2023 seems to be the year of the multiple vinyl live album, first The Tangent with the triple vinyl release of the excellent ‘Pyramids, Stars & More: The Tangent Live Recordings 2004-2017’ and then Transatlantic with a quadruple (yes, you read that right!) vinyl release of the monumental ‘The Final Flight: Live at L’Olympia’. Well, it’;s now the turn of venerable prog supergroup ASIA with a triple vinyl version of ‘FANTASIA, LIVE IN TOKYO 2007’, have we got another slam dunk brilliant release? read on and you will find out…

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of ASIA’s formation, this exciting 18-track live show from their 2007 world tour features the reformed original line-up pooling the talents of lead vocalist/bassist John Wetton (King Crimson), Steve Howe (guitars, Yes), Geoff Downes (keyboards, Yes and Buggles) and drummer Carl Palmer from Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

The setlist focusses on their globally successful 1982 debut album ‘Asia‘ and features key tracks Only Time Will Tell, Sole Survivor and their worldwide anthem Heat Of The Moment along with select tracks from their second LP ‘Alpha‘ and one song each from the band members’ previous bands – Video Killed The Radio Star, RoundaboutFanfare For The Common Man and The Court Of The Crimson King.

The package itself is a rather fine thing with artwork form the legendary Roger Dean and a very knowledgeable LP sized booklet telling the whole story behind the concert.

Now, to me, live albums can either be good or bad, there is nothing worse than a badly performed version of a classic song with a horrendous mix from the sound desk meaning you really cannot tell what you are listening to but, when done well, they can become a lasting monument to some of our favourite musicians.

I’ll cut the suspense and get to the point, this new live release is absolutely fantastic for the die hard Asia fan and newcomers to the band alike. Stand out highlights for me are the obvious ones. The versions of Heat Of The Moment and Sole Survivor are without a doubt the best live versions you are likely to hear, John Wetton’s distinctive vocals are on seriously good form and you can literally feel the dynamism and intensity in his performance. His banter with the crowd is particularly good between songs and means there is never any lull or drop in energy levels from the band or the crowd.

Wildest Dreams, Without You, Don’t Cry, Here Comes The Feeling, the hits keep coming with passion and fervour and you really get to feel the strong bond between Wetton and Carl Palmer, a very tight rhythm section indeed. The inclusion of tracks form the band member’s previous bands is also a masterstroke, I found myself mesmerised by Roundabout, one of my favourite tracks from Yes and you can hear that Steve Howe is having the time of his life as his guitar literally dances through this classic track. John Wetton does a great job on vocals for Video Killed The Radio Star but it’s really Geoff Downes time to shine on this track and I can’t help but break into a smile when the intro to the song begins. Downes is obviously having a blast on a wonderfully inspired version of Fanfare For The Common Man and the quartet’s delivery of the King Crimson mainstay, The Court Of The Crimson King is positively masterful.

This three LP boxset is a wonderful way to spend an evening and the format definitely gives you a feeling of nostalgia, it’s full of memories and a lasting legacy for four of progressive rock’s greatest musicians having the time of their life, they really don’t make them like this anymore! As the last notes of Heat Of The Moment play out and the audience’s cheers and applause fade out, I can’t help but wish I’d been there that evening, right in the midst of what was obviously an amazing concert and experience and that’s what the best live albums do, isn’t it?

Released 24th February, 2023

Order the boxset here:

Fantasia – Live In Tokyo (

Review – Flamborough Head – Jumping The Milestone – by John Wenlock-Smith

Flamborough Head is a rocky promontory that lies on the east coast of England between Filey and Bridlington. It is a chalky headland that reminds one of a sleeping dinosaur, it is also a walker’s haven and you can see seals at certain times of the year. We visited it last year and had a great couple of hours enjoying its natural beauty. At that time I was completely unaware of the existence of a band that had the same name, so the opportunity to listen and review this album was too good to pass up. Flamborough Head has been in existence for almost 34 years, being originally formed in Friesland in the Netherlands in 1990, they have been through several different incarnations and line ups, peppered with spells of inactivity over the years, and have produced ten albums during that time, mostly on the Cyclops label, then latterly on the Oskar label, on which we find this latest one, ‘Jumping The Milestone’.

The music the band create falls very firmly into the realm of symphonic progressive rock with excellent use of flute, keyboards and very fluid guitar solos. The band are fronted with the excellent soft vocals of Margriet Boomsma who also provides flute and recorders and Eddie Mulder who was the original guitarist but is now the bass player, with Hans Spitzen providing the guitar fireworks, aided by sublime keyboards from Edo Spanninga. Together they make a very good sound, everything a symphonic prog fan could want, expansive and intelligent with lots of interesting reference points. They combine the style of Marillion, Arena and IQ to great effect, there is much to recommend here.

The album has just six tracks, all are of an excellent standard with much happening musically within. I am reminded of Camel at times with the fabulous flute playing and the very lyrical guitar of Hans Spitzen, who makes every track shine.

The Garden Shed is about the joy of gardening and the benefits it can bring to one’s mental health and how, overal,l it can be of positive benefit, a most different sort of track but with good sentiments expressed within. Tomorrow Is Another Day is a further great track with a good opening section with great flute and a surging Hammond Organ playing throughout. The song is about depression and how it can haunt an individual, robbing them of joy in their life. This is all sensitively handled and in a positive manner and has a graceful guitar solo that really captures you as you listen. The song has good insight into fighting depression and some good advice too, I like that it is real and not patronising in its approach but sympathetic and hopeful too.

