Crack The Sky is undoubtedly the best progressive rock band that you’ve most likely never heard of, unless you we’re living in Baltimore in the 70’s. The band was formed in the early 1970’s in West Virginia. It would be several years before they would release their debut self titled album, Crack The Sky in 1975. Rolling Stone declared this album the ‘debut album of the year’ and the publication later went on to compare Crack The Sky to the talents of Steely Dan. This review set the bar high for the band.
Though the band never saw the same success as the first album. The band continues to perform and release albums to this day. On January 15th, 2021 they released their 19th studio album, Tribes.
Renaissance Records has announced that they will be reissuing Crack Attic by Crack The Sky this June of 2021 onto deluxe 180-gram vinyl with a gate fold. This ‘Best of Crack The Sky’ is a compilation album of the first five studio albums from 1975 to 1980. It will include featured tracks, ‘Hold On’, ‘Surf City’, ‘Nuclear Apathy’ and ‘Sea Epic’. It will also include trading cards of the original band members that come with the album when you purchase it exclusively with Renaissance Records.
Crack Attic by Crack The Sky is available now for pre-order from renaissancerecordsus.com. Track List
1. Hold On 2. Surf City 3. She’s A Dancer 4. Mind Baby
1. Ice 2. We Want Mine 3. Maybe I Can Fool Everyone 4. Ranger’s At Midnight
1. Invaders From Mars 2. Nuclear Apathy 3. Long Nights 4. Lighten Up McGraw
1. White Music 2. Hot Razors In My Hearts 3. Poptown 4. Flaming Prelude/ Too Nice For That
About Renaissance Records
Founded in 1993 by former Aerospace Engineer John W. Edwards who had a passion for music and a new idea to form a recording label. He focused on the reissuing of classic rock and classic country LPs on CD for the first time. Renaissance Records soon signed licensing deals with EMI- Capitol, Sony Music, Universal Music Group, and BMG/RCA/Arista. The record label has released recordings from artists such as Rick Springfield, Pure Prairie League, Blue Oyster Cult, Gamma, Roxy Music and Judas Priest.
YES guitarist Steve Howe has announced he is to release the seventh edition of his Homebrew album series on 30th July via HoweSound. Homebrew 7marks the 25th anniversary ofthe guitar legend’s first album in his Homebrew collection. Pre-order the album here: https://cargorecordsdirect.co.uk/products/steve-howe-homebrew-7
The Homebrew series typically features recordings from Steve Howe’s home archive of demos and tracks, originally recorded for one of his many solo or group projects with YES, ASIA, ABWH or GTR. Homebrew 7 differs slightly as none of the tracks have previously been released in any form and there are no plans for any to be rerecorded in the future.
“Many are things I’ve enjoyed saving until the right moment,” says Howe, “and the Homebrew series allows this. Some tracks have matured with my nurturing but others have been recently rediscovered.”
This collection includes tracks from the late seventies through to 2016 in Howe’s extensive range of playing styles. Each of the 21 tracks is dated and accompanied by Howe’s background notes and details on instrumentation. Most of the tracks are Howe’s solo recordings with occasional contributions from Dylan Howe and Virgil Howe on drums with Phil Spalding on bass guitar (Half Way). The booklet includes the lyrics for the four vocal tracks and is also illustrated by some of Howe’s delightfully atmospheric photography.
Homebrew 7 Track Listing:
1. The Glider (2015) Time: 1.37
2. October (1998) 1.56
3. Half Way (1997, 2009 & 2015) 3.49
4. The Only One (2013) 1.26
5. In One Life (1982) 2.41
6. Outstanding Deal (1982) 3.21
7. Be Natural (2013) 1.47
8. Cold Winds (1983) 2.38
9. Deanscape (1982) 2.21
10. Tender Hooks (2015) 2.06
11. A Lady She Is (1982) 4.12
12. Two Sided (2013) 1.45
13. Strange Wayfarer (2016) 3.00
14. Devon Girl (1983) 2.42
15. Safe Haven (2015) 1.31
16. A Matter Of Fact 1986)
17. Touchstone (2015)1.58
18. From Another Day (1979) 1.47
19. Foregone Conclusion (2015) 1.58
20. Space Void (1978) 1.05
21. From The Get-Go (2015) 1.49
Total Running Time: 49.41
All titles written, arranged, engineered and produced by Steve Howe with additional drums by Dylan Howe and Virgil Howe.
