Interview With Steve Howe by John Wenlock-Smith

In this piece I talk to Steve Howe about about both the forthcoming Yes UK live dates, why they are not playing ‘Relayer’ this time around and about the ‘Asia in Asia’ box set that is due out in June.

John Wenlock-Smith – Good afternoon Steve, are you keeping well?

Steve HoweYes I am, thank you.

JWS – You are in Devon today then?

SHYes, in a secret location! I moved here some 26 years ago from London and, whilst I still live in London, I visit as much as I can as my studio is here.

JWS – Fair enough. I have spent many happy times in Devon. It is a lovely area.

SHYes, well I certainly like the slower pace as opposed to the madness of London!

JWS – So the tour that you are doing in June, how come you are not going to do the ‘Relayer’ album, as originally announced and intended?

SHWell, with it being a shorter run of dates, as we cancelled the European leg, it’s now just the ten shows in the UK. We felt that it was better to postpone that particular album, especially as ‘Close To The Edge’ is 50 years old this year, and perform that in its entirety instead. We will also do a few other favourite songs and some of ‘The Quest’ album, although I’m not saying which we will play, keep it under wraps as it were. 

So that is the plan now, and save ‘Relayer’ till next year when we can give it the treatment that it deserves, so we chose to concentrate on playing CTTE this time around, to give it a good airing and celebrate the anniversary in this manner.

JWS – Yes, because you have had Patrick Moraz along for some shows doing ‘Gates of Delirium’ ?

SHWe had Patrick play Soon with us on a tour that Tony Kaye had joined us for, the celebratory tours. We like doing that sort of thing, although we have no plans on that as yet, not that to say that that it’s out of the window but, at the moment, we are concentrating on getting back out on the road after three years enforced time away.

Also, that is why coming back after 3 years away, we are doing what we are comfortable with and can do to the standard that is required and that Yes fans warrant and demand.

JWS – Yes, I can understand that way of thinking, plus it leaves the way open for a further tour with ‘Relayer’ being featured.

SHExactly…

JWS – I am glad that tracks from ‘The Quest’ will be featured, as I really enjoyed that album. I thought The Ice Bridge was exceptionally fine, reminiscent of Fanfare For The Common Man in the keyboard sounds, and also your solo Album ‘Love Is’, with Jon Davison on vocals.

SHThank you.

JWS – Well I thought it was a good set of songs, well performed.

SHYes, Jon did a wonderful job on that, didn’t he?

JWS – I also really enjoyed the ‘Homebrew 7’ album.

SHThank you, that was quite different for me in that it did not have the usual Homebrew story but was mostly unreleased tracks and ideas that I was able to work to fruition and completion. It was a retro album of music that was unreleased so thank you again for appreciating that.

JWS – I enjoy listening to latest music, especially music that you have released, so what are the chances of having your two original Atlantic albums (‘Beginnings’ and ‘The Steve Howe Album’) being re-released again?

SHWarner’s, Rhino, Atlantic or whoever have been so nice to me, they are officially releasing those albums, so I will investigate that. I think it’s marvellous to be part of the story of Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic label founder).

Howe Sound, the label that releases many of my albums, is quite diverse really and I feel comfortable with what they release for me, plus I like to do things differently and not be stuck in a treadmill way of things.

JWS – I do not blame you, variety is the spice of life, or so they say.

SHIndeed.

JWS – Now Asia, that new Boxset (‘Asia in Asia’) that is coming out in June (10th) is very impressive…

SHBMG have released the Reunion albums, with Fantasia releasing the DVD but this one is even nicer. That is, I especially like the diligence, I like detail anyway and this set really has an elevated level of detail to it, making it worthy of attention. When we did those shows some forty odd years ago, Greg (Lake) was really inspiring in that he was singing John’s (Wetton) parts, playing his bass lines too and doing it all with dignity and aplomb.

The Asia story is all told within those sets really, the two original albums, ‘Go’ and ‘Asia In Asia’ and then the years where Geoff was holding the banner, keeping the flame alive as it were, with various people drifting in and out including myself. Then there’s the reunion and subsequent albums and tours, it’s all in those albums and the ‘Asia In Asia’ especially shows a period where Greg really rose to the occasion magnificently as the set testifies in such a great way.

JWS – The only criticism I have, and it is a minor one really, is that, in the booklet, it mentions a documentary filmed around that time in which each member traces their Asia journey and, although mentioned, I cant see it on the Blu-Ray?

SHWell, I thought it was there, but I will investigate that and see. Although Blu-Rays are notorious for not being easy to find things on, I know that from experience, so I will check into that for sure.

