Review – John Holden – Proximity & Chance – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Proximity & Light’ is John Holden’s fifth album in six years, it all started with ‘Capture Light’ in 2018 which was followed by ‘Rise and Fall’ in 2020, ‘Circles in Time’ in 2021 and ‘Kintsugi’ in 2022, all of which contained some remarkable and diverse music from John and his chosen cast of colleagues. Well, this album is slightly different in that the circle of assistants John has used this time is a lot smaller, with the missing parts being mainly provided by John himself. I have to say, I think it works very well indeed, especially with the amazing cast of vocalists, Peter Jones, Shaun Holton (Southern Empire) and the evergreen Sally Minnear.

Another difference this time around is that John has used a virtual studio system, Slate VSX, which allows you to recreate the sounds of top end studios without either the cost or the hassle. I must admit that it sounds very good to these ears.

The album begins with the powerful and intriguing tale of 13, which was a club that, over its time, included notable bastions of American society, including five US Presidents. The purpose of the club was to debunk superstitions surrounding the number ’13’ being unlucky. This is an excellent opening song with a lot happening in its confines. John is in good form here, playing some great guitar fills and riffs, he even provides a fine first solo, leaving room for a brief appearance from Dave Brons, who adds some joyful guitar runs to close the track out. The Man Who Would be King introduces Shaun Holton on vocals, his vocal style is very different to Peter Jones (who sang on the previous track) and here it works very well. The song is based on Rudyard Kipling’s book ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ and is, in part, about colonial misunderstandings. It is also about how we, the British, used to behave towards the local population, not always in a good way either, as you can well imagine!

A Sense of Place is an instrumental that features John Hackett on flute and Vikram Shankar on piano. It is a beautiful and delicate track inspired by visits to Veddw in Monmouthshire, on the Welsh borders and is a very charming piece of music. It leads into my favourite track of the album, Burnt Cork and Limelight, which tells the gruesome tale of Richard Arthur Prince and William Terriss, a noted victorian actor who meets his death at the hands of an unhinged understudy, Prince, who felt he was being unfairly held back by Terriss and so stabs Terriss in the back outside the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1897. Prince is arrested and sent to Broadmoor Psychiatric hospital where he performs, literally, to a captive audience of fellow inmates. This track has an emotionally charged vocal from Peter Jones and great piano melodies from Vikram Shankar. It is a sad tale told exceptionally well and I really enjoyed it.

Agents concerns itself with the exploits of foreign powers acting within our borders, in this case the events in Salisbury when Russian provocateurs attempted to assassinate Sergei Skripal, a defected Russian military officer and his Daughter Yulia. They were poisoned with a nerve agent, novichok, and this act of aggression came to be seen as the boldness of the Russian state to impose its will indiscriminately, as we see in the war against Ukraine that continues to this day. This is a well written and expertly performed track with guest guitarist Luke Machin sprinkling his magic over this track liberally. In addition, Peter Jones plays great organ and sax solo on this song. Fin is a rather sad and mournful recounting of a love that failed to reach it potential with our heroin reaching the realisation that it is over whist being left alone in Paris. A very emotionally laden track which gives great scope for Sally Minnear’s expressive and honest vocal.

Proximity is a very well orchestrated instrumental which combines melodies from some of the other tracks to create an interesting new piece that talks about how life came to Earth rather than to, say, Mars. Again, John has done his research for this track and it really shows with a strident, confident delivery and some interesting ideas. The final track of this fine album is the superb Chance (Under One Sun), which explores the issue of chance in our own family trees and how this evolves and makes us who we each are and how random it all is, making us look to the skies and wonder, what if? This is a well written and delivered track, it’s mostly positive but encourages you to think about your past and why it is in a world of proximity and chance such as ours. I must say one thing that really stands out on this album are the incredible orchestrations that John has used so very carefully and intelligently in order to craft music of real depth beauty and warmth. From the sympathetic horn parts in Fini, the sinister tones in Agents, all the way to the theatrical nuances that abound in Burnt Cork and Limelight, they all sound really great. Obviously John has put much effort in doing so for our benefit and to deliver such a gloriously strong sounding album

For me, this is John’s strongest release yet and one can only wonder what this unheralded creative force will bring us next. For now, though, this will suffice in the interim but we should certainly applaud the efforts here on a release that will definitely will be high on many end of year listings, including mine! ‘Proximity & Chance’ is utterly brilliant and very highly recommend indeed.

Released 29th May, 2024.

Order mp3 from bandcamp here:

Proximity & Chance | John Holden (

Order CD direct from John here:

John Holden Music | New Album Coming Soon!

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