The Man Behind the Moniker – An Interview with jh

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One lucky bonus of being the PR man for Bad Elephant Music is getting to delve further into people behind the music and getting to know who they really are. In the first of an occasional series, I have been speaking to Jon Hunt, the man behind the musical persona of jh.

We released the jh anthology ‘Morning Sun’ earlier this year and it has been well received by critics and listeners alike (see above). In a bid to get into the mind of the man behind the music, I interviewed Jon about many topics, please read on to hear what he had to say…..

First a little history……

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jh is the nom de guerre of Jon Hunt, he writes, arranges, performs and mixes all his material himself, with the exception of some of the drums.

It is impossible to describe jh’s music in a nutshell, as the only ethos he has is to make exactly the music he wants with no regard to commercial thought. This makes him extremely difficult to market, but more importantly his integrity remains intact. His albums hearken back to the spirit of the ‘album’ as being an artform in itself, jh’s music is eclectic, honest, and quintessentially English. His recordings are startlingly honest pieces of work that reveal more and more on each listen.

There have been three previous albums, all of which have been self-released, 2008’s ‘Truth and Bullshit’, 2011’s ‘Wanderlust’ and 2013’s ‘So Much Promise’.

2015 has seen jh link up with the eclectic record label Bad Elephant Music to release a fourteen track compilation of his most iconic tracks to date.

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Now onto the interview itself…..

Progradar – Jon, what started you on your musical journey, who or what made you want to be a musician?

jh – My dad is a piano player, so I suppose it was in my blood, I grew up around music. I suppose I always had a good ‘ear’, there was always some sort of a keyboard around the house.

Progradar – What were your earliest musical memories and influences?

jh – One of my earliest memories was spending hours at a piano at my parent’s friends’ house and just coming up with stuff and feeling like I was being taken away into a different world. I also remember listening to my parents’ vinyl collection, and losing myself in that, too.

Quite lot of classical music actually, along with easy listening. Neil Sedaka’s ‘Greatest Hits’ was played a lot. Everyone thinks of him as the guy who did ‘Oh Carol’ and ‘Amarillo’, but his more mature stuff in the seventies was actually amazing song-writing, the arrangements and melodies. I’d go so far to say some of that stuff was an influence (not that’d you’d be able to tell!).

The first records I bought were ‘So Lonely’ by The Police, and ‘The Eton Rifles’ by The Jam on 7″ vinyl. Then my next door neighbour taped me ‘Tubular Bells’ and it all went downhill from there haha! (JOKE!)

Progradar – Your first solo albums were all written, recorded and produced pretty much as a one man project, what helps and hindrances did that cause?

jh – The good thing is, if you have a strong and/or ambitious idea of what you want, you don’t have to argue with anyone to get ‘permission’! However the downside for me is that the majority of work creating an album isn’t particularly creative. Just to record and mix the thing involves so much messing about with software, levels, labelling, saving each tiny setting and programs crashing that can be infuriating.

The bits of making a record I really enjoy are when I start layering instrumentation – For instance adding bass, guitar, or harmonies to the original idea, and you hear the song come alive – that’s a real buzz. And of course having the finished product. But apart from that, it can do your head in having to cut stuff up, crossfade, add compression or reverb, if using a drummer then getting all that right and then sorting out mixing the kit, etc.

And I’m a luddite – I like to try and keep things as simple as possible, not polish them too much, I’d rather have a dodgy take with emotion in rather than a perfect clinical performance, so it’s not that I use a ridiculous amount of needless gear and effects – the complete opposite. It’s just all the boring fiddly stuff you HAVE to do, which has nothing to do with why you made the song, what you love about the song.

Progradar – As a solo artist do you like the freedom that writing and recording your own music gives you?

jh – Yes I really, really do.

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Progradar – You have been described as a lyrical wordsmith, where do you get the inspiration for your songs and do you sit down and physically make yourself write them or do you carry a notebook around in which you can put idea as they come to mind and flesh them out later?

jh – I usually start with the lyrics. Or at least lyrics with a melody. I have to be in the right mood but when they are flowing they come very naturally. It can sometimes take months, though. I think lyrics (in music that has them) are extremely important and I take them very seriously.

Through talking to people, I honestly think the majority of music listeners aren’t THAT bothered. But I am! On some more recent songs I have just put long streams of thought down on a laptop, then come back to them and viciously edited and moulded them to something that sounds good, but still has its meaning. I suppose it’s like poetry really. 

I did that with the title track ‘So Much Promise’ which basically is all about the mental illness that alcohol can cause some people. The problem I have now is that I’ve covered all the topics that I’m obsessed with/bothered by, sometimes more than once. I need to find some new bugbears!

Progradar – Is it easier to write the more pop inspired tunes than the more complex progressive feeling tracks?

jh – To be honest I’d say they are the same. If anything, more progressive stuff can be easier, as you can just come up with something, and build and build, it’s a great experience. Some of my best stuff has been written that way, such as ‘Making Tea Is Freedom’, and parts of the ‘London Road’ suite.

