Review – Stuckfish – Days of Innocence – by John Wenlock-Smith

This might be one of the best new albums that I have had to pleasure to hear this year. Yes, it really is that impressive! The album has eight tracks, all above the five-and-a-half-minute mark and two over eight minutes.

No wonder this is attracting the interest of many prog fans for, in Stuckfish, we find a worthy blend of old school prog and classic rock, married together with a great vocalist in Phil Stuckey, who brings to mind a classic style, an excellent bass player (Phil Morey) and a fiery but tasteful guitarist in Ade Fisher. Together with drummer Adam Sayers and keyboard player Gary Holland, they make for a very tight and energetic team.

This is their third album written during the global layoff of 2021, which, as Ade says, was a better use of time than watching Netflix and chomping chocolate hobnobs and the results here can bear witness to that observation.

The album opens in a very Rush like vein with Age Of Renewal and its use of shifting time signatures which allows for some moody synth backing. Vocalist Phil Stuckey really performs well here with a strong clear tone that works well. There is a good synth/guitar interplay here too making the mid-section strong, just before Ade lets rip with a solo that takes the piece forward. Along with the great bass work on show, this is a great opener that will be a sure-fire winner live, seldom has seven minutes passed so quickly! The epic Days of Innocence follows, which features the nimble basswood of Phil Morey anchoring the song down. The track is a heartfelt one, a look back at childhood and the hope of a better future. The song is reflective and a touch maudlin, however it is certainly extraordinarily strong in tone. There’s great vocals too as Phil sings with passion and optimism for a star he has yet to reach. A very impressive track with good orchestration in the closing moments with great brass, unusual but effective and definitely memorable.

Painted Smile picks up the Rush baton once again with a chugging guitar riff that said band would have loved to employ. The song is about clowns and how their painted face often hides or masks their inner pains. This has great keyboards on it that create an aura of the circus with a suitable organ sound strong in the mix. Sounding sinister at times but creating and painting the setting wonderfully, this album makes a strong impression for all the right reasons and will surely appear in many bests of /end of the year’s lists, It will certainly be among my choices for that accolade, the track ends with a piano sound that evokes a silent film and concludes another fabulous track. The urgent guitar riff of Ade Fisher sees a segue into Game Changer, a track that flies out of the gate with style and punchy panache. This song properly rocks but does not forget to have melodies or dynamics that make this optimistic song stand out both musically and lyrically. I am really enjoying this album with its use of light and shade that works very well, as does the graceful guitar playing that leads the song on towards a marvellous rhythmic mid section which really makes an impact. Stuckfish have worked hard on this album, not only in the elegant material but also in the performances that are all highly impressive by any standard.

Thief In The Night is a great song about loss and the memories of a loved one that has gone. The track is very moving and is presented beautifully, with dignity and feeling. Phil’s voice is fantastic and really suited to the feeling of the song and making it my favourite on the album, sympathetically managed and beautifully written, it conveys perfectly what happens when a loved one passes on, glorious and magnificent in equal measures. Yearn is next and opens with a reverb laden piano that sets the tone for the song. With a trumpet evoking a smokey jazz club, it’s certainly very sultry and brooding sounding and has an epic chorus that really impacts. This is a slow burn of a track that creeps up on you and takes over, it’s truly that memorable. It reminds me of a Wishbone Ash song for some reason, must be the vocal inflections that it has. Wonderfully delicate and gracefully imagined and conceived, this is another great song that’s very well performed by all. A really impressive piece of music!

Nevermore is different as Phil sings in a Rob Halford sounding voice to significant effect. It is really distinctive to hear him singing in this manner and the song packs a punch to be sure, one of the shorter pieces but still a good listen. Different Ways closes the album in grand style, being one of the more blatantly progressive songs and one that gives room for the bands musical dexterity to shine through. With a great guitar solo from Ade and good support from all the group, this is a great album ending track.

So, there you have it, eight great tracks in one fine album from a band that are really on the rise. Get it while you can as it is utterly fantastic and definitely a highlight of the year so far!

Released 16th April, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

Days of Innocence | Stuckfish (bandcamp.com)

Review – Envy Of None – s/t – by John Wenlock-Smith

After the last date of the Rush ‘R40’ tour on 15th August 2015 in Los Angeles, Rush were at a crossroads, this was their final tour as they had agreed to bow out on a high note, seeking not to slump into trying to recapture the former glories, as has befallen many other groups over the years. Even the band themselves were unsure of what to do next or even if there would be a ‘next’ moment.

