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)

Review – Marillion – Holidays In Eden – 2022 Remix Deluxe Edition – by Leo Trimming

‘Holidays in Eden’, first released in 1991, is the latest edition in Marillion’s series of deluxe re-releases. This was a release for which their record company E.M.I. had high expectations of the band after Steve Hogarth’s debut album with the band in 1989. ‘Seasons End’ was relatively successful, but crucially for E.M.I. it did not spawn any great singles success which would have helped it ‘cross over’ from the niche rock market, as ‘Kayleigh’ had so memorably done in the mid-80’s. Therefore, the pressure was on for Marillion to become more commercial although the band were largely more interested in writing more ambitious pieces than three-minute radio hits. Out of this tension developed an album which certainly divided opinion at the time, but which also produced some classic Marillion songs, particularly the stark brilliance of Splintering Heart, which remains to this day a staple of their tours, often opening shows with a dark grandeur.

So let’s put this album in context – It is a common perception that most bands have a ‘difficult second album’ (and Marillion certainly did so with ‘Fugazi’ with Fish in 1984!!), but uniquely somehow Marillion contrived to have a ‘second difficult second album’ as ‘Holidays in Eden’ was a far from smooth process for Steve Hogarth’s sophomore album with the band. What the band were finding is that working on the next release with Hogarth was simply not flowing in the same way as their experience with ‘Seasons End’. Writing sessions at Stanbridge studios near Brighton were lengthy and frustrating, producing little material. ‘Seasons End’ had already had a lot of the music formed with sessions with Fish that never reached fruition. Lyrically, John Helmer had also written significant contributions, so when Steve Hogarth joined it felt deceptively easy to hone this material with some added material, such as Hogarth’s ‘Easter’, into an excellent album. Their second album with Hogarth was much more of a challenge, starting more or less from scratch. Hogarth and the band were discovering they had very different approaches to song writing and it took them some time to adjust to each other. Indeed, at one-point tensions grew to the point that Hogarth was effectively ‘sent home’ as his more rapid, business-like song-writing style just was not matching the rest of the band who were rather more into improvised jamming over long periods, looking for that elusive spark amidst hours of often fruitless playing. However, after that ‘break’ Hogarth returned two weeks later with a whole new song for the band, ‘The Party’ very much in the Marillion mould. Additionally, in his absence the rest of the band returned to material they had originally demoed in 1988 with Fish in ill-fated sessions at Dalnagar Castle in Scotland and eventually out of those ideas grew the closing suite of ‘This Town / Rake’s progress / 100 Nights’… but it was clear that generally things were not quite flowing second time around.

The band attempted to recreate their happy memories of the recording of Season’s End, returning to Hook End Manor in Oxfordshire – but they do say ‘never go back’. Marillion found this was not such a magical experience, partly because it was in winter and not a glorious summer as it had been for the previous album, and possibly because E.M.I. were not being quite so ‘laissez-faire’ with funding their rather extravagant life in the country! Marillion’s previous producer Chris Kimsey was not available so E.M.I. put forward Chris Neil as their next producer, who had previously starred as Jesus on the West End in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’… and rather more curiously had also been the lead in a cheap early 70’s sex comedy film ‘Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate’! In the music industry he was rather more well known for great success with pop acts like Shakin’ Stevens, Dollar and Sheena Easton. In the period leading up to ‘Holidays in Eden’ he had also produced Mike and the Mechanics for their massive hit album and single ‘The Living Years’, so it seems evident that E.M.I. had aspirations for Marillion to similarly have success as a chart friendly soft rock band. Chris Neil’s association with the main ‘Mechanic’ Mike Rutherford of rock behemoths Genesis certainly made him a palatable and quite enticing option for the band. Chris Neil also told them that his son was a massive Marillion fan, so he really did not want to mess them up. On the other hand, he also knew that the record company were expecting him to produce three hit singles off the album to project the band onto the next level and match their previous mid-80’s chart successes. Hence, out of that tension between Marillion’s progressive leanings and a record company’s desire for ‘hits’ was born the curious creature of ‘Holidays in Eden’.