Progradar – Where did ‘Making Tea is Freedom’ come from, it seems so different to a lot of the other music that you write and record?

jh – I think it’s different to some of my stuff, but not all of it. I’ve always loved progressive rock, well, at least progressive rock that has soul and emotion. I just wanted to have a song which was like a journey, you know. As I say, quite a bit of it was sort of made up on-the-spot, and some of my best stuff comes like that, I think.

When you have something immediately and get it down, it’s obviously more true to the original emotion. That song was also kind of a statement of intent – on the first album. I remember at the time a friend said to me “Why don’t you just do a CD of your songs, and a separate CD of all your Prog sh*t”!!

That was completely missing the point – most of my favourite albums are highly varied in styles, and I pay a lot of attention to the sequencing of tracks, so the actual album is a sort of journey in itself – including the ‘Morning Sun’ compilation.

Progradar – Do you bounce your ideas off anyone before you actually finish writing an album?

jh – No, I never do. Only when mixes are nearly finished I’ll ask a couple of people that I respect for an opinion but this would only be in terms of ‘do you think the mix is alright?’ or ‘Are the vocals too quiet/loud?’, something like that.

Jon Hunt

Progradar – If someone doesn’t like your music do you take it to heart or just accept that different people have differing opinions and move on?

jh – No, I don’t take it to heart. I’m quite funny in the respect that I can put on one of my  favourite albums, and if I’m with someone who I know dislikes the band , I can completely understand WHY they hate it as it’s playing! We all have different tastes.

I can completely understand why some people could find my music highly annoying, for example! (Of course, it goes without saying I completely understand why people would really love it, too haha). It’s all horses for courses, really. I’m overwhelmed and proud that ‘Morning Sun’ has had such good reviews, though.

Progradar – I believe you have known David Elliott at BEM for quite a long time, how did the tie up with Bad Elephant come about and how  much of a culture shock was working with a label on ‘Morning Sun’ compared to your previous releases?

jh – I’ve known David since I released ‘Truth & Bullshit’ – he loved it and was a huge supporter. David and I talked before my second album ‘Wanderlust’ came out. This may even have been just before the first B.E.M. release, I’m not sure. But I was almost ready to release it, and had gigs, videos, promos planned etc.

‘So Much Promise’ I was in a bit of a dark place at the time, and actually recorded and released it really quickly, without really notifying anyone. Always a good way to market an album! Anyway, I wanted to make a compilation to round off those albums – I see them like a trilogy, really. I mentioned it to David one day over a murghi masala, and he said he’d be delighted to release it.

The real culture shock was having someone with a business head promoting jh material for the first time. I’ve never had a ‘business head’. People actually hearing (and hopefully enjoying) my music has been a revelation really. And of course folk like your good self who obviously ‘get’ the music spreading the word (before you were officially made PR man) – it’s a really nice feeling.

Progradar – Who inspires you musically and generally in this day and age?

jh – Anyone who doesn’t compromise when they make music, a lot of which I probably haven’t heard. This certainly applies to most of my label-mates, I think. Artists who love music so much they ‘have’ to make it, really. I don’t listen to as much new music as I’d like to to be honest.

I have to mention Steven Wilson – I’ve been listening to his music and seeing him play for over twenty years now. The fact that his latest album is to my mind the most complete album he’s done is amazing really, the quality of his work over the years, he seems to be getting even better. Now he’s having the success he deserves I keep waiting for the material to become pedestrian or ‘sell out’ or something but it never does – it’s actually getting better!

I think it’s amazing that an album as conceptually ambitious and stylistically varied as ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ made the top 15 British charts or whatever it was. Hopefully it will give people confidence to make more ambitious albums, and introduce that kind of thing to people who may not have heard it.

What inspires me generally? I suppose the same things as always, hope, anticipation – the unknown in life, what can be out there if we bother to look for it, travel, opportunities, love… sorry I’m sounding like a hippy now!

Progradar – Do you think it is harder starting out as a musician in the digital age compared to the days of vinyl and single releases? What advice would you give to a fledgling musician that you would have appreciated hearing when you first started out?

jh – When I was making ‘Truth & Bullshit’ I actually had a Wilson quote pinned on the wall saying something like “Thinking about things like how to get signed, genres and what people want are irrelevant. If you want to start a band with 3 bassists go for it, you want to make a twenty-minute song? Go for it. You have a lot more chance of being successful if you do what you genuinely love.” I can’t really add to that.

I’ve known some artists who copy styles, or second guess what the next thing in fashion is, or are obsessed with the fashion/looks end of the ‘industry’. It’s bullshit. If you make the most honest record you possibly can then you can’t lose. If you’re putting loads of thought into what people will want/what people will say then you’re either not that good, or you’re making music for the wrong reasons. It’s dishonest, people will see through it and it won’t have any kind of longevity.

