 for me but a band I will be keeping my eye on now!

Of the new record, Wilson says, “It’s an album for music fans and musicians. A challenging record, I think, and it’s  abundantly clear that the process has been undertaken away from the cynicism of any record company.”

Ray Wilson – Makes Me Think Of Home

Ray Wilson has taken us on a deeply personal musical journey full of hope, despair, pain and, ultimately, salvation and I was hooked on every word, every note. This is music at its very best, written from the heart and full of the passion and soul of the artist. This is an album that I will return to again and again, no matter how much new music crosses my path and is surely a collection of songs that can, and will, stand the test of time.

Thence – We Are Left With A Song

What Thence have delivered with ‘We Are Left With A Song’ is no mere album, it is a breathtaking, creative powerhouse of sonic delight that grows to fill any space that it occupies to take on a life of its own. It is a life that you will want to share until your dying breath, above mere superlatives, it is an utter triumph.

Tilt – Hinterland

What TILT have delivered is a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done!

Marc Atkinson – Home Grown

To me, this is what makes writing about music worth every single minute I take. I have been involved in this long musical journey in some small way from start to finish and when you hear the finished article, it is almost like welcoming a newborn into the world. Marc Atkinson will have agonised about every single word and note on this album and to my ears it has been worth every single second he has taken. This is music that takes over your mind and soul and which you can relate to on a very personal level. Fifteen songs that are extremely personal to this gracious man and we should be glad that he has released them for us to enjoy. A great album and one that I have no doubt is the complete pinnacle of Marc’s solo career to date, I am extremely proud to be able call him a friend.

Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum

Drifting Sun have delivered quite a work of art, one that touches on the past for influences but, also, has its own, confident vision of the future. Consume it in one listen to get the full effect of this great album, it is one that will live in the memory for a long time.

So, there you have it. 2016 was another brilliant year for music and I hope our End Of Year choices might make you go out and buy the music to support the artists involved. Please join me and my fellow authors at Progradar in 2017 for what I hope will be another stellar year for lovers of music.

 

Review – Marc Atkinson – Homegrown – by Progradar

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“Music is moonlight in the gloomy night of life.” –  Jean Paul

“Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends, never lose a chance to make them.” –  Francesco Guicciardini

There are two things that are the foundations of my life and they are music and friends. I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today without either. To me music is not just something you listen to, it is an essential part of what makes me tick and what makes me want to get out of bed in a morning. I only became a music writer because I wanted more people to feel the way I did about certain notes, songs and albums that have become essential listening in my life. Music is what fills those unseen gaps in my universe and makes it complete.

We all need friends in our life and I have been blessed to know some wonderful people and call them friends. Since I started getting involved with music my list of friends has grown immensely and I don’t mean just those people who I’ve never met on Facebook. I have had the pleasure of meeting many musicians and supporters in the flesh and am proud to call them true friends now.

One of the first musicians I met through my reviews and interviews was the vocalist Marc Atkinson, also known as the voice of Riversea. I first met Marc in March of 2014 when he was performing his solo acoustic show in Whitby and where I interviewed him for Lady Obscure Music Magazine and have been firm friends ever since.

Therefore it was a no-brainer when Marc asked me if I would write an early review of his new solo release ‘Homegrown’, in fact I consider it an honour that he came to me first.

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Marc Atkinson is a solo acoustic singer/songwriter. He is also ‘The Voice’ of Riversea and has previously sung with Nine Stones Close, Gabriel, Frontier and Expressions, as well as lending his vocals to the Mandalaband project. He continues to gig heavily in the North of England playing his one man, ‘human juke box’ acoustic shows.

‘Homegrown’ is Marc’s fifth solo album and, along with the help from his partner Tamsin, daughter Enya, friends Andy ‘Rob’ Swann, Bob Fleming, Jack Burge and Brendan Eyre who all contributed performances on the album, it was finally finished in October 2016 and will be released on the the 21st of November 2016. Alongside Brendan Eyre and Dave Clements, Marc is currently working on the 2nd Riversea album, entitled ‘The Tide’, which is due for release in spring 2017.

Marc has written an intro for the CD booklet and, so as not to spoil it for those who have ordered the new album, I have just taken the first paragraph from it:

“As you may have guessed from the album title, this is a ‘home made’ album. It’s songwriting in its most ‘basic’ form. It could almost be called a ‘demo album’, I think…And that was the concept for it right from the beginning. In an alternative universe maybe this album exists produced by a ‘top’ producer, in a hi-tech studio with amazing musicians lifting the songs to new heights with their ear for detail and unique talents. This, obviously, is not that album. This as as ‘Home Grown’ as they come… “

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“Take all these melodies away, Free them from my soul, They’ve been haunting me for days, It’s good to let them go…”

The opening track A Portrait immediately gets you into the soul of this great singer/songwriter. The music is gentle and whimsical and leaves you feeling touched by a world of calmness and peace. Marc’s voice is full of pathos and emotion and leaves you waiting upon every syllable of every word as it washes over you with a spiritual grace. There is a touch of folk to the song with the delicate strings that hover in the background, a beautiful start to the album that leaves you wanting to hear more.

“Take all of the dreams that you’ve had, Make them come true right before your eyes, take all that sorrow away, It’s a brand new day…”

The beautifully harmonised choral opening to Raise Your Voice gives way to an upbeat track driven on by the acoustic guitar and the uplifting vocals. This is a track full of joie de vivre and has a feel-good factor that just leaves you on a high. The catchy chorus has you singing along with gusto and on a spiritual high. This is definitely a song that will have a live gathering singing and clapping along to every note and left me with a big smile on my face.

‘When days are like shattering glass, They’re so fragile they don’t last, It’s like chasing waterfalls…”

I know Marc is a very spiritual person and Just Between God And Me could be his own personal thoughts on the events that are happening around the world as we speak, the hardships and trials and tribulations of those who aren’t in a position to help themselves. It’s a sober, solemn and thoughtful song that asks some pretty important questions. The vocals are full of heartfelt sentiment and really struck a chord with me, balanced against the sparse instrumentation as they are. The harmonised backing voices give a sense of wisdom to the track and you are left looking up at the stars and wondering whether there is any judgement to be had in the heavens.