July 30th, 2021 sees the release of ‘Common Ground’, the self-produced new album from Big Big Train on their own label, English Electric Recordings. The new album, recorded during the worldwide pandemic, sees the band continue their tradition of dramatic narratives but also tackles issues much closer to home, such as the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band and the hope that springs from a new love.
Watch the new video for the title track, created by Christian Rios, here:
“This is unashamedly a love song. It is about finding things that we share and have in common with other people. When my partner and I first came together as a couple, we lived not far from Avebury in Wiltshire, a very Big Big Train kind of place. The chalk hills and standing stones were part of the imagery of our ‘Folklore’ album, and once again I was writing what was literally happening in the location in which we found ourselves. I remember seeing my white chalk dust footprints upon the black of the car mats after we’d been walking around Avebury. I’m pleased that we both get to have this time with each other and ‘Common Ground’ is about finding out the things that we have in common with each other and deciding what we want to do in life together.” – David Longdon
1. The Strangest Times 2. All The Love We Can Give 3. Black With Ink 4. Dandelion Clock 5. Headwaters 6. Apollo 7. Common Ground 8. Atlantic Cable 9. Endnotes
‘Common Ground’ sees the band taking in wider musical and lyrical inspiration from artists such as Elbow, Pete Townshend, Tears For Fears, Elton John and XTC, as well as acknowledging their more progressive roots. As ever, Big Big Train will take listeners on a journey, be it waiting for the UK 5pm pandemic press conferences (’The Strangest Times’) to the library of Alexandria (‘Black With Ink’) to the bottom of the ocean (‘Atlantic Cable’).
For the ‘Common Ground’ tour, which will be their most extensive to date and which will culminate in the UK with a show at the prestigious London Palladium, Greg Spawton (bass), David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals) and Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) will be joined by Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), who contributes vocals to ‘Common Ground’, Dave Foster (guitars), who plays on two tracks on the new album, Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) and by a five piece brass ensemble. The band expect to announce North American tour dates shortly.
Big Big Train has taken lyrical and musical inspiration from periods of history that are recognised as great leaps forward. Now with ‘Common Ground’, they are making such a surge themselves.
BIG BIG TRAIN UK TOUR 2022
TUE, MARCH 15TH – YORK, BARBICAN WED, MARCH 16TH – CAMBRIDGE, CORN EXCHANGE FRI, MARCH 18TH – BIRMINGHAM, SYMPHONY HALL SAT, MARCH 19TH – BATH, FORUM MON, MARCH 21ST – GLASGOW, ROYAL CONCERT HALL TUE, MARCH 22ND – MANCHESTER, BRIDGEWATER HALL WED, MARCH 23RD – LONDON, PALLADIUM
This 2CD set is a revisitation and reimagining of music originally performed by the band Twelfth Night in their early 1980’s incarnation before Geoff Mann left the group. The albums reimagined are ‘Live at the Target’, ‘Live (and Let Live)’ and ‘Fact and Fiction’ along with reworkings of tracks The Collector and Creepshow.
This album is progressive but not necessarily in a manner that you would expect, let me elucidate…
This is a bold, brave (and possibly foolish) concept that could trash your love for those early albums as they sound significantly different and altered here. Some might see this as a vanity project or even conceited, however, I see this a very bold musical statement that has much depth and character, plus a lot of imagination at play, to make something totally new and absorbing, standing as a testament to those fabulous years and times.
This is not easy listening, as in ‘popped up’ orchestral classics, instead this is rather more studiously applied music that uses minimalism and classical flourishes to bring out the themes that were somewhat hidden in the early albums.
Clive has single-handily pulled all this together during lockdown and has had musical advice from Geoff Mann’s wife Jane and from former band colleagues Brian Devoil, Andy Revell and Mark Spencer. With the arrangements textures and sounds, this sounds very minimalist so, if you like Steve Reich or any modern minimalist composers, this may find favour with you.
This really has been a labour of love for Clive, keeping him busy and occupied during some very lonely and hard times.
Although I am not a long time follower of Twelfth night, I find this album deeply satisfying as it has some very gracious and fine music to it, along with fabulous performances. The sound is very expansive and yet, somehow, very open with equal room given to each instrument. This is somewhat surprising seeing as Clive has used very expansive (and expensive) libraries of orchestral samples, originally recorded by a plethora of top London orchestral players, making this both highly impressive and also aurally confusing, as you’d swear there actually was a real live orchestra playing these parts.
The album will take several listens before you get the concept fully. This is a journey of discovery that you must be willing to undertake for yourself. As with any journey, the joy is not only in the destination but also in the completion the journey itself, and this is a most enjoyable one, in my opinion. The use of strings and oboes (and all manner of other artificial wind and string instruments) is both beguiling and confusing as you forget that this is all artificially created, lovingly crafted for sure but all bogus, artificial and man-made. The album has passages of great beauty, especially on the opening track Part One: Live at the Target which has an extremely dramatic violin section and some great percussion interludes, along with a vibrant violin and French horn passage that really grabs your attention.
Reimagining and recomposing means taking the music apart and remaking it again differently, yet keeping the same sentiments as the original. A difficult task to be sure, not only challenging but also very worthy as these pieces show clearly. This project has been in Clive’s mind for 40 years but it was only during the first lockdown that he was finally able to address the question of what if? and realise his ambitions. Personally, this album makes me want to go and explore those original albums and discover their magic for myself. Thankfully, a lot of this is available on bandcamp or from Twelfth Night directly so I can discover it for myself.
This project has not only inspired Clive to look at the early days of Twelfth Night but also to compose suites that include works by his favourite prog artists, like Yes, Supertramp, Genesis and Rush, amongst others, and he already has plans for at least two more albums of equally innovative re-compositions of classics, all of which are in the planning and creation stages. I, for one, am very much look forward to hearing those when they emerge.
For now, though, this remarkable album shows the fabulous imagination and talent that Clive Mitten has and which he lent to all this fabulous music that he was a major part of all those years ago. He has shown great skill and bravery in refashioning this music in such a unique and vibrant manner. This really is an amazing album of music, look out for the Mission Impossible theme that he weaves into Part Two:Live (and Let Live), which was apparently a favourite of Geoff Mann, Clive lovingly working this in to honour his departed colleague.
Each part of this album addresses a different period of the band in a unique manner, listen with your ears open and find the beauty that is within these pieces. The use of melody and harmony, syncopation and dramatic dynamics all stand up clearly in these musical pieces, it is all fabulous stuff, challenging, absorbing and, above all, rewarding and dignified. Part Three: The Collector is simply magnificent, taking a live favourite and making it completely new is inspiring and fine testament to a great song.
The abstract album cover is actually a sketch by Geoff Mann, originally created for the ‘Fact and Fiction’ album but never actually used. Clive Mitten you, sir, are a genius and I applaud your commitment and efforts in making this fabulous music. Respect is well due.
John Wenlock-Smith – Good afternoon Jordan, how are you doing now?
Jordan Rudess – Hello John, yes, I am doing fine thank you. We are all safe and well as can be at this moment in time.
JWS – Lets talk about ‘LTE3’ (The forthcoming new album from Liquid Tension Experiment) that is due out in April, I have a download of it and I think it is a fabulous set of pieces, I really like it.
JR – Oh I am glad that you like it. I was not quite sure what you were going to say but I like a lot too. I am enormously proud of what we managed to get done, especially with this pandemic. It allowed us a window of opportunity to allow LTE (Liquid Tension Experiment) to be once more. It has only taken us twenty years in which a lot has changed but some things have not changed much at all really. We are still the same musicians, just a bit older now but still willing to try this experiment once again. Hopefully the response will be positive from all quarters, like the Dream Theater fans and the fusion fans too.
JWS – I Like it, the opener Hypersonic is certainly fast and furious, was that deliberately so?
JR – Yes, we wanted something that would either attract or dispel the listener, I think that we succeeded on that score.
JWS – I agree, I think it set you up for all that is to come. I especially like the track Rhapsody In Blue, a reworking of a piece previously played live.
JR – I have always liked that Gershwin piece, although it has been so long since we last did that song that I had to rethink my approach on keyboards to do it.
JWS – Well I think it is a stunning take on what is a classic musical piece. What other songs do you especially like? I see you have your piano right there, play me something please will you?
JR – With pleasure, this is the song Shades Of Hope (Jordan then proceeds to play this jaw droppingly fantastic piano line from the song, his playing is impeccable and for an audience of one!)
JWS – Wow! thanks Jordan, that was fabulous. I have just bought an 88 key digital piano for myself ,although It will be years before I am anywhere near proficient.
JR – Well, keep playing, is what I would say to you. I started when I was 9 years of age and I am now 64 but I still love music as much now as when I first started, possibly even more so truth be told.
JWS – I am looking forward to getting the new album. I am going to get the 2CD version with the extra tracks on it, those sound interesting, although I’ve yet to hear them.
JR – Oh you will like those I think, we got to do even more wild playing for those.
JWS – So how did those sessions work out?
JR – Well, we recorded it at Dream Theater’s New York base of operation. I kind of thought it might be odd for Mike (Portnoy) as he’d not been there since he left the band but he was totally cool with it all and even offered some memorabilia for the complex. But, overall, it was just great fun, four friends who value each other musically and socially. Tony (Levin) brought his famous coffee machine again to keep us going, it was all such a great vibe. I think the results honour the commitment made by each member to the proceedings.
JWS – Did you use your normal Dream Theater keyboard set up?
JR – Pretty much, although I did tweak a few sound settings. John (Petrucci) pointed out that my sound was a bit stale sounding and, as he is the master of tone, I listened to his suggestions and we got to the sound that we felt was what we wanted.
JWS – So will there be any opportunity for some live LTE shows? Possibly when covid is over and activities resume normally?
JR – Well I certainly hope there would be but only once we have sorted out activities for the main band. We are all busy, Mike is always busy with either Neal Morse or his own projects, as is Tony with all that he does. We are all remarkably busy hence the twenty years gap between ‘LTE2’ and this new album.
JWS – Have you been active during lockdown Jordan?
JR – Yes, I have been busy with my sound company and I have also recorded a new solo album. I have also been busy with my Patreon site, using it to connect to other people. Depending on their support level, they can access tutorials and even have a one-to-one conversation. My latest solo album ‘Chapter In Time’ is on bandcamp only.
Check it out, it is just me playing mainly piano pieces and a few textural keyboard sounds to create some ambient type of music. I think you might like it, is mellow and chilled, good to relax to or listen to in the background.
JWS – I also saw your performance of Tarkus on the recently issued Keith Emerson tribute concert. That was some performance of the whole of Tarkus!
JR – Thank you, Tarkus is an important piece for me, that is the track that stopped me being just a classically trained pianist and made me want to rock out. So I owe Keith Emerson a huge debt of gratitude for that song, it was a privilege to be able to honour him in that way.
JWS – I agree, I have also got that on CD and I have your own version on ‘The Road Home’ album.
JR – That’s a good album, I like that one, with some great players, Neal Morse, Rod Morgenstein and Kip Winger, Nick DiVirgilio, and Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, amongst others. I had a lot of fun with that album paying tribute to some of my influences.
JWS – So what does the future look like for you, apart from this new ‘LTE3’ album? oh, very impressive artwork by the way!
JR – Yes, I think it is terrific too. For me, it’s more Dream Theater, once we can get back together safely and tour once again. I am 64 now and still love this life and I appreciate every day that I get to live it too.
JWS – Jordan, my time has gone so all that remains for me is to say a huge thank you for making the time to speak with you. I have really enjoyed my time with you, I wish you well for this album and hope to see you live at some point in the not too distant future.
JR – Thanks John for a great interview, all the best to you too, my friend.
‘To Touch the Sky’ is the fourth and latest CD from The Emerald Dawn following on the heels of their earlier albums, ‘Nocturne’ (2019), ‘Visions’ (2017) and Searching for the Lost Key (2014). I have not heard these previous albums, which is something I really should rectify!
The Emerald Dawn are a four-piece group who play symphonic progressive music, their sound is full and lush, with enough space in the music to allow each member enough room to shine.