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Progradar – Do you think that the charts are relevant in today’s world of mp3’s and file sharing and do you actually take any notice? What are your thoughts on file sharing, illegal or otherwise?  I couldn’t honestly tell you if the charts are relevant or not.

jh – I couldn’t honestly tell you if the charts are relevant or notHmm – I’ve just contradicted what I said previously! Generally I really don’t know anything about them anymore. I have a feeling they’re mostly full of ‘product’ rather than music. File sharing is a hard one. Personally I want as many people to hear my music as possible. I’d like to think that if they got it for free and liked it then they’d buy a physical copy.

I put quite a bit of thought in to the artwork and concepts etc, and I consider all that PART of the album to a certain extent. No matter how talented an artist is, unless they have a huge major record deal, then you really don’t make a living from this. All the musicians I’ve known (some signed to quite well-known labels) have to do other things to pay the bills.

Progradar – You describe yourself as ‘quintessentially English’ what exactly does that mean?

jh – Firstly, I’m one of the minority of people who sings in an English accent (the default is American). Secondly, I do like the atmospheric ‘pedal-tone’ chords (which is keeping the bass the same and moving the chords over it) which can be very emotional and atmospheric. Tony Banks ofGenesis and Pete Townshend use this style a lot, so I think that’s associated with English bands. I also think my lyrics are steeped in Englishness, whether it be mentioning our Cities, describing our overcast weather or banging on about our fucked-up ‘very English’ human condition haha! 

Progradar – Do you prefer recording music or playing it live?

jh – Or playing with friends. Ask me to play covers for two hours in a pub for money and I’ll be as confident and as slick you like… it’s a job. Albeit a job that I wouldn’t describe as ‘being a musician’, but that’s a topic for another time. Playing my own stuff in front of people, well, I have a lot emotionally invested in it, and I WANT it to be good, I do panic sometimes when things go wrong.

I’m getting better, though. If the gig is right, then yes, it’s a lot of fun and rewarding. Otherwise, I hate all the waiting around (though some musicians love this aspect of it). I hate the bullshit fawning with other bands/artists. I hate promoters who think it’s fine to charge your fans £5 each to watch you play 25 minutes on a crammed bill, make a fortune on the bar take, and not give you a token drink let alone any money.

The few gigs I do, I refuse to play those venues anymore. The best thing you can do is put on your own evening, at a venue you like, with a sound-man you trust, do your own publicity. If you make it into an ‘event’ with like-minded support acts etc, then people don’t mind paying/buying a ticket for the evening. At the Wanderlust launch, I did two sets, had projections, showed the videos in the break, and everyone got a raffle ticket and before the last song I picked 3 and they got the new album.

That’s a nice thing to do, more of an event/an evening. I would love to do a few more gigs, but as I am (and have never been) a ‘hustler’ or ‘business head’, then I’ll just do things now and again, if they seem right, and if it’s likely that people can enjoy themselves and the performance can be good.

jh live

Progradar – Name 3 albums that you think everyone should own (not including your own)?

jh – Oh blimey! The first is a complete cliché, but I’m sorry – The BlueBeatles ‘1967-1970′ album for obvious reasons. So much has been said, obviously, but to me that’s where popular music starts, and also where progressive rock starts actually thinking about side 2 of ‘Abbey Road’.

Secondly I’m going to go for ‘The Last Broadcast’ by Doves. This came out in 2002, and is such an immense record – Great song-writing, varied styles, they actually describe themselves as ‘Modern Prog’ which I would agree with. Basically all the songs have interesting instrumentation, twists and turns, deep and honest lyrics and some beautiful, moving moments – it’s the complete package as far as I’m concerned. The fact that this emotional indie album actually got to Number 1 and the guys in the band look like they’ve just turned up at your door to fix your plumbing – restored my faith in good music at the time.

Thirdly I’m going to have to say everyone should own ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ by Genesis even if they hate it. Simply because whenever I mention the ‘G’ word, most people think of Phil Collins doing that walk on the video of that cheesy song. It’s not their fault – they went huge during their really commercial era, it’s just a shame that people connect the name of the band simply to that and don’t realise there’s a vault of amazing music, especially from the seventies. The Lamb is my favourite by them and one of my all-time favourite albums. I could easily have chosen three others, by the way.

Progradar – What does the future hold for jh, is there a new album in the offing, where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

jh – There will definitely be a new jh album by the end of 2016, hopefully a lot, lot sooner. Over half of it is written albeit in skeletal form and with places to improvise. I have a lot of ‘life’ stuff going on this year that I need to sort, but I always come back to writing and recording songs… it’s like my therapy. 5 years time is a scary question. I’ve always been obsessed with the passing of time, it keeps speeding up – I’ll just TRY and focus on the present, I think…

Progradar – And, finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?

jh – This is my first ever interview! So many thanks for interviewing me, and for all your support, Martin. 