It is probably fair to say that fan reaction at the time was mixed. Jon Collins in his fine Marillion biography ‘Separated out’ shared that the Dutch Progressive Rock Page reported that on the ‘Holidays in Eden’ tour at the Ahoy in Netherlands ‘a substantial part of the audience booed when Steve Hogarth announced they would be playing quite a lot from the new album’. In contrast, notable fans such as guitarist Janick Gers of Iron Maiden has said that ‘Holidays in Eden’ is one of his most favourite albums and apparently Formula One Racing driver Jacques Villeneuve used to listen to the album while practising for races! Pete Trewavas wisely said in the fascinating accompanying Blu-ray ‘Pain and Heaven’ documentary, for some fans who had started following Marillion with ‘Seasons End’ or ‘Holidays in Eden’ this album may well be one of their favourite Marillion albums as ‘these albums end up becoming other peoples’ really.

So how does it sound over 30 years later?

There will probably be two sorts of potential listeners considering this album – those that have bought it previously and are interested in the musical ‘extras’, the remixed sound, and the packaging. There will be others who may be discovering Marillion more recently who may know little about this album and wonder whether it’s worth buying?

The short answer is a qualified ‘YES’ – in truth this album was too hamstrung by compromises to be considered as one of their best albums, but there is enough quality in the original material and the extras to satisfy punters old and new. Unlike the flawed and rushed original mix of ‘Fugazi’, which the deluxe edition remix transformed wonderfully, this remix of ‘Holidays in Eden’ does not have the same transformative effect, as the original version was pretty well produced and mixed. However, this remix does add a new dimension to some of the songs and there is much else to attract longer term followers. A little more information on the tracks may help new listeners, and may provide some insights for long-time fans.

The more progressive elements of Marillion are well represented on this album with ‘Splintering Heart’, ‘The Party’ and the closing ‘This Town’ suite. ‘Splintering Heart’ started out rather differently in the demos, beginning much more heavy with a wall of wailing guitars, as can be heard rather spectacularly on the Blu-Ray with an early version recorded live at the Moles club. Chris Neil in Steve Hogarth’s ‘Corona Diaries’ podcasts has shared that he felt that the original version did not have enough dynamic range as an album opener so he suggested a different spookier intro, which rather belies the notion that he was just there to make them sound more ‘poppy’. Steve Rothery and Mark Kelly spent quite some time devising the atmospheric opening sequence of loops and synthesisers – it helped transform a fairly standard rock song into a classic, dripping with menace as ‘h’ sings with such feeling over the extended intro until the jaw dropping moment when he sings ‘but not as much as this…’ and the whole band crashes in like an avalanche, with Rothery’s guitar screeching like a banshee. The piece drops again into a more contemplative, shimmering section based on guitar samples Hogarth used to trigger with his white midi-gloves for live renditions of the ‘Seasons End’ song ‘Berlin, apparently one of the few times that something emerging from a Marillion gig soundcheck has evolved into a song. The song rises to a crescendo with Rothery seemingly wringing the neck of his guitar with pain filled guitar sounds and one can really imagine someone’s heart shattering. Hogarth has previously shared in the 1998 remaster version that he wrote the lyrics in a rather icy Toronto in 1990 and that he was ‘imagining a heart shattering from its own hardness… or coldness’. Splintering Heart continues the fine Marillion tradition of brilliant album opening songs and it remains a sure fire way to start a Marillion gig all these years later.

