Review – Returned to The Earth – Stalagmite Steeple

“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”Kahlil Gibran.

‘Stalagmite Steeple’ is the follow-up to UK Progressive Rock outfit Returned To The Earth’s critically acclaimed release ‘Fall of the Watcher’, the new album is another intriguing journey through main man Robin Peachey’s particular take on life.

Robin Peachey on the new album:
“The writing for ‘Stalagmite Steeple’ began in late 2020 during the recording of Fall Of The Watcher, my previous album. It’s been a 2 1/2 year recording process to get the album finished and I have worked again with Paul Johnston as producer/engineer/additional musician. Steve Kitch (The Pineapple Thief) has again mastered the album for me.”

There are some albums that just resonate with you from the first note and, for me, ‘Stalagmite Steeple’ is one of those such releases. It is a collection of glorious pieces of music that are more than just songs. They resonate with you on a basic level, the music is immersive, reflective and just darn beautiful! Robin’s vocals remind me of Tim Bowness, they just relax you, his delivery is so soothing and mellifluous that it transfixes and mesmerises you. There is a rhythmic, hypnotic beauty to the music that leaves you in a much better place than where you were before you heard it.

Each song is a small nugget of perfection, album opener Dark Morality came about when Robin saw a story about an elderly couple who were separated during the first Covid lockdown and unfortunately the lady passed away from natural causes. He found it incredibly sad that we couldn’t find a way to bring loved ones together in their final moments during this difficult period of our history. Robin didn’t want this event to be marked by just a single song so it formed the backdrop for the whole album. There’s a hushed reverence to the song, a veneration in the vocals that is picked up by the glorious music, music that just seems to flow serenely over your aural senses. There is a wonderfully uplifting guitar solo that sends a tingle down your spine (something that occurs frequently during the album) and you just know that this exquisite track is going to be the start of something very special. The pensive, almost melancholy opening to The Final Time has a fragile grace engendered by the strings and Robin’s almost melancholic vocal. You can almost touch the pathos and emotion in this song, it has wistful, nostalgic yearning deep at its core and an ethereal quality that makes it feel gossamer thin.

The songwriting and musicianship on this album is utterly sublime and it flows perfectly as title track Stalagmite Steeple opens with a haunting piano and synthesiser before the refined vocals begin. Peachey says of the track, “It’s a track about grief but continuing to move forward despite the pain. It’s the longest of the six tracks on the album and the idea was to write a song where it continued to evolve and change throughout and no section would repeat.” It is a perfect example of how to write progressive rock track that will live long in the memory as it builds slowly before an outpouring of emotion contained in a transcendent guitar solo that just blew me away. The track then takes on an edgy, solemn air with a repeated piano refrain backed by almost intangible strings leading Robin’s reflective vocals and then plays out to a close with a demonstrative and expressive guitar adding a steely core, a truly memorable piece of music that left me pondering life and everything else for quite a long time. You know I mentioned that Robin has a touch of the Tim Bowness about his vocals? Well that’s no more apparent than on the dreamlike wonder of Meaningless To Worth, a contemplative and reflective piece of music that would have graced any of the aforementioned musician’s recent releases. Sparse guitar tones and dreamy keyboards wash over you as Robin’s hypnotic voice draws you in to this gloriously crafted work of art, as irresistible as it is fulfilling.

This breathtaking album just keeps on giving as the sombre, dulcet tones of Die For Me begin, another plaintive, almost mournful song that steps gracefully through your life. I didn’t think that Robin’s voice could get more yearning in character but it is almost spiritual on this ever so dignified track where the subtle strings and meticulous keyboards give a rarefied air and the way the track closes out is just superlative. Unfortunately this stunning musical journey has to come to an end sometime and it does so in style with the bewitching The Raging Sea which adds passion warmth and sentiment to an already fabulous collection of songs. There’s a divine guitar solo that reaches to the heavens and the stellar musicianship we’ve come to expect. A fine way to bring things to a close and leave you with hope in your heart and a smile on your face.

Robin Peachey and Returned To The Earth may not be well known to most people out there but, with the utterly magnificent, transcendental brilliance of ‘Stalagmite Steeple’ they deserve to be up there in the higher pantheon of progressive rock. You will not hear many better albums of any genre this year and I implore you to seek it out and add it to your own music collection, you will never ever regret doing so!

Released 14th June, 2024.

Order the CD from GEP here:

Returned To The Earth – Stalagmite Steeple – GEP

Review – Kaipa – Sommargryningsljus – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Sommargryningsljus’ is the 15th, and latest, from Swedish outfit Kaipa who have been in existence for over 50 years. Whilst they may now have been active for all 50 of those years, when they do regroup and re-emerge, they offer something new and fresh. This new album is a step further for the band after the excellent ‘Urskog’ from 2022, which I reviewed favourably for Progradar, being captivated by its lush symphonic textures and sounds. ‘Sommarskymningsljus’ continues this in a similar vein and sounds really lush, fans of Swedish symphonic prog will find much to appreciate here.

