I think history has not looked favourably on the career of Twelfth Night, who were active in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and were a contemporary of Marillion, Pallas, IQ and other bands of that era, and I can’t help but wonder why that was, for the band had the skill and the talent but possibly lacked the record company support that didn’t come until 1984 and the ‘Art and Illusion’ and ‘Twelfth Night XII’ albums. That meant many, indeed too many, prog fans were either unaware of the band, too blinkered to investigate for themselves or merely too fixated on the past groups to the exclusion of anything new. This was their loss truly for Twelfth Night kept the Prog flame alive in the era after Punk and the New Romantics by offering their own interpretation and distillation of prog into something new and different.
I confess to being one of those that let them pass me by, at least until the ‘Art and Illusion’ mini album in 1984, which I bought and thoroughly enjoyed. I then went back and bought ‘Live and Let Live’ on vinyl, but it was a challenging listen and I wasn’t ready for it. Again, that is my loss.
This latest CD Issue is to celebrate 40 years since ‘Smiling at Grief’ was initially released. This revisitation takes the form of various members, friends and fans of the band paying their own homage to what was a landmark album for the band. Those friends include Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree and Solo), Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales/ Cyan), Karl Groom (Threshold) and Simon Godfrey (Tinyfish and Shineback,Valdez and Tribe of Names), amongst others, who have remixed the original album master tapes and often added new instrumentation and vocals.
This has all been done in a highly respectful manner and with the intent to enhance the originals rather than just replacing them. I have to say, that approach seems to bear fruit and the project is worthwhile and certainly worthy of being heard, there is so much good music on here. Now bear in mind that I’ve never actually heard the original ‘Smiling at Grief’ release, only this revisitation, so this review is based solely on what I hear, not any preconceived views or ideas.
The album has sixteen tracks, where the original cassette had just nine, so the CD offers extra workings of several tracks. The opening track is East of Eden with Steven Wilson at the helm. Apparently Steven has long been a subscriber to the Twelfth Night mailing list and jumped at the opportunity to get onboard with the project. His take on East of Eden kicks things off in storming style, even more so on the extended remix (the last track on the CD). Many of these songs have alternate vocals from Geoff Mann and guitar parts from Andy Revell, certainly that is the case on both versions of the lengthy epic Creepshow, the song is sinister in tone as are its lyrics.
This City has been remixed by Peter Jones with Geoff’s vocal benefitting in the process as it brings out the soulfulness of the song. The Honeymoon Is Over benefits from both its remixers, although the Andy Tillison one lacks the vocals being as upfront as Karl Grooms take, but whichever version appeals most to you, it is a great song in either guise. Puppets is also remixed interestingly, the new instrumentation adding emphasis to the precision of the lyrics with its almost military beat and its angular teutonic sounding vocal lines. This song sounds like a progressive version by Propaganda, it also has great guitar from Lee Abraham and a great vocal from Stuart Nicholson (Galahad).
Makes No Sense also appears in two versions, one from Mark Spencer featuring vocals from Mark alongside Geoff’s original. The other is from August 2021 with TimBowness and Brian Hulse where there is also some pitch adjustment to the guitar solo. One thing that shines throughout the album is the intelligence in the lyrics, Geoff had a way of looking at life that was different to many. Whether this was a reflection of his personal faith is open to question and, sadly, we cannot ask him as he died in 1993, after he’d left Twelfth Night to pursue a career that was more closely aligned to his faith and beliefs.
The way this new remix takes on the classic 1982 album gives us chance to discover afresh just what a talent Geoff and the band were and that can be appreciated again in this new revisited version.
AMBIENT POST-ROCK PROJECT TO RELEASE NEW ALBUM ‘SING WITH ABANDON’ THIS SUMMER
VLMV have shared new single ‘For Empire (Revere Cut)’, the first from their forthcoming album ‘Sing With Abandon’. Scheduled for release in August, ‘Sing With Abandon’ is the follow up to 2018’s acclaimed full-length ‘Stranded, Not Lost’ and the result of years of collaboration, experimentation and crafting the music and sounds of VLMV. The follow up to instrumental teaser ‘Steady Thyself’, ‘For Empire (Revere Cut)’ is the first single to emerge from the upcoming record. A slow-burning commentary on a post-brexit world and rooted in the harsh feeling of isolation that only grew as the world began locking down in 2020, ‘For Empire’ finds VLMV’s Pete Lambrou off-setting the songs darker subject matter with the beautiful, awe-inspiring compositions he has become known for. Beginning with Pete performing alone, the songs blossoms with gripping, layered vocals and soaring strings as Lambrou makes the songs great declaration- “I was building something to turn this boat around’.
An ambitious yet concise album, ‘Sing With Abandon’ was born as songwriter and producer Pete Lambrou explored navigating life in the pandemic, multiple lockdowns and a country deciding to break up with its loved ones. Lyrically focused on feelings of isolation and separation, from our shared collective human experience to the deeply personal and everything in between, ‘Sing With Abandon’ touches on the isolation found within the communal experience of a country locked down and in crisis.
Formed in early 2015 by songwriter & producer Pete Lambrou (Codes In The Clouds, Monsters Build Mean Robots), VLMV released their debut mini album via Fierce Panda Records in August 2015, along with ‘Remixes & Reworkings’, a digital overhaul of their esteemed debut shortly after. Described as “a beam of light through a dark, cold night” by Lauren Laverne, VLMV shared the follow up, ‘Stranded, Not Lost, in 2018, earning a nomination at the Prog Awards alongside critical acclaim. Joined live by long-time collaborator and fellow Code In The Clouder Ciaran Morahan, VLMV deploy loop stations, multiple delay pedals, piano and strings to create a slow-moving, high-flying soundscape of luscious gravitas. Hailing from London, the duo have received widespread praise for both their records and their incredible live show thanks to heavy touring in the UK and Europe. VLMV have taken to the stage at ArcTanGent, Dunk! Festival, Portals Festival, Post In Paris and many more.
