Review – Head With Wings – From Worry To Shame – by Progradar

Head with Wings are storytellers of sound. Textured, ethereal, and blissfully haunting, the U.S. – based songwriting duo creates boundary-pushing rock songs that straddle the aesthetic line between art music and narrative drama.

The emotionally-charged and atmospheric qualities of their craft captured the interest of Earthside keyboardist Frank Sacramone and guitarist Jamie van Dyck, who approached the band to produce their first full-length record, From Worry To Shame.

David Castillo (Katatonia, Leprous, Opeth) joined the team soon after, helping to shape the album’s dense, gripping guitar sound, and Forrester Savell (Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, Skyharbor) followed, bringing a spacious, shimmering mix and master to the fold.”

Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? Well, after a conversation with one half of the band, vocalist and guitarist Joshua Corum, my interest was piqued even more and I just had to listen to their first full-length album –  ‘From Worry to Shame’ – to see if it lived up to the promise.

A continuation of the concept and themes of desire, grief, and self-discovery explored in the group’s acclaimed 2013 EP, ‘Living With The Loss’, the new album covers the rich breadth of human emotion across nine chapters of an overarching storyline that inhabits the mind of the listener long after its final note has decayed.

Let’s get one thing straight from the start, I really like this album. It dips into the rich soundscape of hard-edged progressive infused rock music, taking cues from masters of the game like Haken, Coheed and Cambria and Circa Survive and Corum’s vocals have that high timbre to them, similar to Claudio Sanchez and Anthony Green. It’s a vocal style that doesn’t appeal to everyone but I appreciate it’s more subtle feel compared to full on heavy metal style delivery.

The thunderous cacophony created by the twin guitars of Corum and Brandon Cousino can sometime be almost deliciously brutal and, at other times, graceful, calm and collected, as evidenced on opening track Goodbye Sky and the starkly eloquent In Memorium.

A musical tapestry that spans epochs in terms of style, sound and substance, the restless and incredibly infectious energy that infuses this dynamic release almost gives it a life of its own. As these powerful songs pass you by, you find yourself becoming immersed in their overarching storyline, Misanthropy is a dark and brooding tale, From Worry to Shame takes the ethereal and melancholic route, the rich breadth of human emotion is traveled as we journey from beginning to end.

An all-enveloping forty-nine minutes of raw emotions that completely involves the listener on every level, ‘From Worry to Shame’ is a heartfelt exploration of the human condition – life, death, hope and despair are visited in all their painful glory. This is not just music, it is musical poetry and a stark reminder that beauty can always be found, even in the darkest of places.

Released 1st June 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – PLINI – Sunhead – by Progradar

Sydney’s PLINI is one of the rising stars of instrumental progressive rock and is releasing a new E.P. ‘Sunhead’ this month.

‘Sunhead’ features some exciting collaborations, including backing vocals and production from Skyharbor‘s Devesh Dayal (Salt & Charcoal), saxophone from The 1975’s John Waugh (Flâneur), piano and keyboards from Anomalie(Flâneur) and a guitar solo from Tim Miller on Sunhead. The recording line up is completed with drummer Chris Allison and bassist Simon Grove, with PLINI performing everything else.

Written, recorded and produced by PLINI himself – and for the most part, all from a bedroom studio. PLINI explains the writing process and what inspired him:

“I started working on the material almost straight after “Handmade Cities” was released in 2016, sort of with the goal to make a very big, small EP – aiming to put as much detail and refinement into the composition and playing as possible. Both musically and emotionally, the music is greatly influenced by the amount of touring and travel I’ve done in the past couple of years.

I was particularly inspired by Animals As Leaders (who I toured Europe and North America with in 2016), by the musical adventurousness in their last album, and Disperse (who I toured with in Europe in early 2017) for the way they seamlessly combined contemporary pop and electronic elements with prog-metal – updating a genre that sometimes seems (ironically for the name, “progressive”) entrenched in old musical cliches.

Aside from this, I think the “Sunhead” EP is a musical expression of the pure excitement that comes with traveling to new places, meeting new people and eating new things.”