This all came sharply into focus again in January 2020 when Neil Peart lost his battle with brain cancer and, while the world quite rightly mourned his passing, Rush were effectively over. This left Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson in a quandary realising that anything they did would suffer comparison to the might of Rush.

So they did what they could cope with, Alex went fishing and valued his home life, Geddy wrote his memoirs (to be published this year) and both men struggled with the loss of their long term friend. They had both known about his illness yet the end still hit them hard, in addition they needed time to grieve him, plus we had various lockdowns and limitations on life due to covid.

Well, thankfully, that time has come to an end as Alex has now ventured back into the public eye once more by contributing his graceful, elegant guitar tones to a brand-new project called Envy Of None. It could not be any more removed from the progressive elements of Rush. Two of the songs were released by Lifeson on his own social media pages, namely Shadow and Spy House, which were intended to introduce the band to the public.

Now the album in full is out and, yes, it is something tasty indeed and different to what he has done before, for sure. Yet, even so, within its simpler shorter songs lie strands of Lifeson’s musical DNA. In just eleven short tracks you hear Alex revelling in playing music again and exorcizing his demons and his grief in the only way he knows, through music.

The album has elements of Pop, Rock, Emo and even electronica within its sounds, it certainly is hugely different and that is no bad thing. Take the opener for instance, I Never Said I Loved You, with a strong sequenced opening motif and the dreamy vocals of Mariah Wynne and steady bass of former Coney Hatch bassist Andy Curran driving the song along (the band used various session players to provide drum support). The sound is full and leaves room for each instrument to be clearly heard, in addition, it is a great little song. Sequencing plays a big part in the groups sound, this is all is sympathetically done and does not detract from everything that is going on.

Look Inside is a good example of how this all works together to create something exceptionally fine indeed. There is even a sampled muted trumpet playing in the last moments, a tremendous piece of music that is both imaginative and accomplished. Liar follows but this fails to hit the mark for me. Whilst being well crafted, it is a bit too busy for my liking and has too much layering to really click. Spy House has Lifeson unleashed and all over the track with an insistent riff threaded throughout it. It’s great to hear him in this vein and his solo is fabulous and free spirited. It is the Alex we all know and love to hear and a great moment in a very good track.

Dogs Life is another brooding, moody and slow burning number that builds in its intensity before breaking out into a busy section, this time the slow burn really works well for the track. This album is really a bit of a grower and more volume really helps in this case, making it one of the best tracks so far to these ears. Kabul Blues follows with it Far Eastern sounding synths and delicate guitar lines woven through its grooves. This sounds very exotic and Middle Eastern and quite different to what has gone before, great bass lines from Andy Curran making this another winning track. Old Strings is the album’s longest track at just over five minutes as Mariah sings of lost memories, lost opportunities, and stolen moments. Again, this is a slow burner of a song with subtle but effective dynamics which all combines to make an impressive song with sensitive playing from all parties, marvellous stuff.

Dumb works really well, a strong back beat drives the song along with its great sequenced sounds and a very eighties sounding drum pattern really kicking it out and providing much drive to the song. Penultimate song Enemy is built on hypnotic synthesiser lines and settings that work to a  pronounced effect with strong performances. Growling synth sounds and fabulous dynamics make this is a great song and, again, volume reveals its intricacies beautifully. This leads us to the final piece, Western Sunset, which is an acoustic guitar tribute to Neil Peart. Alex spent a lot of time at Neil’s pacific home and, whilst enjoying a beer, looked out at the shoreline at sunset. This memory was the one that inspired this delicate, brief piece of musical imagery. Ironic really that this should feature but it closes things for Alex. So, as such, it earns it is place here as a tribute to his dearly departed friend.

This album gains in stature the more you play it and it certainly is a very worthy collection of songs. The slow burn of these tracks creep up on you as they reveal their intricacies. I guess that only time will tell if the band continues, like they plan to. What sounds they explore next time remains to be seen, however, for now, this will do very nicely thank you.

Released 8th April, 2022

Order here:

Envy Of None (lnk.to)

Review – Stewart Clark – Journeys – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Journeys’ is the new album from UK based musician Stewart Clark and it’s certainly an interesting concept and listening experience. Stewart was recently commenting about his inability to get people interested in writing a review of his work.

When I read this I contacted Stewart and offered to write a review for him. It must be incredibly frustrating to drum up any interest from prog fans who will happily shell out for the 16th remix or extended version of an album they already have that is 40 years old but has been slightly tweaked or updated by someone whose aunt knew the bassist’s mother over 30 years ago.