‘To Touch the Sky’ has just three tracks, all lengthy and complex. Their own words state that this album is, “A celebration of the voyage towards one’s goal, including the hardships and dangers faced en-route. Beginning with the night, the music depicts the process of walking up and coming to life, a moment of awareness or the experience of being awestruck, then provides the motivation for each traveller to pursue their quest. In the closing 22-minute epic, The Ascent, the metaphor of climbing a mountain can be interpreted as a psychological, spiritual, or physical attainment, just as the listener chooses”. All of which sounds very lofty and idealistic but, is it any good you may ask?
Well, the answer is not immediately clear and will require a degree of listener involvement, your time and possibly some headphones to get the best from this music. Oh, and possibly a glass of your favourite tipple might not go amiss either!
Our journey begins with The Awakening which opens with some strident piano notes and a prominent bass from David Greenaway matching the piano along with swathes of keyboards from Tree Stewart. There are then vocals from Tree, who also echoes the refrain herself. We then move into a very spacious section where keyboards have lots of room and space to evoke their magic before a meaty guitar riff from Ally Carter joins in and the drums of Tom Jackson complete the mix. This section has some rather vibrant and lively guitar and synth lines, sumptuous all around. This all sounds really fabulous and all the time the bass is making its own patterns in the sound while Ally solos away wildly. The song returns to the opening piano motif while Ally lays a guitar line over the top of it all, bringing the piece to an emphatic conclusion. This is a really strong, symphonic and epic piece of music.
The second Track is And I Stood Transfixed and it opens with a solid drumbeat before a gently strummed acoustic guitar segues into the mix. Ally Carter lays down some very Pink Floyd-like guitar lines before switching to sax to play a flurry of notes that are all very evocative and otherworldly sounding. The drums pick up the pace of the song before keyboards enter, laying out a dreamy soundscape with some great bass underpinning it all. Ethereal vocals are added to the mix along with delicate piano notes. This section relates to the Eureka moment in the process of making the journey as thoughts coalesce into tangible activity so that the journey can be started.
The journey from the mind to the heart may only be 18 inches but it is a process we all go through when we are on the cusp of change. This section leads into some ominous guitar chords and tones as the piece takes a heavier stance with more random sounding saxophone notes being played. Calm is then restored as we are rewarded by a synthesizer solo from Tree Stewart whilst the rhythm section continue their own journey. This is all very spacious sounding and everyone is really working together to move this song along. A lovely bass line is played throughout by David Greenaway before Ally’s guitar once again takes flight, playing another Floydian type break, while Greenaway plays on before this epic song is ended with delicate keyboards and then total silence.
The last, and longest track, is The Ascent in which we start to ascend the mountain that lies before us. Whether this is a literal or figurative mountain is up to the listener to determine for themselves. The song opens with keyboard generated soundscapes in which one can imagine the mountain with the sun shining and clouds at the top. A piano and flute are then heard and flute and it all sounds very open before we get a searing guitar solo from Ally, very Andy Latimer sounding in both style and tone, before the keyboards return once again and Tree’s vocal begins.
The lyrics in the booklet will guide us as the ascent of the mountain begins, they tell us of the dangers you may face on the way. This song really gets to grips with the concept and the music makes it own journey through peaks and troughs of expectations and disappointments on the way. Another guitar break from Ally represents an eagle soaring effortlessly on the thermals as we continue to climb, the wind and the clouds move in and we get engulfed in a blizzard as we take a steady, onwards step.
We are lost in a whiteout, snow everywhere, and we cannot find the right direction to go forward, the music continuing hesitantly as we continue searching for the right path, the one that will take us higher. We sense the need to keep going, to risk death, and we proceed, once again, to the last ascent.
Ally’s guitar takes us onwards and upwards as the winds die down. The clouds part and we can see it; the summit! We’ve made it, we have achieved our goal. There is a palpable sense of relief in this section although we still have the downward journey to take us back to where we started from. Although we are invigorated again with a sense of completion as we have overcome the mountain and succeeded in the challenge it posed to us. We then enter a quieter passage as we make our descent. This song makes sense with the lyrics at hand and is a remarkable audio journey that The Emerald Dawn offer you to take with them.
This album will require your concentration but the rewards are many and exceedingly plentiful. There is much fine music here with some great passages and really fine ensemble performances from. ‘To Touch the Sky’ is a real pleasure to listen to and you can really absorb this music for yourself, I highly recommend that you support their efforts.
