Review – Tiger Moth Tales – Story Tellers Part One

2CD Wallet with Spine.pdf

For the majority of us our childhood was a place full of fond memories. They invoke sepia tinged images of innocence and happiness before the realities of the big bad world that is out there begin to sink in.

You know the saying, ‘regressed to their childhood’, when you no longer have a care in the world and the simplest things give you joy and bring a smile to your face.

I get that familiar warm glow begin to envelop me when I listen to certain albums or music, a feeling like a big hug, a freshly made bed or the smells of coffee and toast wafting across your nostrils. They may be simplistic ideals but they are the catalyst for complex emotions in your mind and soul.

There was one album recently that invoked these feelings intensely, Tiger Moth Tales’ debut release ‘Cocoon’. ‘Cocoon’ is a concept album on the subject of Childhood, and coming to terms with the loss of childhood. The journey goes through stages of Innocence, joy, imagination, stories, friendship, love, nature, nostalgia, grief, acceptance and rebirth.

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There is a very interesting story behind Tiger Moth Tales and it goes something like this…..

Tiger Moth Tales is essentially the brain child of Nottinghamshire based musician and writer Peter Jones, who has been involved in the music industry performing around the UK and recording his own material since the late 90s.

Pete Live

(photo copyright Martin Reijman)

Pete, (35) was born on October 6th 1980. At fifteen months he lost his sight due to Retinoblastoma. From an early age he was into all things musical and at the age of four had his first piano. Peter composed from an early age, usually in the form of improvisations which he would capture on his cassette recorder.

He studied music and music technology and performed in bands singing and playing jazz, swing, rock and classical pieces. On leaving school in 1999 he formed the successful duo 2 to Go with friend and vocalist Emma Paine.

Over the next ten years they became one of the most successful duos on the circuit performing at clubs and corporate events around the UK and abroad. During that time they were finalists in the BBC’s Star For A Night in 2001 and ITV’s ‘The X Factor’ in 2004. They went on to appear in the National Arena X Factor Tour which followed in 2005.

in 2010 Pete had his first official album release with ‘Look At Me Now’. This self penned and produced album was a collection of songs from the previous 10 years, including different Genres but with an overall adult contemporary feel. ‘Look At Me Now’ enjoyed good sales online and also on the road, and the plan was to start work on a follow up album in a similar vein.

At the beginning of 2013, Pete started work on a new project. This took the form of a concept album, and it was the first progressive music he had written since he was a teenager. Throughout 2013 he continued to write and record new progressive music and by October 2013 ‘Cocoon’, the new album, was complete.

(Excerpts from the website www.tigermothtales.com)

Pete

July 2015 sees the release of the much anticipated follow up to ‘Cocoon’, ‘Story Tellers Part One’……..

After seeing an internet challenge to conceive and record an album in the month of February 2015, Peter Jones was inspired to get back into the studio.

To record an album in 28 days was quite the challenge but armed with a vivid imagination and his childhood memories, Pete has written seven songs based on some of the classic children stories he listened to as a young boy.

He has put his unique twist to such classic tales as Sleeping Beauty, The Pied Piper of Hamelin and The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and for those of you who like fantastic instrumentation and stunning vocal performances, look no further.

(taken from www.tigermothtales.com)

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The introduction to Beauty Falls (Part one of Sleeping Beauty) is like a Disney trumpet overture played on keys and gives you an immediate impression of a playfulness and childish joy to the music before it opens up in a very similar vein to the opening credits of Red Dwarf (if you don’t believe me, go have another listen..), all low key pomp and circumstance. Then Peter’s intricate guitar playing leads you into the song along with some humorous keyboards. There is pantomime feel to this instrumental as it gallops along at a fair lick with all manner of amusing sound effects going off around you. Moments of clarity and fairy tale magic are interspersed among the jocularity and the intelligent songwriting of Peter Jones is already coming to the fore as everything comes to a more grown up, serious conclusion.

Maturity enters the fray with Story Tellers and the high jinks and fantasy are put on the back burner just for a short while. A subdued and sober piano note introduces the song before Peter’s earnest vocals begin, a voice that convey a real wide range of emotions, here it is thoughtful and intent. This song is all about the highs and lows of writing the stories and the lyrics convey those emotions perfectly. The music winds around your mind and your soul and envelops you in its embrace. There is a longevity to the story that will always outlive the writer and that adds a slight tone of sadness that can be felt in both the vocals and the music. The track then opens up with an extended keyboard run of increasing dexterity that lifts an melancholia and Peter adds a winsome tone to his vocals in a children’s TV style. This song is all about leaving an enduring legacy for those that follow and it closes having performed that task to a tee.

Beauty Sleeps (no surprise that this is part two of Sleeping Beauty) opens with a delicately strummed classical guitar full of grace and refinement. It has a finesse to it that befits a princess and her story and also shows off Peter Jones’ instrumental prowess, it may just be me but I  get ‘Cavatina’ (the theme from Deer Hunter for the Luddites out there) running through my mind everytime I hear certain instrumental sections of this song, not a bad comparison I’d have thought. It holds you in a trance-like state as the simple beauty of the music washes over you, seeming to cleanse your musical soul with the elegance of the guitar and the charming flute note. This is no merely simple piece though, there is a complexity at the heart, it is just delivered in such a genial manner that you can take it in so easily. Overall it is uplifting and inspiring and leaves your soul soaring.

Right, that’s enough of the inspirational, the whimsical and the charming, where is the ‘batshit crazy’ I remember from ‘Cocoon’? Ah, here it is and aren’t we in for a treat. A Kids Tale is based on the story of Billy Goat Gruff yet with the wacky humour turned up to 11, I challenge you to listen to this track and not be smiling like an inane lunatic by the end. Box of frogs? It’s as mad as whole container load from the bleating in the background of the introduction and the irreverent instrumental run in right through the Benny Hill Theme inspired section to Peter’s regional accent infused vocal. Just imagine if Disney had employed Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine to bring the story to film and you’ll have some idea of the off kilter humour that runs throughout it. The lyrics are inspired, “Hold on, you were about to bite my head off and now you’re lecturing me on morality….”, “Fair enough, on you go….”. Mad and touched with a kind of insane genius that could only be English, this guy has definitely been out in the midday sun. There is a touch of music hall to the playing that runs throughout, especially the dancing piano, it is one of the most mirth filled, tongue in cheek songs I have heard in quite a while, the joyful singing of the three goats that closes out the song being a perfect ending.

The Quest for Beauty (Sleeping Beauty part three) brings us back to the more contemplative feel of the earlier tracks with a triumphant note to the introduction and Peter’s deadpan vocals that open up into a delightful chorus, did I say that this guy can really sing? This is a down-to-earth, astute musical fairytale where the hero must overcome arduous tasks to save the heroine and the music is sympathetic to that more grown up feel whilst never losing the magic that is the core to the best of these stories. The vibrant feel builds up as we come to the close of the latest chapter in the tale, more to follow…….

There is a dark humour at the core of The Piper, the introduction has all the markings of a dangerously funny musical like Sweeney Todd and is delivered in a fashion akin to Gilbert and Sullivan with overblown, pompous characters you can tell are heading for an ignominious downfall. Peter does all the different voices with aplomb, investing the Mayor and townsfolk with a farcical side and giving the piper of the title a sinister, darker edge that makes your skin crawl just a tiny bit. The lyrics are full of slapstick, absurd humour that works perfectly with the feel of the track, “You need to take stock, there’s a rat in my sock….!”, “Oh God no, it’s running up me trousers….”. There is a conveyor belt of whipcrackingly comical phrases that keep you laughing out loud. You feel a mysterious thrall take over the song when the piper arrives and whenever he speaks, a dangerous man who you shouldn’t cross. The track grips you for all of its near thirteen minute length and, despite the fact we know how the tale unfolds, you feel yourself holding your breath wondering what is going to happen next. That is the measure of the skill of a songwriting storyteller like Peter Jones, he puts you right in the middle of the story as if you were really there. A deliciously menacing track with a touch of the macabre to it, just remember how the Child Catcher from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ used to make you hold your breath and hide (and you loved it!) and you’ll know exactly what i mean.

The final part to the Sleeping Beauty saga closes out this superb album, Beauty Awakes starts with a jubilant and exulted instrumental section topped with touches of magical fairy dust that skips lightly across your mind leaving hints of playful abandon where ever it has been. Peter Jones finishes the song and album with the expected happy ending, his lyrics touching on the fact that we know the outcomes of these fairytales but we just cannot get enough of them, “The story will never end….”, indeed it won’t Peter my friend, not with musical maestros like you around….

Well, Peter Jones has delivered what is, to my ears, an album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1’, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood. Peter is one of the pre-eminent songwriters out there today and has given us a little piece of wonder to enjoy, roll on Part Two.

Released 1st July 2015

Buy Story Tellers Part One from bandcamp on mp3

Buy Story Tellers Part One on CD from White Knight Records

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – The Enid – The Bridge

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To be still at the forefront of progressive rock over forty years since their inception in 1974 The Enid are the definition of ‘enduring’ as is their popularity with their fanbase of enthusiastic supporters.