Now, I like a good remaster or upgrade as much as the next prog fan but, really, why do we tend to gloss over the smaller acts who are really trying to break into an already full pond? People like Stewart who makes music because he wants to and does it all on a miniscule budget, on a very much ‘do it yourself manner’, but who is really making something that appeals but often fails to capture the wider public interest.

It’s certainly not the music’s fault, I suggest it is the fact that the bigger acts grab the lions share of the activities and the column inches leaving mere scraps for the rest, highly unfair but that’s how it sadly is. I myself see that some bands get lots of exposure whilst other get little or none and it’s the same with gigs, a big name might get bigger crowds but smaller artists are lucky if they can get a handful of paying punters attending. I know covid hasn’t helped but it was bad even before that, this malaise and apathy goes back years and years.

Anyway, enough of that, ‘Journeys’ is a fine listen, opening with the gentle but gripping Snaefellisbaer (The Abandoned Icelandic Road Trip) to kick off proceedings. The song is about a road trip that Stewart and his wife attempted to take in 2012.  Unfortunately, they were beaten by the sheer volume of ice and snow that made the destination unreachable at that time. The track has some very jazzy saxaphone from Mark Norton and lovely swirling organ from Tom Potten (which I think is used to show the northern lights), it’s followed by some heavy guitar riffery from Kerry Mountain, all intertwined with ethereal vocals from Catherine Potten, before returning to Eric Bouillette’s excellent piano motif repeated in the songs outro.

I Wished They’d Stayed follows and is a song dedicated to a former band mate who died. In the track Stewart recalls the good times they spent together, however the song is not maudlin but merely reflects that this is all a part of life’s journey. There’s No Place Like You is about trying to get back to someone again but being frustrated in doing so. This has bass from Billy Sherwood of Yes fame on it and he does his best Chris Squire impression to give this song some great dynamics in the process. This is a very fine piece and is great musically with its superb synth and bass interplay.

I Remember The Age Of Steam opens with train sounds and a rolling rhythm that emulates train movements while a lone harmonica wails admirably in the background, evoking a hobo’s journey. It’s rather evocative really and certainly appealing, I can see the Big Big Train passengers really taking this song to heart as it strikes or touches many reference points in its grooves, especially the steam effects. Let Me Belong has a strong riff and swagger to it, rather muscular in fact, and it’s theme is about being part of something. There’s a good, fluid but fiery guitar solo and some fine keyboards enhancing the track gracefully which make this another winning song.

On A Leaf, On A Stream is very delicate with gently picked guitar and a good supporting bass line adding depth to the instrumental track. Add in some graceful yet urgent guitar from Sempano Semzedah and this short atmospheric piece scores highly. Final track Travelling Through Hyperspace is another mainly instrumental piece with crazy synths and urgent drums and great dynamics that give it some edge.

In short this almost concept album is about journeys and destinations and is a really underrated and yet highly rewarding trip. Even if the mainstream won’t give it room, I will and I hope that you will too.

Released February 18th, 2022

Order from bandcamp here:

Journeys | Stewart Clark (bandcamp.com)

Review – Asia In Asia Live At The Budokan Arena, Tokyo, December 1983 – by John Wenlock-Smith

The history of Asia is an often complex, involved and even a troubled one as the back story to this latest instalment in the Asia canon testifies. This latest release in band’s history is the then ground breaking satellite broadcast, live from Tokyo’s legendary Budokan theatre on 9th December 1983. This was also the first live video broadcast by MTV, however there was a problem in that, weeks earlier, after lacklustre sales of their hastily recorded follow up album saw it peak at number 67 on the Billboard chart, as opposed to the colossal sales of the band’s debut ‘Asia’ (1982).

Not only had ‘Alpha’ failed to match their debut’s success, the band themselves were also unhappy with the album’s mix and also the haste in which they had been ushered back to the studio to record it. On top of all that Asia were struggling internally with tensions between members, namely John Wetton and, well, anyone really! The success of the debut had hit John hardest as he was unaccustomed to the level of celebrity success had bought, John was also drinking heavily and this was affecting his performances with the ‘Alpha’ tour being particularly affected. So much so that latter dates were pulled. All of these frustrations reached a head and the band’s Management and label demanded a change be made and so John was duly dismissed..