‘Sing With Abandon’ will be release on August 19th via Nice Weather For Airstrikes and can be pre-ordered now ‘For Empire’ is available now
Pete Lambrou on ‘For Empire (Revere Cut)’:“The intro drones were single legato cello notes recorded and then processed through my old Portastudio 4-track, reversed, delayed and put back together! Not all the songs from the album were written in the midst of lockdown. A couple were performed live on the last tour before the pandemic hit, including For Empire. But their roots are in the aftermath of Brexit, and this feeling of abandonment I’d felt throughout, and then the realisation that your neighbours aren’t who you thought they were.”
The album features guest appearances by current and former Spock’s Beard bandmates Nick D’Virgilio, Al Morse, Dave Meros, Ted Leonard, and Jimmy Keegan.
Ryo Okumoto, long-time keyboardist for prog rock group Spock’s Beard, is pleased to announce his new solo album ‘The Myth of the Mostrophus’, due out on July 29th, 2022 on InsideOutMusic. The six song prog extravaganza features Okumoto’s signature style accompanied by the talents of a who’s who of progressive rock.
The album features guest appearances by a number of incredible musicians including current and former Spock’s Beard bandmates:
Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train, Spock’s Beard) – Drums & Vocals
Al Morse (Spock’s Beard) – Guitar
Dave Meros (Spock’s Beard) – Bass
Ted Leonard (Spock’s Beard. Transatlantic) – Vocals
Jimmy Keegan (Spock’s Beard) – Vocals
Steve Hackett (Genesis) – Guitar
Michael Sadler (Saga, ProgJect) – Vocals
Mike Keneally (Steve Vai, Frank Zappa, ProgJect) – Guitar
Jonathan Mover (Joe Satriani, ProgJect) – Drums
Marc Bonila (Keith Emerson/Kevin Gilbert) – Guitar
Twenty years since Ryo Okumoto’s last solo album ‘Coming Home’ (2002), work on the new album began in November 2000, when Okumoto reached out to I Am The Manic Whale vocalist/bassist Michael Whiteman, following that band’s performance on a livestream event that Okumoto had taken part in. An exchange of demos resulted in the writing of the initial tracks for the album. Okumoto then reached out the fellow Spock’s Beard bandmates (Nick D’Virgilio, Alan Morse, Dave Meros, Ted Leonard and Jimmy Keegan) to join in and the album started to take shape before rounding out with additional guest stars through his Okumoto’s new group ProgJect including Michael Sadler, Jonathan Mover and Mike Keneally. With the additions of Steve Hackett, Marc Bonila, Doug Wimbish, Randy McStine, and Lyle Workman, the star-studded lineup was complete. The result is a prog rock tour de force from one of the most entertaining and influential artists of prog’s modern era.
‘Scissor Games‘ is the debut album by Ghost of the Machine, formed when the majority of This Winter Machine split with singer, Al Winter, and joined up with Charlie Bramald, previously vocalist with covers project Harmony of Spheres. This Winter Machine had built a growing reputation with their first two excellent albums, ‘The Man Who Never Was’ and ‘A Tower of Clocks’ so it was rather a risk for most of the band to embark on a new project with a younger and largely unknown vocalist, even if he had once guested with them in their This Winter Machine days. Clearly the band name harks back to their former band, but as most of them originated in that band it’s hardly surprising they chose a name referencing this heritage.
So, having cut that connection how have Ghost of the Machine shaped up on this debut?
Well, it’s a genuine pleasure to report that Ghost of the Machine have produced an outstanding debut album which clearly has influences from the band’s previous incarnation, but takes a rather different slant. ie This is not ‘Son of This Winter Machine’! The core of that band had already become a polished outfit capable of producing classy rock performances with a progressive edge. Ghost of the Machine seem adept with different sounds and styles on this album. However, they appear to be going down a largely much more ‘Prog’ direction, particularly with the remarkable bookend epic Scissors pieces… but we’ll come to that later. Charlie Bramald wrote the majority of the lyrics for this album and the rest of the band wrote the music and arrangements. He has shared that at least half the music was written before he joined them in January 2021, and most of the rest of it written by the summer of 2021. The band were very keen to ensure the album sounded right before it was put out, hence the time taken since then to get it recorded and eventually released.
Ghost of the Machine prove they can lay down a catchy and impressive rock song as Mark Hagan’s mountainous synth chords and Stuart Mcauley’s thunderous, but lithe bass line introduces the ear worm melodies and riffs of 80’s style rocker, Mountain. This rollocking, rolling song conversely carries a sad tale of unrequited love as the protagonist eventually realises he may as well have tried to love an implacable mountain:
Just another fool who thought that he could move a mountain…
…I was holding on to a heart of stone that never loved me
Now I’m letting go even though it’s killing me, It’s killing me
The tempo and atmosphere change significantly with the much more contemplative Just for Reference, focusing on the gaslighting of abuse victims. Such a sombre theme is introduced on a stark piano and keyboards from Mark Hagan, joined by a softly chiming guitar riff. These are a soft bed for Bramald’s initially melancholic vocals, which become increasingly impassioned as the song’s subject realises who they once were and sees clearly once again. It seems clear that this is an album in which the recurring theme is people finding hope and redemption in their darkest moments. In a similar vein thematically, and with a similar musical restraint, is the later song Dead to Me, with lyrics written by guitarist Graham Garbett. This is an atmospheric, melancholic song showcasing Hagan’s delicate piano playing and Bramald’s emotional singing in an apparent poetic stream of consciousness without verse or chorus. It’s clearly from the heart for Garbett, who has shared that ‘It’s about breaking free from something / someone in your past you no longer need, and the courage to take that risk no matter what the consequences’. An ethereal guitar line floats eerily above the haunting end.
