Review – Steve Hackett – The Circus And The Nightwhale – by John Wenlock-Smith

On February 16th Steve Hackett will release his thirtieth solo album ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’. This album is not a concept album as such, however, it does have thirteen tracks interlinked and inter-woven and which take an autobiographical angle into Steve’s life journey. In the official blurb that accompanies the release we are told that it’s a “lovely journey that starts dirty scratchy  and smoky and becomes heavenly and divine”. So does it? And what does it tell us exactly? Well, here’s my thoughts on it, mostly based on a conversation I had with Steve himself earlier in the year.

The first track on the album, People Of The Smoke, opens interestingly with sound effects, a snippet of Listen With Mother, a baby’s cry, which is treated with reverb and echo, along with steam train noises and whistles. The song then moves into a busy section with Big Ben tolling and a guitar line that builds before drums come into force and a brisk pace is taken. Steve adds little flurries of notes and fills, this is all to represent the suffocating dark and smoke filled city of London when emerging from the post war years of rationing and entering the 1960’s and the opportunities that were becoming more available as a result. I guess it was possibly a case of you had to be there to experience it for yourself, but you get a good impression from the excellent video for this track:

The next track is the first of no less than five instrumental pieces, each of which are very different in sound and approach. These Passing Clouds symbolises the changing face of the capital as it moves from sinister to optimistic and this brief vignette captures that excellently. Taking You Down is about a friend of Steve’s at Senior school, they bonded over a love of music and had a close friendship. However, this friend was often involved in some jape or wheeze or scam and often roped Steve into these as well. This all ended badly when Steve got more involved in music and they drifted apart. The friend was manipulative and not always pleasant to be around, they had good times but it all came to an end. Steve often wonders about this chap and what he is doing these days, proposing that he is probably running a small country in Africa or somewhere similar, that is run with corruption and despotic greed. The next track, Found And Lost, is about Steve’s first love. A girl from a good family, intelligent and articulate however, she wanted something more than Steve offered so the relationship didn’t last. She got involved with a bad crowd, got involved with drugs and ultimately ended up in prison from which she would write letters to Steve. He was heartbroken by all this and it took a while for his confidence to rebuild and, while there were other girls, there were none like her.

Enter The Ring and Get Me Out! both refer to his time on the Genesis wheel of fame, all of this is being alluded to through the excitement of a fairground and the thrills it offered. This continues in Get Me Out! in which Steve realises that he is in danger of being stuck in a situation that he actually wants to be free of. This track has a lengthy and somewhat furious guitar solo in the middle, expressing his frustrations perhaps. Ghost Moon and Living Love is about moving on from his Genesis days and going it alone. Circo Inferno continues this theme of being stuck on a wheel going around and around. This track has a heavier tone with more fiery guitar flourishes ,it also features Amanda Lehmann on vocals and Rob Townsend on tenor saxophone. The next track Breakout is an impressive rock guitar showcase, as is All At Sea, both of which really impress as they both have a lot going on within them.

Into The Nightwhale is another interesting sounding track, opening with swirling keyboards and synths creating a moody soundscape with Steve providing long sustained guitar notes before a heavy drumbeat emerges from the mist, as it were. More sustained guitar notes follow and gradually build up to a peak at which point everything falls away and a delicate orchestral sound is played whilst Steve sings a delicate vocal. The song is about building resilience and how finding love give you strength once more. The penultimate song, Wherever You Are, is a love song for his wife Jo, who has had a major impact on Steve’s life in the last ten years or so. This song is a shameless celebration of the love that they have found in each other. That said, this one definitely rocks with extremely passionate guitar playing and sounds. The album closes with White Dove, a wistful and delicate acoustic conclusion to the album. Again, this song is very romantic sounding with its classical tone and playing. It will be great to hear this one live, as Horizons is possibly in need of being retired?Just a thought…

So there you have it, a most intriguing and different album from Steve with some great songs and excellent guitar work. There is lots to appreciate and enjoy, I certainly did and can highly recommend, another highlight in the career of this legendary guitarist.

Released 16th February, 2024.

Order from Steve’s website and other outlest here:

Steve Hackett – Wherever You Are (lnk.to)

Review – EBB – The Management of Consequences

The EP, ‘The Management of Consequences’ is, in some ways, a companion piece to the album ‘Mad & Killing Time,’ in that, it deals with and resolves many of the issues raised in that album. If ‘Mad & Killing Time ‘was a comment on the human condition, ‘The Management of Consequences’ is a more personal examination of the same. Having only three tracks, although the first track is split into 3movements, it is a more compact expression.

The EP is dedicated to SagitariusA*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy which is referenced to throughout the work. The gist being: that the human condition and indeed, any condition, all find terminal irrelevance on a cosmic scale.

So says the press release for EBB’s latest EP…

When I got an email asking if I’d be interested in reviewing the new EP from the mad but refreshingly brilliant and different EBB, the answer was always going to be a resounding yes! I had nearly missed the previous product of their irreverent genius, ‘Mad & Killing Time’ and didn’t want that to come back and haunt me again. This collective create music that is subtly different from even the most left-field stuff that you will hear, cleverly constructed but with a flippant, iconoclastic, devil-may-care attitude that clearly resonates with their fans and they are gaining more admirers every time they take to the stage at the many festivals they play.

