Live Review – Foxtrot At Fifty – Buxton Opera House 26th September 2022 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Picture By Lee Millward

In all my years I had never, until tonight that is, seen a show at the famous Buxton Opera House. Designed by noted architect Frank Matcham, a noted theatre designer whose work is known in many fine theatres like the Hackney Empire and the London Palladium, among others. The Opera House opened in 1903 and was subsequently renovated in the late 1970’s. It is a notably ornate building and is small inside, a capacity of 901 seats across its 4 levels making this a fairly intimate setting in which to witness such a distinguished artists that play here.

Steve Hackett’s latest tour is based around the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the release of the classic 1972 Genesis album ‘Foxtrot’, which is known as one of the defining albums from the so called big six (Genesis, Yes, ELP, King Crimson, VDGG and Pink Floyd). This record is probably one of Genesis’ most famous releases and includes the classic Supper’s Ready. However, before we celebrate that achievement, we are sweetened by a wonderfully accomplished first set of Steve’s own songs, drawn from several of his solo albums, from ‘Voyage Of The Acolyte’ through to ‘The Surrender Of Silence’.

What a set this turns out to be! In this first part of the show we are rewarded with jaw dropping takes of Ace Of Wands, Every Day and Camino Royale among others. Again, Steve and his band rise to the challenge admirably, especially noteworthy are the ever graceful keyboards of Roger King and the woodwinds of Rob Townsend. For most of this part of the show singer Nad Sylvan is absent, appearing only for The Devil’s Cathedral and Every Day. The song A Tower Struck Down includes a bass solo from Jonas Reingold, which was certainly different as you don’t hear many of those these days!

The evergreen Shadow of the Hierophant also makes a welcome return, although this was mainly the closing section only although, to be fair, it does prove just what a talented troupe Steve leads. This mainly instrumental set also allows Steve lots of room for his elegant lyrical, eloquent soloing. Steve soars in these pieces proving, once again, that at 72 years of age, like a good wine, every year he continues to age gracefully and with a robust and often surprising bouquet. This first half ends to rapture applause and a break is taken before the main event.

Now, the concept of playing a classic album in full is not a new one, Yes, for instance, have been doing their classic albums in sequence since the early 2000’s but Steve has only being doing it for the past few tours, Covid excluded, and this time it’s ‘Foxtrot at Fifty’.

This part begins with a storming take of Watcher Of The Skies, which allows Nad’s theatrical side to emerge, and it does dramatically as he wears red flashing glasses to emphasise the sombre message of the words. Now, here’s an admission for you, until tonight I’d never heard all of ‘Foxtrot’! Yes, I knew bits but to hear it performed in sequence by this extremely talented ensemble makes me want to buy the album for myself, I will certainly rectify that omission on my part. The second track, Time Table, is new to me but what a fine song it is, very clever, it’s about Knights of old and it’s a real corker, as is Get ‘Em Out By Friday, a song about social housing and unscrupulous landlords and their tactics. Recorded in 1972, this song still sounds true today, as do the issues it speaks of. Genesis were ahead of their time and spoke about issues that concerned them, they had a good sense of the absurdities of life.

Can-Utility and the Coastliners follows, outlining the tale of King Canute and his attempts to stop the waves. Interestingly Knutsford in Cheshire tells a similar story as Canute gave his name to the town and its river crossing, although his name was anglicised to Knutsford rather than Canute’s Ford. We are then treated to a long-time Hackett favourite, Horizons, which sees Steve switching to a rather expensive and exquisite classical guitar for a flamenco influenced rethought of this short instrumental.

Then it’s the main highlight for many, Suppers Ready ,a six part suite of songs that have been highly regarded for many years. The song has a multitude of themes including social security, narcissism and words from the book of revelation in the bible. Performed tonight, it is an utter triumph and, again, it starts to make sense to me at last.

This ends the main show but we get two more songs as an encore, the always fabulous favourite Firth Of Fifth, and this features Steve’s brother John, who plays the flute soloing place of Rob Townsend, and excellent he is too. Roger King’s epic piano lines are superb, as is that fabulous guitar solo from Steve, although he does fluff the last note and looks crestfallen for doing so, although, to be fair no one minded. The final track is a medley of Myopia/Slogans/ Los Endos which sends everyone home happy and satisfied with a very special evening of great music in a truly unique setting. Personally, I await the already planned document of this tour that will probably emerge next year at some stage.

Review – No Dakota – New Bronze Age

No Dakota’s debut LP ‘New Bronze Age’ is, essentially a post-rock ‘concept album’, musing on the nature of AI and human identity, it takes us on an imagined journey through time as Talos, the original automaton, mutates and reinvents. Drawing from diverse sources – the Colossus of Rhodes, ‘Hel’, the robot in Metropolis, and eventually in to the future android world of Blade Runner and Ex Machina – the album draws on both instrumental and elliptical lyrical narratives. Dark, cerebral, cinematic, immersive and surprising.

The project was conceived during lockdown 2020 by soundtrack composer noh1 / George Taylor (fratelli brothers, Dutch Head, The Ting Tings) and drummer / multi-instrumentalist Martyn Barker (Shriekback, Goldfrapp, Will Gregory, Adrian Utley, Alain Bashung) with guitarist Jez Coad (producer Simple Minds, Lost Boy, Surfing Brides) and guest appearances from Vienna’s Mira Lu Kovacs (Schmieds Puls 5K HD) and Berlin-based thereminist and vocalist Dorit Chrysler (Trentmoller).

