Review – Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – Alone Together – by John Wenlock-Smith

Rikard Sjöblom is certainly an interesting and excellent musician, as his career thus far clearly demonstrates, coming to prominence first with Beardfish whose albums ‘Sleeping In Traffic Pt1’ (and Pt2) made big waves in progressive rock circles. The mix of often hard hitting jazz fusion and rock brought a smile to many faces but that all came to a natural finish.

Rikard then concentrated on his other project Gungfly who have a similarly eclectic approach to prog. This the eighth Gungfly album all told and, on this release, he works within a trio format playing both keyboards and guitar (both brilliantly I might add).

The opening song Traveler is simply magnificent with brilliant instrumentation along with several fine and fiery guitar solos and some strong keyboard textures. The track is fairly long but never outstays its welcome, going through several changes during its duration. Rikard reminds me of someone, I can’t put my finger on who exactly, but what a statement of intent it is as an opening song, highly impressive and a good portent for things to come.

Clean as a Whistle, the third track, is also a fine song with a strong acoustic guitar to open before a powerful bass line begins playing in harmony with Rikard’s acoustic skills. The vocals actually remind me of modern day Wishbone Ash in places, no bad thing in my view. This is a gentler song in the main with a delicate piano before synths start at the 3 minute mark, the pace then picks up a bit with some great electric guitar playing in the background before a gentle piano returns us to the acoustic guitar and bass section again, simply sublime and gorgeous.

Title track Alone Together supplies a great guitar line that just keeps on going, such a fluid guitar line really warrants your attention! A flourish of organ then comes in, heralding a more discordant harder edged guitar that plays in sync before Rikard’s vocals join the throng. This song goes all over the place but is certainly of interest (although I haven’t got a clue what he is on about and I don’t have the words to decipher the meaning behind the song). It is great music though, constantly changing throughout its running time with all sorts of things going on and with a return to that fabulous guitar line towards the end. It is a Magnificent piece of writing and music that really shows the talent and imagination that Rikard possesses in spades.

Penultimate track, From Afar, is a folksy, jaunty little number that talks about being viewed by persons unknown from afar. It may be short but it is certainly a great song.

The final track, On the Shoulder of Giants, begins with a clanging and strident riff with some funky sounding chords underneath before opening into a more expansive soundscape where the bass tracks the guitar riff superbly and Rikard unleashes a fiery brief break at the start of the main song. This is a very fine opening section detailing Rikard’s love of Frank Zappa’s music and how hearing it made him feel as a youth and his subsequent battle to work outside of the normal expectations, which is something that he has strived for and succeeded in doing. His love of classic progressive rock is evident and he is not ashamed or afraid to pay homage to his heroes. The piano part of this song is stately and sets a good tone for the middle part of the track which is a bit more subdued and is about how he determined to be free to follow his own route in music.

The next section picks up the pace with the piano taking a more urgent tempo and tone before a synth part sounding a bit discordant is played, sounding strange and unsettling but it leaves the way clear for some fluid guitar that resembles the playing of a certain Steve Howe in a very Yes sounding segment. Again, this is a great section of the piece, Rikard and the others are not averse to mixing their styles to really make the tracks stand out. This is terrific stuff really pushing boundaries as he unleashes another epic solo towards the end of the song with a subtle but delightful wah wah tone to it, double tracked to good effect, as he draws the song to a fine climax.

I’m not that au fait with Gungfly’s recorded history but ,certainly after enjoying this one, I will definitely be looking out for other albums of theirs to listen to and also be watching to see what they do next as this power trio really cook the music nicely with good syncopation, really letting their influences come to the fore. An album to revisit often and to embrace and enjoy again and again.

Released 4th September 2020

Order the album from Burning Shed here:

https://burningshed.com/rikard-sjobloms-gungfly_alone-together_cd

Review – Jakko M Jakszyk – Secrets & Lies – By John Wenlock-Smith

‘Secrets & Lies’ is the latest step on a very intriguing musical journey of one Jakko M Jaksyzk that began with a then 13-year-old Jakko attending a King Crimson show at Watford Town Hall, the show that decided the path that Jakko would follow ever after.

Jakko got involved various groups but never lost his love for Crimson, who he now sings and plays guitar for and has done since 2014. This album is his latest solo album and is one that includes several of his Crimson band mates amongst other notable names but, above all, it is the fluid guitar majesty that Jakko brings with him and his love of a good tale that instills this music with a sense of grandeur and magic.

The album is a good length with a good mixture of styles and tones and opens with a sinewy guitar line on Before I Met You. This is a fabulous opening track, very reminiscent of Jakko’s work with Crimson. The song is about unhealthy obsession and that fluid guitar lines weaves through the song like a never ending stream. This lead us into The Trouble with Angels, which nods towards his earlier solo album from 2006, ‘The Bruised Romantic Glee Club’. This features KC alumni Tony Levin and Gavin Harrison who provide the rhythm section for the track. Tony’s bass is a thing of beauty here, subtle and supple, really making a deep impression on the song. A fine, sensitive piece of music.

The third track, Fools Mandate, welcomes Van Der Graaf Generator main man Peter Hammill on voice and guitar and is his first of two appearances on this album. The song is about the situation in the Middle East and the lies that helped create the issues that we all know of today. The song has very much a middle eastern sound to it that makes it sound realistic and convincing and the great guitar from Jakko makes this song very worthwhile. The Rotter’s Club is Closing Down follows, Jakko’s son Django providing the muscular bass on this song and he does a great job of it too. The song is a Canterbury-ish tribute to Jakko’s dead friend Pip Pyle who was the drummer for Hatfield and the North. It is a gentle whimsical piece, beautifully crafted, with dignity and grace and is a fine tribute.

