Lobate Scarp release new single and announce Kickstarter campaign for epic second album – article by Progradar

You Have It All Mock Up 1

(mock up of possible cover for new album using one of David A. Hardy’s previous works)

On 11th July, California Progressive Rock band Lobate Scarp released the new single Beautiful Light from their upcoming album entitled ‘You Have It All’. Recorded and mixed at The Mouse House under the production expertise of Rich Mouser, the song features an array of guest musicians plying flute, English horn, oboe and violin. The release has been followed up with a lyric video created by UK -based production company Crystal Spotlight.

Mouser, whose mixing repertoire includes Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, Neal Morse, as well as Lobate Scarp’s debut album ‘Time and Space’, will join as producer of the new album. Steven Leavitt, producer of ‘Time and Space’, will also return to co-produce and David A. Hardy, the world’s oldest living space artist, will again create the artwork.

In congruence with the single release, Lobate Scarp launched a major crowd funding for their follow up to ‘Time and Space’.


(click on the ‘K’ in the top left corner of the video to go to the Kickstarter page)

Lobate Scarp is a progressive space-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 Simple Minds and Tears For Fears, as well as strong ties to musical theater. Their debut ‘Time and Space’ was made possible in 2012 by a successful Kickstarter campaign and has since received accolades from all over the world, played on radio shows, podcasts, as well as had reviews published in numerous music publications.

“The group Lobate Scarp presents prog rock that hits you right between the eyes. This band’s rich melodies flow naturally like a stream, while the songs are broken down into movements much like a symphony” – Music Connection.

Website: http://lobatescarp.com



Review – Elephants of Scotland – The Perfect Map – by Progradar


“When you’re looking for a band name, I know it sounds weird, but everything you look at, everything you observe and read, you kind of think, ‘Man, maybe that could be our band name.'” – Dave Haywood.

I’ve spoken in the past of how, on one side, a band’s name can alienate them from an audience or, on the other, how it can grab people’s attention and generate interest in the artist.

I first heard of Elephants of Scotland through bandcamp and the incongruity of the name got me wanting to find out more about it and the band behind the name.

Apologies if you’ve heard this story before but, while researching the band for my review of their debut album from 2013 ‘Home Away From Home’, I got talking to the band’s bassist and unofficial spokesperson Dan MacDonald and he revealed how the band came to be called Elephants of Scotland…….


The name Elephants of Scotland comes from a photography exhibit by noted photographer George Logan where wild animals were superimposed onto images of Scotland and the countryside, one of the more notable ones being an elephant in a highland village (above). In keyboard player Adam Rabin’s own words,

“There are no Elephants in Scotland. That’s part of what I like about the name. It’s just a Band name.”

The band is completed by Ornan McLean (drums and percussion) and John Whyte (guitar) who shares vocal duties along with Dan and Adam. They have released two albums to date, 2013’s ‘Home Away From Home’ and ‘Execute and Breathe’, from 2014.

Band Pic 1

With the release of their latest musical tapestry ‘The Perfect Map’Elephants of Scotland themselves up to a broader variety of styles and songs. They continue to keep the “rock” in progressive rock with their high energy performances while employing elements of folk, balladry, and Eastern music.

‘The Perfect Map’ was not conceived as a single unified piece nor does it tell a single story like many concept albums in the progressive rock genre. Each song was written independently. It wasn’t until all of the songs were written that a clear theme emerged which then helped the band create the order of the tracks. The album could be seen as an examination of our journey through the various stages of life from childhood to death.

Adam goes on to explain,

“The whole idea of the album concept started with the contradiction: How could we have “Counting on a Ghost” on the same album as “The Perfect Map”? The former being anti-religion and the latter having the refrain of “Man plans and God laughs.” How could we challenge the existence of God in one song and acknowledge it in another?

I had written “The Perfect Map” about the foolishness of making plans. But the lyric is just as much about Man’s plan to find Truth or to find a simple answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything. It’s a moving target – it’s unknowable. If you think you’re on the right path then you’re definitely on the wrong one.

Then I realized that each song deals with a foolish pursuit for “what we want the most.” “Orphans” is about longing for healing; “Counting on a Ghost” about Truth; “One By Sea” about controlling love; “Swing the Gavel” about justice; and “The Perfect Map” about control of our destinies.

None of these topics is knowable or controllable. So, I wouldn’t get caught up in the topic of God or religion (which are two VERY different things, remember). Rather, focus on humanity’s relationships with all of these concepts – our need to explain the unexplainable – and how fleeting knowledge really is.

The resolution is in “Random Earth” which accepts that everything really is out of our control and we should spend more time appreciating the beauty of each moment.”


Opening track Sun-Dipped Orphans and the Wizard’s Teapot is the first of three lyrical contributions on this album from Greg Skillman. One possible reading of this lyric is from a Jungian perspective where we spend our childhood forming our ego through the mother archetype, apparently…. The song opens with a great piece of drumming over which some intricate keyboards and guitars lay the melody. For anyone who knows Elephants of Scotland, the sound is instantly recognisable. The feel good instrumental opening really allows the music to shine and puts a smile on your face before the vocals begin. Nicely harmonised and layered, there is a feel of alternative, even jazz-infused rock to the voices, like Ben Folds had joined a progressive rock band. The musicianship is of a high pedigree and you find yourself on a crest of a progressive influenced wave, surfing to the beat and I love the abrupt ending.

The immediate feel of Counting On A Ghost is a large slice of Rush influence. Keyboards, drums and guitar all have that late 80’s power trio feel. The vocals are dynamic and edgy. On this song Skillman and Rabin collaborated on the lyric challenging the trust we often place in empty in promises whether it’s religion, politicians, each other, or even ourselves. The harder we try to nail down what Truth really is, the further we get from it. Serious, compelling and determined, it drives on at a fair lick, holding your attention with every note. Let the music wash over you and there are some delicate intricacies that run throughout as well and Rabin really does earn his corn on this track, his keyboards are immense. The caustic guitar solo sees Whyte channeling his inner Alex Lifeson and you find yourself nodding appreciatively at the complexities of the musical mosaic being played out in front of you.


On One By Sea the band brought in guest vocalist Megan Beaucage (a former bandmate of Rabin, Whyte, and McLean in their old cover band side project). Emmy award-winning composer and violinist Gary Kuo (a childhood friend of MacDonald) also takes the track to a new level. A gentle piano opens the song before Megan’s delicate, fragile voice brings an etehreal and otherworldly feel to this part of the song. There is a sheer beauty to her singing that almost moves you to tears and you are transfixed by the sincerity at its core. Gary Kuo’s violin adds some real heart and soul and, also, vibrancy as the song then opens up into a foot-tapping country jazz romp. A quite uplifting track with some wonderful nuances deep at the heart of the matter.

The first track that Dan shared with me was the heavily medieval folk influenced Swing the Gavel, written for Musea Records“The Decameron” compilation, it is based on a 14th Century story by Boccaccio. Rabin breaks out some recorder flutes in the verses and a thinly-veiled double entendre in the choruses. It feels light hearted throughout, that delightful sound of the recorder is impish in its delivery and the mandolin adds the required authenticity. You could almost imagine the band capering around in medieval garb, like a host of Royal Fools entertaining their Lord and his guests. The chorus is really addictive and catchy and the whole track just breezes past in a maelstrom of fun and frivolity. An up-to-date instrumental section, still full of all the fun of the fayre, keeps the jovial and buoyant atmosphere going and you get the impression that this would be a bundle of fun to play live, a really jovial and lighthearted track.

The Perfect Map is about the foolishness of making plans or expecting the future to play out exactly how we want. The past two years since their last album has been challenging for each member on a personal level. Lots of changes and losses. This is a lesson learned the hard way. Percussionist Joe Netzel contributes a tasty doumbek track to add to the exotic feel on the song. There is an eastern, mystical feel to the opening of the song, exotic sounds evoke exotic smells whirling around your mind with a subtle psychedelic undertone. The vocals start edgy and low down, almost hesitant and the guitar note is full of eastern promise. Mysterious and enigmatic, it slowly worms its way into your psyche with its slow burning  spiritual ambiance.

“Man plans and God laughs.”

There’s an overtone of ambiguity and uncertainty at the heart of things here, searching for a resolution to the eternal question. It’s a very thoughtful and thought provoking track, intelligent and inquisitive and one that plants a seed in your consciousness, left there to flower at a later date. The keyboard takes centre stage with its beguiling and hypnotic tone and you are left entranced by the intricate melody and precise percussion delivered by Adam and Ornan.  A perceptive and creative song that maybe leaves more questions than it answers.

band 2

The last lyric on the album, Random Earth is about accepting that we will never have any lasting control over our world or even ourselves.

“I’ll never know what I am. The idea is ever-shifting.”

Quite a philosophical song, it opens with a pulsating and questioning 80’s sounding keyboard and guitar riff. The vocal begins, questing and searching and the drums add weight to those questions. This is pure Elephants of Scotland, a sound I have come to appreciate more and more for its involving and interwoven melodies and influential rhythm section. It takes that forceful power trio feel of Rush and adds barely perceptible hues of its own to create something engaging and refreshing. There are moments of calm and clarity and also flashes of complexity and esoteric profundity, something for all progressive fans. You can lose yourself in the music and hear different subtleties every time you listen to it, the guitar and keyboards on this track are at their most bullish and impressive, it’s Prog Jim but not necessarily as we know it……

The album closes with Für Buddy, a requiem for Adam Rabin’s dog and the band’s long-time mascot who died during the writing stage of this album. Buddy had attended just about every practice since the band’s inception. A moving instrumental that leaves a tear in your eye and a lump in your throat, the beautiful music is a fitting tribute to the loss of someone close to their heart and gives the the album a poignant ending.


This impressive Vermont four-piece just keep getting better and better and are forging a truly unique identity in the world of progressive rock. ‘The Perfect Map’ is another tour-de-force from these rather fine musicians who take incisive, intelligent lyrics and combine them with some of the best music around. Find it in the Progressive Rock section under ‘E’ and just buy it, trust me, it is well worth your money!

View the digital booklet here

Released 17th June 2016

Buy ‘The Perfect Map’ from bandcamp








Review – Ghost Community – Cycle of Life – by Progradar


“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” – Maya Angelou

Let’s face it, nothing good in this world generally comes easy. We often have to endure hardship to see the light at the end of the tunnel and the gestation of ‘Cycle of Life’, the debut album from Cardiff based band Ghost Community, has certainly seen many trials and tribulations before, finally, coming to fruition.

In fact their own publicity information goes so far as to say,

“‘Cycle of Life’ was written through a maelstrom of adversity and sometimes you can hear it but not necessarily feel it, because this is an album of hope; and if we ever needed an album of hope, it’s right now.”

Band -Catherine Summerhayes

(this picture and featured image courtesy of Catherine Summerhayes)

Ghost Community is Matthew Cohen – bass (The Reasoning / Magenta), Simon Rogers – guitar (Also Eden), Jake Bradford-Sharp – drums (The Reasoning), Moray Macdonald – keyboards (Godsticks) and the band’s singer supreme, John Paul Vaughan (Unbroken Spirit).

Riversea vocalist Marc Atkinson was the original singer but was unable to commit to the project on a long term basis, however, some of his original vocals do appear on the album.

Matty Cohen says of Marc,

“We’re all in this together……. I am so glad he is on the album. He started this journey with us so, it was only right.”

With much crisscrossing the country through the years in various bands and with each person sharing the same stages, frequenting the same scene, and forging firm friendships, discussions inevitably began about creating something new together, as a band. With the wealth of experience they brought to the table, they knew they could make this band something that not only met the needs of their own musical desires but would also, be a band for everyone. Ghost Community is that band and that dream, come true.

Matty feels that the music community has come together  to support Ghost Community in their endeavour, he told me,

“This is what the music scene should be about. Everyone helping each other. That is the ethos behind Ghost Community. It is about every thing working because we all need each other to make it work.”

He continues,

“Trust me, music has saved me on more than one occasion. It drives me mad sometimes but, it’s in me and I never want to be without it. That is why this album is so important…”

With the brilliant Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief, Opeth & Katatonia) mixing / producing the album with the band, hopefully there is something special awaiting me.

Bruce Soord

Opener Rise Up seems to bloom from almost out of nowhere, a low key intro before the stylish bass and guitar power into view, dragging the impressive drums along with them. One thing is immediately apparent, John Paul Vaughan has a stunning voice and one that fits with the material perfectly. There is an urgency to the song, one that keeps you on your toes. It flies along at a fairly hectic pace but loses no quality at all. I’m put in mind of some of the recent stalwarts of British progressive music like The Reasoning and Also Eden (no surprise there) but the band give it their own polished edge and identity. Simon Rogers shows his zen like guitar skills with a fiery, burning solo and, basically, you are having a rollicking good time. Driving all of this along is the dynamism of Matty Cohen’s superb bass playing and Jake Bradford-Sharp’s pin sharp drum skills, Moray Macdonald’s vibrant keyboards are the glue that holds everything in place. There is a vocal piece towards the end that reminds me so much of Peter Nicholls of IQ fame, John Paul has a really distinctive voice and this track is a brilliant way to open the album, right, what’s next?

John Paul

(John Paul Vaughan)

Distinctive guitar, gentle but insistent, opens Mirror Lakes, a more laid back track than the previous. The vocals are key at the start of this song, giving a focal point around which the languid music can flow with ease. Then the powerful drums and bass hit you hard along with a powerful riff from Simon’s guitar. There’s an ebb and flow between the relative calm of the verse and then the in your face potency of the catchy chorus which is actually quite addictive and has you singing along with gusto. I find myself picking out the individual instruments at times, the drums almost have a life of their own, the guitar playing is really quite sublime and the keyboards give added verve and fervour. On this track, what really stands out at times though is that driving bass line, almost with a mind and will of its own and all these impressive musicians segue together to provide a stylish run out to end the song.


(Jake Bradford-Sharp)

Anything and Everything has a pensive opening, almost sci-fi in feel, with the industrial synth sounds. The drums dominate the soundscape with the guitar adding gloss before the vocals begin, low-key and contemplative. There’s a feel of melancholy running through the song even as the pace picks up and the track gets more urgency, it s a darker, more sombre song that leaves you in a thoughtful mood. Just out of reach, but very evident, there’s an 80’s synth pop party going on, Midge Ure and Ultravox have turned up to jam with the Ghost Community boys and Moray’s keys get a real extended workout on this track. For a child of that decade there is nostalgia to be heard and felt at every turn and wry and wistful smile never leaves my face. A great song that is surrounded by a wistful aura throughout.


(Moray Macdonald)

There is a delicate fragility to the opening to Blue December Morning, you can almost imagine a cold, frosty day with the icicles hanging from the sparse branches, bleak but beautiful. John’s vocal is affectingly humble and sincere and the music adds its own gravitas with lush string-like keyboards and an elegant piano giving a pared back ambience to the whole song. There is an almost heavy-hearted and poignant feel to the lyrics but the song shows there is beauty even in tribulation as a darkly magnificent solo flows organically from Simon Rogers’ eloquent guitar to leave you lost in your own thoughts. The vocals become more impassioned and the music stimulates you even more as this intelligent and potent track comes to a stirring close.


(Simon Rogers)

Heartening and uplifting, the organ, vocals and guitar that open Ghost Community are full of hope and optimism and this feel-good track carries on in that vein to give an atmosphere of confidence and belief. An influential and charismatic rhythm section give real impetus to the music and the vocals have a compelling tone to them, one that makes you sit up and take notice. There is energy aplenty running through this song with hooks firing from left, right and centre. The absorbing lull in the middle of the song brings a note of seriousness to proceedings, hope and optimism are all good but nothing comes easy in this life, you have to work for every positive outcome. That mantra is drummed into you as the song comes to an intricate close.


(Matty Cohen)

So it all comes to this, the final track on the album and the title track Cycle of Life. With a title like that it should be an epic shouldn’t it? Well, for starters, it’s nearly sixteen minutes long and starts with an ominous voice over so that’s a couple of boxes ticked already! An unpretentious acoustic guitar and John Paul’s deferential vocals add serious dignity to the song before Matty’s pulsating bass and Moray’s keyboards lay the foundations for the track to move up a notch or two with an energetic riff and sweeping keyboards taking the baton and running with it. Jake’s drums get to shine again and all the components are present and correct for something rather special. Like all the best extended progressive tracks, it seems to flow seamlessly from section to section, sometimes showcasing the exceptional guitar work and , at other times, allowing the uber-tight rhythm section to take centre stage. John Paul Vaughan’s singular voice repeatedly requests that,

“Passengers get on board, welcome to the Cycle of Life….”

Before the voice-over precedes an undulating lull in proceedings, everyone treading water before the mantra is repeated again. It’s easy to get lost in the wondrously labyrinthine twists and turns that abound in this dramatic and profound song but the band will always guide you back to safety. An acoustic guitar returns us to place of calm and serenity, the cultured vocals soothing any troubled souls as you sit on a metaphorical shore of endless possibilities, it only takes a second to change your life so what are you waiting for? A rather inventive and perceptive instrumental section brings us to the close of this creative track and, as the last note resonates into the distance, you sit quietly to ruminate on what the last fifty-one minutes has given you.

‘Cycle of Life’ is a thought-provoking, beguiling and fulfilling musical journey that excites and satisfies at every turn. Ghost Community may have had to endure trials and tribulations while making this record but the experiences have enabled them to deliver something quite magical and rewarding that will stand the test of time, worthy of a place in anyone’s musical collection.

Released 24th June 2016

Buy ‘Cycle of Life’ direct from the band at the link below:












Nosound announce new studio album Scintilla, and release video for new track ‘Short Story’

Nosound - Scintilla

Nosound’s new studio album, their fifth, entitled ‘Scintilla’ marks a major departure and includes guest appearances from Anathema’s Vincent Cavanagh and acclaimed Italian singer Andrea Chimenti.

After a decade of crafting a very particular type of widescreen melancholia and wistful imagery, Nosound’s fifth studio album ‘Scintilla’ introduces a wholly new musical and visual approach for Giancarlo Erra’s ever-evolving band.