Start Of A Nightmare is an interesting track in its subject matter of an unwelcome intrusion and the prospect of injury at the hands of an unhinged, unwanted intruder. This is quite a different sort of song with lots of light and shade to depict the unfolding events making it most memorable with strong performances from each member and more great guitar to help carry the song along. The song expresses the lasting sense of unease that any unwanted intrusion can cause you and how unsettled you can be afterwards for a very long time. Fear Of Failure is about insecurity and how the fear of failure can really impact on one in a negative manner. Again, this is handled delicately and with sympathy and dignity. It’s about handling those feelings and facing them down, believing in yourself and the abilities you have. It talks about applying resilience to your situation and overcoming it for yourself, almost a self-help in reality. The music is very strong and supportive and the lyrics are excellent, making for a great song overall that’s very positive in its outlook.

Penultimate song Walls Of Words is about being left behind, overlooked and unappreciated by those around you. It is rather a sombre and maudlin piece but, once again, this is all handled very well, along with it being a well written and realised track with solid musicianship at its core, especially when the song leads to the suicide of the protagonist in the song. Final and longest song, Jumping The Milestone concludes this superb album. Opening with heavenly piano motif alongside an ethereal flute before Margaret’s delicate vocals begin, the track is about growing older and all the challenges that brings. This song handles its subject matter with great intelligence and good insight, it is a celebration of life as opposed to being rather a depressing slide into twilight. It reminds us all of the journey that is life, being one that we all have to undertake, it talks of the good things in life that we can all gather into our own storybook. This piece also tells us to be grateful that we can have these days in which we can age and that we should value these days. The song moves through different sections and movements with aplomb and style, lots of excellent guitar parts and sympathetic keyboard embellishments pepper the track insightfully. An epic for sure but it’s never a dull one at all, excellent guitar solos take the track forward in different directions, all of which are  strong.

This is a most interesting and tasteful album of deep emotion and content, extremely well presented and performed by an excellent and talented band. I can only but sing its praises to you and recommend that you listen to it, if you do then you won’t regret it.

Released 3rd November, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

Jumping The Milestone (CD) | Flamborough Head | OSKAR records (

Review – Magenta – The White Witch – A Symphonic Trilogy – by John Wenlock-Smith

I’ve been reviewing albums for over a decade or more now and I still really enjoy doing, hearing some amazing new music in the process. Progressive rock has rather a lot in common with classical music forms, lengthy pieces and the use of recurring motifs, themes and melodies being just a few to start with. Prog has courted classical music with differing degrees of success over the years from Deep Purple’s ‘Concerto for Group and Orchestra’ in 1969 to ELP’s version of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ in 1971 and Rick Wakeman’s quasi-classical epics, like ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and beyond through to ELO and so many more.

In all that time reviewing and commenting on the music before, I have never felt as puzzled and lost by what I was hearing as I am here with this album. I feel remarkably inept, unable and lacking any confidence with this album. I know many other reviewers have a far better understanding and appreciation of the classical than I do but, stil,l I’ll do what I can to unravel this rather interesting concept album from Magenta’s Robert Reed and crew.

‘The White Witch’ consists of three pieces, two of which have been revived from earlier Magenta albums, along with a newly commissioned piece of music. All three are linked by a common theme and also with a narrative from Les Penning, whose dulcet, measured tones open each piece of music.

The first piece is called Sacrifice and is about the time of the civil war and the plague that came four years into the war, devastating communities in the land. The music opens with a soft woodwind and strings before a bold brass fanfare leads to a classical guitar softly playing along with the lush vocals of Christina Booth. There is much beauty in her vocals, with touch of Kate Bush in places and the guitar from Chris Fry is excellent. Be aware the woodwinds that weave in and out of the music alongside sweeping violins and violas, good use of penny whistle and strong percussion embellishments. This is musically fascinating to listen to, you can hear how artfully composed this piece really is, with a really clear production that allows everything to breathe and leaves lots of space in the music. This sensitively handled with great skill and strength and really impressed me. The acoustic guitar really shines in this track playing with urgency and yet with delicacy, supporting and underpinning everything to create a masterful soundscape.

The album has it origins in two earlier recordings, namely their debut ‘Revolutions’ from 2001 and also ‘Seven’ from 2004 from which parts have been reimagined for this release. The theme of the album is benign witchcraft as practised by Sara, the main character of the album, and how she uses it for good rather than evil or harm. This in itself is an interesting concept and one that is developed especially well throughout the album with the third part, Survival, being an entirely new composition that concludes it all together well.

Part 2, Retribution, concerns itself with the defeat of the plague and the return of prejudice that is shown toward Sara and those who practise a different way of living. Emotions are stirred and the arrival of the witch finder general makes Sara fear for her life as the rise of intolerance emerges. It is this climate that begins the second part of the trilogy. Again, the music is lively with a strong folk type sound and a strident brass part that leads to Christina’s excellent vocals. This style of singing really suits her voice well and she excels here in this setting with lots of space for her voice to be clearly heard. The confess section of the song is actually rather delightful and almost cheerful to hear despite it somewhat dark subject matter. The track is well developed with more dexterous guitar lines from Chris that really evolve well. Sara pleads for light to guide her way and to allow her to reach new ways and new paths to follow that will help everyone get to a better place. The track ends with her treatise to the moon Luna to help her find her own way forward, the orchestrations in this section are especially sublime and sympathetic to the story.

Survival is the third part of the trilogy and talks of how Sara is leading the way to survival by doing new things in new ways and that how reaching out helps everyone. This is another excellent passage and the whole album is really quite gentle with no Bass or drums. Yet it is still a wonderful listen and repeated plays will reveal the hidden textures and treasures the album contains. It is all very much a soundtrack for an as yet unmade film or production. One can only wait and see what direction and indeed opportunities this album will afford the band. The album closes with a dignified flourish as we see Sara’s magic has worked, bringing peace and harmony back to her community, all’s well that ends well. This is a triumph for Mother Earth and the the album ends on a gentle guitar outro.