A really in depth interview with an interesting man, all of jh’s back catalogue will be available soon with extra goodies from the Bad Elephant Music sales site.

The official jh website

jh on facebook

Press Release – Matt Stevens announces live dates for 2015

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MATT STEVENS ANNOUNCES 2015 GIGS

Matt Stevens has confirmed 5 solo acoustic gigs for 2015, supporting Jon Gomm and Steven Rothery alongside shows in Belfast and Italy.

Stevens, who was recently named as one of the top guitarists in the Prog Magazine reader’s poll said,

“I’m not doing as many solo shows this year to allow time to work on the next The Fierce And The Dead record and to write new solo material, but I’m hugely excited to be playing my first solo show in Italy and to play with Jon Gomm and Steven Rothery”.

Matt’s band The Fierce And The Dead will play a run of festival shows including this summer, including Summers End, Arctangent and theRhythm Festival and they will release an EP later in the year.

Solo acoustic 14th June – Batteria Nomentana, Rome, Italy

4th July – Band On The Wall, Manchester UK with Steve Rothery

25th July – Belfast Guitar Festival, UK.

21st October – Jazz Cafe, London UK with Jon Gomm

7th Nov – The Stables, Milton Keynes UK with Steve Rothery

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In addition Matt’s band The Fierce And The Dead play the following shows:

June 21st – Rhythms Festival, Hitchen

3rd July – Black Heart Camden w/Shivers

21st August – ArcTanGent

4th October – Summers End Festival

More information from:

mattstevensguitar.com

Two for the price of one – Reviews – Methexis – Fall of Bliss and Suiciety

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“Music is the art of thinking with sounds, it is philosophy…..

Every chord, every word tells a story. If you listen, you will know its meaning…..”

Kamanda Ndama

Take a minute to read that quote and let it sink in, understand its very meaning. Even some of the music that is on popular radio and in the charts has a narrative at its heart, it is not all bubblegum pop (well, the majority of it is to be fair).

In the musical world that I inhabit the writers of the songs are musical bards, they tell stories of love and happiness and of loss and sadness and these affect the listener deep to their core. It is a skill that few have but it can take over your world and move you to a different place where all that matters is the song.

It isn’t just the words either, the music itself can take on a life of its own and affect you in just the same manner. The beauty inherent in an amazing piece of music can make you laugh, smile or cry in much the same way that a well written novel or piece of prose can.

I have oft written about how a new piece of music can come from out of nowhere and really move me. I think that those that are least expected are quite often the best surprises and, like misfortunes, they seldom come alone…

It was due to my friendship with ‎Linus Kåse of Swedish progressive giants Änglagård that I first heard about Methexis, the progressive rock project of Greek musician Nikitas Kissonas and discovered the two albums that have so far been released by this talented and eclectic musician. Who is he? I hear you ask well, let’s find out….

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Nikitas Kissonas was born in 1980 and he is a graduated guitarist and composer. He works as a music teacher and has collaborated with many groups and in many and diverse performances. As well as the Methexisproject, in which he expresses his agony in the rock genre, he also composes contemporary acoustic music and he is hoping to succeed in marrying the two into something truly progressive.
The Methexis project was created by Nikitas in 2011 following his need to record material he had gathered throughout the years while being a member of alternative Greek bands such as Verbal Delirium andYianneis.
The debut album “The Fall Of Bliss” was released at the same year and Nikitas played most of the instruments except for the drums (Nikos Miras) and the piano on ‘Lines On A Bust’ (Jargon).
February 2015 saw the release of ‘Suiciety’, A concept album about the exterior influences a human gets from his childhood, the interior research for a guiding instrument, the exposition on a suicidal society that doesn’t listen to the clear warnings and the unavoidable collapse.

The album features members of The Enid, Änglagård, Birds & Buildings, Agents of Mercy and Yianneis.

‘Fall of Bliss’ – the review

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A laconic introduction starts Eradicated Will, a coruscating guitar note ambling along before a slightly laid back, sardonic vocal begins. Very much in the vein of traditional progressive rock, there is also a dramatic edge to the song. Nikitas has a powerful voice with a slight affectation that adds to the drama. The keyboards add a sinister note to the track as it meanders thoughtfully through your mind, the delicate acoustic guitar adding a subliminal note that is lighter than the rest of the track. When the chorus erupts it does so with a forceful edge that adds to the theatrics, an excellent start to the album. Poetic Mirrors Wound Heroes has an introduction that is all Muse to my ears with harmonised vocals and a classical edge before a strong bass line drags it along. The vocal section that follows is different, almost sounding like a computerised harmony but it works really well. Keyboards and bass are key in this track that really does run like a storyline as it glides along with its graceful demeanour. The intricate instrumental bridge is very 70’s prog and adds precision to the finesse of this engaging song.