Their unique and individualistic style of progressive rock does not appeal to all but, when you are hooked by the beauty, efficacy and intricacy of it all, you will become a lifelong follower.

The band use music as a saga teller, creating huge soundscapes and classical influences to lead you on an all encompassing musical journey that will captivate and enrapture your sensibilities.

An excerpt from the band history on the website goes on to say….

“Formed among friends in 1974 The Enid invented a school of intelligent powerful romantic popular music which is unique to them. It is now clear that over more than thirty years they have developed an exceptional approach to music creation in the sense that there are no generic limitations whatever placed on bands ability to create their music.

The Enid “school of art” for want of a better description, is free from constraints of template rock/pop where rhythm, harmony and melody are invariably dictated by the traditions, prejudices and limitations associated with style.

Under the tutelage of Robert John Godfrey, The Enid set out to avoid the obvious traps; the learned/received riff based music which distinguishes so much rock – the well trodden harmonic progressions – familiar melodic lines and stock-in-trade rhythms.

They were also the first band to be funded entirely by their fans which became the obvious way ahead after losing their recording contract with the now defunct PYE records.  This was a revolutionary concept when first deployed in the early 1980’s and led to the current situation with bands as diverse as Marillion, Radiohead and Hawkwind following this lead.”

There have been many changes to the band line-up over the years, the current being founder members Robert John Godfrey (pianist, composer and mastermind) and Dave Storey (drums) ,  vocalist and charismatic frontman Joe PayneJason Ducker (guitar and lots of other stuff), Max Read (bass, keyboards and loads of other stuff) and Dominic Tofield (drums and dab hand at design).

The Enid - Invicta - Artwork

There have been many albums down the years yet 2012’s ‘Invicta’ saw a relative resurgence for this niche, cult band. The Enid have followed this up with ‘The Bridge’, the first in a trilogy of albums which will focus on the development of members Joe PayneJason Ducker and Max Read.

On this release Robert and Joe wanted to further explore the classical elements of the band’s music in finer detail. The orchestral arrangements and vocals are accompanied by Jason’s symphonic guitar textures and Max’s choral arrangements. The stunning artwork is the exceptional work of drummer Dominic Tofield and gives this release an indicative gravitas as soon as you see it.

‘The Bridge’ is a collection of mainly re-imagined versions of songs from the vast back catalogue of the band and a bit of a risky one at that as it feature next to no percussive elements at all, only relying on the amazing piano skills of Robert and Joe’s impressive vocal skills to deliver the expected symphonic power.

Earthborn takes a delicate route to introduce the album with the vocals gradually increasing in force backed by the empathetic piano and wind instruments to deliver a romantically inspired opening that could have come straight out of London’s West End theatres. Gentle, humble and yet with a steely core, it captivates you with an uplifting grace. Atmospheric and almost operatic in its delivery ‘Til We’re Old is a brief but powerful piece where the voice and piano provide impressive counterpoints to each other with a slightly suspenseful and quizzical note. What it lacks in length it certainly makes up with substance.

Dark Corner of the Sky opens with a hushed piano and then Joe’s dulcet vocals join in what is a slightly sombre sounding beginning. Joe Payne’s heartfelt delivery is as seductive as it is powerful, almost beseeching you as it impacts on your psyche. Max Read’s sympathetic choral arrangement delivers an ethereal feeling, a seductive spell that you never want to break. Now to a track that seems to split opinion, Bad Men has a nervous jocularity to it with its simple (yet effective) lyrics and ever present hint of mild insanity. One reviewer who was less than impressed said: “it is a track that tries its hardest to be politically relevant to British politics, yet falls flat with lyrics.” I have to disagree, to me it has a hint of the a melodramatic Gilbert and Sullivan comedy opera to it, slightly tongue in cheek. It flows majestically in places and, in others, hammers at you like a persistent and petulant child. Not my favourite track on the album but one that rises above the merely good with its sense of humour.

The introduction to My Gravity lifts you up and takes you away to a place of pomp and circumstance and classical beauty. For all you know, you could be at the Royal Albert Hall listening to some classical masterpiece before it segues into an engrossing cinematic style that would befit a 1950’s Hollywood blockbuster. There is a vivid melodrama at the heart of this affecting song. Joe’s voice has a tender catch to it and the choral arrangements once again impress. As impressive as it is on record, this would be an almighty piece of music in a live setting as Joe reaches the heights with his fervent and earnest voice and the whole track has you committed from the first note, a superb and enduring song. Adding lyrics to previous instrumentals is the USP of this latest album and that can be seen to the best and most striking effect on Wings (a reworking of the track ‘La Rage’ from 1988 release ‘The Seed and the Sower) where Joe’s deeply moving lyrics are undeniably the icing on the cake of a wondrous track. Deeply moving and emotional, it is the highlight of this arresting record. Starting from humble beginnings, the vocals dance around you and insinuate your every pore, like a sinuous vocal dance around your aural receptors. Ardent and profound, there is a sincerity deeply ingrained in this incredibly passionate and poignant song. The musical arrangements are precise and yet flow with a allure and artistry and help deliver a profoundly stirring and moving work of musical art.

First Light takes the sophisticated choral arrangements to another level. The voices intertwining and harmonising to brilliant effect. A slow and deliberate tempo holds you in sway as the music washes over you to leave you in a musical state of grace. The whole album is composed of music that demands your attention and makes you stop what you’re doing and concentrate on what is put before you and no more so than on this singular slice of wonderment. The segue into Autumn is seamless, your trance like state retained. This time the music is just as conducive to your utterly relaxed and calm state of mind, providing a perfect foil for the beguiling voice of Joe Payne. When the song opens up and releases its full potential you are knocked back by the power and the glory in its ultimate wisdom, the ending an uplifting culmination of all that has come before.

When you listen to ‘The Bridge’ the merely good is transformed into the sublime and exalted.The Enid have delivered a set of songs that enable you to take time away from your hectic life and give you a melodic treat of great magnitude, the closest thing to a legal high, an oasis of calm in a world of chaos. Yes, it will not appeal to all with its delicate sensibilities but, for me, it is something that, once I have heard, I cannot ever do without.

Released 10th July 2015

Buy The Bridge direct from The Enid

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeB3UmaVfaY

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Wolve – Sleepwalker

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If you are of my generation (born in the late 60’s/early 70’s) I’d like you to take a walk back in time with me. To a time when the internet was in its very infancy and discovering new music was not the simple task that it is now.

How did we find new bands and new albums that we had never heard of before? In fact, how did we find out information about our favourite bands regarding new releases and tours etc.?

For me it was ‘Q’ Magazine, I was an avid reader in the days before the world wide web and bought many a new record from the number of ‘Q’s it would receive and the relatively small write up that print media would allow.

But, you know, I bought as many dogs as I did diamonds and, in my old 800 plus CD collection, there would have been at least 150 albums that never got past the initial first play stage. It was a very costly mistake in the days of £13 CDs and word of mouth tended to be a rarity in those times, don’t ask me why, so I never seemed to get recommendations from friends.

Ever since the internet arrived big time, and especially in the last three or four years, it has been a hell of a lot easier to dig out new music thanks to social media and get solid advice from fellow music lovers. I say this for all genres, not just the relatively insular world of progressive music that is my fix.

The advent of free streaming and youtube means that it should be virtually impossible to make a duff choice now. The actual negative to this is that there is now so much more music that appeals to you out there than you actually have time to listen to but, let’s be thankful for small mercies eh?

A recent social media suggestion that popped up on the right hand side of my feed was French post/progressive rock band Wolve and clicking on the link took me to their bandcamp page where their latest album ‘Sleepwalker’ was streaming for free. The rest, as they say, is history 🙂

Band live

From the band’s own PR:

Julien Sournac’s artistic vision is an uncompromising quest for authenticity.
Unburdened by labels, he infuses his riffs in 90’s alt-rock, can unplug his amp and pick up an accoustic guitar when it is the best way to sincerely represent his feelings in the moment. It is thanks to this approach that ‘Sleepwalker’, WOLVE’s first album written by Julien Sournac and co-produced by Brice Chandler, has been lauded by the media.”

For live performances Julien (guitar and voice) is joined by Alexandre Aguilera (guitar), Hugues Lemaire (bass) and Simon Lemonnier (drums). The band have opened for Fish and Arena before being invited to the famous Prog’ Resiste festival in Belgium.

Dreams are voyages, from nothingness to a far away nowhere. ‘Sleepwalker’ is the chronicle of this voyage in three parts, at the limit of REM sleep.

The album starts with the tender The Tall Trees, just under two minutes of a delicate, heartfelt monologue that drips emotion and sincerity. The vocals exude an ennui ages old and the gentle acoustic guitar almost makes you weep with empathy. Brace yourselves for the earth shattering introduction of Cassiah which enters the fray like an gigantic tidal wave of musical force and focus. There is no pause as the monstrous riff kicks in accompanied by huge drums to blow any cobwebs away. It is a momentary shockwave as the gentle feel returns and the earnest, sincere vocals calm your beating heart. The atmosphere is relaxed, if a little tense, the nonchalant rhythm section lulling you into a possible false sense of security. Julien’s voice has a brooding quality to it, as if the weight of the world lies upon him, especially when the tension is ramped up with an increase in pace and dynamism. Fans of that other enigmatic French band Demians will feel at home here. The suspenseful feel increases as the guitar seems to edge along, leading to some sort of confrontation? The coruscating guitar solo feels like finger nails scraping across a blackboard but you cant turn away from the delicious agony. The depth of feeling and fervor ratches up another notch as a crunching guitar pounds your aural synapses. This track is like a life affirming journey through mysterious highs and lows and you are enraptured throughout.