Jakko Jakszyk, Secrets & Lies promo image. August 2020. Photo by Tina Korhonen, 2020. All rights reserved

Uncertain Times is a powerful piece of writing around the events of the whole Brexit scenario and its subsequent shenanigans and political manoeuvring that followed the vote. The lies, devastation and destruction across the land (and indeed the world) that this caused resulted from a poorly and severely misjudged action and has devalued British integrity and importance by giving a voice to people who were possibly better left silent. Giving them that platform has caused untold ongoing political dissent, leaving Britain in the mess that we now have to live with daily.

It Would All Make Sense revisits events of many years earlier that impacted Jakko directly when he was betrayed by someone close to him. The song details that betrayal and has a ragged impassioned guitar line woven throughout. It is a powerful piece of music showing how Jakko was bruised, hurt and left reeling, recognising the signs that were there but not making the connection at the time. Twenty years later, you see them for what they were, always present but never challenged or responded to, the song is very emotional, raw even. Secrets Lies & Broken Memories follows and is an instrumental piece of guitar and fake orchestra (or mockestra) that is really convincing.

Next up is Under Lock & Key, which again features Tony Levin on Bass and also ‘Guitar and Frippertronics’ from Robert Fripp, both Crimson Men. The excellent The Borders We Traded (which is a very personal piece about Jakko’s family in Arkansas) is a really beautiful piece of music that came to be because his daughter composed it at Euston Station on an old out of tune piano. Jakko filmed it on his phone and improvised the song from the original recording, Trading Borders, which is included at the end of the piece, with the pipes adding a certain melancholic air.

The album concludes with Separation, a piece that was originally destined to be a Crimson track. Again, this feature most of his band mates along with Peter Hammill adding voices to tan intense that is about narcissism.

The album is a definite grower, it really unfolds as you immerse yourself into the music showing itself to be really great release. The production and detail of sound is glorious. Jakko certainly explores the music that intrigues him and, as a result, delivers an album of contrasts, mood and tone. As such this is one that I thoroughly enjoyed and have no hesitation in recommending to all.

Released October 23rd 2020

Order album direct from the artist’s website here:

https://jakkomjakszyk.lnk.to/SecretsLies

Review – Monkey Trial – Viking – by John Wenlock-Smith

It is not very often that your village holds a free prog rock show and, even if they do, the quality of the acts could at best be questionable.

So it was a real shock when I went to such an event at a local pub in Haslington near Crewe. I’d seen The Tangent in a local pub in the peak district some years before but Monkey Trial were unknown to me. They are actually a local band who, prior to this blasted virus, often played  locally in Stoke on Trent and have  also performed at HRH Prog in London and various other small space rock events like The Wingy Thing in Derbyshire.

Well, I grabbed a drink (diet coke I was driving) and took a seat for this two part gig. Initially it was a trio with guitar, drums and keyboards, although the drums were not a kit but more organic congas and the like. The music was all new to me but certainly held my attention. The show was sparsely attended and was outdoors so, as the night wore on and it got colder, soon there was merely a handful of people who were watching as the band carried on. I was certainly impressed by their efforts and a few weeks ago I was contacted by the keyboard player, Clive Mallart, asking if I would like to have a listen to their new album, recorded in lockdown, and possibly review it?

I am always interested in helping new bands find a platform for their music to be heard, so here are my thoughts on their new album ‘Viking’.

The album is available via Bandcamp and is a really good listen.It is mostly instrumental, although a few tracks have a muted voice over from Nick Raybould that could be improved by it sitting higher in the mix, as what Nick is saying is actually very interesting, adding to the overall ambience of the music, especially on the track one in vermilion.

The sound reminds me of Stratosfear by  Tangerine Dream with electronics being a platform for extended guitar solos. The guitarist Shaun Bailey is a well-rounded and tasteful player with a good tone, his guitar work supplementing the rest of the band and overall they make a cohesive and interesting sound. The pulse of the keyboards is full and expansive, Monkey Trial paint uncluttered aural landscapes always of interest.

I think one in vermilion is my favorite track as it is one where everything comes together well to create a strong impression. There is theremin on the opening track, a sense of…, but it seems to be a bit buried in the mix and plays alongside the guitar melody at the start and the end of the track. Track 5, things with wings, also impresses, with a strong piano melody that runs throughout and a driving rhythm that pulls the music along Also worthy of note is the strong bass work by Shaun Bailey, who consistently adds a good bottom end to anchor the music together. The analogue and organic percussion of Nick Raybould also adds colour and impetus to proceedings during gloesnowb.

The music the band creates is all about wide-screen and epic soundscapes with interesting tones alongside great melodies. It is all topped off with some searing guitar work that really adds to the effect, making this a band to enjoy and appreciate. Production is clear and crisp, but the album is even better on headphones at a decent volume as then all the subtleties can be heard and appreciated.

The final track, after viking, is a moody finale that recalls the Northumbrian Coast so evocatively displayed nn the album’s fabulous cover artwork. This is an album that rewards the diligent listener and I have no hesitation in recommending this fine little self-released lockdown produced gem.

Released 3rd August 2020

Order from bandcamp here:

https://monkeytrial.bandcamp.com/album/viking

Review – Yes – The Royal Affair Live – by John Wenlock-Smith

I think most people will concede that 2020 has been a somewhat challenging year, especially with the world wide impact and devastation that Covid 19 has bought, along with the subsequent lockdowns that have been enforced on different countries, affecting both world trade and travelling in particular.