Inspired by personal upheaval and a desire for change, ‘Scintilla’ is an emotionally complex and musically direct work presenting a stripped-down set of compositions that mark a major departure from Nosound’s trademark symphonic lushness and production precision. Giancarlo Erra says,

“The intention with ‘Scintilla’ was to do something a bit more different than previously and illustrating more vigorously what Nosound is today. During a decade of activity, my listening tastes have shifted gradually towards a simpler, more direct music with an intimate character that still retains a certain richness and detail in sound. Northern folk and alt singer-songwriter music are possibly the stronger influences, but generally speaking, everything that is simple, direct and minimal but with rich sound is what I like, and what I hope this album is.”

Taking in influences from Post Rock, Shoegaze and Alt-Singer-Songwriters, the album imaginatively utilises a mostly organic and acoustic sound palette.

Musically looser and more sonically intimate than the band’s previous releases, ‘Scintilla’s’ emphasis is placed firmly on feeling rather than technique.

Anathema’s Vincent Cavanagh lends his distinctive vocals to two of the album’s tracks – In Celebration of Life and The Perfect Wife, and cellist Marianne De Chastelaine returns once more to the Nosound fold (this time in a more free-flowing and improvisational capacity). Acclaimed Italian singer Andrea Chimenti co-writes and sings on the serene Sogno E Incendio.

Shifting from the uncharacteristic sarcasm of Love is Forever and potent anger of The Perfect Wife to the dreamy sensitivity of Emily and the unusually uplifting Celebration of Life, ‘Scintilla’ represents the boldest statement of Nosound’s career so far.

A cathartic album of emotional extremes, Scintilla marks the brave beginning of the second phase of Nosound’s fascinating career.

Nosound - band

Nosound have launched their first video for the song Short Story – Giancarlo comments of the song and video,

This is one of the shortest and less structured Nosound songs, both musically and lyrically, and yet one that perfectly sets the mood to ‘different’ and prepares for the album. A statement of intentions, so much that it is the opening of the album and  the one we choose to be the  first single. The video was shot specifically for this song, introducing the places where the album was partly written and recorded, and at the same time illustrating the emotional extremes present on the whole album, being at the same time delicate and thunderous without very much for the in-between.” 

Scintila tracklisting

1. Short Story
2. Last Lunch
3. Little Man
4. In Celebration of Life
5. Sogno e Incendio
6. Emily
7. The Perfect Wife
8. Love is Forever
9. Evil Smile
10. Scintilla

Released 2nd September 2016


Review – Tiras Buck – Stationed Here – by Progradar


“His voice was cloves and nightingales, it took us to spice markets in the Celebs, we drifted with him on a houseboat beyond the Coral Sea. We were like cobras following a reed flute.”
― Janet Fitch, White Oleander

I don’t hide the fact that I love progressive rock and its offshoots but, in reality, I just love good music. Be it blues, rock or just one man and his guitar, if it resonates with meaning, I’ll like it.

I do like a good voice and US singer/songwriter Tiras Buck has a really good one. It is full of emotion and has a little catch which makes it instantly recognisable.

Tiras hails from Pennsylvania, USA and has a musical style that takes chunks from the progressive genre but adds in symphonic tendencies and lush harmonies and strings to deliver a powerful emotional kick. On ‘Songs for Parked Cars’, his first full release, he enlisted the help of Echolyn’s Brett Kull and Paul Ramsay. Described as, “solitude and derisive introspection as soundtrack”, it is “emphatic pseudo-progressive anthems bonded with recurring themes.”

Brett (bass, guitars) and Paul (drums, percussion) join Tiras on his second album, ‘Stationed Here’, and after saying, of his first album,

“If you love well written music of any genre, if you appreciate music that mirrors the mind, heart and soul of the musician then, you will love this album.”

I was intrigued to hear what this accomplished musician had come up with next.


Opener All Over You Again is a plaintive ballad-like track that begins with a delicate acoustic guitar and Tiras’ haunting vocal plucking at your heart strings. He has a touch of Adam Duritz to his voice but with a catch that makes it unmistakably Tiras Buck. This song seems to gently touch your soul as it meanders like a summer stream across your psyche. As the drums join in, subdued, and the vocals harmonise, there is a feeling of something building up, a slight tension to the atmosphere. The song opens up fully with the percussion giving it substance and the guitar breaking out and backing Tiras’ vocal perfectly. A delightfully whimsical opening to the album.

What We Were (including Mountains) has another waif like acoustic guitar intro and Tiras’ vocal begins like a lament. More ardent and piercing, it bleeds emotion. The simple contrast between guitar and vocal is striking and shows what an instrument Tiras’ vocals can be. There is an upswelling of guitar and drums and then a delightful harmonised vocal that just intensifies the impassioned feeling of the song. When they string-like keys appear, they back the heightened delivery of the vocals and give an additional gloss to this already impressive track. The intertwined harmonies of the vocals demand your attention and you focus on the engaging delivery almost at the expense of the rest of the music. The guitar and keyboards bring the passion down a few notches before we segue into the second part of the song, Mountains, which has a harder, more straghtforward rocking feel to it. Brett Krull’s fuzzy riffing and Paul Ramsay’s dynamic drums give it a feel of some of the more in-your-face R.E.M tracks and the vocals have a slight warbling quality to them, a quiver that gives Tiras’ voice a real honesty. You can even feel the influence of Brett Krull’s production skills that give a little soupçon of Echolyn to the mix.

car park

The Title track to the album, Stationed Here, is my favourite song on this release, it has a real wistful sincerity to it, starting with the graceful acoustic guitar that has an almost ethereal quality. The vocals are delivered with a nostalgic, almost rarefied feel and this gives the song a radiant aura. You seem to float along on an insubstantial cloud of musical delight as the chorus gives substance to the refined music. Drums and keys join in, most dignified, adding to the atmosphere and this most sublime song plays with your emotions as the voices intertwine around each other. This is Tiras Buck at his absolute best as his powerfully emotive voice pleads to the attentive audience.

A mellow piano note introduces I’ll Follow You Down which, along with the moving vocals, gives a touching note to the song. There’s a dreamlike quality to this track that leaves you feeling calm and collected, just keyboards and poignant vocals before the percussion adds in another layer of longing and wistfulness. To be fair, you could, and should, just lay there with your headphones on and let this feel-good track wash over you, there is natural warmth to the song, like late afternoon sunshine on a hazy summer day. When the guitar joins, there is a welling up of emotion inside you, yearning for a simpler life that feels forever out of reach, this song touches you deep into your heart.


Me And Denis Leigh is a stripped back track that brings to mind Paul Simon. A hushed vocal and fragile acoustic guitar give the song a purity of heart and soul and the wonderful vocal inter-plays really stand out. I sat transfixed, listening to this piece of music that takes Tiras’ soul and strips it bare for all to see and hear. This wonderful musician has a sincerity that shines through all the commercial bullshit that is thrown at us on a day to day basis. The song builds up momentum with the stylish percussive talents of Paul Ramsay and the expressive guitar work of Brett Krull backing the impeccable vocals of Tiras Buck and his backing singers. It is uplifting to the core and leaves you in a better place than when you heard the first note.

Tiras Buck is one of those musicians who writes music because he wants to, there’s little thought of commercial gain. He has this deep vein of incredible music talent running through his very soul and, thankfully for us, he feels the need to let it out in song. A superlative songwriter with a voice that transfixes you, he deserves greater recognition and , hopefully, albums like ‘Stationed Here’ will give him it!

Released 10th June 2016.

‘Stationed Here’ is available to download from CDBaby




Review – Big Big Train – Folklore – by Progradar


“And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean. I think it would be great to have written one of those songs. I bet if I wrote one of them, I would be very proud. I hope the people who wrote those songs are happy. I hope they feel it’s enough. I really do because they’ve made me happy. And I’m only one person.” – Steven Chbosky – The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

If you’ve been a follower of my reviews then you’ll know that I like to open with a pertinent quote so, when it came to reviewing the latest release from one of my all time favourite bands, I searched long and hard for one that I thought captured my feelings the best.

In the last five or six years I have been through some exceedingly tough times, some of the lowest of my life and yet, throughout, I have been kept sane by my love of music and, especially, by the emotionally uplifting songs of Big Big Train so, when I first saw the quote above, it resonated with me immediately and on a very intimate level.

The new album is called ‘Folklore’ and yet the press release states that,

“Despite the album title, ‘Folklore’ is by no means a collection of traditional-sounding folk music pieces. On ‘Folklore’, Big Big Train are reimagining and breathing new life into traditional themes, and also creating a few new ones along the way. The crafts of songwriting and storytelling beat strongly at the heart of the Big Big Train and inform every track on the new album.”

Well, this got me thinking about how folk and, in particular, how storytelling through song actually began? Are you sitting comfortably? then we’ll begin…..


Older than civilization, storytelling has always played a central role in in our lives and societies.  Tales were told to replay and celebrate historic events. They were salutary and cautionary tales, lessons.

Some of the oldest, greatest tales, myths, and legends are written in verse– the Iliad and the Odyssey, the old testament, and some of the traditional Irish epics. Even Tolkien used song in the Hobbit and LOTR as back story. Just as in our world, the people of Middle Earth told the tales of the great heroes through verse.