JWS – I agree that Greg did an outstanding job. This is borne out in the remixed audio on the CD’s where he sings, albeit in a lower register on some tracks, but in a very accomplished manner and his bass playing is equally as inspiring too.

SHWhen I heard the audio for the mix, it was good until we got to the last two tracks, Heat Of The Moment and Sole Survivor, where they sounded awful. So I took it up with the label and they said Steve’s really on the ball, those two tracks hadn’t been remixed. I insisted that they were brought up to the same standard and I’m glad to say that they did just that and now they sound fantastic.  

JWS – Good, I am very much looking forward to seeing you in Manchester on the tour.

SHGood, well I love the Bridgewater hall, I played a solo concert there several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It reminded me of those early shows where I learnt my craft, like the one when I played support to Delaney and Bonnie along with Eric Clapton and George Harrison etc, remarkable times and music.

JWS – Have you heard Geoff’s Downes Braide Association stuff at all?

SHYes, I have heard that it is an exciting outlet for his music.

JWS – Plus Roger Dean participates in the artwork for that.

SH – Yes, well Roger is a big part of the Yes story, he will be on the tour too.

JWS – Well Steve, my time has gone, so may I just thank you for your time today and I will hopefully see you in Manchester next month.

SH – Thank for talking to me and for your interest in my music and of Yes too, thank you John.

Order the Asia boxset here:

Asia – Live At The Budokan, Tokyo, 1983 [VINYL] (lnk.to)

Review – Bill Bruford – Making A Song And Dance: A Complete – Career Collection – by John Wenlock-Smith

You’re going to need time, lots of it too, to get maximum enjoyment from this pretty exhaustive and, at times challenging, box set of 6 CDs. If you do then you can evaluate the career of Sevenoaks born drum maestro William (Bill) Bruford. The box set covers the 40 odd years of his often-erratic career choices and defining drum work.

Bill was an original member of Yes, leaving them shortly after the success of the ‘Close To The Edge’ album for what could be considered more challenging music as offered by King Crimson, with whom he made several seminal albums like ‘Lark’s Tongues in Aspic’, ‘Starless and Bible Black’ and ‘Red’, before Crimson fractured and took a hiatus for several years. This was considered an odd move by many, but Bruford wanted to challenge himself, rather than playing the same music ad-nauseum. He was also a part of the original U.K. project with John Wetton and Alan Holdsworth but, again, left after their debut album and tour to concentrate on forming his own band, Bruford, who made three excellent albums and played some fine live shows.

Bruford joined a reformed Crimson for their popular 1980’s reinvention, Adrian Belew and Tony Levin appearing alongside Bill and Robert Fripp for the albums ‘Discipline’, ‘Three Of A Perfect Pair’ and ‘Beat’, that tell the story of that era. When Crimson took an extended break, Bill started his own jazz project, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, which was significantly different to all that he had done before. Much of this can be explored on the other four discs within this set along with his involvement as a supporting musician to the likes of Roy Harper, Chris Squire, Al Di Meola, Steve Howe and David Torn. There are also a slew of collaborations with Patrick Moraz and Michael Borstlap, in their piano and percussion ensembles.

Bear in mind that a lot of this was improvisation at its rawest, so this is not always easy to listen to, yet there is much of worth and value to these discs. It’s not all about the big groups, much of Bill’s joy has been found in the less high profile works. This set is challenging and you can hear how Bill uses space in his music to fine effect and how he has a ‘less is more approach’ to making music. He is a skilled musician and he prefers to underplay as opposed to overplaying, subtlety being the key here, which is why he is so highly regarded by his fellow musicians and his contemporaries. Neal Peart of Rush says that the advancements that Bill made in the realm of electronics were a benefit to everyone.

The Bruford tracks are really fabulous music with a strong bass presence from Jeff Berlin and urgent sympathetic drumming from Bill. Tracks like Joe Frazier from ‘Gradually Going Tornado’ really show Bill’s skill as a band leader. In contrast, the Earthworks tracks are far mellower in the main but still with enough going on to make them of interest and investigation. The band’s revision of Downtown, as made famous by Petula Clark, is exceptionally inventive as they play around with a well-known piece to make it something rather different and exciting.

I really liked the spontaneous elements in the Bruford-Moraz tracks with just piano and drums playing together. The sound is full ,even though there are only two people playing and both Bruford and Moraz use the space in the music to create something pretty remarkable really. As are the tracks with Michael Borstlap which also fuse Bill’s drumming with piano in free form jazz tracks that again use the space to improvise across. This is especially the case on The 16 kingdoms of the Five Barbarians, with it’s thunderous drums and tense piano fills and flourishes, this track really makes an impression as does the highly rhythmic interplay on display on the Stand on Zanzibar, which features a graceful piano melody line and delicate yet informed drumming from Bill.

Equally fascinating are the trio of tracks from David Torn on which Bill appears as part of the rhythm section. Some of this jazz is pretty brutal and harsh, such is the way with the unconventional Torn, but it makes for interesting listening once you get used to it.

The set is split into three sets, discs 1 & 2 represent The Collaborator, discs 3 & 4 are The Composing Leader, disc 5 is The Special Guest and disc 6 Is The Improviser. Much of the first two discs will be familiar, as this encompasses his time with Yes and King Crimson whilst discs 3 and 4 cover the Bruford and Earthworks era, with everything else on discs 5 & 6. Either way this set is simply fascinating and one that will appeal to the more broad-minded prog fan as its grooves contain much very fine music indeed. The included book and poster are decent too and give a good overview from Bill himself, who was fully 100% involved in this project.

Released 29th April, 2022.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Making A Song And Dance: A Complete-Career Collection (burningshed.com)

Acclaimed Guitarist David King To Release New EP ‘Look For Stars’

Guitarist and composer David King is a unique voice in instrumental music from Motherwell in Scotland. His CV is extensive and includes a recent spell with legendary Scottish proggers Abel Ganz.

Dave wrote and recorded the five track EP called ‘Look For Stars’ at home from October last year till about 2 weeks ago – constant tweeting not withstanding. It was mastered by Steve Kitch who plays keys in The Pineapple Thief

David tells me more about the album;

“There are some fine musicians joining me this time – all my previous albums were just me but I had a great drummer Max Saidi on all 5 tracks. Alan (Hearton) from Ganz plays some wonderful keys and piano on 3 songs and I had some additional bass and guitar from a couple of good pals.

It’s all instrumental as you’ve seen on the video clips. In terms of influences it was more proggy than my previous releases but it still end up sounding like me, which is a good thing I suppose.  

I’m a real champion of the clean tones on guitar – I thoroughly appreciate the weedly weedly guys but I like textures like Alex Lifeson and Andy Summers.”

Track listing:

  1. Look For Stars
  2. The Spaces Inbetween
  3. Wave After Wave
  4. The Magic Music
  5. A Planet Of Playthings

The EP will be available on all the favourite streaming platforms but, being old school, Dave will doing a limited run of CDs as he’s sure his demographic will still appreciate the physical form!

Keep and eye out for further news and a release date at on social media and at:

www.davidkingmusic.net

Review – Clive Mitten – Tales From A Misspent Youth – Volume 1 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Clive Mitten first came to my notice when he released his C:Live Collective project in which he rewrote much of his Twelfth Night music, Clive having been the bass player throughout that band’s lifespan.

That album was to start a whole new way of working for Clive and opened his way of thinking so that he could then go further back and revisit other Twelfth Night pieces in a new way, orchestral re-interpretations realised via the use of real orchestral instrumentation recorded to a very high and professional standard and then collating all that together to craft and create fresh interpretations of his music. This he did for the ‘Suite Cryptique: Recomposing Twefth Night’ project album earlier in 2020 which was widely acclaimed upon its release.

Clive then decided to revisit the favourite music of his youth in a similar method which has resulted in a different type of album, one which revisits, reworks and reinterprets some genuine prog classics in a manner that really highlights the skill that was employed and used in their original creation. This album has no vocals yet, even so, the melodies of these pieces really shine through and captivate your attention. Although it can lack the dynamics of the original pieces, this actually makes you focus on the melodies employed to bring these pieces to life.

If you want, you can do what I have done and play the original versions back-to-back to with Clive’s interpretation and really see the brilliance of each composition stand out. This worked for me, especially on the Rush tracks Countdown, La Villa Strangiato and Xanadu, songs that I know well, this approach revealed the skill of the original late 1970’s and 1980’s’s recordings.

Clive’s take on Genesis’ ‘3 Sides Live’ version of the In The Cage Medley is equally compelling. In fact, I prefer Clive’s versions more than the originals, in many cases, such is the beauty and magic the music unveils. Clearly this has been a real labour of love for Clive to undertake. He says that, in doing this project, he has really begun to appreciate just how intelligent and skilled the compositional skills of Tony Banks truly are.

This album is good in that, unlike the royal Philharmonic Orchestra take on the music of Genesis and Pink Floyd is, this is better in that it is far truer and nearer to the originals, which is high praise. Clive is an unorthodox soul who uses real skill and shows deep appreciation and love for these pieces. He has somehow elevated these well-known classics in such a finely distilled manner that he manages to bring out their voices afresh and breathes a new life into each piece.