“Remember days that used to be, with one big happy family alive, Driving through the countryside, With your Dad by your side tonight…”

Hands Of Time is a very poignant track dedicated to the life of Marc’s long term partner Tamsin’s father and is a beautifully written and touching tribute. It’s about the bitter sweetness of happy memories tinged with the sadness of lost loved ones. The wistful music, piano and violin especially, leave you in a bit of a melancholic mood, the memories will be there forever but you can’t turn back the hands of time. An emotional, moving song where Marc’s vocals really stand out and one that, ultimately, leaves you in a reflective mood thinking of the joy and pain that the past can bring.

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“Daddy will you sing for me, Daddy will you sing with me, Riding through the streets with my little girl, Pedals going round as her hair unfurls…”

A lovely song written for Marc and Tammy’s daughter Enya and one that sees her appear on backing vocals, My Little Girl is a touching little ditty that is full of love and devotion and you can hear it in the timbre of Marc’s voice as he delivers this ode to his ‘little girl’. The gentle music has a cathartic feel to it and imbues this track with a simple grace and tenderness. Marc’s voice is what inspires Enya to sing and this song is as much a thankyou to him as it is dedicated to her.

“In or out, What the hell’s it all about?, Black or white, Why do we find the need to fight…”

When The English Rose is, in essence, a protest song about Brexit, racism and everything that is rocking our country at the moment. Because it comes from a singer/songwriter it has none of the angst that a punk band or hardliner like Billy Bragg would give it but it is because of that fact that it perhaps hits home a bit harder. An edgy riff from Marc’s guitar and a touch of anger in his voice give vent to his true feelings and the timeless question to which none of us seem to have the answer, “Surely we are stronger together, Surely it’s ‘Divided We Fall’…”

“Caught inside a landslide, In our topsy-turvy world, somewhere in-between us, We’re screaming to be heard…”

Still In Love With You is just under three minutes of delicate charm and beauty. Marc sings of a love lost and the found again and the pain and then joy that ensues. The exquisite music and ethereal timbre of the vocals just give the whole song a feeling of dignity and finesse with a profound honesty at its heart.

“It was 33 years ago, When I first put the words in a song, My friends said just give it a go, And soon they were singing along..”

A journey through Marc’s career to date with subtle hints in the radio style introduction (River sea’s Out Of An Ancient World anyone?), Whatever Happened… is wistful and nostalgic with the wispy tendrils of the music subtly insinuating themselves into your thoughts and Marc’s voice dictating his move from being in a band to a solo career and back again. It is actually a very moving song and the music has a real haunting capacity to it, plaintive and thoughtful which is only enhanced by the fantastic vocals.

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“Caught in the spotlight, The Road always ahead, I drive by moonlight, To the comfort of our bed…”

A song about the endless hours Marc spends on the road touring the North of England to play his acoustic shows and how all he ever looks forward to is going home to his partner, Go is a mesmerising track full of the warmth of the affection that he has for Tammy. The music starts quite laid back, tender and mellow, the bass really coming to the fore and Marc, once again, delivers an impassioned vocal performance full of subtle highs and lows. In duet with the exquisitely fragile piano, you can almost imagine him driving back to Cumbria in the early hours of the morning. The understated guitar solo and poignancy of the piano that close the track are utterly delightful.

“Talking to myself never felt so real before, ‘Cos everything I say you seem to ignore…”

A song about relationships and the difficulty of communicating, Am I Getting Through has a nervous energy to it from the off. Marc’s voice has an urgency and seriousness to it that is matched by the tempo of the music and the guitar riff. When I listen to this song I can envision him sat on his stool singing to the audience at one of his shows, it has that immediacy to it. There is a pressing pace to the song, an imperative insistence and, ultimately, it turns a negative into a positive and changes fractious feelings into hope for the future, a message we could all do with following, whether it was meant to be subliminal or not.

“When each new day greets me, Your the first soul I see, Lying there next to me, In harmony…”

Make no bones about this song, it is a love song from Marc to Tammy and you almost feel churlish for invading into their personal space. A pared back folk-infused piece of music, beauty lies deep in the heart of this captivating track, the graceful guitar and hushed tones of the vocals give it an ethereal grace and you are held transfixed by its sheer grace.

“Lay your head on me, Hold my hand in unity, Rest in me and I’ll rest in you, One love between the two, So lay your head on me…”

Another song written from his heart for the love of his life, Marc really gets my heartstrings going and a tear in my eye with the sheer emotive finesse, charm and power of Lay Your Head On Me. It brings back all the wonderful memories of the times we spend together in a relationship. Love is a powerful emotion when put into music and here it takes your heart and lifts it up, soaring to the heavens on  a wave of tender music and the utterly beguiling vocals of Marc Atkinson. The graceful guitar solo is delightfully mesmerising and you are left in a place of utter peace and calm and one from which you never want to leave.

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“All that I dreamed of came true, The first time I ever saw you…”

Plucking at those heartstrings again, Eternally bewitches and charms with its heavenly charm and its sublime grace. The guitar and vocals combine to give the song a humble and yet exquisite feel and one which guides though any rough waters to a sheltered bay of calm serenity. There is a well of love, affection and devotion deep inside this talented musician and Marc lets it flood out on these last three tracks leaving you in doubt of where his inspiration comes from.

“Don’t be looking back on yesterdays, They’ve been and gone their separate ways, Keep looking forward with that gaze, It’s gonna be alright, it’s gonna be alright…”

There’s a line in This Is The Future that goes ‘Hear the melody of life, Take it hold it deep inside..’ and that, to me, is what music is all about, it is the melody of life and no more so  than in this collection of songs. Another great upbeat song that tells us not to look back but to keep staring forward, we can’t unmake what has gone before but we can decide our own destiny. The uplifting music and Marc’s optimistic and encouraging vocals enforce that mantra and you find yourself agreeing with him wholeheartedly. A song of hope and promise that in a year of disappointments for me, really matches my mood now I, myself, have found that person whose arms I can run into.

“When I need somewhere to go, There’s a little place I know, And best of all it’s homegrown…”

This endearing album closes with the fiercely dignified title track Home Grown. This speaks of Marc’s home studio, a ‘Little box in which we could create sounds to break the silence.” It’s almost a short biopic of the making of the album and is delivered to us in a wonderfully cultured fashion with the acoustic guitar and piano providing the soundtrack over which Marc’s distinctive and refined vocal provides the narrative. There’s no rush to the telling of this musical tale, let the world fly past while the music that can last a lifetime is crafted with loving care, forever to stand testament to the heart and soul of this wonderful musician.