The thread of redemption is also played out on the much more driven and energetic rock of January’s Child, which was one of the first songs written together by Ghost of the Machine when they formed in January 2021, hence the title. Bramald has shared it is about how: ‘January’s Child undergoes a journey of self-reflection to overcome the trauma of a difficult adolescence and grow into the person they really want to be.’ For me the jarring contrast between the upbeat feel of much of the music and the more sombre nature of the lyrics undermines the impact of this song. A more soulful piano led middle section is more engaging. However, the relentless, thumping finale and recapitulation of the opening synth riff feels rather incongruous and a little repetitive towards the end in all honesty. In an album of high-quality songs this is one piece which simply did not connect with this listener.
Mercury Risingpicks things up considerably with an 8-minute slab of melodic progressive rock with a magnificent instrumental part one, which is apparently one of drummer Andy Milner’s favourite parts of the album. Apart from the style of music we know we must be back in the ‘Legendary Land of Prog’ as this is a piece based on a poem by Roman poet Ovid about a river nymph, Larunda. Let’s face it in this day and age, a band has got to have some real balls in 2022 to put out a song based on classical mythology!!
Bramald has explained: ‘Mercury was tasked with escorting Larunda to the Underworld after Jupiter tore out her tongue for spilling his secrets. On the way, Mercury becomes infatuated with Larunda and attempts to woo the nymph. She finds herself caught between hell and a half-life, unable to speak a word of protest either way’.
I hope you were keeping up there! To be fair, Ghost of the Machine do a fine job with their very own ‘Fountain of Salmacis’, although this no copy of that Genesis classic. Garbett’s and Owen’s echoing guitars over a keyboard wash introduce a suitably heroic and evocative landscape. The keyboards and guitars combine well, like some sort of epic film theme, as the tempo and volume increase until Milner’s drums and McAuley’s bass drive this leviathan of a song headlong. Then Mercury Rising pulls back almost cinematically with a more reflective vocal soliloquy and gently lilting piano with definite echoes of one of Marillion’s greatest songs, ‘Incubus’ (you may hear that band name again!😉) A delicate guitar line ascends and the tempo increases as a point of revelation is reached. The earlier musical theme returns in a rip-roaring finale and a sinuous synth line by Hagan snakes above the mayhem, with Milner in particularly powerful form on the drums. It’s full on classy melodic Prog and a highlight of the album.
Before we come to the conclusion let’s deal with two rather large elephants in the room for some:
Firstly, the ‘schism’ in the ranks of This Winter Machine, which led to the formation of Ghost of the Machine. I do not know the details behind that split, and I will not speculate. Indeed, frankly I am going to completely ignore that elephant – let’s just take this album on face value on its own merits.
Secondly, there is the issue of the style of much of this album, particularly the epic album bookending Scissorssuite. There is ‘Progressive’ as an approach to music, and there is ‘Prog’ as a distinct musical genre. The epic Scissors pieces, along with Mercury Rising, places this album and band squarely in the ‘Prog’ category, with a capital ‘P’. Some may see that as a definite advantage and recommendation, whilst others may be wary or a little ‘sniffy’ about this adherence to a genre originated in the early 70’s and developed in the 80’s. We could have a long debate about it, obsessively inspecting our navels… or perhaps we could just enjoy the music?!
To get straight to the point, the Scissors suite is the undoubted highlight of an excellent album. Indeed, this suite could well come to be regarded as among the best pieces of ‘Prog’ in 2022. There are many Prog bands out there attempting to mimic the musical heroes of their youth, often unsuccessfully and frankly lacking sufficient spirit, skill, energy or class. Sure, the Scissors suite has distinct echoes and influences from earlier Prog generations, (and Marillion may well be consulting their lawyers if they ever hear this… but then again, the same was said of them about echoes of early Genesis back in their 80’s heyday!) HOWEVER, Ghost of the Machine really pull off such a thrilling Prog tour de force on Scissors that you simply don’t care whether you may have heard similar stuff before (you definitely have I can assure you!!). It doesn’t matter – it really is that good.
The opening salvo with the definitely 80’s Marillion-esque keyboard fanfare and towering drums, bass and guitar chords is a massive and enjoyable opening. Ghost ofthe Machine really know how to juxtapose power with subtlety, and they drop away to an interlude of Hagan and Bramald on piano and voice with McAuley’s subtle bass, which gives the lyrics and storyline room to breathe. Apparently, bassist McAuley wrote the guitar solo at the end of the first section way back in the 90’s and Graham Garbett skilfully realises that solo finally in 2022. Some things just take time.
Bramald’s outstanding lyrics and imagery on Scissorsare poetic and flowing, telling the dramatic story of how an abused woman eventually snaps and kills her abusive partner with the nearest sharp object – scissors. This is dark and thought-provoking material.