Musically, tours and shows have been cancelled or postponed; often indefinitely. However, this has allowed artists time to record new music, albeit socially distanced or even remotely.

Yes were to have been performing their latest run of complete albums featuring ‘Relayer’ but that has inevitably fallen by the wayside and been postponed till 2021. To whet the appetite, they have elected to release a new live album recorded at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, documenting last year’s Royal Affair Tour .

This is a single disc affair but with a new Roger Dean cover and an interesting set list including Yes’ own version of John Lennon’s Imagine (a song Alan White actually performed on prior to joining Yes), the track also includes John Lodge of The Moody Blues on guest vocals. The balance of the tracks are staples of the Yes canon, mainly focused on their prime years i.e. pre 1980’s, although time is made for a rare version of the Simon and Garfunkel classic America, which gets a decent dusting down here.

The album opens with No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed, which also includes the main theme from The Big Country (which is an interesting twist). It sounds very impressive and allows Steve Howe to vamp things up a little. The band sound on good form, relishing the experience and playing very competently indeed, in fact seldom have Yes sounded as on form as they do on this recording.

Geoff Downes’ keyboards continue the theme with lots of orchestrated sounds filling the sound scape out before Steve Howe delivers a fiery solo. But this album is more about ensemble playing than solo flights and those excesses are tightly reined in, this album is about Yes as a band it and plays to that strength very well.

Next track is the powerful Tempus Fugit from the ‘Drama’ album. Again, it is delivered with much bite and flair, Billy Sherwood’s bassline sounding especially muscular and fluid throughout, Steve is on on rampaging form too with strong drum support. This performance reveals just what a monstrous track Tempus Fugit really is and how its status has grown as the years have gone by, so much so that now it is an integral part of any Yes show and rightly so too. Next comes a familiar pedal steel lick that heralds Going For The One with Steve’s interjections taking this song soaring to the heights as it plays as another fabulous performance. Strangely the audience do seem a bit restrained here and they do not really roar like a great Yes crowd can, thank goodness that this performance was captured on tape and is now available for us non-Americans to enjoy at our leisure.

All Good People follows in this fine set of crowd pleasers and, again, Yes deliver an excellent version of this great tune. I know the band have become a bit polarising these days, with lots of detractors but, let’s be honest, this version carries the flame just as well as any others do and they seem to still be enjoying performing these pieces, so, on that basis, long may it continue! Any Yes is better than none at all in my view. Back to the track, which is a genuinely great performance and one that allows some delicate guitar lines from Steve to work in concert with some thunderous bass and powerful drums.

Siberian Khatru follows and represents another classy example of the current line up, still having the classic Yes sound The band give an excellent reading of it, with all its excellent parts sounding as strong and good as they ever were. We are then treated to a short version of Onward from ‘Tormato’, an album where Yes faltered and fell apart, however, this was one of its better songs.

The audience are then treated to the first real epic in the form of the rarely performed (these day at least) America, made famous by Simon and Garfunkel. I first heard this song on an Atlantic sampler LP, ‘The New Age Of Atlantic’, where it shone out as a remarkable reworking of a great tune and it still has the power to impact some 48 years after first being released. I have always liked this song and here Jon Davison brings this song to life wonderfully. It is a fabulous retelling of a great song, Jon’s voice is strong and warm and he brings new life to this version. Some great guitar work from Steve and fine contributions from all quarters make this a superior version of a great song.     

Imagine is a new version of the Lennon track performed by Yes with John Lodge on guest vocals. It is a more than adequate version but, really, adds nothing new to a well known and loved song. Then it is into the home stretch with Roundabout and Starship Trooper, both of which are well received. They are excellent versions, despite the fact that they had been covered many many times now. Then again, these are classic songs that everyone know and love and always want to hear played. It’s an excellent way to bring the show to a finish, everyone going home happy and the legend is preserved, credibility is maintained and Yes live to tour another day.

This album is a fine collection, nothing new or essential but certainly a fine and worthy memento of an interesting tour, all for less than the price of a T shirt! Highly recommended and certainly worth a listen in my view.     

Released 30th October 2020

Order the album here:

https://yesband.lnk.to/RoyalAffairPR

Review – Samurai – Samurai – Remastered, Expanded Edition – by John Wenlock-Smith

This review is of the recently issued re-release on CD of the 1971 album by early UK progressive rock band Samurai. This was originally issued by the Greenwich Gramophone label and featured Dave Greenslade (who later found further fame as a member of Dave Greenslade’s Greenslade which, oddly enough, also included Greenwich’s creative director Tony Reeves).

This album is new to me even though, as a youngster, I was enthralled by Greenslade’s music and covers. This stemmed from hours spent in a local record shop in Sutton Coldfield (called Preedy’s) who sold records in their basement and in which I discovered Greenslade. Whilst I loved the band, I knew little of the members earlier previous musical heritage or history, which is probably why this album passed by me unnoticed, so now is the chance to rectify that situation.

One thing that rapidly becomes apparent is that Dave Lawson certainly added far more to Greenslade’s sound than I had previously thought. Here his vocals are really impassioned and interesting and as rich as his keyboard playing in fact. Whilst this music is of its time and has many of the attendant deficiencies, what it does have is lots of energy and, musically, a lot going on.