To me, this is what makes writing about music worth every single minute I take. I have been involved in this long musical journey in some small way from start to finish and when you hear the finished article, it is almost like welcoming a newborn into the world. Marc Atkinson will have agonised about every single word and note on this album and to my ears it has been worth every single second he has taken. This is music that takes over your mind and soul and which you can relate to on a very personal level. Fifteen songs that are extremely personal to this gracious man and we should be glad that he has released them for us to enjoy. A great album and one that I have no doubt is the complete pinnacle of Marc’s solo career to date, I am extremely proud to be able call him a friend.

Released 21st November 2016

Buy ‘Homegrown’ direct from Marc here

 

Leo Trimming Interviews Adrian Jones of Nine Stones Close for Progradar

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Leo:  Hi Adrian – it’s been a few months since the release of ‘Leaves’ on Bad Elephant Music.

What has been the reaction so far in terms of critical reaction and interest from fans?

Adrian: It’s been interesting. Critically we have received mostly positive reviews across the board, there seems to be an appreciation of what we are doing musically, as in not standing still. It would have been easy to have followed up ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ with a similar sounding and style of album, but that’s not very interesting, is it?

I don’t write to formula, or sit down to write something in a specific style, I just write what comes naturally to me at the time and ‘Leaves’ is a statement of where my mind was when the songs were written. I know for sure we have lost some fans with this album, and a few have openly said in public and to myself that they really don’t like the change of singer, but that was out of my hands. Obviously those line-up changes have driven some of that – Aio (Adrian O’Shaughnessy) is a very different singer to Marc (Atkinson) and he brings something new to the sound. His range is fantastic, as you can hear on the album. On the flip side I also had messages from people saying that they really love the new singer and album. Overall, I think we lost some fans but maybe gained a few new ones along the way. For me writing and recording is about progression, development of yourself as a writer and artist, exploring new territories. I do think ‘Leaves’ is a natural progression of Nine Stones Close.

Leo:  What is the origin of the band name?

Adrian: It’s named after an ancient stone circle in Derbyshire, England near where I grew up. I visited the place earlier this year with my brother and my son, a kind of pilgrimage. It took us bloody hours to locate it. Google maps is no help at all ! We found it in the middle of a farmers’ field on Harthill moor. It’s a beautiful spot, very peaceful.

Leo:  Can you describe the creative song writing process for you and the band?

For instance, do the music or the lyrics come first?

Adrian: I generally start just noodling around on whatever guitar I happen to pick up and then see what flows musically. I never really learned to play anyone else’s songs, only the odd riff, phrase etc, so I start just messing around rather than playing anything specific. Usually an idea flows fairly quickly. I never had any guitar or music lessons so I don’t really follow any musical rules, which probably helps me be more creative. Sometimes it can be a guitar effect that triggers and idea, or a drum loop or beat. I also bought a GR55 guitar synth unit a couple of years ago for the ‘Jet Black Sea’ project and that helps me create ideas in new ways too. Once I have the idea I can run with it and usually write the whole thing on the fly very quickly, afterwards properly shaping it can take some time. I like to layer guitars with harmonic chords and lines, sometimes quite a lot of them, much to the annoyance of our producer (laughs). The track ‘Spoils’ had about 95 tracks, I think, when we came to mix it. I pretty much always write the lyrics at the end – it’s the hardest part for me. I tend to make notes, write down the odd line that comes into my head and then start to expand on the idea. The music inspires the lyric in a way as well.

Recently I have been working more with Christiaan (Bruin) during the writing sessions and it’s been great to be able to bounce ideas back and forth interactively with someone, but more often than not I write alone.

Leo:  You can certainly hear the multi-layering on ‘Spoils’ – it sounds so intricate, intriguing and wonderful – a real ‘grower’.

What do you prefer? Writing or recording?

Adrian: Writing. Definitely. Recording is fun too, but the initial creation of the song, is where the excitement really is for me –  that creation of something from nothing. I do think I am lucky in that I seem to be able to write every time I pick up a guitar. The ideas just seem to flow. There is a joke in the band that if they are late arriving for a session in the studio I will have written at least one more song before they arrive (laughs). Actually, thinking back, the song ‘Complicated’ happened exactly like that.

I also write the additional guitar parts on the fly and I am terrible at writing things down, so I often have no idea what I played afterwards. I am trying to get better at writing that stuff down as it does become a problem when you have to relearn something to play it again live or in rehearsal. Over 2 hours of material was written for ‘Leaves’, and at one point a double album was discussed. However,  what we put out was my vision of a cohesive album. A couple of songs were even dropped very late on after I decided that they didn’t fit, and I really don’t like long albums anyway. 40 odd minutes is still a good length for an album in my opinion, so we overstretched that yet again, probably because we had 4 years making it. My hard drive is full of unused ideas and almost finished recordings which may never see the light of day due to lack of time.

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Leo:  Is there an overarching theme to the album, and why is it called ‘Leaves’?

It seems clear you like to maintain some ambiguity in your lyrical ideas but a few clues as to the background of the songs may be interesting!

Adrian: It’s not a concept album, but there is definitely a theme.  It encompasses many things about modern life – what we are doing to the world we live in and to ourselves … and Lies of all kinds.

When I started writing the lyrics I was in quite a dark place, personally, for a number of reasons. I think we live in very dark times right now, but many people are totally oblivious, blinded by the mainstream bought and sold media, and so buried in iPhones, Netflix and other materialistic stuff that the world could be ending and they wouldn’t really notice. It’s a kind of enforced escapism, I guess.

In the end I decided to call the album ‘Leaves’ after the lyric I wrote for the title track. It’s a very ambiguous word and covers many of the themes that the album deals with.

You are right, I do like ambiguity, and I purposefully write lyrics in that way, I like the listener to be able to derive their own meaning from the songs. I remember in a review of the previous album someone mentioned that the song ‘The Distance’ was about the complete breakdown of a relationship … well, it is and isn’t, but you can certainly read it that way.

Leo:   I’ve been listening to this fascinating album again repeatedly recently and cannot help feeling how ‘dark’ much of it feels in tone, lyrical content and atmosphere.

Are the songs largely based on personal reflections of your personal experiences or feelings, or are they more detached manifestations of your imagination?

Adrian: A bit of both, I think. It’s definitely dark. As I mentioned, I was in a pretty dark place when writing much of this album. I am really happy with the overall atmosphere that we created musically. I think it has a very definite “feel”. Some of the lyrics were easier to write than others. ‘Complicated’, for instance, was very easy to write lyrically, it just flowed. It’s theme is the Lie we present to the outside world, and reflect back onto ourselves. If all of our thoughts were visible and openly accessible to everyone else, would we be able to cope with that?