Flash a fistful of silver, you’re the rock and I play the scissors
Cutting out the pages of my life for you to rearrange
All the threads exposed, tugging on the strings my nerves unfold
I’m a plaything, I’m a captive of the Puppet King
The music and lyrical imagery are perfectly intertwined, conveying the wretched emotions and unfolding drama from different perspectives, particularly on the remarkable ‘The Puppet King’ section, which brims with menace and vanity. Bramald has shared: ‘An abuser’s victims are not just their partners. They fool everyone around them. That’s where the idea of the Puppet King came from; it’s a title this character bestowed on himself out of sheer vanity, a belief that he’s somehow godlike and above everyone – pulling the strings, if you will. But “Puppet King” regimes are also false and hollow.’
There will be inevitable and justified comparisons between Charlie Bramald’s singing and wordplay with Fish of early Marillion, but there also distinct lyrical and vocals echoes of the harder edge of early Twelfth Night with the now sadly departed Geoff Mann – as a life long Twelfth Night fan let me tell you that’s quite a compliment. Bramald’s use of recurring and double edged images and symbols is clever and insightful. Bramald even gets to play a short flute passage in the instrumental passage of The Game, which clearly harks back to Gabriel era Genesis. Graham Garbett also plays a beautifully clean guitar melody over an acoustic guitar backing in this more contemplative interlude.
The drama and pace really pick up on the following short Fighting instrumental section with Hagan building a wall of keyboards as Scott Owens launches a stratospheric guitar solo over titanic drumming from Andy Milner – it really is a stirring passage. However, the real pay-off comes with the sudden segue into the sorrowful Shamesection with Bramald’s excellent and soulful vocal alone with Hagan’s gentle piano, singing words which will go round and round your ears with their delivery and impact:
Against the strings,
I turn around and catch a glimpse
I see all the lives the Puppet King collects
I’m in a room filled with human marionettes
No-one dares to speak against a god,
I’m crying out but no-one will respond
The final Hope instrumental rises to a crescendo in a more positive way, until we are just left with Hagan’s plaintive piano.
Scissors (Reprise) concludes this epic story, starting off more contemplatively in the first section Cut, with gently undulating piano, subtle drumming and bass with tasteful guitar lines supporting a softer vocal from Bramald. Ghost of the Machine also seem to know when to pull back and convey stories and emotions more subtly. The Wake short instrumental passage features a beautifully played Mcauley bass line in a keyboard and piano setting. The final triumphant Winnersection is carried on a wave of flowing melodic progressive rock, and apparently Milner’s expressive and joyous drumming inspired the ‘Cry for Victory’ verse. A scintillating guitar solo takes off over the furious but controlled drive of the band and they sweep onwards to the finale of a truly outstanding suite (yeah, I know I say ‘outstanding’ a lot – this time it’s justified!)
Mark Hagan’s excellent piano and keyboards are key to the Scissors pieces, as they are for the whole album. Alongside him the double guitar attack of Graham Garbett and Scott Owens excel, and throughout the album the interplay between keyboards and guitars is a joy. The Mcauley and Milner rhythm section are classy and precise in their intuitive approach to underpinning the songs. These skills are captured and conveyed sonically with some very fine production from Bob Cooper. The Scissors suite shows a band in perfect unison with words and music locked together, telling such a deeply meaningful story.
‘Scissor Games‘ is a remarkable debut album. It clearly owes so much to earlier eras of Prog Rock but when it is done with this sheer amount of brio and skill, allied with powerful, impactful lyrics, then it is entirely valid and worthy as a piece of music and art. Many Prog fans will absolutely fall in love the style and emotional content of ‘Scissor Games‘ which will very probably be rightfully be regarded as one of the best debut progressive rock albums of 2022.
That’s quite enough from me, just listen to the music – Cut!
1. Scissors I. Starting Line II. The Puppet King III. The Game (Instr.) IV. Fighting (Instr.) V. Shame VI. Hope 2. Mountain 3. Just For Reference 4. January’s Child 5. Mercury Rising (Pt. 1 & Pt. 2) 6. Dead To Me 7. Scissors (Reprise) VII. Cut VIII. Wake (Instr.) IX. Winner
MUSICIANS: Charlie Bramald – Lead Vocals & Flute Graham Garbett – Guitars & Backing Vocals Mark Hagan – Piano, Keyboards & Mellotron Stuart Mcauley – Bass, Pedals & Mellotron Andy Milner – Drums Scott Owens – Guitars
This might be one of the best new albums that I have had to pleasure to hear this year. Yes, it really is that impressive! The album has eight tracks, all above the five-and-a-half-minute mark and two over eight minutes.
No wonder this is attracting the interest of many prog fans for, in Stuckfish, we find a worthy blend of old school prog and classic rock, married together with a great vocalist in Phil Stuckey, who brings to mind a classic style, an excellent bass player (Phil Morey) and a fiery but tasteful guitarist in Ade Fisher. Together with drummer Adam Sayers and keyboard player Gary Holland, they make for a very tight and energetic team.
This is their third album written during the global layoff of 2021, which, as Ade says, was a better use of time than watching Netflix and chomping chocolate hobnobs and the results here can bear witness to that observation.
The album opens in a very Rush like vein with Age Of Renewal and its use of shifting time signatures which allows for some moody synth backing. Vocalist Phil Stuckey really performs well here with a strong clear tone that works well. There is a good synth/guitar interplay here too making the mid-section strong, just before Ade lets rip with a solo that takes the piece forward. Along with the great bass work on show, this is a great opener that will be a sure-fire winner live, seldom has seven minutes passed so quickly! The epic Days of Innocence follows, which features the nimble basswood of Phil Morey anchoring the song down. The track is a heartfelt one, a look back at childhood and the hope of a better future. The song is reflective and a touch maudlin, however it is certainly extraordinarily strong in tone. There’s great vocals too as Phil sings with passion and optimism for a star he has yet to reach. A very impressive track with good orchestration in the closing moments with great brass, unusual but effective and definitely memorable.