Clearly Clive has both an affection and an affinity with these songs, best of all he has further instalments planned and in the pipeline, which certainly will be worthy of investigation but, for now, this double CD set is more than enough to be going on with for now to enjoy a fresh view and slant on these well-known classic album tracks. I cannot recommend this enough as its very nature shines new light on some old classics and is a splendid and often breath-taking aural experience

On this album you will find some seriously inspired song choices, like Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Tubular Bells (Side One), Suppers Ready, Echoes, Solsbury Hill, Living In The Past and Jeux Sans Frontiers. This mixture of longer and shorter tracks really works and, of course, with a CD player you can program and play the CD in any sequence that appeals to you. But, whatever sequence suits you, be prepared to settle down and rediscover these songs afresh for yourself and enjoy this visionary approach and take on these pieces.

It has been a 2-year project that Clive has undertaken here, often difficult with his health problems and his sometimes-fragile mental health as he suffers from agoraphobia and has serious ongoing vision issues. The level of time, energy and commitment he has lent to this album is simply remarkable and, when you consider that Clive arranged and played everything himself and produced this on his own, makes this even more remarkable. The booklet is a fascinating read into how Clive approached and realised his vision and the whole package is simply exceptional and highly commended.

Released 28th January, 2022.

Order direct from the artists here:

Clive Mitten: Tales From A Misspent Youth – Volume I » Twelfth Night

Or from bandcamp here:

Tales From A Misspent Youth – Volume I | Clive Mitten | Twelfth Night (bandcamp.com)

European customers are advised to order from bandcamp!

Ms Amy Birks announces new single Brothers from her sophomore solo album In Our Souls available digitally today, with physical album release on June 17th. 

ALBUM LAUNCH: Jubilee Hall in Stoke  – June 18th TICKET LINK

Award-winning vocalist and songwriter Ms Amy Birks is thrilled to announce the second single BROTHERS, taken from her forthcoming self-produced sophomore solo album IN OUR SOULS. The video was premiered by PROG MAGAZINE today – LINK

In Our Souls is available digitally today, and for fans of vinyl and CD, it can be pre-ordered in a limited edition of 500 copies that is due for release June 17th 2022 and combines a 140g black vinyl pressing in a gatefold sleeve with a compact disc.

Brothers is accompanied by an official video and is without-doubt the most personal track on the album, Amy explains; “I have two estranged brothers and those tumultuous relationships have been the subject, or at least the undercurrent of many a song. For whatever reason, we have never seen eye to eye, hence the opening words of ‘I don’t understand why. Do you? Do you know why?’ and the build-up of aggression through the instrumentation. This, I suppose, is my therapy.”

For In Our Souls, out of the twelve tracks on the album, Birks, a long-standing fan of the Bronte sisters, sets the words of three Bronte poems to music. Birks furthered her knowledge of the sisters and their personal musical leanings through several trips to Howarth and the Bronte’s parsonage prior to selecting poems that would provide inspiration for the album. 

“I did English literature at college,” Birks said in this issue of PROG MAGAZINE “and I’ve always had a fascination with the Brontes, I thought, ‘Well, Kate Bush has done Wuthering Heights so I’m not going to touch the novels, but what about the poetry?’ So I went through them and landed on three that I loved, one from each sister.”

The first single and title track of the album (released Feb 2022) draws on Charlotte Bronte’s poem In Our SoulsA Death Scene was inspired by a work by Emily Bronte, while The Dream comes from Anne Bronte. 

“Anne was into vocal music,” Birks explains, ‘so I kept The Dream more like a singer-songwriter piece. Emily was quite passionate and dark, she was into Beethoven and Liszt, so I pushed the piano to the forefront on that, I found their words went very well with the sort of melodies I write.” 

Amy, lead singer and lyricist of Beatrix Players, is  joined on the album by Helena Dove and Tom Manning , two   co-writers from the original line-up of that award-winning band.  Manning also composed and played all the guitar parts on the album. Amy is once again accompanied by flautist John Hackett while introducing violinist Frank Van Essen and cellist Clare O’Connell to what is a virtuosic line-up.

The In Our Souls album represents Birks’ second time around as a producer and mixing engineer. She recalls the process as being “a time of solitude, of many a late night, exploring ideas and losing myself in the books and     poetry of the Bronte’s and my own personal journey over the past few years, developing my ears, skills and confidence as a composer.

My first record, All That I Am & All That I Was, was very much about deeply personal experiences but with this album I wanted to extract more strength and feeling from the musical palette and have more fun with it, which has enabled me to step back a little from the lyrics and put more faith in my ability to write not only songs but pieces of music.”

UK TOUR DATES 

APRIL 24th – (TRIO) – ROBIN 2, BILSTON

MAY 8th – THE 1865 – SOUTHAMPTON

JUNE 11th – (TRIO) – LONDON MUSIC MUSEUM – OPENING FOR TIM BOWNESS

JUNE 18th – (FULL BAND) ALBUM LAUNCH – JUBILEE HALL @ STOKE TOWN HALL TICKETS

JULY 2nd – (TRIO) – STRETHAM HOUSE CONCERTS, ELY

JULY 19th – (TRIO) – GREEN NOTE, LONDON – TICKETS

OCTOBER 21st – (DUO) – FORUM, DARLINGTON  (OPENING FOR THE JOHN HACKETT BAND)

Tim Bowness celebrates 40 years of making music with new solo album ‘Butterfly Mind’; first single ‘Always The Stranger’ out now 

Coming 40 years after he first started performing in bands in his native North West of England, Tim Bowness returns in 2022 with his seventh solo album ‘Butterfly Mind’, due for release on the 17th June 2022. Produced in conjunction with long-time collaborator Brian Hulse, and mixed & mastered by Steven Wilson, this new album is his most surprising release yet. 

Watch the video for the album’s first single ‘Always The Stranger’, created by Crystal Spotlight here:

This track features the brilliant rhythm section of Richard Jupp (in his first major session since leaving Elbow) & Nick Beggs, as well as featuring haunting backing vocals from Martha Goddard of The Hushtones. Tim comments: “The title of the song derives from the name of my first ever 1980s solo project. Despite being pretty experimental – I was a very intense teenager! – and only existing on home-produced demo cassettes, ATS got a lot of very welcome support from local media (BBC GMR, Piccadilly Radio, Manchester Evening News and Warrington Guardian, in particular). In some ways, the lyric is something of a ‘what might have been’ or even ‘what may be’ scenario. It’s about what can happen when you don’t embrace change or challenge and creative restlessness gives way to cynical stasis.”

Butterfly Mind will be available as a Limited 2CD Edition (incl. alternative mixes and outtakes), as well as a Limited Edition 180g LP+CD featuring a striking die-cut artwork by Carl Glover. Burning Shed have an exclusive green vinyl edition, and you can pre-order now here: https://timbowness.lnk.to/ButterflyMind

To celebrate the release of the new album, Tim will play some select UK live dates, including an instore + Q&A at Rough Trade East in London. 

10.06.2022 – Prohibition, Liverpool, UK 

11.06.2022 – The Musical Museum, Brentford, London, UK

18.06.2022 – Rough Trade East, London, UK

Tim’s seventh solo album – his sixth for InsideOutMusic / Sony – features the rhythm section of Richard Jupp (ex-Elbow) and Nick Beggs alongside a spectacular guest list including Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Dave Formula (Magazine), Peter Hammill (Van Der Graaf Generator), Martha Goddard (The Hushtones), Gregory Spawton (Big Big Train), Mark Tranmer (The Montgolfier Brothers / GNAC), Saro Cosentino (Franco Battiato), Italian Jazz musician Nicola Alesini, US singer Devon Dunaway (Ganga), Stephen W Tayler (Kate Bush) and, marking his first studio work with Tim for nearly three decades, former No-Man violinist Ben Coleman

Lobate Scarp To Release Second Full Length Album – ‘You Have It All’

Progressive-rock band Lobate Scarp will release their second full-length studio album You Have It All on April 1. It serves as an expansion to their 2019 EP Spirals and Portals. Progressive rock fans will appreciate the 17-minute finale “Flowing Through The Change” and the 14 1/2-minute title track featuring guest vocalists Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood from Yes. Modern prog fans will also enjoy guest appearances from Ryo Okumoto (Spock’s Beard) and Jimmy Keegan (Spock’s Beard, Pattern-Seeking Animals). Also drumming on both epic tracks is Eric Moore (Suicidal Tendencies, Infectious Grooves).

Rich Mouser, whose mixing repertoire includes Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, Neal Morse, has once again mixed the album, and has played even a bigger role as co-producer and additional musician on several tracks. Steven Leavitt, producer of Lobate Scarp’s debut album Time and Space, has also returned to co-produce and engineer. The album will be available in a high-res digital format as well as a limited edition glossy CD-booklet including 16-pages of lyrics, art, and liner notes. This is the third Lobate release with a front cover created by David A. Hardy, infamous space artist. The album is currently available to pre-order at Indiegogo / gotprog.com.

Lobate Scarp is a progressive opera-rock band based in Los Angeles. Their influences range from classic prog-rock of the 70’s such as Genesis and Yes, to 80’s pop such as Duran Duran and Tears for Fears, as well as strong ties to musical theater. Their debut Time and Space has had positive reviews published in numerous music publications and websites such as Prog Archives, Empire Music, and Yes Music Podcast. Online blog, Progarchy called Time and Space “one of the top 13 albums of 2013”. The band is scheduled to perform at this year’s RoSFest, one of America’s premiere progressive rock festival which will take place in Sarasota, Florida.

Review – PsychoYogi – Digital Vagrancy – by John Wenlock-Smith

For those who don’t know, PsychoYogi are a jazz fusion / progressive rock band led by the incredibly talented Chris Ramsing who plays guitar, writes the songs and also sings them! Chris is clearly influenced by the likes of Frank Zappa and many other left-field musicians. He is a very skilled player and uses the band’s musicality to express his thought and viewpoints. The music can be a bit cerebral and clever and can take a while to get into as it requires the listener’s effort too, what can seem to be a bit obscure will eventually begin to feel familiar and friendly, if you are prepared to make the investment of time and effort.

PsychoYogi have joined the roster of artists that appear under the Bad Elephant Music label banner, which is a good home for them and should expose them to a far wider audience. Their talents should begin to get the recognition that they deserve, after several years of self-released albums like ‘Accident Prone’, ‘Consumption Wheel’ and ‘Chase the Bone’, along with last year’s ‘Dangerous Devices’.

The latter was a good template for this new album ‘Digital Vagrancy’, a release on which, you will be glad to hear, the band’s normal wackiness and weirdness continues unabated, which, in the madness of this present age, is certainly both a boon and a relief and is very welcome. This is music to challenge and to experience for yourself, in amongst the weird time signatures lurks a good sense of both humour and of the absurd. This is clearly shown on tracks like Wonderful Place with its strong bass lines and with Chris’s fluid guitar taking centre stage, its freewheeling form scoring highly. There is also a deft lightness of touch to many of these tracks which shows how well the band are gelling as a unit these days, brass, horns, bass and guitars are drawn together, all underpinned by the bass of Izzy Stylish and the drums of Justin Casey.

The album opens with Guiding Light, all gentle noodling from Chris along with good syncopation from Justin’s drums, which splash gently across the muted tones of the sax of Toby Nowell. This is all very eloquently overseen by all concerned with a strong jazz fusion leaning and a jaunty tone, yet it’s still accessible listening and not just for jazz buffs. A Dangerous Path opens with some horn interplay, which sets the scene well for the languid jazzy rhythms at play. Here the music and vocals actually put me in mind of Greenslade for some odd reason but, if so, that’s a good comparison to have really, as they are nothing like each other at all but the mind is a strange thing at times and I guess years of stored music came to the surface there.

The River follows and has prominent bass to open followed by eloquent sax. Again, this mellow song works well hinged on bass and delicate drums with guitar chords at play and a brief jazzy guitar break from Chris really hits the mark. Wonderful Place is up next and opens with a long, fluid guitar line laid over busy drums and more of those strong bass lines. Shimmering guitar chords play over the track and are joined by more sax lines, add in an almost ethnic sounding percussion segment and it becomes very jazzy. This is sublime and superb at the same time, an enjoyable track with lots happening in its three-minute window.

Distant Bell follows with more delicate guitar lines and subtle bass lines, the horn and sax parts helping this sound really swing. This album gets better the more you play it and you begin to realise just what a joyfully crafted it really is as well as being imaginative and boldly creative. Everyone gets a chance to shine, and they all do throughout this fine track. Next Track Salvation has a smoky sounding opening, murky and effective sounding, before the vocals start. The song is all about faith and belief and the entire system of such things, it’s an interesting song that asks a lot questions land leaves you to your own conclusions.

Love and Sanity is about the lack of compassion in today’s world, how we are worse for its lack in society, and how we all avoid it as individuals today. It’s an honest, challenging and sobering song at times. Much to Dream About follows and is another questioning song about how yesterday’s dreams have gone and how those dreams have been replaced with negativity, fear and loathing with everybody affected by this change. This is social commentary about the world today and how it has not gotten better but has taken a step or more in the wrong direction.

Innocence for Fear is the last vocal track on the album and offers the observation that we exchange ‘Innocence for Fear’ in this modern age and that we all suffer as a result. Chris is quite forthright in his observations and questioning and why not , these things should be spoken of far more than the subservience and blind obedience that is expected of us these days!

It’s good that albums like this can offer a platform for such views to be considered and, as such, this is an important album and one that is worthy of consideration with its excellent musicianship and challenging lyrics and themes. This music could be described as left-field punk-jazz and I think that is pretty accurate.