If you like your music with more than little mystery and so far from the mainstream that it could be in another dimension then this release is really going to appeal to you. If you follow this music blog then you know the vast majority of the music I like and write about is progressive rock and folk with some hard rock thrown in just for the hell of it. However I really like music that is intriguing and asks questions of the listener and, while not melodic in the traditional sense, the notes all go together in a designated order to deliver something that you can really enjoy. ‘New Bronze Age’ fits that brief perfectly, it’s absorbing, beguiling and very, very puzzling in equal measure.

Opener Anima is electronic, pulsating and thought provoking in equal measure with more than a hint of Krautrock, mixed with a large dose of cinematic ambience. Cima brings some stylish EDM into the mix with a drumbeat straight from the canon of Prodigy (if not quite as mad!). It’s a real uplifting, high energy track with a subtle sci-fi vibe that gives it a really cool feel. The enigmatic shoe gaze/trip hop of Hel is so hip it hurts, the laid back, mellow vocals are perfectly judged and the whole song is as wistful and chilled as they come. Ichor has the feel of 60’s experimental psychedelia where you could literally get away with anything you tried and call it music and people would believe you. It’s creepy as hell, in a darkly delicious kind of way and really makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

Title track New Bronze Age is hyperactive and on edge, like a Cardiacs track that’s been given a huge dose of paranoia and psychedelia and, you know what, it’s utterly addictive and I have no idea why. Maybe it’s the energetic staccato guitar or the hypnotic beat? whatever, you just have to listen to this song! Poseidon is just a captivating piece of music, a sparse, mournful piano plays over an irregular beat while a haunting note repeats in the background. It’s like a modern, cinematic composition, almost classical in feel and has layers of comprehension that are gently peeled away. Re-Turn/Suspension Bridge is the big track on the album, over nine minutes of cleverly constructed music that builds with every note into something darkly primeval and daunting. The diversity of musical styles on show is breathtaking as this brilliant collective take us on a musical journey of majestic proportions that leaves you feeling subdued, as if in the presence of a greater being. The album closes with the pulsing, experimental wanderings of The Letter Z, a profound, echoing end to what has been an intense listening experience.

Music like ‘New Bronze Age’ teaches us to take the musical road less travelled, to stretch our mental boundaries and challenge what is said to be conventional. It is not an easy listening experience in places but it is a very rewarding album that gives a lot more than it takes. No Dakota write music that makes you think and music that is ultimately enjoyable, you just have to make the effort and, in my opinion, you really should!

Released 5th August, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

New Bronze Age | No Dakota (bandcamp.com)

Review – Derek Sherinian – Vortex – by John Wenlock-Smith

Derek Sherinian is very much a keyboard player of the new millennium. Born in California in Laguna Beach in 1966, he has worked with many of the world’s finest progressive and metal groups, either as a member or a touring musician. His latest venture being with the progressive metal super group Sons Of Apollo, where, alongside Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and Jeff Scott Soto, they offer a very sophisticated and earnest progressive metal sound.

Alongside this activity Derek is also a solo artist has produced no less than nine solo albums of which this one, ‘Vortex’, is the latest. Unusually, he likes to play off against some of rock’s finest guitarists as he enjoys the challenge this offers, plus he is a big fan of guitars and their exponents!

This means that his albums have featured many of rocks finest six string heroes, including Zakk Wylde, Steve Vai and Joe Bonamassa, amongst others. This album continues that tradition with the prowess of Zakk Wylde and Joe Bonamassa appearing once more, along with Steve Lukather of Toto, Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme and the legendary Michael Schenker, the album also features Ron Bumblefoot Thal and noted jazz guitarist Mike Stern. Also present are Tony Franklin on bass and Simon Phillips, who not only provides the drums but also produced the album with Derek.

So we have a stellar line of talent, but is it any good you ask?

Well the answer is a resounding yes! It’s a very fine album with lots of exciting solos and performances, the only downside for me is that, good as these players are, the lack of vocals means this can be seen as very high class muzak at times as it is an intense listen and not something that you can play in the background really. It requires active listening to really get the most out of it all, well, in my opinion anyway!

The album opens with the strong track The Vortex which has Steve Stevens of Billy Idol fame providing some fiery guitar tones and lines. Derek’s music is often jazz/fusion in style and tone, as he feels that it allows him freedom to express himself. Opening with a torrent of synthesisers and some hard hitting drumming, this is a ferocious, attacking number with a strong melody that allows the guitar to break through at points, especially for the solo. It’s all very rhythmically driven and is a good opener really, but it does set the stall for much that follows. While there is little doubt of the quality of the musicianship, for this listener, it really does call for some vocals that could enhance what is already on offer and allow the solos to be as appraiser rather than a continuous cycle. Fire Horse follows and features Nuno Bettancourt (Extreme) who shreds freely over the track but, again, while his playing is fluid and impressive, I feel it is all showmanship without a ‘proper’ song to support it. To me, you could say it feels a little empty, all very  worthy but really needs to be in support of, rather than being, the main attraction.