The more Progressive flavour of the album continues with ‘The Party’. Hogarth had started work on this during the ‘Seasons End’ writing sessions but largely finished it whilst he was on his aforementioned ‘break’ during the ‘Holidays…’ sessions. This song goes totally against the idea by some fans at the time that Hogarth was the pretty ‘pop boy’ trying to commercialise Marillion – as Hogarth wrote in the 1998 remaster sleeve notes ‘if Splintering Heart and The Party are pop songs, I’ll eat my pink telecaster!’ Indeed in the ‘Pain and Heaven’ documentary Pete Trewavas described ‘The Party’ as ‘quite classically Marillion. ‘The Party’ is a recollection of teenage parties, drawn from Hogarth’s adolescent memories of dubious underage drinking and the sexually charged atmosphere pervading such gatherings. Some of the lines were also inspired by another party – Hogarth’s experience with Magic Mushrooms after a memorable ‘Mexican Party’ at Stanbridge studios! ‘The Party’ starts quite simply with Steve Hogarth singing about a girl buying a bottle of cider over a simple Kelly piano motif, initially mirroring the naivety of a young girl going to her first party. The rising tempo and power of the music evokes the developing drama with ‘strange aromas, and noises and candles, that was where he found her’. Chris Neil recently shared in ‘The Corona Diaries’ podcast how impressed he was with Hogarth’s lyrics for ‘The Party’. He loved the lyrical story with its plot and nuances, describing Hogarth’s songs as ‘one act plays’. The rest of the band provided the backdrop for this drama as the trippy middle section in which ‘she never felt like anything like this before’ gives way to a distorted, guitar solo and great rumbling bass work and dissonant drumming, evoking how she would have been feeling after her first drug experience. Hogarth screams in anguish before the inevitable ‘come down’ over a plaintive piano and Hogarth’s voice conveying the feelings of the girl after losing her virginity in less than romantic circumstances. In some ways there are echoes of the much more celebrated classic psychodrama ‘Incubus’ song from ‘Fugazi’, and in my view ‘The Party’ is a highlight of ‘Holidays in Eden’, and rather an underestimated gem in the Marillion songbook. Curiously, Hogarth also shared with ‘Prog’ magazine that the teenage party upon which this story is based was also the first time he ever heard ‘The Yes Album’ by Yes which he says ‘changed my whole idea about music’– sounds like quite a party!! (😊)

The album is closed with the 12 minutes progressive rock three act play comprising ‘This Town’, ‘The Rake’s Progress’ and ‘100 Nights’. During the early writing sessions the band were struggling to find a creative spark so they returned to material from the abortive Dalnagar sessions in 1988 with Fish, and they found the basis for this closing epic.’ ‘This Town’ rolls in on a police siren , a wave of Mosley’s drumming and some gritty guitar from Rothery. Kelly’s keyboards rise as they reach the rousing chorus. Rothery’s guitars get dirtier as the story descends into corruption and Hogarth’s vocals become more strident, and after the final chorus Rothery’s guitars reach skyward conversely just as the narrative takes a decidedly darker  descent:

‘This Town takes us down, takes us down, I feel like I’m losing you to This Town,

The morning breaks and I watch you awake and This Town takes you down away from me again.’

The semi-autobiographical but mainly fictional story focuses on how a couple move to a city to make their fortune. However, they discover that cities can corrupt, and it starts to tear them apart as they follow their own ambitions. The short middle bridge in the suite, The Rake’s Progress, takes a very different direction musically with muted dreamy synth tones, subtle bass pulses, restrained rolls and splashes of toms and cymbals and eerie guitar phrases conveying a sinister, shadowy world in which our main protagonist transforms from being the jilted broken heart into a manipulative, cynical gigolo. The title is also a play on words as ‘The Rake’s Progress’ is a series of paintings by C18th painter William Hogarth (no relation!) about a young man’s descent into drunken debauchery and eventual insanity.  