Other songs, like ‘Spoils’, went through several lyric re-writes to try to avoid being too obvious, to create a mood without saying “This song is about blah blah blah”. See, I am not going to tell you what it is about even now (laughs).

Tone wise, the album is definitely heavier, more heavy guitar driven, than previous albums. That just happens to be how it turned out. There were some songs that we didn’t use which were too close to the feel we had on the ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ album, and didn’t really fit where I wanted to go with ‘Leaves’.

Leo:  You really don’t want to give too much away about the lyrics, do you?!

Probably just as well – the listener can interpret and feel it in their own personal way – much more intriguing and engaging.

On this new album you ambiguously described epic song ‘Goldfish’ as:  about a new world sociopath and others might think it is about …. something else …’.

Any further clues as to what that actually may mean?!!

Adrian: No!!  One reviewer described it as being about “media brainwashing”, one said it was about the “short attention span of the internet generation”, another said it was about something completely different. Looks like my ambiguous lyric is working!

It was actually written from the perspective of a “new world sociopath” (whatever that is, I just made it up), but it does also have a deeper meaning.

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Leo: Antonio Seijas has done some wonderful artwork for Marillion and Gazpacho. How did you connect with him and why did you choose Antonio for the album artwork?

How does he come up with his artistic ideas in relation to your music – do you give him visual ideas upon which to work?

Adrian: I love working with Antonio, he did an amazing job for ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ and the ‘Jet Black Sea’ project album. Antonio creates the art work based on the music and the lyrics and puts that into the concept. What he came up with for ‘Leaves’ is a perfect fit for the music and words –  it’s stunning. I connected with him initially via Frans Keylard, a good friend, when I was looking for artwork for ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’, obviously I was already aware of his artwork for other bands. I think he has a really unique style and he’s a lovely person too.

Leo:  That’s interesting, because it was through Frans Keylard that I first heard your music. He played your album ‘Traces’ on his old podcast ‘Rogues Gallery’ on the Dividing Line Broadcasting Network about 6 years ago, and I was immediately VERY interested in Nine Stones Close. ‘Traces’ is another wonderful album. I miss those podcasts from Frans, and he ALWAYS played at least one Marillion song on every show!

To bring things up to date, there have been some significant personnel changes in Nine Stones Close for this album. I expect fans will be particularly interested to know why former vocalist Marc Atkinson (of Riversea) is no longer involved, and why Brendan Eyre (also Riversea) is no longer on keyboards?

Adrian: Marc decided to leave the band after ‘One Eye On the Sunrise’ for his own personal reasons, there was nothing I could say to change his mind. Everything else is about commitments, timing, etc etc. Everything got a little twisted after ‘One Eye….’ I wanted to push on, get another album out within a year or so and I also started to line up potential live dates. That really didn’t fit with everyone else’s perspective and possible commitment, and it led to a fracture in the whole Nine Stones Close journey. I guess I can be blamed for being over ambitious and I also made a few mistakes there. Everyone else involved has other bands or projects as well, and families, jobs, etc etc, so it is difficult to align commitments to getting an album made, never mind a tour. I sincerely hope to create some new music with Brendan Eyre in the near future, time allowing, as I think we have a great mutual musical understanding. He has been working on some great stuff too with Tony Patterson, and there is another Riversea album in the pipeline. Everyone who worked on ‘Leaves’ will be involved in the next album.

Leo: Thanks for your openness. It really can’t be easy trying to pull these things together whilst everyone involved has other projects and ‘real lives’ in which to make a living and survive. I agree with you about Brendan Eyre’s work with Tony Patterson – their album ‘Northlands’ is genuinely outstanding. I am also greatly looking forward to the new Riversea album.

It’s good news that you’re working with the same line up that played on ‘Leaves’ for the new album as I’m fascinated where the Nine Stones Close journey will go next with such a talented band.

How did you find new band members and why did you choose them in particular?

Adrian: As I mentioned, it was a difficult time after ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ came out. I was on a bit of a high  – I thought we had created a really great album and we had a chance to really take it to the next level, but it simply didn’t work out. Almost immediately after the release Marc left the band and I spent a long time looking for another singer, and that massively delayed the new album. We tried a couple of people, but it didn’t work. I wanted someone with a different voice, who could bring something unique and new to the band, to me there was no point playing safe and finding someone with a similar style to Marc. Aio came on board after being recommended to me and flying in for a session. We connected straight away and his voice brings a new edge to the sound and I think really fits the new songs perfectly. We recorded the vocal for ‘Complicated’ in the very first working session together. Christiaan I met through Pieter (van Hoorn), we had a rehearsal session in Arnhem and hit it off instantly. He is great to have around and is always full of enthusiasm and great ideas for music. Peter Groen came on board later when we were nearer the final recording stages of the album – he is also great to have around in the band.

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Leo: The excellent new album ‘Leaves’ seems to be a very clear change in tone / direction after ‘One Eye…’.

Was that related to the personnel changes and the different sounds / styles they bring to the band, or was that a clear change from your perspective as band leader?

Adrian: Great to hear you are enjoying the album. I never stand still musically. The three previous albums are all very different from each other too. Aio is an element of that new sound but the material was written before he came on board so the change in sound was already progressing. I am always moving forward, musically, and can guarantee the next album will be different again. Of course, the new singer brings a change to the band’s sound, as does any change of singer. It’s so up front and obvious, of course. Christiaan and Peter both bring their own sounds and approach to the music, and that too changes the overall sound of the band.

Leo:    Are there any plans / aspirations for playing as a live band, either on tour or at Prog festival events like ‘Summers End’?

Adrian: We would love to, hopefully someone will invite us to play!

The problem is the logistics of where everyone lives, available time, family commitments, work commitments and finances. So far it’s just not worked out for a combination of all those reasons. Hopefully in the future it will work out. We are currently working on a possibility for 2017, I hope that we can make it happen this time.

Leo: I really hope Nine Stone Close can make it to the live stage at some point.

Many artists ‘self release’ these days. How did your working relationship with David Elliott of Bad Elephant Music develop, leading to the release this  album?

Adrian: I started out with self-release myself with the ‘Lie Big’ album then ‘St Lo’ and ‘Traces’. We are still best friends with the local post office staff in Leiden! I had known David informally for a while though The Dividing Line Network. I also met with Matt Stevens a few times for a beer and he was always telling me how Bad Elephant were doing a great job for his band, The Fierce and The Dead. The real introduction though was via my mate Brendan Eyre who linked me up with David and Martin (Hutchinson) for a discussion about finding a home for the release of ‘Leaves’. Fortunately, after hearing the album, they were still interested (laughs). It’s been great to work with such an open, realistic, and enthusiastic label, long may it continue.