There’s a smooth, funky and edgy feel to opener Kind, a track with a modern jazz overtone to it. The frequent outbursts from PLINI’s guitar add real flamboyance and a flavour of Steve Vai to this uplifting piece of music and the talent is there for all to see, as an opening track it is a perfect appetiser for what is to come.

Salt + Charcoal premiered as a video via Prog mag recently and is a powerfully driven track with staccato burst of guitar and some excellent bass and drums to add substance. Flighty and volatile, it has an almost surreal and alien rhythm that gets under your skin and gets you involved, right in the middle of the mix.

Like a bit of free-form Jazz with your instrumental prog? Flâneur will give you that in spades. An otherworldly six minute musical journey through the most brilliant of musical minds and one which intrigues at every turn. The spaced out keyboard sounds and off-tempo drumbeat give it a devil-may-care feel, an almost mischievous and playful melody that leaves a wicked grin on your face. John Waugh’s sax joins with Anomalie’s piano to close it out perfectly.

The start to closer (and title track) Sunhead immediately brings Jazz guitar legend Martin Taylor but the segue into the frantic riffing soon blows any perceived cobwebs away. The track then leisurely falls back into that super smooth jazz style that I really like, PLINI really showing his virtuosity, before erupting into a full-on funky and energetic jazz-metal vibe. Tim Miller’s solo is as thunderously dynamic as you could hope for and the track, and album, close out with utmost precision.

PLINI is a superlative talent, he has the ability to move through any guitar style seemlessly and that is a rare talent. With ‘Sunhead’ this amazing musician lets us, once again, see a glimpse of his mercurial skills. I have one complaint though, please can we have a full-length album next time?

Released 27th July 2018.

Order the album direct from the artist here

 

Review – Tides of Man – Every Nothing – by Progradar

Tides of Man is an instrumental rock band from Tampa, Florida. Drummer Josh Gould, bassist Alan Jaye, and guitarist Spencer Gill formed the band in 2007, with guitarist Daniel Miller joining in 2010.

The band has an interesting history, as they released music and toured for years with a vocalist before a dramatic shift occurred.

After starting out with a self released EP in 2008 and playing live in the Tampa Bay Area, Tides Of Man quickly built a local following before catching the attention of Portland, Oregon label, Rise Records.

They released 2 full length albums, ‘Empire Theory’ (2009), and ‘Dreamhouse’ (2010), which both featured vocals. After touring relentlessly in the U.S for 2 years, the band parted ways with their singer and record label and took time off to regroup.

After trying out many vocalists and demoing several new songs, the band was unable to find their new singer. With the sound of the new music already taking inspiration from the instrumental post-rock genre, Tides decided on a different approach. They stopped trying to fill the position and instead let the music speak for itself. After playing a show as an instrumental band, it was clear that it was the right decision, and fans embraced the change.

Tides Of Man successfully crowd funded their instrumental debut, ‘Young And Courageous’, in 2014 and return, after 4 years, with the follow up ‘Every Nothing’.

A wondrously expressive collection of twelve tracks that run a whole gamut of emotions all the way through from joy to despair. Layered and intricate tunes that invite the listener to bring their own perception to the music. The songs explore the theme that the most insignificant moments in life can be the most important.

There is power, beauty and grace evident in every musical moment from the brooding majesty of opener Static Hymn and the eminent and involving Old 88 to the fragile splendour of Waxwing and New Futures, the arrangements and tones deliver a truly emotional experience.

To me, this is the beauty of instrumental music, the lack of words allows the listener to create their own subliminal journey through the album, each track meaning something different to everyone. The pomp and circumstance of duo Everything is Fine, Everyone is Happy and the brilliantly titled Death is No Dread Enemy cement this instrumental magnificence perfectly.

‘Every Nothing’ is an album where you will gain the most from listening from beginning to end and immersing yourself in the whole acoustic experience, a dark, brooding but, ultimately, self-enriching journey from beginning to end and one which sees this supremely talented quartet raise their game on every level.

Released 3rd August 2018.

