Review – Schnauser – Irritant – by Emma Roebuck

Schnauser  are:

Alan Strawbridge – guitars, vocals, Dino Christodoulou – tenor and soprano saxophones, vocals, Duncan Gammon – keyboards, vocals, Holly Mcintosh – bass guitar, vocals and Jasper Williams – drums, vocals.

I decided to take a break from reviewing after a bit of a rough time life wise. I needed the break and wanted to just visit albums for the sheer joy of listening rather than through the critical ear of a reviewer. This meant that I approached this album with a tinge of trepidation. This trepidation was washed away by the end of the first track because it was obvious that the band have passion and a great joyous approach to making music.

I have only been aware of the band since listening to “Protein for Everyone” on the recommendation of a fellow DJ and I admit I was impressed by the feel of the band and their unique take on making music. It has taken them three years to bring out this new album but it has very much been worth the wait. They describe themselves as “a place where Canterbury prog, 60s psych and melodic pop gently collide.” I can understand and hear that as an influence in their writing but I hear Krautrock  Grobschnitt, Amon Duul and The Bonzo Dog Do Dah Band (especially Viv  Stanshall and Neil Innes  solo stuff too) colliding with Knifeworld and Cardiacs. This is all bundled into some very sophisticated writing and recording and yet they are still incredibly accessible.

There are 11 tracks on this album with some seriously insanely eccentric off the wall songs but everything is filled with the common theme of things in the modern world that well and truly annoyed the faecal matter out of most of us. Call it a concept album if you must but it is more of a thematic exercise in reflecting the antithesis of Ian Dury’s “Reasons to be cheerful pt 1”.

Spielen mit Katzen, which opens the album, begins with a very Van Der Graaf Generator sax vs percussion race running all the way to the end of the stave. It even has a funk bass line drawn directly from 70s disco dropped in at an unexpected point. I can only assume that cat videos on social media annoy them as much as they do me. It immediately brightens the moment to this listener.

The album flows directly into Chinese Brainworm (Taeria Solium), it’s not every day you get a song about a parasitic worm that infest pigs but apparently this is the day we do. The use of brass is excellent, it counterpoints the vocals beautifully and adds a unique quality to the sound with a very soft tone and it’s not even vaguely harsh, as the use of sax can often be when ill used.

Rattle on through the album with songs that reflect on cold calling, PPI pests and scamming and you may find yourself singing “We’ve got PPI” as an ear worm randomly as you wander around the house listening to this album.

A real stand out track among an album of great observational songs is A New Atmosphere, by far and away the longest track and musically superior because the themes get better exploration and use. Their Bristol roots show here and it’s obviously a place they feel close to as they wander round the city and give a running commentary of what a bus trip around the city must feel like. The keyboards play a huge part and the vintage sounds that are used bring out the band’s obvious love of the psychedelic music of the 60s. It is a lament to the lost of the city and the pain they feel for the urban decay with large references to world war one.

On the whole this album has something for any lover of music that coaches you out of your comfort zone. It has a wry sense of humour running through it with a cynical view of the world we live in today. It is a bonkers album at times and deadly serious at other times with genuinely intelligent music that never becomes pretentious. Like Birdeatsbaby and other bands of a similar vintage, they represent some new music coming out right now that is breaking traditional definitions of genre and styles and all the more to them I say.

Released 9th June 2017.

Buy ‘Irritant’ from Bad Elephant Music at bandcamp

Review – Valdez – This – by Leo Trimming

When first hearing about Valdez, a new band based in Philadephia, featuring Simon Godfrey (ex-Tinyfish and Shineback) and Echolyn bassist, Tom Hyatt, I made some initially lazy assumptions about it’s probable sound. I was wrong. Please check in your assumptions at the door because this is an album a long way away from Echolyn or Tinyfish. Simon Godfrey moved to America in 2014 when he married an American, and his personal journey has further stretched his musical horizons in an already wide ranging career encompassing Prog rock, acoustic songs and the electronically drenched unique rock of Shineback. When he met Tom Hyatt in Philadelphia they immediately hit it off and started jamming, then deciding to form Valdez (the name taken from a former band of keyboardist Joe Cardillo from the 1970’s.) Teaming up with the excellent electric keyboardist from Cool Blue, Cardillo, and drummer Scott Miller, Godfrey and Hyatt have produced with Valdez an eclectic and warm album, lovingly steeped in the sounds and textures of classic instruments.

The range of different styles is interesting but one thread that goes through them all is the sense of a solid, well written song. These are not sonic soundscapes of epic proportions, rather vignettes in engaging songs of sometimes wry observations of life around them. This is perhaps most acutely demonstrated in Thirteen, a song which opens with a subtle reference to the opening lines of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ in which in early April the clocks ‘struck thirteen’. The song gives us pithy observations about how our societies have come to be in their current political messes, and this is all served up in waves of ‘bubblegum pop’ as Godfrey has described it. There’s a real 70’s vibe to this catchy song with excellent electric piano, reminiscent of Billy Joel.

Godfrey has explained the thinking behind the band as having a real focus on the song, whether  ‘it’s a short song, a long song or a mad, complex one. As long as it’s good we’ll grab it with both hands and spin it until we’re dizzy’, which very much comes over, especially in Thirteen. Similarly, opening song Black Eyed Susans chimes in with all the swagger and attitude of a Joe Jackson song, which is a GOOD thing!

The diversity and skill of Valdez is exemplified by the melancholic and evocative take on dementia in Sally Won’t Remember. This emotional but not mawkish song successfully conveys the debilitating slowness and sheer psychological effort associated with caring for someone with dementia. Like Godfrey this listener has experienced the sad decline of a parent with dementia, and this song echoes those feelings, but even in their dementia strangely our parents indirectly teach us about life and caring.

The stand out track on the album is the title track This, which apparently refers to ‘the world of wonder right in front of us which we forget, simply because we see it every day’. Opening intriguingly with the sound of a wurlitzer and a chiming piano, it then rises like a sun as acoustic guitar and percussion join in to then be filled out with bass and keyboards… and then it settles back in to the song with Godfrey’s distinctive and emotive voice leading us to a swelling killer chorus. This lovely song rolls along memorably and then takes a breath before a pulsing bass introduces us to a resonant final section with great multi-layered harmony vocals as it rises to a crescendo. In some ways this listener would have liked to hear a few more songs of this nature, but only because it was so bloody good!

No Stone Unturned is a more bluesy number, Godfrey sounds like George Michael vocally at times (which is no bad thing), but the real star of this number is the excellent keyboard work of Cardillo. Godfrey has shared that the whole band really thinks that the majority of the best music came out of the instruments made famous in the 60’s and 70’s. Consequently they have used a range of classic keyboards, such as the Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, upright pianos, classic acoustic and electric guitars, recorded through old amps, and this is particularly evident on the warm, lush, atmospheric sounds of No Stone Unturned and Little Keys. Not every song works for this reviewer (take a bow Spite House) but this is an engaging album that will draw you in.

On ‘This’, there is a real sense of looking back affectionately but not slavishly to the past, as evoked by Mark Buckingham’s striking artwork of a 1950’s style woman swinging on a balloon. This is an album of fairly stripped back but well played and constructed songs. Godfrey has also shared that this album, produced by Hyatt’s legendary band mate in Echolyn, Brett Kull, was recorded without sequencing and as miked up to make it as live as possible. Such loving attention to vintage recording techniques combined with classic equipment clearly  influenced the whole atmosphere of the album, and it particularly pays off in the strong final duo of segued songs, Colorado and Smile for the CameraColorado, written by Cardillo, has an enchanting rolling and melodic intro and evokes the free open space of that state, with some beautiful bass by Hyatt. An ambient, feedbacking interlude connects us to the beguiling Smile for the Camera, which floats in with a delicately picked acoustic guitar, with echoes of classic Supertramp’s heyday. This extended song takes a jazzier turn with peculiar sounds and a twisting synth solo… it seems that Godfrey and Hyatt couldn’t quite contain all their ‘Proggier’ impulses for a whole album! However, this is a brief diversion before this piece takes another turn into the beautiful blissed out harmony vocals reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash, possibly with the help of Kull who added vocals and guitar alongside his production duties. Nevertheless, ultimately this is a Valdez song because the song then concludes eerily and possibly a little darkly with the last line ‘Smile for the Camera’ .

Valdez have created an interesting album, which crosses various genres and combines the myriad talents of the band in an engaging mix of sounds and songs. It’s not particularly ground-breaking or innovative, and was never intended to be so – but if you’re looking for some well written and well performed songs in classic style  with warmth, with and spirit ‘This’ could be it!

Released 19th May 2017

Order ‘This’ in the UK, Europe & ROW (excluding USA) from Bandcamp here

Order ‘This’ in the USA from bandcamp here

 

The Fierce And The Dead’s Matt Stevens Talks RoSFest

The legend that is Matt Stevens took time this Sunday morning to talk to me about The Fierce And The Dead’s appearance at the recent RoSFest, North America’s premier progressive rock festival.

Among other things, we talk about the tedious process of getting an artist visa, what it’s like playing in a different country, American prog fans and beer, strong beer!

(Featured image of Matt by Jose Ramon Caamano)

Review – Syncage – Unlike Here – by James R Turner

Many years ago, there was TV show that featured a catchphrase, ‘and now for something completely different’,  and it got so overused that it became a cliché. However, after having been playing this debut album by Italian quartet Syncage for a week or so and wondering the best way to introduce it in review, that aforementioned phrase seems the only appropriate way to open with.

Considering there’s only 4 of them (aided on more of the symphonic sounds by a string quartet), they run the whole gamut of sounds and styles (including the art rock of School, with its catchy riffs and angular lyrics). The only thing I can say they even vaguely remind me of is from the first time I saw Ritual in concert, and it’s not because of the sound of the band (as Syncage sound nothing like Ritual), but more the impact they made, as I had never heard anything like it before in my life, and believe me, I mean that as a compliment.

Having been together for the past ten years since they were teenagers, you can tell that the band have grown up together, as only musicians who have clicked and know each other as well as these 4 do can make this sort of intricate and exciting music.

From the wonderful sounds on Still Unaware, with some haunting violin pieces courtesy of Matteo Graziani (who also provides the retro Hammond sounds), they mix and match genres so adeptly, switching from free form jazz and into a bit of acoustic guitar and back again with aplomb, none of this is showing off, it’s just what the music demands.

I have to also mention the amazing vocals of Matteo Nicolin as well, as he has such a diverse range from a soaring falsetto to more subtle vocals. He treats his voice as another instrument to put into the mix and it’s this attitude that makes the vocal sound on this album unique and distinctive.

There is an excellent juxtaposition of light and dark on this album, evident on tracks like Skyline Shift, which has some amazing guitar work from Nicolin, whilst Matteo’s brother Riccardo is a superb drummer/percussionist. He helps to build the sound in tandem with Daniele Tarabini, who provides some superbly fluid bass lines, and helps flesh the sound out with his flute work.

Stones Can’t Handle Gravity is a fantastic piece that showcases the acoustic side of the band with flute and violin adding so much to the sound.

Every track on this album is superbly produced and put together, you can tell that they’ve really put their hearts and souls into this album. There are two epics on here. Edelweiss, clocking in at over 14 minutes, starts with some wonderful spoken word lyrics, creating the idea of a story rather than just a song, whilst the violin builds and builds with some amazing guitar work that heads into heavier territory. As long songs go, it’s more than just a song, it’s a musical journey that is well worth going on and I can imagine that live it’s pretty bloody epic.

The other epic that closes the album, Unlike There (at just over 9 minutes long), is a microcosm of everything that makes Syncage great, from some truly astonishing string sounds that flow through the track, to the combination of the drum and bass sounds as it flows and grows. Add in some brilliant guitar and keyboard work throughout and then those vocals, wow! had I mentioned how great a vocalist Matteo Nicolin is?

This is an incredibly intelligent, superbly performed and brilliantly realised debut album, from an assured, confident and fantastic new sound.

All credit to Syncage for pulling this amazing album together, and all credit to those Bad Elephants for having the vision to release something as groundbreaking as this.

(All band photography by Filippo Tommaso Catelan.)

Released May 5th 2017

Buy ‘Unlike Here’ from bandcamp

 

Review – The Fierce And The Dead – Field Recordings (Live) – by Kevin Thompson

Despite saying they would be easing off a little after last year’s hectic release schedule, Bad Elephant Music (BEM) are showing no noticeable signs of slowing down in unleashing new music to our ears for 2017.

Soon to be released and highly anticipated is the ‘Field Recordings’ EP from one of BEM’s rising bands The Fierce And The Dead, (TFATD) and catching them in all their glory, live from last year’s Ramblin’ Man Festival. It includes four of the regular favourites and two new tracks, which the band tease may or may not appear on the new album which they are currently recording.

Based in Northamptonshire this 4 piece instrumental rock band formed in 2010. They line up as:

Matt Stevens – guitar/loops, Steve Cleaton – guitar, Kev Feazey – bass and Stuart Marshall – drums.

(Eggcellent Photo Credit to Allyson Blue-Sky)

Serving up a sound that continually evolves taking in every genre they can squeeze in and veering from scuzzy guitars to chilled Hawaiian licks we find jazzy undertones married to punk style jerks and everything in between, moulded into their own distinctive sound. You can never get too cosy listening to the chilled rippling strings, because just as you sink into your deck chair, hanky on head with a cool drink in your hand you can be hit with brutal metal riffs and twitching rhythms that will have you up and jumping around, your head waving wildly like a rag doll. Their loyal and growing following have already seen them supporting Crippled Black Phoenix and The Aristocrats among others.

Now whilst I have the band’s recorded output I must confess I have yet to have the opportunity to see TFATD live, something I must remedy in the future, so I can only review this from listening and using my wildly vivid imagination.

(Photo Credit – Ashley Jones of The Chaos Engineers)

They kick straight in after the briefest of understated introductions, blowing any clouds away with the fast distorted riffs of Magnet In Your Face and anyone trying to chill is brought abruptly back to the land of the living. They lay on a few laid back chords like cars drifting smoothly round corners then crash back into the fray with Stuart’s drums careering like one huge pile up on the biggest of motorways with Kev Feazey’s bass weaving like Vin Diesel through the traffic as Steve and Matt’s guitars flick the NOS switch and hurtle to the finish line.

But there is no pit stop or time to refuel as it’s straight into Ark, with the guitars switching briefly to cruise after the bass revs it’s engine. But the temptation to rev will out and throughout the chilled rhythm the drums pull at the choke and the plugs spark in bursts.

Many albums can be lost in the studio as they are mixed and chopped, losing the ‘live’ feel. So it’s nice to hear the crowd and banter haven’t been removed from between the tracks and a credit to Mr Feazey’s mastering capabilities that he retains the atmosphere and gives him the chance to introduce the band before the next track, Dancing Robots, (a new one for those who do not have the knowledge).

Looping guitars drift in as the drums tick over before the bass presses the start button and we side-slip into the traffic before whipping out on to the fast lane racing weaving through the crowd and away.

We are treated to the sounds of tuning and a short modest merch promotion, before being introduced to another new track Verbose which will ‘probably’ be on the new record out this year. Drumsticks count us in and then frantic short riffs followed by the throbbing bass blow the wind through our hair and from somewhere I’m reminded of ‘Radar Love’ before the intensity builds and gains pace, all the while the bass driving the tune on. This is probably the heaviest track on this EP and ends with screaming distorted guitar as it slides down the scale.

Perfectly suiting the open top car on a sunny day, a looping Hawaiian lick introduces us to Palm Trees, the only track with ‘vocals’, but you’ve no sooner taken your beach towel out of the boot and spread it on the beach, when a huge wave of distortion hits you and you are left soaked in crumbling guitar notes.

Last track, live favourite 666…6, is introduced as the band’s hit single to a ripple of appreciation from the audience. Looping tropical chords warm up the engine one last time twisting through the air before a Biffy Clyro style riff changes gear and rips through them. Down a gear again to the loop before the band rev again. It’s like trying to reign in a muscle car that doesn’t want to cruise and pose along the sea front but would rather burn rubber and screech down the road towards the dramatic climax. This is how to burn out a musical clutch. The speed builds and it all comes to a crashing end, fading out as the crowd applaud and cheer an exhilarating performance.

For anyone not having heard the band previously I can heartily recommend this as not only do they revel in playing ‘live’ but it is a great taster for the distinctive TFATD sound. Then if you like it make sure you catch up on the rest before the new album comes out later this year.

If I can also give a special mention to the fabulous cover art from the legendary Mark Buckingham, nice.

‘Field Recordings’ is how live music should sound and many bigger bands could learn from this. Looking forward to the new album boys.

(Photo Credit Cover Image – Bo Hansen)

Released 28th April 2017

Order ‘Field Recordings – (Live)’ from bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fierce And The Dead Stream ‘Verbose’ – Second Track from ‘Field Recordings Live’

It is just under two weeks to go until Bad Elephant Music releases The Fierce & The Dead’s live mini-album, ‘Field Recordings’.

Taken from the band’s incendiary set at last year’s Ramblin’ Man Festival, ‘Field Recordings’ captures the band in their element – performing live on stage in front of an enthusiastic crowd. The album features two previously unreleased songs which may (or may not!) feature on The Fierce And The Dead’s third solo album, currently in production.

BEM’s CEO David Elliott:

“As a bit of Easter cheer on a rather grim Monday, we’ve released the stream of a second track, another new tune entitled ‘Verbose’. Get it in your ears – and if you like it, and you have £8 to spare, it would be lovely if you’d buy a CD. Mark Buckingham’s stunning artwork is worth the price of admission alone.”

The band reckon this album is the best statement to date of what The Fierce And The Dead are about. Even Matt (Stevens) himself has gone on record as saying “yeah, it’s okay” – which if you know him you’ll recognise as the highest possible praise when it comes to his own work.

You can listen to Verbose and pre-order ‘Field Recordings’ at the link below:

The Fierce And The Dead – ‘Verbose’

(Eggs-alike by Allyson Blue-Sky)

TFATD – Facebook

TFATD – Website

Website – Matt Stevens

 

Review – Big Hogg – Gargoyles – by Craig Ellis Bacon

On their 2nd LP, ‘Gargoyles,’ the Glasgow-based Big Hogg mine a rich vein of post-‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ sounds, including psychedelia, Canterbury folk/jazz/proto-prog, and the background music for those dance interludes that showed up in every 60’s movie regardless of whether the film was a musical. It’s a weird and wonderful ride.

While the music encompasses a range of influences, the songs do not come across as genre-bending or as mash-ups; rather, the album comprises myriad variations on the sounds of 1967-1969 that nonetheless cohere as a unique and idiomatic Big Hogg approach. The opening three tracks well establish this programme. Solitary Way blends folky acoustic lines, male and female vocals, and flute as a musical bed over which the drums, bass, brass, and electric guitar alternately lay down their own grooves. Vegan Mother’s Day takes a funkier guitar-solos-and-horn-showcases-galore approach, while Augogo begins with jazz arpeggios to delight the clientele of any smoky underground cafe before launching into a flirtatious mod bit seemingly intended for Bob Fosse. Each mood and tempo gives way to another at exactly the right time; the changes come across as perfectly choreographed movements rather than the butting in of a new dance partner.