The album begins gently with Sommarskymningsljus, the beautifully clear and expressive voice of Aleena Gibson rising over an expressive melody from Hans Lundin, it is an engaging number that leads us into the equally captivating epic Seven Birds, which builds in a very satisfying way. Layers of sound make for an interesting track with excellent vocals from Aleena again, the mid section has a fine, lengthy keyboard excursion leading into a brief but exciting guitar break from Per Nilsson. A second longer solo occurs later in the song, where Per and Hans play in tandem delivering a great sounding track. Like Thousand Dawns is greatly enlivened by the excellent bass playing from Jonas Reingold, who is very busy on this, track adding foundation and definitions to the track. The song has another stellar vocal from Aleena Gibson, whose powerful vocal is actually a thing of beauty here. The mid part of the track has a twisting, turning part which, again, gives bassist Jonas a chance to impress and he does admirably, leaving room for a few short but dynamic guitar fills from Per Nilsson. It’s another epic song from Kaipa, proving, once again, that their brand and style of progressive rock is both worthwhile and entertaining.

It’s worth pointing out that of the albums 9 tracks, Six are over nine minutes in duration. This means this is an album that will require your involvement and an investment of your time that you will not regret one bit, for this album is full of superb tracks with some excellent extended musical passages featuring the expressive and poignant violin of Elin Rubinsztein and the recorders and whistles of Frederick Lindquist and it greatly benefits from these guest appearances.

Chased by Wolves And Burned By The Sun is another lengthy track with more great violin parts, giving a slight tone of Kansas to proceedings (no bad thing to these ears!) and another chance for some muscular bass lines from Jonas whilst Per provides the insistent riff that underpins the song. I really like the dynamics of this track as it uses the counterpoint of the instruments to really allow the track to evolve and shine, it really is utterly engrossing. Spiderweb Train dates from the 1990’s, as does second track Seven Birds, Hans had to do some extensive reworking of these songs to bring them into today’s age. Spiderweb Train is  the albums longest track at over fifteen and a half minutes. This means it has lot of room for improvisation and for the various parts to emerge. There’s an almost Gothic tone in places and parts that really makes it an interesting and exciting track.

This is followed by the album’s last long track, Songs In Our Hands at just shy of Thirteen minutes, before the shorter title piece Sommargryningsljus. The former track features some very impressive vocals from both Patrick Lindqvist and Aleena Gibson, along with some great synth lines from Hans Lundin, another excellent track from the band. The album closes with a longer take of Sommargryningsljus, allowing the full version of the song to be heard as it was originally envisaged.

The album takes us on an interesting journey through the dark and the early hours before dawn with dawn finally emerging and the darkness falling away. The first two tracks representing Twilight and the last two representing Dawn. As always the artwork is excellent and definitely fits the theme of the album well.

Overall, this is another excellent album from Kaipa who are now a studio band only as they have finished with live performances now. Fans of symphonic progressive music will find much to enjoy herein, it is a wonderful release that is most definitely worthy of investigation.

Released 28th June, 2024.

Pre-order the album here:

Sommargryningsljus (lnk.to)

WE ASCEND – THE DEBUT EP FROM EX-ANATHEMA FRONTMAN VINCENT CAVANAGH’S NEW PROJECT THE RADICANT

DEBUT SINGLE ‘ZERO BLUE’ OUT YESTERDAY / 12” VINYL EP RELEASED 12TH JULY ON KSCOPE

Vincent Cavanagh’s ‘The Radicant’ project showcases the adept musicianship and expressive voice that he honed over 11 albums with the legendary alt-rock band Anathema. This year, Cavanagh will share his first music under The Radicant moniker with the highly anticipated debut EP We Ascend. Today, Kscope are excited to share the first single from that EP – ‘Zero Blue’.  Speaking on the new single, Vincent shared “I’ve waited for this day for a long time. After years of composing with (and for) visual artists, I’m excited to release my own music as ‘The Radicant’. Big love to the Kscope fam and everyone involved.”

WATCH THE NEW VIDEO FOR ‘ZERO BLUE’

STREAM/DOWNLOAD ‘ZERO BLUE’

The Radicant – Zero Blue (NSS Mix) (orcd.co)

The We Ascend EP will be available on classic black 12” vinyl from 12th July.

PRE-ORDER WE ASCEND 12” VINYL EP

The Radicant – We Ascend EP – out 12 July (lnk.to)

The Radicant embodies Vincent Cavanagh’s artistic philosophy. Inspired by a term used in botany and by art curator Nicolas Bourriaud, “radicant” describes organisms that create their roots gradually as they advance, allowing species to mobilize, adapt, and grow on any surface. The EP’s polished production is owed to the close collaborative relationship between Cavanagh and critically acclaimed French producer Ténèbre. Mastering by Sam John at Precise Mastering adds to the immersive experience, evoking vivid imagery and serving as an ideal accompaniment to the visual creations anticipated in a live performance setting. 

Currently, Vincent is collaborating on Homecoming, an interactive mixed-reality installation and dance performance with Georgia Tegou and visual artist Kristina Pulejkova, set to debut in selected theatres in 2025. 

Vincent Cavanagh is currently in the studio working on his debut album as The Radicant, set for release next year.

Interview with Hans Lundin of Kaipa – John Wenlock-Smith

John Wenlock-Smith asks the questions of Hans Lundin ahead of the release of Kaipa’s new album ‘Sommargryningsljus’.

JWS: The album appears to be a cycle of songs that encompass the day shifting to dawn and beyond. Can you explain more about this?