Think of Orpheus, arguably one of the most famous musicians. Gifted by the gods, he was a man who, armed with only his lyre, was able to charm beasts, defeat the Sirens, and brave the Underworld to win back EurydiceHe used music to fight his battles.What a concept! Now, if everyone did that, the world would be a much better place.

Throughout history, people have used song to convey their messages. Troubadours would travel the countryside, telling their tales and singing their songs to kings and noblemen. These songs were silly, they were tragic, they were entertaining.

Slaves in the American South would create and sing songs while they toiled away in the hot fields, they were a distraction from the horrors of their everyday lives. During the Depression, folksingers used song to fight back against the government, to raise awareness, and again, to give hope.

Songs are a powerful way to get your message across. They are our fears, our desires, our hopes, our dreams, our losses, our celebrations, our sorrows, our joys, our memories, our experiences. They are, each and every one of them, a story.

(adapted from Caitlin Nicholl’s Storytelling Through Music)

And, in Big Big Train, we have the modern troubadours and storytellers of our generation. They keep history alive by reimagining it to music and verse.

‘Folklore’ features the same line-up (eight piece band and brass quintet) that performed three sell out shows at Kings Place in London in August 2015, with the addition of a string quartet. The album was mixed and mastered by the redoubtable Rob Aubrey.



Folklore – Ancient stories told by our ancestors around the campfire, being passed from generation to generation. The passage of time sees the coming of a written language and electronic communication, but we still tell our stories and pass them on.”

The opening to Folklore is quite inspiring with the strings and then the brass building your anticipation before a short lull. And off we go….. The intricate drumming of Nick D’Virgilio backs the instantly recognisable vocal of David Longdon on what definitely feels like a folk inspired opening to the track. A song about the history of folk songs and storytelling, the guitar riff, though intentionally low in the mix, is really addictive and then the vocals build up towards the memorable chorus that has you singing along immediately. This song is anthemic in style and delivery, intended to fill the listener with a passion and pride and the powerful voice of Longdon, aided and abetted by some impressive backing vocals, really delivers in that aspect.

“For it is said, so it lives on
we pass it down, it carries on
Oh down we go into folklore….”

When I first heard the song I must admit that I thought it was very much in the vein of Wassail with its intricate instrumental sections and rather upbeat tempo. The guitar solo is absolutely wonderful and quite inspiring. To be honest, although I liked it, it was not one of the tracks that resonated with me immediately but, after a few listens, I was singing along to the chorus with the best of them. It is motivating, uplifting and inspirational and the way the song runs out is just brilliant.


London Plane – Once upon a time, a great tree took root on a river bank and watched through the years as a city grew around it…”

Across their burgeoning discography, Big Big Train have given us many poignant, emotional and moving songs and London Plane falls immediately into that category. The second longest track on the album, it opens with a gentle guitar and flute that immediately pluck the heartstrings before David’s lush voice sings a tale of a mighty tree that sees the birth of London and it’s growth and aggrandizement across the centuries. The heavenly backing vocals give a wistful and whimsical feel. It is contemplative and reflective and leaves me with a lump in my throat, especially when the quite wonderful chorus breaks out with its delicately harmonised vocals and that ethereal flute playing in the background.

“Time and tide wait for no man
and now the ship has sailed
and the crowds fade away.
But by the water’s edge
at the end of the road
I still reach for the day’s last light.”

A song that draws you into its warm embrace to a place where time stands still and the weight of hundreds of years of history just washes off your shoulders. The humbling guitar solo in the middle of the song just seems so perfect and well, right and leaves me on the edge of joyful tears. No one writes music about the history of our Island like this band and it connects on so many levels. There’s a nice intricate instrumental section where the strings get to come to the fore, backed by that fantastic flute, and there is some rather excellent guitar work, all adding a progressive gravitas to the warmth and emotion of the pastoral feel to the music. As the song comes to a memorable close, the emotive guitar solo (and, oh, what a solo!) and the music filling your heart with joy, I find myself thinking we have another Big Big Train classic on our hands.


Along The Ridgeway – A journey along an ancient pathway, where legends are reborn…”

A dolent sound signals the introduction to Along The Ridgeway, another tale rooted deep in the history of this magical land. Graceful piano and plaintive brass usher in David’s vocal, this time with the merest mournful hint to them. David Longdon was born to be a storyteller, his emotive, stirring voice draws you in and leads you on a journey that becomes more life affirming the further this amazing album goes on. You ride along a mystical pathway buoyed by the music, the brass adding a further depth and the brilliant violin of Rachel Hall counter-playing with Rikard Sjöblom’s lively keyboards.

“And by the light of the moon
Alfred sounds his stone
and legends are reborn.”

The soaring chorus, backed by the wonderful brass playing just takes you on a high before the voices sing the repeated mantra of the Salisbury Giant and we segue straight into the instrumental of the same name…..


Salisbury Giant – Big Big Train tell the true story of a medieval giant.”

An instrumental telling the tale of the Salisbury Giant, a pageant figure of the Salisbury guild of Merchant Tailors who would be led, by the hand, through the streets, first recorded in 1496 when led by the Mayor and Corporation, they went in procession to meet King Henry VII and his Queen, who were staying at nearby Clarendon Palace.

“Here comes the Salisbury Giant
here comes a lonely man
a crowd of people lead him by the hand.”

It has an urgency to it, the staccato strings, deep in tone, are almost apprehensive. The Hammond organ adds a feel of  Hob-Nob, the giant’s companion, who was the mischievous character who cavorted in front in the procession clearing the way for the Giant. There’s a definite capricious feel to the music as it leads you on a merry dance, occasionally opening up to soar high with the sparkling strings and then that repeated mantra runs this delightful little track out to a close.

Kings place

The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun – When the astronomer lost the love of his life, he set a course for the stars. Inspired by the much-loved astronomer and educationalist, Patrick Moore.”

Damn, I’ve got something in my eye again, a love song and a song of love, The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun opens with some signature Big Big Train brass that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and the violin just adds that extra bit of poignancy and emotional blackmail. A better opening to a song you will not hear this year, I’m already transfixed and we’ve only just got started. As the brass fades away the song expands with some delicate guitar and piano before David Longdon takes on the role of Bard and takes us on a magical mystery tour of the celestial heavens. Take a minute and just let the music and lyrics wash over you and absorb them into your very being, this is music that soothes the soul and calms any fevered brow. The soulful chorus is a thing of wonder and beauty that leaves you becalmed and in a place where nothing can hurt you.

“So many words left unsaid
so many deeds left undone
so many tales without an end
the transit of Venus across the Sun.”

Take some more spine tingling brass and add it to the mix and you are, literally, in a musical heaven. When I first got the album, I played it back to back five times and was impressed more and more with each listen and it is songs like Transit that touch you to the core, the guitar solo elegantly played at the end is just fantastic.

Signed album

Wassail – The old ways get a 21st century reboot in this pagan inspired progressive-folk groove.”

The title track from Big Big Train‘s ‘Wassail’ E.P. that was released last year, it gets a fine reworking here. The guitar and flute opening brings the memories of the live Kings Place gigs flooding back and David’s frontman antics with his Wassail mask. Perhaps, on first listening, it has less of an impact because it isn’t a ‘new’ track, so to speak. However, after you’ve sung the catchy chorus at the top of your voice a few times, it certainly comes flooding back. Definitely a more folk-direction for the band, this song had some thinking that the whole album would be like this but, paired with the title track, they just add another string to this celebrated band’s already imposing bow.

“We sing our song
Stand fast, stand strong
Bough and leaf bear fruit aplenty.”

A more direct and powerful track, compared to the delicate nuances of some on this album, it is still cleverly written and, as expected with musicians of this calibre, superbly performed. I always find myself gravitating to the more emotionally complex tracks that Big Big Train produce but, when the moment takes you, this rollicking, roller coaster of a folk-fest really hits the spot.

Tobbe & Greg

(Me, Tobbe Janson & Greg Spawton at the Real World launch)

“Winkie – A ripping adventure story about a true life war heroine, the first to receive the Dickin medal in honour of her achievement. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first prog epic about a pigeon…”

Well, where do I start, a Boy’s Own prog epic in 7 parts about a famous pigeon, the Winkie of the title, that saved the crew of a bomber lost in 1942. It’ll never work will it? Well, on first listen, I wasn’t convinced but, once again, give this song time to work its way into your affections and you will be hooked…..

The opening does nothing to prepare you for what is to come, flute and the cooing of pigeons before a folkish rhythm takes up the mantle, foot tapping commences and off we go. David takes on a more literal storytelling role on this track and relates the story verbatim as almost a chant with parts of this ripping yarn given like radio messages. The whole tale is gripping and involving and the music rushes you along all the way on the edge of your seat. Intricate keyboards, powerful guitars and clever drumming all add to the authenticity of the account of the loss of the crew and their subsequent rescue.

“You flew safely home Winkie
Hey, the inaugural recipient
You flew straight, flew true,

The use of the keyboards and flute to denote Winkie’s flight is really clever and has you rooting for our heroine all the way through. It’s a hopeless task, with only an S.O.S from the radio, can Winkie save the day? Come on, you didn’t think it was going to end in heroic failure did you?

“But thank God, fifteen minutes in
the crew are found, safe and sound
Thanks to their winged saviour…”

A true prog epic about an heroic pigeon, who’d have thought it? Well, thankfully for all of us, Big Big Train did…..