Order the album here:

TIDES OF MAN

 

Review – Evenflow – Old Town – by Jez Denton

In the last couple of months I’ve had the good fortune to have reviewed a number of works by collaborations between very talented musicians who have come together, often after working on other projects and finding lots of musical common ground, to make music that primarily, it seems, enthuses them, which is an enthusiasm that flows through to the listener.

Sometimes the resulting work doesn’t always hit the brief entirely but, on a majority of cases, with prime examples being the 2017 collaboration between Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile and the album released by the duo made up of Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay, ‘Lump’, in the last couple of months. The common factor, it seems, is when it is a partnership working together as opposed to a collective; the lack of too many cooks adds to the broth in subtle ways, complimenting each other in the desire to create an interesting  and well-crafted piece of musical art.

Falling into this category is the latest release on Bad Elephant Music from the collaboration between Stuart Stephens of Whitewater and Mike Kershaw, under the name Evenflow. Evenflow as a name is a suitable place in which to talk about this EP, called ‘Old Town’, as this is a collection of five songs that do, indeed, have an even and gorgeous flow to them. Right from the opening moments of the first track, Creation, Stuart and Mike show their excellent understanding of how to put together their thoughts and music without being seemingly in competition or showing off to the other.

They work together to complement each other’s differing styles and have made a wonderful EP full of the understanding about leaving space in the music and developing a beautifully atmospheric piece. Each player and composer seems overjoyed to be in the presence of the other, meaning that they both allow each other to grow throughout the EP. They have created a truly wondrous collaboration that deserves further development as this duo of Evenflow.

‘Old Town’ is a piece of work that bodes well for the future of this pair as a combination; we can only hope that their own individual work commitments allows them to come together to continue creating. I, for one, was left wanting more when listening to this EP andwould look forward to hearing a longer, album’s length, work from Stuart and Mike. Hopefully Bad Elephant Music will be able to facilitate this and support the guys in future.

Released 29th June 2018

Order the album (only released digitally) on bandcamp here

 

Review – The Kentish Spires – The Last Harvest – by James R. Turner

The Gentlemen behind the Summers End Festival, Huw Lloyd-Jones and Stephen Lambe, have branched out into a record label as well, Sonicbond, truly covering all progressive bases and, following on the release of the excellent Talitha Rise album, they now unleash this album, described as a spiritual successor to the classic Canterbury Scene. With a wonderfully rich and warm sound, this is an assured and impressive debut album.

The band’s members are no stranger to the contemporary prog scene, with guitarist Danny Chang bringing his considerable influence to bear and Rik Loveridge’s wonderful Hammond flows throughout the album. Phil Warren and Tim Robinson on bass and drums provide the impressive back beat that allows the guitars and synths to paint wonderful musical pictures, while the woodwind of Paul Hornsby adds a wonderfully English feel. I am a sucker for bands that use woodwind and brass like The Home Service, Brass Monkey  and Supertramp and this definitely ticks all the boxes for me. Topping it off are the sublimely soulful vocals of Lucie V, who brings her warm, smokey soulful voice to bear on these superb tracks.

From the wonderful opening 11minutes plus opener Kingdom of Kent, this well and truly sets the scene with evocative lyrics (and distinctions between Kentish Men and Men of Kent – having lived there in the Medway towns for a while, this is an important distinction for residents of this garden county,) stirring musical moments, wonderful woodwind and keyboard work, and oh, those vocals. Lucie adds soul to the music that is full of heart and, as an opening track goes, it acts as both a statement of intent and as an opening to a new album by a new band. It is assured and has plenty of verve and swagger. The bonus track Clarity (mixed by one of progs busiest men Rob Reed) is a wonderfully direct song about indecision and direction (something we can all identify with) and, again, Lucie’s vocals add the world-weary element to this, while the band are sublime.

The Canterbury vibe filters its way through the album with the wonderful flute on TTWIG (That’s the Way it Goes) sounding like it snuck in the back from a ‘70’s Tull album. Along with the sax, the woodwind and the wonderfully organic Hammond organ sound, this album reminds me of other great English bands like Kapreker’s Constant or Big Big Train circa ‘The Underfall Yard’ era.