The album opens with Saving It Up For So Long, containing a meaty hefty bassline from John Eaton along with swirling keyboards from Dave Lawson, a complex  guitar line from Tony Edwards and sax from Tony Roberts and Don Fey. The use of the brass section makes this very unusual and certainly interesting. The next song, More Rain, is a far mellower affair and shows what Dave bought to Greenslade. Being mellow in its tone and mood doesn’t mean that the song is dull, far from it, the song had a casual pace to it but it still swings nicely making it a fine listen.

Next up is another sax fronted piece, Maudie James, which sounds somewhat sultry and moody before some fine piano leads the song forward again. Another fine Lawson vocal propels the song along with brass incursions parping at various points making this sound very good indeed.

This really is an interesting album and one that deservedly gets a fine reissue from the lovely folks at Esoteric Arts, who once again live up to their image and policy of remastering and reimagining the classics well. They have done a great job with a great sound and have included three hitherto unreleased live tracks from a show in Sweden in 1971, along with an informative booklet with comments from Dave Lawson.

Give A Little Love opens with some rather urgent guitar backed up with horn blasts creating a solid wall of sound. This is done in a good way, some interesting keyboard tones adding to this song and a fine guitar riff with its subtle wah-wah usage driving the song forward before a jazz sax solo comes to the fore. The next two songs are the longer Face In The Mirror and As I Dried The Tears Away, both of which offer room for the music to stretch out a bit more. In the case of Face In The Mirror, this allows the bass to carry a walking beat to proceedings interspersed with subtle keyboards and guitar lines.

The song is quite different in tone, again being mellow in parts but the instrumentation is certainly striking and interesting as is the guitar solo from Tony Edwards who uses his effects pedals well, with the precise drums of Lennie Wright offering solid support for his efforts, making this track a real winner. As I Dried The Tears Away utilises its longer length to good effect, opening with some jazzy keyboards and a growling bass. Good use of vibes offer a shimmer to the sound, again very similar sounding to Dave’s later sounds, and his unusual voice and tone are well displayed herein. A nice brief guitar part as the song proceeds helps gather momentum and pace before a more jazz sounding passage is played with swirling organ parts and bells and whistles being employed, very psychedelic sounding in parts with excellent keyboard passages used.    

The last three songs are live versions of album songs, of which the extended version of Holy Padlock comes out strongest as its extra couple of minutes are used wisely and to maximum effect. The sound takes up an urgent and strident pace halfway through that really swings well. The vocals are somewhat buried in the mix but the band certainly seem to be playing up a storm here. Final Live track is More Rain and, again, this live version really shines, the horns work well creating the sound and making noticeable inserts to the song. The guitar line is also carried well with subtle wah-wah really making it sound very good indeed.

The live tracks show this band could deliver in a live setting although, sadly, that opportunity to develop was cut short as key members became disillusioned and left, leaving Lawson and Reeves free to join Dave Greenslade’s project Greenslade, where their talent would blend to create new magical music over their four album career. 

Tracks: Saving It Up For So Long 3:47, More Rain 4:29, Maudie James 4:59, Holy Padlock 4:45, Give A Little Love 3:42, Face In The Mirror 6:46, As I Dried The Tears Away 8:25, Give A Little Love (Live) 5:12, Holy Padlock (Live) 7:49, More Rain (Live) 4:30.  

Released 25th September 2020

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/samurai-remastered-expanded-edition/

Review – Back Street Crawler – The Atlantic Years 1975-1976 – by John Wenlock-Smith

This set has been a long time in coming, especially if you consider that the main attraction of Back Street Crawler, namely one Paul Kossoff, died way back in 1976 (some forty four years ago). This compilation collects all the recordings the band made for the Atlantic label over a brief two year period. Kossoff was, of course, the guitarist in seminal British rock band Free and his fluid, soulful guitar fuelled the albums they made for the Island label.

Included in this retrospective are the ‘The Band Plays On’ (1975), ‘2ND Street’ (1976) and the ‘Live at Fairfield Hall, Croydon’ set from shows recorded in 1975 that were released after Paul’s death in 1976. The fourth disc is from Paul’s final show on 3rd March 1976 at the Starwood Club, Los Angeles, although this is an illicit (bootleg) recording along with studio outtakes and two unreleased tracks.

Paul was a not only a great talent, he was also a troubled soul, gentle at times and fiery at others. His lack of height and his red hair made him more volatile than others. The fact that he was also a drug addict made him unpredictable and unreliable but he was also in poor health as a result of his addictions. Back Street Crawler was his attempt to regain what he’d lost since the demise of Free in 1973. After Free parted company he made a solo album that Back Street Crawler was named after, he’d also been a part of the Kossoff, Tetsu, Kirke and Rabbit project (also in 1973) that had released one self-titled album on the Island label. 

Back Street Crawler were a five piece band featuring Kossoff on guitars and Terry WilsonSlesser (ex Beckett) on vocals, Mike Montgomery (keyboards), Terry Wilson (bass) and Tony Braunagel (drums), releasing their debut album, ‘The Band Plays On’ in 1975. The debut is actually rather good in parts, it certainly has Paul playing well, even if the material is generally not really very strong or as good as it could be.

There are some sparks on songs like It’s A Long Way Down To The Top and The Band Plays On, to name just two. Singer Terry Wilson-Slesser is a strong and versatile vocalist who gives his all on this album, the generally broody music allows Paul’s guitar to shine through and he plays lots of his trademark solo’s wailing suitably over strong backing from his bandmates. The album would be considered short now but was of its time. One thing this album does have is some great piano for Paul to play off, especially on the funkier tracks like Stealing My Way, which sounds like it could be a lost Free track as it has their bluesy swagger to it. 