The final piece of this suite is the dark brooding ‘100 Nights’ which chimes in on a simple echoing guitar motif and synth accents with our anti-hero manipulating all around him without compunction. Hogarth sings with deceptive gentleness, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, ruining a relationship with cool indifference. Rothery’s screeching guitar break almost screams out the real corruption at the heart of this story and Hogarth’s vocals rise in power with the whole band. ‘100 Nights’ seems to just fade away with a rolling guitar riff and echoing vocals on a subtle bed of keys, drums and bass – maybe it signifies that the main protagonist will drift on exploiting others endlessly, but it is rather disappointing as a finale. In the documentary Mark Kelly comments that in his view ‘we skimmed the surface of it in terms of what we could have done with it instrumentally’ which seems to confirm the nagging feeling that this was a lost opportunity with a great foundation which was not fully explored or expanded enough. Kelly has also said that Chris Neil worked very quickly and that his no nonsense approach rather limited musical experimentation, especially for the keyboards, except notably his inspired suggestion for the start of ‘Splintering Heart.’ For a producer with an ear for hooks and hits it is probably not too surprising that when it came to helping the band fashioning more ambitious extended pieces, he was rather less motivated or instrumental in realising those sorts of musical visions.

This is perhaps borne out by the interesting lineage of ‘This Town’ which can be traced on the deluxe edition as the Blu-Ray includes a very early demo version at Stanbridge, and then a later live demo at the Bath Moles club, through to the recorded album version. What is notable about the Stanbridge demo, recorded without the producer, is that it has a distinctly staccato and rockier feel much in the vein of classic songs by The Who – indeed Ian Mosley shared in the documentary that it was known as ‘the Who number’ in the Stanbridge sessions. The later Moles Club version seems to take it further into heavier territory with great energy. In that context it is easier to understand some of the disappointment expressed by both Ian Mosley and Steve Rothery in the documentary about the loss of that energy and feel in the final recorded version. Steve Rothery did remark that the new remix does restore some of the ‘meat it lacks on the original’ album version. It is also notable that now if Marillion play the ‘This Town’ suite they embellish it sonically and with much more power as if making up for not having done so originally.

Mark Kelly in his entertaining autobiography ‘Marillion Misadventures and Marathons : the Life and Times of Mad Jack’ describes ‘Holidays in Eden’ with the old football analogy as ‘an album with two halves. The pop approach of our singles… and, so not to scare the horses and some of our older fans, the longer episodic pieces…’ Before venturing into the ‘Pop half’ there is one halfway house in the shape of the far more straightforward rock of title tune ‘Holidays in Eden’. Based on a John Helmer lyric about going on holiday and losing your identity ‘Holidays in Eden’, begins with birdsong and a jet plane before launching full tilt into the main riff with crashing drums, banks of keyboards and power riffs before receding into jangling guitars and soft drumming on a synth bed. The rolling anthemic refrain precedes some meaty organ work from Kelly and the whole piece bounces along rather jauntily before some steepling guitar lines at the rather apt mid-song break ‘You wake up one morning, wondering who you are’, which may have crossed the minds of the band during this recording process as they sought to find their new identity.

The song ploughs on with the same rock driven pattern with a rising Rothery guitar and Kelly keyboard crescendo and a rather abrupt ending and a muted ‘well, that was a laugh, wasn’t it?’ heard in the background. It’s a straightforward engaging piece of rock/pop but it seems to have disappointed the band. Written by the rest of the band whilst Hogarth was on his ‘break’, in the 1998 remaster notes he suggests the music could have been a lot wilder to reflect the primal elements of the story. Pete Trewavas shares this reservation stating that it ‘should have been more than it was’. Similarly, Rothery states in the documentary that their live version gives it more energy and rawness, and in his view the remix has restored some of that edge.

Chris Neil had a brief from E.M.I. to find three hit singles. The first obvious candidate was ‘No One Can’, based on a chord sequence by Mark Kelly upon which Hogarth wrote a touching love song for his wife and shared memories with his children, about distance not mattering if you are in love. Mark Kelly considers it a good pop song although felt a little frustrated that for Neil the main focus was always about the vocals, which are lushly arranged with Hogarth sounding gorgeous, but no real room for any musical experimentation or embellishment, except a short clean and compressed guitar interlude. There are definite echoes of the smooth jangling chimes of The Police’s ‘Every Breath you take’, but alas despite extensive radio play at the time and a stylish video it did not really penetrate the higher reaches of the U.K. charts. It is probably the most commercial song the band have ever produced and certainly caused some consternation with some older fans at the time, but looking back now it just feels like a pleasant, pretty pop song – indeed, as Hogarth has said in his ‘Corona Diaries’ podcasts it definitely sounds like a hit from 1992… but it wasn’t!