HL: I had written all the songs for the album and the total playing time was seventy minutes, but then something unexpected happened. One day when I was recording with Aleena Gibson, we took a break and went out into my garden to have a cup of coffee. Suddenly Aleena started singing some notes and I said it was beautiful. Okay, let’s write a song, she said. So we returned to the studio and fifteen minutes later a new song had been born. We were both delighted with the result and said that this song must be on the album and the lyrics must be in Swedish. I developed the song and created an interlude built on the same chords. The melody was hovering around in the studio and it landed gracefully in my fingers when I started to play. One early morning a few weeks later, the words suddenly came floating down and landed in my consciousness.

I decided to split the song into two parts ”Sommarskymningsljus” which is about dusk, when the sun goes down and use it as the opening track of the album. The second part ”Sommargryningsljus” (Summer dawn light) is used as the closing track. I thought it was a good idea that felt logical because several of the songs are about dusk and dawn. One song “Chased by Wolves and Burned by the Sun” takes place at night when you can’t fall asleep. So you could say it’s a journey from dusk to dawn even though that wasn’t my intention when I originally wrote the songs.  

JWS: The album title ‘Sommergryningsjus’ is obviously in your own language but what does it mean?

HL: Summer dawn light.

JWS: You really like long songs, as do I, why is that do you think?

HL: I never decide in advance how a song should be. Songwriting is an exciting and unpredictable journey. Sometimes it’s just a little excursion that results in a short little song. But often the imagination takes me on a longer exciting journey and then it becomes a long song.

JWS: A couple of tracks were apparently old ideas that you have restored and developed, were you happy with them?

HL: The basic structures of two of the songs on the album (Seven Birds & Spiderweb Train) were originally written in the late 90’s. The same period as the songs for Kaipas comeback album Notes from the past (2002) were written.

I found two old long instrumental songs that I really liked. I only had the songs mixed on a cassette tape. At the time when they were recorded, I used an Atari computer and the Logic program Notator where I could record midi-files addressed to all my different keyboards. The songs were saved on a floppy disc. I managed to transfer these midi-files into my modern recording system and slowly I could build up these old songs again. I had to dust off a couple of old synthesizers, that had not been used for many years, to find some of the original sounds I used at that time. I edited the songs, removed some parts and wrote some new bridges.

I also decided to use some of the instrumental melodies as vocal tracks and wrote lyrics. One of the songs was called Seven Birds and it inspired me to write lyrics where I could keep the title intact. Some of the synthesizer solos on these tracks are actually recorded in the 90’s. Working with these songs was really fun and inspiring and I felt I was building a bridge between the past and the future, the old and the new. This is the 10th KAIPA album on Inside Out and I think it’s logical to celebrate this with two songs that are like a melting pot, born some 25 years ago and dressed up for success today.

JWS: The artwork for the album is very impressive, does it play a role in telling the stories of the album?

HL: I always try to make a cover that harmonizes with the music on the album. Something you can look at and dream away with while listening to the music.

JWS: Kaipa seem to have burst of activity and then a break, why is that?

HL: When I started Kaipa in 1973, we started from scratch. At that time, no one had heard of the band and we began a long journey towards success. Three years later we had recorded two albums and became Scandinavia’s leading progressive rock band. We did over five hundred concerts, recorded three more albums and continued until 1982. At that time the conditions had changed as people showed more interest in punk and synth groups. So we decided to take a break. However, a reunion never happened and it wasn’t until 2001 when I decided to record a new album that chapter two of Kaipa’s history began.

During the 80’s I continued to write music and released three solo albums: Tales (1984), Visions of Circles of Sounds (1985) and Houses (1989). In 2019 the 6-cd box “Hans Lundin: The Solo Years 1982-1989” was released where the three albums are included remastered + three albums of previously unreleased material also including some Kaipa demos.

JWS: Aleena has such a unique voice, where did you find her?

HL: When we recorded the album “Notes from the Past” in 2001, there was a song I had written, “A Road in my Mind”, that was supposed to be performed by a woman. I asked Patrik Lundström if he knew anyone who could sing it. He returned a few days later with Aleena and when she started singing all the pieces fell into place. That’s how it started and she became a permanent member of the group. We have now collaborated for 23 years.  

JWS: Your music is beautifully layered and very harmonic. It’s classic symphonic progressive rock, it must take a while to plot each track, do you follow a process or is it just intuition?

HL: I usually say that the melodies come knocking on my door and ask me to take care of them. It’s a special feeling when a melody comes out of nowhere and lands in my consciousness. Often it is a long process from the small melody to the finished piece of music. Usually, I continue to make small fine adjustments in the arrangements until it’s time to record.

JWS: What’s next for Kaipa? any live activities planned?

HL: The last Kaipa concert was in December 1982. Kaipa is now a studio project and we never play live. This summer I celebrate my sixtieth anniversary as a musician. I am now an old man and I can look back on many highlights of my life. I am happy when I get inspiration and can create new music and that I have the privilege to collaborate with some of the world’s top musicians. What more could I wish for.

‘Sommergryningsjus’ will be released on 28th June, 2024.