Brooklands – John Cobb, racing driver, lived life at high speed on the racing line. Time passes, but the ageing driver yearns for one more adrenaline filled lap of the track…. Cobb died in 1952 while attempting the world water speed record at Loch Ness.”

Great songwriters are inspired by their surroundings and experiences and a visit to the historic racing circuit at Brooklands is what gave Greg Spawton the idea for this almost biographical tale.

The longest track on the album, Brooklands opens with an almost melancholy feel engendered by the violin, guitar and drums before opening up with sepia tinged hues of nostalgia and a much more upbeat note. David sings about the car travelling around the track and the experiences that the driver remembers from his youth. Intensely visceral, you almost feel like you are there in a time before the track became weed infested and broken and life was much more carefree. The driver recounts how he was lucky to be able to have lived such a life.

“I was a lucky man, a lucky man.
I did the things I can,
the things I can’t explain.”

Things are brought sharply back into focus and up to the present day, the racer, now in the twilight of his years, wants to feel the wind in his hair and experience the excitement one more time. The brilliance of the songwriting leaves you completely involved in the narrative, these are songs that all share a story with the listener, one that is involving and intimate and affectionate. The intelligently crafted music is almost lyrical in the way that invokes the wind in the hair feel of the car flying round the race track, dangerously exhilarating and bracing.

“On the racing line
lived life at high speed
too fast too far.”

To use music to evoke feelings and emotions and to do it well is a seriously impressive skill and is, for me, what separates proper songwriters and musicians from the run of the mill artists that churn out insipid chart fodder and Big Big Train are true masters of that art. The rolling piano, flowing guitar and powerful drums all paint pictures in your mind that are finished off by the exquisite flute playing, add in the engrossing and captivating vocals and the musical tapestry is complete.

Telling the Bees

Telling The Bees – Traditionally, bees were told of births, deaths and marriages within the bee-keeper’s family, as it was believed that otherwise they would leave the hive.

Once again, taking a traditional piece of ‘folklore‘ and reimagining it, Telling The Bees is a moving story of how, when his father dies in the First World War, a young boy takes on the responsibility of the bees, grows up to become a man, finds love and starts his own family.

“The bees are told…..and we carry on….”

Written by David Longdon, the guitar introduction gives it a feel of his ‘Wild River’ solo project. Imagine yourselves sat around in a circle, rapt in concentration, as this modern day troubadour relates another nostalgia soaked tale rooted deep in the history of England. Telling The Bees is a wonderful piece of music that has the ability to whisk you away to the sun drenched summer fields and to a time when life was much more simple and easy going.

“The joy is in the telling
The sorrow in the soul
Tears of happiness and sadness..”

David’s vocals are honey sweet and velvet covered as they seem to lift any worries or cares from your shoulders and the music is just beatific and awe-inspiring. The musicians produce something akin to delicate reverence, a guitar solo that drips honesty and love and the vocals are nigh on perfect. As this charming and graceful track brings a close to what can only be described as a stunning album, I honestly do wipe a glad tear of joy from my eye…..

Folklore Banner

It was always going to be hard to follow ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ albums but the acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling have returned with a fresh collection of stories and tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life……..

Released 27th May 2016.

Buy ‘Folklore’ on CD direct from Big Big Train

Buy ‘Folklore’ on vinyl from Burning Shed

Buy the ‘Folklore’ download from bandcamp









Review – Paradigm Shift – Becoming Aware – by Leo Trimming


‘When did Absurdity and Nonsense take control?

The Moment that they all Lost Sight of Common Goals…’

For some strange reason those words from A Revolutionary Cure,  the opening epic song from ‘Becoming Aware’, resonate quite significantly at present. Formed in 2007 by Ben Revens (vocals and keyboards)  and Reuben Krendel (guitars), as a result of a college project which ultimately resulted in ‘A Revolutionary Cure’, Paradigm Shift have gradually developed with the addition of drummer, Bryson Demath and very recently Leon Itzler on bass for the recording of this album. It is refreshing to see a new, younger band on the progressive rock scene, also willing to inject a political but not overwhelming edge to their songs on this very promising debut album from London based band.

In such tumultuous times it is perhaps appropriate for Paradigm Shift to release such an album based on the ideas of freedom and control. However, the generally optimistic theme of ‘Becoming Aware’ is that attempts to control people, whether through politics, religion, media, dictatorships or medication are ultimately futile and people will find a way to be free. I sincerely hope this young band’s optimism is well-placed in the recent context of the pervading influence of the media and the manipulative powers of politicians to distort and misrepresent to gain popular support. Lest we forget, Hitler was elected into power.

Band shot

A Revolutionary Cure commences with an intro of sampled speeches about slavery and freedom before an awesomely heavy guitar riff provides a dramatic opening in to the song proper before the rest of the band joins the melee. What strikes you early on with this band are the strength of the piano led keyboards, which adds more texture and colour to their heavy progressive style. Ben Revens has stated that Rush and Dream Theater are influences, which you can hear with this powerhouse number but this is no carbon copy as there are other elements in this particularly powerful rock concoction, with dashes of jazz, metal and electronica. Reuben Krendel’s guitars certainly take centre stage half way through this number with an impressive array of styles and sounds emanating from his guitar with Revens’ keyboards swirling around them.

When one considers that this number started out as a project for a college course one has to be impressed at the musical skills, imagination and influences injected into this epic opener – no half hearted subtle opening for this band. Straight in – BLAM! Unashamedly retro in style, but oh so many styles and so well played. One could choose to possibly think as a younger band perhaps they could have been a little more ‘contemporary’ (whatever the hell that means?) or one can choose to just get on board and hang on during this enjoyable rock journey. Let’s face it these days we need a little distraction from the mess the older generation may have inflicted upon this nation.

However, before we relax too much in to the music recent events are seemingly brought into very sharp relief as the album seamlessly segues into An Easy Lie, amidst more sampled speech. Revens turns up his synthesiser ‘swirly’ button to eleven (I believe that is the technical term!) before Bryson Demath and Leon Itzler lock in to a great drum and bass groove. Krendel’s guitar rhythmically plays powerfully and then a staccato vocal (with a hint of rap style) from Revens tries to keep pace with the juggernaut backing. One cannot help feel a resonance with current times with prescient lines like:

“We fell in Love too quickly with a Tempting Word

Slotted in our own Beliefs around what we Thought we heard

And jumped to clutch at Flags like fish biting at a Hook….”

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Needless to say this album was written some time before the recent political mess that has plagued the UK but depending on one’s viewpoint it is hard not to invest such lyrics with more meaning and feeling. Revens has stated:

“It is uncanny just how relevant it’s become actually. I’d love to say we foresaw the UK’s unravelling, but I think it was more a case of writing the right lyrics at the right time!”

This is an outstanding song musically and lyrically, fusing elements of heavy rock, psychedelia, rap, politics and progressive rock tropes in an intoxicating mix – much like the lying demagogue at the centre of the song and seemingly holding sway in recent political debate. It remains to be seen what happens in the near future nationally, but the figure at the centre of the song falls from grace.

‘And Chained by Sweet mystifying words half understood

We let you get us Victory, just as you said you would

But nothing changed at the end of our Crusade

Tell me, just what happened to the Promises you made?’

(For some strange reason I can’t help think it could be useful for that last line to be emblazoned on the side of a Big Bus?)

After the drama and impact of the first two tracks Paradigm Shift calm things down somewhat with an eerie synth soaked instrumental The Void. This segues into The Shift which starts with piano playing reminiscent of Keith Emerson before the band crashes in powerfully as the track rolls along, with Demath particularly impressive on drums. Revens is a real driving force behind much of the music, and it is his preference and skills with pianos rather than organs that sets him apart from many progressive rock bands who sometimes overly rely upon the overwhelming generic wash of mellotron sounds. The Shift merges seamlessly into Masquerade and we are back in epic progressive rock territory.

Band live

Revens has shared the song writing process of the band:

‘Our writing process for the album was very collaborative. Reuben or I would bring ideas for sections or the skeleton of a song, and then we would work together to flesh things out. Once we were happy we’d bring it to the full band and play with certain passages to add things in or strip things out etc. I think it was through this process that we really found our sound as a band.’

This approach appears very evident on this multi-layered track which shows the band all contributing to this varied piece. It is also clear that this is a band that has not rushed out with their first inexperienced efforts as they have developed and honed their songs over a few years before attempting to gain a release, eventually wisely choosing Bad Elephant Music to back them.

Sampled dialogue in Masquerade about ‘Democracy’  from Charlie Chaplin’s 1930’s classic film ‘The Great Dictator’  underlines the theme of the album and presages an exciting instrumental section with a scintillating synth – guitar soloing battle with Itzler and Demath on bass and drums keeping the song anchored powerfully. This is the best vocal performance of Revens on the whole album as on some other songs he perhaps shows a little inexperience vocally. That will come with more performance and recordings but for a first album it is certainly a competent showing.

The album takes an optimistic view that lies and fear will be overcome in time:

‘Your Fears only Blemish the View,

A New Perception of Truth is ours for the taking

We’re coming Awake and Becoming Aware’

It is to be hoped that recent events may act as a catalyst for more engagement with the political process and citizenship amongst the electorate, especially amongst the young, whatever the future holds. ‘Becoming Aware’ is vital for a healthy democracy… but back to the music!