Painted Smile picks up the Rush baton once again with a chugging guitar riff that said band would have loved to employ. The song is about clowns and how their painted face often hides or masks their inner pains. This has great keyboards on it that create an aura of the circus with a suitable organ sound strong in the mix. Sounding sinister at times but creating and painting the setting wonderfully, this album makes a strong impression for all the right reasons and will surely appear in many bests of /end of the year’s lists, It will certainly be among my choices for that accolade, the track ends with a piano sound that evokes a silent film and concludes another fabulous track. The urgent guitar riff of Ade Fisher sees a segue into Game Changer, a track that flies out of the gate with style and punchy panache. This song properly rocks but does not forget to have melodies or dynamics that make this optimistic song stand out both musically and lyrically. I am really enjoying this album with its use of light and shade that works very well, as does the graceful guitar playing that leads the song on towards a marvellous rhythmic mid section which really makes an impact. Stuckfish have worked hard on this album, not only in the elegant material but also in the performances that are all highly impressive by any standard.
Thief In The Night is a great song about loss and the memories of a loved one that has gone. The track is very moving and is presented beautifully, with dignity and feeling. Phil’s voice is fantastic and really suited to the feeling of the song and making it my favourite on the album, sympathetically managed and beautifully written, it conveys perfectly what happens when a loved one passes on, glorious and magnificent in equal measures. Yearn is next and opens with a reverb laden piano that sets the tone for the song. With a trumpet evoking a smokey jazz club, it’s certainly very sultry and brooding sounding and has an epic chorus that really impacts. This is a slow burn of a track that creeps up on you and takes over, it’s truly that memorable. It reminds me of a Wishbone Ash song for some reason, must be the vocal inflections that it has. Wonderfully delicate and gracefully imagined and conceived, this is another great song that’s very well performed by all. A really impressive piece of music!
Nevermore is different as Phil sings in a Rob Halford sounding voice to significant effect. It is really distinctive to hear him singing in this manner and the song packs a punch to be sure, one of the shorter pieces but still a good listen. Different Ways closes the album in grand style, being one of the more blatantly progressive songs and one that gives room for the bands musical dexterity to shine through. With a great guitar solo from Ade and good support from all the group, this is a great album ending track.
So, there you have it, eight great tracks in one fine album from a band that are really on the rise. Get it while you can as it is utterly fantastic and definitely a highlight of the year so far!
After the last date of the Rush‘R40’ tour on 15th August 2015 in Los Angeles, Rush were at a crossroads, this was their final tour as they had agreed to bow out on a high note, seeking not to slump into trying to recapture the former glories, as has befallen many other groups over the years. Even the band themselves were unsure of what to do next or even if there would be a ‘next’ moment.
This all came sharply into focus again in January 2020 when Neil Peart lost his battle with brain cancer and, while the world quite rightly mourned his passing, Rush were effectively over. This left Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson in a quandary realising that anything they did would suffer comparison to the might of Rush.
So they did what they could cope with, Alex went fishing and valued his home life, Geddy wrote his memoirs (to be published this year) and both men struggled with the loss of their long term friend. They had both known about his illness yet the end still hit them hard, in addition they needed time to grieve him, plus we had various lockdowns and limitations on life due to covid.
Well, thankfully, that time has come to an end as Alex has now ventured back into the public eye once more by contributing his graceful, elegant guitar tones to a brand-new project called Envy Of None. It could not be any more removed from the progressive elements of Rush. Two of the songs were released by Lifeson on his own social media pages, namely Shadow and Spy House, which were intended to introduce the band to the public.
Now the album in full is out and, yes, it is something tasty indeed and different to what he has done before, for sure. Yet, even so, within its simpler shorter songs lie strands of Lifeson’s musical DNA. In just eleven short tracks you hear Alex revelling in playing music again and exorcizing his demons and his grief in the only way he knows, through music.
The album has elements of Pop, Rock, Emo and even electronica within its sounds, it certainly is hugely different and that is no bad thing. Take the opener for instance, INever Said I Loved You, with a strong sequenced opening motif and the dreamy vocals of Mariah Wynne and steady bass of former Coney Hatch bassist Andy Curran driving the song along (the band used various session players to provide drum support). The sound is full and leaves room for each instrument to be clearly heard, in addition, it is a great little song. Sequencing plays a big part in the groups sound, this is all is sympathetically done and does not detract from everything that is going on.
Look Inside is a good example of how this all works together to create something exceptionally fine indeed. There is even a sampled muted trumpet playing in the last moments, a tremendous piece of music that is both imaginative and accomplished. Liar follows but this fails to hit the mark for me. Whilst being well crafted, it is a bit too busy for my liking and has too much layering to really click. Spy House has Lifeson unleashed and all over the track with an insistent riff threaded throughout it. It’s great to hear him in this vein and his solo is fabulous and free spirited. It is the Alex we all know and love to hear and a great moment in a very good track.