The difficulty was that Asia were scheduled to do the MTV gig but had no lead singer. Time to call in a favour…

Carl Palmer called his old colleague Greg Lake from his ELP days and asked him for his help, Greg consented but was unfamiliar with Asia’s music and had to rely on a teleprompter for the actual show. The band started rehearsals in London with a view to being competent enough for the show. In fact, they played a rehearsal show the evening before at the Budokan to evaluate everything out and to make sure it all worked. The gig went off well and was a success technically, the show was released on video and laser disc but was then largely forgotten and subsequently overtaken by other events in the Asia world. It is now forty years since that show and the film has been overhauled for a re-release. This set includes vinyl and CDs of the show and the rehearsal show and a Blu-Ray of the show and, also, a version of the original laser disc cut of the show.

The sound has been remixed and remastered for premium sound and there is new artwork for the set and lovely it is too. The draw here will be this much improved sound and, when coupled with the previously unreleased rehearsal disc, this should be a rather good selling point. In fact, the sound is exceptionally good and clear and you can hear the band really giving it some oomph! In addition, you can see this for yourself t in the accompanying Blu-Ray, where you can enjoy the energy of show and witness all the members of Asia really playing their hearts out, especially Geoff Downes impressive keyboard set up and his antics during the show.

Greg Lake proves to be an exceptionally good fill in for the departed John Wetton and his bass is muscular when needed. It’s good to see him this way as his Asia tenure was short lived, one that sadly failed to bear any additional fruit. There are no bonus features, as such, and a documentary detailed in the booklet does not appear to be there. Even so, this set has merit and it reintroduces a not insignificant global event that was unique and ground-breaking in many ways.

The band were on form, and it is good to have this record of this event in its remixed and remastered glory once again. The tracks are from the debut with a few select tracks from the ‘Astra’ album. With both Wetton and Lake no longer with us, this set gives opportunity to view that strange moment of musical history once more and I, for one, am extremely glad to be able to do so.

Released 10th June, 2022.

Pre-order here:

Asia – Live At The Budokan, Tokyo, 1983 [VINYL] (lnk.to)

Review – Gustaf Ljunggren with Skúli Sverrisson – Floreana

“When you can no longer count the peaceful moments in your day, and life becomes a wonderful place of clear thoughts and calm. You know things are as right as they should be.”
― Ron Baratono

Swedish multi-instrumentalist and composer Gustaf Ljunggren has teamed up with Icelandic Bass Guitar player and composer Skúli Sverrisson (Laurie Anderson, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bill Frisell, Blonde Redhead ) to create an album that wishes to offer the listener private musical spaces to dwell in for a while.

Ljunggren’s musical language is clear, gentle, and melodic, and the pieces chosen for this album all share a sense of weaving past and future together into the present. Gustaf Ljunggren reflects about the music on ‘Floreana’: “I listened inwards, and it sounded like this. Melodies came to the surface, and I chose to say ‘yes’ to them, embrace them, carry them forward. My musical partner on this album, Skúli Sverrisson, has been with me throughout this process; embracing the music with both profound dedication and artistic boldness.”

‘Floreana’ is one of those rare things, something unexpected that turns out to be something quite wonderful. Eleven beautiful pieces of music that engender a feeling of calm and peacefulness. The whole album just brings harmony, tranquility and serenity to you, no matter how stressed or worked up you are. You could call it modern classical or ethereally cinematic, I just think it is possibly the most graceful collection of instrumental tracks I’ve ever heard.

Highlights abound, celestial Leading Somewhere, the soothing pastoral charms of Kongens Mark, the haunting and wistful Bottomless Siestas and the spine tingling exquisiteness of closing track Vi Overlever, every track is a perfect moment of reflection and contemplation. The music is slightly spiritual in nature and puts you in touch with your inner being.

Philosophical and meditative, ‘Floreana’ will leave you in place of utter calm and leave you ruminating on life, the universe and just about everything. It’s as much about the spaces between the notes as the notes themselves and the state of mind that your are left in. To me, it is one of the surprises of the year so far and an album that I implore you to listen to at least once, trust me, it will be worth it…

Released May 13th, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

Gustaf Ljunggren with Skúli Sverrisson – Floreana | Gustaf Ljunggren (bandcamp.com)

Review – Last Flight To Pluto – Random Karma, Fate And Destiny

‘Random Karma, Fate And Destiny’ is the third album from Last Flight To Pluto. The band, led by singer/songwriter Alice Freya and drummer/songwriter Darren Joseph, are joined on the album by longtime guitarists Jack Parry and Ryan Barnard, with appearances from bassist Ed Rees and Son Of Man guitarist George Jones.