Third track The Scorpion fares better featuring Derek’s very Keith Emerson like piano to fine effect, along with some fabulous bass work from Ric Fierabracci, who plays some great fretted and fretless bass lines. Also noteworthy is the track Seven Seas with Steve Stevens again and also, who provides sterling bass work. This is a real monster with great playing and very fluid guitar lines from Stevens, who again proves himself to be a formidable player who can shred with the best of them, a really impressive track.

Key Lime Blues features both Joe Bonamassa and Steve Lukather trading licks in a really funky sounding number similar to Bonamassa’s Rock Candy Funk Party sound and excursions of previous years. Again, this is a launching pad for wild solos from all concerned but it sure does sound good. There is also a superborgan part from Sherinian which adds to the track significantly. Die Cobra features the unusual combination of Zakk Wylde and Michael Schenker playing and trading guitar riffs, lines and fills. It is quite a thunderous track with an aggressive sound before slowing to a more melodious section where you hear some typical Schenker tones and sequences that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early MSG album. The track then reverts back to the harder edge initial sound. These two work well together which, when you consider it was all done remotely, is very impressive sounding indeed! It also has a touch of the middle east to it, not unlike Gates of Babylon by Rainbow, a really strong track all together.

Nomad’s Land is very straight ahead jazz/fusion with noted jazz guitarist Mike Stern shredding his licks all across the track. Again, Derek plays organ very strongly and it sounds like a jazz take of Jon Lord! It’s really strong stuff with a fluid solo from Mike and more organ fills from Derek, this one is another that really impresses, even without vocals. The last track Aurora Australis is also the longest at over eleven minutes and features his Sons of Apollo bandmate Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal. The piece opens with lots of synthesisers and a steady Simon Phillips‘ drumbeat before more Hammond Organ from Derek. All hell then breaks loose with more wild keyboards and a solo synth line from Derek, all whilethe track is gathering speed and pace for a guitar and keyboard battle between Derek and Ron. This has real urgency to it and sounds utterly amazing, musicians at the top of their game reaching for new heights and actually reaching them too.

All in all it’s a great album, you can feel the chemistry that Derek Sherinian has with all the guests and it’s great to hear and experience in this way. I still think vocals would raise the album to even greater heights but, then again, that’s just my opinion! It’s still a very good album that’s well worth listening to.

Released 1st July, 2022.

Buy the album here:

Vortex (lnk.to)

Review – Glass Hammer – At The Gate

Time crawls when we are very young; the older we grow, the more it hastens. If you’re living out a normal span of years, you know this to be true. “Where did the years go,” remarks the elder for whom the long night draws near. “It seems like just yesterday…”

But what of the man who lives beyond his years, who finds he cannot die? Does time fly by at ever accelerating speeds? I am asked this often, for I have passed my thousandth year upon the wretched earth, most of it wandering cursed Andorath for a dream I once cherished but lost.

At The Gate’, is the third album of the Skallagrim trilogy. This new album follows ‘Dreaming City’ (2020) and ‘Skallagrim – Into The Breach’ (2021), bringing the story of the ‘thief with the screaming sword’  to its conclusion.

Vocalist Hannah Pyror is back to front the group and is joined by bandleader Steve Babb, keyboardist Fred Schendel, and drummer Aaron Raulston. In addition, vocalists Jon Davison (Yes) and John Beagley (Life In Digital) both contribute, as well as guitarist Reese Boyd.   

Steve Babb says, “For those who love our newer, edgier sound, they won’t be disappointed. But I’ve brought back the pipe organ, the choirs, and the sweeping ballads for those who miss the sounds of our earlier albums.

For those fans of fantasy literature, like myself, this new Sword & Sorcery storyline that began with 2020’s ‘Dreaming City’, and the excellent music that accompanied it has really hit the mark and has seen Glass Hammer reach new heights and become even more popular and venerated than before.

I have always been very lucky in that I get to hear the albums before most people and every time I am even more impressed with the creativity and musicianship that these US prog rock titans deliver. Well, to quote Michael Caine, with ‘At The Gate’ they’ve only gone and blown the bloody doors off!

“Lonely years roll by, Leaves me wondering, Don’t ask me why…”

The final part of the Skallagrim trilogy is wide screen music at its most impressive, opener, the ballad The Years Roll By, does see a return to the band’s earlier, classic progressive rock, style but beefed up with added layers of sophistication and skill. It immediately puts a smile on my face as soon as I hear the ever so stylish organ intro and Hannah Pryor’s voice is just magical. To hear Steve channelling his inner Chris Squire again is just a joy to these ears too and the guitar sound is just utterly compelling, giving the track a wonderfully symphonic style.

“There is a road, Hidden well but search, You may find it, There is a gate at the end, And only time can unlock it…”

Savage is just that, a slow burning, ominous opening is blown apart by a huge riff and Hannah’s voice takes on a darkly delicious tone. The symphonic moves aside for pure hard rock with a Led Zeppelin edge, the intricate guitar and keyboard parts are so precise that they make me smile and Aaron Raulston shows he’s lost none of his skill behind the drum kit. The musicianship on display is just dazzling but it’s that hard-edged, fuzzy riff that gets me every time, what a superb track this is!

“Lirazel! I found her name in a song, the melody of which cured me of all forgetfulness. Lirazel! They took you from me and hid you away, but the memory of love will not—cannot die.”

let’s go all 80’s and electronic shall we? North Of North is a really chilled and laid back instrumental that has a feel of Tangerine Dream to its wistful synthesised notes and I am a total sucker for a bit of old school electronica. You feel yourself getting lost in its pulsing rhythm before Fred lets loose with some super stylised keyboard licks, backed by some vibrant guitar and drums. This track is as uber-cool as they come.