This album is not a simple listen and requires commitment to work with the music and to allow its delicate beauty to shine through. If you do this, you will find the reward of some great music, committed performances and a gentle tale told with style and commitment. Don’t be expecting rock rhythms and instrumentation, however but it is a richly orchestrated and well produced folk/classical hybrid with strong instrumentation and melodic themes and the glorious voice of Christina Booth aided by Chris Fry and Robert Reed. I may not return to this album often but I’m certainly glad to have fallen under its spell and charm, give it a listen for yourself and see what you think.

Released 31st October, 2022.

Order from Tigermoth Records here:

Magenta (

Review – Fluctus Quadratum – The First Wave – by John Wenlock-Smith

I first came across this band whilst browsing another prog website and reading a fellow reviewer’s comments about them. I went to the band’s website and downloaded the free track Portalis, a demo version. I was definitely taken with what I heard there, I contacted the band and asked if I could review the EP as well. Thankfully they agreed and sent me a download to work from with the promise of a physical copy to be sent to me. All of this whilst on holiday in the Canary Islands no less!

Oh the wonders of this modern technological age eh?

This EP consists of merely three tracks with the thirty six minutes of music introduced via Portalis, a song hinged on an really great guitar line with a great tone to it, strong bass lines from Mark Piercy and a syncopated drumbeat from Rick Burtonshaw that slithers around like a snake. There’s lots going on musically with great keyboards and that glorious guitar. A guitar and keyboard interplay section at the 4.05 mark catches the attention before Curtis Adamczyk’s vocals reconvene and a brief but soulful guitar solo leads to a strong keyboard section, all of this with very busy percussion syncopation happening simultaneously. The song, despite being nearly fifteen minutes in duration, moves through several different sections and parts and manages to impress throughout. There’s great performances from all involved, especially the fluid and supple guitar work of Alan Trower and Ben Ellis and sumptuous keys of Jopheus Burtonshaw (who also is responsible for acoustic guitars and writing the music, truly a man of many talents).

The shorter, seven minute, track Acquiescence II follows, which has many nods and throwbacks to 80’s music and also an element of electronic ambient soundscapes with some soaring guitar lines playing their part too. The song moves with a stately pace and with the hint of power and this all works together well, the track shimmering with suppressed energy. It’s a really strong track, the sort of thing Steven Wilson would offer. There is a particularly fine synth melody that takes the song forward and it all ends with strong organ sounds.

The EP closes with Convergence which, at nearly fourteen minutes in duration, is a bit of a monster of a track fuelled by a strong bass line and excellent piano, Curtis’ vocals also being very strong and interesting. The song has lots of keyboards and another fine guitar line with echoes of Pink Floyd, the guitar soaring over everything with great sustained notes and great fluidity. There is then a lute type stringed sound that impresses greatly before a return to the rippling piano lines and synths that dance across the track. I’d say that this track is possibly best heard on headphones or rather loud so you can pick up all the subtle touches and sounds contained within. The band deliver another really impressive track and I think anyone who is going to the Fusion festival in March are in for a real treat as I’m sure they will invariably be making a rather fine impact and impression. The keyboards really impress on this track, especially in the latter section, where an almost military drumbeat ushers in an exciting section where everyone is surging forward, the bass leading the charge strongly.

This is stirring stuff, simply fantastic and invigorating to hear such energy being played out in what is a really epic and strong rhythm. You can hear elements of Pink Floyd, Camel and Marillion here, Jopheous cites Mark Kelly as an influence, along with Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman and Tony Banks, and it shows clearly here, although he puts his own stamp and style to the songs. The whole EP serves as a great introduction to what is a band of real promise and excitement and I personally can’t wait to hear their debut album when it emerges as, based on the promise of this EP, we can hope for something really fresh and inspired indeed.

Released 22nd November, 2022.

Order from the band’s website here:

Fluctus Quadratum – Store

Review – Unthank : Smith – Nowhere And Everywhere

Nowhere And Everywhere‘ is the debut album of Unthank : Smith, the collaboration of two former Mercury Music Prize nominees Rachel Unthank (The Unthanks) and Paul Smith (Maxïmo Park).

With ‘Nowhere And Everywhere‘ Unthank and Smith, both from England’s North East, and foremost talents in their respective fields, set out to collect songs and pen originals that claw at the beating heart of the region. Though Rachel Unthank has been immersed in the folk world from childhood, Paul Smith’s route towards folk began in his teens with a love of Martin Carthy, Karen Dalton, Nick Drake and Bert Jansch, especially their fingerstyle guitar-playing. Echoes of that approach can be heard throughout this album, albeit simplified and merged with a more direct sound akin to US avant-rock acolytes of the ‘60s folk revival like Gastr Del Sol and David Pajo.

The pair’s collaboration for the new project came about somewhat naturally as Rachel explains:

“Paul and I have discovered that we have so much in common. At the core of that is the genuine joy that singing brings us both. We also both have a deep-rooted connection to our native North East, as can be heard in our unfiltered accents, yet this rootedness gives us the appetite for outrospection. I can’t wait to get on the road and start singing together.”

Paul adds: “Rachel’s voice is a rare instrument, so to hear our voices blending together for the first time was a big moment for me. It hinted at new possibilities for me as a singer and musician.”

Co-produced by ‘David Brewis‘ of Field Music, Nowhere And Everywhere‘ features Faye MacCalman of emerging avant-jazz group Archipelago on clarinet, and exploratory drums by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy / Alasdair Roberts collaborator Alex Neilson, of Trembling Bells.

“There’s only three types of music, music I like, music I don’t like and music I haven’t heard yet…”

There is an almost irrational urge for all music to be separated into genres and then pigeon-holed as music that we won’t like because of the genre it is is in. A long time ago I realised that there is so much good music out there, brilliant music in fact, and it doesn’t matter what genre it takes, it’s either music I like or music I don’t like and, above all, this is all just my opinion and never, ever definitive. I will always listen to an album that I haven’t heard before once because, otherwise, how do I know if I like it or not?