We are delighted to be able to announce that Trifecta have joined the Kscope family.
Trifecta features three of the contemporary music scene’s most lauded and revered musicians – bassist and songwriter Nick Beggs, keyboardist extraordinaire Adam Holzman and completing the line-up, Craig Blundell – one of the world’s most celebrated drummers.
Having performed together as part of Steven Wilson’s band, the three would jam together after soundchecks, forming what they referred to as “jazz club” and from these sessions the fledgling ideas for Trifecta were nurtured, Nick Beggs comments “soafter the last tour with Steven finished, we had a handful of tracks ready to work on and as we moved through our various separate projects we agreed to work on Trifecta.” Asked what fans of the musicians can expect from Trifectahe states “Fission! It’slike Fusion but less efficient and more dangerous.”
Kscope will be releasing the band’s debut album in Summer 2021, look out for more details coming soon
The band have new social media – for updates & news follow them here:
JWS: It all looks great and interesting, plus all profits go to Keith’s chosen charity, so everybody wins.
MB: Yes, Joey is an awesome artist. I had seen some of his earlier work with dinosaurs and thought what if he could reimagine ‘Tarkus’ for today? what would it look like? I think he is pulled it off very spectacularly.
JWS: The concert looks fabulous on DVD and sounds fantastic too.
MB: Thank you, we had cameras everywhere to capture it all. It was only a small venue with about 900 people in it, mostly musicians who wanted to pay tribute. there was no seating and it was a long show. Everyone wanted to do their bit to honour the life of Keith as he had meant so much to so many of them.
It was an exceptional event and there were no ego issues with anyone. It was all supportive and very joyous, although tinged with sadness for the loss of Keith. I was astonished at the outpouring of love and respect from the musical community in Los Angeles. Many of these people took the career paths they did because of the influence Keith had made on them when they were younger. Certainly folk like Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather (both of Toto) and Jordan Rudess (DreamTheater) clearly acknowledge that influence, as they said during the artist interviews.
JWS: Yes, those interviews are fascinating, you really sense the appreciation, acclaim, and respect of Keith that was felt by those musicians. It was quite a set list too, although I was surprised that no one chose Jerusalem to do, that would have been epic.
MB: Well we had so much music to do, we could not do it all sadly. As I said, it was a small standing only venue and with folks all being of an age, standing for 3 hours is a big ask but we could have done even longer and covered more music.
JWS: How did you choose each player for each song?
MB: They did it themselves mainly, Steve Porcaro had seen ELP as a support for Edgar Winter in the early days and he was totally blown away by Barbarian so that was his choice. Jordan had similarly been affected by ‘Tarkus’ so he chose to do that one and so on and so forth.
Another remarkable thing was that we only had one day of rehearsals for the event, everyone was gathered backstage watching each other. It was very much a communal event with no ego’s whatsoever, it was like they were all auditioning for Keith really.
I lost my voice in the run up to the event and so much of the vocals were handled by Rick Livingstone and Travis Davis, although I did send a few prayers upward to Keith to help me get through it all. Thankfully he heard me and I was able to get through it all and even managed to hit the high note on Karn Evil 9 where I must hold the note at the end.
JWS: I really enjoyed the film, especially Jordan Rudess’Tarkus and Rachel Flowers’ take on The Endless Enigma.
MB: Yes, I felt she really bought something incredibly special out of that piece, she was remarkable.
JWS: I think everyone give a great job, all playing at their peak.
MB: I Agree, we wanted to show Keith as the composer and not just as the keyboard master. I think some of those performances managed to capture that side of his personality, you have to remember that before Keith there was no one fusing classical with rock, making the classics accessible and inviting rock musicians in.
He was breaking fresh ground by doing so, literally carving his way through with his daggers! He also invited classical listeners to hear his work and see his skills and talents and his music.
JWS: I Interviewed Keith a few years ago, around the time of the ‘Three Fates’ album. That was a real treat, I can say. He was cooking his tea and called me back, he was a lovely man and very gracious to a Fanboy like me.
MB: We did shows in London at the Barbican and in Birmingham, I think, did you go?
JWS: Sadly not, I would loved to have gone, though I did see ELP on the Black Moon tour though, in Birmingham and that was special to me.