With only 8 tracks on here, the album has room to grown and breath and while it is not a concept album, several of the tracks do link into the history of Kent, songs like Hengist Ridge (not to be confused with a Mike Oldfield album of a similar name) and the opener deal with the subject of the regions wars and battles.

My favourite track on the album is also, funnily enough, the longest at 13 minutes plus. The Last Harvest is a wonderfully English epic where Chang’s guitar soars and Lucie’s vocals take the music to another level, almost reminiscent in points of either Pink Floyd or Mostly Autumn. The closing organ piece that rounds the track off is both sublime and elegiac, reminiscent of Harvest festival celebrations in Churches and Village Halls, the haunting sound you only get from a traditional organ.

This album is a fantastically mature and accomplished debut with some wonderfully English influences drawing from things as wonderfully diverse as folk rock, progressive rock and the Canterbury scene and it weaves them all into an incredibly rich tapestry of sounds and styles. Never jarring and in keeping with the rich musical seam of talent that runs through this album.

I really enjoyed this record, and it is one that will grow on you just like it grew on me and, in Lucie V, we have another wonderful singer with a unique voice who is integral to the success of this record. If you like your English progressive music, and want to try something new, The Kentish Spires are exactly what you need.

Released 27th July 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – Chris Squire – Fish Out of Water (2CD / 2DVD / 1LP / 2 X 7″ SINGLES LIMITED EDITION BOXSET) – by James R. Turner

At the last count there have been about 1 million approx. solo albums (ed. – I think you may be exaggerating there James…) from various members of Yes in it’s variety of incarnations (although to be fair, most of them are by Rick Wakeman!) and, now while the band strides the earth in two distinct incarnations (the ‘official’ Yes, where Billy Sherwood has stepped up into the much missed Chris Squire’s boots  and Yes Featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman), neither band has the anchorage or the sheer musical presence that Chris Squire had, the only man to appear on every Yes studio album and whose distinctive bass sound turned bass playing into an art, where it became more than just part of the back beat.

Billy Sherwood is excellent live at taking Chris’ place but there can only ever be one Chris Squire, Rickenbacker in hand, propelling the sound of Yes onwards.

Which is why, for my money, ‘Fish Out of Water’ is the finest solo album by any member of Yes ever released, it’s the finest album that Yes never released, and showcased Chris at his best. Here he takes on some astonishingly great sounds, aided and abetted by old Yes sparring partners Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz, such luminaries such as Mel Collins and Jimmy Hastings and orchestral arrangements by old friend Andrew Pryce-Jackson. This is pure undiluted Squire, where he lets his vocals and his bass take central stage.

In fact, he didn’t sound as powerful and as energised as this again until on the Yes ‘Drama’ album from 1980.

This re-issue on Esoteric Recordings  is available in both a standard double CD set, which includes the original album and the new stereo mix by Jakko Jakszyk (complete with bonus tracks, the single version of Lucky Seven and Chris Squire and Alan White’s Run with the Fox/Return of the Fox single) or a deluxe boxed set that includes the CD but also replica 7” singles of the bonus tracks, the album on 180g vinyl and ‘Fish Out of Water’ in a new 5.1 mix.

The only quibble I have with this is that the 5.1 mix is only available in the far more expensive box, and for those of us who love the album but don’t need the vinyl or bonus 7” singles, the cost of the box to get the 5.1 is quite prohibitive.

Hopefully when the box runs out, there may be second run of the CD with the 5.1 disc as I am sure the demand for it is out there.

Whilst some of the content (the interview with Chris Squire and track commentary for instance) is also on the 2006 Sanctuary edition of the album, the sound quality and remastering work is stellar. Where the Sanctuary copy fell was the sound of the album, it was very muddy, and the booklet looked like it had been run through a colour photocopier.

The mastering here brings out all the subtle nuances throughout the record and, of course, Jakko’s new stereo mix is a revelation, bringing new life into such epic pieces as the fantastic Hold Out Your Hand and You By My Side.