Leo:   They are certainly an eclectic and supportive label who seem to genuinely have the interests of the artists and the music at the heart of what they are doing.

Whom is your favourite / most influential guitarist/ musician, and what are the main artists that you feel have influenced you as a musician and song writer?

Adrian: It’s almost impossible to choose just one. I listen to a LOT of music. I think Jimmy Page has to be up there. Not just as a guitarist, but as a producer, writer, performer, guitar orchestrator, he was a complete package. Those Zeppelin albums still stand up today. Obviously, as a guitarist, I have been influenced by many other great players : David Gilmour, Steve Rothery, Andy Latimer from the progressive world, but equally Jerry Cantrell was a huge influence. Then there are Kim Thayil, Ty Tabor, Alex Lifeson, Tony Iommi, Trevor Rabin, Zappa, Adrian Belew; way too many to mention. In terms of artists, Talk Talk were a phenomenal band in terms of their progression and output, Pink Floyd, obviously, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, King’s X, Kate Bush, …. I could go on for ages.

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Leo: On ‘Leaves’ you skillfully used violinist, Annelise Rijk, and cello player, Ruben van Kruistrum on the great song ‘Lie’.

Are there any other particular artists with whom you would like to collaborate in future, possibly on your next album?

Adrian: Yes, they did a fantastic job on ‘Lie’. Christiaan also has to take the credit for the string arrangement on that part of the song. Katy Bell provided beautiful cello on the last album too, and Matt Stevens provided some crazy guitar work.

I think there are always other artists I would like to work and collaborate with. I am always open to offers to play on other artists’ material too. I love to do that – it’s a nice challenge which is very different to writing and performing on my own material. I recently provided some slide and lead guitar for the track “Kindest Eyes” on Tony Patterson’s latest album. That was a pleasure to do and it turned out great, I think. Hopefully there will be more  collaborations in the future. Anyone interested should feel free to contact me!

Leo:   Progressive or ‘Prog’ music fans can be remarkably conservative at times, which does sound contradictory to the concept of progression.

How would you describe Nine Stones Close as a band, and what is your view on how some fans may find it difficult dealing with changes in your band’s style and personnel over time?

Adrian: I have phrase I came up with recently, “progression has collateral damage, prog doesn’t”.

I do agree with you that some ‘Prog’ fans can be very conservative these days. For me ‘Prog’ is very different to ‘Progressive’ in meaning these days. ‘Prog’ is more of a style thing now, you know: “sounds like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson or Pink Floyd, must have widdly widdly bits, long songs and huge amounts of time changes”.

If you look at bands that have truly progressed, they have changed, lost fans, gained fans, always moved forward regardless of any fashion or commercial success. It’s fine for fans of our previous albums not to like what we are doing now. It’s perfectly natural. You see that music divides opinion like that. Some people for instance, refuse to listen to any post Peter Gabriel Genesis album, whereas I think they made their best albums after he left. Some people feel the same way with Marillion, for example. Music does polarise opinion. Personally, I want to move forward and not create the same thing over and over again just because some people might like it. There is no money to be made from doing this – it’s purely an artistic outlet, so what is there to lose? I might as well do whatever I want to do. I have no pressure to be an AC/DC type band, effectively churning out the same sounding album year after year. Where is the fun in that? If I am not enjoying making music and run out of ideas and things to say, then I will stop. Nine Stones Close music comes from my heart and soul, I pour everything into it, I hope that some of that comes across to the listener.

Leo:  A really interesting response – I particularly like the phrase “progression has collateral damage, prog doesn’t”I may nick that!

More seriously, it is very clear that you have poured your heart and soul in to the Nine Stones Close albums. They are not formulaic or repetitive, and certainly have engaged this listener.

I know you’ve only recently released ‘Leaves’ but are there any embryonic ideas to the direction of the next Nine Stones Close album, and possible timescales?

Adrian: Yes, actually, there is. I had some discussions with our producer about what I want to go for on the next album. It will be different again, especially in terms of overall sound and feel, I want to take it somewhere new again. It will be a challenge to do that, but hopefully what I have in my mind we can somehow get out onto a CD. Working with Paul van Zeeland (producer) is great, because he has such a deep understanding of sound and how to translate that into a recording and mix. I recently started writing and working on arrangement ideas with Christiaan and we have some great ideas on the go already. The plan is try to record the album somewhere in 2017, but that is all dependant the usual work, family, time commitments. It will definitely not take 4 years this time, if it does then it will never see the light of day! I can’t go through that again.

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Leo: One last silly question.

We’ve recently had the Olympics and Paralympics. If there was an Olympics for Music which 3 albums would you give Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and why?

Adrian: Oh, that’s a very difficult question for a throwaway last question (laughs). Music is always a very personal thing for the listener as well as the musician trying to convey something. I grew up in a house where there was always new music available. My father used to work as a sales rep for various record labels over the years and there were promo copies of albums and singles coming through the door pretty much on a daily basis as I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. I used to  play almost everything that came into the house and quickly learned about different styles and genres and also what spoke to me. I have a huge music collection at home, so choosing a top 3 would be impossible. If I had to choose 3 off the top of my head, like now, hmm.

Here are 3 that grew my love of music and made me the writer I am today …

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Led Zeppelin – ‘The Soundtrack From The Film The Song Remains The Same’

This is the reason I picked up a guitar. I went to see a re-showing of the movie shortly before my 16th birthday with some school friends. Despite my love of music I had never really thought about actually playing an instrument myself, and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity back in those days, we were not well off as a family. I remember just being totally blown away watching Zeppelin perform, and immediately after I got home I asked my parents for a guitar for my birthday. They scraped together some money from somewhere and managed to get me a starter classical guitar, not exactly the Les Paul I had in mind, but it was still amazing to have a guitar and it set me on my own musical journey. The version of No Quarter on this is fabulous, Jimmy’s solo is sublime. I know everyone thinks it is not a great representation of how amazing they were live, but I love it.

