THRESHOLD return with their 12th full length album ‘Dividing Lines’, which is set to be released on 18th November via Nuclear Blast Records.
‘Dividing Lines’ marks the second album since the return of former vocalist Glynn Morgan, who reunited with the band on their previous effort ‘Legends Of The Shires’ (2017). A darker album than ‘Legends Of The Shires’, the band have described it as “Legends’ darker, moodier older brother”.
Get your first taste of the album with the single ‘Silenced’, which comes with a stunning new video.
Richard West comments on the song: “Silenced is about how we seem to be heading towards less voices, less artists, less venues, less platforms where everyone can be heard. People seem so scared to speak out or debate anything anymore. I know I sound old but I miss the good old days! When freedom of speech goes then society is lost.”
The video was filmed by Sitcom Soldiers in the UK who also filmed the band’s last video ‘Small Dark Lines’. The video portrays a boy coming up against a threatening foe, only defeating them by summoning a mighty scream (unsilenced).
Steve Hackett is certainly a very busy man of late, on the day we talk, he has just returned from time in Borneo and a few club dates in Japan, amidst a wider Australian and New Zealand tour. Even so, he continues to be his usual self-effacing and courteous host, he is such a gracious interviewee and always has interesting things to say and learn from.
This interview is in advance of his upcoming season of shows entitled ‘Foxtrot AtFifty’, which will see him delivering a complete set consisting of that entire album. The tour will see Steve and his band playing the album along with various other classic Genesis material and some of his own solo material from the ‘Surrender ofSilence’ album from last year. It is looking to be a busy few months again for Steve.
John Wenlock-Smith: Good Morning Steve, so how are you sir?
Steve Hackett: I am all right, fine, it has been a busy time, how about yourself?
JWS: We have had Covid actually.
SH: Ooh, that is nasty!
JWS: With Sue having asthma, she had it worse than me but we are both on the back end of it now so, hopefully, will be back to normal soon.
SH: Well, next week we go to Germany and Italy as we are doing some outdoor shows, which should be good, I like festival shows, they are genuine fun.
JWS: Then, when you come back, you have ‘Foxtrot at 50’ starting?
SH: Yes, that is right, in the autumn. I am looking forward to it, it is an album that is worthy of a revisit, some of it I have not played in 50 years!
JWS: You have also got the ‘Seconds Out Live’ album coming out in September?
SH: Yes, it is the best live album I have ever done. It sounds good, much better than the original album, which was not a good production sadly, whereas this one really does sound good. The drum sounds are better plus we took the key down for Squonk.
I think Genesis did that as well because a lot of those songs were written by non-singers and they forget that voices change as people get older and they can’t reach the high notes as easily as they used to, I know Phil cannot do it now. This latest version is exceptionally fine indeed, I guess time will tell though?
JWS: Yes indeed, I was listening to a friend of yours last week, Nick Fletcher?
SH: Yes, he is great, an extraordinarily accomplished and amazing player, the best jazz rock player in Britain today.
JWS: I was also going back and listening to some early Fleetwood Mac with PeterGreen.
SH: Well I saw Peter Green many times over the years, he was always a fabulous player.
JWS: I also heard an album by Ryo Okumoto that you play on as well, a track called Maximum Velocity.
SH: Yes, a friend of mine is also on that album, Michael Whiteman, who sings and plays bass on the album. He is part of a band called I Am The Manic Whale, he is particularly good too, it is interesting that he is also on the album.
I have not heard the finished album though, so I do not know if I even made the cut or if I am one of several guitarists on there but enjoy it anyway.
JWS: There are some great keyboard players out there now like Ryo and, of course, your own Roger King, about time he did a solo album.
SH: I keep telling him he should but he thinks anything he did would not sell so he is reluctant to try.
JWS: Well, maybe he ought to cover songs he likes himself or something?
SH: I will tell him, but he is happy just playing on my stuff, although he will tell me if it is not any good, he can be vocal about it too. But they are all talented players and play like demons at times.
JWS: So what is next for you?