Hence the name of this music blog is Progradar and the music I mainly review is progressive but it’s never only that, through friendships and recommendations I have been lucky enough to discover wonderful albums across all sorts of music genres and folk is one that I have a great fondness for. Folk music is like reading great historical novellas but reimagining them as songs, like the old bards and storytellers did in the years gone by and this new album from Unthank : Smith does just that and rather brilliantly too.

The opening, unaccompanied, Captain Bover just sends a tingle down your spine with its sparse grandeur, telling the story of feared Tyneside press gangs, the use of just vocals adds a dark reality to the song. Rachel and Paul have wonderfully distinctive voices that can carry a song with the need for any music and it works fantastically on this track. The Natural Urge, written by Paul Smith, was partly inspired by the bleak, gnarled landscapes depicted by Paul Nash in his role as an official WW1 artist. It’s a pared back masterpiece of a track, atmospheric, moody and haunting in its delivery. It is ultimately an anti-war song with a simple folk melody instilled by the uncomplicated guitar riff. Rachel wrote Seven Tears about the mythological ‘selkie’ creatures said to bob in Northumbrian waters. It builds elegantly with a brooding aura imbued by the music and Rachel and Paul’s almost spoken vocal delivery add a real mysterious, subdued feel.

Rachel said this about the track, “I have always loved the songs and ballads about selkies – a seal in the sea that takes off their sealskin and adopts human form on land. When doing some research about the selkie mythology, I read that if you cried seven tears into the sea, then your selkie lover would come back to you.

O’ Mary Will You Go is a more traditional affair with a truly humble vocal performance from the pair. The song addresses themes of economic migration that still ring true today and you can feel the loss and pain of parting and having to leave the land and the people that you love. It is a heartbreakingly wistful piece of music that will touch you to the core. I really enjoyed the love and pride that is at the core of What Maks Makems, derived from Tom Pickard’s poem in the ‘Land of Three Rivers’ anthology of North-East poetry, paying tribute to Wearside and its proud shipbuilding heritage, as well as Smith’s own “crick-neck welder” father. A reflective and wishful song, if all a bit brief. The unaccompanied brilliance returns with the gorgeous Red Wine Promises, the stunning folky harmonies are just exquisite. An impressive cover of a track that appeared on Lal and Mike Waterson’s brilliant ‘Bright Phoebus’ album, both Paul and Rachel have loved this song for many years and really do it justice here. Robert Kay is the melancholy, mournful story of a Stockton-On-Tees WW1 soldier who died days before his return from war. A solemn and yet tender treatment of a sad tale, Paul and Rachel’s vocals have real gravitas and the ghostly music leaves tendrils of sorrow in its wake.

Rachel brought Lord Bateman to the table after realising there weren’t any epic ballads in the duo’s fledgling repertoire and its Northumberland setting sealed the deal. A truly epic tale with touches of pastoral progressive rock in the vein of Big Big Train, it is my favourite track on the album and I find myself getting lost in its dark and ultimately tragic storyline. The vocals have a that medieval bard style to them and the untutored guitar-playing (Paul’s own words!) adds real authenticity. Horumarye conjures thoughts of the sound of the wind whistling over the moors and this earnest and solemn piece engenders a feel of isolation and wind blasted moorland and of weighty, overcast skies. The album closes with unaccompanied joy of The King, Rachel’s Dad was a founder member of Redcar Sword Dancers, who perform the revived Greatham Mummers play and longsword dance every year, and then head to the pub for a good sing. The King in the song is a wren, king of the birds on Saint Stephen’s Day, when the tradition was to hunt the tiny bird and take it house to house in a cage or box decorated in ribbons. It’s a simple and yet upbeat ending to what has been a truly magnificent album.

There’s too much instant gratification on offer nowadays, in all walks of life, including music but to completely enjoy this utterly compelling and masterful collection of stories, you have to delve deep into each song to understand its very soul. Anything truly worth having has to be worked for and when the reward is as truly joyous as ‘Nowhere And Everywhere’, it is completely worthwhile. A true music lover’s release and one that every music lover should own.

Released 17th February, 2023.

Order the album here:

Paul Smith Official Online Store : Merch, Music, Downloads & Clothing (

Review – Caravela Escarlate – III – by John Wenlock Smith

This album represents modern Brazilian progressive music that looks back to the halcyon days of the 1970’s and it also reminds you of, well, everyone to be honest. So you can go either through this album and play spot the influence or you could just sit back and enjoy this great new release that does wear its influences on its sleeve for sure. But don’t they say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery or something like that?

The band are a three piece trio comprising of keyboards, bass and drums (sound familiar?). The keyboard player Ronaldo Rodriguez  is joined by multi-instrumentalist Davia Paiva  on bass guitar and vocals along with Elcio Cáfaro on drums and together these three make a tremendous sound, all three being very talented musicians who can play up  a storm. Their name, Caravela Escarlate, translates as Crimson Ship, an alien being from Sidereal space than can transform into its own means of transport, in this instance a ship. The music is 70’s style prog but with touches of Brazilian music this means most tracks swing along nicely, it is very heavily reliant on keyboards.

There are 7 tracks on the album with all but two being over 7 minutes in duration. I can detect lost of recognisable influences, and some less obvious ones like Greenslade, as well as Genesis and Kayak, along with ELP. The bass playing throughout the album is magnificent with an almost virtuoso style that really propels the track along. In tandem with the dazzling keyboards on display really, this is all very impressive and of an excellent standard.

In the opening salvo of Bússola do Tempo you get a prime slice of Emerson, Lake and Palmer in the best song ELP never recorded. This track hurtles along with a driving rhythm and great bass alongside the busy drums of Elcio Cáfaro. Castelos do Céu ploughs a path well trodden by any Canterbury based band you could think of, it has that type of sound almost whimsical at times and reminds one of early Caravan. With the vocal being in Portuguese, it is quite difficult to comprehend what is all about but it certainly sounds good musically, although my research shows several tracks refer to historical eras and phases.