A riotously enjoyable mix of rock, metal, pop, indie and a tasty slice of rock infused prog, this latest album is a hugely impressive listen. Alice’s vocals are quite unique and she is able to lend her superb voice perfectly to the melting pot of genres employed by the band on the record.

There’s a hard, funky edge to the guitar and rhythm section on opener Stop Yourself From Turning Into Dust and second track Some Of Us, both fast paced, high energy rockers with a truly infectious feel to them. The guitar playing, especially on the latter track, is striking and pretty superb and adds to an octane fuelled introduction to the album. We’re Being Rewired, with its slow burning opening, adds a darkly delicious feel to the music, Alice’s velvety vocals cloaking a honey soaked touch of menace. This track really reminds me of Magenta, especially their album ‘The Twenty Seven Club’, as it opens up into something much more involving and complex, a gorgeous piece of music.

Around The Corners is almost balladic in its composition, a sun soaked, wistful and sepia tinged song where Alice’s ethereal vocal compliments the delicate piano perfectly. Contemplative and dreamy before breaking out into an uplifting chorus, it really salves the soul and calms the nerves. Thunderous riffs and crashing drums signal the hard rocking dynamics of the excellent White Noise, a classic rock infused song that invokes the spirit of the late 70’s and early 80’s, there’s some seriously good songwriting on show here and, as you delve deeper into the album, it just gets better and better. There’s a potent and staccato intro to Feed The Machine, another fine piece of music that sees the band delivering an uptempo, blues and soul infused, performance.

There are pop sensibilities at show on Any News but Alice’s silken vocals and the elegant musicianship lift it above the mere norm. Quite an emotive track that wears its heart on its sleeve and has a slightly melancholic overtone. There’s a thoughtful and sombre mood to Stay Out Of My Head, a reflective yearning in the vocals imbuing it with a slightly sorrowful edge. The guitar then kicks in and Alice’s voice takes on a distinctly intimidating timbre to finish the song in a very enigmatic way. The album closes with the driving tones of Game Over, a powerful tune that’s full of mystery and subtlety. The primeval guitar riffs and thunderous drums delivering a prog edged piece of sublime classic rock that just delivers on every level.

‘Random Karma, Fate And Destiny’ is a highly accomplished release that shows a band reaching maturity and the height of their powers. Excellent songwriting combined with outstanding musicianship gives something subtlety different to everything else out there and makes this an album that you really should seek out.

Released 10th May, 2022.

Pre-order the album from White Knight Records here:

Last Flight To Pluto (whiteknightshop2.co.uk)

Review – The Tangent – Songs From The Hard Shoulder

It’s always a highlight of the year when a new album is announced by seminal British proggers The Tangent. ‘Songs From The Hard Shoulder’ sees the venerable and much loved outfit, led by esteemed musician, and fellow Yorkshireman, Andy Tillison, releasing their 12th studio album and sees the band focusing almost entirely on their long format songs or “epics” with only one song being less than 16 minutes long. 

I have been a long time fan of The Tangent and Andy’s topical, witty and often acerbic lyrics which are weaved into their unique, funky, flowing musical style and this latest release sees Andy on absolute top form, both as an exceedingly clever lyricist and an amazing musician. Andy is joined, once again, by a distinguished cast of fellow musicians with Jonas Reingold (bass), Luke Machin (guitar/vocals), Steve Roberts (drums) and Theo Travis (sax & flute) reprising their roles from the previous two The Tangent albums.

The Changes uses a mini story about The Tangekanic band in Germany trying to find a hotel after a gig they didn’t get paid for – after a week of rehearsal and a journey of about 900 miles as a focus. It’s almost a metaphor for all the lockdowns that the world had to suffer and all the isolation and uncertainty that everyone was feeling. The thing about this fantastic song is that it uses that background as a positive metaphor. Trust me, this upbeat and quite wondrous song will leave you smiling as it uses a huge dose of The Tangent’s positive mental attitude to deliver seventeen minutes of buoyant optimism that’s all wrapped up with Andy’s astute lyrics and a band on top form. The music is an utter delight and fits the theme and mood perfectly, there’s a wistful and contemplative note to the middle section of the song as Andy tells the story of the German gig perfectly. This epic track ebbs and flows superlatively and the closing section is one of the best bits of music that The Tangent have ever delivered, if it doesn’t leave you in a really good mood and with a huge grin on your face then I swear you can’t have a soul. It’s quite possibly the best long track that Andy has ever written, I love it!