SH: We have been so wrapped up in touring that I have not been able to record much. I have got three songs ready but not had a chance to record them so, hopefully, that will happen before long and then we will be touring ‘Foxtrot’ around the world too, so busy days ahead.
JWS: Right then Steve, I had best let you get on but thank you once again for your time. Stay safe and well and we will hopefully see you in Buxton in September.
SH: Thanks John, take care of yourself and keep well.
Nick Fletcher is a man of many talents for not only is he the guitarist in the excellent John Hackett band, he also has his own acoustic guitar recitals happening in the North of England. Last year he released his excellent solo album ‘Cycles OfBehaviour’, which was very highly regarded. In addition, Steve Hackett, no less, has stated that he considers Nick to be the finest Jazz Rock guitarist in the country. In the intervening months Nick has completed and released his new album ‘The Cloud Of Unknowing’, let us have a look and see shall we?
The album consists of nine tracks which are all thematically linked by the album’s attempts to illuminate a journey towards enlightenment, understanding and the acceptance of how things are and our place within that cycle. It is mainly instrumental, although it has vocals on the fifth and ninth songs and is best heard as a single piece of music to get the best out of it and to allow the journey to unfold as you listen.
Nick says the album came out of lockdowns and during the time of the pandemic in which he became open to search for deeper meaning and value to life. He did this by looking at mythology and to Christian mysticism from the likes of St John Of The Cross, whose words that illuminate the paradox we face are shown on the inner CD sleeve. Right, enough background, let’s hear the music…
The first piece, Out Of The Maelstrom, is a brutal hard-hitting track that reminded me of Billy Cobham’s ‘Spectrum’ and the track Quadrant 4 as it has a similar vitality and energy to it. It is full of dynamism and a mad organ from Dave Bainbridge, off which Nick plays flurries of notes and runs and it’s all highly impressive. Even better though is the more reflective The Eyes Of Persephone, which features a great flowing piano solo from Dave and over which Nick soars, playing some fluid guitar lines that would not be out of place on a Camel album. However, it still has a fire burning underneath making it a formidable and exceptional track
We then move into a set of five tracks that together form a suite entitled ‘Scenes From The Subconscious Mind’.
The suite opens with We Need to Leave This Place…Right Now!, twenty seconds of modern life noises, traffic and sirens and the like that display the unrest of life, this then moves into the more, almost metallic, crunch of Pandemonium which is rather brutal really, although it allows a great platform for Nick to solo from, adding some very sweet slide guitar tones in the latter part. This is all magnificently underpinned by the wonderful and highly versatile fretless bass of Tim Harries whose parts really add much to the sound, another magnificent track.
Then we have The Cloud of Unknowing Part 1 Part 2 Part 3, the first vocal track from Stuart Barbour, who is a contemporary Christian musician who Caroline Bonnet suggested to Nick. His voice is very English sounding, sounding a little like John Wetton in his U.K. days. This is an album that is better with some volume as the sound unfolds as you listen, the more you play it the more you hear, the track ends in gentler but still highly atmospheric soundscapes.
We then have a gentle arpeggio led guitar piece called Awakening The Hydra, which in turn leads to Dance of the Hydra,a blistering five plus minutes of wild fusion playing and a monstrous riff that the likes of Metallica would love It is a brutal, kicking piece of music with lots of wild guitar riffs and manic drumming from Russ Wilson. Nick is all over this track, employing many of his artistic tools to profound effect, there is furious playing but he never loses sight of feeling, melody and touch and this closes out the suite perfectly.
Arcadia is a classical guitar piece that flows seamlessly into The Paradox Part 1 Part2. This is a very questioning song that asks questions about how we live today. There is a great synthesiser solo from Dave Bainbridge at the halfway mark and a very spacey, yet fluid, guitar line from Nick carries the song forward, along with more subtle slide parts that really add to the atmosphere of the song. The song ends gently with classical guitar playing that draws everything to a close and completes our journey. Hopefully, during the journey, we should have gained enough insight to be able to continue our lives in the light of the wisdom that has been handed to us, to discover, absorb, and allow us to illuminate the paths that lie before us.