“There’s gonna be hell to pay, When all is said and done, So many years have come and gone, And now I’m left with none…”

Prepare for a monumentally heavy aural assault as the blues-rock intro of All Alone makes way for the heaviest riff on the album, what an absolute beast of a song. Imagine King’s X and Metallica getting together for an anything goes jam and you won’t be far wrong, this track absolutely rocks and rocks hard. You can just imagine the band having the time of their life on this and it would be an absolute monster live, Hannah’s vocals once again giving substance to the down and dirty music. Creativity and songwriting prowess are both at an absolute zenith on this album!

Fred Schendel, Hannah Pryor, Steve Babb, Aaron Raulston

“You know where to find her, You know where to start, But only fools would go down, To the mountains heart…”

That ever so stylish hard rock feel continues with the funky grooves of All For Love, another edgy riff and some crunching bass lines from Steve adding some shadowy grunge to proceedings. The distorted guitar solo is a clever addition, as is Fred’s excellent, Deep Purple inspired, keyboard blast. It’s a hell for leather rollercoaster ride of immense proportions.

“I kinda thought this would be done soon, But I was born beneath a black moon…”

Snowblind Girl powers into focus on another thundering riff, the lengthy opening grabbing your attention before Hannah’s vocal begins, strident and demanding. There’s more a feel of symphonic metal to this song but it’s still bombastic and mightily heavy. Another verdant solo brings a smile to my face once again as these consummate musicians deliver yet another memorable track, the instrumental interplay is just jaw-droppingly good!

“Zagzagel, Here, the sorcerous city is buried now, Beneath a frozen lake For the king did justly curse it…”

Discordant and chaotic, the jarring opening to Standing At The Gate (Of Zagzagel) instantly grabs your attention, the crashing guitar chords and keyboards almost fighting each other for supremacy. Hannah’s authoritarian vocal delivers each line in a clipped manner before things calm down a bit for the memorable chorus,

“He’s standing at the gate, He’s pounding at the gate, Of dread, and now it opens.”

The guitar solo that follows is one of the best, flowing beautifully and full of passion and emotion in every single note and the song closes out with Hannah’s voice repeating the chorus as it fades into the background.

“There’s no life without you, There’s no life, If I walk this life alone, If I never find a home…”

In The Shadows sees the start of the final chapter in the album and the story and is also a complete sea change from the bombast and heaviness of most of what has gone before. It is an utterly captivating, ethereal track led by a gentle piano and Hannah’s haunting, sublime vocal. A wistful, melancholic song that bleeds sentiment through every note, the contemplative, almost mournful, music really gets you in your very soul and leaves you with a feeling of regret. The extended instrumental section is genius, utterly captivating and brings time to a standstill as it holds you in its thrall.

“Forgotten joy, the feel of sunshine, touch of summer sun, Don’t you know, my love…”

The album closes with the uplifting joy and charm of It’s Love, a fantastically inspirational song that sees Glass Hammer returning, once again, to the symphonic, orchestral prog for which they were well know. It is a perfectly constructed track, almost Queen-like (just check out that guitar!), that brings this mighty tale to a wonderful close.

Melodic, symphonic and, at times, monumentally heavy, ‘At The Gate’ is a superb, majestic leviathan of an album that enhances the band’s legacy as masters of the genre. This final instalment in the impressive trilogy brings things to a triumphant and proudly pompous conclusion, this is Glass Hammer at their finest, hugely expressive and sonically brilliant.

Released October 7th, 2022.

Order direct from the band here:

Glass Hammer official website




Review – Bjørn Riis – A Fleeting Glimpse

Just when Karisma Records were about to release Airbag co-founder, songwriter and lead guitarist Bjørn Riis‘ fourth solo album, ‘Everything to Everyone’, he approached them with an idea for a new mini album. With ‘A Fleeting Glimpse’, Bjørn Riis has let his inspiration from Pink Floyd really come forth.

In addition to Bjørn Riis on vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards, the album features Arild Brøter (Pymlico), Øyvind Brøter (Pymlico), Per Øydir, Durga McBroom and Mimmi Tamba.

I’ve never hidden the fact that I am a huge fan of Bjørn Riis and he has never hidden the fact that his biggest influence has been Pink Floyd so a new mini album where that influence is free to run wild is definitely going to be up my street and, after declaring ‘Everything to Everyone’ to be his best solo release yet, my appetite was well and truly whet!

I’ll just put this out there, this mini album is absolutely marvellous but too short! Four songs that are of this high a quality is just not enough! Joking apart, let’s dig a bit deeper…

Dark Shadows (part 1) is reflective and melancholy and features the amazing vocal talent of long time Pink Floyd collaborator from the 80’s and 90’s, Durga McBroom, who adds her undoubted class alongside Bjørn’s voice. There’s a hazy feel to the music and Durga’s beautiful voice just adds to the thoughtful, mournful air. The track has a proper feel of 80’s Floyd to it, the stadium filling mega-band with an arena filling sound and Bjørn’s soulful, sultry guitar just adds sheer class. Instrumental, A Voyage To The Sun, has a real feel of early, ‘Astronomy Domine’, Floyd to it, all moody and experimental, with spooky synthesisers and an ominous overtone. It’s actually deliciously dark and creepy and the guitar almost adds some menace to proceedings with its angular, almost harsh, tone, calling forth thoughts of Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun to this mind. I’m loving its brash, in your face attitude that’s interspersed with more reflective and mysterious moments, clever stuff!