Disc 2 contains the album ‘2ND Street’, issued in 1976. However, Paul had been unwell and was only featured on certain tracks. These were a far better representation and vehicle for his unique talent kicking off in good form with the track Selfish Lover on which Paul’s incisive guitar slices through, sounding typically startling and oozing with emotion.

I’m writing this review in the week that that other great British Blues talent Peter Green has left us. In his own way Paul Kossoff was equally as stunning, when Koss played people listened, his tone and his playing were all about making each note speak. This was a talent that was very different to others. Why play 100 fast notes when one well placed note can say it all? that was his gift to music.

Blue Soul is another of his tracks, again he soars on this one. Sweet, Sweet Beauty is another excellent track, as is Some Kind Of Happy.  This album is a far mellower proposition than the harder edged debut and it has its own charm because of that fact, it certainly acts as a graceful tribute to the genius that was Paul Kossoff. This is an album of songs that act as a tribute to a man and fallen friend whose days were numbered and would sadly end before the album was even released.

Whilst ‘2ND Street’ marked he end of Paul Kossoff’s recording career and he may have gone, his legend and his skill remained. His presence was still there in the influence he has been on many contemporary guitarists, many citing him as such, or a hero even. However, there was more to come because recordings had captured Kossoff in fine form at Fairfield Hall in June of the previous year (this is presented here on disc 3).

The live albums here are very interesting, especially Fairfield Hall as it was recorded on one of Pauls better nights where his playing is hot, fiery and exciting, bringing the songs from the debut to life onstage. He also adds covers of Free’s The Hunter and his own Molten Gold. This live disc features all ten tracks from ‘The Band Plays On’ but here they are imbued with the power of a live performance. Obviously touring had consolidated the group significantly and these live versions are vibrant and vital, bristling with an energy that the studio versions somehow seemed to lack.

The sound is clear and full well mixed and captured in full flow, it’s a great joy to hear this show all these years later, one weeps for the loss of Kossoff. Standout tracks also include It’s a Long Way Down To The Top and The Band Played On, where Koss is all over the song, adding frills and stepping out to take some incendiary solos. This is everything the debut wasn’t as a studio release and validates the bands existence. I sadly missed the chance to see this tour at Birmingham Town Hall and I really wish I had made the effort I think I Missed something special, ah the folly of youth eh?.

Disc 4 is also of interest as it contains Paul’s last ever performance at the Starwood Club in Los Angeles. This being a bootleg tape the quality is fairly raw and rough sounding but its certainly listenable and featuring Free’s Common Mortal Man is a nice touch. Opening Who Do Women is a good entrance but the sonic limitations of the recording dilute the power of the performance. Although you can hears Koss’s guitar clearly, the rhythm section sound a bit muffled and clipped. The swagger of Stealing My Way is next and you cant believe that you are hearing such a historical and monumental performance. Sadly Paul would pass away on an airplane between Los Angeles and New York from a pulmonary embolism just 15 days later, the legend was gone but, as this set clearly attests, his talent would live on forever.     

I’ve not seen the finished box set of these discs yet but, in any event, these reissues by Cherry Red/ Esoteric bring to life again that tragically short period of Back Street Crawler featuring Paul Kossoff and the final period of his life. Back Street Crawler continued with Geoff Whitehorn replacing Kossoff and released 2 further albums for Columbia, namely ‘Crawler’ and ‘Snake, Rattle and Roll’. After the band split in the late 1970’s, Whitehorn joined Procol Harum where he remains to this day.  

Released 16th June 2020

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

Review – Randy California & Spirit – The Euro-American Years – by John Wenlock-Smith

This reissue may be a tad obscure to some, especially as it has been some 23 years since Randy California died in the pacific ocean whilst rescuing his son Quinn from a riptide near his mother’s home in Hawaii, Quinn Survived by sadly Randy did not and passed away at the age of 45.

Randy lived a very eventful and colourful life and he left a wealth of recordings, many of which are only now seeing the light of day thanks to the incredible efforts of Mick Skidmore, who painstakingly strives to keep Randy’s memory and legacy alive through the work of the The Randy Craig Wolfe Trust. Mick has gone to extraordinary lengths to bring several albums up to a good level of fidelity.

These include ‘Spirit – Live From The Time Coast’, ‘Spirit – Two Side Of A Rainbow – Live At The Rainbow’ and ‘Spirit – Tent of Miracles’, all of which have surfaced in the past few years, massively overhauled and much expanded with unreleased and live cuts (often in the form of complete shows). Take the extensive booklets and photographs, all of which add to this latest collection of 6 CDs (including almost 3 discs of previously unavailable / unheard live recordings of both Spirit and the Randy California Band recorded between the years 1979 to 1983) and make it a most welcome addition to that growing vault of releases.

The thing that becomes clear very rapidly is that this was a difficult time for Randy, and he struggled to find his niche and a genre in which his undeniable talents could be best shown. This fascinating set includes early demos from 1979 in London, the whole ‘Euro-American’ album and ‘Shattered Dreams’ live EP and tracks from the Potato Land project, portrayed through live recordings made in both the UK, Europe and the USA. This material is often excellent, sometimes patchy but always worth a listen and this comprehensive set is an excellent and accessible way in which to trawl through this particular period of Randy’s Career.