Those Howling Wolves sees Nikitas take on a more theatrical persona with the emphasised and enunciated vocals taking flight and becoming central to the performance. The music is more of a back up on this acoustical treat. Its benign and genial feel lulls you into a form of stasis as the keyboards run with a mysterious note in the background. You could quite imagine this being from a musical stage production with Nikitas central to the performance, almost musical method acting. As we get deeper into the track there is more substance added as the story fleshes out, the vocals become fuller and the music takes less of a back seat, joining as a fully paid up member of the cast. It becomes thought provoking with quite an intensive edge and the jazzy guitar solo is brilliant in its smoky meandering brilliance as it builds to the close. A seriously impressive track indeed. The piano introduction to Lines on a Bust is intricate and soulful, the vocals again giving the impression of musical theatre, Nikitas has a great vocal range and uses it notably here. You could imagine this being sung in a West-End show. It is full of fervor and zeal, having a rapturous appeal.

Drums and bass are the dominant forces at the beginning of Track the Saviours before an edgy guitar riff takes us into the heart of the heaviest track on the album. One that has a diversive, chaotic note at it’s heart. Running along like a gleeful mad man with the histrionic vocals that teeter on the edge of sanity with an aura of dark humour. I like the slightly off-centre feel of the song, as if it has been allowed to run its own course, good or bad. The corrosive instrumental section is clever and adds to the feeling of not knowing what the hell is happening. Like a mirror image The Aftermath is a slow motion track with an initial sombre, restrained note to the vocals, guitar and keyboards. The vocals take on a more compelling note on the chorus, if still a little mournful. It is a song that has a central forlorn and dolent edge to it, a fragility that still has a dark beauty to it.

The final track is the four part title track The Fall of Bliss which begins with the Intro which is a gentle acoustic guitar overlaying birdsong. Ethereal and gossamer like, it is charming and charismatic and leads you into Part I where the atmosphere darkens, pressing in to give a suspenseful feel. It erupts with a hard edged riff, powered along by the drums to give a turbulent edge before settling down into a more harmonised note. There is a slight supernatural ambience to the music, a semblance of the unknown as the vocals begin in a haunting fashion. Almost like a Gregorian Chant, they have a spiritual echo to them, enhanced by the disturbing organ note. The gloomy feel is all pervasive as we segue into Interlude, a low, slightly remote keyboard, reminiscent of a bassoon insinuates itself into your psyche. There is an organic nature to the music, it feels alive, as if it has its own intelligence and agenda. The guitar influenced passage that follows is vivid and forceful and that pseudo-bassoon runs into the final chapter, Part II. Demonstrative and profound, it is the crescendo that the whole track has been leading up to with heartfelt, passionate vocals and a wall of sound that washes over you leaving you numb in a profound manner. A discursive instrumental section follows, all distorted and erratic, like a lonely walk haunted by memories of the past. Almost painfully acute in parts it holds your attention as it runs on inexorably to the close.

So, Methexis’ first album really grabs you, it is enlightened in a weighty and thorough kind of way and asks questions that you may not be able to answer. Darkly exquisite in places, ‘Suiciety’ will have to go some to top this consummate release.

‘Suiciety’ – the review

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After his brilliant multi-tasking performance with ‘Fall of Bliss’ Nikitas Kissonas turned to some of progressive music’s luminaries for the follow up ‘Suiciety’.

Whilst dealing with the music, lyrics and guitars himself he is joined by the enigmatic Joe Payne (The Enid) on vocals, Linus Kåse (Änglagård) on keyboards, Nikos Zades (Yianneis) sound design, Walle Wahlgren (Agents of Mercy) on drums and Brett d’Anon (Birds and Buildings) on bass.

Going the wrong way round, it was ‘Suiciety’ that I heard before ‘Fall of Bliss’ thanks to a heads up from Linus and that led me onto the debut album. You’ve read my thoughts on that, now it’s time for the latest release….

Chapter IV – Ruins opens the album with a transcendental feel of spaced out music, like wind chimes in a breeze, ambient yet with an intelligence at its core. It is an eerie beginning, as if you are in stasis waiting for something to happen. This opens up with a synth sound that washes over you in waves, almost hypnotic in its delivery. Joe’s breathy voice lies just under the surface, barely audible at first before its unmistakeable expressive quality builds into something more substantial. It stays just out of your conscious reach as the track comes to a close. The five parts of Chapter I (exterior) begin with Remember fear’s a relic, a briskly strummed acoustic guitar heralds an upbeat, jazz infused track that springs along at a brisk pace. A sharp electric guitar leading into some really funky keyboards from Linus before Joe lets lose with his inherent theatrical manner. Mr Payne has a persona that can dominate but here he holds back a tad, still the effusive, energetic front man we know from The Enid but moulding his performance to fit the music. I really like Joe’s expressive vocal work, he takes what is best of the theatrical world and blends it perfectly with progressive rock music. The rest of the band appear to be having a blast on this energetic,slightly manic piece of music, like a free-form jazz session with added absurdity.