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Alice In Chains – ‘Dirt’

I still remember the day I bought this album. It’s left such a lasting impression on me. I was with a friend shopping for stuff in Bristol and went into one of my favourite record shops. It had just been released, and having heard the earlier stuff I was interested to see where they were going. To say it blew me away is an understatement. I remember getting home and cracking open some beers and putting it on the hifi.  About 8 hours later we were still listening on repeat and still drinking beer. The first listen was such a shock, we ended up sat in silence the whole album just taking it in. Jerry Cantrell is a massive influence for me, the way he plays, what he plays, how he writes, hugely underrated in my opinion. Layne had one of the best voices rock has ever known and his combination harmonies with Jerry were just sublime. If you listen to the album I made with my previous band Lie Big – “Severed”, you will hear how big an influence this band had on me. If you only try one track from ‘Dirt’ then listen to ‘Rain When I Die’. What an incredible and inventive song. Frankly there are no weak moments on the whole album, it’s a true classic and it still gets played regularly today.

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Talk Talk‘Spirit Of Eden’

I was always a Talk Talk fan from day one. I remember having the promo of their first single from my dad and thinking the singer was fantastic and that there was more to them than the single. In this case no one really know how much more. I can’t think off-hand of another band who progressed as far as they did over just 5 albums. The Colour Of Spring was an incredible album, but nothing prepared me for this one. I remember first hearing it and just not getting it, I was thinking “Where are the songs? What are they doing?”.

Over time it grew and grew with repeated plays until I became totally obsessed with it for a while. The production is amazing and they absolutely captured the mood of those sessions. This is easily in my top albums of all time and certainly in my most played. 28 years later and this is still regularly on the hifi. If you haven’t heard it then you definitely need to.

Leo:  I don’t know Alice in Chains or ‘Dirt’ so I’ll have to track that one down as you recommend it so highly. I remember seeing that Led Zeppelin film at the cinema and loving it – just one of THE great bands. Love your choice of ‘Spirit of Eden’ and had similar reactions to you when it came out – it’s ageless. Fascinating and varied choices – a real insight into your development and influences.

Thank you Adrian for taking the time to do this interview with Progradar – it’s been really interesting for me and I am grateful for your openness and the thought you have given your answers.

I hope your current excellent album ‘Leaves’ continues to receive the attention it deserves, and I wish you all the best for the next project.

‘Leaves’ was released on 13th may 2016 and can be bought from the Bad Elephant Music bandcamp site:

Nine Stones Close – Leaves

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(Leo Trimming)

Review – Lee Abraham – The Seasons Turn – By Leo Trimming

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The Seasons Turn, the latest impressive album by Lee Abraham, has the theme of the passing of time interweaved through the songs.

“There’s never such certainty in life, but that’s the game

Just watch the Seasons Turn, never with a sense of shame

Watch the Seasons Turn as another year goes by

Feel the winter chill as we long for summer’s high..”

These lines from the conclusion of the opening 24 minute epic title track led me to thinking about my own personal journey over the last few years following Lee Abraham’s music. It does not seem that long ago when I distinctly recall first hearing Lee’s music on the now sadly defunct ‘Rogues Gallery’ Podcast with Frans Keylard on The Dividing Line Broadcast Network in about 2009. Frans played the whole of the new album at that time ‘Black and White’ by the recently departed bass player with Galahad, a band I had heard of but had not yet explored.

I was absolutely blown away by the excellence of that album, particularly the closing suite of songs – Black (with ex-Big Big Train vocalist Sean Filkins on vocals) and White (with Steve Thorne on vocals.) I still think that music is some of the finest to come out of the resurgence of Progressive rock music since the turn of the new century, with the sparkling and emotional song White simply being one of my most favourite Prog rock tracks ever. It was remarkable to me that I had never heard of this artist and yet here he was releasing a stunningly good album.

‘Black and White’ received very positive reactions and certainly raised Lee Abraham’s profile above the level attained by his previous album ‘View from the Bridge’. I went back to that album and whilst it showed a lot of promise it had to be acknowledged that ‘Black and White’ was a considerable step up and put Abraham on a whole different level. He also involved a variety of renowned Prog musicians, including Jem Godfrey (Frost*), Gary Chandler (Jadis), Simon Godfrey (ex-Tinyfish, Shineback, Valdez) and John Mitchell (It Bites, Frost*, Arena, Lonely Robot… etc, etc!),

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‘Black and White’ really touched me deeply. I remember having one of those ‘perfect moments’ with this album we sometimes get in life associated with a piece of music. It was later in 2010 and I had just spent a fantastic weekend with a group of great friends, whom all shared an interest in music. We had travelled to Liverpool to visit The Beatles sites around the city and have a few drinks at The Cavern Club… and elsewhere! We shared in great camaraderie and then all went our separate ways.

I was on the train home to Devon and was listening to the track White as the train travelled along right next to the sea between Exeter and Teignmouth. The sun was going down, shimmering beautifully on the sea and as I looked out of the train window I had a feeling of reverie. I felt such a sense of peace and contentment that I was returning home after a great time with my friends, back to my lovely family in the beauty of a place like Devon. I felt so fortunate. The beautiful closing words sung so delicately by Steve Thorne really stirred great emotion in me:

“My Memory has returned, I’m seeing Clear again,

I’ve got to go back to the start, I’m going to end it now and take control again

Black is dying out, it feels so good again, So now I close my eyes, to all the hate and lies

A World now open wide, where once a dream had died, No more in Black and White…”

I guess ‘you just had to be there’ as it’s hard to explain that personal moment, but that’s what Lee Abraham’s music meant to me at that specific ‘perfect moment’, and it’s a much cherished memory which comes back to me every time I hear that brilliant song.

I was fortunate enough to see the Lee Abraham Band, including Sean Filkins on vocals, perform most of that album at the one-off ‘Winter’s End Festival’ in Stroud in 2010 – he was one of the main reasons I attended that event.  This may well be the only ever live performance of Lee’s solo progressive rock material so far, and Lee and his band certainly put on an accomplished show.

Sadly, the economics of such shows and fitting such activities in to ‘real life’ make such performances difficult to arrange and sustain. It is to be hoped that as Lee Abraham’s profile continues to rise with the continuing quality of his albums this may make it easier to countenance a return to the stage for the Lee Abraham Band in future, which Lee recently hinted at in a recent interview may be a possibility.

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Lee Abraham next came to my notice on ‘War and Peace and other Short stories’, the 2011 album by Sean Filkins. Yet again this was a real surprise to me as I had yet to really delve in to the world of Big Big Train at that point so Sean was not known to me. Once again Frans Keylard’s Rogue’s Gallery podcast can be thanked for introducing that previously unknown album and artist to me. (Prior to ‘Progzilla Radio’ these days, finding new Prog was reliant on such podcasts, including The Amazing Wilf’s ‘The European Perspective’ by ‘Prog Guru’, David Elliott).