Fifth track Cruz Da Ordem is the longest at over ten minutes duration, this is hinged on a busy bass line and lashings of Hammond Organ and synths. It makes for a gloriously over the top track with stunning bass and sympathetic keyboard sounds. Synths, organs and mellotrons abound on this album, it’s mostly instrumental and with all but one song in Portuguese, makes for a strange and different sort of album but a very impressive and compelling one nonetheless. An unusual album to listen to but one that mines a very rich vein extremely effectively and for that we should all be glad. Standouts for me being the opener and the epic fifth track Cruz Da Ordem, both of which make for highly memorable and impressive music for you to enjoy.

Of special note is just how damned brilliant bassist David Paiva is, he is a real tour de force without whom this music would be less dynamic for sure. His blending in and bonding as the rhythm section is sheer joy to behold, a definite star in the making. When you couple this to the explosive excellence of keyboard player Ronaldo Rodriguez you can tell their 12 year existence is time well spent to hone their skills to this level and hopefully, with the support of the Karisma label, bodes well for a very bright future indeed.

This album is most definitely a  grower and I very much look forward to hearing how this band develop from here going forward. All in all this album has proved to be a very rewarding listening experience for the braver prog fan. Maybe a slot at a fusion type festival could be a way forward, time will tell I guess. Either way it will be interesting to see their next steps forward.

Released January 27th, 2023.

Order the album from bandcamp here:

III | Caravela Escarlate (

Review – Transatlantic – ‘The Final Flight: Live at L’Olympia’ – by John Wenlock Smith

This live album is a bit of a question mark in that it may be the final musical statement that the band make. Transatlantic feel that they may have reached the end of their own particular road and they also all have their own musical outlets and outputs to return to. The band has been in existence for over 24 years now so they owe us nothing really, do they?

This new live cut is taken from the final show of the short European tour taken in support of ‘The Absolute Universe’ album issued in 2021. This album offers another version of that album along with a synopsis of ‘The Whirlwind’, ‘We All Need Some Light’ and a final medley which all together gives a healthy running time of over three hours. For some this may be too much but folk who, like me, love overblown and extended works such as Transatlantic deliver, this is sheer heaven. Hopefully this won’t be their last ever effort but only time will tell on that, if it is then this is a very dignified manner in which to bow out.

The album is long so you’ll need to settle down and simply enjoy and appreciate the sheer quality and talent of these four musicians and of Ted Leonard whose vocals and guitar help complete a very fine sounding set of performances.

The album opens with The Absolute Universe intro that sets the scene for what is to come. Eerie keyboards, haunting guitar lines and a blast of symphonic sounds lead into the Overture proper, this has everyone really pushing the sound with over the top drums, bass and keyboard’s all surging like a tsunami, battering everything in their way. This is so gloriously overblown that it’s just sheer exhilaration and you know this will only get even more so on its journey, simply astonishing to hear this level of intensity and intent. This overture really lets everyone shine in their own parts but, taken together, is all the more amazing to behold. Yet, in all this, there is so much melody on offer, it’s gorgeous and  sumptuous fare indeed. The excellent guitar of Roine Stolt carries the piece to a glorious conclusion in tandem with Neal Morse’s keyboards, leading to the first real song, the symphonic Reaching For The Sky. This is an exuberant track and you can hear how happy the band are to be there, performing this album in this extended version, you can really hear this coming over strongly.

Higher Than The Morning sees Roine Stolt on vocals, although helped by all in the chorus, to good effect too! This is a blistering performance which really captures something special. This album may be long but if you like symphonic prog you will find so much to enjoy and savour herein. Sadly Paul Hanlon, one of their biggest fans is no longer with us to enjoy this and he would truly have loved this. The Darkness In The Light has another vocal from Roine, this one powers along nicely too with strong bass from Pete Trewavas and the never less than solid drums of Mike Portnoy pushing the track forward, a brief bass solo from Pete captures the moment as does a fiery guitar part from Roine. This is proving to be an excellent recording of what must have been a really magnificent evening of music. Take Now My Soul slows things down a little, they probably needed to as the opening salvo of songs couldn’t be maintained without injury surely! This more laid back track cools everyone down well this is followed by the shorter track Bully. This is only brief and leads to Rainbow Sky which has an element of the Beatles to it. It is a very fine song and has great performances throughout

This is only the first disc and already I’m sold on it, so much so that I’ve ordered the CD and Blu-Ray for myself, yes it really is that impressive! Looking For The Light continues the winning streak with growling bass from Pete and great music from all parties with a particularly great guitar line from Roine. We are then offered the lengthy epic The World We Used To Know which is the last track on disc one and yes, it’S rather good! It begins with thunderous drums from Mike Portnoy and some fine guitar from Roine but really Mike is all over this one, driving the track as only he can, he is an absolute powerhouse and his presence is definitely felt here. There follows another great guitar line that carries the song further along, it’s great to hear such beautiful melodies in this music, sheer bliss for symphonic prog nerds like me. Everything is so well orchestrated here, there is real depth and gravitas and it’s wonderful to hear this expressed so eloquently by this group of extremely talented musicians who are working at the top of their game.

Disc 2 opens with an introduction from Mike in which he outlines the evening’s entertainment and he tells how they aren’t sure of what happens after this, also he reveals this this is the fourth version of ‘The Absolute Universe’. We continue with an accapella opening to The Sun Comes Up Today which coalesces into the actual song via a fluid guitar line from Roine and some great organ from Neil before a prelude of Love Made A Way. Next up is Owl Howl which is a medium length track and one which features an extended keyboard vamp from Neil, it’s all rather worthy though and once again shows why this ensemble can be rightly called a ‘super group’. Solitude opens with rippling piano lines along with an earnest, questioning vocal from Neil, also included is a snippet of Love Made A Way again to good effect. This is an assured performance from the band, mixing delicate melodies with thunderous and lively recitals of very strong material.