Dogs Life is another brooding, moody and slow burning number that builds in its intensity before breaking out into a busy section, this time the slow burn really works well for the track. This album is really a bit of a grower and more volume really helps in this case, making it one of the best tracks so far to these ears. Kabul Blues follows with it Far Eastern sounding synths and delicate guitar lines woven through its grooves. This sounds very exotic and Middle Eastern and quite different to what has gone before, great bass lines from Andy Curran making this another winning track. Old Strings is the album’s longest track at just over five minutes as Mariah sings of lost memories, lost opportunities, and stolen moments. Again, this is a slow burner of a song with subtle but effective dynamics which all combines to make an impressive song with sensitive playing from all parties, marvellous stuff.
Dumb works really well, a strong back beat drives the song along with its great sequenced sounds and a very eighties sounding drum pattern really kicking it out and providing much drive to the song. Penultimate song Enemy is built on hypnotic synthesiser lines and settings that work to a pronounced effect with strong performances. Growling synth sounds and fabulous dynamics make this is a great song and, again, volume reveals its intricacies beautifully. This leads us to the final piece, Western Sunset, which is an acoustic guitar tribute to Neil Peart. Alex spent a lot of time at Neil’s pacific home and, whilst enjoying a beer, looked out at the shoreline at sunset. This memory was the one that inspired this delicate, brief piece of musical imagery. Ironic really that this should feature but it closes things for Alex. So, as such, it earns it is place here as a tribute to his dearly departed friend.
This album gains in stature the more you play it and it certainly is a very worthy collection of songs. The slow burn of these tracks creep up on you as they reveal their intricacies. I guess that only time will tell if the band continues, like they plan to. What sounds they explore next time remains to be seen, however, for now, this will do very nicely thank you.
‘Journeys’ is the new album from UK based musician Stewart Clark and it’s certainly an interesting concept and listening experience. Stewart was recently commenting about his inability to get people interested in writing a review of his work.
When I read this I contacted Stewart and offered to write a review for him. It must be incredibly frustrating to drum up any interest from prog fans who will happily shell out for the 16th remix or extended version of an album they already have that is 40 years old but has been slightly tweaked or updated by someone whose aunt knew the bassist’s mother over 30 years ago.
Now, I like a good remaster or upgrade as much as the next prog fan but, really, why do we tend to gloss over the smaller acts who are really trying to break into an already full pond? People like Stewart who makes music because he wants to and does it all on a miniscule budget, on a very much ‘do it yourself manner’, but who is really making something that appeals but often fails to capture the wider public interest.
It’s certainly not the music’s fault, I suggest it is the fact that the bigger acts grab the lions share of the activities and the column inches leaving mere scraps for the rest, highly unfair but that’s how it sadly is. I myself see that some bands get lots of exposure whilst other get little or none and it’s the same with gigs, a big name might get bigger crowds but smaller artists are lucky if they can get a handful of paying punters attending. I know covid hasn’t helped but it was bad even before that, this malaise and apathy goes back years and years.
Anyway, enough of that, ‘Journeys’ is a fine listen, opening with the gentle but gripping Snaefellisbaer (The Abandoned Icelandic Road Trip) to kick off proceedings. The song is about a road trip that Stewart and his wife attempted to take in 2012. Unfortunately, they were beaten by the sheer volume of ice and snow that made the destination unreachable at that time. The track has some very jazzy saxaphone from Mark Norton and lovely swirling organ from Tom Potten (which I think is used to show the northern lights), it’s followed by some heavy guitar riffery from Kerry Mountain, all intertwined with ethereal vocals from Catherine Potten, before returning to Eric Bouillette’s excellent piano motif repeated in the songs outro.
I Wished They’d Stayed follows and is a song dedicated to a former band mate who died. In the track Stewart recalls the good times they spent together, however the song is not maudlin but merely reflects that this is all a part of life’s journey. There’s No Place Like You is about trying to get back to someone again but being frustrated in doing so. This has bass from Billy Sherwood of Yes fame on it and he does his best Chris Squire impression to give this song some great dynamics in the process. This is a very fine piece and is great musically with its superb synth and bass interplay.
I RememberThe Age Of Steam opens with train sounds and a rolling rhythm that emulates train movements while a lone harmonica wails admirably in the background, evoking a hobo’s journey. It’s rather evocative really and certainly appealing, I can see the Big Big Train passengers really taking this song to heart as it strikes or touches many reference points in its grooves, especially the steam effects. Let Me Belong has a strong riff and swagger to it, rather muscular in fact, and it’s theme is about being part of something. There’s a good, fluid but fiery guitar solo and some fine keyboards enhancing the track gracefully which make this another winning song.
On A Leaf, On A Stream is very delicate with gently picked guitar and a good supporting bass line adding depth to the instrumental track. Add in some graceful yet urgent guitar from Sempano Semzedah and this short atmospheric piece scores highly. Final track Travelling Through Hyperspace is another mainly instrumental piece with crazy synths and urgent drums and great dynamics that give it some edge.
In short this almost concept album is about journeys and destinations and is a really underrated and yet highly rewarding trip. Even if the mainstream won’t give it room, I will and I hope that you will too.
The history of Asia is an often complex, involved and even a troubled one as the back story to this latest instalment in the Asia canon testifies. This latest release in band’s history is the then ground breaking satellite broadcast, live from Tokyo’s legendary Budokan theatre on 9th December 1983. This was also the first live video broadcast by MTV, however there was a problem in that, weeks earlier, after lacklustre sales of their hastily recorded follow up album saw it peak at number 67 on the Billboard chart, as opposed to the colossal sales of the band’s debut ‘Asia’ (1982).