Released 29th October, 2021

Order from Bad Elephant Music on bandcamp here:

Digital Vagrancy | PsychoYogi (bandcamp.com)

Review – Steve Gibbons Band: Rollin’ – The Albums – 1976-1978′ – by John Wenlock-Smith

Growing up as I did in Birmingham in the 1970s, I balanced my musical tastes between the hard rock and progressive music and held at bay the encroachment of the punk and new wave genres. It’s odd really, as there were some genuinely interesting things that were going on in that scene like Eddie and The Hot Rods and Racing Cars, to name just two, where energy and talent met head on.

A vast majority of these trod the boards of the stages of either the Birmingham Odeon or the Town Hall. One of the regular visitors being the Steve Gibbons Band, who were local lads who had landed the attention of record label Polydor. They were a band I was aware of but had no relevant knowledge about, neither of them or their music which, in hindsight, was to my detriment as their sound style and influences were so far removed from punk or new wave and being far more R &B or americana in style.

Well, my chance to remedy this issue came by means of this excellent new Polydor box set serving that era and issued by those good people at Cherry Red. This collection includes their entire output for the label of four albums (3 studio and 1 live album) along with a further BBC ‘Live in Concert’ to offer a comprehensive overview of their career. All alongside an informative booklet from the late Malcolm Dome.

I always like a live album as they often portray the more muscular live sound and allow for songs to be stretched out with some improvisation, where appropriate. On this score ‘Caught in the Act’ is a fine document of their live sound, capturing them in various settings, although the actual recording locations and information is not that clear. What the sound reminds me of is a far more organic version of Wishbone Ash as the two guitarists have a similar interplay and dynamic.

Also worthy of note is their debut album, especially the songs Rollin’ and Spark Of Love, both of which pack a punch and show what they were capable of to favourable effect. In addition, this underpins the Wishbone Ash comments, although I can also hear elements of bands like The Allman Brothers, such is the subtle musical interplay in the band.

The set also contains a further live album recording for the BBC from 1977, at the Shepherds Bush Empire, that captures the band in fine form once more and touring in support of their ‘Down In The Bunker’ album.

Steve Gibbons is a fine singer and also a good writer of songs, mostly that tell a story, especially as evidenced on the two live sets and tracks like Mr Jones and in Tupelo Mississippi Flash, about a hick town guitar player, when played live, these songs get time to gel fully and effectively.

I must say that time has treated these albums well and the remastering is beautifully done, giving the sound clarity and wallop where needed. In fact, I am really wondering quite why I never actually listened to these before and, as such, have really missed supporting these local lads when I had the chance, hindsight is a wonderful thing I guess?

Of the three studio albums, I think the first, ‘Any Road Up’, is possibly the best, as it is a band on the cusp of success and all their years of effort are starting to pay off. The album is relatively short though but it has power in the potential it offers, all of which was to find realisation on their second album ‘Rollin On” from 1977. The band were right in the midst of the onslaught of punk and yet still managed to deliver a fine sophomore album including its top 40 single Tulane and other such strong songs as Mr Jones, Tupelo Mississippi Flash and the acapella Right Side Of Heaven that segues brilliantly into Rollin On’. This album is further enhanced by 5 bonus tracks, including 2 songs from a session for John Peel, a man who knew good music when he heard it. Tulane was a big hit for the Steve Gibbons Band and it appears on this set four times in both studio, live and session takes and it’s always a worthy song to hear.

The final studio album, ‘Down In The Bunker’ was produced by Tony Visconti, of David Bowie and Thin Lizzy fame, and packs a good punch too. The album has eight bonus tracks to round it out, although details are scant about these.

What this set offers is a full overview of the band’s years as part of the Polydor label. The band continue today, albeit in a far simpler manner away from major label pressures and hassles, but this set offers a look into their legacy and history and shows them to be a band that Birmingham should be proud, of even today.

Released 7th January, 2022

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

Steve Gibbons Band: Rollin’ – The Albums 1976-1978, 5CD Remastered & Expanded Box Set – Cherry Red Records

Progradar’s Review of 2021

I’ve had a little time to digest what was a rather wonderful year of music in 2021. Here is my review of the year with my favourite albums, in no particular order barring my number one!

Transatlantic – The Absolute Universe – Forevermore

A true return to form for the prog supergroup with melodies, tunes and overtures galore. Transatlantic gave us their best album since ‘Bridge Across Forever’.

Lifesigns – Altitude

I really think that Lifesigns have taken a massive step forward with this album, good as ‘Cardington’ was, this release is so very much better in my opinion.