‘The Cloud Of Unknowing’ is an astonishing album that reveals more and more of itself as you become familiar and open to its themes. It is deeply spiritual and is one that we invariably need in these days of turmoil that the world is facing. Whatever you believe, this album is at least a call the ponder, muse and meditate even if only for yourself, why not try it? It is a highly highly recommended listening experiencefor the discerning music fan.
Babe Ruth were a hot ticket in the early 1970s with their intelligent and sophisticated sound, the use of horns and the earthy yet powerful vocals of Janita“Jenny”Haan trading her lines against the impressive Alan Shacklock’s skilled guitar and arrangement. Their music was in part influenced by the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, which made for an early ethnicity to their sound.
Their debut album, ‘First Base’, featured a striking cover designed by Roger Dean that enabled it to stand out in the racks. What a statement of intent it was from opening bars of Wells Fargo, that sound just hits you like a tank but it is not all bombast, it is is an album full of intricacies, especially with the wonderful arrangements from the classically trained Alan Shacklock, this is a different type of progressive rock and one that certainly makes an impression.
There are a lot of keyboards within the sound, all backed by the solid beat of DickPowell. This is best displayed on the lengthy instrumental King Kong which is a fabulous jazzy rock number that would not feel out of place on an early Santana album. It is actually a cover of the Frank Zappa song from his 1968 ‘Uncle Meat’ album. Black Dog is a different type of song being soft and gentle with a delicate vocal from Jenny. Originally by Jesse Winchester, this has a fabulous piano solo from Dave Punshon. The Mexican is next and is the longest song on the album thus far and opens with Spanish guitar and a steady straightforward beat which was done in one take. It is really impressive for its time, well before drum loops and such. The song is about the Alamo but is told from the Mexican perspective, it also includes part of Ennio Morricone’s Western themes, which are neatly worked into the track. There’s great syncopation throughout the entire track and some great bass lines. The final song is Joker which has a brutal riff to it and more impassioned vocals from Jenny Haan. It rounds the album out in style although there are two bonus tracks plus a single edit of Wells Fargo and the theme from A Few Dollars More.
This concluded a fine album and gets you set up for their second album ‘AmarCaballero’ which carries with on the strong vibe of ‘First Base’, although this time the cover (a gatefold) is by Hypgnosis and features a group of horses that were supposed to charge but refused to move. In addition the line up has changed too, with EdSpevock on drums, Dave Hewitt on bass and Chris Holmes replacing Dave Pushon on keys.
The sound and style of the album is different from the debut in that there are a slew of songs from Jenny, delicate guitar from Alan and an effective use of orchestrations throughout the album. However, there is still plenty of rocking going on, especially on the epic three parts of Amar Caballero with its Latin sounds. There are also elements of funk on the drums along with a suitably fiery guitar and horns wailing away. Much of this material was originally penned with other artists in mind but, when that failed to work out, this album arose from those efforts, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag but the 3-part Amar Caballero is definitely worth a listen.
The final album ‘Babe Ruth’ was their last for Harvest, although they spent a while on the Capitol label where they released the ‘Stealing Home’ and ‘Kid’s Stuff’ albums, albeit with a vastly different line up as all the original members had quit by this stage.
The album opens with the hard rocking track Dancer with great guitar by AlanShacklock, this is followed by another rocker, Somebody’s Nobody, with more great guitar and synth sounds, again Jenny sings very powerfully, as she does throughout the whole album. An interesting version of A Fistful Of Dollars comes next, where Alan gets to play his own tribute to those spaghetti westerns of which he is so fond.
We then get a cover of a Curtis Mayfield song, We People Darker Than Blue, an unusual choice but it gets the proper Babe Ruth treatment with lots of energy and great synths. As a social protest song, it is overseen sympathetically and treated with respect, with a fine vocal from Jenny. Jack O’Lantern has very Rock and Roll feel with lots of honky tonk piano runs. The song is about a voyeur and, while it may not be welcome today, for its time, it was musically at least, a good track.