A smooth bass and jazzy guitar introduce Ocean as the drums begin to ramp up the apprehensive atmosphere, a strident guitar wailing slightly in the background in an off key manner. The air becomes one of lightness though, losing that oppressive feel with an almost ethereal quality taking over. Hints of an early Porcupine Tree abound throughout yet given Wolve’s own stamp of authority as the track takes a more intricate bent. Intelligent and yet eminently accessible, I have found myself warming to the maturity and sincerity that this music has in abundance. Like a set of slightly different musical pieces all joined together by a common link, it is a fantastical dreamscape set to indulgent music. The instrumental sections are precise, inventive and involving, you dare not take your attention away in fear of missing something important. The dreamlike vocal parts, accompanied by a surreal sounding guitar and a smooth jazz bass beat leave you almost transfixed as this profound song comes to an enlightened conclusion. Coming in at around eighty seconds Countdown feels like a dividing line between the past and the previous, a subdued art of noise that leads you from one track to another.

The restrained, solemn introduction to Colors Collapse is becoming signature now. Edged with uncertainty and hesitancy before the acoustic guitar and laconic, curbed vocals add a beseeching note to the track. Once again there is a turn into left field with a grungy and dangerous guitar riff kicking in, it all feels slightly menacing to me, in an exciting way, as the instrumental section uses you as a buffer between it and the timorous vocals. You have to listen carefully to the music as there are little nuggets of brilliance thrown in everywhere. A Steve Howe-esque guitar noodle opens up into an extended uplifting section that builds, layer upon layer, increasing the excitement and spectacle. A seriously intense and dramatic guitar heavy instrumental section closes out what is perhaps the most focused song on the album. The album finishes with title track Sleepwalker, a mesmerising acoustic guitar leading you in slowly, accompanied by Julien’s undemanding yet touching vocal and it seems to amble along politely asking you to join it on this poignant trip through mind and soul. You find yourself caught in the euphoria of the moment as the song and album come to an affecting close.

An unexpected treasure thrown up by the good side of social media. You cannot help but be drawn into the captivating worlds that Julien Sournac and Wolve create. Epitomized by intuitive and visceral music and vocals that lay their heart before you, ‘Sleepwalker’ is a hidden gem that I feel privileged to have discovered.

Released 29th January 2014.

Buy Sleepwalker from bandcamp

Main featured image copyright Adrien Oumhani.

Band pic copyright Christian Arnaud.

 

 

 

Review – Geof Whitely Project – Supernatural Casualty and more……

Geof Whitely 2

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity…”  – Charles Mingus

Just take a minute to read that quote a couple of times and let it sink in…………

Right, are we ready now? Those words can be used to apply the meaning in many walks of life and, also, in music. Sometimes (and it seems especially in progressive music) we seem to be searching for the most intricate and complicated. Maybe this is to stand out from the crowd, maybe it is just one-upmanship? Who knows, if it is not convoluted enough, it can tend to be consigned to the metaphorical dustbin.

What is wrong with simplicity, if it is good enough being kept to the bare basics then why not run with it? I am as guilty as the next man for searching for twenty-four minute prog suites with meandering overtures and endless guitar and bass solos but, when you want a minute to yourself and your life to be a bit more uncluttered, there is some music out there that is perfectly suited, and perfectly good enough, for that mood.

I have oft spoken about how being a music journalist can elicit some very pleasant unexpected surprises and, as recent as last week, another one arrived unannounced at Progradar Towers.

I had never heard of the Geof Whitely Project before but, thanks to a fellow music loving friend on social media, Brasil Bond, I am now acutely aware of this intriguing musical outfit.

There is a bit of mystery surrounding this musical enigma, information is hard to come by so I did the digging so you, my friends, don’t have to…..

From the official website:

“The Geof Whitely Project was formed in 2011, it consists of Geof Whitely and special guest Musicians, the aim of the project is to put out original material in all types of musical formats from Prog Rock-Rock-Pop-Electronic-Instrumental.

All albums will contain a mix of such musical songs, there’s surely one that will appeal to everyone, thanks for visiting the site please feel free to email us, tell your friends…..!!!!”

It also appears that their biggest critic is Jasper the cat, being a cat owner myself, I can relate to that.

Well let’s cut through the shroud of mystery shall we because, having spoken to the musician behind the whole conundrum, I can reveal that there is no such person as Geof Whitely!!!

Geof is actually the alter-ego of prolific musician Arny Wheatley who hails from Stoke-on-Trent and basically does just about everything on all the Geof Whitely Project releases.

The story behind the moniker is that ‘Geof Whitely’ was the name on something that came through Arny’s letter box once addressed wrong and he thought that it would make a good name, simple really!

Having released around six full length albums already, Arny is not one to stand still, he already has another three new albums due out for release and that doesn’t include ‘Supernatural Casualty’ which releases on 3rd August 2015. As I said, prolific!!!

Before we get onto ‘Supernatural Casualty’ I’d like to take a short trip and delve into the Geof Whitely Project back catalogue and focus on two of the previous releases….

Pathfinder Cover

Geof Whitely Project – Pathfinder

Released in March 2014 ‘Pathfinder’ has huge cinematic soundscape at it’s heart. Haunting guitars and expressive keyboards form the backbone on which this electronic rock inspired release can build. The vocals are precise and, despite being mainly monotone, extremely expressive. The opening track Ship to Shore gives a very promising initial impression and this carries on through the album.

Other highlights include the the jazz influenced Chinese Burn and title track Pathfinder. There is a simplistic design to the music that can only be admired, the 80’s influenced keyboards are particularly memorable, especially on At Times and The Riddle.

The guitar work throughout is exemplary and reaches an entertaining peak on The Real Me and closing track Keeper of the Light, enforcing the underlying darker tone of this release.

All in all, my first exposure to the Geof Whitely Project  has been a very enjoyable one.

OoOT cover

Geof Whitely Project – Outlaw of Our Time

Released in February 2015 ‘Outlaw of Our Time’ takes a lighter, more commercial route than ‘Pathfinder’. The overall feel to the album brings thoughts of Asia, Foreigner and other AOR bands, there is even a touch of E.L.O in the vocal style and semi-orchestral feel.

Opening track Fibreoptic is a delightfully reminiscent of the synth inspired rock of the 80’s with a Georgio Moroder inspired keyboard that morphs into a guitar driven verse that Jeff Lynne would be proud of. The album segues though heavy electronica influence with Souless Night Driver, a considered and melodramatic track, to the ambient dance feel of Ricochet and back through the melancholia of Outstretched Hands to the World.

I get a real feel of the cinematic, ethereal atmospherics of Fractal Mirror running through this album, it is there in the background on tracks like Mediation, How Can One and Slow Motion, especially with the organ styled keyboard playing which gives a sci-fi inspired note to the music.

The vocals also conjure up thoughts of my good friend Mike Kershaw, measured and monotone they may be but extremely expressive with it. This comparison is most evident on Siren of the Sea, which has to take the gong of being my favourite track on the album. With its oriental influences and downbeat rhythm, there is an aura of David Sylvian all over this song and the meandering, intense guitar playing is a highlight of the whole album.

The album runs out with three extended tracks that all run with a laconic mood, pensive and wistful. Blind Faith, Gate to the West and Transatlantic Ghosts take a deeper, more thoughtful route through your mind yet still retain a simplicity, a lack of over-complication at their core. It is perhaps more ‘music that seeps into your sub conscious’ than easy listening with the more serious tone that they have. They close out the album on a very sombre note, I found my self getting lost in the midst of the final track.

Now onto the main course……..

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Geof Whitely Project – Supernatural Casualty

The album that started my odyssey, ‘Supernatural Casualty is due to be released on August 3rd this year. All the Geof Whitely Project releases have interesting artwork and this is one of the best, I do tend to gravitate towards albums whose artwork I like and this was no exception.

Mixing Marillion with costume drama and theatricals, opening track Assassin is quite an addictive one with a dark edge to the guitar riff and moody keyboards. The vocals are neat and demonstrative and suit the music perfectly. The song has an apprehensive feel, as if you are waiting for something to happen and not necessarily something good! An intriguing opening track with its early 90’s feel. Healing has an unhurried rhythm to it, mournful and pensive with the delicate piano and trite vocal. Definitely not one for the depressed among us! There is stark beauty to its pared back and downcast delivery though. A heraldic keyboard note introduces The Secret, a track that wouldn’t be out of place on a film soundtrack. A nostalgic, gentle wistfulness plays out before you, the vocals heavy-hearted and imparting world weary experience to the proceedings. Interstellar, whilst not being full of joie de vivre, lifts the mood somewhat with its homage to a mix of early Ultravox with a smidgen of Steve Strange thrown in for good measure. As I’ve said before, there is nothing too complicated going on here but what you do have is transparent and honest and thoroughly enjoyable.

