Time flies, this time last week I was home after a very pleasant trip to the launch party for Encircled’s new album ‘The Universal Mirth’, down in the deepest merging of the potteries’ ‘Five Towns’ so named by author Arnold Bennett (though it was actually six), in Stoke On Trent.
I had the great pleasure of reviewing their last outing, ‘The Monkey Jamboree’ and, if you have not heard it, treat yourself. May I recommend it is best listened to with the lights dimmed and a tipple of your choice in a cosy environment after a hard day at work.
A short balmy stroll from my less than salubrious lodgings and I found myself in front of a small shop (converted into a community project area) by the name of Pilgrims Pit. It hardly seemed big enough to swing a cat in but still managed to fit a plentifully stocked little bar in the corner, with welcome cool drinks.
Warmly met by bassist/keyboards (twiddly bits, errors and virtual drums) Scott Evans, I was introduced to the other band members; the genial Mark ‘Busby’ Burrows on vocals and favourite Fender plus acoustic and the ever cool Gareth ‘Gaz’ Evans playing a delicious custom guitar (I’m told he never smiles, but they lie). I was informed the place could actually take up to fifty people and though the band’s gear took up a fair area, around thirty to forty turned out for the night and it was good to meet some fellow passengers and some new faces.
Whilst the talent that is Peter Jones was unable to be there for his guest slots on some tracks, it was a lovely surprise to find they had support from the delightful Kym Hart who, whilst a very accomplished musician in her own right, had graciously given vocal assistance on the band’s new CD.
We were treated to a number of tracks from Kym’s two albums, the latest ‘A Way To Be’ (available at kymhart.bandcamp.com) and ‘Time in Mind’.
Kym also treated us to a track from the new album she is working on and cleverly slipped in a little Marillion passage from Lavender, to favourable response from the appreciative audience. I was surprised, whilst chatting to her, to find she has been doing this for over twenty years but, as so often is the case, she has never received the justified acclaim. Check her out, Kym deserves a wider audience.
Encircled then took the stage, or floor space at any rate. It’s amazing the amount of noise a small group of people can generate when encouraged by such a welcoming group of lads playing infectious music. The warmth for the band was palpable and every track on the set-list was greeted with expectant enthusiasm from the gathering before them, Busby observantly pointing out that, at one point, they were literally ‘encircled’ by the crowd.
Playing a set list made up from TMJ and TUM, they soon had everyone clapping and joining in, the music floating round the room, out of the open the door and down the street, serenading the revellers passing by, some glancing in curiosity or pausing for a while on the pavement outside to bask in the ambience. Inviting Kym up to swell the vocals on given tracks only enhanced the soothing sounds caressing our ears.
A great evening was had by all and it was a real privilege to finally meet the gentlemen behind these albums, you couldn’t meet a nicer bunch of lads who proved they can play it ‘live’. We need to see them in larger venues, come on promoters, don’t miss the opportunity.
A quick shout out to the lads who run the place and staunchly manned the bar for the evening with best wishes and success for future projects. Also a big thank you to Scott’s daughter Freya (the talent behind the cover design for TMJ) as she kindly manned the merch desk all evening.
And so to the new album ‘The Universal Mirth’.
If you read my review of TMJ, you will know how much I enjoyed it, a fine album that regularly takes a spin in our house and in the car:
For me TUM has a more assured footing and lifts the band to a higher podium.Exploring and expounding on the problems in modern society with technology, self image and perception, with the pressures modern living brings, temptations, dangers and the strains on individuals and relationships.
The first three tracks are loosely linked as are the last three, with two more ‘sandwiched’ between, bringing the total to eight meaty tracks which make up this aural feast.
From the hook laden chimes of the first bars, Log In: The Mystical Way whirls through your head warning the miracle is being taken away, demystifying the magic of life. The laid back keyboards and throbbing bass deceiving you, lulling you into a false sense of security whilst access to even your most personal secrets are slowly exposed.
Leading to The Obsession, with a heavier guitar intro, garnered from accessible systems and information available to anyone able to open and retrieve the details. Watched unknowingly, your every move scrutinised and followed, untraceable as the keyboards weep for your loss. Your weaknesses feeding the hidden admiration of those who see your fragilities caused by insecurities and the need to be loved and wanted. The desire to be more beautiful, the pressures of fame, leaving you vulnerable to prying eyes. You no longer have secrets, the information used to mould, persuade and control who you are and what you do.
But what if Past Times are revealed, what do they unearth, what does it mean for your future? The acoustic guitar intro leads Mark to question if there is a sense of wonder left. Uncertainty, unsure of who to trust, darkest secrets revealed. Are you who you seem and will your past ever let you be who you would like to be, seeking to find someone who will accept you for who you are?
Can you hold down a relationship, what foundations are they built on? Does true love exist in today’s society, increasingly uneasy in the shallow pool of values, to form a bond between couples. If you can’t, you’ll find yourself saying This Is Goodbye. Empty promises, failure to live up to expectations as Gaz’s guitar riffs wave farewell, the laid back delivery wrong-footing you once more.
And once it’s over and gone, dare you trust again? Can you learn to love, have feelings, show your own? Or scarred by the experiences keep your emotions hidden, Smiling On The Inside, afraid to expose yourself for fear of rejection and disappointment. The prospect of being left alone as the keys drop notes like whispers behind your back. Can you face it and be strong enough to take on a relationship once more as the guitars gently mock you in the background?
The adulation craved, the need to be loved and wanted, enveloped in a Marillion and Genesis homage of guitars and keyboards on 22 Likes with the band’s influences rising to the surface. The restriction of being in the public eye, creation of a persona and the inability to be yourself around others.
This segues into track seven on a wave of Bill Nelson type guitar, drifting into a Floydian style passage as Kym’s extensive vocal range soars over the instruments to create a Fantastic Souvenir of breathtaking music.
A flute introduces the band finale as they reach to Log Out: The Universal Mirth, breaking away from it all, finding the strength to step out, moulding the lyrical and musical style of Fish era Marillion into their own sound, to tremendous effect. Peter Jones‘ guest keyboard solos burst like the petals of summer flowers opening to embrace the mood and flourish over Mark mourning they took the miracle away.
They haven’t, it’s just been recorded and presented in a digi-pak of sublime, melancholic wonder for us all to purchase, listen and revel in. Encircled have done it again, getting under my skin and sinking in to create a warming glow. This is another gem of an album from the band which sees them grow in musical stature and as soon as ‘The Universal Mirth’ finishes, I find myself wanting to play it again, as you may well do.
Time to cuddle on the sofa with the lights low, quality scotch in hand and press play/repeat.
Released 4th August 2018