Another cover follows, this time of Booker T Jones‘ and William Bells‘ Private Number, which is a great song with lots of good synth work in amongst some fine guitar playing. Turquoise is driven by Spanish guitar runs and fills, a very flamenco style track with excellent guitar lines from Alan. The last track on the album is TheDuchess Of Orleans and, again, this has a great vocal from Jenny Haan, it is also the second longest track on the album after Dancer. The song is about a relationship across the classes, opening with organ and Alan’s Cockney accent before Jenny takes the vocal over. It’s an interesting track and closes the album out well in what has been an excellent overview of the band and, indeed, their Harvest years, in which we find much skill and talent that was sadly unappreciated at the time. Upon re-examination some 50 years on we can see just how good this band really were and how they deserved so much more than they achieved.
This is a really good box set as usual from Esoteric and includes an informative booklet from the great Steve Pilkington, no less, I highly recommend it!
John Wenlock-Smith: ‘The Cloud Of Unknowing’,you were going to tell me what it is all about?
Nick Fletcher:Well, the album came out of lockdown and my own search to find meaning and purpose in my life as a result of that time.
JWS: How did you do that?
NF:Well I looked in mythology and also to Christian mysticism to find some answers.
JWS: Mysticism? like who?
NF:Under the CD tray is a quote from St John of the Cross, I looked at what folks like him were saying to see if that gave any clarity. For me, I think that it did impact me in how I looked at things and situations and also how to enjoy solitude and silence.
I found there to be much insight and wisdom in these medieval mystics writing, much to learn within those monastic traditions.
JWS: And this all influenced the album?
NF:Yes but indirectly, in that it helped me focus and create the music accordingly.
JWS: The album is great
NF:I feel it’s best listened to straight through to really get what it’s trying to say.
JWS: I can certainly spot the influence of U.K., for instance. While you may not play legato style like Allan Holdsworth, you certainly fly across the strings with some style.
NF:Well, I loved U.K. and I wanted a singer who sounded a little like John Wetton as I love his voice. When Caroline Bonnet (my producer) suggested her friend StuartBarbour (who she’d worked with before), I tried him and found he had a very good voice, a British voice rather than an American one, and I think that matters for the two songs he does, he did a great job.
JWS: So, obviously, U.K. was an influence.
NF:Yes, but so many other guitarists were too, like John Mclaughlin, his MahavishnuOrchestra and later 1970s albums were influences too.
JWS: With some guitarists it is all about the song being the springboard from which they can do the guitar solo.
NF:I try not to take that approach, for me, if the song calls for a solo then fine, but it’s a tool that I can choose to employ and it’s not mandatory really. I’m a writer mainly, one who also plays the guitar, it is really merely a tool I can utilise in my music.I’m always writing stuff and the guitar is a tool to use within that context.
JWS: You have some great musicians who lend their skills to the album.
NF:Yes, I have some great friends who are prepared to help me out.
JWS: Like Dave Bainbridge?
NF:Dave played some great organ parts on several tracks.
JWS: How is Dave?
NF:I’m actually seeing him this week as he’s playing a gig in Sheffield and it’s so close to me, it’ll be good to catch up with him again.
JWS: So what’s next for you?
NF:Well, I’m still writing with a view to a third album and in August we (The JohnHackett Band) resume touring activities again, plus I’ll have more solo classical guitar recitals to do.
JWS: So, all in all, keeping occupied after the two years of difficulties with covid?
NF: We are doing a promotional film shoot for the band with some live stuff that will be used to promote the band to a wider audience hopefully. That will, hopefully, appear on YouTube.
JWS: So it’s all looking positive Nick?
NF:Yes, very much so!
JWS: Thank you for your time and for the information about the album, that will help me with my review, I hope, and, hopefully, I’ll see you on the road again soon.
NF:Thanks John, good to talk with you again, hope to see you soon too.
‘The Cloud Of Unknowing’ is out now and can be ordered direct from the artist here: