I was relatively late to the Pineapple Party, first picking up on their ‘Someone Here Is Missing’ album, and since then I’ve enjoyed the journey through ‘Magnolia’, and ‘Your Wilderness’, their first album (&tour) with Gavin Harrison, the drummer’s drummer and the contemporary Bruford.
His performances on the tour (along with Darran Charles) on 2nd guitar gave frontman Bruce Soord room to breathe on stage and step up to be the frontman we always knew he was capable of being. Seeing them play in Bristol was sublime, the best I had ever seen them, those doubting this should seek out the ‘Where We Stood’ live documentary of this tour.
The best bands have the best drummers, (look at Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Yes, King Crimson and Gandalfs Fist) and it’s the interplay between the music and the skill of the drummer that raises it somewhere else.
Harrison, now on board for another album and tour, has been fundamental in pushing the band forward with getting more involved in collaborating with the song writing and main songwriter Bruce Soord has responded in kind, after all, if you have a Ferrari you don’t drive it two miles down the road to buy a loaf of bread do you?
Following on from ‘Your Wilderness’, this new album, again, is evolution rather than revolution, taking the trademark depth of the The Pineapple Thief and building on established motifs and sounds. ‘Dissolution’ is a darker album than its predecessor and that is reflected in the artwork and sound. There is only one song on here that could be considered an epic, although that shouldn’t put anyone off.
Bruce has the knack for putting plenty of hooks and sounds into the shorter songs and it’s his song writing that is so effective across the album and what makes it work. In fact, the opener Not Naming Any Namesopens in an incredibly low key way for an album starter and it sets the album’s stall out in it’s briefest 2 minute introduction. This is one of the darker and bleaker albums that Bruce has been involved in and the theme of Dissolution, from relationships, to the impact social media has on these things and the way it amplifies and polarises, them is evident throughout.
Try As I Might is a harder and darker track again, and the ever present Steve Kitch on keys and Jon Sykes on bass both pull together to create the pulsating dark undertow to the album. Threatening War is another fantastic track, one that I am sure will be fantastic live and, as throughout the album, Harrison’s drumming is peerless, while Bruce wrings every amount of emotion through the songs. Judging from the lyrics it would appear that he’s been through the mill a bit. The low key lo-fi mood continues with the short Pillar of Salt which leads into the 11 minute epic of White Mist, featuring guest guitar work from David Torn, it has an exciting experimental edge to it with some fantastic performances all round. This isn’t your typical prog epic, it builds and twists to its musical climax as guitars duel, electronics shimmer and ebb and flow and the beat of Harrison’s drums act as a counterpoint to Bruce’s vocals.
This is the sound of a band reborn and energised and, while the album has its dark moments and bleak lyrics, musically it is one of the best they have made and, like all the best albums, flows perfectly. No dipping in and out of tracks here, this is a journey, musically and lyrically and Bruce, again, has shown why The Pineapple Thief are one of the finest bands out there, and one who you must see live.
In fact, my only niggle with the whole ‘Dissolution’ album and tour is the fact that, on the first leg, they aren’t playing Bristol!
Having formed in Spring 2017 Nova Cascade have done remarkable work to get themselves known in prog circles quite quickly. With their debut album ‘Above All Else’ they have hit the ground running. Nova Cascade are made up of musicians from 3 different countries, Dave Hilborne (Vocals, Synths) Dave Fick (Bass) , Alessio Proietti (Guitars) , Heather Leslie (Violin), Charles Bramald (Flute) and David Anania (Drums). The road to this album is a story in itself, with different recording methods,including a phone, some very credible guest appearances and the swapping of files to get to the finished product. The band blurb will tell you that this album was recorded on a budget and the production is very homemade, but this should not distract in anyway as what you get is good raw performances and feel.
Let’s start with the artwork, the rather fetching and beautiful cover artwork was designed and drawn by one of my favourite geniuses Paul Dews of How Far To Hitchin fame. This gets the ‘Above All Else’ experience off to a good start, the illustration matches the feel of the album well. This is then added to with some great photography from Brooke Smith.
So onto the album, at 37 minutes, this is perfect for the style and feel of the album. I am not sure if there is a genre of prog call ambient prog , but if there was not there is now! At the right time and moment this is a wonderful relaxed album to chill out to. Designed to be played as a whole, each track effortlessly blends with the next to form a dreamy mixture of music. Mainly instrumental the album is punctuated with vocals, and when they do arrive the best comparison I can give is Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis , which given the ambient feel of the album works well.
The title track Above All Else opens the album and a fine track it is one of the vocal tracks the track sets the scene for the ambient feel, the instruments blend and weave together for a very nice feel. Continuum follows and introduces the drums, this really is a nice track, again lots going on which can be appreciated more on headphones. The tracks are very short (in the prog world) which sometime leaves you wanting more but that is no bad thing, just hit play again.Prophecyhas a Marillion type guitar led feel to the song, at the time of writing my favourite on the album. Hurtledbrings back vocals and the Talk Talk reference would be appropriate for this track. LO-FI, Epiphany, One Hundred & FourteenandImago all continue the ambient feel very synth heavy and all pretty glorious again a listen on headphones does it justice as sounds work their way around your head, the piano on One Hundred & Fourteen deserves their own mention. This is a great section of the album that lets you drift off. Swept Awayis the penultimate vocal track and is a more guitar drums and,in particular, bass guitar led track, probably the most upbeat track of the album but still fits in well with the overall feel of the album. The final instrumental is Icarus, maybe because the name of the track puts something in your head but the sweeping synths and melodies do feel like they would accompany flying. And finally we finish the album with one of the standout tracks Wilted, the vocals arriving just at the end delivered just right to end the journey.
‘Above All Else’ is a great debut album that will put Nova Cascade on the prog map so to speak, yes there are times when the production could be better but it never distracts and to the majority they would neither notice or care as the music outweighs this. Very interesting to see/hear what comes next.
Released 10th September 2018 on download/8th October 2018 on CD.
“I’ve concentrated on improving my songwriting over the last few years and as a result, I am really pleased with this new CD. Although my playing has a lot of space in the music, I’ve worked a lot harder on the arrangements and lyrics.
My goal is to have a CD that keeps the listener from beginning to end. ‘Roads Less Travelled’ reflects my belief in taking music somewhere new.”
So says legendary guitarist Martin Barre of his new solo album. Best-known as guitarist in Jethro Tull – one of the biggest selling prog bands of all time, Barre has developed his own distinctive style within the framework of Tull, and his instantly recognizable and original sound form the basis of this album. ‘Roads Less Travelled’ features 11 original tracks by Barre, which reflect the last 50 years of his esteemed musical career.
While all the songs showcase his exceptional electric guitar, acoustic guitar and mandolin playing, the Martin Barre Band also shine throughout. A long-time resident of Devon, Barre’s band features several local musicians :-
Dan Crisp (vocals), Alan Thompson (bass/fretless bass), Darby Todd (drums), Becca Langsford (vocals/backing vocals), Josiah J (Percussion/Hammond), Aaron Graham (drums), Alex Hart (vocals/backing vocals) and Buster Cottam (‘stand up’ bass).
The new album invokes a nostalgic 70’s sound that will resonate with people of a certain age and yet it feels really fresh too. Barre’s songwriting skills are evident on this really diverse collection of tracks from the hard rock opening of Lone Wolf through the edgy, Tull influenced, Out of Time(check out the stunning solo) to the scorching blues of Badcore Blues.
The overriding sound is that of Barre’s distinctive guitar and this guy is as good a player as they come. To many, his guitar playing was the definitive sound of Jethro Tull and his solo on Aqualung is frequently quoted as being one of the best of all time.
His supporting cast of vocalists aid and abet with fulsome aplomb, Dan Crisp’s vocals are soulful and hard edged, Becca Langsford gives a superb whiskey soaked edge to Badcore Blues and Alex Hart’s ethereal rendition of You Are An Angel is just heavenly.
This in album that you fall into like the comfiest of chairs, these songs are like old friends who have come to visit and share a dram with you on a cold night, in front of a roaring fire. On My Way brings Barre’s legendary guitar skills to the fore while Roads Less Travelled with it’s driving riff, pulsating rhythm section and superbly harmonised backing vocals is a classic hard rock track in the making, as is the swirling Hammond organ backed blues vibes of (This is) My Driving Song. Martin shows us his elegantly applied acoustic skills on Trinity and the album comes to a more than satisfactory close with the jazz/blues cool of Becca Langsford’s vocals on the ever so classy And The Band Played Only For Me, all superbly backed by Martin’s acoustic guitar and Josiah J’s Hammond.
Whether you’re a Tull fan, a fan of 70’s hard rock or someone who just loves music, this release should definitely be on your radar. Excellent songwriting combined with superb musicianship has given us that rare commodity, an album that appeals to the past, the present and, most likely, the future. Martin Barre is still a rare talent nearly 50 years after he first played a note with Jethro Tull.
“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison
There’s times when we have all probably wished we could go back in time to change something but there’s no such thing as a time machine, right?
Glass Hammer’s new concept album ‘Chronomonaut’ answers the question ‘what if?’. The new release is a stand-alone album but also acts as a Part Two for the highly successful 2000 release ‘Chronometree’.
Bassist Steve Babb says the new concept album tells the story of “the ultimate prog fan.” Babb elaborates, “Our album deals with time travel, nostalgia and the love of prog-rock. ‘Chronomonaut’s’ protagonist, Tom, starts his own band and then makes the attempt to go back to the seventies in hopes of becoming a prog-god. It’s all in fun and is really a very tongue-in-cheek look at how our favorite music can take us back in time.”
Long been known as being proponents of classic progressive rock with influences from the 70’s, Glass Hammer make a bold new statement with ‘Chronomonaut’, a new direction that gives them a definitive sound of their own. I’m always excited by the announcement of a new album from this band but, this time, they have gone more than the extra mile.
The band has been engaged in a buzz-creating viral marketing campaign which NJ ProgHouse Media Manager Jon Yarger describes as “pure genius”. “We not only have an epic music video set for release, we have also been releasing found footage from Tom describing his band’s expoits and his odd theories on time,” explains Babb. Fans have been following Tom’s escapades for weeks before the album was announced, and are eagerly anticipating the ‘Chronomonaut’ release. The gorgeous digipak design incorporates Tom’s story and lyrics. The striking cover design is by Xaay, a fairly well known death metal guitarist / vocalist from Poland.
There’s a narrative running through the album and reading the booklet along with the tracks is a must, the powerful opening instrumental The Land of Lost Content introduces a more heavier sound before Roll For Initiative opens Tom’s story, ‘he could hear voices in the music; voices the rest of us could not, voices which instructed him in the science of time travel.’ Already you can hear the new direction that the band are forging, there’s a great jazz rock vibe coming across, especially with the brass section. Steve Babb’s bass is as elegant as ever giving depth to the music and the drums are a guiding light.
Twilight of the Godz is one of my favourites on the album, an ever so elegant track where Tom debates the merits of reliving the past with an old bandmate. Brian Brewer’s soulful blues guitar and Susie Bogdanowicz’s heartfelt and passionate vocals stand out on a song which, to my ears, channels late 60’s Beatles at its core, Fred Schendel’s ultra smooth Hammond and Steve Babb’s keyboards providing layers of class, and the guitar run out is a thing of sheer brilliance. We’re on a roll now, this excellent album continues with the silky smooth The Past is Past where the past reminds Tom of all that might have been. What a superb intro, never has a saxophone (take a bow Jamison Smeltz) been put to such good use since Baker Street and the vocals (from Discipline’sMatthew Parmenter, if my ears don’t deceive me) really fit the mood. Think singer/songwriter meets jazz band with a King Crimson fixation and you wont be far wrong, it is theatrical in its delivery and really gives the band a completely different feel.
This enjoyable romp through space and time continues with the stylishly delivered 1980 Something where, ‘Like an old girlfriend returned from decades ago, the past beckons..’ Susie’s vocals, some judiciously played guitar and Steve’s dextrous keyboards (he doesn’t just play bass you know!) imbue the song with timeless sophistication and refinement. A Hole In The Sky sees the story get serious, ‘Tom must make the attempt to go back in time.The past, nostalgia, whatever it is that’s calling him, he has to find it.’ The music definitely takes a trip back in time with a bouncing 60’s vibe that is really infectious. The vocals, guitar and, especially, keyboards invoke such feelings of that decade that you’re virtually transported there yourself, it’s a very clever piece of music.
A sci-fi inspired instrumental which could have come from Tangerine Dream (more of that later) Clockwork, with its 80’s sounding keyboards, is two minutes of musical dexterity which wouldn’t have been out of place in one of the Terminator movies. Haunting and spaced out in equal measure, Melancholy Holiday has far eastern edge to it, Susie delivering a wonderful vocal performance.‘Once through the portal, Tom finds himself adrift in the murky waters of time where he find the past isn’t what it used to be’. The languid tempo does make you feel like you are drifting in a vast expanse of nothingness, with no idea where you are or where to go.
It Always Burns Sideways is a two-part instrumental that is ying and yang. Pt.1 Same Thing Over Again is dark and dangerous, the heavy accentuated keyboards giving a Van der Graaf Generator undertone to the music and a daunting atmosphere. Pt.2 Headphones In Wonderland is a polar opposite with its uplifting feel and swirling keyboards. It’s like the band recruited Mike Oldfield for a cameo and played a jam session along with him. The classically stylish guitar is a superb addition and just left me feeling elevated and inspired.
Glass Hammer show that they can do the pomp and circumstance as well as Transatlantic or Neal Morse with the exhilarating Blinding Light. ‘Tom realises at last that the only way to get ahead is to go forward. And anyway, time only travels in one direction. It’s time to leave the past behind.’ The sumptuous brass section, dynamic drums and exalted keyboards give the track a vibrancy and inject it with heart and soul. Excellent vocals and subtle guitar are the icing on a rather tasty cake, one that emphasises the impressive new sound and direction that the band are taking. The Steve Babb composed & performed Tangerine Memewears its German electronic instrumental heart on its sleeve and as a homage to that legendary musical collective, is nigh on perfect.
This incredibly infectious and hugely entertaining story is brought to a close with the ten minute near-epic Fade Away. Bringing the story round full circle, but leaving the door open for a further instalment, it’s an inventive and intelligent piece of music that touches your heart with its opening. A tender piano and subdued vocal taking the story up. Like all the best tracks it builds on simple beginnings to blossom into something quite magnificent. The vocals take on the role of storyteller and bard, the musicians giving them the canvas to paint on, building layers and layers of sophistication. This song is a totally immersive ten minutes that you gladly lose yourself in and it twists and turns and then gives you the ultimate reward at the end, a quite wonderful closing guitar solo from Reese Boyd.
‘Where is Tom now? None of us know. Did he finally make it back to “those blue remembered hills” of the seventies, that “land of lost content” where prog legends are still young and the genre is flourishing and alive with possibility? I hope that he did. Though were I to be honest, I suspect he’s found what most of us have – that you can’t really ever go back. Somewhere out there , just like the rest of us, he’s making his slow cautious way into the future only to find that once there, it’s just now.’
Albums like ‘Chronomonaut’ are the reason why I love music so much and it has become part of my life. It sees a band I love unafraid to take a relatively new direction, organically progressive if you like. While not completely straying from their roots, Glass Hammer have taken a path less trodden and delivered what is, without a doubt, their best album yet and a fantastic new direction of power, precision and downright soul.
For those unfamiliar with Napier’s Bones, they are a Uk based prog rock duo made up of Gordon Midgley, lyric writer and musician extraordinaire and Vocalist Nathan Jon Tillett, who also provides artwork to the albums. ‘Monuments’ is the band’s fifth album and continues in the vein of traditional prog rock with very story based songs.
Gordon has been teasing the album and songs for a few months now, giving real insight into the production and guitars/effects used, so some parts of the album are already familiar but don’t worry there is plenty more to explore.
Opening track Standing Childe is a 23 minute 9 part opus that tells the tale of Childe, a warrior trying to live up to the reputation of his father, even with the knowledge that it would ultimately lead to his death. The cover artwork features Childe’s Cross in Dartmoor said to be the resting place of Childe The Hunter, inspiration for this epic tale. This is classic prog rock story telling and is layered with glorious moments. A good test for me on the longer prog rock tracks is ‘does it feel like a 20 minute plus track, or does it pass quickly due to your enjoyment and investment in the track?’ I can safely say that Standing Childe holds your attention well! There is enough solid instrumentation, lyrical content and epic moments to keep you hooked. From the opening instrumental section, The Childe, which features some great guitar and synth work , it flows seamlessly into Mark Well which introduce the protagonist of the story and gravelly vocals over lush acoustic guitars gives a very Gabriel era Genesis feel, which is no bad thing. And into for me the best section of the song Born To This Duty, absolutelyglorious combination of acoustic guitars and mellotron type synth a great companion to the previous section and again very Genesis in feel , this is great prog rock. Like Never Before keeps us on track and lifts the tempo of the song with a cracking guitar solo from Gordon M , delivered with a warm 70s feel. Very nice. A sudden stop and new guitar riff changes the feel of the song, When Horizon Meets The Sky yet again features a great guitar synth mash up with catchy hooks being thrown out by Gordon with apparent ease. Part 6, Fate Will Do As It Must, for me falls into the leave them wanting more category, it is a really great section that could have been twice as long, but alas the story must continue and we are now over halfway. Today It Ends has more of a Pink Floyd feel, and we are still firmly in classic prog territory. Vocals are delivered dreamingly over a much layered musical track (A must listen on headphones section), Not Enough and Behold The Childe finish our tale , again great acoustic guitars, another solid guitar solo and layers of synths give an epic finish. Nathan’s vocal delivery over this section is particularly good as he takes on the perspective of Childe who has done his best to save himself from death but ultimately fails. And we are finished track one! Worth the cost of the album alone, a fan of prog rock you would be hard pushed not to get a lot of enjoyment from this track.
Mirabilis continues where track one left off in feel , a song about the alchemist Roger Bacon who tries to create artificial life and and wisdom believing that achieving this would connect home with the divine, he ultimately fails. Whilst the album is not a concept album, there is a running theme throughout of people trying to be more than they are, trying to leave a lasting legacy on history, in some ways they fail yet do leave their mark in history, just not the way they expected.
Waters Darkdraws its inspiration from a Yorkshire legend around wanting to turn back time, a beautiful plucked acoustic guitar leads the song surrounded by other haunting guitar with a more upbeat folky chorus. Free to Choose keeps us firmly in deep prog waters, starting almost like a Yes song both in feel and production. From Gordon’s notes the song is about bohemian painter Robert Lenkiewicz whilst rejected by the art establishment, he went on start his own colony of outsiders based in Plymouth and found a different way of showing of his art. All the songs on the album can be linked to legends and historical figures and, like Big Big Train or a good Dan Brown novel, the subject matter is well researched and explored.
The Heightsfinishes off the album a song around missed opportunity and chances, bought on themselves by a life of daring and drugs , based around the sad life of Branwell Bronte. A quite catchy song, I found myself having the chorus going around my head for some days. The sound of the sea and a fading backwards guitar bring the album to a close.
Gordon and Nathan have delivered Napier’s Bones’ most satisfying album to date, an album that ticks many of the prog rock genre boxes with some great musicianship and lyrical content. Oh how I would love to see Standing Childe played live with a full band, maybe one day…
Following on from the epic Procol Harum boxed set released earlier this year, and an announcement of the re-issue of ‘Live in Edmonton’ on both CD and vinyl in October, Esoteric continue their excellent reissue series of Procol Harum albums with the deluxe editions of 1973’s ‘Grand Hotel’, 1974’s ‘Exotic Birds and Fruit’ and 1991’s reunion album ‘The Prodigal Stranger’.
Starting with ‘Grand Hotel’, the album is released complete with bonus tracks and a DVD live in Belgium from November that year.
By this point band had coalesced around the stellar line up of Gary Brooker, Alan Cartwright (bass), BJ Wilson (drums) Mick Grabham (electric guitar) and Chris Copping (organ), with Keith Reid as ever providing the lyrics to Brooker’s music. The lavishly designed album is in keeping with the music contained within, from the orchestral title track segueing into Toujours L’amour, the caustic TV Ceasar, to the wonderful For Liquorice John, this album helped define Procol’s identity for the latter days of their existence throughout the 1970’s as the line-up stabilised.
With Brooker’s vocals and Reid’s lyrics working in harmony, and the taut band that had been touring well together, ‘Grand Hotel’ is a deserved high point in the Harum catalogue, and with a superb live concert on DVD it captures a band at the peak of their powers. The mixture of new material with older classic like Conquistador, A Rum Tale and Power Failure showcases their skill and versatility.
With superb sound and packaging that reproduces the elaborate lyric booklet, this is an excellent album from a band at their peak.
This momentum was carried forward into 1974’s ‘Exotic Birds and Fruit’, here a triple disc set including the album plus bonus tracks, a live at the BBC concert from March 1974, and a live concert from Dallas in July 1974.
With these additional live tracks, as Harum fans we are well and truly spoilt.
Claiming in contemporary interviews that this was a back to basics album, the line-up remained unchanged and all the compositions again were Brooker and Reid’s and while the packaging again was lavish, the music inside was more direct and Reid’s lyrics were darker, referencing the Three Day Week, conditions not ideal to recording an album. However, they soldiered on, creating a masterpiece as strong as ‘Grand Hotel’, and as different from its predecessor.
With the opening Nothing But The Truth and tracks like New Lamps For Oldand Butterfly Boys, providing scathing commentary about the band’s management Chris Wright & Terry Ellis (Chrysalis Records), given its strength, it is amazing that they allowed it to be released.
With material from this and ‘Grand Hotel’ dominating the sets on both extra concerts, it’s interesting to hear how songs developed and grew from recording to touring and the subtle tweaks that bring the best out of them.
In these two years Harum produced a couple of fantastic albums, better than their debut some might say, and proving that this line-up was for many the definitive line up of their first wave.
Jump forward to 1991, and a break of more than 14 years from their last gigs in 1977, after the death of BJ Wilson in 1990, and working together with Keith Reid in 1989, Brooker caught up with Matthew Fisher and Robin Trower and, working with additional musicians like Dave Bronze (bass), Mark Brzezicki (drums) and Jerry Stevenson on mandolin and guitar, ‘The Prodigal Stranger’ was composed and released in 1991. With co-writes from studio engineer Matt Noble, this was the first new Harum music since the 70’s and, as the musical style had evolved, so had the sound.
Listening now the production is very much of its time, and yet, despite that, it still has the element of Harum about it.
Driven by the vocals and piano of Brooker, the organ of Matthew Fisher and Robin Trowers guitar, tracks like the emotive TheKing of Hearts, Holding On and One More Time flow in the best Procol Harum tradition and, yes, they are shorter songs and have a slightly more polished radio friendly sheen but the band is still in there, with Trower in fine form on All Our Dreams are Sold.
A lot of bands reunite for a variety of different reasons, and for Harum and Brooker it was the death of Wilson that spurred him on, that makes this album as much a Harum album as any other. This is no Yes‘Union’ record, it’s a very different beast to what went before but it was the springboard to the band resuming full time touring, which they haven’t stopped, as well as two more studio albums since then, so it’s place in Harum’s legacy is as vital to the band as any of the classic 70’s albums, and is really worth revisiting and enjoying.
Celebrating their 50th anniversary in style, and still very much active as a highly entertaining and popular live band, Procol Harum’s catalogue is in the process of being remastered and reissued in definitive editions by those nice folks over at Esoteric. So far, they have released the band’s first four albums (‘Procol Harum’, ‘Shine on Brightly’, ‘A Salty Dog’ & ‘Home’), also released imminently are 1973’s ‘Grand Hotel’, 1974’s ‘Exotic Birds and Fruits’ and 1991’s ‘The Prodigal Stranger’.
Here to celebrate the band in all their musical glory and evolving sound is a mammoth 8-disc boxed set, or if the budget doesn’t quite stretch, a nicely packaged double disc ‘best of’.
Famous for that song A Whiter Shade of Pale, there was (and is) always much more than just that single, the ever present voice and keyboard work of Gary Brooker, for instance, probably one of the most recognisable voices in contemporary rock and someone whose voice just manages to get so much better with age like a fine wine Gary has fronted Harum on and off (the band had a ‘brief’ hiatus between 1977 and 1991) with a revolving line-up that has included such stellar musicians as Matthew Fisher, BJ Wilson, Mick Grabham, Robin Trower and Chris Copping. The band currently includes Matt Pegg (son of Fairport’s Dave on bass) and Geoff Whitehorn on guitar.
Procol Harum were riginally formed as the showcase for the song writing partnership of Gary Brooker (music) and Keith Reid (lyrics), although Reid never actually played with the band but, until 2012, provided the lyrics to every Procul original.
Across these 8 discs, the compilation goes far beyond the predictable, of course it opens with Whiter Shade, still hauntingly magnificent despite the familiarity. Disc one covers the first 4 albums, mixing the well known with album cuts and B-sides. Astonishingly these 4 albums covered a 4-year period and show how the song writing of Gary Brooker and Keith Reid matured, as did the guitar work of Robin Trower.
Discs 2 & 3 mop up the remaining studio albums, with cuts from ‘Broken Barricades’ like Simple Sister and many others, showing how the bands sound had evolved and matured. The extracts of “Live In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra”, in where the orchestra really adds so much to the music, makes the announcement of an October re-release of the full album a welcome one. Sometimes reunions can be unfulfilling and happen for the wrong reasons, however this was not in Procol Harum’s case, as tracks from the latest albums ‘The Prodigal Stranger’, ‘Wells on Fire’ and ‘Novum’ all highlight how the song-writing has matured and show that Gary Brooker still has one of the finest voices in rock.
That provides a superb introduction to the studio history of an much underrated band who made a big mark on the rock scene, audio discs 4 & 5 are two complete concerts, the first one is ‘Live at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra & the Roger Wagner Chorale’. Recorded 21st September 1973, it showcases the line up of Brooker, Cartwright, Grabham, Wilson and Copping along with the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, and treats us to an aural delight of classic Harum like Conquistador, TV Caesar, Grand Hotel and A Salty Dog, all performed by a band who at this point were at the peak of their powers which, along with the Orchestration and the Roger Wagner Chorale, makes this one of the reasons to invest in this box.
The concert on Disc 5 is ‘Live at Bournemouth Winter Gardens’ in 1976 with the same line-up, who had honed their skills and were performing with power and style, something which only comes from 5 musicians working in total harmony. BJ Wilson shows the powerhouse drummer he was while Brooker is a perfect frontman. They rattle through a set that includes old favourites (Whiter Shade, A Salty Dog, Beyond the Pale), newer material and covers like I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), all performed with the intricacy of a band at full pelt.
With three more discs covering live performances, including 3 complete concerts (2 from Germany and one from the BBC’s Sight and Sound), the evolution of the bands live performances is a delight to see and it’s nice to see the set lists being mixed up.
If you’re a massive fan, or someone who wants to know more about Procol Harum, this boxed set is an excellent anthology of one of the more interesting bands who appeared during the prog period, and whose blend of rock and classical sensibilities made for many interesting albums.
This is a remastered edition of an eclectic collection of more than just ‘odds and sods’ originally released back in 2006 and reissued last year after Keith’s death.
Never one to do anything by halves there’s nearly 70 minutes of music here, which runs the gamut from Keith’s classical inspired compositional work, his TV and film work and the contributions he made to progressive music via both The Nice and ELP.
The earliest recording on this alternative ‘best of’ is a BBC Radio session from the early days of The Nice, where their psychedelia meets proto-prog image belies the fact that they had a diverse inspiration, and here (complete with Davy O’List on guitar) is their unique cover of Frank Zappa’sLumpy Gravy.
For ELP fans there is a rousing version of Abaddon’s Bolero performed by Keith with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which is as grand and OTT as anything they ever did, I mean if you get an orchestra to go nuts with you, why the hell not? There’s also a 1980’s excerpt from a solo rendition of Pictures at an Exhibition, showcasing Keith’s unique style.
His solo work is well represented on the smoky blues room piano piece And Then January, with its late-night vibe and plaintive mood shows the more reflective side of Keith’s musical personality. Straight Between The Eyes (featuring Levon Helm and Garth Hudson) is the first from the soundtrack to the film Best Revenge and, while being a bit 80’s in its style and execution, has a wonderful drawled vocal by co-writer John Doukas. Also from the sessions but which didn’t make it to the soundtrack, is an interesting version of the old Elvis classic Don’t Be Cruel, where they slow it right down and funk it up, complete with fat bass and slabs of chunky 80’s synths, all of which turns it into an MTV big hair ballad.
Mixing his influences and genres, the interpretation of Walter L (featuring the London Jazz Orchestra) and some moog soloing shows how proficient and comfortable Keith was across all genres and is a testament to how easy he fitted into big orchestral pieces or solo piano work. With solo synth pieces like Motor Bikin’, a reworked version of America featuring Pat Travers on guitar and then the theme tune to Jim Davidson’s sit-com Up the Elephant and Round the Castle finishing off on a cover of Sex & Drugs & Rock n’ Roll, this is no ordinary compilation album. More a snapshot of a career, and one that was always deeper and more musically diverse than the work he was famous for with ELP.
This, the third album from the late Jon Hiseman’s revitalised Colosseum, was originally released back in 1977 and see’s Hiseman joined by some of the greatest musical talents of that era. Gary Moore on guitar, John Mole on bass and Don Airey on keyboards.
When you get 4 superb musicians in one band then creative sparks will fly and, as is mentioned in the liner notes, the band didn’t have the luxury of rehearsal times. Instead, the taut and driving fusion of jazz and rock that is on display here was honed to perfection on the road and then recorded as live in the studio due to the limited time available.
From the opening title track, Hiseman proves how effective he is as a band leader, choosing some superb band members to bounce of and work with. His death recently was a massive loss to the musical world as he is as powerful a drummer as anyone around and the way he propels the groove, allowing both Airey and Moore to spar, is exemplary.
Throughout this album it’s hard to pull out a star player, as all 4 work the groove and play round each other with deftness and skill, and, while Moore and Airey moved on to other things, they sound so hungry here. It is a shame that the hard work they put in seemed to be forgotten as band/label decisions ultimately scuppered this line up.
Hiseman returned with the original Colosseum line up later but this line up and era shouldn’t be overshadowed and should be recognised as important to the fusion sound as the original band.
Originally released in 1970, the third album from Nirvana duo Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropolous was arranged and produced by Tony Visconti and Mike Hurst (who was previously a member of the Springfield’s). Unfortunately, as is always the way, when the tapes were delivered to Island Records Chris Blackwell turned it out, feeling it wasn’t suitable for the label, not to mention the fact he was concerned the title was too similar to the phrase Black Power.
The lush orchestration and sublime production enhance the duo’s compositional skills which were maturing nicely. From the wonderfully uplifting The World is Cold Without You, where the orchestration and the chorus genuinely swells, to tracks like Excerpt From “The Blindand The Beautiful”, where the orchestration drives the music, takes this beyond mere pop psych and into new rock classical crossover sounds.
This cross fertilises elements of singer-songwriter work, the reinterpretations of Brecht by Scott Walker, and the dramatic Gothic rock of singers like David McWilliams, all filtered through the Anglo-Greek pairing of Campbell-Lyons & Spyropolous, whose disparate influences weave together an intense musical experience.
Chock full of catchy tunes, well observed lyrics, a whole spree of bonus tracks, this is recognition at last for an album that slipped under the radar on release and led to the demise of the original Nirvana line-up. Which was a shame, as on tracks like Black Flower or Love Suite, the duo were really pushing themselves forward together, it would have been interesting to see where they went next.
People don’t know how to talk about genre. There are prog rock related online forums that sensible people avoid because their denizens have endless, idiot arguments about whether certain artists are ‘prog’ or not. That isn’t how it works. Genre is not a box in which a band is placed, distinct and separate from other styles, especially not prog, which has always fused different ideas together.
Instead, think of each genre as having an imagined perfect ideal that no real world act ever quite matches up to – the most punk of punk bands, the most metal of metal bands. The real acts you can actually listen to exist slightly outside these, nearer or further from the other genres. Maybe it’s mostly punk, but with 10% of a reggae influence. Maybe it’s mostly prog, but shading into pop.
‘Is it prog?’ is boring. ‘Where is it on the prog spectrum?’ is a much more sensible question.
Where on the prog spectrum is ‘Dial’, the new Shineback album? It’s on there, but this is no 70s throwback. It’s much more interesting. I first met Simon Godfrey in a pub somewhere in London. It was a small gathering of acoustic prog adjacent artists (Alan Reed and the ubiquitous Matt Stevens were also present) to explore the possibility of doing a tour together. The tour never happened, but it did lead to me sharing a small stage with Simon on one of his farewell gigs before he left for the good ol’ US of A. I acquired a copy of his acoustic album ‘Motherland’ at the same gig.
Most people would probably have first come across Simon’s songwriting on his other projects like Tinyfish or Shineback but ‘Motherland’ was the first time I’d properly listened to his stuff. With its synths, pulsing kick drums, virtuosic solos and sheer noise, you might think ‘Dial’, the new Shineback album, would be a million miles away from that stripped down acoustic sound, but it really isn’t. Whatever else it is – rock, prog(?), EDM – this is a songwriters album. Simon would be perfectly capable of recreating many of these songs with just an acoustic guitar and his voice. It has choruses and hooks and bits you can sing along with. I’m glad he didn’t do that though, because then we would have missed out on everything else there is on the album.
Now, this isn’t a review (could have fooled me Tom – Ed.), Simon is a mate and I played a little bit of guitar on this album so there’s no way I can provide an objective view of the album. But it is good and I do think you should get yourself a copy. Where does it fit on the prog spectrum? Imagine if you will a graph. On one axis is progressive rock, on another pop music, on a third is electronic dance music, on a fourth is acoustic singer-songwriter music, on a fifth…
Okay, that graph isn’t going to work, forget that analogy.
Maybe a list? What are the things you definitely expect from prog? Rock band instrumentation? ‘Dial’ has those. Long songs? Virtuoso solos? Lyrics about something more than simple pop love songs? All of those are present. What does it have that you might not expect from a progressive rock album? The Electronic Dance Music (EDM) influence is an obvious one. Prog has often used new technology, especially the synth (and there area tasty synth solos on I Love You From Memory and Kill Devil Hills) but so has EDM.
‘Dial’ doesn’t use the structures of EDM – there are no dance style break-downs or drum machine style beats. Instead it uses much of the timbral palette. So we get electronic drum sounds but with a more organic drummer-like touch rather than a more computerised drum machine approach. There are synth swells and pulses, but too much stop and start between sections for much of the album to work on a dance floor.
In fact the combination of chord choices, synth hooks and verse-chorus structures in places puts me in mind of 80s pop, or even 80s Genesis. You know, the period where they did heinous things like writing good pop-songs. I asked Simon if that was a conscious decision, but he said it wasn’t but couldn’t deny how much he liked tracks like Driving the Last Spike from that period of Genesis. I can certainly hear that influence in Simon’s chord choices and some of the song structures on ‘Dial’, though I’d happily declare several songs from ‘Dial’ much stronger than that particular Genesis number.
There’s a variety of harmony you wouldn’t expect from an EDM album either. From the introspective piano chords of the title track, through the whole-tone noodling I inflicted on one track to the open, accessible major keys of songs like Consider Her Ways, there’s a range here you’d expect of prog or more complex pop songwriting but not EDM. Simon does mention Stevie Wonder as an influence and while the album doesn’t sound at all like a soul record, Wonder was certainly a songwriter who new his way around a set of chord changes.
The track I contributed to is Here I Am, an obvious mixture of spoken word, booming chords and my own guitar playing that Simon has processed and twisted into something much better than I could have come up with on my own.
The other guest artist contributions are great as well. There are several fantastic solos that will keep any proper prog-head happy, and the guest vocals from Ray Weston on the almost heavy metal track Let her Sleep are a fantastic addition.
With ‘Dial’ Shineback is Godfrey at the height of his powers – a mature songwriter who really knows how to put together a good record. If you want rocky guitars, it’s here. If you want extended prog rock structures, you get them too. If you want synths and electronic drums you get those. Above all you get songs that really pay you back for multiple close listens. I’ve heard the album about five times and am still discovering new details.
Is it good? I’m biased of course, but yes I think it’s fantastic.
Is it prog?
That’s a boring question. Did you not read the beginning of this blog post?
Hungary’s world-renowned Jazz Fusion/world music ensemble Djabe have been working with one of England’s finest guitarists, Steve Hackett, since 2003 when he guested on their album ‘Sharks are Dancing’, since then they have recorded and toured across the world together, improvising and freewheeling.
These two CD/DVD packages are taken from two different tours, with the first ‘Summer Storms and Rocking Rivers’ recorded in Hungary in 2011, the CD is the live document, while the DVD is a fleshed-out release with more songs than there was space for on the CD. This, with an additional documentary and a couple of bonus tracks, showcases what this whole tour was about.
This is all about 6 musicians, incredibly talented and versatile, getting into the groove and proving that music can cross borders, languages and transcend styles.
The concert is a case in point, as Djabe (Ferenc Kovacs – trumpet, violin, vocals, Zoltan Kovacs – keyboards, Attila Egerhazi – guitar, percussion, Tamas Barabas – bass & Szilard Banai – drums), along with Steve, play a wildly diverse musical mix of Steve Hackett songs (Ace of Wands, The Steppes, Horizons – all reinterpreted and improvised around) and Djabe material (City of Habi, Butterfly, Scenes – Above Poland, Scenes- Sunset at the Seaside), all mixed up and interpreted wonderfully here.
Djabe’s fluid and taut playing allows room within the songs for Steve to improvise and you get the impression that all 6 musicians are having a ball, there’s even room for radical interpretations of a few classic Genesis numbers (Firth of Fifth, Los Endos, In the Quiet Earth) all played around with, built upon and incredibly different from the source, making this fun and exciting. It captures what was a very special evening of music and of the joys of making music without boundaries, genres or people asking whether or not it’s ‘prog’.
‘Life is a Journey – The Sardinia Tapes’ was recorded and improvised in Sardinia in 2016 by Steve and the Djabe line-up of Tamas Barabas, Attila Egerhazi, Guli Briem (drums, percussion) and Aron Koos-Hutas (trumpet) and was the first time the musicians had simply spent time in a room, improvising, jamming and writing new material, rather than just playing live on stage.
The double set here has the album on CD, and a bonus DVD of the album in stereo and surround mixes, 5 tracks recorded live in the Budapest Jazz Club in 2017 and a short documentary.
The album itself is one of those rare beasts, an album you know nothing about, and have no pre-conceptions about. Knowing how Steve Hackett mixes his music making up, flitting from classical, to progressive rock to revisiting his past, you’re never sure where he’s going next. Djabe are an impressive improvisational group and, working with Steve, you can tell from listening to this album, they have built up a brilliant working relationship and revel in each other’s musical company. This comes across the 72 plus minutes of this album.
It is a complete revelation, and whilst I can completely understand why Steve preforms and releases the ‘Genesis Revisite’ concerts, I much prefer this side of his musical coin. The improvisations here are fluid and free forming and come from the same musical space, a shared appreciation and mutual admiration of each other’s talents. The way that Aron Koos-Hutas’ trumpet weaves its way through tracks like Golden Sands or Wake Up is revelatory, while the work they put in to songs like Life is a Journey or Beams Over the Nulvi Mountains are sublime.
This mixes, matches and blends genres and styles seamlessly. The reason why the songs work so well is because each musician knows intimately what would work where, and why, and this freedom makes this album immersive and rewarding. With every listen something new is teased out, a motif here, a drum roll there. This is an album that rewards repeat listens, and with the way it ebbs, flows and builds, it doesn’t feel like it’s over an hour of music. It feels like it’s as long as it needs to be.
It’s albums like this that prove to me why Steve Hackett is still the most innovative and creative former member of Genesis out there, not content to rest on his laurels and still following his muse and, in Djabe, he has found fellow travellers more than happy to join him on his journey.