The windows’ cracking sound is like a short interlude, a slightly off-kilter and disturbing piece of music which never lets you settle as it segues into Who can it be with its heraldic introduction which immediately grabs you. I love the feel it gives this song before it becomes all mysterious and dark. Joe’s vocal low down, is almost a whisper as he takes up the tale. There is a dark humour deep at the heart of this song, it leaves you with an itch you just can’t scratch. The flamenco style guitar section is neat and precise yet still sends a shiver down your spine, playing with forces unknown. Joe is giving a performance worthy of the stage, there is more than just a vocalist at work here, he is acting as well. It is a story to be told in music, in a dark disturbing, yet highly enjoyable way. That outspoken heraldic tone is at the heart of everything adding a lustre and wildness to this part as it comes to a slightly disturbing close.

The Origin of Blame is where all bets are off and the sluice gates are opened. Joe is at the centre of this delightfully manic song, aided and abetted by the simple piano notes delivered by Linus. This track could have been written for the stage and Joe Payne’s ebullient character. He delivers an excited display of eccentric brilliance and musical drama that just makes you smile. The segue into Prey’s Prayer is neat and precise and the striking guitar work of Nikitas takes over with an undulating delivery that just bleeds emotion and remorse. The bass play is calm and collected and adds gravitas to this serious piece of music. A quite beguiling instrumental that seems to have a tender yet melancholic soul to it.

The three parts of Chapter II (interior) begin with Sunlight and its wild-west tinged introduction, all Duane Eddy guitars and atmosphere before the guitar takes on a classical note and Joe’s tender vocal interjects, waxing and waning in compliment to the gently played guitar. It has a lightness and airiness to it which is enhanced by the seductive strings. Around the middle of the track it takes on a pure 1970’s progressive feel with guitar and bass work that Steve Howe and Chris Squire would have been proud of. Linus adds in his inimitable skills with the ivories and you end up looking for the floor length capes and Mellotrons to arrive. It is quite a compelling piece of music, gripping and riveting that leaves you slightly non-plussed as it comes to a close. The next part, The Relic is, in my mind, the best track on the album, if not the best song that Nikitas has written full stop. A low key introduction of a subdued guitar leads in an emotional vocal backed by sumptuous strings that just left me mesmerised. The piano then adds a subtle grace to this imperious song. It builds, layer upon layer, becoming more intensely exquisite with each note that is played and each line that is sung. Joe gives his most polished performance yet one which is also his most restrained and it fits the guileless, sincere feel of the song perfectly. A crescendo like instrumental interlude threatens to break the calm before it is gently brought back by the simple charm of the acoustic guitar and piano. They are joined by a searching violin note that really fills you full of emotion and then leads you to the closure of this stunning song.

Chapter III – Suiciety is the final song on the album and begins like an industrial dance track, a song in the style of The Prodigy. To be honest it feels out of place at first after the charm of the previous track but, give it time, and you come to appreciate its intricate, complex rhythms, eventually breaking out into a darkly mysterious piece of music. The strings add that note of warning before the brass section delivers a really chilling yet exciting part of the song that has an icy determination to it. It becomes quite a spine-tingling piece of classical music that has you hanging on every note with its basic raw feel.

He pulls no punches does Nikitas Kissonas and he is an extremely talented musician. I thought it would take something special to improve on ‘Fall of Bliss’ and he has delivered something quite marvellous. Aided by some superb musicians and a vocalist who has the skill and inherent ability to deliver everything needed, what we actually have here is an outstanding musical release that is up there with the best of them…..

Nikitas

Pictures of Nikitas courtesy of Artemis Schubert.

Artwork for ‘Fall of Bliss’ by Dimitra Papadimitriou.

Artwork for ‘Suiciety’ by  Artemis Schubert and Nikitas Kissonas.

www.methexisproject.com

Buy Fall of Bliss and Suiciety from bandcamp

Review – Big Big Train – Wassail

Wassail

“Next to love, Music is the best solution to any problem. Music feeds the heart with what it needs in the moment…

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

For those of us that feel music like we feel the blood in our veins, it is something we cannot live without. Music follows me on every journey I make, music accompanies my moods perfectly, be it happy, sad or just melancholy. I could not imagine my life without the joy of listening to music being core to it.

Like most people my life has been like a sine wave, peaks and troughs of highs and lows and I have learned to cope with the lows and appreciate the highs more and more because of the music that I listen to.

“I believe in music the way that some people believe in fairy tales.”

Four years ago I went through the darkest period in my life. I won’t go into it in any detail as that is not what I am writing about but, suffice to say, I looked deep into my own soul at times and didn’t like what I saw.

What kept me going through the sleepless nights, the broken heart and the soul searching was music, music to soothe my soul, music to lighten my mood and music to make my heart soar.