The music of Summer Meadows invokes just that, hazy summer days, meandering streams, fields of flowers and a wonderfully peaceful feeling. There’s an innocence and beauty right at its core that just lights up your soul and takes the weight of the world of your shoulders, a simply stunning piece of music and I love it. The final track on this mini album is Dark Shadows (part 2) and a return to the reflections of the opening song. There’s a slightly ominous undertone to the opening, a cryptic and enigmatic quality to the music and vocals, as if waiting for something momentous to happen. Bjørn’s jagged, coruscating guitar then cuts through the atmosphere with a gloriously sparse and simple note, a cry out to the dark from the shadows, it’s eerily brilliant in its execution and then Durga’s plaintive vocal joins in to the close out the song in true Floyd style.

Bjørn once again hits the heights with superb, emotive, wistful and nostalgic music that just hits you right in the feels. There isn’t a guitarist alive who plays with so much expression, his guitar seems to have a life, and voice, of its own and is instantly recognisable and makes this release, mini album or not, one of the best of the year so far.

Released 30th September, 2022.

Order from Burning Shed here:

A Fleeting Glimpse (burningshed.com)

Review – The Round Window – s/t

“Fear not. For fear itself is fed by fear, and all fears pass. Did no-one tell you so? Come take my hand, my friend, and we will peer into this fear’s abyss. And jump! And know.”

Genres are often a contentious point when it comes to music and some artists can get pigeon-holed in one genre when they often blur the boundaries between quite a few. Take The Round Window, I was contacted by founder member and vocalist Rich Lock with regard to a review of the band’s self-titled debut release and expected something with progressive rock leanings to hit my inbox but, low and behold, there is more of a classic rock edge to their glorious sound but they definitely do have a touch of progressiveness to their music as well. The band actually call their sound ‘widescreen rock’ as it straddles genres and defies easy classification.

I’ll tell you one thing, what I heard definitely made me want to investigate further…

The Round Window was formed in 2018, originally as a duo with Rich and Thomas Lock sharing vocals, guitars, and keyboards. Jack Lock joined on drums on 2020 and the line up was completed with David Brazington on guitar and Dietmar Schantin on bass. The album has been produced by Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) with artwork by Paul Tippett (Frost*/ Black Star Riders).

The completion of the line up has allowed the band to make a deeper exploration of layers and textures on the eight songs on the album and to deliver a polished and very mature record that belies the fact it is their first one. Opening instrumental track The Window is like a prequel to the main story with its moody piano, textures from the guitar and keyboards and portentous drums and sets you up for the main event perfectly. Take My Hand is the first of two singles released from the album and is a quality rocking track with a catchy chorus. The rhythm section power along in perfect unison and Rich’s vocals, well harmonised, add a huge dollop of cool. Add in the uber-stylish guitar of David Brazington and you have one excellent piece of music. Among The Clouds is the second single from the album and has a more serious feel to it, an urgent riff and vocal get you on the edge of the seat and give a real sense of occasion to the song along with a touch of 90’s indie rock in places. The swirling keyboards are a particularly nice touch, it’s a real up-tempo track that has loads of mood swings and one seriously good guitar solo!

There’s a solemn tone to the opening of Victory, a very serious and dignified piece of music that gets under your skin. Rich’s reflective vocal is intense and leaves a wistful and melancholy aura above everything. The guitar, drums and bass then join in and add a contemplative and nostalgic atmosphere. Dave’s fiery, plaintive solo is a work of genius and actually left a lump in my throat and the beautiful flute of Angela Gordon almost tipped me over the edge with its amazing sentimentality, what a wonderful song! We are then treated to a slow, brooding masterpiece of music in the shape of Out Of Time, seven minutes of near perfect blues rock with a prog edge that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Rich’s soulful vocal, Jack’s measured drumming and Dietmar’s smooth bass are building blocks on what is a masterfully created piece of music but the icing on the musical cake is the burning, fiery and passionate guitar and ardent keyboards, what an absolute gem!

Nobody Home sees a return to the elegant, flowing rock of the two single releases, a well written and tightly performed song that needs no extravagance, just a really good piece of music with a really polished keyboard solo. Ethereal, exquisite and just utterly sublime, Avalon keeps the high quality songwriting coming. Gorgeous vocals and graceful music add up to deliver a dignified, simple piece of music with a feel of wonder at its core, simply beautiful. The final, and longest, track on the album is, perhaps, the most progressive. Another Chance builds slowly on Rich’s vocals and a halting piano line, backed by ghostly keyboards, before a guitar note, calming at first but then more urgent, segues in. The guitar then opens up with a heartfelt tone, sentimental and eloquent before Rich’s vocal returns and the song begins to flow quicker and with more urgency before, finally, the release valve is opened and off we go to a final triumphant conclusion.

A high quality release with wonderfully emotive songs and superb musicianship, this self-titled album may be The Round Window’s debut release but it shows a group of musicians who are already playing at a very high level and have creativity to burn. I can’t recommend it highly enough, this should be in everyone’s music collection…

Released 30th September, 2022.

