Review – Nick Fletcher – Cycles of Behaviour – by John Wenlock-Smith

Nick Fletcher is not a well known name like Steve Hackett or Steve Morse, yet he carves out his own mark on the guitar world and has done consistently over the years, enjoying a period of solo classical guitar playing, time as a session player and, in the past decade, as part of a duo with John Hackett (Steve’s younger flute playing  brother). More recently he has been found wielding the six string in the John Hackett Band with whom he recorded the excellent ‘We Are Not Alone’ album in 2014 and, more recently, the 2018 release ‘Beyond The Stars’, all of which have led Nick to this point, the release of ‘Cycles of Behaviour’ earlier in March this year.

On this album Nick gets a palette on which he can draw his guitar tones as expressively and openly as he has long wished to do, the record giving him a perfect platform. Nick has wisely chosen friends and colleagues to help in this musical crusade and we find the likes of John Hackett contributing flute, piano and vocals along with Dave Bainbridge who contributes Hammond Organ and Mellotron. Tim Harries provides bass guitar, Russ Wilson occupies the drum stool and Caroline Bonnet adds keyboards and backing vocals.

The album consists of 8 tracks of varying lengths with everything written by Nick, apart from Interconnected and Philosopher King which were written with John Hackett. Four of the tracks are Instrumentals with the other four being vocal pieces. The album opens with the instrumental tour-de-force (and title track) Cycles of Behaviour, which is a very jazz fusionist piece complete with a superb organ underpinning from Dave Bainbridge and a steady beat from Russ Wilson.

Nick then begins to shred a la Al Di Moela, the shred is brief and very effective before the piece returns to the strong central melody. A prominent Hammond organ and guitar interplay follows, all highly effective, topped off by some more guitar flourishes before moving into a more subdued section to bring this fine track to a subdued conclusion.

Heat is Rising is the first vocal track with John Hackett’s subtle voice. This song is a love song really, using the heat as a metaphor for a burgeoning relationship and all the joy that situation brings to two people who are in the midst of it all, Nick delivers a quite lengthy and lyrical solo in which he shows some of the tools in his guitar bag with rapid playing and note flurries. This is all supported by Hammond from Dave again the song reconvenes again with a strong chorus being repeated to the close.

This is followed by the more sedate and tranquil tones of Hope In Your Eyes which opens moodily before fabulous keyboards lead us into the gentle melodies being played arpeggio style by Nick, the delicate vocal is then introduced. This song is gentle, like waves on a seashore, and there is a lot of openness in the sound, it is all very laid back and gentle and the tempo is steady and measured and it works with the song as it unfolds. An acoustic interlude with delicate flute from John leads onto a repeat of the chorus and thereafter to a guitar solo from nick that really shines. His use of melody is fabulous and, although busy, the solo is still highly memorable and very lyrical and returns the song to the chorus once again. We are led into a final verse and a further flute passage that is very gentle and Genesis sounding in parts, this brings the song to a gentle and effective finish. A beautiful song, elegantly played by all.

Tyrant and Knave is quite a hard hitting track with a crunchy rock beat to it.The song has a powerful guitar riff that propels it along and a great fiery solo where Nick unloads with both barrels before returning to a more spacious sound, although with an incendiary guitar in tow as well. It is really a full on guitar exercise with lots (and I mean lots!) of ultra-fast and impressive fretwork on display. For a short while, Nick takes his foot off the accelerator turning it into a much slower, but still expressive, section where a growling synth gives way to a far more languid and bluesy solo passage. It is all very atmospheric and ethereal sounding with strong playing making this a most enjoyable segment of the track, the piece then returns to the opening melody to close.  

Desolation Sound is another brief instrumental and one on which John Hackett gets free range to play his flute most ethereally with subtle keyboard backing and bass pedals. Nick plays guitar synth, adding extra textures to the track. Then we are on to Interconnected, another vocal track, which has a very pop type feel. The song is very upbeat and light in sound supported by some lovely guitar playing. There is a driving beat which makes it very commercial in sound, all in all a really enjoyable track.

The penultimate track is Annexation which is the final instrumental piece of the album. This piece opens with gentle flute and acoustic classical guitar before Nick takes things electric and plays a strong riff enhanced with excellent keyboards and drums. Nick then delivers a solo that with a lot of style and swagger to it before the song returns to a riffing section followed by another solo, this guy can really play some very fine guitar parts, as this track clearly shows!

The final track on the album, Philosopher King, opens with Nick playing slide guitar over a Pink Floyd sounding backing. It’s all very Dave Gilmour sounding and reminds me of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, it is different but just has that vibe to it. There are great dynamics with a good use of contrasts between light and shade. There is a superb solo section before John’s vocal recommence and you can hear Dave’s organ supporting the song with the fretless Bass of Tim Harries prominent too. A faster rhythmic section follows with stabbing organ sounds driving the track along, there are lots of nods to the prog of the 1970’s too, mainly Genesis and Yes. Everything then slows down and becomes more languid and subdued before more of that evocative slide guitar leads into the next verse of the track.

We return to flutes and classical guitar for about sixty seconds before a bell sounds and another epic guitar solo is delivered, Nick, clearly playing this passage with relish, style and skill. It is quite a lengthy solo here and one that really has room to grow, stretch impresses as it continues until the song finishes.

This song is a masterful example of guitar playing and ensemble playing, and this is the standout track on what is a strong and impressive collection of tracks delivered in various styles but all of which show that Nick Fletcher deserves the accolades from the likes of Steve Hackett, amongst others. He is one to watch to see what he does next. It is an excellent album and one that I recommend that you seek out to listen and enjoy for yourself.

Released 26th March, 2021

Order from Nick’s website here:

Nick Fletcher – Cycles of Behaviour CD | Nick Fletcher guitar (nickfletcherguitarmusic.com)

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