MB: I remember spending time on those tours with Keith laughing, he loved comedy like Victor Borges and Derek and Clive. He adored Dudley Moore (who was also a particularly good pianist actually).
By that stage Keith had lost some versatility in his fingers so we wanted to show his compositions rather than his prowess. I think that project managed to do that really.
JWS: Well Marc, my time has gone but thank you for taking time to talk with me about this show and the memories that it has for you. Keep safe at this time.
MB: Thanks John and check out my latest release ‘Celluloid Debris’ at www.marcbonillamusic, my first album in 25 years, you will like it I am sure.
JWS: OK, thanks once again Marc, much appreciated.
You can read John’s review os the concert CD/DVD here:
League Of Lights are an electronic prog-pop duo comprised of Farrah and Richard West. Their third and most accomplished album to date, ‘Dreamers Don’t Come Down’ is an outstanding collection of songs that is redolent in places of early ’80s synth pioneers like John Foxx, as well as ’00s exponents of the genre such as Ladytron.
I was a big fan of the previous release, which was my first exposure to the duo, so was expecting big things from the new album and, as it turns out, I wasn’t to be disappointed…
Describing their modus operandi for the album, Richard explains that “we wanted it to be more piano-driven than our previous release and deliberately utilised a smaller pallet of sounds. We had just recorded the song ‘Modern Living’ [issued as a single in January] and that helped to define how our new material would sound – more open than before with less synths and more space for Farrah’s voice to really lift off. It’s as much about the space as it is about the notes.”
The majority of the album was written and recorded during the 2020 spring/summer lockdown, with Farrah stating that “it is about the past, the present and the future; about taking the best from all that you have been through, the pressures of modern life and keeping your dreams alive in dark times.”
It is well known that I was a child of the 80’s and always loved the electronic sound of the new romantic bands and their like. Album opener Modern Living feels like a clever amalgam of Pet Shop Boys channelling their inner early Spandau Ballet (before they went all pop ballad!). What is evident from the start is how much Farrah’s incredible voice adds to the songs and gives League Of Lights something different and unique, a powerful start to the album.
Twenty Twenty One is just beautiful, Farrah’s sublime, ethereal like vocal blends sympathetically with Richard’s almost orchestral instrumentation arrangement. A calm and reflective piece of music that is jewel like in its composition and arrangement, I love it! This gem is followed by the up-tempo delights of Ghosts, I was never a club goer in the 80’s or 90’s (in fact never, full stop!) but the brilliant chorus on this track could have come straight from the dance floor of an iconic bar in Ibiza, it’s a nigh on perfect dance track.
I Still Remember with its wistful, nostalgic feel of hazy, lazy days is another heavenly song with Farrah’s plaintive, dreamlike vocal overlaying the exquisite musical backing. A fast paced, driving, energetic piece of music, Persephone has an urgent feel to the vocals and backing music, a proper nod to classic 80’s electronic pop music that leaves a knowing smile on my face.
Dreamers brings things back down to earth with its measured tempo and mesmerising vocals, an introspective and contemplative song that brings your heart rate right down and leaves in a thoughtful frame of mind. Another brilliant piece of pop music writing, With You has that thing which is a rarity in chart music nowadays, a truly catchy chorus that has you singing along with the upbeat tempo and shimmering melody.
Lines In The Sand is a pared back, reflective song with a cultured and measured feel to the music and mesmeric vocals that are quite hypnotic in effect. The first time I heard the track, I stopped what I was doing and just let its soothing tones wash over me. The Collector sees us getting glammed up, glad rags on and heading off to the club again (metaphorically, obviously in my case!). Another fine, up-tempo track with a killer chorus that this duo just seem to be able to create at will.
Among an album full of brilliant 80’s electro-pop inspired tracks, it’s hard to pick a favourite but, for me, it has to be the moving, melancholy and utterly spellbinding North of The Sun, which, if you are as big a fan of the 80’s as I am, is just over four minutes of near musical perfection. Taking the music widescreen and increasingly dynamic, it’s just a superb song that leads into the album’s final track Echoes of a Dream which is exactly that, a dreamy recap of the last thirty seven minutes. Light of touch and mood, it closes proceedings just about perfectly.