Pre-order the album here:

Sommargryningsljus (lnk.to)

Review – Patchwork Cacophony – Hourglass

Patchwork Cacophony is the solo project of Gandalf’s Fist, Fusion Orchestra 2 and Broken Parachute keyboard player Ben Bell. It has released two previous albums, 2014’s self-titled debut and 2016’s ‘Five of Cups’. 2024’s ‘Hourglass’ resumes that musical journey with a blend of familiar Patchwork Cacophony sounds along with elements more reminiscent of later work with Gandalf’s Fist and Broken Parachute.

‘Hourglass’ features four long tracks woven together by shorter pieces and, like many prog rock albums, is intended to be listened to as a whole. As with previous albums it is a largely solo endeavour, though this time drums are provided by James Chapman and there is a cameo synth solo by Drifting Sun’s Pat Sanders.

If you’re a fan of modern progressive rock, along the lines of Big Big Train, Cosmograf and the like then you will hear that in the foundations of ‘Hourglass’ but it’s not a pastiche of any of that, Ben definitely has his own identity and it comes through very well in the album’s forty-seven minute running time. Unsurprisingly, it is very keyboard oriented and focused and that is no bad thing as Ben is very deft and adept on keyboards, synths and piano and it gives a proper musical grounding to what is a superbly constructed work.

Progressive rock albums are synonymous with tracks of extended duration and ‘Hourglass’ is no exception, with three tracks that run over ten minutes and another that goes past the eight minute mark. When you have a longer piece of music it really has to be good to hold the listener’s attention and every second needs to useful and not just there to fill the song out. Well, on this release, Ben has delivered on every track, they are involving and brilliantly composed pieces of music that work together to create an album that flows exceedingly well and, like all the best progressive rock albums, is better consumed in one sitting, it definitely won’t work for the sound bite Spotify generation, that’s for sure.

The shorter pieces link the longer tracks perfectly and are well written pieces of music in their own right, Wake Up opening the musical journey perfectly, like a beautiful sunrise on a new day before the energetic Carpe Diem takes up the reins with a blast of Ben’s piano and keyboards amid promises of what is to come. There’s a jaunty feeling to the track as it speeds along, Ben exhorting us to seize the day and make it our own with his distinctive vocal having a strident, almost demanding tone. The keyboard runs are quite majestic and the whole song is just one emotional high. Perspective I has a sombre note to it, the elegant piano calming your very soul as it leads into Blind Faith, another upbeat song that this time has a more edgy feel to it, engendered by some fiery guitar playing and James Chapman’s dynamic drums. To my ears, there is more of a classic rock feel to this track, the vocals, guitars, drums and Hammond organ taking me back to the 70’s. It is perfect classic rock/prog fusion that just works, check out the superb synth and guitar section that illuminates the central part of the song, it’s simply superb and just adds even more to what is already a very fine piece of music.

My Home Is Tomorrow opens in a more subdued manner, the elegant piano having a soothing tone to it before the song opens up with Ben’s wistful vocal adding pathos and an almost melancholy feel. Taking a more symphonic prog route, this plaintive track still delivers an immersive musical experience but has a more serious undertone to it and the keyboards on the song are just incredible with both Ben and guest Pat Sanders firing on all cylinders. Pat’s Moog playing is otherwordly and worth the price of admission alone. Perspective II is like a musical gossamer thread that is blowing randomly in the breeze, ghostly and ethereal. Castaway, the last of the longer pieces, opens with another uplifting piece of keyboard and guitar work, rising sublimely through the early morning mist and just fills you with belief and optimism. It has a feel of Christopher Cross’ eponymous debut album to my ears, the harmonies, keyboards and guitar all feeling rooted in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Music as good as this always tends to leave a huge grin on my face and it’s certainly happening here, what an outstanding track. The album closes with Wake Up (reprise), a moving piece with exquisite piano and gorgeous strings combining to leave a lump in your throat and yet hope in your heart.

Good music should move you at a molecular level and add something to your life, a great album should be immersive and hold your attention from beginning to end and, with ‘Hourglass’, Ben Bell has achieved just that. It is a musical creation straight from his heart and soul and you can feel that in every note and one that I feel everyone should listen to at least once.

Released 1st May, 2024.

Stream or download at bandcamp here:

Hourglass | Patchwork Cacophony (bandcamp.com)

Buy the CD at Patchwork Studios here:

Checkout – Patchwork Studios

Review – Ceiling Spirits – The Bloodwren

Intense, complex, cataclysmic and burning sounds churn through close to an hour of swirling, progressive composition as the Ceiling Spirits project – led by enigmatic Milwaukee musician, Mario Quadracci – brings musical friends together, including The National’s Brian Devendorf and Augustines’ Eric Sanderson.

Unmistakeably, unapologetically and indefinably rich in orchestration, creativity and borderless scope, Quadracci’s tone of instrumental post/progressive-rock fell initially from the table of influences such as Pink Floyd and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Prioritising vision over conventional format, a full-length album of five songs advocates for a slowed down listening experience far beyond conformity.

Ceiling Spirits first began as an experiment in live film scoring where Quadracci would perform solo, utilising extensive looping, effects and non-traditional guitar techniques to create dense atmospheric soundscapes behind self-produced films pieced together from found footage. The project expanded to include other musicians, including a string ensemble to flesh out the material born from the live shows but decidedly more compositionally constrained to suit an LP. The Ceiling Spirits’ debut album was recorded in London and Ireland, produced by Gareth Jones, whose credits include work on Depeche Mode and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds albums, and mixed at Abbey Road.