Pre-order the CD from Gravity Dream here:

The Round Window – CD Pre-Order – Gravity Dream Music

Or the mp3 at bandcamp:

The Round Window | The Round Window (bandcamp.com)

Review – Chas Cronk – Liberty – by John Wenlock-Smith

Chas Cronk may best be known as the long-term bassist for the Strawbs. He was initially with the band between 1973 -1980, after which he worked with Steve Hackett and Rick Wakeman before forming his own group Cry No More, upon the dissolution of which he re-joined the Strawbs, where he has remained ever since.

‘Liberty’ is his second solo album after ‘Mystic Mountain Music’ in 2002 and his album with Dave Lambert, ‘Touch The Earth’, in 2007.

Reviewing this album is different in that it has no noticeable progressive tendencies and, whilst that may be true, what is also noticeable is just what a fabulous album of songs this is. The album is mostly self-penned and performed by Chas with help from Dave Lambert on the track A Splash Of Blue, Dave Bainbridge on Slipping Downstream and also Major Baldini, who provides drums for the title track. Everything else is handled by Chas who also produces the album. It’s not a particularly long album as it was originally going to be an EP but Dave enjoyed the task so much that he decided to keep going and make a full album of songs.

The album opens with the title track, Liberty, which is a quite jangly, guitar led song. This actually reminds me of Rush for some reason, maybe it’s the jangle in the guitar? It’s is quite a strident track with a short but well constructed solo appearing after the second chorus. I really like this song it has good drive and dynamics to it. Next we have Take My Hand which opens with keyboard sounds and a bubbling bass line over some dancing keyboard lines. The song has a great vocal from Chas with everything again being underpinned by the bass and features another brief but elegant solo. This album grows on you as being a really fine set of songs and performances. It is simply a highly enjoyable and rewarding listening experience to have, nothing earth shattering but certainly very worthy indeed.

A Splash Of Blue has his Strawbs bandmate Dave Lambert on guitar and he contributes a fine solo. Everybody Knows is a well produced epic piece with good vocals. The song is about surviving the storms of life and how love can set you free, and that the beauty of the world can open our hearts to joy and to love, simple but powerful sentiments. Flying Free is an acoustically led instrumental. A brief but great little track with good keyboard backing to make it very memorable.

Into The Light opens ‘side two’ of the album and has a good back beat on the drums along with a neat bass line pulling the song along. It’s a mid-paced song but quite muscular in tone, with a good guitar synthesiser line floating over the top. Again, this song has something special to it, a good guitar break certainly helps and makes an impression making it another fabulous, well constructed and performed track. Slipping Downstream features fellow Strawbs’ man Dave Bainbridge whose guitar adds much colour to this song, he plays really beautifully on this track with a glorious floating guitar line, especially when he takes said guitar line up a key. Dave is well supported by the keyboards and Chas’s Bass line. This is really a spectacular track and Dave certainly let’s rip well here to form a strong impression. Away follows and this is yet another impressive track. The song has a strong melody, even if I can’t detect what it is on about really, and has a good sound and great dynamics. The whole album is a sequence of strong, intelligent and articulate tracks that, when taken together, are very life affirming. System Overload is a familiar sounding song but I can’t quite put my finger on who it reminds me of but it sure sounds good to these ears. This is a good penultimate  track before the instrumental of Reverie brings the album to a close. With its deep keyboard sounds and washes and its ethereal voices and gentle piano tones, it winds the album down to a close perfectly.

‘Liberty’ is a well constructed and produced, and superbly performed, set of songs for which we can all be glad and all can appreciate. I really enjoyed this short album as there is much to enjoy and I certainly will be returning to it frequently as it is an unexpected lockdown derived delight.

Released 11th February, 2022.

Order the album here:

Chas Cronk – Liberty (CD) (renaissancerecordsus.com)

Review – John Holden – Kintsugi – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Kintsugi’ is the brand new album from Cheshire’s John Holden and it is another masterful collection of tracks that together tells eight stories of hope and redemption in our troubled world. Once again, John and his co-writer and wife and partner Elizabeth have created some beautiful  and sublime moments of music ranging from the epics, Achilles and Building Heaven, to the seemingly throwaway humorous Ringing The Changes, with its campanology references and use of bells.

John has continued his collaborative style with many of the prog world’s finest talents including Peter Jones, Mystery members Michel St-Père and Jean Pageau, Celestial Fire’s Dave Bainbridge and Sally Minnear and regular collaborators Joe Payne and Vikram Shankar. John himself plays keyboards, bass guitar and also adds percussion along with orchestrations and programming, while also handling both the artwork and the production of the album.

‘Kintsugi’ is a very skilled and lovingly crafted recording, it is always a pleasure to hear what John has created as both he and Elizabeth put everything into the albums and together they craft real musical magic. The album has two epics, several shorter pieces and a well crafted title track, there is also the continuation of High Line from the ‘Circles In Time’ album, a longer track about Brexit and xenophobia and there’s also a folk song that celebrates a trip to Peggy’s Cove at St Margaret’s Bay in Nova Scotia, Canada.cSo, all in all, a rather mixed bag but a bag chock full of gems and treasures.