Sean Filkins’ debut release was an utterly outstanding album of consummate musical skill and epic Progresssive rock song writing, which Lee Abraham produced excellently and contributed to musically. This again is another very special album for me personally, and it’s sonic brilliance owes much to Lee’s skills as a producer in the studio. It is to be hoped that Sean will one day feel able to follow up that modern Prog masterpiece, maybe with Lee’s help again? Who knows what will happen as the seasons turn and time passes?

Despite the positive reactions to ‘Black and White’ it would be another 5 years until Lee Abraham released his own follow up album ‘Distant Days’ in 2014. A lot can happen in 5 years and this was an angrier album, partly borne out of the turmoil of the economic problems in the intervening years. It was also an album in which the passing of time featured as a theme in the songs, particularly the epic closing song ‘Tomorrow will be Yesterday’ with Steve Thorne on great vocals yet again:

“The rest of time is on our side, I hope deep down you know,

Let’s make tomorrow yesterday, and never let it go….”

Life for me had also changed, including the loss of a parent and all that entails emotionally as one adapts to loss and a growing realisation that time stands still for no-one. Excellent though it is as an album, ‘Distant Days’ did not have quite the same impact for me as ‘Black and White’.

Sometimes such preferences are simply down to where we are personally and emotionally when we hear an album, and how attuned we may be to the message or feel the artist is trying to convey. However, it is interesting to note that Lee Abraham in an interview recently rated ‘Black and White’ alongside his new album as his favourites, which may indicate that he recognizes there was something special about that particular album.

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The title track on Lee Abraham‘s new release, The Seasons Turn, continues in the vein of the epic grandeur of Black and White , opening with a  delicate piano motif from Rob Arnold leading to rising keyboards and then the rest of the band powerfully joining in like some sort of Prog overture before returning to the piano. The mellotron like keyboards drench the piece in atmosphere again before the band launch in to the heart of the song, driven along by Gerald Mulligan’s skilful drumming. Mulligan has been a stalwart band member with Lee Abraham for years, alongside the other talented core band members Christopher Harrison (guitars), Alistair Begg (Bass) and the aforementioned Rob Arnold, assembled for the previous album ‘Distant Days’.

They drive this epic song along with a balance of power and beautiful melody, but the master stroke by Lee Abraham for this epic piece was in asking Marc Atkinson (Riversea / ex-Nine Stones Close) to put his fantastic voice on this piece. Atkinson has probably one of the finest and most engaging voices in recent Progressive rock, as evidenced on the debut Riversea album ‘Out of an Ancient World’  (2012) and the two Nine Stones Close albuma upon which he sang, especially the classic ‘Traces’ (2010). His voice perfectly evokes the contrasting senses of wistful elegy and heroic defiance. Martin Orford (ex-IQ & Jadis), a mentor figure for Lee Abraham from his early days, comes out of his musical retirement briefly to add  a lovely but all too short flute interlude in the middle section.

This is a piece marked by soaring and stirring stellar guitar solos (presumably by Simon Nixon and Christopher Harrison), particularly in the closing section. This is quite an opening piece, which Lee stated did not start out as an epic piece but evolved over time. Lee Abraham has admitted that lyric writing is ‘the hardest bit’ and it perhaps shows in this lengthy piece, which may have needed rather more substance lyrically in my view. Nevertheless, that quibble is easy to forgive as you are seduced by the excellent, stirring music and overall epic sweep of this piece.

In contrast to the opening track, Live for Today is a much more straightforward rock number, featuring Dec Burke on powerful vocals and distinctive guitar work, and continues the theme of time passing and living for the moment. Marc Atkinson returns on vocals for the hauntingly beautiful Harbour Lights, which once again is perfect for his marvellous voice. Rob Arnold shines on piano again in this evocative piece. Lee Abraham lives by the sea on the South coast of England, and is perhaps inspired by the ocean in this shimmering piece, filled with hope:

“The Night is growing weaker, I see the Sun ahead

The Harbour Lights are dying, they’ve shown the Road ahead for me..”

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The shortest and lightest song on the album, Say Your Name Aloud, surprisingly finds Mark Colton of Prog Rock band Credo very engagingly singing what can only be described as a pop song, showing his versatility as a vocalist. It’s a nice contrast to the more portentous songs on the album.

The eerie, Floydian sound effects in the opening of the album closer The Unknown returns us to epic prog rock territory with Simon Godfrey singing with great feeling. This is a much darker piece with echoes of Porcupine Tree in places. David Vear adds in a surprising saxophone later in the song, which helps give this song a different atmosphere, but once again, it is Lee Abraham and Christopher Harrison’s guitars that take centre stage. A rather curious and seemingly almost endless 3 minute fade out tone closes the album. Perhaps it symbolizes the imagery in the closing lyrics of journeying endlessly into the Unknown :

“The Road to Freedom is all that keeps us Sane, The Miles go on and all we need is a Home

Will this never end the Path to the Unknown..”

I am not entirely sure what the song means, but having recently experienced great personal loss as a listener I draw some comfort from these words and this music. The beautiful artwork on this album by Paul Tippett shows a landscape experiencing all four seasons in one scene. Over the last few years I have also experienced the bloom of summer in a ‘perfect moment’, the autumnal decline of loved ones and the cold death of winter. For me it feels like it’s time for Spring again as reflected in Lee Abraham’s words:

“The Promise of Hope, the Promise of Freedom will be shown…”

Music is subjective and is filtered through all our own feelings and circumstances. Do I like this as much as ‘Black and White’ ? – probably not, but that may have more to do with my internal feelings rather than musical quality. ‘The Seasons Turn’ is undoubtedly another very fine album for Lee Abraham. We all read what we will into music, but it takes evocative and beautifully played music upon which to cast our thoughts and feelings. Lee’s music has provided some meaningful moments for me in recent years, and this excellent album continues that journey. Thanks.

Released 25th April 2016

Buy ‘The Seasons Turn’ from Lee’s Online Store

Review – Nine Stones Close – Leaves – by Leo Trimming

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The band Nine Stones Close is named after the remains of an ancient stone circle (see the featured image) situated in the Peak District of Northern England near where Adrian Jones grew up as a child. The origins of the monument’s name and their history are shrouded in mystery. Aptly, Adrian Jones is also the rock upon which Nine Stones Close has been built since 2008, starting as a solo studio project with St.Lo and later developing into a band with the excellent albums ‘Traces’ (2010) and ‘One Eye on the Sunrise’ (2012). ‘Leaves’ is their latest album and demonstrates Jones’ ongoing commitment to excellence and progression in his music, alongside significant changes in the band line-up. It is also true to say that like the stone circle Jones also likes to retain some mystery, leaving his music and lyrics open to interpretation by the listener.