This new EP, dedicated to the cosmos and supermassive black holes, is another brilliant creation and please, if you can, buy the CD with its superb booklet and narrative, I’ll not leave any more spoilers but, trust me, its worth the money and that’s without the music!

What you get here is three tracks that make up just over eighteen minutes of scintillating, dynamic music that definitely has a smile on its face and wears its hat at a jaunty angle. The musicianship is second to none, seventies prog influenced keys, Hammond organ and the like combine with funky psychedelic guitars and a rhythm section born to groove with the best of them, Bootsy Collins eat your heart out, these girls (and guy) have it all!

The three part, in your face, intricate brilliance of Silent Saviour demands your attention like a punch to the solar plexus with it’s almost theatrical drama and musical complexity. And don’t get me started on the vocals, that’s what drew me to this band in the first place, I just love them. Just in case you thought there may be some normality we get what sounds like a sea shanty/folk outro at the end of the track, utterly brilliant! Cost & Consequence takes a more Canterbury scene approach to things but beefed up to the max. If 70’s progressive rock had joined forces with some of the more excessive rock of the time (and maybe some illegal substances) then I’m sure this is what it would have sounded like. It is attention grabbing music but EBB have the necessary chops to back it all up, which they prove time and time again in a live setting. The EP closes way too early with the incendiary Nieu, an in your face, frantic four minutes of pure musical genius. The guitar and keys hit you with an addictive, demented riff and the drums and bass feel hewn from granite, add in the darkly delicious vocals and you have something utterly, and wickedly, addictive. Damn, this is all over way too quick so you just have to go back and press play again!

The incredibly entertaining EBB have returned with another brilliant piece of musical flair, ingenuity and imagination and are cementing their place at the top of an incredibly diverse musical scene that exists today. ‘The Management of Consequences’ is another indicator of what this highly original band are capable of and I, for one, can’t wait to see what comes next, it’s as near to a must buy as you can get!

Released January 4th, 2024.

Order the CD from bandcamp here:

The Management of Consequences | Ebb (bandcamp.com)

Watch the band live at the Summer’s End festival in Chepstow, October 2023:

Single Review – Sunday At Six – It’s Funny How The Time Flies By

Mark Whiteside seems to have the midas touch in that everything he does musically is utterly fantastic. The man who gave us the wondrous One Sided Horse project, Desks and the incredibly sublime The Opening Song (and who also drums for Evil Blizzard!) returns again, with some pretty impressive guests, to give us his new project Sunday At Six.

The first fruit of this new project is the single It’s Funny How The Time Flies By and joining this prolific musician is Mickey Dale of Embrace fame who, as well as producing and mastering, plays keyboards, Phillip Vietch from Ship’s Cat supplies soundscape guitars and the legendary Peter Coyle of The Lotus Eaters provides the glorious vocals. Mark humbly tells me that all he does is write the song and play acoustic guitar…

Music, to me, must mean something, there has to be a reason any song is created and not just to get additional plays on Spotify or just to be the most popular song that listeners want to hear on the radio (do people actually listen to the radio any more?). I love music that moves me, takes me to another place and leaves an indelible mark on me and all the music that Mark writes has that effect.

The ethereal keys and spacial guitars just add a beatific air to the music on It’s Funny How The Time Flies By, it’s music that feeds the soul with its lush soundscapes and Peter Coyle’s vocals are just dreamlike in their delivery and intangible beauty. Mickey Dale’s ability to deliver the perfect sound from the keyboards is uncanny and Phil’s guitars are spine-tingling in their rarefied grace, making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Mark is like the conductor here, his acoustic guitar elegantly directing proceedings but it is how this all comes together as an exquisite whole that makes it so wonderful.

The song is set for digital release soon and there will be more news about his exciting project in the coming months but, to my ears, this could well be the best thing that Mark has created and, with his monumental back catalogue, that is really saying something!

You can catch Mark playing live as One Side Horse on Saturday, 6th March at The Vault in Hexham, ticket details here:

One Sided Horse – The Vault (thevaulthexham.com)

Peter Coyle is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the The Lotus Eaters‘ album ‘No Sense Of Sin’ and you can see it performed live, in its entirety, at The Cavern Club in Liverpool, ticket link here:

See Tickets – Peter Coyle ‘No Sense Of Sin’ Tickets | Wednesday, 31 Jan 2024 at 7:00 PM

Review – Clive Mitten – Tales from a Misspent Youth – Volume II – by John Wenlock-Smith

Clive Mitten is, I guess you could say, what was called back in the day (pre internet age) eccentric raised in a musical family. Clive only discovered rock music at his boarding school. He was originally taught an appreciation and understanding of classical music forms and structures from his Grandmother. He then later graduated to being a bass player in Twelth Night and these days spends his time deconstructing and reconstructing progressive rock classics alongside transcribing old musical scores for the modern age. Clive definitely walks his own path these days, and that is good for all of us as he has turned his gaze to some of progressive rock’s finest moments and created stunning takes and remakes on the likes of King CrimsonYesGenesis, ELP and Rush, among others, with this remarkable 2 disc album.