With that build up from the PR information, it sounds like this is going to be a very ‘busy’ album with lots going on and that can sometimes lead to a rather detached musical experience, one that is full of disharmony and discord and one that is rather incongruous but, worry not dear reader as what Mario Quadracci delivers with his Ceiling Spirits project is a rather wonderful, visceral encounter and one that makes you think and question. It is not an easy listen in places, in fact in can be very dark, but everything here has a place and is there for a reason.

‘The Bloodwren’ is five tracks of compelling, intensive music that hypnotises, fascinates and mesmerises the listener. This album is like a soundtrack to a dark, psychological thriller that gets under your skin and leaves you wanting more, even if that is going to take you to some very dark places indeed! The quality of musicianship on show is quite remarkable, the use of strings to engender a wide cornucopia of emotions is a work of genius, they alternately pluck at your heartstrings and then leave you a nervous wreck of anticipation. My favourite, Platonic Forms, the second longest track at nearly fourteen minutes, is an utterly enthralling musical tour-de-force that ebbs and flows with deliciously dark nuances and has a stark, irresistible beauty deep at its core.

The album opens with the haunting complexities of the brilliant single release Falter, an orchestral, electronic symphonic delight that is full of a dramatic tension and suspense that leaves your aural senses on high alert. With Mario having quickly learned to read music after stepping onto the path of technical music education, every note of Ceiling Spirits’ sounds is painstakingly rehearsed on paper, written between both city (more kinetic, rhythmic work) and rural (expansive, harmonic sounds) locations, before entering the studio. When it comes to the title track, The Bloodwren, you can hear this perfection in every note and every musical passage, it is all endlessly fascinating and flawlessly composed and performed. As complex emotionally as it is musically, this is a piece of modern classical music with wonderfully complex electronic symphonic overtones and a deep sense of passion, empathy and and overriding grace to its feel.

The short, hyper intensive and profound A Slide is an off kilter experiment in noise pollution that strips your senses raw and the album closes with the sublime, uncomfortable Oscillopia in Oblivion, a piece of music that asks questions of the listener that they may be unable or unwilling to answer. This stark, pared back number is full of feedback and is more noise than music. It pervades the atmosphere and your very soul in quite a disturbing manner, leaving hints of a future that you may not wish to face.

‘The Bloodwren’ is an experimental and highly adventurous journey into music that is dark and disturbing at times but which also has a purity at its heart. The wonderfully capacious soundscapes created by Ceiling Spirits are proof that man is forever creative, whichever direction that takes us in.

Released digitally on 12th April, 2024, order here:

The Bloodwren | Ceiling Spirits (bandcamp.com)

Released 14th June, 2024 on vinyl, order here:

Ceiling Spirits THE BLOODWREN (tmstor.es)

Review – John Holden – Proximity & Chance – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Proximity & Light’ is John Holden’s fifth album in six years, it all started with ‘Capture Light’ in 2018 which was followed by ‘Rise and Fall’ in 2020, ‘Circles in Time’ in 2021 and ‘Kintsugi’ in 2022, all of which contained some remarkable and diverse music from John and his chosen cast of colleagues. Well, this album is slightly different in that the circle of assistants John has used this time is a lot smaller, with the missing parts being mainly provided by John himself. I have to say, I think it works very well indeed, especially with the amazing cast of vocalists, Peter Jones, Shaun Holton (Southern Empire) and the evergreen Sally Minnear.

Another difference this time around is that John has used a virtual studio system, Slate VSX, which allows you to recreate the sounds of top end studios without either the cost or the hassle. I must admit that it sounds very good to these ears.

The album begins with the powerful and intriguing tale of 13, which was a club that, over its time, included notable bastions of American society, including five US Presidents. The purpose of the club was to debunk superstitions surrounding the number ’13’ being unlucky. This is an excellent opening song with a lot happening in its confines. John is in good form here, playing some great guitar fills and riffs, he even provides a fine first solo, leaving room for a brief appearance from Dave Brons, who adds some joyful guitar runs to close the track out. The Man Who Would be King introduces Shaun Holton on vocals, his vocal style is very different to Peter Jones (who sang on the previous track) and here it works very well. The song is based on Rudyard Kipling’s book ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ and is, in part, about colonial misunderstandings. It is also about how we, the British, used to behave towards the local population, not always in a good way either, as you can well imagine!

A Sense of Place is an instrumental that features John Hackett on flute and Vikram Shankar on piano. It is a beautiful and delicate track inspired by visits to Veddw in Monmouthshire, on the Welsh borders and is a very charming piece of music. It leads into my favourite track of the album, Burnt Cork and Limelight, which tells the gruesome tale of Richard Arthur Prince and William Terriss, a noted victorian actor who meets his death at the hands of an unhinged understudy, Prince, who felt he was being unfairly held back by Terriss and so stabs Terriss in the back outside the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1897. Prince is arrested and sent to Broadmoor Psychiatric hospital where he performs, literally, to a captive audience of fellow inmates. This track has an emotionally charged vocal from Peter Jones and great piano melodies from Vikram Shankar. It is a sad tale told exceptionally well and I really enjoyed it.

Agents concerns itself with the exploits of foreign powers acting within our borders, in this case the events in Salisbury when Russian provocateurs attempted to assassinate Sergei Skripal, a defected Russian military officer and his Daughter Yulia. They were poisoned with a nerve agent, novichok, and this act of aggression came to be seen as the boldness of the Russian state to impose its will indiscriminately, as we see in the war against Ukraine that continues to this day. This is a well written and expertly performed track with guest guitarist Luke Machin sprinkling his magic over this track liberally. In addition, Peter Jones plays great organ and sax solo on this song. Fin is a rather sad and mournful recounting of a love that failed to reach it potential with our heroin reaching the realisation that it is over whist being left alone in Paris. A very emotionally laden track which gives great scope for Sally Minnear’s expressive and honest vocal.

Proximity is a very well orchestrated instrumental which combines melodies from some of the other tracks to create an interesting new piece that talks about how life came to Earth rather than to, say, Mars. Again, John has done his research for this track and it really shows with a strident, confident delivery and some interesting ideas. The final track of this fine album is the superb Chance (Under One Sun), which explores the issue of chance in our own family trees and how this evolves and makes us who we each are and how random it all is, making us look to the skies and wonder, what if? This is a well written and delivered track, it’s mostly positive but encourages you to think about your past and why it is in a world of proximity and chance such as ours. I must say one thing that really stands out on this album are the incredible orchestrations that John has used so very carefully and intelligently in order to craft music of real depth beauty and warmth. From the sympathetic horn parts in Fini, the sinister tones in Agents, all the way to the theatrical nuances that abound in Burnt Cork and Limelight, they all sound really great. Obviously John has put much effort in doing so for our benefit and to deliver such a gloriously strong sounding album

For me, this is John’s strongest release yet and one can only wonder what this unheralded creative force will bring us next. For now, though, this will suffice in the interim but we should certainly applaud the efforts here on a release that will definitely will be high on many end of year listings, including mine! ‘Proximity & Chance’ is utterly brilliant and very highly recommend indeed.

Released 29th May, 2024.

Order mp3 from bandcamp here:

Proximity & Chance | John Holden (bandcamp.com)

Order CD direct from John here:

John Holden Music | New Album Coming Soon!

John Wenlock-Smith Interviews John Holden

Ahead of the release of John Holden’s fifth studio album, ‘Proximity & Chance’, John Wenlock-Smith caught up with John to have a chat..

JWS: This album is your fifth, did you ever envisage releasing a fifth album when you released ‘Capture Light’ in 2018? 

JH: I am not sure I ever set a target. I am really guided by producing high quality material. If I did not believe the music was of the standard that I demand of myself then it would not be released. So, there was no guarantee that I could come up with something after the debut. Although ,on reflection, I guess five albums in six years is quite prolific.

JWS: The way you record now has changed a lot over the five albums, why is this? 

JH: On the earlier albums I was still learning so much, especially the technicalities of production. It was quite overwhelming. I was fortunate to have someone like Robin Armstrong to guide me through the first couple. He instilled in me the attention to detail that makes a recording sound professional. Of course, you never stop learning but you do become more confident in the best way to achieve the vision you have for the finished piece. 

The realities of home recording mean you are not in acoustically treated rooms with £10k monitors so for ‘Proximity & Chance’ I changed to using Slate VSX. This system comes with specially designed headphones and software to recreate virtual studio simulations and environments such as high-end studios, headphones and even vehicles. I mixed and mastered everything without conventional monitors and just did some sanity checks at the end. From a production perspective this was really useful and I hope everything sounds pristine to the listener.

JWS: This album sees a definite shift in that you personally perform a lot more rather than having collaborators doing a lot of the soundscapes. Is there a reason for this?

JH: There was no real intention at the outset. It was really dictated by how the music evolved. There are some songs that have fairly complex (for me) orchestral arrangements. That is something I had to do myself as there was no way I was going to hire a sixty-piece orchestra! 


Having always done quite detailed demos that I then sent to others to add or replace elements, this time the initial parts I recorded sounded really good so I just kept them and just added the more technical/ virtuoso parts that were beyond my capability. One on song I had someone replace my guitar parts but it just sounded ‘wrong’ – maybe because I was so used to hearing the original. Of course, the one thing that I will always need is guest vocalists. 

JWS: You have gathered an excellent and exciting list of guests for this album. Who would you like most to work with given the opportunity?

JH: I have been blessed to work with such high-level artists and I always keep my eyes and ears open for potential future collaborators. I think it might be interesting to go a little left field maybe someone like Mariusz Duda (Riverside). So far, all my albums have been solely written by myself. It might be intriguing to try a writing collaboration as well.

JWS: How do you choose the subject matter for your songs? As some of these subjects are rather diverse.

JH: When I start a new project, it is a completely blank canvas, which is always daunting but also exciting as well. I have no preconception of what will end up on the finished album. Inspiration comes from many different places and it’s almost like a diary of my mindset for the year. I will be influenced by documentaries I have watched, books I have read. World events, conversations and emotions from my personal life, it somehow all influences what I write.


I do like to go down internet rabbit holes! A good example of this is the opening song ‘13’.I wanted to write about superstitions, this eventually led me to discovering ‘The Thirteen Club’ which was a gift for a song idea. Sometimes I end up writing something and I can’t even remember what the starting point was!

JWS: Is there any possibility of you ever being able to perform any of your albums live? If so, how soon could we hope for such an experience to happen? 

JH: John I am asked this in every interview with no new take on it! ☹

JWS: You must be proud of the fact that your music is so warmly received by prog fans?

JH: Prog fans are a discerning set of music lovers and not easily impressed. It’s a difficult genre in which to get credit as you are not just being compared to current music, you are also judged against the historical giants of the past. However, IF you manage to create something that is recognised as being worthwhile then you are embraced. I have been very fortunate in that from my debut to now I have had amazing reviews and wonderful comments from fans. 

I compose firstly for my own creative need, but the goal is ultimately for that music to touch others.

JWS: You have made some great working relationships with folks like Peter Jones and Sally Minnear how rewarding is that to you personally?

JH: It is always a joy to work with Sally, she is such a lovely person. I have recently seen that she is working with more artists such as Lifesigns and Pendragon, who obviously recognise her amazingly beautiful voice. Hopefully that will also be noticed by the wider prog audience.


As for Peter, well is there a more talented musician out there? I love Pete’s music and over the years we have become good friends and often talk for hours. We can relate to similar situations and provide each other support in our musical endeavours. I hope that our collaborations will continue and possibly get even stronger (no spoilers).

JWS: Your wife Elizabeth is crucial to all of your efforts, how does that work for you both?

JH: Libby is a vital part of what I do. She is always the first person to hear my initial demos and musical sketches. Never holding back, she tells it like it is! If she finds something too long or lacking focus, she will point it out and I will then look at things in a more considered way. During the writing the new album she had a lot of serious health issues but she still helped review and improve the lyrical content. As she says she is my ‘harshest critic but biggest cheerleader’!

JWS: What is next for you? 

JH: I have a few things that are going to keep me active for the rest of the year. I hope to contribute to some ideas other people’s albums. There is a small commission I am working on both musically and visually, which is quite exciting. 

I also want to write some new music for a project that will appear early next year. So, plenty to keep me busy!

John’s new album, ‘Proximity & Chance’, was released on May 29th, 2024.

You can order from bandcamp here:

Proximity & Chance | John Holden (bandcamp.com)

Review – Renaissance – Tuscany – Expanded 3CD Edition – by John Wenlock-Smith

I guess that, like many, I became acquainted with the lush symphonic sound of Renaissance through their wonderful 1978 single Northern Lights and the album ‘A Song For All Seasons’, from which it was taken. Renaissance were a very different sort of group to many others, they seemed to possess some different kind of stature and class and style. They, of course, had quite a history and an extensive back catalogue of music. I remember getting the excellent compilation albums ‘Tales Of 1001 Nights’ Volumes 1 and 2 on import, both expensive but gathering together much of the essential Renaissance canon.

After ‘A Song For All Seasons’ came the somewhat less brilliant ‘Azure d’Or’ in 1979, which effectively finished the group as the coming years were not good for Renaissance. After their contract with WEA ended they signed to Miles Copeland’s IRS label which was a much smaller label and lacked much commercial clout and promotional skills. The band released the very different ‘Camera Camera’ album, as it largely ditched the lush symphonic sound to be replaced by a techno pop style that was largely ill suited to the band and, as such, they lost a lots of fans. This was compounded by the disastrous ‘Time-Line’ album which muddied the water even further with a move towards pop music which, again, did not yield the expected results and, as such, the album bombed significantly with the inevitable departure of Jon Camp.

Annie Haslam and Michael Dunford recruited some US musicians and continued to tour both the USA and Japan, both of which were strong markets for the band. However, in 1987, the group disbanded until, in 1998, Haslam, Dunford, and Terence Sullivan regrouped once again to work on new material that was more in keeping with the heyday in the 1970’s. They were also joined by John Tout on several tracks, with keyboardist Mickey Simmonds further augmenting the band. The resulting album, ‘Tuscany’, marked a return to form. Although its release was delayed until October 2000, the album was well received by fans and marked a strong return to form for Renaissance. In 2001 the band returned to Japan once more where they recorded a show in Tokyo, which later emerged as the live release ‘In The Land Of The Rising Sun’. This is included in this 3CD reissue of ‘Tuscany’ and it sounds very good indeed including, as it does, four songs from the ‘Tuscany’ album alongside familiar Renaissance staples like Carpet Of The Sun, Opening Out, Northern Lights, Mother Russia and Ashes Are Burning.

‘Tuscany’ the album is very much a return to form with excellent performances and strong and satisfying tracks like Lady From Tuscany, Pearls of Wisdom, Dear Landseer and the very epic One Thousand Roses which, again, recaptured much of what those difficult early 1980’s albums had thrown out. This was Renaissance reborn and revitalised, this made everyone happy that, from the ashes of disaster, a stronger, energised and invigorated incarnation had risen like a phoenix.

The album begins with the stately and lushly symphonic Lady From Tuscany, which has a graceful and powerful vocal from Annie. The song is very sensual in parts and is an excellent opening song which shows the Renaissance we loved are back in style. Pearls of Wisdom is another glorious track, again, very sensual lyrically and sumptuous musically. This is followed by the wonderful Eva’s Pond with its delicate piano motif and lush orchestral backing and the clear distinct voice of Annie Haslam, who adds a touch of class with her delicate and yet powerful vocals, another beautiful song. Next is the excellent Dear Landseer, which is the story of a painter who’s work is appreciated in royal circles with resulting commissions happening.