Highly influenced by Swedish artists from the 70s like Bo Hansson, Flasket Brinner – and also by Andy’s go-to influences in Canterbury Style fusion like National Health, Supersister and Egg, Prog/Fusion romp GPS Vultures is another in the series of outstanding The Tangent instrumentals personified by tracks like Doctor Livingstone, Andalusian Skies and Music Inspired by Music Inspired by The Snow Goose. A long (again, seventeen minutes plus) instrumental piece has to be really good and pretty ingenious to hold the listener’s attention throughout the track and it comes as no surprise to find that this particular track is clever and inventive enough to keep you entertained from start to finish. It’s almost like a musical story, each individual section telling its own tale to perfection as it snakes its way through Canterbury style fusion to an almost Crimson and VDGG influenced improvisation, all with the band’s thoroughly modern interpretation. What’s evident from these first two tracks is how the musicians seamlessly work together and how Luke Machin is utterly on fire on the album, his style is simply perfect for this music.

The Lady Ties To A Lamp Post is a very sobering piece that returns to the theme of homelessness that Andy explored from a very short personal experience of that on the ‘Down & Out’ album. The “Lady” in question was a person that he encountered in Leeds on my way home from a Christmas party in 2012. Dressed in rescued council worker hi viz orange waterproofs repaired with Gaffa she was tying herself to the lamp post so that she could sleep upright without falling over. The temperature was in the low minus figures and the wind was biting like a Doberman. Andy had the briefest of conversations with her and only had cigarettes to give her. Andy treats the subject in a very sympathetic manner and, once again, the lyrics and fantastic music impress. I don’t know how they manage to do it but every note in this twenty minute song has its place, there is nothing superfluous and Andy’s vocal delivery, along with the intricate musicianship, is just right for this sobering tale. The skill of Theo Travis is well known and his sax playing adds a real sophisticated jazz influence throughout and Steve Roberts’ precision drum skills should be lauded in equal measure. This absorbing and impassioned epic shows Andy’s songwriting skills at their consummate best and is yet more proof that he is one of the best at this long form style of music, his keyboard skills, as evident here, aren’t too bad either!

The one short track on the album is the utterly sublime, soul infused and totally funky Wasted Soul and shows that, while The Tangent do the long form epic to perfection, the band can still rock with the best when it comes to catchy shorter songs too. Harmonised vocals, hammond organs galore and a brass section to die for, this song is like a total beacon of light and will have you rocking in the aisles (metaphorically speaking of course!), it’s uplifting and just, well, bloody good! Jonas’ bass playing is top notch throughout the album but, on this stellar track, he just shines.

Early editions of the album and the Vinyl Edition will include the bonus track In The Dead Of Night which is, of course, a cover version of the classic song by UK and the band give it a little dose of The Tangent magic to deliver a track that sounds as if it could have been written by them in the first place. A particular highlight is Luke’s ever impressive guitar playing and here he just seems to have been given free rein to deliver a lengthy solo that has you nodding furiously in appreciation.

I had a discussion with Andy about the new album and the one quote I will take from it is this; “There was a lot of hope in my heart when writing it (the album) and I think it forced its way through”.

‘Songs From The Hard Shoulder’ is just a wonderful piece of work, The Tangent at their brilliant best. People need some cheer in the world and music has the power to lift people, after just one listen to this amazing album I was smiling again. Andy and the band could just have released their most important record yet…

Released 10th June, 2022.

Pre-order from the band’s website here:

The Tangent : Official Website – Home

Also pre-order here:

Songs From The Hard Shoulder (lnk.to)

Review – Bill Bruford – Making A Song And Dance: A Complete – Career Collection – by John Wenlock-Smith

You’re going to need time, lots of it too, to get maximum enjoyment from this pretty exhaustive and, at times challenging, box set of 6 CDs. If you do then you can evaluate the career of Sevenoaks born drum maestro William (Bill) Bruford. The box set covers the 40 odd years of his often-erratic career choices and defining drum work.

Bill was an original member of Yes, leaving them shortly after the success of the ‘Close To The Edge’ album for what could be considered more challenging music as offered by King Crimson, with whom he made several seminal albums like ‘Lark’s Tongues in Aspic’, ‘Starless and Bible Black’ and ‘Red’, before Crimson fractured and took a hiatus for several years. This was considered an odd move by many, but Bruford wanted to challenge himself, rather than playing the same music ad-nauseum. He was also a part of the original U.K. project with John Wetton and Alan Holdsworth but, again, left after their debut album and tour to concentrate on forming his own band, Bruford, who made three excellent albums and played some fine live shows.