Clive performs everything you will hear in what has been a very labour intensive task. Most of these tracks will be very familiar to most listeners but what you will notice afresh is the sheer brilliance and beauty of these pieces that Clive conveys and I’m sure you will gain a freshly found appreciation for these old songs. There are no vocals and everything is handled in an orchestral manner, so no wild guitars or the like. In addition, familiar passages are recorded with different instruments taking centre stage so, for example, ELP’s Fanfare For The Common Man has a very layered sound and the throbbing bass of Greg Lake is replaced by a strident piano, with the synths also being replaced by the piano. Yet, even so, the piece does not entirely lose its power, it is just a little more restrained in tone. Yes, you may miss some of the synths but it is still fully recognisable, albeit in an altered form. I actually really like what Clive has done here, it is a bold reinterpretation of a very well known track, it is also abridged from its more familiar nine-plus minutes running time. The drums may be a tad pedestrian in places but it still passes muster, as does the Genesis segment that pulls together the main themes from Watcher of The SkiesFountain Of Salmalcis, The Musical Box and Firth of Fifth together into a rather fine medley, especially the final Firth of Fifth section which is utterly sublime and highlights just how utterly graceful and gorgeous the original piece truly was. I’m sure a certain Mr Anthony Banks would approve of this very graceful and sensitive working. Purists might, I guess, take issue with the version of Firth of Fifth as it relies on orchestrations rather than the one we all know and love, the guitar solo being taken by other instruments yet, once again, within that remains the highly recognisable melody line. Again, I feel his version definitely has merit and allows for a fresh appreciation of the original track.

I think any Progressive Rock fan will find these takes interesting as they show these pieces in a different light and that is a very good thing. Okay, you miss certain little thing like the parts and power chords that Alex Lifeson plays on Cygnus X1 but does it really matter? I think not as when Rush played it live, it was always  different from the recorded version. This version highlights just what incredible interaction and harmony Rush had at the time and just how much they were pushing their own boundaries, okay the drums aren’t in the Neil Peart realm, but they work well with the track as it is. The link between Cygnus X1 Books I and II is interesting and totally new but is in the same spirit as the original versions. Overall this sequence works well as, again, the brilliance of the original is clear to see.

The 21st Century Schizoid Man/Starless combo really makes an impression with the piano playing the main riff and marimba also plays a striking part in the complex rhythms. The original’s almost atonal discordant sound is realised here by the use of these other instruments and their tones, especially in the part that was covered by the guitar. Although the majority of that section is overshadowed by the switch to the Starless melody, with the fabulous guitar line being covered by brass instruments. This really makes a different sound to the original version, a double bass also covering the bass lines with style and grace. I really love this version of what for me is King Crimson’s finest moment.

The albums other songs covered include Close To The Edge by Yes which is also  extremely well done, as is Tarkus (again by ELP), Marillion’s Garden Party/Grendel IQ’s Widows Peak and Refugees from Van der Graaf Generator.

Taken together this album does a wonderful task of fresh revisitations of some truly classic pieces. It is a complete labour of love and a show of total commitment to making an interesting and intelligent re-reading of the seminal tracks.

Released 10th November, 2023.

Order here:

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

Review – Residuos Mentales – A Temporary State of Bliss – by David Edwards

An instrumental prog tour-de-force from the Greek duo

Residuos Mentales is a studio-based instrumental progressive rock project from Athens, Greece, formed by Stratos Morianos (on keyboards) and Alexandros Mantas (on guitars and flute) in 2012. A Temporary State of Bliss is their second release (their debut album was ‘Introspection‘ back in 2018) and were it not for Epic Prog Rock Radio DJ Bob Prigmore giving it generous airplay towards the end of 2023 on his show, it might well have flown under my radar (as so many worthy releases on Bandcamp can do).

I am so pleased that I discovered this glorious musical endeavour, because not only has it turned out to be one of my top albums of 2023, but over the last few months it has significantly grown further in stature and regard with repeated plays. As a result, I felt that a full review was needed at the start of this year to spread the word within the prog rock community of this sparkling jewel.

This is modern instrumental progressive rock of the highest order. Influenced by the classic era bands such as ‘Camel’, ‘Yes’, ‘Genesis’, ‘Pink Floyd’, ‘Gentle Giant’ and ‘King Crimson’ – but it has a fresh, vibrant and contemporary sound which takes in heavier and prog-metal influences to create truly cinematic and panoramic soundscapes, along with Greek influences from their homeland.

There is no doubt that a lyrical content to progressive rock does provide a compositional structure which the instrumentation may not be able to do on its own. As a result, many instrumental releases can be long, drawn-out affairs which lack variety and depth once the key themes are rendered. Keeping the music complex and ever changing can avoid this, but then there is a danger of the music becoming merely technical and virtuoso grandstanding, lacking continuity and emotion. Residuous Mentales have successfully avoided both these pitfalls with A Temporary State of Bliss, producing an album full of epic themes, unexpected twists and turns, and, quality musicianship, without sacrificing the emotional heft that the music can deliver.

By 2016 Alexandros and Stratos (who is also a member of the acclaimed Greek prog band ‘Verbal Delirium’) had composed enough material for 3 full albums, but it was the more recent output that comprised their Introspection debut album. The material on A Temporary State of Bliss, pre-dates that, but has gone through significant changes in the studio, led by producers Vangelis Spanakakis and Dimitris Radis, and then revised and adjusted over the extended lockdowns of the Covid pandemic. In fact, Dimitris has contributed guitars and bass to the final album, whilst Yiannis Iliakis (from the Greek prog rock band ‘Ciccada’) has supplied the dynamic drums and percussion that embolden the whole album. Other guest musicians add their sparkle here and there, to create a very cohesive and exciting release.  

A Temporary State of Bliss starts wonderfully with the first, and longest, of the two epics on the album, called The Stuff of Dreams. Sub-divided into seven sections, each with a distinctive musical character, this 17-minute tour-de-force is never allowed to drift along aimlessly, as many such extended instrumental tracks can do at times. It begins atmospherically enough with the soothing sound of repeating, futuristic, ‘Vangelis’-like synth patterns, supported by resonating bass synths, as a simple, melodic guitar-led pattern slowly develops. The music then builds majestically with a rich flurry of keyboards from Stratos, before the tempo quickens with strummed acoustic guitar, accompanied by soaring and exuberant, multi-layered keyboards and dynamic drumming from Yiannis. 

The subsequent interplay between guitar and keyboards is a joy to behold, with soaring and sweeping electric guitar soloing and keyboards flights of fancy, but with shifts in tempo throughout. Stabs of piano, rich bass and percussive excursions maintain the variety, producing a sound at times bright and uplifting, and then dreamy and blissful – all held together with intriguing musical transitions and a myriad of twists and turns. While the influence of classic 70s prog is undoubtedly there, especially early ‘Camel’ (I also picked up hints of classic ‘Mike Oldfield’ midway amongst other musical echoes), it is all directed through a more contemporary lens, keeping the music fresh, vibrant and delightfully unpredictable.

The track takes on a much darker character later on, as some dense guitar riffing and eerie solo notes, combine with a creeping bass guitar, nervy, discordant piano and ticking percussive sounds conjuring up unsettling ‘Red’-era King Crimson atmospherics. The nightmarish trip to Hades and back is cemented by haunting vocals from Maria Tseva intertwining with dynamic synths. The manic intensity and pace build and shifts back and forth, following Dimitris’s Rush-like guitar soloing, but there is still time for Alexandros to deliver a soothing, closing Floydian guitar solo to bring us out of the darkness. The pace doesn’t drop though, and the track gallops towards a satisfying fade out with spritely drums, a repeating guitar pattern and lush piano and keyboards. Simply marvellous!

The Missing Part provides a welcome lull in the musical ensemble intensity but is equally impressive, despite it being the shortest track on the album at under 6 minutes). Stately piano from Stratos and a melodic, fluid and yearning electric guitar create real magic over the background wash of keyboards. The spirit of Andy Latimer resonates, before a beautiful, haunting trumpet solo from Vaggelis Katsarelis (written by Stratos), brings a late-night jazz feel to proceedings, as modal piano chords anchor the music firmly. However, just when you think the track has peaked, Alexandros delivers a simply stunning, melancholic and deeply personal guitar solo to melt your heart, before the pace quickens and trumpet and piano sign off this little musical gem. The song title remained the same throughout the relatively quick compositional period and refers, according to Alexandros, to the missing parts of our lives.

A Series of Self-Correcting Errors might be shorter than the opening epic by 5 minutes, but it is another stunningly diverse, ambitious and exhilarating instrumental that never rests on its thematic laurels for too long. Originally titled ‘Void, Prog and There Again’, Stratos, along with Alexandros, shaped the musical journey over nine months and the composition was driven by the need to make each specific part as interesting to listen to as possible. Their thinking was: “If this song would come on the radio, would you reach for the knob and change the station? If the answer was yes, we would scrap it and come up with something else!”

Gentle, slightly off-kilter, acoustic guitar playing is joined by a layering of electric guitar and piano, with string-like synthesisers building up tension, but nothing quite prepares you with the sudden explosion of raucous, swirling and devilish electric guitar over a bustling bass and drum rhythm (echoes of ‘Rush’ and specifically ‘La Villa Strangiato’ for sure). The music takes a smoother course temporarily, but the dynamic beat still maintains the frantic intensity, with more complex guitar and keyboard interplay, before the prog-metal power returns and the twinkling, descending piano and keyboards take us down the proverbial rabbit hole to places unknown.

The music becomes more serene and pastoral in nature for a time, flowing beautifully – propelled by dreamy synthesiser sounds and an effortlessly smooth guitar solo from Alexandros over luscious Mellotron-like chords. Things seem reconciled and at peace, but then a subtle but more menacing tones begins to pervade the soundscape and we are propelled back into full-on, dynamic and wild section full of driving drums, ethereal flute sounds (from Leonidas Sarantopoulos), powerful guitar shredding complexity from George Karayiannis, and a wickedly catchy, funky Hammond organ that ‘Keith Emerson’ would have been proud of.    