The two epics on this album were always Silently Falling, with it’s astonishing extended coda, and the orchestrally brilliant Safe (Canon Song) with its lush orchestrations taking up pretty much the whole of side two. This was true progressive music, none of yer regressive nonsense, this was Chris Squire pushing boundaries and making exciting dynamic and, on Safe, truly memorably moving songs.

You get the room for these songs to breathe and grow and develop, and the intricate sounds, subtle musical nuances, even the funk that’s on Lucky Seven (which to me was always the weakest on the album) has even grown on me and I can appreciate it a hell of a lot more than I ever did. Silently Falling for me is the centrepiece of this album, and oh, I would have loved for Yes to take this and make something of it as well (not that there is anything wrong at all with this version, far from it, but to hear Squire and Anderson singing on this together would have been amazing).

The 5.1 is even more astonishing, like King Crimson, Gentle Giant and, indeed, Yes, 5.1 is the music system progressive music was built for and, of course, Esoteric have a great track record in 5.1, as the Hawkwind ‘Warrior at the Edge of Time’ and the recent Barclay James Harvest re-issues show. It is a truly immersive experience for the music lover and it feels, just for the length of the album, that Chris Squire is in the room with you, that this is a private performance just for you, the sound of Silently Falling in 5.1 sending tingles down the spine. The whole mix is revelatory, there is so much more going on, and the mix is beautifully organic, pulling the sounds to life without ever compromising the album.

For those of you who already have this album on CD from previous below par re-issues and indeed the original vinyl and are wondering if it is worth getting a copy, I would say the sound has radically improved over any previous CD version and the Jakko stereo mix is revelatory. If you were thinking of the 5.1, which is on a par with the wonderful 5.1 version of ‘The Yes Album’ by the way, then you would have to look at your budget and decide if it is worth having,  complete with the vinyl.

This is a legendary ground-breaking record, from a legendary ground-breaking musician and, other than a Christmas record (the amusingly titled ‘Chris Squire’s Swiss Choir’) stands as the solo testament to Yes’ anchor. Maybe it is so good because he never made another, not knowing the man I couldn’t speculate on why not, maybe he felt he’d said all he needed to say solo, or perhaps he felt more comfortable within Yes, who can say? However, as one of the most innovative and distinctive musical forces in music, and a year after his untimely passing, this remaster is the appropriate way to celebrate his definitive musical statement.

Released 27th April 2018

Buy the boxset here

Review – Southern Empire – Civilisation – by Progradar

“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!”

Sage words of bombast and pomposity and the sort of thing you’d hear at the Last Night of the Proms. To be honest, if we had an equivalent thing for progressive music (in my opinion, the closest thing to classical music nowadays), there would be some prime candidates to be included in any such event.

Having listened to ‘Civilisation’, the new, sophomore, release from Aussie proggers Southern Empire I seriously think they have put forward an excellent case for inclusion in this, admittedly, fictitious concert.

Formed from the break up of cult band Unitopia, their debut, self-titled release had a very positive reaction but they have come back with an album that is grander in every aspect.

Opening track Goliath’s Moon (written by guitarist Cam Blokland) is a thundering, hard-rock heavy piece of music that brings back memories of ‘Milliontown’ era Frost* to my ears. It’s taking all that is good from that style of music and injecting it with some much needed joie de vivre. It is an uplifting and mightily powerful song that flies into town at a million miles an hour, puts a huge smile on everyone’s face and then buggers off the same way it came with not another word, the guitar run out at the end is pure genius too!

Cries For The Lonely takes Dream Theater and Queen at the height of the pomp and circumstance and delivers nineteen minutes of pure unadulterated musical theatre. The lush vocal harmonies are note perfect and the music is as polished as you could ask for and yet there is a definite glint in its electronic eye. There’s an utter sense of enjoyment in the delivery of every note and every word and, once again, a superb guitar solo from Cam closes out the song.