Not only had ‘Alpha’ failed to match their debut’s success, the band themselves were also unhappy with the album’s mix and also the haste in which they had been ushered back to the studio to record it. On top of all that Asia were struggling internally with tensions between members, namely John Wetton and, well, anyone really! The success of the debut had hit John hardest as he was unaccustomed to the level of celebrity success had bought, John was also drinking heavily and this was affecting his performances with the ‘Alpha’ tour being particularly affected. So much so that latter dates were pulled. All of these frustrations reached a head and the band’s Management and label demanded a change be made and so John was duly dismissed..
The difficulty was that Asia were scheduled to do the MTV gig but had no lead singer. Time to call in a favour…
Carl Palmer called his old colleague Greg Lake from his ELP days and asked him for his help, Greg consented but was unfamiliar with Asia’s music and had to rely on a teleprompter for the actual show. The band started rehearsals in London with a view to being competent enough for the show. In fact, they played a rehearsal show the evening before at the Budokan to evaluate everything out and to make sure it all worked. The gig went off well and was a success technically, the show was released on video and laser disc but was then largely forgotten and subsequently overtaken by other events in the Asia world. It is now forty years since that show and the film has been overhauled for a re-release. This set includes vinyl and CDs of the show and the rehearsal show and a Blu-Ray of the show and, also, a version of the original laser disc cut of the show.
The sound has been remixed and remastered for premium sound and there is new artwork for the set and lovely it is too. The draw here will be this much improved sound and, when coupled with the previously unreleased rehearsal disc, this should be a rather good selling point. In fact, the sound is exceptionally good and clear and you can hear the band really giving it some oomph! In addition, you can see this for yourself t in the accompanying Blu-Ray, where you can enjoy the energy of show and witness all the members of Asia really playing their hearts out, especially GeoffDownes impressive keyboard set up and his antics during the show.
Greg Lake proves to be an exceptionally good fill in for the departed John Wetton and his bass is muscular when needed. It’s good to see him this way as his Asia tenure was short lived, one that sadly failed to bear any additional fruit. There are no bonus features, as such, and a documentary detailed in the booklet does not appear to be there. Even so, this set has merit and it reintroduces a not insignificant global event that was unique and ground-breaking in many ways.
The band were on form, and it is good to have this record of this event in its remixed and remastered glory once again. The tracks are from the debut with a few select tracks from the ‘Astra’ album. With both Wetton and Lake no longer with us, this set gives opportunity to view that strange moment of musical history once more and I, for one, am extremely glad to be able to do so.
In this piece I talk to Steve Howe about about both the forthcoming Yes UK live dates, why they are not playing ‘Relayer’ this time around and about the ‘Asia in Asia’ box set that is due out in June.
John Wenlock-Smith – Good afternoon Steve, are you keeping well?
Steve Howe – Yes I am, thank you.
JWS – You are in Devon today then?
SH – Yes, in a secret location! I moved here some 26 years ago from London and, whilst I still live in London, I visit as much as I can as my studio is here.
JWS – Fair enough. I have spent many happy times in Devon. It is a lovely area.
SH – Yes, well I certainly like the slower pace as opposed to the madness of London!
JWS – So the tour that you are doing in June, how come you are not going to do the ‘Relayer’ album, as originally announced and intended?
SH – Well, with it being a shorter run of dates, as we cancelled the European leg, it’s now just the ten shows in the UK. We felt that it was better to postpone that particular album, especially as ‘Close To The Edge’ is 50 years old this year, and perform that in its entirety instead. We will also do a few other favourite songs and some of ‘The Quest’ album, although I’m not saying which we will play, keep it under wraps as it were.
So that is the plan now, and save ‘Relayer’ till next year when we can give it the treatment that it deserves, so we chose to concentrate on playing CTTE this time around, to give it a good airing and celebrate the anniversary in this manner.
JWS – Yes, because you have had Patrick Moraz along for some shows doing ‘Gatesof Delirium’ ?
SH – We had Patrick play Soon with us on a tour that Tony Kaye had joined us for, the celebratory tours. We like doing that sort of thing, although we have no plans on that as yet, not that to say that that it’s out of the window but, at the moment, we are concentrating on getting back out on the road after three years enforced time away.
Also, that is why coming back after 3 years away, we are doing what we are comfortable with and can do to the standard that is required and that Yes fans warrant and demand.
JWS – Yes, I can understand that way of thinking, plus it leaves the way open for a further tour with ‘Relayer’ being featured.
SH – Exactly…
JWS – I am glad that tracks from ‘The Quest’ will be featured, as I really enjoyed that album. I thought The Ice Bridge was exceptionally fine, reminiscent of Fanfare For The Common Man in the keyboard sounds, and also your solo Album ‘Love Is’, with Jon Davison on vocals.
SH – Thank you.
JWS – Well I thought it was a good set of songs, well performed.
SH – Yes, Jon did a wonderful job on that, didn’t he?
JWS – I also really enjoyed the ‘Homebrew 7’ album.
SH – Thank you, that was quite different for me in that it did not have the usual Homebrew story but was mostly unreleased tracks and ideas that I was able to work to fruition and completion. It was a retro album of music that was unreleased so thank you again for appreciating that.
JWS – I enjoy listening to latest music, especially music that you have released, so what are the chances of having your two original Atlantic albums (‘Beginnings’ and ‘The Steve Howe Album’) being re-released again?
SH – Warner’s, Rhino, Atlantic or whoever have been so nice to me, they are officially releasing those albums, so I will investigate that. I think it’s marvellous to be part of the story of Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic label founder).
Howe Sound, the label that releases many of my albums, is quite diverse really and I feel comfortable with what they release for me, plus I like to do things differently and not be stuck in a treadmill way of things.