Leaves as images or as metaphors are well used devices in poetry and music, possibly symbolizing beauty and growth but also death, change and rebirth – richly coloured Autumnal leaves beautifully carpeting forest floors, giving way to new shoots and leaves in Spring. Perhaps such imagery could be applied to Nine Stones Close as they release their new album this spring. They blossomed previously to great effect on ‘Traces’ and ‘One Eye on the Sunrise’, particularly helped by the remarkable keyboard skills of Brendan Eyre and captivating vocals of Marc Atkinson (both of Riversea, whom have their own album out later this year). Eyre and Atkinson have now left the band amicably to concentrate on their own projects to be replaced by keyboardist Christian Bruin (of Sky Architect) and Adrian ‘Aio’ O’Shaughnessy on vocals.

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Previous fans of Nine Stones Close may need some time to adjust to the new direction of the band. Jones is clear that he never stands still musically. He has stated : ‘The three previous albums are all very different from each other. The new singer is an element of that new sound…’. Nevertheless, it is fair to say fans of Atkinson’s voice may need to adjust to the different style of Adrian O’Shaughnessy. This reviewer did need some time to put aside his love of Atkinson’s voice and appreciate how Aio’s very different voice really suited the new music being produced by Nine Stones Close. Such an open minded approach is richly rewarded as the musical vistas and darker lyrical landscapes conjured up on this album open up fascinatingly with Aio’s versatile and powerful voice illustrating the different texture and feel of the music perfectly.

Relatively short song Complicated opens the album with a shimmering keyboard theme giving way to a sinister beat and menacing voice, rising to a throbbing, growling guitar, underpinned by Peter Groen’s dextrous bass. Those unprepared for the change in Nine Stones Close will certainly be saying ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!’ Nevertheless, dear listener, stay on board because the ride will get much stranger and darker yet, with a set of characteristically extended songs in which Adrian Jones and band takes you on a psychedelic journey, starting with the very peculiar but enthralling Goldfish. Jones ambiguously describes Goldfish as: hopefully some might think it is about a new world sociopath and others might think it is about …. something else …’. Bruin’s keys float us into this strange odyssey  and we hear a much more subtle side of Aio’s vocals as he intones ‘Conscience has died’. Interestingly, Jones bravely holds the musical tension with restraint. Aio plaintively sings ‘Welcome to my Life’ before Jones’ guitar soars to a crescendo before the piece recedes into a bleak, desolate drone. What’s it about? I have some sort of sense of it, but I honestly don’t really know – but it’s intriguing stuff, and I don’t really care that I don’t fully understand it – that’s half the fascination!

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Adrian Jones has said of Lie, the next song on the album, ‘that’s a bit of a beast and my personal favourite’, which is understandable as it is an outstanding piece, opening with swaggering instrumental menace. Aio’s versatile vocal swings between sinister but quiet, over a section of chopped chunky riffs reminiscent of Porcupine Tree, to powerful full throated rock howling. Then from left field Adrian Jones throws in a dissonant guitar section, presumably indicating the dislocating and undermining effect of mendacity (Lies), which is one of the underlying themes of the album. The momentum increases as guitars spiral around the central crunching drums and bass, with Bruin interweaving subtle keyboards. This fascinating and unpredictable song develops further as violinist, Annelise Rijk, and cello player, Ruben van Kruistrum, in multiple parts build and build the intensity with Adrian Jones guitars stratospherically swooping around the central theme. For fans who liked the remarkable  and epic Frozen Moment on the previous album ‘One Eye on the Sunrise’  will find this familiar but more sinister territory, musically. This was the song which reassured this reviewer that, whilst Nine Stones Close have changed, they have not lost that quality to create rich musical landscapes suffused with a sense of the dramatic and psychedelic.

To underline that point Spoils opens with subtle understated menace with Aio practically purring the vocals before the song erupts and then settles in to ‘Kashmir’ like progression as Aio roars in Robert Plant-esque power, although this band are no Zeppelin copyists! Once again, Nine Stones Close take an unexpected turn as this piece drifts away in to a dream like interlude as Aio sings ‘I’m living a Dream’ with acoustic guitar and then subtle electric guitar playing over an atmospheric and eerie keyboard backing. This bewildering but captivating song then erupts again before once again descending into another dream-like fugue – ‘The Dream I’m Living’ floats over the music, and then the whole band really lets loose with a volcanic finale in which Pieter Van Hoorn particularly shines with some explosive drumming. Part dream, part nightmare Spoils is a remarkable song which has grown and grown on this reviewer – repeated listens gradually unpeel the layers of this song, like all the best progressive pieces.

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Titles track Leaves concludes the album and, once again, Nine Stones Close take a left turn. Having adjusted to the more powerful direction of much of this album the listener is then confronted with with a largely very restrained, subtle and eerie song which seems tailor made for Aio’s versatile voice. Van Hoorn shows that drumming is not all about pounding away as his imaginative percussive touches play around the theme and vocals. Jones conjures unnerving and weird sounds from his guitar to punctuate this unsettling landscape, before introducing some Floyd like sweeping guitar lines with Aio crying ‘Have you ever lived your life, Have you ever really lived your life?’ as the song builds in impressive intensity. However, just when you think Nine Stones are going for the possibly clichéd barnstorming finale they fade into a wistful ending with Bruin’s piano beautifully and elegaically bringing us to the end of this journey. Whilst this is not a concept album Adrian Jones has described ‘Leaves’ as  having a theme  of ‘what we are doing to the world we live in and to ourselves’. That definitely comes over in the final track of this very fine album.

Progressive music fans can be remarkably conservative at times, which does sound contradictory to the concept of progression. Bruce Soord of The Pineapple Thief once said words to the effect that he expects to lose old fans with every album because some find it difficult accepting that he is progressing in his music, but that with every new album he gains new fans who appreciate his new direction. That is inevitable for any band like Nine Stones Close who do not stick to their old formula and want to progress. My advice is stick with these guys because you are never quite sure in which direction their songs or this albums may turn, but it sure is an imaginative and fascinating ride!

Released 13th May 2016.

Buy ‘Leaves’ from bandcamp