Piano is king at the start of House of the Holy, blended with the saxophone like keyboard, it leaves an entirely palatable taste in the mouth. One more turn of the knob of mood lightening and you can feel a measure of hope creeping into what was despondency before. This ambience runs through the vocals and the whole tone, this is one track where the Mike Kershaw comparison is at its height. The guitar at the end is a particular high point. Welcome to the Darkside (how many of you wanted to finish that sentence with ‘Luke’ ?) would indicate that we are going to regress but, no, not to my ears anyway. There is an inspirative timbre to the vocals that works counterpoint to the contemplative music in a very clever way. The beat leaps forward a couple of notches with F1, the lyrics in deference to that greatest of motorsports. A powerful riff runs in the background giving the whole song momentum and drive. I’d see this as a modern version of Kraftwerk’s ‘Tour de France dedicated to a different sport as the electronic beats vie with the sound of Formula 1 engines. I like the way that Hideaway invokes memories of bygone days, sepia tinged and rose tinted. Almost ballad like, it is a really nice song that leaves me feeling warm inside.

That glowing feeling continues with No Way of Knowing, the vibe seems to have gone across to ‘singer-songwriter’ with an electronic bent and I think it works really well. Again, pared back simplicity is key to how this works so well. Piano and sax inspired keyboard notes cover everything with a velvety layer of sophistication and that feeling of fulfillment remains. Apparition begins with a spooky, sci-fi inspired intro that opens up with a feeling of yearning into an aspirational song. Another track with an 80’s synthesiser inspired sound that resonates with me as a listener. Measured and metronomic in its timbre, it lulls you into a longed for sense of security. The flute like intro to Embargo is very catchy and the whole song really lifts you up as if the sun has started shining on a rainy day. It trips along gaily, dragging you along with its good humour and exhilaration. There is a childlike impishness to the song, guileless and trusting, fans of Tiger Moth Tales will know where I am coming from. Tide is Turning brings gravitas and maturity back and is a more mainstream rock track than some of the others on the album. There is a meditative and reflective quality to this piece and a respectful note to the vocals that adds a wealth and depth of experience to all aspects of the song.

No Time is another unadulterated piece of music that comes straight from the heart, weighty and serious. There is a depth of feeling apparent in the vocals and the powerful music that you can’t help but get involved with. An impassioned, heartfelt song that pulls at the heartstrings. The lament continues with Infront of Me, elementary passions pour out unheeded from the soul of the music and you find yourself in the middle of an emotional pull. Profound and sincere, there is an earnest plea at the heart of it all. Remembrance Day begins with the tolling of a bell and music that brings to mind the horrors of war. Doleful and dramatic it grabs your attention immediately, we will honour those that fought so we could have a better life. There is a solemn and weighty feel to the song yet one that commands and deserves respect. You find yourself engrossed in this philosophical and reflective track, rapt with the memories it invokes. The final track on this thoroughly enjoyable musical journey is Usurper, a gentle, meandering introduction leads into a graceful guitar that increases in tempo and vibrancy before the vocals kick in on perhaps the most commercial track on the album with its Floyd-like feel and tempo. The guitar flashes add style and substance to what is already a very good song and it leaves you on a high as it comes to a satisfying close.

I know Arny will have moved onto his next album by now but I found ‘Supernatural Casualty’ to be a box of delights. At sixteen tracks it is perhaps two or three songs too long but that doesn’t detract from what is a thoroughly satisfying piece of music and one that has introduced me to the Geof Whitely Project, an artist I will definitely be keeping my eye on going forward. Thoroughly recommended.

Release 3rd August 2015.

Buy Supernatural Casualty here

Check out the back catalogue here

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Barock Project – Skyline

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“What if there was a prog version of the Eurovision Song Contest?”

So naff that you can’t avoid watching it, to most people (especially in the UK) Eurovision has become something of a pastiche and a parody, albeit an enjoyable one. The acts get more and more outlandish and the voting is more of a ‘jobs for the boys, you pat my back and I’ll pat yours’ affair.

It is kitsch and over the top and seems to have lost sight of the original values that saw artists such as Sandy Shaw and Abba produce memorable songs that still stand the test of time today. I mean Australia? come on!

When was the total shift in the tectonic plates that deposited our Antipodean cousins slap band in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and how in all that’s holy did I miss something of those seismic proportions going on under my nose?

The usual entertaining farce of this year’s competition got me thinking, what if Eurovision was populated entirely by progressive rock bands? As it happens, I was actually listening to the latest release from the young Italian prog band Barock Project when that particular inspiration particle hit my cerebral cortex.

Maybe it was inspired by their singular brand of pompous, over the top but utterly mesmerising progressive rock? The bar set extremely high for quality but with a singular tongue-in-cheek feeling of joyous expression.

Once I’d sobered up I realised that a prog inspired Eurovision Song Contest is a very silly idea. Barock Project, on the other hand, is a different story……

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The Barock Project idea comes from a desire to deliver the finest and perfect structure of classical music (mainly baroque music) with a rock-style and a little bit of jazz harmony, supported by a pop framework with the intention to revamp the appeal of ’70s progressive-rock.

The project founder, pianist and composer Luca Zabbini, states that his passion for the music of famous keyboardist Keith Emerson (ELP), has fueled his desire to compose and play a full range of styles, from classical to rock and jazz.

Luca Pancaldi joined as lead vocalist in 2002 and, in the summer of 2004, Giambattista”GB” Giorgi, a young bassist influenced by rock sounds with big passion for jazz, and drummer Giacomo Calabria joined the band.

In December 2007 the first album ‘Misteriose Voci’ was released to very good reviews and media coverage from all over the world. In the summer of 2009 the second album ‘Rebus’ followed and the third record, ‘Coffee In Neukölln’ was issued in 2012, the first with all lyrics in English

Eric Ombelli (replacing Giacomo Calabria on the drums)  and Marco Mazzuoccolo (guitar) joined in early 2014 and Barock Project began recording sessions for their 4th and most complex album. Towards the end of 2014 bass player Giambattista Giorgi left leaving Luca Zabbini to play and re-record the bass lines on the forthcoming album, ‘Skyline’.

So a quick potted history of the band, now onto ‘Skyline’, what do we have in store for us?

Well, if first track Gold is anything to go by, a headlong rush of infectious, inspirational music! The harmonised vocal intro is superseded by an uplifting piano and keyboard note before the vocals begin. Luca has a rich and creamy vocal delivery that immediately connects with you and on this inspiring, joy filled track it really comes to the fore. There is a love of life, a joie de vivre that runs right through the core of the song, the band even chuck in the odd time change here and there to give it some progressive chops and Marco’s fluid guitar playing adds real character, especially when dueling with the keyboards . All in all, an excellent start to the album. Overture is a baroque, classical inspired little instrumental that showcases the band member’s skills as musicians and is a funky, fast paced nod to the 70’s as is rattles along on a wave of nostalgic keyboards and dynamic drumming.

Title track Skyline is the first indication, well to my ears anyway, that we are onto something special with Barock Project. Special guest Vittorio De Scalzi is invited to the party on vocal and flute duties and the minstrel like qualities of the vocal introduction immediately makes your ears prick up. Lightly strumming a lute in the middle ages, you could quite imagine yourself being present at a court in medieval Italy as the delicate acoustic guitar provides a canvas for the graceful vocals. The dynamics change as the drums join in and a sense of anticipation takes over, the vocals harmonise perfectly and you are hooked. Keyboards flow and chime and the flute adds a classy sheen to the song. The curve ball is delivered by an aggressive guitar riff and the vocals become infused with a potent edge as the track enters the symphonic arena. Guitar licks that Brian May would be proud of are fired off in all directions and this energetic ‘pomp and circumstance’ filled romp gets truly into its stride. A fiery solo just the right side of hair metal puts a huge grin on your face, this song really has elements of everything blending perfectly. The next section is an off-kilter romp right from the heart of 70’s progressive rock standards as you are flung from pillar to post in a delightful fashion, the addition of the charismatic flute is genius. A mighty impressive track from some seriously impressive musicians. Turn down the frenetic pace a notch and fall into the graceful introduction of Roadkill. This has more of a traditional AOR feel to it as it builds momentum slowly, the occasional flashes of the guitar could be Journey or Toto and when the track lets loose, it does so with a powerful vocal uplift. A steady, potent riff then takes over guiding the song along, aided and abetted by a subtle rhythm section. The icing on the cake is those cultured yet compelling vocals which have an almost addictive quality to them. Luca fires off a coruscating solo, counterpointed by aggressive keyboards and punctuated by some  intricate flute playing. The ending is all theatrical and in your face yet you feel a baring of the soul at the heart of it.