Like the rest of the album, Masquerade segues smoothly into final track Reunification. There are distinctive songs that stand alone in this album, but they are presented as one flowing musical and lyrical narrative. A melodic opening vocal section, (with perhaps a rather too densely packed lyric?), ends with words that seem so apt for our times;

‘Pulled apart by the desire of fools, All so Misguided

Now our History’s divided in two’

Inspiring sampled dialogue about ‘democracy’ and ‘common interest’ resonate in the background as the band play out a stirring rock manifesto of keyboard and guitar duos and leads, before gently drifting away in an acoustic guitar and piano coda.


Becoming Aware was mixed by Rob Aubrey, who has an impressive pedigree in modern progressive rock having worked with IQ, Big Big Train and Cosmograf, amongst many others. He brings his experienced ear to bear on this young band and ensures a perfectly balanced sound in tune with the style of those great artists. Acle Kahney of the more prog metal band TesseracT mastered the album, which helps give it a harder edge. The choice of those two professionals may indicate where this band lie in their aspirations – modern progressive rock with a heavier edge.

I googled the phrase ‘Paradigm Shift’ and discovered a couple of things:

Firstly, there are at least two other bands with that name – a fusion band from Mumbai and soul Jazz trio from America – so beware when searching for this band on google!

Secondly, I discovered the definition from Thomas Kuhn in 1962 that a Paradigm Shift is ‘a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions’.

There is some irony that this is not really a phrase that could be applied to the music of Paradigm Shift, who create finely played music based on well known influences but with a largely retro feel. They are not changing the face of progressive rock, but in all fairness there have been so few bands in history to whom such a description could be applied! Their interesting political edge is not particularly revolutionary or earth shattering in their insights, but it is definitely refreshing to hear such a band addressing such issues with vigour and passion.

Timing is everything and the lyrics for this album would not have had the same resonance a few months ago, and may not in a few years time… but right now they seem so appropriate and resonant. Listening to this album won’t solve the current political mess this country faces right now, but for some it may it help to listen and hear reflected what one may feel and think at times. What remains to be seen is whether Paradigm Shift can sustain this very impressive early showing, and how they develop and absorb other influences in the modern progressive music scene. However, with this album I think many progressive rock fans will definitely be ‘Becoming Aware’ of this promising young band.

Released 10th June 2016 via Bad Elephant Music.

Order ‘Becoming Aware’ from bandcamp



Review – Mike Kershaw – What Lies Beneath – by Gary Morley


Mike Kershaw is a “Passenger”, or fan of Big Big Train, and we’ve met (in cyberspace) and our lives have been connected through their Facebook page.

I was invited to review this, Mike’s latest solo recording, by Martin Hutchinson, another Passenger whose life is a little more connected to mine in that we have had conversations: Exchanges of ideas and the like, in between him sending me albums to review and me handing in my homework.

So I transferred the files onto CD, placed it in the player and after sharpening my reviewer’s pencil, pressed play.

The following are the notes written as I listen, a running commentary if you will.

The first impression is that the drum sound is warm, jazzy and gentler than other recent Prog albums. There are none of the extraneous fills and beat s that detracted from Dream Theater’s recent excursion into Lloyd Webber land here.

I will research later, but the instrumentation on this is warm, organic and very “English”.

Mike’s voice is not a musical weapon of mass destruction, not chilling roars or over enunciated shouting here. The nearest comparable voice I can think of is Marianne Faithfull. His voice falters and cracks as hers does on “Broken English”, both frail and resilient at the same time. It adds to the charm of the piece as the voice makes the words even more personal and the deliver almost intimate, a rough take charm that grows as the album progresses.

Scott Smith Photography

(Picture by Scott Smith Photography)

The album hints at the great journey we are all on, unfolding and layered with detail that adds to the repeated listening pleasure. Track 2 starts off with a drum track that brought Dire Straits to mind, that simple shuffle beat underpinning the mix. Keyboards float above it, Mike’s voice is higher, almost childlike here. It’s always tricky to write about lyrics without the aid of a “cheat sheet” album cover present, so I tend to leave that to the end user (and the writing on CD inserts is not “People of a certain age friendly at all! That’s why we collect vinyl – to read the notes!)

There are chiming guitars; beautiful bass playing that had me thinking of the Cure at their most pastoral on track 3. The melodic force is strong in this one, the song growing, tide like before the chorus crashes on the shore, then fades and ebbs with lovely electric piano . We have a military drum beat and a ghostly choral backing that fades to voice and rhythm section.

Mr Kershaw, you are a very talented man. Songs that unfurl gently and reveal secrets, your folk singer delivery brings another point of reference here, The spirit of Roy Harper seeps through the 4th track, with it’s guitar textures and space between the component parts allowing the voice centre stage.

“Another disguise” is full of lovely slide guitar and swooping keyboards, this track is very Pink Floyd in it’s sound, warm guitar and icy keyboards over a solid drum part , again no pyrotechnics from  the players, the ebb and flow is complimentary to the lyric.

Or does it bring back memories of  The Enid circa 1981 that ? That period when RJG discovered vocals? There are hints of that too, along with a smatter of Dylan, Track 5 being a bouncy charmer, full of gruff guitar charm and a timeless vocal performance.


(Picture by Scott Smith Photography)

Track 6 starts with a gentle keyboard piece then we hear of the protagonist, who seems beaten by life, a frustrated individual trapped in some private hell. Kershaw’s words of rallying around a flag, joining a cause, whether wrong or right spookily poignant after recent events in Yorkshire that shocked one and all, here we have the plight of the loner , the isolated man captured in a 3 minute song.

I’ve played the CD 4 times now, each time it releases another little Easter Egg …

This time, Mike’s Voice on track 1 reminds me of Tim Blake (Hawkwind and solo artist) performing “Lighthouse” – half spoken, half intoned lyrics set to a jaunty, almost funky soundscape with keyboards coming at you from all directions. Lyrically it’s not a million miles from the anti war rhetoric of Hawkwind / Tim Blake /The Enid from the 80’s ( we were all going to die in a mushroom cloud caused by Reagan and Russia goes to war over Europe with tactical Nukes proliferating on both sides. Scary times, but produced some great music – “Who’s Gonna Win The War” & “ And Then there were none” being the two that this shares a common bond with.

This is the “Proggiest” track here, with some great synth lines at the conclusion sliding over your ears into your brain.

The more I listen, the less convinced that it’s Prog. Not in a derogatory way, but this album is full of songs, some great musicians playing to complement each other, most tracks are around the 5 minute mark, there are no dragons, anthropomorphic creatures, aliens or starships. No warriors on the edge or any vast inhuman machines keeping people in ignorance and servitude.

There are some glorious tunes, great instrumental pieces and a sense of warmth, almost organic well being generated through the listening experience.

It’s just good music, no matter which box you think it should be put in.

Mike has produced a fine album, a personal statement of where he sits in the musical pantheon and the world is a better place for his efforts.

Released 27th May 2016 by Bad Elephant Music.

Buy ‘What Lies Beneath’ from bandcamp


Progradar – 2016 – Best of the First Six Months


(Yours truly and Prog Guru™ himself)

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the first official Progradar Reviewers and Friends ‘Best Of…’ feature.

I asked those who wished to contribute to cogitate over what great music they had heard, released 1st January to 30th June, in the first half of 2016 and come up with a list of their definitive five favourites.

Not an easy task, let me tell you but, here are the selections of nine (including me) erstwhile wordsmiths and friends, including a few words as to why these particular releases made the cut.


Emma Roebuck (Progradar reviewer)

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Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

This is Robin Armstrong on some amazing form.  I loved ‘Capacitor’ and I thought ‘Man Left in Space’ was a hard one to beat. I was clearly wrong and happy about it too. Robin is at his best when looking at the human condition when viewed through a less than regular lens. The mythology of Sisyphus and alien abduction combine to make such a lens.  I will treasure seeing his one and only live performance so far at Celebr8.3 fondly. The album is dark and melancholy which is the way I like my music to be honest.

This film might change your life and Relativity being high points in an album that is a mountain range of achievement.


Preacher – Aftermath

Their second album, and independently released like the Cosmograf album (and another 2 in my, selection if I remember rightly.) Preacher craft both songs and albums exceedingly well. ‘Signals’, the previous album, shows signs (poor, but unintentional, pun) of a band with tons to offer. They draw their roots from 70s Floyd and the melodic side of the genre.  It could be said that this is the album that Floyd should have released instead of ‘The Endless River’, I could easily agree but this is not that Floyd this is a band that use melody, harmony and song in a way that could go beyond the genre.

Stand out Tracks

War/ War reprise and Vinyl show how we look to emotions and actions and make things or deeds of them as people.


Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum

I was too young to be really aware of the genuine impact of the classic period of Prog rock. I caught the periphery in my early teens but felt no ownership of Yes, Genesis, VDGG, Floyd, Gentle Giant, etc only a serious attraction to the music as a 14 year old in 1975. In the early 80s, having ridden the horror that was punk, I remember seeing Marillion, IQ and Pallas in small pubs and clubs in 82 and it was a pure emotional and intellectual epiphany. It felt like I was hit in the heart and the brain with a piece of 2 by 4. I found home and ownership of music.  I liked ‘Trip the Light Fantastic’ immensely and when I heard this album I felt all those emotions again. I was in the Sheffield Limit club again hearing something of very high quality and I connected immediately to this music. It is Neo Prog of a very high standard.  They sound like themselves with echoes of the last 40 years resounding through the music.

Standout Tracks Intruder and DesolationRetribution.

Jump Over The Top Cover

Jump – Over The Top

I have been a fan of Jump for the best part of 21 years. It is the Classic rock society that I owe big style, not just for these but many others, in times of musical desolation.  I found my first sample of these by old school recognition and recommendation by word of mouth. Fast forward to many Jump gigs later, the new album ‘Over the Top’ comes out and it was ‘yes, get in!’. Some of the current live set had been used to fine tune some of the songs over the last 18 months or so and it shows. John Dexter Jones is a storyteller par excellence and the band are an excellent vehicle for those stories. The words are heartfelt and the music comes from the same place. If they lived in medieval times they would be the bards of old. The use of the past to illustrate the way of the world we live in now is the stock in trade here.

Stand out tracks, I want to say all of them but if I was to choose The Beach and the Wreck of the St Marie are those choices.


Kiama – Sign of IV

Just when you think you have Rob Reed figured out, Sanctuary, Magenta and so on, he does something out of the blue and blows the socks of you. Take good old rock sensibilities from the 60s and 70s, put them in the hands of some very talented individuals and they become a band which sounds like they have been a unit for years. I recently saw them support Frost* and wow, just wow.

This is a hybrid, musically drawn from the past in a very real sense, and is a homage to how they used to work but it does not feel like a tribute band in anyway.  It results in a multifaceted album of light and shade with some fantastic songs and heartfelt lyrics. It is some of Luke Machin’s best work outside of Maschine & Rubidium.  Rob Reed has a blast playing with sound and tone to create things like ‘Muzzled’, which is a tribute to the Floyd Album ‘Animals’, using the tones from the period to reflect the music and the time it came out. Dylans voice is amazing, we need more Kiama …

Stand Out Tracks  Muzzled and Slip away.


Leo Trimming – (Progradar and TPA reviewer)

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Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase

This was my TPA’s review’s conclusion early in the year for this surprise package, and I’ve had no reason to change it since…

This is an excellent collaboration: Red Bazar have helped Peter Jones express more of his serious, darker side and also allowed him to display more vocal dexterity. In return Red Bazar have gained a talented and very fine rock vocalist who has added great lyrical skill and vocal feeling  to their own fine emotional musical palette…

This may be a bit of a dark horse, but Red Bazar may just have released one of the Prog albums of the year.

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Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays

A favourite on two levels – it’s a great album of subtle artistry and fine music, and on another level the artist & his music  touched me personally. My Progradar review concluded:

Matthew Parmenter has stepped aside from the magnificent, gothic group dynamic of Discipline to create a solo work of art suffused with dramatic shades and emotional lyricism, conveying tragedy and hope. This is an album that is likely to captivate and beguile with subtlety and delicate emotion. It certainly gave me unexpected comfort – Inside.’

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Nine Stones Close – Leaves

A darkly trippy and psychedelic album. Part dream, part nightmare – this is an album for which repeated listens gradually unpeal the layers, like all the best progressive releases. My Progradar review observed:

Nine Stones Close create rich musical landscapes suffused with a sense of the dramatic and psychedelic… They do not stick to their old formula and want to progress. My advice is stick with these guys because you are never quite sure in which direction their songs or this albums may turn, but it sure is an imaginative and fascinating ride!’


Big Big Train – Folklore

A much anticipated release does not disappoint as the album describes modern folklore, ancient legend, elegies for lost love and epic stories of heroism and loss … plus bees (!) in a rich tapestry of folk tinged progressive rock. Lyrically intelligent and insightful, conveyed with integrity and emotion, and played with consummate skill and passion. Impossible to ignore – we all sort of knew it would be great. Of course it’s great!

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Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Simply stunning. Robin Armstrong has imagined a rich narrative of alien incursion (or paranoid breakdown?!) with sonic brilliance. The imaginative story is unnerving, whilst the music is captivating on a human level but cinematic in scope – ranging from crunching Purple riffs, through atmospheric acoustic passages to sweeping Floydian soundscapes. Undoubtedly, major contender for Album of the Year already from one of the best Progressive Rock artists of this generation.


Gary Morley – (Progradar reviewer)

HAWKWIND The Machine Stops

Hawkwind – The Machine Stops

Everything that Hawkwind evoke distilled into one disc. Great musicianship, tunes and tons of atmosphere make this the top of the pops for me. It’s been a long time since a Hawkwind album had such a buzz about it. Biggest regret – that I missed the live shows. Biggest hope – a proper live blu-ray & CD set is coming.


Preacher – Aftermath

Prog at it’s best for me needs a driver. Preacher use guitars. Proper guitars like your dad waffles on about when he talks about Pink Floyd, Steve Hillage, Jimmy Page and that time he watched Rory Gallagher play for 3 hours at the Hexagon Theatre and your mum was drinking pints and ended up paralytic, singing along to “Wayward Child” sat on his boss’s shoulders…


I Am The Manic Whale – Everything Beautiful In Time

Local boy’s debut embraces everything that is good about music. It has great tunes, off the wall lyrics and subjects that place it head and shoulders above most of what passes for modern music from the under 30’s. I’m looking forward to their next offering, be it a live gig in Reading or more music.


Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

‘The Clockwork Fable’ is a Steam punk opera, like a space opera or a soap opera but without the bad romance and dodgy backdrops.

I loved the variety of musical genres used to tell a totally bonkers tale of clockwork suns and steam powered boys looking for missing cogs in a giant machine all played out in a cavernous underground city. There are rock tracks, some great drumming, some “epic” prog , some plaintive melodies and a host of guest vocalists and musicians, all of which add to the mix without overegging the lily.

The first time you listen you get sucked into the world presented here. It’s a Post apocalyptic, dark dystopian world but there are flashes of humour and the absurdity does not detract from the sheer brilliance of the effort here.


Steven Wilson – 4 1/2

“left over’s” from ‘Hand .Cannot .Erase’ these track might have been, but as a snapshot of Mr Chuckletrousers ( © Angus Prune I Think) and his Zeus like stature in the modern Prog pantheon  this is sublime in its perfection. Hints of Zappa referencing impossible “stun guitar”, epic soundscape that demonstrate his skill as an arranger and bleak yet beautiful lyrics are all wrapped in a package that sticks 2 fingers up at the download and go generation. This is a quality production in every detail, lovingly constructed and presented for your pleasure.

Shawn Dudley

Shawn Dudley – (Progradar reviewer)


Messenger – Threnodies

It took several spins for this album to truly work its magic on me, but once hooked it just won’t let me go.  A beautifully organic record, informed and powered by vintage sounds but not a slave to them.  The tastefully arranged guitar work on this album is a particular highlight.  Favorite tracks:  Balearic Blue, Celestial Spheres. 


Haken – Affinity

Haken leaves the 1970s sounds of ‘The Mountain’ behind, makes a brief stop in the 1980s for the song 1985 and then ventures forward into the future on Affinity.  An endlessly inventive collection of intricately designed and passionately performed pieces it’s one of the most thrillingly forward-looking albums of 2016.  It’s time to drop the “Prog Metal” genre tag, these guys have transcended it.  Favorite tracks:  The Architect, Red Giant


Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre

Purson’s follow-up to ‘The Circle And The Blue Door’ is essentially a solo album from Rosalie Cunningham who wrote, arranged, produced and performed the majority of D.M.T. herself.   A conceptual psychedelic journey influenced by her Father’s record collection and her own experimentation with mind-expanding substances.  Another case of an artist using the canvas of vintage instrumentation and production techniques to create very personal and unique modern music.   Favorite tracks:  The Sky Parade, The Bitter Suite.


Big Big Train Folklore

Another beautiful collection of immaculately arranged and produced “pastoral prog” from this master collective of musicians.  I recommend going for the extended track-list available on the LP and High-Res download editions, I believe an even stronger collection than the shorter CD version.  Favorite tracks:  Salisbury Giant, London Plane


Knifeworld – Bottled Out OF Eden

A wonderfully quirky concoction of pop sensibility, progressive experimentation and the harmonic sophistication of jazz all mixed together into a thoroughly accessible brew.  And it’s fun!  Favorite tracks:  I Am Lost, I Must Set Fire To Your Portrait.


Roger Trenwith – (TPA reviewer and Astounded by Sound blog)

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Bent Knee – Say So

An unparalleled triumph of invention, melody, and strangeitude, it will take some beating for album of the year.


David Bowie – Blackstar

Hardly seems right relegating this poignant artistic statement and full stop on a career of a true visionary to No.2, but from a purely musical point of view, them’s the breaks.


Knifeworld – Bottled Out OF Eden

A chronicle of loss leavened by hope, Knifeworld get better with each release. Criminally underrated.


Body English – Stories of Earth

Is there a sub-genre called “prog-pop”? If not, this is it. A truly joyous record shining a light in this dark Year of Stupid.