Echoes & Signals – Mercurial

‘Mercurial’ trades some of Echoes & Signals’ signature post-rock sensibilities for a darker journey into the kind of prog-metal embraced by the likes of Tool and this new direction is one that I feel suits them perfectly. 

Cosmograf – Rattrapante

At the time, I said, “At this moment in time there is nothing I would rather listen to than this incredible new album from Cosmograf, will Robin’s latest pièce de résistance still be up there at the end of the year? Most probably but, here and now, it just does not get any better than this!” And here it is!

League of Lights – Dreamers Don’t Come Down

Not only a nod to the past but also a completely relevant piece of music in these present times, ‘Dreamers Don’t Come Down’ is a perfectly crafted collection of pop and electronica infused songs that really hit home.

Ana Patan – Spice, Gold and Tales Untold

Wearing her many influences proudly on her sleeve Ana Patan has just allowed the music and her excellent vocals to tell her many intriguing and involving stories and this has allowed them to breathe and come to life quite spectacularly. An album that has surprised me in its simple brilliance and one that, if you let it, will enrich your life in a myriad of ways.

The Vicious Head Society – Extinction Level Event

‘Extinction Level Event’ is shaping up to possibly be the best prog metal album of the last few years at least, I honestly don’t think I’ve had a prog metal album hit me so hard since Haken’s ‘The Mountain’

Catalyst*R – self-titled

When everything that is happening around you is making your life jaded, just press play on this bewitching collection of songs, light the spark and let the music start to take your cares away…

Michael Woodman – Psithurism

A hugely impressive and admirably different collection of songs that shows Woodman’s impish creativity at its best. A musical breath of fresh air that will leave a smile on your face and wonderment in your soul.

Vestamaran – Bungalow Rex

Get your hands on this album and, when the sun shines, get the barbecue lit, an ice cold beer in your hand, put the stereo on, turn it up to 11 and just enjoy this incredible album for, as the press release says, “Life is not just bungalow all day long, it also includes a lot of rex in the evenings.”

Tillison, Reingold, Tiranti – Allium – Una Storia

Simple but perfectly formed and harking back to the days when music just put a smile on your face, this is one album that deserves success just because of how it makes you feel and I love it for that.

Big Big Train – Common Ground

Vibrant and upbeat, thoughtful, wistful and even melancholy at times, it is a collection of amazing songs that will touch you on a basic level and move you on many others. ‘Common Ground’ is the album that will make you fall in love with the band all over again and I can’t give it any higher praise than that!

smalltape – The Hungry Heart

I’m a massive fan of music that makes me think, music that doesn’t give up its deepest delights easily and ‘The Hungry Heart’ has that in spades. HungerBurning House, Dissolution, the list goes on, cuts of pure musical brilliance that showcase this young German musician as a seriously precocious talent and one to follow closely.

Giancarlo Erra – Departure Tapes

If music could tell a story of a life lived, lost and, deep at its core, loved then ‘Departure Tapes’ is it. I am along term fan of this intelligent musician’s brilliant work and this new release is another entry into his very impressive discography.

Great North Star – self-titled

Step out of this confusing and hectic world that we live in, if only for the thirty nine minutes running time, and allow your mind and your soul to recharge. A wonderful and insightful masterpiece that will stay with you for a very long time.

Three Colours Dark – Love’s Lost Property

‘Love’s Lost Property’ is an exquisite creation, nine tracks of wondrously charming music with Rachel’s honeyed vocals lifting this release well above what you may have heard already this year. I suggest you get your hands on it as soon as you can, it is definitely worth seeking out.

The Holy Road – An Unshakeable Demon

Never be afraid to challenge yourself and listen to something different, I found the eclectic and evocative wonder of ‘An Unshakable Demon’ really hit home with me.

CYAN – For King And Country

A masterpiece of intricate melodies, mellifluous vocals and intelligent songwriting, ‘For King And Country’ delights on every level and makes you smile. You can’t really ask for much more than that, can you?

Glass Hammer – Skallagrim – Into The Breach

Epic in scope, majestic in scale and blurring the lines between progressive rock and progressive metal, Glass Hammer have given us their best album of recent years and possibly their best release ever and it should be another monster success for this evergreen band.

Findlay Napier – It Is What It Is

‘It Is What It Is’ sees this fine musician and songwriter on a higher plane and is a must buy for anyone who appreciates and treasures original music with heart and soul.

And the top gong for album of the year goes to….

HFMC – We Are The Truth

This superlative gem of release is worthy of all the praise that is being heaped upon it and finishes 2021 on an utter high for this reviewer, the finest of a wonderful crop of albums released this year!

So, there you have it, my selection of some of the great albums that graced 2021 and I am sure that 2022 is going to be just as good!