Another ten minute plus track The Silence of Our Wake begins with a subdued, melancholy air as the restrained vocals are sung over a muted acoustic guitar. There is a solemn feel as Luca’s delivery has a halting feel to it and you feel yourself holding your breath. Things begin to stir into life as the keyboards and rums add substance, the guitar interjects and the melancholy air is lifted. I can almost feel a cinematic scope to this song as the preamble is dispensed and a lighter air gradually feeds in through the instrumental section. Straightforward storytelling and symphonic tinged rock combine with classical music influences to deliver a complex yet satisfying blend of music that hits all the right notes. As the piano led vocals drift off into superb harmonies you are put in mind of some of the great songwriters of the 20th Century, the sophistication and composure are of the highest quality. The Sound of Dreams is a graceful snippet of loveliness that takes you to a place of calm solitude for two minutes, let your worries and cares wash away as the tender vocals and ethereal piano and keys wash over you to leave you in a state of grace.

A funky, jazz infused track with a little edge to it, Spinning Away gets you on side from the off. Catchy vocals and a high powered rhythm section give this song some definitive oomph! The vocals have a slight staccato delivery, an inflection on every word and the whole piece feels like a sophisticated jam session where the musicians are allowed to have a little more fun and think outside of the box. Possibly the most experimental and interesting track on the album although it never loses the overall cultivated sense that is central to the musical ideas that define this release. A classical styled piano intro heralds another one of my favourite components of ‘Skyline’. Tired is a theatrical tour-de-force, full of energy and savoir vivre. The vocals are at their most impressive, forceful and persuasive and you could see this track central to a musical staged on a huge scale. The orchestration is polished and stylish and, I must admit, I found myself singing out loud on the vitalising chorus. A track based on simplicity but one that really leaves its mark on you, raising the hairs on the back of your neck as it builds to the imposing outpouring of the chorus. A captivating guitar solo just adds a touch of class before the song segues into something darker and more sinister with a chaotic and frenetic edge to it. The vocals have a hint of danger to them and the music just feels delightfully malicious as the band are given their head to go off and produce an instrumental section of manic glee before everything comes to a breathless finale.

A Winter’s Night begins with a whimsical piano that leads in Luca’s tentative vocal, slightly pensive as the guitar adds another layer of elegance to this beauteous track. A song that lingers in the memory with thoughts of yearning and solemnity. A sincere and contemplative song and another piece in this elaborate musical jigsaw that we have been presented with. Every good thing must come to an end and so, with The Longest Sigh, does ‘Skyline’. A punchy introduction introduces the song with soaring guitars and keyboards backed by the dynamic rhythm section before the piano and vocals take the lead. Luca injects an earnestness to the heart of his delivery, almost an impassioned plea to your musical heartstrings and your heart replies with positive intent. The piano and keyboards dance lightly across your soul as the sheer inspiring pleasure of the music takes hold. There are little nuances hidden, fragments of 80’s MOR guitar and synth that give a real sense of nostalgia as well, all painted on a huge musical canvas that is nearly all-encompassing and, as the album plays out its final notes, there is a little nod of appreciation, s light smile on the lips at a job very well done by this talented band.

An unexpected highlight of the year so far, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it and, with an apparent resurgence of the genre, progressive music  would be well represented by this exuberant and heartwarming group of musicians. They’d get my vote too!!

 

Released 13th June 2015.

Buy Skyline from bandcamp

Buy Skyline from The Merch Desk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Karibow – Addicted

KaribowAddicted

Why do we pigeonhole and label an artist? It is a sure way of missing the important, the contradictory, the things that make them unique…

Most music fans feel that they have to assign an artist to a particular type of music. In our ordered lives, it is easier to do this. We don’t like things that don’t fit neatly into a particular stereotype. It is like an itch that you can never scratch.

I have said this before, the danger of classing something in this way is that it will alienate people who are not fans of that particular musical genre. So we may like to be ordered but, in doing so, you may be committing commercial suicide.

German band Karibow, despite winning Germany’s ‘Best Progressive Band’ award in December 2014, tend to be labelled as more of a pop/rock type of band and this has, no doubt, been detrimental to there efforts to stride forward into the progressive arena in a big way.

Their latest album ‘Addicted’, released in October 2014, tends to weave its way between pop, rock and neo-progressive rock and merge into a rather contemporary whole.

You guys know that I always give an album multiple listens before I commit any words to my reviews. Well, it was no different with ‘Addicted’ and I found my opinion and my review changing on almost a daily basis. It has taken a while but I now feel I am ready to write my review of this conundrum of an album.

Karibow was founded by Oliver Rusing in 1997. Numerous albums have, over the years, documented a long musical evolution that lies somewhere betwixt progressive rock and electronic pop/rock. Originally started as a studio project, Karibow has expanded into a five piece live band.

The line-up is now Markus Bergen (keyboards), Chris Thomas (guitar, vocals), Gerald Nahrgang (drums), Thomas Wischt (bass) and Oliver himself (vocals, guitar).

One thing Oliver doesn’t lack is ambition, 16 tracks play out over 78 minutes. The question is, should less be more of does each song have its place in the overall musical jigsaw puzzle that is ‘Addicted’?

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The album begins with Change which is a catchy, toe tapping track straight from pop/rock central. Immaculately polished and presented, it is a shining example of Oliver Rusing’s song writing prowess. Like an amalgam of Train, U2 and Maroon 5, it doesn’t try to be anything other than a well crafted tune with silken vocals, an excellent rhythm section and a gleaming guitar solo. There is an immediate segue into a more progressive style with the eight minute plus Primeval which has a sultry feel to it. Deep and thoughtful, I would maybe call it mellow-prog as it leads the listener into the track at a measured rate. Definite hints of later Marillion here yet it treads its own steadfast path. The guitar work is more intricate than on the previous track and the vocals are really starting to stand out with their breathy style. A nod must also go to the excellent production that seems just about spot on to my admittedly amateur ears. There is some classy stuff on show here. On Liquid Terrain and Believe have a real 80’s bass line like Mark King of Level 42 has joined the fun and that 80’s feel carries on throughout these two, funky songs. Like an amalgam of 80’s synth-pop and a touch of progressive rock, they waft through your conscience, almost insubstantial but held together by  great rhythm sections and superb choruses . Oliver can write excellent pop tunes and these two are indicative of that.

Now onto one of the stand out tracks on the album for me. Home of Cain begins with a cultured and elegant introduction that breaks out into the first chorus which is a thing of beauty. A gentle and amiable song that just leaves you with deep seated feeling of well being. The keyboards and vocals are at the heart of this track, graceful and refined, they add a fragile dignity that fans of 90’s UK band Lighthouse Family will be familiar with. Stella Nova and Shine On showcase that precise blend of pop/rock and progressive rock that seems to be becoming a hallmark of the band, the former majoring on progressive and the latter with a stronger hint of pop. An urgent staccato riff leads the verses and things get a bit more complex with the choruses. The accomplished vocals and well executed guitar work are signature on these two tracks and the uplifting feel of Shine On is quite addictive, leaving you with a smile on your face. Collaborator is a serious and complex track that is, in my opinion, criminally short. I love the darker feel that runs throughout the song, emphasised by the edgy bass and guitar and the strident keyboard note. The vocals have just enough mystery about them too.

Possibly the most commercial track on the album, The Cry is, perhaps, too flawless and loses some of the appeal of the rest of the songs. There is no doubting its skill and urbane suaveness but I prefer the flawed gems that make up the rest of the tracks. Now I’m guessing that the title of the next song may have something to do with the dark art of Chess but it is only a guess but, as for the track itself, F8 A1 Ba6, is one of those flawed jewels I was talking about. A really restless and skittish instrumental that grates at your nerve ends leaving them bloodied and worn, it is a clever little piece of music that makes you sit up and take notice. Running at a pace that never lets up and never allows you to gather your thoughts, I really like its nervous energy and off kilter feel. Like it was deliberately put there to soothe your raw edges after the previous song, Spark is a tender piano and vocal composition that gently tiptoes across your psyche and leaves you calm and collected. The intro to Place to Be builds up slowly and genially before the guitar and vocals kick in. Impressive drum work and a solid bassline lay the foundations for what is quite a distinct track, almost anthemic in flavour. I could see this becoming a live favourite, with its sing-a-long chorus and excellent guitar work, it just feels, well, right…..

A harder atmosphere pervades The Violent Plains and it gives the feel of another crowd pleaser. The guitar, drums and bass all exhibit a quality that you can perceive and you will find yourself singing along to the chorus. Unashamedly slap bang in the middle of the rock arena with pop leanings, who cares when it is this good? Moving on to Always There and that instant wow factor I got from House of Cain returns. Channeling their inner ‘Wilson’, Karibow have produced a superb song that really hits you right in the heart. Expressive, heartfelt vocals, a wonderful guitar and a piano that dances around your aural perceptions all combine to deliver a track that lingers long in the memory. There was always going to be a come down after the delights of the previous track and the fact it is only a minor one is testimony to the effusiveness of Something. Upbeat and decidedly cheerful with glorious keys at the heart, it really shines and radiates a warming glow. Now to the final track on this saga, 9/16 finishes things off with a song that has both feet firmly in the camp of Prog. A forceful intro leads into a track that has a sheen of seriousness hanging over it and one that is delivered with gravitas. The jangling guitars and upbeat chorus remind me a little of U2 but with a much more suave feel and the whole song drips with a personality that is eminently noticeable. As the closer on the album, it steps up to the plate and delivers emphatically.