Belong follows, another great version with keen guitar from Roine. There’s fabulous ensemble playing in this track too. Lonesome Rebel has some sumptuous acoustic guitar and another Roine vocal, this is a gentler song and the change of intensity works to their favour here, you cant go at it hammer and tongs for three hours, that’s not right or fair really and this measured approach is especially rewarding. Can You Feel It ups the energy level a little bit, again most effectively and includes lots of opportunities for solos from Neil and Pete. A reprise of Looking For The Light is an epic shorter track but one which really grabs the attention with its lumbering bass line over which hangs an angular organ sound and great harmonies. A commanding recital which leads into the rollicking romp of The Greatest Story Never Ends. This one is full of great keyboard textures and has lots of urgency as the band hurtle towards the finishing line which is presented with a great performance of Love Made A Way. The use of repeated motifs and refrains through the album helps cement the concept of the album and really works well here.

That concludes the album proper but the show isn’t over yet as the group continue for another hour by providing two amazing medleys, one of The Whirlwind and another called The FINAL Medley which includes Transatlantic classics such as Duel With The Devil, My New World, All Of The Above and Stranger In Your Soul. Also included is a beautiful version of We all Need Some Light, personally I’d like to have seen shine as a tribute to Paul who all the band knew very well but you can’t have it all. This selection of oldies works very well indeed and the medley of The Whirlwhind is especially enticing as a mammoth album is whittled down to a manageable duration without loosing its impact.

Overall this album is a resounding triumph for Transatlantic and one I would strongly urge you to consider as its an excellent package.

Released 17th February, 2023.

Order here:

Transatlantic – We All Need Some Light (Live in Paris 2022) (

Review – Heavy Metal Kids – The Albums 1974 to 1976 – by John Wenlock-Smith

The history of rock is strewn with endless tales of wild antics, excessive outrageous behaviours, substance & alcohol abuse and sheer unmitigated heartbreak and sadness. This was certainly the case with the Heavy Metal Kids who were a force while also being touted as the next big thing and the possible progression from the premier league of Pink Floyd, Yes and Led Zeppelin and the ilk to a rapidly changing musical scene, one with the emerging, inevitable and possibly much needed paradigm shift to a simpler, angrier and punk fuelled regime that shook the musical world significantly.

So it was into this maelstrom and vortex that Gary Holton and his crew set sail, emerging in 1973 and garnering the attentions of Dave Dee (yes, him of 60s pop idols Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich) after being spotted by his staff at a speakeasy in London’s West end. Holton having beenextricated from his previous group Biggles, who were a jazz rock outfit with connections to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, their drummer being Carl Palmer’s brother,

Holton was from Wembley and had been a member of the touring Hair ensemble and also has his sights on an acting career, he had been in theatre at the Old Vic and had done some Shakespeare along the way. Atlantic Records saw something in this lot and they were offered a contract with Dave Dee as producer, this resulted in their first two albums, ‘Heavy Metal Kids’ and ‘Anvil Chorus’.

Their name was, however, misleading as their music was not heavy metal at all but was in fact more a mixture of hard rock, glam and, unsurprisingly, vaudeville. This was a very different sound to what their name suggested, however the band live were certainly powerful and this is clearly shown on tracks like Rock ‘N’ Roll Man and It’s The Same, both of which have a definite swagger to  them. The album was critically acclaimed yet, as is often the case, this didn’t translate into record sales. The band set off on an ambitious touring schedule and were well received in America and Japan. The debut is a good album in parts and when they rock they do so convincingly with the added bonus of having a great keyboard player, Danny Peyronel, who’s honky tonk piano embellishments added much to the groups sound. That the album is largely overlooked and unknown by the masses is a tragedy as there is much to appreciate, the four bonus tracks here are being very good indeed.

For the second album, their name was shortened to The Kids , although there was a sticker that said ‘Featuring The Heavy Metal Kids’, the album is a little more consistent and is more rock oriented. You Got Me Rollin‘ is carried on a lumbering bass line that carries the song along wonderfully as does the following track On The Street, bass player Ronnie Thomas really shining on the tracks, indeed his prominent bass really impresses throughout. The songs are stronger and sound energised and inspired with great guitar fills and a solid rhythm section, all with the added colours of Danny’s keyboards to make a cohesive sound. This is sublime and worthy music, however, despite more US touring with the likes of Rush, Kiss and Alice Cooper, the album still failed to gain traction and had disappointing sales which led to them being dropped by Atlantic.

Help came from an unexpected quarter as Mickie Most of Hi Ho Silver Lining fame and teenyboppers Mud, Suzie Quatro and the RAK organisation offered to record their next album in France for his label. The resulting album appeared many months later in 1977 and again failed to really make an impact, even a Top of the Pops slot for She’s No Angel couldn’t save them and the band, despite touring with Uriah Heep on their high and mighty tour, had pretty much called it a day by 1978 when Holton quit for a short and ill feted solo career and also a more successful venture into TV & Film. A final gig at the Speakeasy with a difficult and unruly Holton brought things to a less than glittering close. The band decided to continue without Holton and went through a succession of singers, including a short return by Holton, and, thereafter, by the likes of Phil Lewis and John Altman.

Looking back to ‘Kitsch’ again, you can hear how new keyboard player John Sinclair changed the sound, making it more classical at times, and tighter than before. The album is more symphonic and more musical, this is certainly the case with the opening Overture and Chelsea Kids, in which the band marry punk aggression and rock sensibility to make an intriguing hybrid of styles. From Heaven To Hell And Back Again is another good track with the inclusion of other instruments to round out the sound further used to good effect, it really impacts well. Cry For Me has some superb guitar played to great effect along with tubular bells chiming.