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. Key to the album is Farrah’s sublime vocal which, added to Richard’s brilliant musicianship, has created something quite wonderful and mesmeric. It is most definitely League of Lights most accomplished release yet and one that is lighting up 2021 for this reviewer at least.
Keith Emerson needs little or no introduction, he was a monster keyboard player for Emerson, Lake and Palmer of course, though he was also successful in his own right as a composer. Sadly, as he grew older Keith lost some of his astounding dexterity and, despite operations to his hands, sadly felt that his abilities to perform had become diminished significantly. This resulted in him falling into in severe bouts of depression and even alcoholism, which all became too much for him and he took his own life by gunshot on 11th March 2016 in Santa Monica, California. The world was shocked that one of the finest keyboard players of recent times was no more.
Well, that was five years ago now and his life was celebrated in style in 2016 when an all-star band of LA’s finest musicians assembled at the El Ray Theatre in Los Angeles to play his music and remember and acknowledge the inspiration that he had been to many of them over the years. The upshot of this is a concert movie and 2CD set of the event being released this year by Cherry Red Records in a lavish package with simply amazing artwork and production values, along with interviews with the various band members and photo galleries of Keith and his life and times, all of which together chronicles this very special and memorable night for posterity.
The list of musicians featured is mighty impressive including members of Toto and Dream Theater along with Eddie Jobson (UK and Roxy Music), Jeff Baxter (Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan), Brian Auger, Rachel Flowers, C J Vanston and many others, like Marc Bonilla of Keith’s old band and his close friend who was a major mover in getting the show together. The event also featured Emerson’s son Aaron, and members of his solo band and his Three Fates Project group.
The CDs capture live recordings of all the songs featured in the movie although sometimes in a truncated version. The sound is excellent throughout and the material is largely drawn from the first Four ELP albums, with four songs from the self-titled debut, two from ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, three from ‘Tarkus’ and three from ‘Trilogy’ plus Karn Evil 9: First Impression – Part 2, Touch and Go (from ‘Emerson Lake and Powell’) and Fanfare For The Common Man in two versions, one with brass orchestration and the other with Blue Rondo A La Turk improvisation.
I have to say that, whilst this is a fabulous set, there are a few pieces that I would have liked to have seen covered, namely Jerusalem, Trilogy and Piano Concerto to name but three, also there is a marked lack of anything from the latter days’ reunion period, but this is most probably me just nit picking. What is here is perfectly fine and has some incredible musicians performing some extraordinarily complex pieces with skill, style and panache. Everything is played in a very sympathetic manner, with great respect to Keith, who was obviously a much loved, and now sadly missed character.
Marc Bonilla sings very well indeed throughout, as do the other vocalists, Marc also delivers some great guitar lines on here, mirroring and adding to what the various keyboard players are playing. The Performances are all exceptionally good indeed, those of C J Vanston and Rachel Flowers shine especially. Brian Augers interpretation and improvisation on Fanfare For The Common Blue Turkey is quite different and really captures one’s interest. Another highlight is the delight of seeing Eddie Jobson playing the modular Moog synthesizer on Lucky Man.
Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater delivers a powerful performance on the 20 minutes plus rendition of Tarkus, a track he gleefully states as a major influence on his playing. Here he revels in the performance of this in a suite of songs where Tarkus is the penultimate track before the encores are offered, namely Lucky Man/The Great Gates of Kiev and Fanfare For The Common Man, with Are You Ready Eddy? concluding the show.
I know in some quarters that ELP have become a dirty word full of excessive showmanship and not offering much for the listeners of today. However, I disagree completely and suggest that this music needs to be rediscovered again and given its rightful place in the annals of progressive rock.
So, if you like the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Keith Emerson then this set offers you both two excellent CDs and a full length DVD (plus a second DVD of bonus features) that captures this magnificent concert in all is spectacle and power, just sit back, turn the volume up and let the Moogs fly again. Best played loud, just as Keith would have wanted, this certainly is a most enjoyable stroll down memory lane, if you have 3 hours or so to spare. Brilliantly filmed, well presented and produced, the music offered on these discs reminds us of just how great a keyboard player and composer Keith Emerson truly was, along with why he should be remembered as such. I applaud all who took part for the great music they made and are now are able to share with us, sit back relax and enjoy this again and again.