The sound is generally particularly good, there are occasional lapses but, generally, this is all perfectly listenable, you can certainly hear significant snatches of Randy’s brilliance when he gets to stretch out or really let fly. You hear this especially on the longer live tracks where he can really play to his strengths, confident in the backing his fellow musicians create for him to work from.  

The sets fall as such, Disc 1 and 2 – The Euro American album, Demos and Shattered Dream EP and Unreleased Tracks. Disc 3 is Spirit Live in 1980/1981 at various venues in both Europe and the US on what were essentially Promo tours for the Potato Land album that had been released by Beggars Banquet.

Disc 4 is more demos and also soundboard recordings of a festival show at Ayr in Scotland from October 1979 supporting Ian Gillan of Deep Purple fame. This show is an attempt at a harder sound that works very well. Disc 5 is a show from Spirit taken from Greensboro North Carolina in 1981 and this is the 3 piece version really giving a fantastic performance with three lengthier tracks at the end really giving them a chance to shine.

The Final disc (disc 6) is The Randy California Band live at the Reading Festival in 1982 and from the Glastonbury Festival in 1982, both being soundboard recordings

This set is very extensive and will keep you happy for many hours, as the entire set lasts for just short of 9 hours, with each disc coming out at 79 plus minutes per disc, so it is a value packed set and, although there is some duplication, there is enough variation to still make this set worthwhile.

Personally I applaud the efforts of both Mick Skidmore and Mark and Vicky Powell of Esoteric for bringing this remarkable time capsule to the table. I just hope that they have a reissue for the fabulous ‘Restless’ album (that has been out of print for many years) lined up, for that was another remarkable album that was widely ignored by the record buying public and is surely due for re-evaluation once again.

This a reissue that I can certainly recommend to fans of Spirit, psychedelic rock or simply good, strong music with some fabulous playing, Randy was truly a unique musician as this excellent boxset testifies wonderfully. 

Disc 1 Kingsway Demos 1979, You stole my Heart 4:43,California Man 4:12, Thinking Of You 2:58, Song For Laura 5:05, Magic Wand LA Sessions 1981 Reeling IN The Night3:33,Lani By The Sea3:43,Shattered Dream Long 45 Mix 5:38,Rock Of Ages 2:13, Magic Wand 3:32.Original Euro American Album 1982 Toy Guns 2:56, This Is The End (Unedited)2:57, Mon Ami (Unedited) 2:44, Rude Reaction 3:22,Calling You 3:11,Wild Thing 4:02,Easy Love (12@ Mix)3:39, Fearless Leader 4:24,Five In The Morning 3:01 Skull And Crossbones 5:31, Breakout 2:28 Post Euro American Track recorded Abbey Road 1982 Man At War 2:13, Write You A Letter 3:10.

Disc 2 Hand Guns 2:44,Come On Woman 3:18,Trouble In Mind 6:54, Cabin De Telephone5:51, Shane 3:56, All along The Watchtower 2:57 (UK EP Release),Don’t Bother Me 5:02,Brittany 3:47, Downer 3:19, Second Child 4:57,Man At War 4:29.Killer Weed 4:27,Radio Man AKA Same Old Naturally 2:56, Superchild 4:23 Run To Your Lover 3:42, Love’s Not A Game 4:41, Love Is War 2:31,Childhoods End 6:01,Ove3rloaded Ships Sink 4:06.

Disc 3 Spirit Live Various Venues 1980 and 1981, 1984 3:29,Turn To The Right 3:53,Five In The Morning 3;59,Hungry Driver 8:19, I Want Somebody 2:12, Give A Life Take A Life 3:40,Hey Joe 6:45 German 12 Inch Single, Shattered Dreams 9:19, So Little Time To Fly 3:33,Fish Fry Road 4:07, Magic Wand 10:31,Come On Woman 4:02, Breakout 5:02,Downer 3:37, Song For Laura 4:21, Wild Thing 3:53.

Disc 4 Grossscher Herrscher (German Language version Of Fearless Leader 4:27, His Spirit Is Travelling On 3:53, PT 109 1:26,Whispers From Heaven 3:35, Trying To Get Closer To You 3:26, Since She’s Gone 2:51, Past Love 4:07,Stepping Son 3:30,Otter In The Sea 3:56, California Man 3:10, Childhoods End 3:39, Randy California Band Soundboard Tape Ayr Scotland October 22nd 1979 Downer 6:32,You Stole My Heart 5:41, Move On Up 5:10, California Man 5:06, Rebels Flight 6:30, Breakout $:10,Song For Laura 6 55.

Disc 5 Spirit Louis Rock City South, Greensboro April 3rd 1981 1984 4:00, Turn To The Right 3:43, Animal Zoo 3:15,Magic Wand 7:16,Nature’s Way 3:20, Five In The Morning 3:05 So Little Time To Fly 3:35, Mr. Skin 3:00, Come On Woman3:53,All The Same 10:35, I Got A Line On You 2:45, Fish Fry Road 4:07,Wild Thing 7:09, Like A Rolling Stone 8:55, Come And Get It (Magic Spirit) 6:22.

Disc 6 Randy California Band Reading Festival Board Tape 1982 Second Child 5:55,Downer 3:25 Man At War 4:24, Like A Rolling Stone 6:26, All Along The Watchtower 3:31, Come On Woman 3:58, Natures Way 3:16,Killer Weed 6:36, Run To Your Lover 3:14,I Got A Line On You 2:42, Song For Laura 5:13<Wild Thing 5:10 Glastonbury  Festival 1982  Partial Soundboard Tape Hand Guns 2:57,Lisa 5:24,Don’t Bother Me 5:47,Rebel On Attack 3:12, Killer Weed 8:25.