The album was mixed and partly reconstructed by Mickie Most as his final statement and a kind of reaction to modern pop music, he wanted something grander and saw the Heavy Metal Kids as part of that statement and, to be honest it, it does have some very good moments and the 5 bonus tracks make interesting listening. All this is embellished with a very informative booklet that tells the whole story in fine detail. This set is really very good and an excellent reminder of the vagaries of life and that things that look good and sound good are sometimes beyond the ordinary person. Mass appeal music has its place but sometimes what is overlooked and undervalued can actually be of more worth and value.

Released 20th January, 2022.

Order from Cherry Red here:

Heavy Metal Kids: The Albums 1974-1976, 3CD Expanded Edition – Cherry Red Records

Review – Damanek – Making Shore

Damanek are a sort of Prog Rock supergroup formed by fellow
Yorkshireman Guy Manning (lead/backing vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar & instruments; loops; samples; percussion), Marek Arnold (saxes; seaboard; additional keyboards), and Sean Timms (keyboards; backing vocals; programming backing vocals & additional programming).

The talented trio are joined on ‘Making Shore’ by an impressive cast of musicians including Brody Green, Julie King, Cam Blokland, Kev Currie, Riley Nixon-Burns and Linda Pirie, to name a few!

‘Making Shore’ is the band’s third album and is another genre-defying collection of sophisticated songs that again manage to combine impressive technical proficiency with catchy hooks and vast soundscapes. I was a big fan of the band’s previous release, ‘In Flight’, saying, “A compelling, engaging and stimulating listening experience that leaves you high on music and life. Every absorbing minute of music is a minute that will bring a smile to your face.” So I was really looking forward to the new album and, thankfully, I was in no way disappointed.

‘Making Shore’ is music with morality, an object lesson in how to get your message across (over population, global warming etc.) without shoving it down people’s throats and alienating them. I’ve always felt that Damanek create music with the perfect blend of progressive rock and jazz and then the band introduce wonderful elements of world music into the mix (mandolin, bazouki etc.) and you won’t find a better use of the saxophone in modern prog than on one of their albums and Marek Arnold is on fine form here!

The album is split between seven ‘regular’ tracks and then ‘Oculus’, an epic gothic flight of fantasy that comprises an overture and four suites, when I see that written down it does sound a bit pretentious but it is actually superbly done. The regular tracks all have a socio-political or ecological theme and work really well, I’m especially a fan of opener A Mountain of Sky, a song literally about Everest and how the notion of conquering the mountain is ridiculous, it is, after all, aloof, majestic, beautiful and timeless and this track is a great tribute to one of the giants of nature. Upbeat, fast paced and monumental, the music breezes along and Guy’s elegant vocals just add real soul to the song, the keyboard breaks are properly 70’s prog, the sax is vibrant and dynamic and the guitar playing is, well, epic, just like the mountain. Back2Back is about over-population and how it could be aggravating global warming and pollution. It’s a more laid back piece, one where the keyboards are one of the main characters, supporting Guy’s soulful vocals. There’s an especially fiery break in the middle that adds a more serious overtone and Marek’s sax is always there in the background ready to erupt with class and spirit.

“If we do nothing at all, then we will watch as populations rise and resources decrease in a state of Global inequality…standing by as children die of hunger.” Noon Day Candles has a melancholy, wistful feel, not surprising considering the subject matter but it is quite a beautiful song. The mellowness imbued by the elegant music and Guy’s stirring vocals really hit home as Marek plays a tender sax in the background. It’s a really moving piece of music and shows what sensitive, mature people these musicians are. Americana is about a fictitious farmstead in the US Mid West where a traditional family struggles to keep their heritage farm going against a backdrop of increasing climate changes and poverty and brings to mind ‘So’ era Gabriel to my ears. Adding that signature Damanek soulful groove to an Americana inspired song is a really clever idea and the lyrics are particularly pertinent on this track. The outpouring of emotion on the chorus is particularly touching and, along with the superb piano, adds real gravitas to this impassioned tale.

“I wrote this piece for my youngest who has Aspergers and can find things challenging at times… On a holiday in Greece he decided (off his own bat) to try scuba diving…after the shock of the request settled in we of course said ‘Go for it!’…he went off by himself, signed up, faced his insecurities and did the dive…we were very proud of him and so I wrote this song all about it!”

That’s the story behind In Deep Blue (Sea Songs Pt.1) and the fact that this song is based on Guy’s own personal experiences really touches me, the love he has for his son and the pride he feels as he overcame his disability is there for all to see and it gives the track a whole different aura. A wonderfully flowing piece of music with elegant vocals, it has a real feel good factor running throughout its four minutes and brings a warm glow to my heart. Reflections On Copper is about as laid back a piece of jazz/prog you are going to hear and talks about how dementia affects the everyday lives of those who are afflicted. It treats the subject matter in a very sensitive way and the music has substance at its very core, a very intelligent piece of songwriting. The edgy, animated vitality of Crown of Thorns (Sea Songs Pt.2) has a coruscating beat to it, perhaps replicating the crown-of-thorns starfish about which it talks. In normal numbers on healthy coral reefs, COTs are an important part of the ecosystem, however, when the coral-eating starfish appear in outbreak proportions, the impact on coral reefs can be disastrous. A song with a very serious message but one that is put across with a sparkling vivacity.