The first single off the album was the rather more upbeat pop/rock of ‘Cover My Eyes’ (Pain and Heaven)’ which was not even a song before Chris Neil joined them to produce the album. He suggested marrying a distinctly U2 or Simple Minds like guitar riff and vocal melody by Rothery with a verse from an old song by Hogarth’s previous short lived ‘How We Live’ band, called ‘Simon’s Car’. Apparently, the lyrics are partly inspired by the glamourous 60’s British film actress Eleanor Bron, probably embodying all such unobtainable beautiful women, as reflected in the beautiful women populating the rather stylish pop video. It is a fun piece of rollocking pop/rock with an anthemic ‘hey, hey, hey’ call echoing a certain Simple Minds refrain. The band roll along to great polished effect with Rothery sounding suitably heroic on guitar. One curiosity about this song is that for some strange reason Chris Neil brought drummer Roland Kerridge into the studio to sample Ian Mosley’s drums so they could be played on an electronic kit, which was quite the fashion at the time. Mosley plays the drums on this song but they are all electronic, hence their rather ‘shiny’ and ‘bright’ sound – they sound ‘OK’ but why sample drums electronically when you have a drummer of the class of Ian Mosley in the studio? Chris Neil has since had the good grace to admit that this probably not his best idea!

There was still one more ‘single’ Chris Neil needed to fashion for the album to satisfy the label, so he suggested that Marillion cover ‘Dry Land’ from the only ‘How We Live’ album. Hogarth explains in the documentary that this felt rather awkward and weird for him as it was ‘not something I would have pushed for myself’, thereby squashing further the notion that it was Steve Hogarth who was pushing the band in a poppier direction. Nevertheless, Hogarth gives a great vocal about the sexual tension of thinking there may be something going on with someone you like, but not being quite sure. ‘Dry Land’ is very close to the original ‘How We Live’ version – indeed , it’s almost a carbon copy! Marillion smoothly lay out a bed of softly chiming guitars and string synths underpinned by a cool bass and drums foundation. The main variation to the original is Rothery’s delightfully tasteful guitar solo, which surprisingly Rothery states is the solo he is most proud of on the whole album.

Every Marillion album has at least one ‘hidden gem’ which seems to not quite gain the attention it may deserve in comparison to other more celebrated songs. For me on this album it is Waiting to Happen, and it was pleasing to note in the documentary that Steve Rothery feels it is one of his favourite songs from the album and ‘it’s what I would have wanted from the whole album’. Apparently, the band were considering dropping it, but Chris Neil wisely encouraged them to persist with the song which was eventually beautifully realised. It starts gently on a pillow of acoustic guitars and softly undulating synths upon which Hogarth sings with such grace about the magic and beauty of Love just below the surface in our lives. Hogarth shared that this lyric was based on a memory of lying in bed in his house unable to sleep ‘I lie awake at night, listening to you sleeping, I hear the darkness breathe’ and such is the gentleness of the words and music you almost feel you are in the same room. Out of this soft cocoon the spirit and music build to the bright sunburst of the chorus. Steve Rothery inevitably crowns this gem with a short but lovely guitar solo. The balance of the restrained verses and the celebratory choruses is the real power of this song, and Hogarth excels himself with some beautifully poetic imagery… insomnia never sounded so glorious!