So what have we got here? Well, to my ears this is decidedly a rock album but one with considerable progressive rock leanings however, at the heart of it, why pigeonhole it as one or the other? Can’t we just call it decidedly good music that’s worth listening to? When I first listened to it I did think there may have been one or two tracks too many but, having revisited it quite a few times, the album would be poorer if it was missing any of them.

Buy Addicted from Karibow’s webshop

Review – Progoctopus – Transcendence

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What’s in a name? Do the emotions that a band’s name evoke influence your likelihood to like or dislike that particular artist’s music? And why am I even asking this question in the first place?

Progoctopus, that’s why. This new progressive band from Birmingham have just released their debut E.P. ‘Transcendence’ and, so far, it is garnering some great reviews. However the band’s choice of moniker seems to be engendering some less than positive comments.

I, for one, really like the name. There seem to be some rigid tenets in place for when you choose the sobriquet by which you wish to be known. Here we look at the three major ones.

1. Get a name that really stands out.

Make it so it is memorable and creates a vivid image or evokes a feeling in the mind of the listener. Well the guys have certainly ticked that box for definite!

2. Get an unused band-name.

Well have you heard of another band called Progoctopus? Exactly, point two     is in the affirmative.

3. Make it relevant to the genre.

Progressive rock? Progoctopus? I think we can agree that that one is a definite yes too!

On a more serious note, will the band name put you off the music, come on, of course not or, at least it shouldn’t. Aren’t we all open minded, won’t we give something a try before shunning it? I should bloody hope so.

There is a hint of tongue-in-cheek japery about Progoctopus and I know the band are amused by, and love, all the discussion about the merits of that controversial handle.

Enough dissection, it’s time for the usual history lesson because, if there isn’t one, it isn’t Progradar!

Band - Credit Dave Donelly

Formed in November 2014, Progoctopus are set to take the prog world by storm with their debut EP, ‘Transcendence’.

The band consists of Jane Gillard (vocals), Alistair Bell (guitars), Samuel C. Roberts (bass) and Tim Wilson (drums).

“We’ve only been together a short time, but the ideas never stop flowing. The guys jam relentlessly and are seldom in 4/4” chuckles lead vocalist, Jane .

With this debut EP, the band have married the traditions of progressive music with stellar contemporary musicianship and big production values in performance, song duration or tongue-in-cheek humour.

“We combine as much anarchy, order and cheese as we can, rather than should, do in a musical democracy” Tim jokes. “For us, it’s about a happy, will-do attitude, rather than the number of notes. We have a mischievous and fun-loving manner and are always trying to slip each other up with a crazy new beat or riff.”

Guitarist Alistair comments on this positive sense of musical adventure. “The interesting thing about writing music with these guys is that we rarely know what’s going to happen next. One minute we might be playing a fusionesque jam a la Holdsworth, the next we’re playing anthemic rock, then we’re straight in to some Opeth style death metal. It’s mad but we love it!”

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So onwards and upwards and time for the review of this four part E.P.

The first two tracks are actually part of the Transcendence Suite and, obviously, we begin with Part 1 and the winding of a clock before a funky, jazz style vocal introduction, heavy on the bass and with Tim’s drums providing a frenetic background accompaniment. A sort of Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s funktastic riff is provided by Alistair and off we go on this fun-filled maniacal free-flight through progdom. Things open up and become calmer with a really classy riff before Jane’s distinctive vocals take up the story. A powerful voice, full of clarity and soul, it is part of the lifeblood of this impressive start. The rhythm section is there just slightly hidden yet holding everything in place with a metronomic and precise beat. There is a joyful freedom deep at the heart of this music, the catchy chorus and funky music just have a definitive joi de vivre about them and you can’t help but be transfixed by it. A left turn into a more divisive and edgy feel fits in perfectly, there is even a hint of alt-country to Jane’s voice in places as the genre-swapping nearly loses you but you keep up, even if it leaves you breathless and in hysterics……

More of the same with Part 2? I hope so, there isn’t enough fun in music nowadays. A kind of mystical, trance-like piece of music holds you in sway as the second part takes on a more laid back feel at first. It isn’t long before the full-blooded chicanery and tomfoolery return in full force though and this time with a much heavier edge to it, Jane’s vocal taking on a feel of Ann Wilson from the early days of Heart before they went all soft-rock on us. A squirelling guitar run and repetitive return to the enigmatic riff of Part 1 keeps everything flowing smoothly. The dynamic chorus and persuasive, forceful melodies come to head as the track runs out to an energetically heavy conclusion.

A playful, more minimal aura surrounds the beginning of Like Stone. Acoustic guitar and chilled out drums play in the song before Jane joins the soiree with a gentle, nostalgic vocal that lifts you away on a gossamer thin cloud of celestial wonderment. Peaceful and refined it dances graciously along your synapses leaving you in a state of grace. A pleasant interlude from the prog chops of the first tracks.

Now onto the longest track on the E.P. Running in at just over 9 minutes long Carousel bounds into the arena with a hook ridden melody and boundless energy. The first verse is delivered in a slightly subdued manner but with a feeling of a pent up vitality hiding in the background. Unleashed and set free, Jane’s diva like voice commands the whole track and gives it a vivid life of its own. The intrepid rhythm section provides an all-authoritative backdrop for the vocals and guitar to engage in a bit of offbeat, funky and jazz infused interplay. The middle section of the track sees the three guys head off on a visit to virtuosity-ville and show their undoubted skill-sets but, it’s when the impressive melodies and harmonies kick in that you just kick back and let an indulgent smile creep across your face. As the track draws to its conclusion you just get the feeling that the band are having so much fun producing this music for us and I applaud them for it. The way the track runs out to its final notes is just another gratifying part of this satisfying new entrant into the progressive world.

One conclusion that you have to come to with Progoctopus is that there is a heartwarming love of life deep at the heart of this quirky English quartet and this comes across emphatically in the impish delivery of their music. Uplifting music for a sunny day that gives a rose tinted glow to anybody’s outlook on life. Come join the fun, you will never look back.

Released 25th May 2015

buy Transcendence from bandcamp

www.progoctopus.com

Band photos credit Dave Donelly

Two for the price of one – Reviews – Methexis – Fall of Bliss and Suiciety

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“Music is the art of thinking with sounds, it is philosophy…..

Every chord, every word tells a story. If you listen, you will know its meaning…..”

Kamanda Ndama

Take a minute to read that quote and let it sink in, understand its very meaning. Even some of the music that is on popular radio and in the charts has a narrative at its heart, it is not all bubblegum pop (well, the majority of it is to be fair).

In the musical world that I inhabit the writers of the songs are musical bards, they tell stories of love and happiness and of loss and sadness and these affect the listener deep to their core. It is a skill that few have but it can take over your world and move you to a different place where all that matters is the song.

It isn’t just the words either, the music itself can take on a life of its own and affect you in just the same manner. The beauty inherent in an amazing piece of music can make you laugh, smile or cry in much the same way that a well written novel or piece of prose can.

I have oft written about how a new piece of music can come from out of nowhere and really move me. I think that those that are least expected are quite often the best surprises and, like misfortunes, they seldom come alone…

It was due to my friendship with ‎Linus Kåse of Swedish progressive giants Änglagård that I first heard about Methexis, the progressive rock project of Greek musician Nikitas Kissonas and discovered the two albums that have so far been released by this talented and eclectic musician. Who is he? I hear you ask well, let’s find out….

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Nikitas Kissonas was born in 1980 and he is a graduated guitarist and composer. He works as a music teacher and has collaborated with many groups and in many and diverse performances. As well as the Methexisproject, in which he expresses his agony in the rock genre, he also composes contemporary acoustic music and he is hoping to succeed in marrying the two into something truly progressive.
The Methexis project was created by Nikitas in 2011 following his need to record material he had gathered throughout the years while being a member of alternative Greek bands such as Verbal Delirium andYianneis.
The debut album “The Fall Of Bliss” was released at the same year and Nikitas played most of the instruments except for the drums (Nikos Miras) and the piano on ‘Lines On A Bust’ (Jargon).
February 2015 saw the release of ‘Suiciety’, A concept album about the exterior influences a human gets from his childhood, the interior research for a guiding instrument, the exposition on a suicidal society that doesn’t listen to the clear warnings and the unavoidable collapse.

The album features members of The Enid, Änglagård, Birds & Buildings, Agents of Mercy and Yianneis.

‘Fall of Bliss’ – the review

 Artwork

A laconic introduction starts Eradicated Will, a coruscating guitar note ambling along before a slightly laid back, sardonic vocal begins. Very much in the vein of traditional progressive rock, there is also a dramatic edge to the song. Nikitas has a powerful voice with a slight affectation that adds to the drama. The keyboards add a sinister note to the track as it meanders thoughtfully through your mind, the delicate acoustic guitar adding a subliminal note that is lighter than the rest of the track. When the chorus erupts it does so with a forceful edge that adds to the theatrics, an excellent start to the album. Poetic Mirrors Wound Heroes has an introduction that is all Muse to my ears with harmonised vocals and a classical edge before a strong bass line drags it along. The vocal section that follows is different, almost sounding like a computerised harmony but it works really well. Keyboards and bass are key in this track that really does run like a storyline as it glides along with its graceful demeanour. The intricate instrumental bridge is very 70’s prog and adds precision to the finesse of this engaging song.