Released 28th August 2020

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

Review – Flying Colors – Third Stage: Live In London – by John Wenlock-Smith

This latest Release from US Prog supergroup Flying Colors chronicles the final date of the ‘Third Stage’ tour that was wound up at Shepherd’s Bush Empire last December. This is a 2 CD and DVD package which really brings to life the spectacle and musicianship the band offer live with both audio and visual recordings of the evening presented.

Unsurprisingly, the set is heavily focused on the then current ‘Third Degree’ album but with enough familiar favourites to create a dynamic balanced show, although sadly no version of that album’s epic Last Train Home was performed (I would gladly have traded Mask Machine for that song) but, even so, what is really apparent is the definitive bass playing of Dave La Rue who anchors the material along with the driving drumbeat from Mike Portnoy. Together, these two offer a fabulous launch pad from which the others can fly their colors, as it were.

Steve Morse is on exceptional form throughout, he is all over these songs with riffs, solos and fills abounding. He also appears to be really enjoying himself, as do the others, the mix and sound is superb with great separation throughout making this a rocking and enjoyable listen. Certainly, those who were there that night sure witnessed something incredibly special indeed. Flying Colors aim of blending musicianship with great songs was realised that night as captured here on these discs and in the excellent DVD of the show.

Especially fine are the versions of Geronimo (which features some excellent bass riffs and a distinctively fine groove from La Rue), the beautiful and emotionally laden epic that is Peaceful Harbour (with an awesome guitar solo from Steve Morse and a fabulous vocal scat from Casey McPherson that leads the song in), this song really shows the marriage of styles that combine to make Flying Colors such a wonderful musical proposition. Songs with emotional depth, musically strong and yet whilst interesting, they really display the talents each member brings to the band. Considering that the band is supplementary to their main day jobs, this is all the more remarkable and is very rewarding indeed.

The fluidity of Steve Morse’s epic guitar playing really shines out on this song backed with real groove and drive from the others, creating a really special version of an exceptional song. This allows for some good audience participation, encouraged by Mike Portnoy acting as unofficial choir master. This joyful song really impresses greatly and is a defining moment of an excellent show.

The second half of the show on disc two contains mainly the longer songs, the band keeping the energy levels high throughout. Crawl is also another epic number, clocking in at 11 Minutes 48 seconds, opening gently and delicately before the chorus is played and a faster more intense pace is picked up. After the initial section, Neal Morse’s keyboards come to the fore, along with a great guitar line from Steve Morse offset against fine keyboards before the guitar snakes the piece away, backed by more great bass work. A seriously good grower of a song ensues here.

The dynamics of this song are truly awesome and highly impressive, really creating the mood. Casey is on particularly good form on this song and, indeed, on the whole set. In fact it is fair to say that each of these musicians are really playing excellently. You can tell just how much they enjoy being together playing together to make this music full of passion and emotion.

Next we have two lengthy tracks, Infinite Fire and Cosmic Symphony, back to back. An exceptionally fine progressive section lasting about 24 minutes in all and full of stellar musical moments from everyone. There’s great interplay, between Neal and Steve especially, backed with strong support from Dave and Mike. This section is followed, and concluded, by strong versions of The Storm and Mask Machine.

This set is really an excellent one and proves that Flying Colors have significant worth and bring a lot of value to the party. If only they could allocate more working time and tour properly so that folks could really begin to appreciate them more, they could be even more successful and reach a far bigger audience and market rather than being Prog’s greatest secret or guilty pleasure.

For me, this a most worthy release and consolidates the strength and value this this excellent band offer to progressive music or to folks who appreciate fine music and great songs. I have no hesitation in recommending this highly to all, seriously great release.

Released 18th September 2020

Order direct from bandcamp here:

https://flyingcolors.bandcamp.com/album/third-stage-live-in-london

Review – Steve Hackett – Selling England By the Pound & Spectral Mornings Live at Hammersmith

This 2 CD / Blu Ray package is the latest release from the former Genesis guitarist who has, for the last 8 years, been repackaging and marketing his own version of his Genesis era history. Quite rightly so, when the rest of the original band are all doing decidedly different music these days.

This nostalgic revue is both commercially and musically viable and valid, people love these songs and Steve has both compiled a top notch supporting band and also tweaked the songs enough to bring their subtle tones and deep emotions to life. Steve’s tours invariably sell out and he has kept ticket prices to an affordable level thus making his shows accessible to many fans who may never have seen the original band. This latest release sees a return to Hammersmith after last year’s successful run of  shows under the ‘Selling England By The Pound‘ and ‘Spectral Mornings‘ banner.

What’s different this time is that Steve has a new drummer who has replaced the departing long term member Gary O’Toole. He had occupied the drum stool for nearly 20 years and, whilst this hasn’t changed the sound, it has brought a fresh power to proceedings. Craig Blundell is the new man behind the kit and he certainly makes his presence felt on this album, adding new flourishes and also forming a solid, reliable rhythm section with bassist Jonas Reingold and, in doing so, creating a platform for Steve’s guitar to soar freely.

The show is divided into two separate parts, part one being a mix of ‘Spectral Mornings’ tracks and including three tracks from Steve’s latest album, ‘At The Edge Of Light’, these being Under The Eye Of The Sun, Fallen Walls and Pedestals, and Beasts in Our Time. These add to the dynamics of the first half well, ‘Spectral Mornings’ being considered by many to be a crowning glory in Steve’s musical legacy or canon of recordings.