Despite the attention Chris Neil and the band skilfully paid to these three ‘pop’ elements of the album none of them reached far up the charts, and from that album onwards it was clear that E.M.I. were losing patience with the band. Similarly, after the experience of being guided in a direction with which they were not totally comfortable Marillion were determined that in future they would remain in full control of future albums. Being typically Marillion they next moved almost 180 degrees from the ‘poppiest’ album of their career to one of their most progressive and ambitious releases, ‘Brave’ in 1994… but their days with E.M.I. were numbered. The main flaw with ‘Holidays in Eden‘ is that it simply tried too hard to satisfy conflicting aspirations, chart pop success versus expansive progressive rock pieces, and frankly it was largely unsuccessful on both counts. That does not make it a poor-quality album – there’s some great songs on here, and none of them are below standard. However, that unresolved tension resulted in diluting the focus with significant compromise and undermined the cohesiveness and feel of the album. The consequence many point to that arose from ‘Holidays…’ is the very different ‘Brave’ which was clearly a reaction to this one, but interestingly in the documentary Pete Trewavas intelligently draws a link to their great ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ album in 1995. He feels that what Marillion were trying to do on ‘Holidays in Eden’ was an album like ‘Afraid of Sunlight’, but ‘we just didn’t know how to do it’, which is a fascinating thought.

That’s the album – so what do you get with the deluxe edition, particularly if you are already familiar with the original album?

There is not the revelatory experience akin to the remix of ‘Fugazi’ for this remix, but it is definitely crisper and more impactful. It is perhaps significant that the songs which benefited most from the remix were the more ambitious, expansive pieces. Splintering Heart’s sinister programmed intro is more resonant and chilling, and The Party is noticeably sharper, with Pete Trewavas’ bass definitely and pleasantly higher up in the mix. ‘Holidays in Eden’ clearly has more ‘balls’ sonically. The remix for the shorter, more pop oriented pieces seem less obvious in impact, but in truth none of these changes are startling which is a testament to the quality of the original production. Of course, some with high end music systems will probably be able to detect the tiniest differences and pick up on them, but to most mere mortals with standard equipment the differences are not enormous, but definitely do improve some of the songs.

Discs 2 & 3 of the deluxe edition contain a brilliant recording of the band at Hammersmith Odeon in 1991 – it’s a fantastic recording of a great gig. Marillion may have gone through some changes and challenges in their career, but they are never less than great on stage. There is a healthy mix of old and new material, and it was clear that by this time Hogarth was growing into the skin as the new Marillion vocalist. Unexpected gems include the sinisterly delicate ‘A Collection’ and two deep cuts from ‘Misplaced Childhood’. The material from ‘Seasons End’ sounds particularly effective in this show, especially ‘King of Sunset Town’ and ‘The Space…’, as they had more time to ‘bed in’ with the band.

The main attraction of the deluxe edition are the extras, including the ‘Pain and Heaven’ documentary in which each band member and the producer are interviewed individually. This may have been a covid issue, but interviewing them singly does seem to free up some band members who may not speak so much in a group interview. There are some fascinating insights from the band members into the album, although it is interesting to note that Steve Hogarth has admitted in the ‘Corona Diaries’ podcasts that the director Tim Sidwell had to re-edit the film as they were so self-critical that ‘it comes across everyone thought the album was a huge mistake’!! (😊) To be honest, you still sort of get that sense underlying Steve Rothery’s contributions, but it would be unfair to completely dismiss the album when one considers the quality of some of the songs already described.

In addition, the Blu-ray includes the album in 5.1 Audio which reveals the album in more satisfying surround sound clarity. The B-Sides and Bonus tracks from the 1998 remaster are also included on the Blu-ray, although I know some fans without that previous version will be disappointed that these tracks are confined to the Blu-ray on this edition. There are 4 videos of the band, including the great ‘crunchy’ original Stanbridge demo of ‘This Town’. The Blu-Ray also features the glossy videos for the three aforementioned singles – these are definitely ‘of their time’, but are fascinating insights into the ‘Pop machine’ E.M.I. wanted Marillion to join… but they resisted… and are still going strong over 30 years later.

