I’m not always sure that you should revisit the past, sometimes it isn’t as you remembered it and quite often not in a good way at all. However, in music, going back and remastering an album using modern technology can often add a lot more to the original production (the opposite can also be true but that’s for another time).
‘Gratuitous Flash’ was the first album released by seminal Scottish proggers Abel Ganz and was originally recorded in 1986. After the passing of thirty years the original line-up got back together to remix/remaster the release at South Park Studios in Glasgow. It has been remastered with some additional instrumentation by Hew Montgomery, co-founder of the band and keyboard player until 2007. He is joined, once again, by Hugh Carter (bass, flute & bass pedals), Alan Reed (vocals and Reedotron), Malcolm McNiven (guitars) and Ken Weir (drums and percussion).
The whole mix has been given a very slight clean up but this was kept to a bare minimum.
“You left school at seventeen, you never were the intellectual…”
A song about never growing up and never quite fitting in with your peers at school.
The opening track, Little By Little, gives a huge dose of nostalgia as the keyboard intro sends you rushing back to the 80’s. It’s a song that has an immediate hold on you with the intricate guitar playing and superb keys, the percussion and bass driving the track on. The extended instrumental opening has a really upbeat vibe to it, blending the original music well with the new remastering. When Alan’s vocals begin they are crystal clear and you become engrossed in his lilting tone, seemingly telling you a tale from his youth. It’s like Marillion but with added doses of humour and humility. I never heard the original but this new version doesn’t have me yearning for the past, I’m just thoroughly enjoying what I’m listening to now, including a fiery guitar solo from Malcolm that takes flight with a mind of its own and Hew’s elaborate keyboard playing.
“Have you ever had a day when someone smiled, suddenly you’re feeling much older than today.”
A song about the frustrations of growing old and realising that love is passing you by.
A nicely strummed guitar opens You and Yours and is rapidly joined by the soaring keyboards and superb rhythm section before Alan’s distinctive voice joins in with not a little passion. There’s wistful, almost regretful tone that runs throughout the song and that 80’s neo-progressive sound is as strong as ever, yet brought up-to-date by the considerate remix. Hugh’s elegant bass is particularly outspoken on this track and works well as the metronome in the background. Another fluid and effortless song that has a wistful edge as the story unfolds before you. The polished instrumental sections work exceedingly well within the rest of the track and showcase just what great musicians these guys were (and still are!).
The Scorpion is an instrumental track that was unashamedly inspired for Hew by the playing of Don Airey in his Collosseum II days. it has a particularly grandiose opening before racing off with Hew’s keys and Malcolm’s guitar trading fiery licks and blows along the way. I’m sure Hew should be wearing the archetypal prog-cape as his fingers fly across the keys. Ken’s powerful and quick fire drumming is at the heart of the mix and the whole song has you feeling like you’re on a helter-skelter as Malcolm’s aggressive guitar takes centre stage for a moment. It’s the keys that are the focus of this dynamic and compelling instrumental to my ears though.
“Gets up every morning, at the crack of dawn, fix your working clothes, put your working smile on…”
A song written for someone that Hew worked with years ago whose name was actually Irene Kean and was always happy and enthusiastic about her job.
An emotive piano opens Kean on the Job with some laid back percussion adding to the atmosphere. There’s a whimsical tone to the music as it builds up the song. Alan’s earnest vocal takes up the tale and I’m pretty much engrossed from the first word. The chorus rapidly becomes an addictive earworm that I find myself humming all the time, in fact the whole track stands out on what is becoming a superb album. The tastefully played guitar and classy keyboards add even more gloss to the delightful narrative, all in all a rather excellent song.
“I wrote the song, for the radio, the words reflect the way I feel.”
A song dedicated to a journalist who, in the early eighties when he was a young lad working for a local newspaper, took great delight in making barbed comments about the music of Abel Ganz.
Another energetic and impellant track, title song Gratuitous Flash opens with a charismatic instrumental section with driving guitar, an ebullient rhythm section and compelling keyboards combining with irresistible effect to give a potent feel to the track. As the pace slows Alan’s characterful vocal recounts the details in a measured and distinctive manner, a strong 80’s neo-progressive overtone at its heart, Hew’s swirling keyboards closing out the track in dramatic fashion.
“He was only a boy of six years old, playing kids’ games on a frozen lake. But he ventured too close to the hockey match; that was his only mistake.”
Sometimes there are just some moments that inspire you to write music… and this is definitely one such moment. Inspired by the wonderful saga of Johnny Smith, it’s one of these songs that Hew always felt really satisfied with (although he also felt that there were a few spaces that needed to be filled just a bit, and the remix gave him the chance to do exactly that!).
A genuine epic, coming it at over 16 minutes, The Dead Zone is one of those tracks that has so many facets that just fit together perfectly. Quite a mournful song at times, especially the opening with its serious and ominous mood, it has a definite gravitas and pathos at its core. The sincerity in Alan’s voice is there to be heard and the exemplary musicianship fits the developing mood perfectly. An all encompassing and absorbing musical experience that seems to fill your whole being with its sentiment and poignancy, a piece of music for late night listening with the lights down low and a glass of your favourite tipple in your hand. Even running into sixteen minutes plus, it is such a gripping song that it never outstays its welcome as the music and lyrics absorb you throughout.
Newly added to this 2016 remaster of ‘Gratuitous Flash’ is Alan Reed’s solo reworking of Kean on the Job. Hew says, ” It’s a beautifully laid back way to end this album…” and he is 100% right in that assessment. A deliciously chilled out and easygoing rendition that flows in an undemanding manner. The capricious instrumentation is jazz influenced and it’s a warming and grin inducing way to close out this musical experience.
For those that have the original in their collection there is absolutely no reason not to upgrade to the 2016 version. A considerate and well thought out remix and remaster has brought out even more layers and given it a well deserved new lease of life. For those who have never heard the original then please purchase this modern take on a classic. Neo-prog doesn’t get any better than this with intelligent and humorous songwriting coupled with excellent musicianship to give a listening experience like no other.
Released 8th May 2017
Buy ‘Gratuitous Flash’ on digital from bandcamp
Buy ‘Gratuitous Flash’ on CD from ProgRock