Bruford joined a reformed Crimson for their popular 1980’s reinvention, Adrian Belew and Tony Levin appearing alongside Bill and Robert Fripp for the albums ‘Discipline’, ‘Three Of A Perfect Pair’ and ‘Beat’, that tell the story of that era. When Crimson took an extended break, Bill started his own jazz project, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, which was significantly different to all that he had done before. Much of this can be explored on the other four discs within this set along with his involvement as a supporting musician to the likes of Roy Harper, Chris Squire, Al Di Meola, Steve Howe and David Torn. There are also a slew of collaborations with Patrick Moraz and Michael Borstlap, in their piano and percussion ensembles.

Bear in mind that a lot of this was improvisation at its rawest, so this is not always easy to listen to, yet there is much of worth and value to these discs. It’s not all about the big groups, much of Bill’s joy has been found in the less high profile works. This set is challenging and you can hear how Bill uses space in his music to fine effect and how he has a ‘less is more approach’ to making music. He is a skilled musician and he prefers to underplay as opposed to overplaying, subtlety being the key here, which is why he is so highly regarded by his fellow musicians and his contemporaries. Neal Peart of Rush says that the advancements that Bill made in the realm of electronics were a benefit to everyone.

The Bruford tracks are really fabulous music with a strong bass presence from Jeff Berlin and urgent sympathetic drumming from Bill. Tracks like Joe Frazier from ‘Gradually Going Tornado’ really show Bill’s skill as a band leader. In contrast, the Earthworks tracks are far mellower in the main but still with enough going on to make them of interest and investigation. The band’s revision of Downtown, as made famous by Petula Clark, is exceptionally inventive as they play around with a well-known piece to make it something rather different and exciting.

I really liked the spontaneous elements in the Bruford-Moraz tracks with just piano and drums playing together. The sound is full ,even though there are only two people playing and both Bruford and Moraz use the space in the music to create something pretty remarkable really. As are the tracks with Michael Borstlap which also fuse Bill’s drumming with piano in free form jazz tracks that again use the space to improvise across. This is especially the case on The 16 kingdoms of the Five Barbarians, with it’s thunderous drums and tense piano fills and flourishes, this track really makes an impression as does the highly rhythmic interplay on display on the Stand on Zanzibar, which features a graceful piano melody line and delicate yet informed drumming from Bill.

Equally fascinating are the trio of tracks from David Torn on which Bill appears as part of the rhythm section. Some of this jazz is pretty brutal and harsh, such is the way with the unconventional Torn, but it makes for interesting listening once you get used to it.

The set is split into three sets, discs 1 & 2 represent The Collaborator, discs 3 & 4 are The Composing Leader, disc 5 is The Special Guest and disc 6 Is The Improviser. Much of the first two discs will be familiar, as this encompasses his time with Yes and King Crimson whilst discs 3 and 4 cover the Bruford and Earthworks era, with everything else on discs 5 & 6. Either way this set is simply fascinating and one that will appeal to the more broad-minded prog fan as its grooves contain much very fine music indeed. The included book and poster are decent too and give a good overview from Bill himself, who was fully 100% involved in this project.

Released 29th April, 2022.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Making A Song And Dance: A Complete-Career Collection (burningshed.com)

Review – David King – Look For Stars

Guitarist and composer David King is a unique voice in instrumental music from Motherwell in Scotland. His CV is extensive and includes a recent spell with legendary Scottish proggers Abel Ganz.

Adding to his back catalogue of solo albums, David will release his new EP ‘Look For Stars’ next month, CDs will be available from May 6th and streaming platforms will have the new music from 20th May. The five track EP called was written and recorded at home from October last year till about 2 weeks ago – constant tweeting not withstanding. It was mastered by Steve Kitch who plays keys in The Pineapple Thief

About the EP, David said; “There are some fine musicians joining me this time – all my previous albums were just me but I had a great drummer Max Saidi on all 5 tracks. Alan (Hearton) from Ganz plays some wonderful keys and piano on 3 songs and I had some additional bass and guitar from Brian Stewart and Alan Houston.

It’s all instrumental as you’ve seen on the video clips. In terms of influences it was more proggy than my previous releases but it still end up sounding like me, which is a good thing I suppose.  