Finally, one of the best elements of the deluxe edition is ‘Rockpalast’ video of their gig in Germany in 1991. What is clear is that this is a highly professional and confident live outfit with impeccable musicianship. Needless to say, they all look SO much younger, and Hogarth is impossibly handsome as their dynamic front man – no wonder E.M.I. wanted him to feature in the videos. It’s a television recording, but the quality on Blu-ray is fine and the crowd seem to lap up the show.  What is rather different to the Hammersmith show is the extended encore section with five Fish era songs, perhaps with a German TV audience in mind, which Hogarth handles with aplomb.  Somewhat unexpectedly they break into Cliff Richard’s ‘Summer Holiday’ during ‘Garden Party’ and ‘Sugar Mice’ is presented acoustically without Rothery’s guitar solo. The deluxe edition is presented in the usual attractive book form with Sarah Ball’s original striking beautiful blue illustration given more space – this as the first Marillion album to ditch the classic Marillion logo as it seemed clear they wanted to break from that image. The book and lyrics are decorated inside with some gorgeous artwork from Simon Ward and there is an interesting essay by Rich Wilson.

‘Holidays in Eden’ will never be regarded as one of the great Marillion albums. It showed a band at the crossroads, looking for a new direction but still not sure where to go at the time and pulled in different directions. Nevertheless, it is a significant album which strangely did influence their next step and underlined to the band the importance of artistic freedom when writing their music. Look back and wonder what might have happened if one of those singles had been a big hit – what would we have missed? Look back and see a band evolving towards a different future – clearly there was ‘Something Waiting to Happen.’

TRACK LISTING:

CD One –  Holidays in Eden 2022 Remix

  1. Splintering Heart                                     (6.45)
  2. Cover My Eyes (Pain & Heaven)           (4.04)
  3. The Party                                                  (5.37)
  4. No One Can                                              (4.46)
  5. Holidays in Eden                                      (5.23)
  6. Dry Land                                                    (4.45)
  7. Waiting to Happen                                  (4.55)
  8. This Town                                                  (3.19)
  9. The Rake’s Progress                                (1.54)
  10. 100 Nights                                                 (7.47)

CD Two –  Live at Hammersmith 30th September, 1991 (pt 1)

  1. Splintering Heart                                      (6.47)
  2. Garden Party                                             (7.13)
  3. Dry Land                                                     (4.51)
  4. The King of Sunset Town                        (8.12)
  5. The Party                                                   (6.08)
  6. Easter                                                         (6.34)
  7. The Space…                                               (7.50)
  8. Holloway Girl                                            (4.05)
  9. A Collection                                               (3.14)
  10. Waiting to Happen                                  (5.08)

CD Three – Live in Hammersmith 30th September, 1991 (pt 2)

  1. Cover My Eyes (Pain & Heaven)            (3.55)
  2. Lords of the Backstage                            (1.51)
  3. Blind Curve                                                (4.15)
  4. The Uninvited Guest                                (4.25)
  5. This Town                                                  (3.44)
  6. The Rake’s Progress                                 (2.15)
  7. 100 Nights                                                 (4.46)
  8. Slainte Mhath                                           (5.10)
  9. Holidays in Eden                                      (4.47)
  10. Hooks in You                                             (3.15)
  11. No One Can                                               (4.56)
  12. Berlin                                                          (8.14)
  13. Kayleigh                                                      (3.52)
  14. Incommunicado                                        (5.11)

Blu-Ray Disc

‘Holidays in Eden’ 2022 Stephen Taylor Remix – 5.1 Audio Version:

  • Same Track listing as CD 1

B-Sides & Bonus Tracks   (1998 Remaster Bonus Tracks):

  • Sympathy
  • How Can it Hurt
  • A Collection
  • Sympathy (Acoustic version)
  • I Will Walk on Water (Alternate Mix)
  • Splintering Heart (Live at Moles Club)
  • You Don’t need Anyone (Moles Club Demo)
  • No One Can (Moles Club Demo)
  • The Party (Moles Club Demo)
  • This Town (Moles Club Demo)
  • Waiting to Happen (Moles Club Demo)
  • Eric
  • The Epic (Fairground) (Mushroom Farm Demo)

Film – ‘Pain and Heaven’  (Approv 85 Mins)

The Story of Holidays in Eden  (Documentary)

‘Rockpalast’ Live show – German TV 1991.