After some musical stops and starts the final section is heralded by a wonderfully dark and dirty bass rhythm from Dimitris that provides the impetus for the driving beat and the subsequent urgency and cinematic sweep the track delivers, with Dimitris also behind the expansion guitar solo that closes this stunning epic.

The album closes impressively with Impending Catastrophe and takes us on a voyage from calmer waters to impending doom in only 9 minutes. It begins with tranquil, twinkling nursery-like keyboards, over lush background chords and serene flute notes, and the sense of innocent serenity is emphasised by soft acoustic guitar patterns. However, the introduction of ‘Spock’s Beard’-style keyboards, resonating guitar patterns and some punchy brass instrument programming provides a drive and sway to the music – with a darker tone set by more prog-metal guitar riffs. Suddenly, we are in a full-blown ‘proggy’ extravaganza of melodic guitar soloing and delicious flurries of keyboards to savour fully. It would have been an easy option to have prolonged this charming section further, but the track’s tempo eases, and a rich church organ sound permeates the music prior to the introduction of dreamy chiming bell notes.

There is a mid-way majestic rise in intensity followed by a galloping sense of threat, and even an interim moment of tranquillity produced by the expressive flute, melodic piano and evocative keyboard chords cannot hold back the impending catastrophe to come. Orchestral-like sounds shape the symphonic prog splendour typified by Stratos’s rich ‘Six Wives’ ‘Rick Wakeman’-like keyboards accompanying the rising drum tempo, before the final diminution and eulogy of the final church organ notes. The dramatic atmosphere seems to hang in the air as album finally closes.

Over 4 tracks, and a total running time of 44 minutes, the album is perfect for listening to in one sitting, and never feels like it overstays its welcome at any time. If intelligent and modern instrumental progressive rock appeals to you, A Temporary State of Bliss will not disappoint. Classic era prog and symphonic rock themes mingle with more contemporary influences, including touches of prog metal, jazz, Greek folk and even a hint of funk, with the music constantly weaving and displaying stylistic shifts, but without losing its dynamism, emotional content and unique identity. Highly recommended! 

Released October 27th, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here:

Music | Residuos Mentales (bandcamp.com)

John Wenlock-Smith’s ‘Best of 2023’

This is a list of the albums that have made a big impression on me this year. They are not in any order although several marked☆ are my favourites and I will nominate one as my album of the year.

Here is the list:

1.OrionThe End Of Suffering – This came out of nowhere and it is a testament to one man’s vision and willingness to create music that he wanted to.

The End of Suffering | Orion (bandcamp.com)

2. Tribe 3 – Self Titled- This recent release most definitely impresses with its progressive, inspired take on fusion.

CD ‘Tribe3’ | Tribe3

3. John Greenwood  – Dark Blue ☆☆ This arrived, again largely unnoticed, but what a brilliant release, thoughtful, emotional and an utterly captivating listen.

DARK BLUE | John Greenwood (bandcamp.com)

4. Material Eyes  – Inside Out excellent prog from the North East of England.

Inside Out | Materialeyes (bandcamp.com)

5. The Michael Dunn ProjectBridge Across The Years ☆ Canadian musicians superb debut release, 40 years in the making.

The Michael Dunn Project

6. The Drinking Club – Really??? ☆ Very Marillion like in places, another great release.

…really?!? | The Drinking Club (bandcamp.com)

7. Pryzme – Four Inches – Superb French band release excellent album with a fondness for Rush stylings.

Four Inches | Pryzme (bandcamp.com)

8. Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – The Light Of Ancient Mistakes ☆ Amazing next adventure for impressive North London duo.

The Light Of Ancient Mistakes | Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate (bandcamp.com)

9. Downes Braide AssociationCelestial Songs ☆ Excellent new album of epics from the DBA Team.

Downes Braide Association: Celestial Songs, CD Edition – Cherry Red Records

10. Nova Cascade – The Navigator – A musical tribute to Eric Bouilette after his passing, beautifully done.

The Navigator | NOVA CASCADE (bandcamp.com)

11. Southern Empire – Another World ☆ A strong return for Australian favourites.

Another World CD – GEP

12. Ruby Dawn Beyond Tomorrow ☆☆ A deeply emotional album from Wokingham’s finest.

Beyond Tomorrow | Ruby Dawn (bandcamp.com)

13. Tiger Moth TalesThe Turning Of The World ☆Deeply Personal album from Peter Jones, largely acoustic but very satisfying.

Tiger Moth Tales (whiteknightshop2.co.uk)

14. Nick FletcherQuadrivium ☆☆☆ My album of the year. Fusion for today, an album forging forward and beyond while embracing the past.Unbelievably fine music that is beautifully realised.

ONLINE STORE | Nick Fletcher Guitar (nickfletcherguitarmusic.com)

15. Pattern Seeking AnimalsSpooky Action At A Distance – Fourth excursion from some-time Spock’s Beard men along with John Boegehold and a further step forward.

Spooky Action at a Distance (lnk.to)

16. CyanPictures From The Other Side – Second album from Rob Reed’s excellent young project, with Peter Jones and Luke Machin firing on all cylinders.

tigermothhosting.co.uk/CYANCD2023/

17. The Emerald Dawn  – In Time ☆ – Beautiful album themed around time and memories and how we perceive them.

In Time | The Emerald Dawn (bandcamp.com)

18. Dave Foster BandGlimmer ☆ The year’s ‘grower’ album that just gets better with every listen.

Glimmer | The Dave Foster Band (bandcamp.com)

19. DamanekMaking Shore – A splendidly exciting album from the early part of the year, epic, melodious and really strong.

Damanek – Making Shore – GEP

20. Swan ChorusAchilles and The Difference Engine – My favourite vocal led album of the year, especially the wonderfully poignant track Being There about Peter Sellers, a beautiful song.

Achilles and the Difference Engine | Swan Chorus (bandcamp.com)

It’s been a tremendously fine year for music. A post-covid boom has inspired some stalwart activities with some excellent and impressive releases, here’s to an even better 2024!

John Wenlock-Smith.

EchoVerse Debuts with a Bold Reimagining of The Beatles’ Classic ‘Eleanor Rigby’

Emerging from the progressive rock scene, EchoVerse announces the release of their first single, a distinctive cover of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” EchoVerse, born from members of the Christian Prog Rock band Ascher, blend influences from progressive rock giants like Spock’s Beard, RUSH, and Dream Theater.

The track was mixed by renowned producer Rich Mouser, noted for his collaborations with bands like Weezer, Spock’s Beard, and Dream Theater. The music video, inspired by the iconic Yellow Submarine film, was directed by Christian Rios, a prominent name in the Prog Rock scene, known for his work with Neal Morse Band, Flying Colors, and Jethro Tull.

EchoVerse is thrilled to release their debut music video for their cover of “Eleanor Rigby”.

You can watch the video on YouTube here:

EchoVerse’s interpretation of “Eleanor Rigby” transforms the timeless song with a progressive rock perspective, preserving the essence that made the original remarkable while aiming to enhance the musical setting. This approach results in a creation that is both sharp and grand, offering a fresh take on a beloved classic.

“With ‘Eleanor Rigby’, we wanted to pay homage to The Beatles, but also put our own twist on it, maybe with a little more punch,” says Kyle Graves, the lead singer. “Our aim is to create music that’s enjoyable to listen to but also makes you think and feel, both with the sound and the stories we’re telling. And what better story than Eleanor Rigby?”

EchoVerse has a distinct sound, mixing complex music with experimental features. Their recent cover is more than a simple version of a song; it introduces their musical identity. Their first album with original songs “Whispers Between Worlds” is coming in 2024, and this cover gives a sneak peek at the fresh and inventive music EchoVerse will bring to Progressive Rock.

EchoVerse:
Kyle Graves: Lead Vocals
Doug Bowers: Vocals, Keys, Bass, Guitar
Rob Perez: Lead Guitar
Kyle Fagala: Drums, Vocals

Review – Anthony Phillips – Slow Dance 2CD Jewel Case Edition – by John Wenlock-Smith

Anthony Phillips is the forgotten former member of Genesis who was there at the beginning but due to his extreme fear of being on stage, quit the band after the ‘Trespass’ album, leaving the door open for a certain young Steve Hackett, whose story is widely known.

Anthony is not the first musician to quit or to struggle with stage fright as many others, like Eddie Van Halen and Ozzy Osborne have also suffered through its clutches. Andy Partridge of XTC is also a fellow sufferer, although that is more with anxiety though but still, it is similar in nature and has an a debilitating effect. Many others also are affected, more than you would imagine really. Anthony simply wasn’t able to function in this realm and he decided to leave the group he had helped found and devote himself to a more classical direction, he was also a qualified music teacher for a while and he also studied orchestration.

All of which leads me to this newly remastered and extended version of his 1990 album ‘Slow Dance’ which is heavily classically influenced and gives rein to his wonderfully inventive playing and orchestrations. There is more than a hint of 1977’s ‘The Geese And The Ghost’ album which has a similar style.

Whilst I am not a classical buff by any means, other than the basics and well known classics, I find there is much to appreciate in this fine reissue. I think of it more as a tone poem or score and as such, it is definitely a case of repeated listening to get the subtle moments of brilliance that are on display here. The main album is in 2 parts, although the extra tracks on the second CD are also interesting, mainly being edited portions of the entire main album.

I actually prefer Slow Dance Part One for some reason, I especially like the repeated gentle motif that reappears throughout the piece. This music is gentle, delicate and beautifully crafted, when you read in the accompanying booklet of the trials and tribulations that had to be stared down to enable its completion, you will, like me, no doubt be in awe of both the vision and commitment employed whilst making this album come to life. It really is a sumptuous piece of music, uplifting and life affirming in equal measure. It is a triumph of talent, perseverance and, above all, a towering testament to the grace and beauty of the music it contains.

Did I mention that it is totally instrumental? That said there is a wealth of creativity here. Slow Dance Part One is of twenty four minutes duration whilst Slow Dance Part Two is twenty six and a half minutes in length and has more orchestrations, strings and synths than part one does. The synths are all very 1980’s in tone and, whilst good, sound slightly dated in parts. I also feel that part two lacks the same emotional depth as part one, although that may be my perception having heard part one more than part two.

Let’s explore each part in greater depth shall we?