It was at this point that I took a real, deep seated interest in what has since become my favourite band, English progressive rock band Big Big Train. I had touched on ‘The Underfall Yard’ briefly before but it hadn’t immediately connected with me. By lucky happenstance I was listening to morow.com when they played ‘The First Rebreather’ from the band’s album ‘English Electric Pt1’ and the rest, as they say, is history!

Their unique take on traditional UK progressive rock, infused with historical traditions and a real heart of its own has always resonated with me since and the amazing ‘Curator of Butterflies’ from ‘English Electric Pt2’ picked me up when I was down and out so many times during that bitter and melancholy part of my life, it kept me sane.

Fast forward four years and the Progressive music scene is eagerly anticipating the release of the band’s new E.P. ‘Wassail’, yours truly maybe more than most…

We can’t have a Progradar review without some background to the band. Here I will make it short and sweet as, earlier this year, I did a potted history of the band.

BBTBand

Big Big Train were formed in 1990 by Andy Poole and Greg Spawton and have, up to date, released 9 full albums (if you include ‘English Electric – FullPower’) and, with the release of ‘Wassail’,three E.P.s. Over the last 25 years they have established a respected place on the UK progressive scene. They have honed their sound over the years to feature rich arrangements, a mix of electric and acoustic instruments and an amalgamation of influences from post-rock, folk, classical and pop.

After a few changes over the last quarter of a century, the band’s full line up now includes, in addition to Greg and Andy, David Longdon (vocals),Nick D’Virgilio (drums), Dave Gregory (guitar), Danny Manners (keyboards), Rikard Sjöblom (guitar,keyboards) and Rachel Hall (violin) and it will be this eight piece band which will play Big Big Train’s first live gigs in seventeen years at Kings Place in London in August this year.

In addition to ‘Wassail’, later this year, the band will be releasing a DVD/Blu-Ray of live performances filmed at Real World Studios last year entitled ‘Stone and Steel’ and have begun work on a new album called ‘Folklore’ which is scheduled for release in early 2016.

Talking about the new album ‘Folklore’, Greg Spawton said:

“We have written some songs with a London theme or setting. There are no plans for an album about London, but songs on the theme will appear on the next few releases. Folklore has a very broad definition and many of our new songs will include folklore elements (or will feature stories which we think may pass into folklore.) ‘Folklore’ doesn’t mean that we are embarking on a particularly folk-rock direction. We love folk music, and there will always be elements of folk in BBT music, but the title of the album is more about the subject of the songs, not so much the sound of them.”

Now onto ‘Wassail’……

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Wassail

“Apple tree, old apple tree. Bountiful we raise a glass to thee,
We sing our song, Stand fast, stand strong,
Bough and leaf bear fruit aplenty..”

Wassailing is a traditional ritual from the West of England, dating back to early medieval times, to wake the cider apple trees and scare away evil spirits by banging pots and pans and firing a shotgun overhead, thereby protecting the harvest later in the year. Much singing and drinking takes place as part of the ceremony……..

The first of the three new songs on the E.P. and the title track, Wassail begins with a dynamic guitar and flute combination, enhancing a feel of powerful folk infused progressive rock. When David Longdon’s eminently recognisable vocal kicks in it does so with that polished timbre that we have come to associate with this mercurial singer. The guitar, bass and drums are polished and immediately resonate with you. All the harmonies intertwine with Rachel’s charismatic violin and the mould is set for another exquisitely melodic and anthemic offering from this most iconically English of bands. The chorus and repeated chant of the title is powerful and catchy and I find myself singing it at the top of my voice as the keyboards swirl around catching your imagination. Yes, on this track, the band do seem to have definitively heavier folk leanings but temper it with a touch of the usual Big Big Train magic to deliver something that is recognisably an evolution of their trademark sound. The break in the middle of the track where the violin seems to plead with your senses and David’s voice holds a feel of longing and desire is as good as they come and heralds a superb instrumental section that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Potent, compelling and intense it should be an absolute winner in a live setting and the stylish close out to the track is quite sublime.

(Words and music by David Longdon)

Lost rivers of London small

Lost Rivers of London

“Lost rivers of London, long lost rivers of London
By the palace and the abbeys, by the lakes in the par
black waters rise from one hundred springs and wells.”

Beneath the streets and buildings of the capital, a number of ancient tributaries of the Thames have been buried. However, as writer Tom Bolton has said, it is hard to stop a river from flowing and the tributaries are still there running under the ground down to the Thames.

Another newly released track, Lost Rivers of London is an evolution of the band’s idyllic and singular ‘pastoral’ sound. The introduction is a collection of enchantingly played notes that dance lightly across your senses immediately invoking sepia tinged memories of unspoiled and picturesque days of yore. Immediately surrounding you in a protective cocoon, you are left to enjoy the musical delights to follow. The vocals are perfectly balanced, lilting and lulling, mesmerising you with their velvety smoothness, the harmonies quite bewitching in their brilliance. In places David’s voice soars up to the heights infused with a potent dynamism, it is the centre of this superb track around which everything else orbits. Just when you think the musical inventiveness has run its course, this talented band throw in another curve ball with some intricate guitar work and a jaunty medieval tinged flute note. I love the wah-wah pedal style of the guitar and the evocative keyboard notes, they add a real sense of fun to proceedings. For me, this is the best song on the E.P. and one of the best the band have done with superb musicianship and a vocalist at the height of his power, I am left open mouthed in admiration as it comes to its stylish close.