The album opens with the tales of Achilles and his decision to pursue a brief yet spectacular life chasing eternal glory, its a sobering tale about striving for immortality and how our choices can affect those closest to us. The song passes through several stages including a battle sequence with Vikram Shankar applying his touch to proceedings, whilst predominantly a sad track, it is still a strong opening statement for the album. Ringing The Changes is completely different and the charming vocals of Sally Minnear really add much this excellent little number. This is a song about community and how odd eccentric people can come together to serve and support them. There’s a lovely piano from Vikram and some sweet and effective bell chimes throughout the song, it is, ultimately, a triumphant track. Kintsugi is a song about broken people being made whole and their brokenness becoming stronger. It is about accepting our flaws and receiving healing and wholeness, this is a Japanese concept and a very gentle and beautiful one that can really change people’s worldview and vision. The track feature some excellent violin and viola from Frank Van Essen and a masterful guitar break from Michel St-Père. It is a treasure of delicacy and beauty and is one of my favourites on this great album, utterly sublime.

Flying Train is about the elevated overhead railway that still exists in Wuppertal in Germany. This track would probably appeal to Big Big Train’s Passengers as it ploughs a similar furrow, combining history and music to great effect. This is a largely instrumental song that creates the wonder of a journey on these rails. Xenos talks of borders and how some have a fear and distrust of those that are different and do not accept them with openness. Sadly Brexit helped foster such opinions and weakened us as a nation, losing touch with and opposing tolerance and kindness. The passage of migrants is a thorny issue generally and one the we need a compassionate response to, which this song espouses. Against The Tide can be seen as being part two of the track High Line (from John’s last release, ‘Circles In Time’). The song has a similar west coast jazzy feel with a fabulous saxophone from Peter Jones, whose vocals also really elevate this track. John’s bass is very busy on this song and it has a great swing and groove to it, another fabulous track.

Peggy’s Cove takes us to Nova Scotia with a Celtic sound and a great choir of Sally , Joe Payne, Peter Jones and Iain Hornal, who provide massed voices to this gentle number. Final track, Building Heaven, is about how we treat each other and uses the tale of Coventry Cathedral’s partial destruction by the Luftwaffe in 1940, and the decision not to rebuild but to incorporate the destroyed sections into something new, as a testament faith and building together to make something good from the bad. This song has air-raid siren effects and a stirring melody that runs throughout the song, along with a suitably epic guitar solo from Dave Bainbridge. This is an excellent finale to what is an adventurous and engaging album full of great songs, concepts and ideas.

One to enjoy and also return to again and again.

Released 30th September, 2022.

Order direct from John’s website here:

Kintsugi CD – John Holden (johnholdenmusic.com)

Review – Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Seconds Out & More – by John Wenlock Smith

The pandemic has certainly loosened its grip on the UK at last and we have seen a large number of gigs that had previously been postponed being rescheduled. This is definitely a good step and allows artists like Steve Hackett to be finally able to tour once again, albeit it in a slightly different way. This also allows venues to start making some long lost revenue at last. So it was that in September 2021 that Steve recorded his show at the O2 Apollo in Manchester for the latest souvenir of his current incarnation of the ‘Genesis Revisited’ story for his ever growing catalogue of friends and fans.

Steve has recorded each tour since 2013 from various venues and in different guises. We have seen these tours with a fairly consistent band, usually Steve himself alongside long time keyboardist and group orchestrator Roger King, saxophonist Rob Townsend, bassist Jonas Reingold and, vocalist for the last decade, Nad Sylvan. New drummer Craig Blundell has been a member since 2017. Steve is also joined by his sister in law Amanda Lehmann who provides extra guitar and vocals, most noticeably here on Held In The Shadows and and an epic version of Shadow Of The Hierophant.

As it had been nearly 2 years since last touring, the band were very excited to be treading the boards once again. In addition, the level of excitement in the audience was palpable. I caught the show earlier on in the tour in Stoke and I was highly impressed with the standard of the concert and the power and passion the band breathed into these sets.

This Manchester gig certainly captures that same energy superbly, the set is identical, the whole album bristles with electricity and the performances are all top notch. Steve always aims to put on a good show and I’ve yet to see one that disappoints, his team all perform flawlessly and you can certainly feel the joy of earning a crust once more.

During the pandemic Steve managed to both stay safe and also to complete his long awaited, and thoroughly excellent, autobiography (‘A Genesis In My Bed’), an acoustic album (‘Under A Mediterranean Sky’) and then his latest album ‘Surrender Of Silence’, songs from which appear in the short solo set performed as part of this show. Now, Steve knows that the majority of folks are there for the Genesis material, so he wisely chooses a short opening set that includes several of his own songs that are popular in their own right, namely Clocks – The Angel of Mons, Every Day and Shadow Of The Hierophant along with Held In The Shadows and The Devil’s Cathedral, all of which are strong in their own right and show that Steve also continues to create great new music of his own.

Then, after a break, the band return for the main event, the performance of the entire 1977 Genesis ‘Seconds Out’ album, recreated in Steve’s own inimitable style and by his own band and arrangements. The track listing replicates the album fully and the band certainly enhance that now slightly wooly sounding album by giving it a fresh and new, and yet still authentic, sound, but one that benefits from the technological advances made since it was recorded all those years ago.