Simply put, title track Civilisation is a proper progressive ‘epic’ in the true sense of the word. The song is a re-worked and extended version of a song that band supremo Sean Timms wrote with ex Unitopia colleague Mark Trueack for an abandoned album and it ebbs and flows like all great tracks do, there’s some superb saxophone from Mr Timms and Danny Lopresto’s voice is just so silky smooth. It’s twenty-nine minutes of dynamic progressive music like Transatlantic used to do before they decided that too much still wasn’t enough…

The final song Innocence and Fortune dials the intensity back a notch but most definitely not the quality. Written by Timms and Steve Unruh of Samurai of Prog fame, it has more of the brooding quality of IQ to it. Brody Green’s drums and the measured bass of Jez Martin take the lead here but it isn’t long before those lush vocal harmonies make a triumphant return along with that more upbeat tempo. Do we get another great solo from Cam? What do you think…?

‘Civilisation’ is one of the early contenders for album of the year for me, a tremendous release that hits all the right notes and finally sees joy and elation return to the creation of music. It’s as close to a must buy as anything else I’ve heard this year so far. Right, that’s it, I’m off for another listen…

Released 20th July 2018

Order the album from GEP here

Here’s Hold from Southern Empire’s debut album:

 

 

 

Review – Pingvinorkestern – Look, No Hands – by Progradar

After listening to ‘Look, No Hands’ from the Swedish progressive rock ensemble Pingvinorkestern (Penguin Orchestra) I’m still at a loss for words. At times quite gloriously mad and at times utterly magnificent progressive rock born from imagination and intuition, this album is a wonderful collection of tracks that enthralls, amazes and amuses all at the same time.

Following on from the debut release ‘Push’, this new album calls on glockenspiel, jews harp, sledgehammer (yep,you read that right), xylophones and horns to create songs derived from pure sadness and happiness, all created for the bands own pleasure.

Seemingly recorded haphazardly as friends called round to drink coffee contribute french horn, bassoon, Krankvartetten (nope, me neither) and vocals (Walk Slowly), ‘Look, No Hands’ is a collection of tracks that could be, on face value, completely disparate. However, listen to the album in one sitting and you will go through the whole gamut of emotions from complete bewilderment through despair to utter joy.

I laughed, I cried and I experienced highs and lows and, just so you can save the experience for yourself, I am not going to do a dissection of each track. All I will say is that after initially thinking this collection of superb musicians were madder than any box of frogs or badgers you could ever find, I really think that the joke could be on us.

One of the most surprising, original and fulfilling releases I’ve heard in quite a while. Do yourselves a big favour, buy it, find yourself a dark room, put on your headphones, have a large glass of your favourite tipple and just enjoy…

Released 29th August 2017

Buy the album from bandcamp here

 

Review – Loebe & Napier – Filthy Jokes E.P. – by Progradar

Rebecca Loebe and Findlay Napier met on an EFDSS songwriting retreat in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. “Sometimes when you get thrown into a co-write sessions things just click.” Says Napier, “This was one of those times.” Over the last 18 months they have written together down the line from Loebe’s base in Austin, Texas and in Findlay’s Glasgow flat when Rebecca was touring the UK.

The ‘Filthy Jokes E.P.’ is based around a song the two wrote for Christmas 2017 – Joy To The World, I Guess – which combines the lilting Americana influenced tones of Loebe’s polished delivery along with the more traditional folk influences of Glasgow native Napier.

For any fan of these two songwriting behemoths, this E.P. is a must, Rebecca Loebe is known as a non-stop touring machine, averaging 200 performances per year for the last decade. Along the way, honing her voice to become a musical instrument in itself.

Scottish singer-songwriter Findlay Napier categorically commands musical VIP status and his gritty tales of Scottish life, based in and around Glasgow, have become legendary among the Folk circuit.

Joy To The World, I Guess and Bad Medicine see the duo add their own unique idiosyncrasies to two beautifully crafted songs, their songwriting prowess there for all to see and hear. There’s a languid and laconic ease to the music and the vocals match that feel perfectly. It’s a perfect amalgam of American polish along with superbly delivered Scottish grit.