In the Sunshine features Annie’s ex partner Roy Wood on bass and keyboards, he also produced the track with Annie and Michael Dunford. Again, this song has a very sensual theme and oozes passions, mostly unfulfilled but hopeful, it is a wonderfully evocative song with excellent performances and strong content. You can capture much of Wood’s multi instrumental brilliance here, this wouldn’t have been out of place in his own earlier works. In My Life is rather more introspective in tone and wistful as the words seem to seek to right previous wrongs and lack of support. it is a very honest track and has lots of warmth and hope in its themes, another well written and delivered piece of music. The Race is another great sounding track with a great bass line from Alex Caird, who plays beautifully on this track, really driving it along with Mickey Simmons’ synths adding gracefully to the lush orchestral sounds. It is a rather up-tempo song for Renaissance but it really does work well for them here, most impressive sounding. Dolphin’s Prayer opens with a sole synthesiser sweep and sound, this shorter track has some exquisite vocals which show the strength of Annie’s voice to great effect.

The penultimate track, Life In Brazil, is rather good too, having a slightly Latin feel to it in parts. It works well enough but I feel that it somehow isn’t bold enough in embracing its Latin roots, it’s good but could have been outstanding. The album closer One Thousand Roses returns us to the sensuality that pervades much of this album, speaking as it does of an unrequited love and unfulfilled passions. There is much aching and longing to this track and it is a strong conclusion to what is a really strong later album from Renaissance. It’s great to have the band back, once again treading a well loved path and having new adventures which continue to this day.

Released 3rd May, 2024.

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

Renaissance: Tuscany, Expanded 3CD Edition (cherryred.co.uk)

TIM BOWNESS ANNOUNCES NEW ALBUM ‘POWDER DRY’ AND SHARES FIRST SINGLE ‘ROCK HUDSON’ + VIDEO

SET FOR RELEASE ON KSCOPE ON 16TH AUGUST

Tim Bowness has today shared details of his new album Powder Dry. Set for release on 16th August, the album will be Bowness’s first release on the Kscope label. The first single from Powder Dry is the propulsive Rock Hudson, a paranoid ode to online discourse. Produced and performed by Tim Bowness and mixed by his partner in no-man Steven Wilson, the song is accompanied a vibrant abstract video by Matt Vickerstaff, which echoes Carl Glover’s artwork for the album.

Bowness says of the song, ‘Like all of the album Powder Dry, the song resulted from an attempt to capture a fleeting feeling as accurately as I could. This time the mood was dark, and there’s something of the spiky Post-Punk and Electro-Pop music of the early 1980s that captivated me as a teenager in the mix. Joy Division, The Cure, The The etc…’ 

Watch the video for Rock Hudson here:

Featuring 16 pieces over its restless 40-minute duration, Tim Bowness’s eighth studio album Powder Dry represents a new beginning on a new label. 

A collection of acute contrasts, the album is a vibrantly accessible and wildly experimental genre-blurring assault, embracing Industrial Rock, Electro Pop, singer-songwriter directness, haunted carnival soundscapes and more.

Entirely produced, performed and written by Bowness (a first), Powder Dry was mixed (in stereo and Surround Sound) by Bowness’s partner in no-man (and The Album Years podcast), Steven Wilson, who also acted as Bowness’s sounding board during the mixing process. 

‘I’ve had the pleasure to work on most of Tim’s solo albums, and for me this is the best and most creative of them all, partly because this time it’s truly a ‘solo’ album, showcasing not only his unique vocals, but also his distinctive approach to production and performance. It’s totally Tim!’ – Steven Wilson

Chronicling descents into ideological extremism, eco-apocalypse, and the all-too human quest for love in a time of crisis, the album is a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of sound; chasing feelings, searching for meanings and trying to capture the ever-elusive nowness of now.

‘Powder Dry’ tracklist

Rock Hudson

Lost / Not Lost 

When Summer Comes

Idiots At Large

A Stand-Up For The Dying

Old Crawler

Heartbreak Notes

Ghost Of A Kiss

Summer Turned

You Can Always Disappear

Powder Dry

Films Of Our Youth

This Way Now

I Was There

The Film Of Your Youth

Built To Last

Artist picture by Bryan Taylor.

Pre-order Powder Dry here:

Tim Bowness (burningshed.com)

Powder Dry’ will be presented on two beautiful, coloured vinyl LP editions – pink and yellow – alongside a bonus CD edition with 5.1 surround sound DVD included. Standard black vinyl LP and standard CD editions will also be available. Released on 16th August.

UPCOMING SHOWS

MAY 26, 2024

Load Street Studios, 3 Edwin Ave, Kidderminster UK

2 SETS – 2pm + 7pm

Only 25 tickets will be available for each set, so early booking is recommended for what promises to be a unique experience. 

Doors Open – 1.30pm and 6.30pm for 2pm and 7pm performance times.

TICKETS

JUL 27, 2024

EppyFest 11 @ Smokey Joe’s Diner, 16 Bennington St, Cheltenham, GL50 4ED

Cheltenham, UK

TICKETS

DEC 1, 2024

The Fiddler’s Elbow, Camden, London NW5 3HS

Prog The Forest. Tim Bowness and Butterfly Mind will headline this year’s Prog The Forest.