Order direct from Marillion here:

marillion.com | Racket Records Store

Review – SiX BY SiX – s/t – by John Wenlock-Smith

This album is a new collaboration between Saga guitarist Ian Crichton, Saxon drummer Nigel Glockler and Robert Berry (ex Keith Emerson & Carl Palmer’s 3 project), it combines classic rock elements alongside more progressive ones. The good news is that it sounds glorious and there are plans to reconvene for a further excursion next year.

Album opener Yearning To Fly begins with the sound of a passing train before a very Rush sounding guitar line is played by Ian along with some stylish keyboards by Robert Berry, all underpinned by the powerful drums of Nigel Glockler who certainly pounds those skins, giving this opener some real punch. There is a very fluid guitar solo on which Ian let’s rip before the song returns to the chorus once again, as an opening statement this certainly makes a strong impression. I love the way in which these three lock in together and create something both new and yet somehow familiar, well to Saga fans anyway. Second Track China is another belter with a distorted opening guitar and a monstrous bass. Again, the mixture of muscle and melody is highly impressive , as are the vocals, which together work well. Another excellent guitar solo and that fabulous chorus make this another strong song, I am really enjoying this album so far. We then have a longer song, Reason To Feel Calm Again, which has lots of burbling synthesisers that propel the song along with ‘bagpipe’ sounding guitars. Very unusual but it works, making a great sound, really different and inventive. The song settles into a groove as Ian solos fluidly, gathering pace as the fine bass  holds it all together.

The Upside of Down is hinged on a steely Robert Berry bass line, which shows him to be a fine player who can both drive the song and pull the beat along well. It is a joy to hear this busy bass really making a strong impression, there’s also lots of ringing guitars throughout the track amid some signature tones and tricks that Ian has used with Saga to good effect over the years. Here, it sounds totally fitting for the sound that the band make together. The song Casino impresses with more great musicianship from the three men. The balance of power and melody is pretty near perfect on this album, all very impressive stuff I must say. The interplay between the rhythm section and the guitar is captivating and the production certainly helps in this too as it is clear as a bell. Live Forever is gentler at the start with a delicate guitar part amidst the great keyboards and sounds a little like an early Magnum effort. This is a prelude to another monster of a track, The Last Words On Earth, which opens with church organ before a brutal riff barges in. There are fabulous dynamics to this song and it’s very hard hitting in sound with lots of muscle and power at play, simply magnificent. A monstrous fiery solo takes this song off into the stratosphere to the songs conclusion, it’s truly awesome stuff.

Skyfall (not the Adele Bond theme!) follow, an intelligent number with lots happening throughout and a typical Crichton solo takes the song to the end of its course. It’s now into the home straight with the last two tracks. Battle Of A Lifetime is acoustically driven initially before the whole band crash in. The chorus is marvellous, as is the funky Berry bass that hold all this together and is joined by one of Ian’s classy solos with lots of string squeals and pinches. Again, it’s different and yet highly effective. Final song Save the Night is another longer song with lots of staccato playing from Ian and great bass from Robert, alongside the powerful drums that make this song have some real presence and cloud. The song has an urgent pace to it and closes out what has proved to be a highly impressive debut album.

Whether this translates into some live action remains to be seen but all parties are keen to do more and, if it’s a good as this is, then I say go for it! This debut release is a remarkably assured and polished debut that packs a punch with some great playing from all concerned,  I heavily recommend that you listen out for this one.

Released 19th August, 2022.

Order from the band here:

SiX BY SiX – China (lnk.to)