Kilimanjaro sees Loebe take centre stage with a haunting, ethereal piece of music that really leaves a mark on your soul, Napier’s ghostly backing vocal and the simple guitar providing the perfect backing. Option to Buy sees Napier at his witty best with sharp lyrics and brilliant music being the core of his traditional folk style. This time Loebe adds the classy country influenced backing vocals to give just a little bit extra.

There’s a proper country music, bluegrass edge to title track Filthy Jokes, Loebe adding the required twang to her delicious vocal delivery which, along with that picking banjo in the background, leaves you feeling as if you’re in the deep south. The E.P. closes out with an excellent reprise of the opening track.

This collaboration is a glimpse into the combined songwriting minds of two of folk and country/Americana music’s most accomplished artists. A delightful appetiser to what they could achieve if they wrote long-term together. It’s a wonderful twenty minutes of sublime vocals and superb musicianship and one that should be in any music fans collection and, as an introduction to Napier and Loebe, is just about perfect.

Released 12th February 2018

Order the EP, pay what you want, from bandcamp here

 

Review – Mabel Greer’s Toyshop – The Secret – by James R. Turner

Before Yes, there was Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, a band that originally existed between 1966-68 until original member Clive Bayley left and they became the first Yes line up.

MGT Re-formed back in 2014 with original members Clive Bayley, drummer Robert Hagger, Hugo Barre on bass and Max Hunt on keyboards. The album ‘New Way of Life’ was released in 2015 and ‘The Secret’ is the follow-up recorded and released towards the end of last year.

Mixing Bayley’s vocals and the bands power, they have headed down a route that both Yes and The Nice attempted with varying degrees of success, by blending new material with classically inspired pieces, (Turning to the Light – inspired by Tchaikovsky, Angel Sent – inspired by Beethoven, Swan – inspired by Tchaikovsky and the Closing the Secret inspired by Holst). Traditionally a lot of original prog was inspired by rock musicians wanting to make classical sounds, and this return to the bands roots is a nice nod to the journey the genre went on.

Bayley has a wonderfully deep English voice and a line in well observed melancholy and beauty, that makes this more than just a cash in on the Yes name.

There are some wonderful long songs that have room to breath and grown, like the opening Big Brother, Little Brother about the plight of the indigenous native Americans moved on by the white settlers, while two spiritual pieces (Love’s Fire and Image of Existence) use the words of the legendary Sufi academic and writer, the Iranian born Dr Javid Nubaksh, an example of Bayley’s widely travelled outlook, and his spiritual ideas.

In fact, this whole album runs a wide range of styles and sounds, and the band are absolutely on fire. Hunt’s keyboards add some wonderful bluesy style to More and More with its disdain for the consumerist lifestyle, while the guitar work reinterpreting Ode to Joy on Angel Sent is an absolute pleasure to listen.

Having come only a few years after the bands debut (only a mere 49 years after they were formed!) this shows that Bayley has started mining a rich creative and musical seam and now the band has coalesced to 4 like-minded musicians looking to the future. This album is one that has a few nods to the past and where the band came from, but also shows where Bayley’s journey differed from that of his earlier band mates, and looks far more to the future than to the past.

The biggest nod to the past however is the presence of the late Peter Banks on the final track The Secret, where his wonderfully unique guitar sound cuts through the track and sends shivers down the spine. As one, much like Bayley, (and despite having appeared and been fundamental in the early Yes sound on the first two albums), Banks long seems the forgotten man of Yes.

Finally, the current incarnation plays Time and a Word in tribute to him (with a big picture on the stage) and this guitar solo only continues to enhance his reputation.

This album is never going to be the forefront of a new genre or hit the top spot in the charts, I have no doubt that that’s not what its creators intended. Instead with its philosophy, it’s classic/rock crossover sound, it’s melancholy and languid guitar work and vocals, it is an English prog rock classic, refining and redefining what progressive music is and taking several steps forward whilst reflecting, representing and commemorating where they came from.

All in all, a very classy, mature and intelligent album that is a welcome addition to the band’s catalogue and see’s them hitting their stride with this new line up.

Released 8th December 2017

Order the album from bandcamp here