Now you don’t need me to tell you just how important this album was to the Genesis canon, it was a very well received album, one that sought to capture the essence of both the Peter Gabriel years and also the Phil Collins era as was. It was monumentally important at the time, even if it did ultimately lead to Steve’s departure from the band as he felt his own songs were being sidelined and other parties resented his increasing solo success. Now, forty years on Steve has the opportunity to put that right and play the album in a manner that satisfies him.

It’s all here for you to enjoy once again, whether you want to play, compare and contrast the two versions is up to you, but, for me, I’ll choose to watch the live footage of a master playing his material to the highest standard and revelling in it. The set list tells the story fabulously, it’s all here in a powerhouse performance and pristine sound along with a great documentary and several videos from the ‘Surrender Of Silence’ album. With a total running time of three hours, this set is another opportunity to catch the maestro in full flow.

I have to say that a defining moment for me is when the lighting director Chris Curran recreates the albums iconic cover to fabulous effect, especially when you consider that he does this using only the lights at his disposal and not with the huge mirrors and varilights that Genesis had to work with. It’s this attention to detail and the sheer skill of Steve’s crew that really make this show so very special.

Released 2nd September, 2022

Order from the artist here:

Steve Hackett | Steve Hackett (hackettsongs.com)

Review – The Mighty Ra – All Secrets Known – by John Wenlock-Smith

There is an old and unfair joke that when you get three Welshmen together that they form a choir, very untrue as here we have four Welsh musicians who have together formed a new progressive rock band! The four are Andy Edwards on guitars and vocals, Rob Griffiths on drums and percussion, Dave Rowe on bass and vocals and finally Rob Wilsher on keyboards. The four come from a wide prog background with Andy involved with Magenta and Cyan, Rob Wilsher with MultiStory, Rob Griffiths with EZRA V and Dave having been gigging for over 30 years, playing with countless big names in that time.

This project is a little different in that the four came together to work on some new ideas and found that they were so inspired that they formed a band. The idea is to write strong material together and then take it out on the road and play some gigs. This gained traction with interest from White Knight Records who have released the quartet’s debut release, ‘All Secrets Known’, which is a fine release for these times. The four bring much experience and skill to these songs, the album has a good mixture of long and shorter tracks in various styles, all with a great sound and some epic musical passages.

The albums kicks off in epic style with the lengthy, near ten minute title track, All Secrets Known (which also features Les Penning as the voice of God), with its tale of how knowledge was transmitted to earth through the minds of the ancient Egyptians  who translated this into physical form to create the mighty temple of Ra. The song opens with keyboards before a fine guitar line is introduced from Andy Edwards alongside vocals in which he is singing about knowledge, the pursuit of and the benefits of the same. The song has a strong sci-fi theme to it but it is the epic music that really takes this song to new heights. There is a fabulous and rather muscular guitar part about half way in that elevates the track into something very special indeed. This is followed by some fabulous keyboard sounds and textures to make a most impressive opening statement. Nothing Comes Too Easy follows and this hinges on a very  strong bass line that holds it all together well. The song talks of how less is always more and that life is a journey not a destination path, which is of course very true and such realisation can help one make both some sense of life and also enable us to enjoy the journey that we are each taking. This is a very positive song all told and the music is equally as enjoyable with fine guitar lines threaded throughout its six minute running time.

Freedom has an interesting opening sequence before a magnificent guitar part takes over with a fluid line and some funky riffing. There is a chorus of “Freedom” in all of this although the songs meaning is a little unclear to me although another great guitar solo and some epic keyboards again make for another strong track. Will We Ever Know is another longer track clocking in at eight and a half minutes and features a strong chorus and lots of spacey type sounds, along with some epic guitar riffing. This one can stand proud, it has touches of Hawkwind contained in its sounds and wouldn’t feel out of place on those early Hawkwind albums due to the epic sounding guitar at play here too, making it rather epic all round.

Seven Days flies in with a spring in its step, bouncing along nicely with lots happening in the sound, including a very fine bass to proceedings. This is another rather muscular track with a great chorus and another very fluid guitar line, it almost has a touch of Marillion to it lyrically, which is no bad thing to these ears, and makes it a rather brilliant track, I really like it. It’s a pity that there are no lyrics with the album as I feel this would make the whole album concept easier to understand and grasp but ,still, just sit back and appreciate the crafting on offer here. Rising Tide is next and this begins gently before taking a more full group sound, the song talks of trying to escape the Rising Tide, although quite how is unclear but the song has some urgency to it.

Another shorter track Rain follows and this is a fabulous little rocker that occurs before the epic final track Bigger Lie closes the album out. This is also the longest piece on the album at twelve and a half minutes. The song is about religion, it seems, and the mystery and lack of a God. Well, everyone has their own opinion on this and I guess the jury is still out on it but it certainly makes for an interesting finale and this has shadows of classic Pink Floyd, certainly in both the vocals and the guitar. Playing the song poses lots of questions yet it makes no claims either way but it does say that we are all living the bigger lie. It’s certainly a thought provoking song, I really like this one and its length allows lots of space for the song to breathe. The song has an epic guitar solo, very Gilmouresque unsurprisingly, but totally in keeping with the track.

This is an album you need to live with for quite a while to let its true colours emerge. At first I thought it could be a touch bland but close proximity has changed that view and now I can see the work that has gone into making this album and that this is a very fine effort and release indeed.

Released June 1st, 2022

Order from Bandcamp here:

All Secrets Known | The Mighty Ra (bandcamp.com)