Those Howling Wolves sees Nikitas take on a more theatrical persona with the emphasised and enunciated vocals taking flight and becoming central to the performance. The music is more of a back up on this acoustical treat. Its benign and genial feel lulls you into a form of stasis as the keyboards run with a mysterious note in the background. You could quite imagine this being from a musical stage production with Nikitas central to the performance, almost musical method acting. As we get deeper into the track there is more substance added as the story fleshes out, the vocals become fuller and the music takes less of a back seat, joining as a fully paid up member of the cast. It becomes thought provoking with quite an intensive edge and the jazzy guitar solo is brilliant in its smoky meandering brilliance as it builds to the close. A seriously impressive track indeed. The piano introduction to Lines on a Bust is intricate and soulful, the vocals again giving the impression of musical theatre, Nikitas has a great vocal range and uses it notably here. You could imagine this being sung in a West-End show. It is full of fervor and zeal, having a rapturous appeal.

Drums and bass are the dominant forces at the beginning of Track the Saviours before an edgy guitar riff takes us into the heart of the heaviest track on the album. One that has a diversive, chaotic note at it’s heart. Running along like a gleeful mad man with the histrionic vocals that teeter on the edge of sanity with an aura of dark humour. I like the slightly off-centre feel of the song, as if it has been allowed to run its own course, good or bad. The corrosive instrumental section is clever and adds to the feeling of not knowing what the hell is happening. Like a mirror image The Aftermath is a slow motion track with an initial sombre, restrained note to the vocals, guitar and keyboards. The vocals take on a more compelling note on the chorus, if still a little mournful. It is a song that has a central forlorn and dolent edge to it, a fragility that still has a dark beauty to it.

The final track is the four part title track The Fall of Bliss which begins with the Intro which is a gentle acoustic guitar overlaying birdsong. Ethereal and gossamer like, it is charming and charismatic and leads you into Part I where the atmosphere darkens, pressing in to give a suspenseful feel. It erupts with a hard edged riff, powered along by the drums to give a turbulent edge before settling down into a more harmonised note. There is a slight supernatural ambience to the music, a semblance of the unknown as the vocals begin in a haunting fashion. Almost like a Gregorian Chant, they have a spiritual echo to them, enhanced by the disturbing organ note. The gloomy feel is all pervasive as we segue into Interlude, a low, slightly remote keyboard, reminiscent of a bassoon insinuates itself into your psyche. There is an organic nature to the music, it feels alive, as if it has its own intelligence and agenda. The guitar influenced passage that follows is vivid and forceful and that pseudo-bassoon runs into the final chapter, Part II. Demonstrative and profound, it is the crescendo that the whole track has been leading up to with heartfelt, passionate vocals and a wall of sound that washes over you leaving you numb in a profound manner. A discursive instrumental section follows, all distorted and erratic, like a lonely walk haunted by memories of the past. Almost painfully acute in parts it holds your attention as it runs on inexorably to the close.

So, Methexis’ first album really grabs you, it is enlightened in a weighty and thorough kind of way and asks questions that you may not be able to answer. Darkly exquisite in places, ‘Suiciety’ will have to go some to top this consummate release.

‘Suiciety’ – the review

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After his brilliant multi-tasking performance with ‘Fall of Bliss’ Nikitas Kissonas turned to some of progressive music’s luminaries for the follow up ‘Suiciety’.

Whilst dealing with the music, lyrics and guitars himself he is joined by the enigmatic Joe Payne (The Enid) on vocals, Linus Kåse (Änglagård) on keyboards, Nikos Zades (Yianneis) sound design, Walle Wahlgren (Agents of Mercy) on drums and Brett d’Anon (Birds and Buildings) on bass.

Going the wrong way round, it was ‘Suiciety’ that I heard before ‘Fall of Bliss’ thanks to a heads up from Linus and that led me onto the debut album. You’ve read my thoughts on that, now it’s time for the latest release….

Chapter IV – Ruins opens the album with a transcendental feel of spaced out music, like wind chimes in a breeze, ambient yet with an intelligence at its core. It is an eerie beginning, as if you are in stasis waiting for something to happen. This opens up with a synth sound that washes over you in waves, almost hypnotic in its delivery. Joe’s breathy voice lies just under the surface, barely audible at first before its unmistakeable expressive quality builds into something more substantial. It stays just out of your conscious reach as the track comes to a close. The five parts of Chapter I (exterior) begin with Remember fear’s a relic, a briskly strummed acoustic guitar heralds an upbeat, jazz infused track that springs along at a brisk pace. A sharp electric guitar leading into some really funky keyboards from Linus before Joe lets lose with his inherent theatrical manner. Mr Payne has a persona that can dominate but here he holds back a tad, still the effusive, energetic front man we know from The Enid but moulding his performance to fit the music. I really like Joe’s expressive vocal work, he takes what is best of the theatrical world and blends it perfectly with progressive rock music. The rest of the band appear to be having a blast on this energetic,slightly manic piece of music, like a free-form jazz session with added absurdity.

The windows’ cracking sound is like a short interlude, a slightly off-kilter and disturbing piece of music which never lets you settle as it segues into Who can it be with its heraldic introduction which immediately grabs you. I love the feel it gives this song before it becomes all mysterious and dark. Joe’s vocal low down, is almost a whisper as he takes up the tale. There is a dark humour deep at the heart of this song, it leaves you with an itch you just can’t scratch. The flamenco style guitar section is neat and precise yet still sends a shiver down your spine, playing with forces unknown. Joe is giving a performance worthy of the stage, there is more than just a vocalist at work here, he is acting as well. It is a story to be told in music, in a dark disturbing, yet highly enjoyable way. That outspoken heraldic tone is at the heart of everything adding a lustre and wildness to this part as it comes to a slightly disturbing close.

The Origin of Blame is where all bets are off and the sluice gates are opened. Joe is at the centre of this delightfully manic song, aided and abetted by the simple piano notes delivered by Linus. This track could have been written for the stage and Joe Payne’s ebullient character. He delivers an excited display of eccentric brilliance and musical drama that just makes you smile. The segue into Prey’s Prayer is neat and precise and the striking guitar work of Nikitas takes over with an undulating delivery that just bleeds emotion and remorse. The bass play is calm and collected and adds gravitas to this serious piece of music. A quite beguiling instrumental that seems to have a tender yet melancholic soul to it.

The three parts of Chapter II (interior) begin with Sunlight and its wild-west tinged introduction, all Duane Eddy guitars and atmosphere before the guitar takes on a classical note and Joe’s tender vocal interjects, waxing and waning in compliment to the gently played guitar. It has a lightness and airiness to it which is enhanced by the seductive strings. Around the middle of the track it takes on a pure 1970’s progressive feel with guitar and bass work that Steve Howe and Chris Squire would have been proud of. Linus adds in his inimitable skills with the ivories and you end up looking for the floor length capes and Mellotrons to arrive. It is quite a compelling piece of music, gripping and riveting that leaves you slightly non-plussed as it comes to a close. The next part, The Relic is, in my mind, the best track on the album, if not the best song that Nikitas has written full stop. A low key introduction of a subdued guitar leads in an emotional vocal backed by sumptuous strings that just left me mesmerised. The piano then adds a subtle grace to this imperious song. It builds, layer upon layer, becoming more intensely exquisite with each note that is played and each line that is sung. Joe gives his most polished performance yet one which is also his most restrained and it fits the guileless, sincere feel of the song perfectly. A crescendo like instrumental interlude threatens to break the calm before it is gently brought back by the simple charm of the acoustic guitar and piano. They are joined by a searching violin note that really fills you full of emotion and then leads you to the closure of this stunning song.

Chapter III – Suiciety is the final song on the album and begins like an industrial dance track, a song in the style of The Prodigy. To be honest it feels out of place at first after the charm of the previous track but, give it time, and you come to appreciate its intricate, complex rhythms, eventually breaking out into a darkly mysterious piece of music. The strings add that note of warning before the brass section delivers a really chilling yet exciting part of the song that has an icy determination to it. It becomes quite a spine-tingling piece of classical music that has you hanging on every note with its basic raw feel.

He pulls no punches does Nikitas Kissonas and he is an extremely talented musician. I thought it would take something special to improve on ‘Fall of Bliss’ and he has delivered something quite marvellous. Aided by some superb musicians and a vocalist who has the skill and inherent ability to deliver everything needed, what we actually have here is an outstanding musical release that is up there with the best of them…..

Nikitas

Pictures of Nikitas courtesy of Artemis Schubert.

Artwork for ‘Fall of Bliss’ by Dimitra Papadimitriou.