I’m a real champion of the clean tones on guitar – I thoroughly appreciate the weedly weedly guys but I like textures like Alex Lifeson and Andy Summers.”

When I spoke to David about the new EP I said that it reminded me of legendary Journey guitarist Neal Schon’s solo instrumental release ‘Beyond The Thunder’ and, coincidentally, David is a huge fan of that album himself and its phenomenal sense of melody and where every note is in its right place. He also stated that another big influence is a band called Acoustic Alchemy who have very similar arrangements and are not too self indulgent, as a lot of instrumental bands can be.

Putting it simply, ‘Look For Stars’ is an utterly sublime EP, five tracks of instrumental music that just impresses on every level, written purely for the love of music and you can tell with every note. There is a haunting beauty and wistful wonder to the title track, Look For Stars, it pulls on your heartstrings with its sheer elegance and perfect form. The Spaces Inbetween almost has a latin, jazz infused rhythm, one that gets your hips moving and your toes tapping and reminds me a lot of jazz guitar great Martin Taylor and his ability to grab your attention with his fluid guitar playing. Alan Hearton’s keys add a real touch of class to what is a really good track.

Wave After Wave has a more laid back feel and is as smooth as they come, a piece of music that takes away all the worries of the world and replaces them with a relaxed and restrained atmosphere and late night jazz lounge mood. The staccato opening to The Magic Music belies the delight that follows, an upbeat track that really energises and puts a smile on your face, there is joy at play here and a real sense of wonder. This EP is such an immersive pleasure that, in no time at all, we are at the final track and A Planet Of Playthings is a fitting close to the release. There is something underneath the surface here, something that gives the music life and its very own essence, it is simply breathtaking.

Look For Stars’ is the album that I have found most spiritually uplifting so far this year, I adore the whole EP, I just love the joyous, uplifting feel that permeates the whole release, it’s music that is written for the love of music and it shows in every note!

Released 6th May, 2022 (CD).

Order from David direct at:

www.davidkingmusic.net

Review – Geoff Proudley – K of A

A musical portrait of the life of Katharine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s Spanish Queen, ‘K of A’ is an instrumental album by English composer and keyboard player Geoff Proudley, drawing on orchestral, classical, filmic and rock elements to paint some of the key moments and emotions in Katharine’s life.

Geoff writes mainly for media but has had a number of flirtations with progressive rock over the years. Some with long memories may even recall his involvement with progressive outfit Coltsfoot in the mid-eighties.

As Geoff describes ‘K of A’“It’s been a three-year labour of love. Starting with an original mysterious Spanish theme that came to me when I was reading about Katharine, I gradually started to write more, fleshing out episodes and moments of her life. I suppose it was a bit like writing for plays and getting inside the characters, what she was feeling and then painting musical pictures of events in her life’. It’s something I find I can do. It usually comes through in what I write, through my subconscious. For this album I think I wrote about 70% of the themes and main frameworks of the pieces in one weekend of piano improvisation. Again, thinking about the events in her life and capturing everything I played into Logic. Then going back and listening to what I had. I often write that way and I find it really productive.

The wives of Henry VIII have oft been the subject of musical projects (Rick Wakeman’sThe Six Wives Of Henry VIII‘ being the most obvious) but I had a feeling that Geoff’s take on it could bring something different to the scene and I wasn’t wrong…

A much more orchestral take on progressive rock, ‘K of A’, also, is not a medieval romp of flirty harpsichords and merry men. It is an intense and thought provoking piece of work and one where this masterful musician really gets to shine. Telling the story of Katherine through twenty-three, relatively short, musical pieces, the album is at times contemplative and reflective and, at others, more strident and direct. The obvious Tudor musical influences are there as, in any story about the era, they must be but they are never used as anything but reference and every note has its place, whether it be from harpsichord, violin or something of a much more modern ilk.

Where the story is dark, the music provides a sombre and melancholy timbre to match the mood but, when the atmosphere is of a much more upbeat disposition, Geoff guides the musical narrative to a more luminous and lively delivery. Throughout its lengthy eighty minute running the time, the album never loses focus or the listener’s attention due to its intense, absorbing nature and, as this rich musical tapestry comes to a close, you realise just how much of yourself you had invested in the story.

Being able to tell a compelling story through music is quite a skill and, with ‘K of A’ and the engrossing life of Katherine of Aragon, Geoff proves he could be a master of the game.

Released 31st March, 2022.

Order direct from Geoff’s website here:

CD Album -K of A | gmp-music-production (geoffproudley.co.uk)