Part One begins with washes of synthesisers laying down a great sound and setting the stage for a delicate acoustic guitar motif that will be repeated at frequent intervals. The synths swell again before a fingerprinted guitar line is played and the opening melody is played on synths. I really like the gentleness of this pastoral sounding section, it is very satisfying to hear such gracious and gentle tones amidst all the synthesised backing. A stronger note then ushers in an almost pizzicato played part along with woodwind and a chopsticks sounding piano section that returns to the main melody played once again. Lush strings return to the chopsticks sounding part and a clarinet leads to orchestrations. There is then a sectionis reminiscent of the main theme of ‘The Geese And The Ghost’ album as it has a similar sound to it, not identical but definitely similar in sound. We then enter a section of syncopated percussion elements which is very effective, after which we return to the main theme once again. The final section of part one is a keyboard along with a drum machine playing and whilst it doesn’t affect the quality, it does date the music to the era in which it was recorded, this piece then ends with a few more syncopated piano notes.

Part Two is decidedly different and more keyboard focused with the major portion being concerned with keyboard orchestrations, there are less guitar parts in this as a result, although this does give the whole piece room to evolve naturally, again the drum machine plays its part in keeping the pace of the piece. As we get further in a sequenced section begins with woodwind playing alongside it most effectively, the theme from part one reappearing in a slightly different form. The vast orchestrations are introduced to the sound interspersed with the sequenced section and a harder section with guitar fills is added but soon gives way to the orchestrations once again. This is where I feel the piece lacks a little focus and is merely using synthesisers to swell the sound without much substance. The sequenced part returns with string flourishes which actually sounds really good, although a bit like 1980’s Tangerine Dream in places. After this section ends we return to the main theme through sweeping strings and synth orchestrations, I’m hearing the open sweeping soundscapes of ‘Stratosfear’ by Tangerine Dream once again but this proceeds at a stately pace. It is all very epic and measured, the final section returns to little piano and keyboard runs to good effect. Part Two ends on gentle notes before fading away in the distance with a final play of the central melody.

In summary a most interesting but, possibly for most, not essential release with a great booklet explains the background to the album. I am very glad to have heard this for myself as I really enjoyed it even it lies outside of my normal listening material.

Released 26th January, 2024.

Order from Cherry red Records here:

Anthony Phillips: Slow Dance, 2CD Jewel Case Edition – Cherry Red Records

Review – Baker Gurvitz Army – Live 1975 – by John Wenlock-Smith

I got very excited about this release but, before you think I’m strange, let me explain myself…

I’ve always been a bit obsessive about details, I even make my own lists of albums I own, ranking them in order of personal preference. For many years the second Baker Gurvitz Army album featured highly in those lists, as did this live album (well, actually it’s a live set from Reading University along with a few extra tracks from a different show in London, at the New Victoria Theatre).

I was already a fan because of my often mentioned friend Peter Boner who had introduced me to the band when I was just fifteen. So much so that I acquired a copy of their 1974 debut single Help Me/Space Machine that, of course, failed to make any significant chart impact. More is the pity as that single really rocked with thrilling synthesiser sounds, a very fiery guitar break from Adrian Gurvitz and the thunderous drumming of one Ginger Baker. That single is on this release, albeit it in a slightly different form in that some of the singles dynamics are missing, but it’s still a great track.

This album confused me initially as it contains tracks from all three BGA albums, then I realised that their brief career only spanned three years in all, with their self-titled debut album in 1974, ‘Elysian Encounter’ in 1975 and ‘Hearts On Fire’ coming in 1976. Shortly after their career was severely derailed by the death of their manager in a light aircraft crash near Moffatt in Scotland in 1976. This scuppered the band’s activities and with the increasing tensions between Adrian Gurvitz and Ginger Baker the band imploded and split to seek different activities. Which is why I was excited about this CD, especially as live recordings of the bands early days were not that accessible then and this is a particularly fine recording of this rather phenomenal band in action. They really deliver the goods in their performances, it’s really fiery and very well done.

The Baker Gurvitz Army were all seasoned musicians and this shows in the sound they offered. The band had been expanded from the trio format of the debut to a five piece with keyboard player Peter Lemer, his keyboards helping to add a jazzy edge to some tracks and Steve Parsons(Mr. Snips) was recruited as the band’s vocalist. The album has an earthy live sound, as you can tell from its rawness, also, many of the songs are extended from the studio recordings. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of drum solos and drum focused elements within the tracks although, to be fair, everyone gets their own moments to shine in tracks like 4 Phil, Remember and Memory Lane.

As I sadly never got to see the band in action (I don’t know why as they came to Birmingham Town Hall in 1975 so I could have gone), this cd is chance to experience, in some part, that missed opportunity for me. The set is balanced between the debut and ‘Elysian Encounter’ and, oddly, the title track that later appeared on ‘Hearts On Fire’ and there is a lot of time for improvisation throughout. Quite frankly, there may be a drum solo or two too many but, overall, this is a really fine snapshot of a great band who really warranted significantly more kudos and respect than they actually garnered.