Now for the mind warping, time spanning epic world of Oculus, a cautionary tale of a man who finds an alternative reality through a looking glass and how, after many trips back and forth, he nearly ends up trapped in the alternate world before, finally returning to really appreciate what he has at home. Now, let’s be honest, there’s something marvellously overblown and wonderfully pompous about a prog epic and, when they’re done right, I just absolutely love them. Well, Guy and the band perfectly nail it within the thirty one minutes of the gem of a piece of music. From the uplifting power of the overture, almost classical in nature, through Act I – Spot the Difference where there’s a childlike wonder of discovery that opens up into something more profound with an underlying medieval impishness and then Act II – The Corridor which could have come straight out of some 80’s stylish pop/rock album, the keyboard blasts and funky riff almost straying into Level 42 territory, theres a playful subtlety to the songwriting and a knowing nod to those epic multi-piece tracks of the 60’s and 70’s. Guy’s fine baritone is core to everything going on here, he really does have a great voice. Act III – Passive Ghost starts with a simple keyboard and piano overlaid with Guy’s heartfelt vocals. What seems an uncomplicated ballad then builds with layers of sophistication, musical and lyrical nods to The Animals, Joni Mitchell and even The Wizard of Oz, to become something all together more complex and delightful. Act IV – A Welcoming Hand is an inspirational, uplifting end to the saga and opens with some intricate sax play before Guy’s compelling voice takes centre stage. You can feel the hope and optimism throughout, the song really putting you in the right frame of mind and the funky sax and fiery guitar ensure that it’s a suitably joyous end to what has been a tremendously memorable experience.

Well 2023 has got off to a suitably auspicious start on the music front and this new album from Damanek has just raised the bar considerably. ‘Making Shore’ is a momentous achievement, full of sumptuous music and elegant vocals and yet the cautionary tale at its heart is never lost in the process, bravo gentlemen, bravo!

Released 13th, January, 2023.

Order from GEP here:

Damanek – Making Shore – GEP

Check out the Damanek website here:

DAMANEK – the official website (

Review – The Tangent – Pyramids, Stars & More: The Tangent Live Recordings 2004-2017

Collecting together tracks from 3 line-ups of The Tangent, this 2CD & 3LP album collects together show recordings from 2004, 2011 & 2017. Band leader Andy Tillison comments: “A Triple Live LP is the stuff of Bucket Lists, dreamed of doing one of these since I was a kid”.

Included in its entirety is the 2004 ‘Pyramids And Stars’ concert in Germany featuring the “Roine Stolt” lineup of The Tangent playing its way through the majority of the debut ‘Music That Died Alone’ album along with (then) new material from their second album ‘The World That We Drive Through’.

Added to that, there are tracks from the ‘COMM’ era line-up of the band at a concert in the UK – plus music recorded in the USA in 2017 by the band’s current line-up. These originally appeared on the ‘Southend On Sea’ and ‘Hotel Cantaffordit’ fan releases respectively. 

All is presented inside a re-imagined Ed Unitsky sleeve, to create a package that fans are sure to love. 

“This is a real, proper, live album” says Tillison. “It’s candid, it’s spontaneous, it has mistakes and things that are a bit too loud and things that are a bit too quiet. It’s what happened on stage at three gigs at which “making a live album” never crossed our minds.”  

Right, that’s the PR blurb out of the way (it’s a good way of getting a background to the album actually) now let’s see what we make of ‘Pyramids, Stars & More: The Tangent Live Recordings 2004-2017’ from a reviewer’s perspective…

Let’s just think, when people first started to play music there were no mediums to record on, even wax cylinders were centuries away from being invented so you could say that live music is music in its purest form. To take that one step further, live music can’t be tinkered with like it’s recorded version, honed to perfection (sometimes too much, if I’m being honest!) and often sanitised because of this. Live music is in the moment, spontaneous, what you hear is definitely what you get and when it’s delivered well, it is one of the most natural and unadulterated forms of entertainment that you can get.

Also, some bands were just meant to be heard live and seem to thrive, their music comes alive and goes up another level or two and you can certainly include The Tangent in that group. It’s criminal that Andy and the guys have not played as much live as I’m sure Andy would like and I am one of the lucky ones to have seen them play in a live setting and I am so thankful that I did. Putting these concerts and live performances on record gives a lot more people the chance to hear what this iconic band sound like when they can play uninhibited. They are spontaneous, instinctive and free spirited and just bloody brilliant.

Virtuoso musicians doing what they do best gives us free-spirited (and high-spirited) versions of classics like The World We Drive Through and The Winning Game, songs that deserve the wider audience that this live release will give them. The musicianship on show is exemplary and impeccable with Andy Tillison’s keyboards and vocals the driving force throughout. Andy’s Yorkshire personality gets to shine through in a live setting and his vocals are superb. The rest of the band play in perfect accompaniment and the improvisation is just scintillating.

If you are a true fan of music than you cannot help but enjoy music this good when it’s played in a live setting. A truly incendiary version of The Music That Died Alone is one of many highlights and this fan favourite takes on a new life, becoming something deeper, more funky and, well, just gorgeous. It’s part of a triumphant triumvirate in the middle of the album along with a rather poignant version of ELP’s Lucky Man and a riotously incandescent version of my all time favourite short song by the band, A Spark in the Aether. Now, Andy knows I love this song as I’ve told him enough times and this live version is just the best one yet, just magnificent!

This wonderfully nostalgic live journey through some of The Tangent’s back catalogue continues to put a smile on your face, there’s a edgy and jazzy version of Perdu Dans Paris, a tumultuous romp through the fine instrumental Doctor Livingstone (I Presume) and the album comes to a close with an epic rendition of ‘COMM’ classic Titanic Calls Carpathia and one of my favourite songs from ‘The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery’, the wistfully nostalgic Two Rope Swings.

Ah, to reminisce is a joy we should always hold dear and this wonderful live release from one of the UK’s most venerated prog bands is a sentimental journey down memory lane and one that will remind you why The Tangent are held in such warm regard and also why live music is something worth cherishing and preserving. We, the fans, hold it in our hands to make sure music stays live so albums as brilliant as this can still get made!

Released 27th January, 2023.

Order the album here:

Pyramids, Stars & Other Stories: The Tangent Live Recordings 2004-2017 (