Artwork for ‘Suiciety’ by  Artemis Schubert and Nikitas Kissonas.

www.methexisproject.com

Buy Fall of Bliss and Suiciety from bandcamp

Review – Big Big Train – Wassail

Wassail

“Next to love, Music is the best solution to any problem. Music feeds the heart with what it needs in the moment…

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

For those of us that feel music like we feel the blood in our veins, it is something we cannot live without. Music follows me on every journey I make, music accompanies my moods perfectly, be it happy, sad or just melancholy. I could not imagine my life without the joy of listening to music being core to it.

Like most people my life has been like a sine wave, peaks and troughs of highs and lows and I have learned to cope with the lows and appreciate the highs more and more because of the music that I listen to.

“I believe in music the way that some people believe in fairy tales.”

Four years ago I went through the darkest period in my life. I won’t go into it in any detail as that is not what I am writing about but, suffice to say, I looked deep into my own soul at times and didn’t like what I saw.

What kept me going through the sleepless nights, the broken heart and the soul searching was music, music to soothe my soul, music to lighten my mood and music to make my heart soar.

It was at this point that I took a real, deep seated interest in what has since become my favourite band, English progressive rock band Big Big Train. I had touched on ‘The Underfall Yard’ briefly before but it hadn’t immediately connected with me. By lucky happenstance I was listening to morow.com when they played ‘The First Rebreather’ from the band’s album ‘English Electric Pt1’ and the rest, as they say, is history!

Their unique take on traditional UK progressive rock, infused with historical traditions and a real heart of its own has always resonated with me since and the amazing ‘Curator of Butterflies’ from ‘English Electric Pt2’ picked me up when I was down and out so many times during that bitter and melancholy part of my life, it kept me sane.

Fast forward four years and the Progressive music scene is eagerly anticipating the release of the band’s new E.P. ‘Wassail’, yours truly maybe more than most…

We can’t have a Progradar review without some background to the band. Here I will make it short and sweet as, earlier this year, I did a potted history of the band.

BBTBand

Big Big Train were formed in 1990 by Andy Poole and Greg Spawton and have, up to date, released 9 full albums (if you include ‘English Electric – FullPower’) and, with the release of ‘Wassail’,three E.P.s. Over the last 25 years they have established a respected place on the UK progressive scene. They have honed their sound over the years to feature rich arrangements, a mix of electric and acoustic instruments and an amalgamation of influences from post-rock, folk, classical and pop.

After a few changes over the last quarter of a century, the band’s full line up now includes, in addition to Greg and Andy, David Longdon (vocals),Nick D’Virgilio (drums), Dave Gregory (guitar), Danny Manners (keyboards), Rikard Sjöblom (guitar,keyboards) and Rachel Hall (violin) and it will be this eight piece band which will play Big Big Train’s first live gigs in seventeen years at Kings Place in London in August this year.

In addition to ‘Wassail’, later this year, the band will be releasing a DVD/Blu-Ray of live performances filmed at Real World Studios last year entitled ‘Stone and Steel’ and have begun work on a new album called ‘Folklore’ which is scheduled for release in early 2016.

Talking about the new album ‘Folklore’, Greg Spawton said:

“We have written some songs with a London theme or setting. There are no plans for an album about London, but songs on the theme will appear on the next few releases. Folklore has a very broad definition and many of our new songs will include folklore elements (or will feature stories which we think may pass into folklore.) ‘Folklore’ doesn’t mean that we are embarking on a particularly folk-rock direction. We love folk music, and there will always be elements of folk in BBT music, but the title of the album is more about the subject of the songs, not so much the sound of them.”

Now onto ‘Wassail’……

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Wassail

“Apple tree, old apple tree. Bountiful we raise a glass to thee,
We sing our song, Stand fast, stand strong,
Bough and leaf bear fruit aplenty..”

Wassailing is a traditional ritual from the West of England, dating back to early medieval times, to wake the cider apple trees and scare away evil spirits by banging pots and pans and firing a shotgun overhead, thereby protecting the harvest later in the year. Much singing and drinking takes place as part of the ceremony……..

The first of the three new songs on the E.P. and the title track, Wassail begins with a dynamic guitar and flute combination, enhancing a feel of powerful folk infused progressive rock. When David Longdon’s eminently recognisable vocal kicks in it does so with that polished timbre that we have come to associate with this mercurial singer. The guitar, bass and drums are polished and immediately resonate with you. All the harmonies intertwine with Rachel’s charismatic violin and the mould is set for another exquisitely melodic and anthemic offering from this most iconically English of bands. The chorus and repeated chant of the title is powerful and catchy and I find myself singing it at the top of my voice as the keyboards swirl around catching your imagination. Yes, on this track, the band do seem to have definitively heavier folk leanings but temper it with a touch of the usual Big Big Train magic to deliver something that is recognisably an evolution of their trademark sound. The break in the middle of the track where the violin seems to plead with your senses and David’s voice holds a feel of longing and desire is as good as they come and heralds a superb instrumental section that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Potent, compelling and intense it should be an absolute winner in a live setting and the stylish close out to the track is quite sublime.

(Words and music by David Longdon)

Lost rivers of London small

Lost Rivers of London

“Lost rivers of London, long lost rivers of London
By the palace and the abbeys, by the lakes in the par
black waters rise from one hundred springs and wells.”

Beneath the streets and buildings of the capital, a number of ancient tributaries of the Thames have been buried. However, as writer Tom Bolton has said, it is hard to stop a river from flowing and the tributaries are still there running under the ground down to the Thames.

Another newly released track, Lost Rivers of London is an evolution of the band’s idyllic and singular ‘pastoral’ sound. The introduction is a collection of enchantingly played notes that dance lightly across your senses immediately invoking sepia tinged memories of unspoiled and picturesque days of yore. Immediately surrounding you in a protective cocoon, you are left to enjoy the musical delights to follow. The vocals are perfectly balanced, lilting and lulling, mesmerising you with their velvety smoothness, the harmonies quite bewitching in their brilliance. In places David’s voice soars up to the heights infused with a potent dynamism, it is the centre of this superb track around which everything else orbits. Just when you think the musical inventiveness has run its course, this talented band throw in another curve ball with some intricate guitar work and a jaunty medieval tinged flute note. I love the wah-wah pedal style of the guitar and the evocative keyboard notes, they add a real sense of fun to proceedings. For me, this is the best song on the E.P. and one of the best the band have done with superb musicianship and a vocalist at the height of his power, I am left open mouthed in admiration as it comes to its stylish close.

(Words and music by Greg Spawton)

Mudlarks

Mudlarks

Mudlarks were 19th century scavengers who eked a living from the sale of anything they could find in the mud of the River Thames at low tide. Modern-day mudlarks search the foreshores of the lost rivers that flow into the Thames, hoping to find traces of London’s history.

The third and final new track is an instrumental entitled Mudlarks which begins with a delicate piano and elegant keyboard, neatly joined by an articulate violin, the sound is very reminiscent of classic 70’s progressive rock with a modern touch as you catch little fillips of the flute dancing around in the background. There is a feel of something building as strident guitar, bass and drums join the throng, a quite jazz infused feel to the early parts of the track. It is here that Danny Manners’ talkative keyboards joust with Greg’s measured bass to add layers of sophistication. The whole song mesmerises and hypnotises as it rises higher and higher, the superb interaction between the two guitars of Dave and Rikard just roots you to the spot as they weave more and more complicated spirals around your psyche. Intricate yet immensely accessible and satisfying it comes to a rewarding conclusion that leaves you lost in thought.

(Music by Greg Spawton)

Wales - Castles - Flint Castle by William Turner

Master James of St. George

“Master James of St. George, of the fields and the sky.
He used to build castles of stone, steel and blood.
But lines get broken down.”

To finish the E.P. we are treated to a live version of Master James of St. George, first released in 2009 on the band’s 6th studio album ‘The Underfall Yard’. A firm favourite with fans from the start, this track is one that grows and grows from fairly humble beginnings before it takes over your whole being. That dainty little drum roll that has become instantly recognisable opens the track before the subtly meandering guitar entwines itself around the song. Enter Mr Longdon stage left with his lush vocal delivery raising and lowering as if wafted along on a cloud. There are subtle differences between this live version and the recorded track, as you’d expect. The strings are more pronounced and the vocal pairings have an added lustre to them. The soaring treatment of the verse is uplifting and takes your heart with it. I have always liked the way that this track seems to be founded on building blocks that have a real solidity yet it has an ethereal quality to the music in parts, especially on the elegant guitar runs. All in all just a delightful version of a song that was already well loved by the fans and this version just redefines its splendour.

This version of ‘Master James of St. George’ is a powerful performance recorded live at Real World Studios.

(Words and music by Greg Spawton)

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You can put your heroes on a pedestal to be knocked off when they don’t reach your lofty expectations but, with ‘Wassail’, Big Big Train have just enhanced their reputation as purveyors of unique and sublime progressive rock which is founded on the elemental history of this blessed isle. A history that is fundamental to the everlasting allure of this captivating group of musicians.

Order the CD version of the album and you get a brilliantly packaged CD with the striking artwork of Sarah Ewing which just adds to the whole experience.

Released on 1st June 2015

Buy Wassail CD from Burning Shed

Buy Wassail mp3 from bandcamp

Buy Wassail bundles at The Merch Desk