The booklet is, as with most Esoteric releases, rather splendid with a good summation of their short career. The sound is very crisp and clear with only a few dropouts in a recording that is nearly fifty years old and it is an excellent document of an exciting evening that hopefully those who were there will still remember. This new release documents those moments for us all to relive and enjoy once again or, for younger folks, to discover and enjoy! For fans of 1970’ British Rock music this is a diamond and a much desired album, hearing a band hungry and accomplished and really firing on all cylinders. It is highly recommended from this possibly somewhat biased reviewer…

Released 24th November, 2023.

Order from Cherry Red here:

Baker Gurvitz Army: Live 1975, CD Edition – Cherry Red Records

Review – UPF – Planetary Overload, Part 2 – Hope – by John Wenlock-Smith

Well, I may have met my match with this one but, first, let me explain. I am always talking about how progressive rock albums need both length and space in order for the music to evolve and expand enough to make music make sense. The fact that brevity is not usually a big feature of prog does actually matter, well it does to me at least. Well this latest album from United Progressive Fraternity (UPF) really challenges that idea and could be seen as overload or just simply too much!

‘Planetary Overload, Part 2 – Hope’ is nearly three hours long and has thirty-one tracks, several of which hover around the fifteen minute plus length. Alongside which the cast of contributors is huge, ranging from Steve Hackett to Jerry Marotta and all points in between but it’s fun when you can spot their contributions, like Steve Hackett’s guitar tapping on Chants of Hope.

What I will say is that, this is the equivalent of a transatlantic flight in that it’s long and the scenery changes constantly. And in a similar vein, there are many musical elements that are employed here in the rather strange, and possibly difficult, third UPF album. You get everything including speeches from the likes of Sir David Attenborough and Chief Oren Lyons amongst others, for this is very much an environmentally focused album, in that this is a plea for us to change how we exist, evolve and engage with nature.

Anyway, enough waffle from me, what exactly are you getting with this album? Well, in a nutshell, you will find some staggeringly good and complex symphonic progressive rock music with more than a touch of Peter Gabriel’s World Music thrown in for good measure. You get songs that have good messages and that actually mean something and you get excellent musicianship and some really quite remarkable playing, all wrapped up in a strong, conceptual set of 3 CD’s with excellent artwork from Ed Unitsky.

What’s not to like? Fans of antipodean prog like Unitopia and Southern Empire or even the excellent Damanek will find music to both discover and enjoy here. There are a large variety of styles used from quite aggressive passages to almost swing and orchestral sections. Faultline, for example, has heavy sections and jazzy swing tempo passages to it that are most impressive.

The album begins with Hope Is Drums Of Hope and a symphonic overture, all very ethereal and airy, before Mark ‘Truey’ Trueack’s earnest baritone vocal begins. There is a lightness of touch in this opening section with an evocative violin from Steve Unruh, who plays a large variety of instruments including guitars, bass pedals ,violin and flute and also provides lead and harmony vocals in conjunction with Trueack. These two together form the axis of UPF, although they draw on a wide array of contributors to achieve their unique sound. This opener has a hell of a lot happening during its running time including that great violin, lots of drums, a delicate piano and masses of choral type voices, its’ all very over the top but definitely appealing to these ears.

One of the album’s longer tracks, Being of Equal, has a very middle eastern sound to it, almost Arabian really. This is all very epic sounding, as the song continues a strong electronic element and bass line is added which actually fits in really well with the mystical elements. It really sounds exciting and different, there is an excellent synth burst too that really empowers the track. Yes, it is a complex and engaging track but it is also an excellent album track that really helps set out what the band are all about. This is an album that you are going to have to invest your time with in order to get the most out of it so be warned, this is going to require your efforts here, although I will point out that this will be mutually rewarding as you will encounter some really remarkable and challenging music on your journey.

Justified is another interesting track, very minimal in its sound with just a drum beat along with a sole vocal before taking a more expansive and broader musical route at the early part of the song. Lyrically it is interesting as well, lines like; “If you lay down with dogs you’re going to wake up with fleas, you’re scratching the surface not treating the disease.” It’s very well written and intelligently crafted, the touches of world music really enhance the sound they make and it’s really gorgeous in places, like on this track. Another bonus is the third disc of tracks in which, as The Romantechs they revisit several tracks and even a couple of old Unitopia tracks like Justify from ‘More Than A Dream’ and The Garden from the album of the same name. These are interesting retakes and well conceived and delivered versions of two classic songs, When you factor this bonus disc is of nearly seventy minutes duration, you can tell this is a very rewarding album when you do your part in giving it time and space in your life.

UPF certainly have a valid message wrapped in an attractive, challenging and complex musical format. There is a lot to get your teeth into so what are you waiting for? Dig in deep and enjoy the vista that United Progressive Fraternity offer with ‘Hope’.

It may be worth mentioning that ‘Hope’ continues on with themes that were both raised, voiced and addressed on their previous album ‘Planetary Overload Part One – Loss ‘ released in 2019. ‘Hope’ was delayed in part by the pandemic and continues in expressing both environmental and humanitarian issues and concerns. I also recommend that you give that one a listen as well and embrace the whole picture.

Released 15th July, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here:

UPF’s – PLANETARY OVERLOAD, PART 2 – HOPE | United Progressive Fraternity (bandcamp.com)