(Words and music by Greg Spawton)

Mudlarks

Mudlarks

Mudlarks were 19th century scavengers who eked a living from the sale of anything they could find in the mud of the River Thames at low tide. Modern-day mudlarks search the foreshores of the lost rivers that flow into the Thames, hoping to find traces of London’s history.

The third and final new track is an instrumental entitled Mudlarks which begins with a delicate piano and elegant keyboard, neatly joined by an articulate violin, the sound is very reminiscent of classic 70’s progressive rock with a modern touch as you catch little fillips of the flute dancing around in the background. There is a feel of something building as strident guitar, bass and drums join the throng, a quite jazz infused feel to the early parts of the track. It is here that Danny Manners’ talkative keyboards joust with Greg’s measured bass to add layers of sophistication. The whole song mesmerises and hypnotises as it rises higher and higher, the superb interaction between the two guitars of Dave and Rikard just roots you to the spot as they weave more and more complicated spirals around your psyche. Intricate yet immensely accessible and satisfying it comes to a rewarding conclusion that leaves you lost in thought.

(Music by Greg Spawton)

Wales - Castles - Flint Castle by William Turner

Master James of St. George

“Master James of St. George, of the fields and the sky.
He used to build castles of stone, steel and blood.
But lines get broken down.”

To finish the E.P. we are treated to a live version of Master James of St. George, first released in 2009 on the band’s 6th studio album ‘The Underfall Yard’. A firm favourite with fans from the start, this track is one that grows and grows from fairly humble beginnings before it takes over your whole being. That dainty little drum roll that has become instantly recognisable opens the track before the subtly meandering guitar entwines itself around the song. Enter Mr Longdon stage left with his lush vocal delivery raising and lowering as if wafted along on a cloud. There are subtle differences between this live version and the recorded track, as you’d expect. The strings are more pronounced and the vocal pairings have an added lustre to them. The soaring treatment of the verse is uplifting and takes your heart with it. I have always liked the way that this track seems to be founded on building blocks that have a real solidity yet it has an ethereal quality to the music in parts, especially on the elegant guitar runs. All in all just a delightful version of a song that was already well loved by the fans and this version just redefines its splendour.

This version of ‘Master James of St. George’ is a powerful performance recorded live at Real World Studios.

(Words and music by Greg Spawton)

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You can put your heroes on a pedestal to be knocked off when they don’t reach your lofty expectations but, with ‘Wassail’, Big Big Train have just enhanced their reputation as purveyors of unique and sublime progressive rock which is founded on the elemental history of this blessed isle. A history that is fundamental to the everlasting allure of this captivating group of musicians.

Order the CD version of the album and you get a brilliantly packaged CD with the striking artwork of Sarah Ewing which just adds to the whole experience.

Released on 1st June 2015

Buy Wassail CD from Burning Shed

Buy Wassail mp3 from bandcamp

Buy Wassail bundles at The Merch Desk

 

Progradar will return in full force very shortly….

Progradar-Logo

Like a Phoenix from the flames, Progradar is back up and running. There will be a lot of hard work to get the majority of my old posts back on the site and I will try and get some new stuff on in-between.

I would like to thank everyone who has helped turn what could have been a huge disaster into an epic save. David, Fedor and Chris and all the rest have my huge thanks for that!

Onwards and upwards my friends……

Tom Slatter has some rather nasty creatures loose in his Lab…….

You thought the day of the bombastic, big budget video were gone? Well think again, the marvelous Joe Slatter over at The Dark Power has produced a stunning, tongue in cheek and mildly disturbing video (big budget may be pushing it) for the first song from Tom Slatter’s new album.
‘Some of the Creatures Have Broken the Locks on the Door to Lab 558′ is taken from ‘Fit the Fourth’ released on 1/6/015 through those excellent chaps (sic) at Bad Elephant Music.

Tom describes his output as:

the sort of music you’d get if Genesis started writing songs with Nick Cave after watching too much Dr Who.”

Bad Elephant Music’s press release stated:

“Tom weaves complex and fantastical stories throughout his music – and this new album is no different.

“Dark deeds and dangerous characters litter the narrative, including the continuing tale of Seven Bells John and the vivid steampunk world he inhabits.

“The character, who’s been interwoven since debut album ‘Spinning The Compass’, comes full circle in ‘Fit The Fourth, with his eventual fate revealed in 20-­minute epic ‘Seven Bells Redeemed’.”