King Crimson – Live In Toronto – Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto, Canada, 20th November 2015

Whatever I put here means leaving out at least half a dozen albums equally as good, so this came out on top after a complicated mathematical randomisation process involving dice, incantations, dead frogs, toads, and copious amounts of single malt. The mighty Crim remake, remodel like no-one else. The version of Epitaph will make you shiver, unless you have no soul. Superb!


Kevin Thompson (LHS) – (Progradar reviewer)


Big Big Train – Folklore

Does this really need a reason?, best of the Band’s excellent output so far and an album that will always be on my desert island disc list. As near to perfect as it gets…


Long Distance Calling – Trips

There are so many bands in this area of music it’s hard to stand out, but, on this release, Long Distance Calling have…..


Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

A tremendous 3 disc concept package of such quality. Never been better value for money and shames the bigger bands!!


Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

A delicately beautiful album from this Russian duo added further poignancy with the heartfelt vocals from Mariusz Duda on the title track.

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Downriver Dead Men Go – Tides

Another band who came recommended and I’d not heard before buying. Slow, dark and emotional, this Dutch band surpassed my expectations.


David Elliott – (Prog Guru™, TEP, Bad Elephant)


Lazuli – Nos Âmes Saoules

There is nothing else quite like them, and they keep on going from strength to strength….

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Bent Knee – Say So

My first exposure to this amazing American band…genuine innovators, and hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck exciting!!


The Dowling Poole – One, Hyde Park

Unashamedly unoriginal, but huge fun, and immaculately crafted. Big smiley music.


Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden

Banging tunes, a great groove, and more bassoon!!


Frost* – Falling Satellites

A great return to the arena from the masters of modern progressive. Progressive rock with pop sensibilities – what’s not to like?

John Simms

John Simms – (Progradar reviewer, Rev Sky Pilot blog)


Big Big train – Folklore

Consistently turning out excellent pastoral English progressive music, BBT have hit the motherlode again with this suite of songs celebrating the British folkloric tradition. From the sublime beauty of ‘Transit’ to the quirky tale of ‘Winkie’ the Pigeon, this is music of the highest calibre.

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Anderson/Stolt – Invention of Knowledge

This, for me, is simply the best music anyone connected with Yes has produced since ‘Awaken’. It draws on the bestaspects of Yes and Flower Kings and produces something sublime and beautiful. It was a very close call between my Top 2.


Southern Empire – Southern Empire

One of the up sides to Unitopia folding a few years ago is that we now have both UPF and Southern Empire to carry on the legacy. This is a fine collection of melodic progressive rock music, exhibiting high levels of virtuosity and songmanship.


Knifeworld – Bottled Out of Eden

Another band with a unique style and approach to music making. This is a wonderful follow-up to ‘The Unravelling’ and Kavus and his band of minstrels continue to delight.

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Mothertongue – Unsongs

The best music is that which stands out from the crowd, and Mothertongue certainly do that. Ecclectic, bizarre, unexpected and bonkers, this is a wonderful collection of (un)songs.


And finally my thoughts, this selection of five albums was incredibly difficult to pick but I’m pretty certain that, at this moment in time, it is my definitive top five!!!

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Mothertongue – Unsongs

With its incisive, intelligent lyrics and first-class musicianship, Unsongs is unlike anything you will have heard in recent years. The music will lead you on a roller-coaster journey of acid jazz inventiveness that’s a big heap of noisy and light and also includes a lot of brass because everyone likes brass, right? A musical breath of fresh air that you will return to again and again, it’s just brilliant!


Big Big Train – Folklore

The acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling return with a fresh collection of tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life.

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Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Thought provoking, questioning and inventive, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ has all that I ask for in my music. A well constructed and intelligent concept brought to reality by a gifted musician with incomparable support from some incredible guests. It makes you really think about what you have heard and, above all, is a peerless, outstanding and incomparable listening experience that you will not forget any time soon.


Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

‘Lighthouse’ is an amazing musical journey from the first note to the last. It is bewitching and beguiling and removes you from your everyday life to a place of wonder. Darkly captivating, it is not all sweetness and light but is a musical legacy that iamthemorning can build on and the ‘Lighthouse’ can light the way. These two exceptional artists have now moved into the major leagues and it is well deserved, album of the year? why not!

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Tilt – Hinterland

A superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. By the way, three of these guys are better known as Fish’s backing band but, oh my god, have they risen well above that soubriquet now….

So, there you have it, a small selection of our own, very subjective, opinions on what has been the best music of a highly impressive first six months of 2016. You may agree, you may not but, one thing that everything agrees on is that the music just keeps getting better, and long may it continue!!














Review – Matt Stevens – Archive – by Leo Trimming


A few years ago an unlikely hero entered the rock music scene. Like some sort of Rock ‘El Mariachi’ Matt Stevens rode into town armed only with a guitar, a few effects pedals and most importantly a prodigious talent and imagination. ‘Have guitar, will travel’ was his trademark, travelling right across the country willing to play any club, pub and venue, supporting any and everyone. Unbounded by any labels and by any notions of conforming to musical norms Matt Stevens’ music crossed many boundaries, but did not seem to fit any – just the way he liked it.

Roaming the musical hinterlands he was free to take his own path. Occassionally, venue’s saloon doors would swing open and in would step the silhouette of a musical man mountain maestro with a guitar slung around his neck, here to take on all challengers with fast fingers, exciting music and engaging charm. Venue after venue and crowd after crowd succumbed to his talent, won over by his talent, enthusiasm and his unquenchable thirst just to perform.

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Well now, Matt ‘Mariachi’ Stevens is stepping back from his solo guitar days, having formed his own posse called ‘The Fierce and the Dead’ within which to express his impressive musical skills and imagination. ‘The Fierce and the Dead’ have been burning their own distinctive and unconventional path through modern music, turning up at contrasting music festivals such as ‘Summers End’ and ‘Arc Tangent’ and uncompromisingly blasting and riffing their way through the crowds, a few scattering to the bar but burning in to the hearts of many other unsuspecting punters.

TFATD Chaos ENgineers

(Photo copyright the Chaos Engineers)

To mark his current ‘retirement’ from solo performing Matt Stevens is releasing ‘Archive’ on Bad Elephant Music. (Of course, it’s on Bad Elephant Music – a remarkably diverse label which specialises in an increasingly diverse range of unusual, quirky, uncompromising and high quality recordings.)

This set is NOT a retrospective drawn from Matt Stevens’ already released albums, ‘Echo’, ‘Ghost’ and ‘Relic’… that would have been too easy for this artist, who wanted to share a document of his live solo recordings. It is comprised of a live guitar and loop set recorded in a church for the Farncombe Music Club in 2014. (What a different experience in church that must have been!) Alongside those pieces Matt has included two ambient pieces (Intermission 1 & Intermission 2) and two ‘lost songs’. The marvellously named ‘Pecadillo’ was produced for a compilation released on the Believers Roast label of Kavius Torabi (Knifeworld) in 2012.  ‘Blue Filter’ is an out-take from the recordings of Matt’s 2010 album, ‘Ghost’.

What can someone unfamiliar expect from this album?

Well, one can expect to hear a bewildering array of sounds and textures somehow conjured up from just a guitar and some looper technology.

What may be harder to imagine is the kaleidoscope of sounds and feels that splash sonically out of his guitar, cascades of riffs and melodies interweaving and echoing in a captivating tapestry of noise. This reviewer is not usually taken with purely instrumental albums – it’s just usually not my cup of tea (or glass of tequila). However, Matt Stevens is not your usual purely instrumental artist and I am glad I imbibed in this intriguing offering.

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Opening track ‘Rusty’ (where does he get these names from?) immediately hits you with a torrent of riffs and echoes with intricate playing and sounds it does not seem possible to extract from just a guitar. As a manifesto for the album it certainly lets you know this is no ordinary musical ride. In contrast, later track ‘ A Boy’ is a much gentler acoustic glide which beguiles and shows that there is a range of musical colours described here. Amongst other highlights ‘Big Sky’ takes you right out there on the ‘Looper Plains’ as coruscating clouds of echoing lines scud across the musical firmament, before being gently brought down to earth and then once again in a psychedelic coda launched in to a reverb filled sky – at least that’s what I imagined… and all done by one guy and his guitar live!

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Reviews are peculiar things – one never knows quite in what direction it will go. Before I even started on this review, knowing a little about Matt and his music, I decided to use the ‘El Mariachi’ theme as it conveyed his singular and somewhat heroic musical path, and captured the idea of ‘a loner with his guitar’. What I had not expected to find was a song on the album that perfectly captures that imagery – the aforementioned ‘Blue Filter’ is pure spaghetti western, even with effects sounding uncannily like a horse trotting.

It is a perfect way to effectively finish the album as our Mariachi guitar maestro decides to hang up his solo guitar for the time being and strides off to continue exploring other musical horizons (and upsetting a few along the way!) with his posse. Maybe one day he will return to a venue or saloon near you with his guitar slung around his neck but for now listen to this and imagine his legendary live solo days.

Released 22nd July 2016 by Bad Elephant Music.

Pre-order ‘Archive’ from Bad Elephant Music on bandcamp

Pre-order ‘Archive’ from Burning Shed