It’s an album that is certainly warmly received here at Hammersmith, the songs will be familiar to most so I don’t really need to comment on them to much except to state that all receive sterling performances here with contributions from both John Hackett on flute and Amanda Lehmann on guitar and vocals.

This section of the show is bookended with two of the tracks from ‘Selling England By the Pound’, namely, Dancing with The Moonlit Knight and an extended take on I Know What I Like, both of which are superb renditions, the latter giving Steve a chance to stretch out on the guitar.

The second part contains the remainder of SEBTP including an unreleased track, Déjà Vu, that was co-written by Peter Gabriel. Steve consulted with Peter who then gave his consent to a reworked, finished version and split the writing credits with Steve. As the track was omitted from the original album, its appearance here is most welcome indeed, it is a feisty and strong number that fits in well with the remaining tracks on SEBTP.

Also of note is the simply magnificent version of Firth of Fifth, a song that is as much about Steve as any other Genesis song. This is probably the best of the many live versions of this song that exist, somehow surpassing all the other versions including the orchestral version from last year’s Festival Hall recording, whilst that was great, somehow this is even better. I think that Craig Blundell’s drumming throughout gives the piece hitherto uncovered power, kick and bite and that elevates it above all the other takes released previously.

You could argue that every year brings a new release of old material and do we really need this one? My answer to that is a definitive Yes! These performances are from the heart and certainly satisfy demand and, whilst the original band are reluctant to perform these, Steve’s troop can certainly do so more than adequately and with conviction, power, dignity and grace. This set does that on every count, the blu-ray is a lovely addition and supplements the recordings with a crisp sound and sharp picture. The lighting used throughput the show is stunning and lighting operator Chris Curran certainly adds emphasis and dynamics in bringing his flair in making this a great visual show. This is made all the better with the sharpness that the blu-ray version delivers and the option of the 5.1 surround version that has been sympathetically mixed by Steven Wilson.  

If you have enjoyed any of Steve’s previous live sets, then I certainly recommend this one to you there is so much to enjoy and relive here.

Released 25th September 2020

Order direct from Steve’s website here:

http://www.hackettsongs.com/news/newsAlbum30.html

Review – Arcade Messiah – The Host

The one man, mighty music machine that is John Bassett returns with a new album from his Arcade Messiah project. ‘The Host’, released on September 17th, was mooted as a return to the angrier, heavier sound of John’s original, and best known, band, the imaginatively monikered KingBathmat and we have been given what we were promised… in spades…

John himself said that the new album was, “…more like KingBathmat ‘Overcoming the Monster’ than previous Arcade Messiah albums.”

That was nectar to my ears as I was, and still am, a big fan of the stoner/doom/psychedelic ‘turned up to 11’ sound of KingBathmat. The music sounded like it was hewn out of solid granite and ‘The Host’ certainly has that monolithic sound deep at its core but there’s also subtlety and not a little wistful, thought provoking going on in and amongst the usual huge wave of sound that John always seems to create. A wave of sound so monumental that it would have Phil Spector running for cover!

Also there has to be a big shout out for the ever excellent artwork on the album, a feature of every Arcade Messiah release, I’m always a sucker for a great album cover.

The first two tracks on the album are powerful, magnetic behemoths, Can Of Worms and Electro Magnetic Divine both anchored on that hard hitting, grunge heavy guitar sound (one that any 70’s seminal metal band would be proud of) that is archetypical of the John Bassett sound, his urgent, edgy vocal adding further dynamism and efficacy to the songs. They move forward like an unstoppable force, inexorably heading wherever it is they want to go.

Hidden more in the background on the latter track is a rather elegant, 80’s inspired, keyboard sound and this comes to the fore on Show Me The Sun, a track more akin to John’s Sacred Ape project with its spooky, sci-fi inspired tone. Full on, in your face, heavy metal guitar returns on the intro to The Witch From The West, a compelling track that has opposing facets of a calmer, more reflective sound that is ying to the yang of that glacial inevitability of the heavier guitar and it’s a fascinating listening experience that draws you in to this musical juxtaposition of good and evil.

Title track The Host goes all techno and electronic on us again with a more laid back sound before opening up with some rather splendid guitar riffs and a mysterious undertone. John’s songwriting is as impressive as ever as each track lays its interesting tale before us, drawing you into a heavy, almost dystopian soundscape. Diagnosis is yet another fine song that takes John’s excellent guitar riffs and runs with them, if Ennio Morricone did stoner, doom rock Western movie soundtracks, this could well be one of them (trust me, it’s not as tenuous a link as it sounds!). I love the potent energy at the heart of this track, it is one of my favourites on the album.

The album closes with two shorter tracks, the haunting instrumental Wasteland, with its bleak, edgy guitar note and and austere, pared back feel (again, this could be a movie soundtrack but more in the Mariachi style methinks?) which then segues into the laid back, wistful nostalgia of Wildfire, quite a melancholy and reflective end to an album chock full of thunderous riffs and a primeval energy.

Well, Mr Bassett has only gone and done it again. I have no idea if it is a coincidence of his move to Ireland but this highly impressive songwriter and musician just keeps getting better and better. ‘The Host’, full of some of the most impressive riffs you will ever hear this side of Black Sabbath or Elder and yet containing moments of lucidity creating pathos and poignancy, is without a doubt, his best musical creation yet.

Released 17th September 2020

Order ‘The Host’ from bandcamp here:

https://arcademessiah.bandcamp.com/album/the-host