JWS – I do not blame you, variety is the spice of life, or so they say.
SH – Indeed.
JWS – Now Asia, that new Boxset (‘Asia in Asia’) that is coming out in June (10th) is very impressive…
SH – BMG have released the Reunion albums, with Fantasia releasing the DVD but this one is even nicer. That is, I especially like the diligence, I like detail anyway and this set really has an elevated level of detail to it, making it worthy of attention. When we did those shows some forty odd years ago, Greg (Lake) was really inspiring in that he was singing John’s (Wetton) parts, playing his bass lines too and doing it all with dignity and aplomb.
The Asia story is all told within those sets really, the two original albums, ‘Go’ and ‘Asia In Asia’ and then the years where Geoff was holding the banner, keeping the flame alive as it were, with various people drifting in and out including myself. Then there’s the reunion and subsequent albums and tours, it’s all in those albums and the ‘Asia In Asia’ especially shows a period where Greg really rose to the occasion magnificently as the set testifies in such a great way.
JWS – The only criticism I have, and it is a minor one really, is that, in the booklet, it mentions a documentary filmed around that time in which each member traces their Asia journey and, although mentioned, I cant see it on the Blu-Ray?
SH – Well, I thought it was there, but I will investigate that and see. Although Blu-Rays are notorious for not being easy to find things on, I know that from experience, so I will check into that for sure.
JWS – I agree that Greg did an outstanding job. This is borne out in the remixed audio on the CD’s where he sings, albeit in a lower register on some tracks, but in a very accomplished manner and his bass playing is equally as inspiring too.
SH – When I heard the audio for the mix, it was good until we got to the last two tracks, Heat Of The Moment and Sole Survivor, where they sounded awful. So I took it up with the label and they said Steve’s really on the ball, those two tracks hadn’t been remixed. I insisted that they were brought up to the same standard and I’m glad to say that they did just that and now they sound fantastic.
JWS – Good, I am very much looking forward to seeing you in Manchester on the tour.
SH – Good, well I love the Bridgewater hall, I played a solo concert there several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It reminded me of those early shows where I learnt my craft, like the one when I played support to Delaney andBonnie along with Eric Clapton and George Harrison etc, remarkable times and music.
JWS – Have you heard Geoff’s Downes Braide Association stuff at all?
SH – Yes, I have heard that it is an exciting outlet for his music.
JWS – Plus Roger Dean participates in the artwork for that.
SH – Yes, well Roger is a big part of the Yes story, he will be on the tour too.
JWS – Well Steve, my time has gone, so may I just thank you for your time today and I will hopefully see you in Manchester next month.
SH – Thank for talking to me and for your interest in my music and of Yes too, thank you John.
Austin’s …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead announce their first quadraphonic surround sound studio album – XI: Bleed Here Now– due out 15th July 2022 via InsideOutMusic in Europe & Dine Alone Records in North America. The new LP is their 11th, was produced by Trail’s own Conrad Keely and Jason Reece alongside Charles Godfrey who also produced 2020’s X: The Godless Void and Other Stories, and was mastered by Scott Sedillo and KamranV at Bernie Grundman Mastering. XI: Bleed Here Now is QUARK encoded to play in both stereo and Regular Matrix quadraphonic sound. Along with the news, Trail of Dead is releasing lead single “No Confidence” today b/w “Salt In Your Eyes” – listen via your preferred streaming service and pre-order the album here: https://AndYouWillKnowUsByTheTrailOfDead.lnk.to/XIBleedHereNow
XI: Bleed Here Now follows January 2020’s X: The Godless Void and Other Stories – an album that also marked the band’s 25th year together. Trail of Dead were supposed to spend 2020 touring with their newly assembled five-piece live lineup in support of X and celebrating their career milestone, but were sidelined by the pandemic. After the shock wore off and months of very little to do, they decided to start working on a new album. Looking to recapture the Golden Age of rock and give the listener a more immersive experience, they connected with KamranV who has been working with spatial sound since the early 2000’s and introduced them to QUARK – a plug-in that makes creating an album in quadraphonic sound possible. While this takes place during the mixing stage, the intent led to broader recording decisions, for example setting up the mics with the idea they could mix them into four channels when tracking Tosca String Quartet for the live string arrangements on the opening theme “Our Epic Attempts” and the string performance on “Millennium Actress,” which also features the band’s old friend Amanda Palmer. When doing the vocals for “Growing Divide” they brought in Spoon’s Britt Daniel, with Keely adding, “…we thought how cool it would be to have our friend Britt Daniel come in to sing one of the harmonies, so that we could have four diﬀerent voices separated out between two stereo mixes.”
XI: Bleed Here Now bridges the gap between artistry and technology, giving listeners an immersive and transportive experience. “Art has a role to play in the upcoming decade(s): it needs to point humanity towards solutions. Our hope is that by expanding the ways we listen and hear; we expand our own inner (my parents would say spiritual) potential for the problem-solving to come,” commented Keely. As with all Trail albums, Keely created the album art, this time inspired by Jeremiah Chiu’s design for Suzanne Ciani’s 2018 LIVE Quadraphonic LP – the first quadraphonic vinyl release in more than 30 years. Read the album bio written by Trail’s own Conrad Keely HERE
XI: Bleed Here Now will be available as a Limited CD+Blu-ray Mediabook (including the album as a 4.0 Surround Sound Mix) & Standard CD Jewelcase, both available on the 15th July. The Gatefold 2LP+CD edition will be released on the 30th September.