Like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, ‘Gargoyles’ is a fun and thrilling ride, though it’s not quite safe as milk. The mood is ⅔ mellow trip and ⅓ psychotropic provocation as the band incorporates the punch of ‘Chicago Transit Authority’ with the Judy of ‘Dark Side of the Rainbow’. The album is shot through with a smattering of the supernatural (or perhaps simply a pagan approach to the natural?) that occasionally turns menacing, as on the imprecation of The Beast (A witch in the streets/And a woman gone loose…Burn the witch/Go up in flames) or the droning refrain and wailing at the end of Devil’s Egg, which strongly resembles the hypothetical conjoining of Frank Zappa with Drimble Wedge and The Vegetation. And the (mostly) innocuously-titled My Banana contains a rather anthemic and hooky chorus that you won’t want the children singing at school (Fuck off!/And give me peace/I want my life back/And my energy). Still, the sense of mischief is folded into quite a bit of fun and cheeky humour, as exemplified by many of the song’s titles (Vegan Mother’s Day, Drunk On A Boat, Waiting For Luigi, My Banana).

There’s really little to quibble over in this set, as the compositions, arrangements, performances, and production are all quite superb. Both lead vocalists serve their songs well, and the brass, flute, and wurlitzer sound like established members of the family rather than guests seeking accommodation. I will note that a few songs in the back half of the album employ a quick-fadeout that sounds to my ears like the band lacked direction in how to finish the tracks off. But on the whole, everything flows together nicely and the album nearly demands to played on repeat.

Big Hogg have really done it: ‘Gargoyles’ is one of the more unique, fun, and singular releases I’ve heard in awhile. The album fully inhabits that 1967-1969 period without coming off as retro, and it’s at least as upbeat as it is offbeat. Don’t fear the strange and unfamiliar, folks; embrace the weird and the wonderful. There are plenty of sing-along hooks and smile-inducing horn breaks here to carry a new listener through the initiation, and once you’re in, you’ll have twice as much fun as your benighted friends. Recommended for fans of progressive music, jazz, Bob Fosse dance sequences, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore films, boozy halloween parties, and Stonehenge.

Released 31st March 2017 on Bad Elephant Music.

Buy ‘Gargoyles’ on bandcamp

 

Review – Tom Slatter – Happy People – by David Rickinson

Tom Slatter – ‘Happy People’.

I started off this review by writing a load of overblown drivel about Steampunk Troubadours and Stalinist Dystopias.

But then I stopped, because I realised there is not a lot that needs to be said about this album.

It is BRILLIANT.

What can I say about this album that doesn’t sound hyperbolic? It is, glorious, filled with horror, tenderness, despair, love, grime and beauty. Whilst being much darker and more serious than any of Tom’s previous albums, it is imbued with a humanity which hasn’t been as obvious before (unless songs about men transforming themselves into machines counts as humanity).

I have suspected for a while (since first hearing Rise Another Leaf from “Three Rows of Teeth”) that Tom actually has a large romantic streak running through him. On this album he has really found this voice – songs such as Satellites, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and Fire Flower Heart highlight this.

By the third song Satellites, with its lovely bass line, the album really gets into a stride which doesn’t then let up until the end.

Flow My tears, The Policeman Said is, I think, about a once honourable man who is now lost in some nightmare Gulag. I may be wrong. But it is superb, full of little musical flourishes and curlicues.

Even Then We’re Scared with its hint of a Black Sabbath “War Pigs” riff tells of how even with guns, fire, prayer, walls, databases and hiding under our blankets we are still scared of unnamed monsters.

“If you’ve got nothing to hide, then why should you be worried? There a price to be free…”, I don’t for a minute believe that Tom approves of the way our world is turning. I would love to hear the last 20 seconds live, as a 10 minute wig-out by a full band.

Fire Flower Heart is imbued with a delicate poignancy, lamenting the loss of a love who could possibly prevent disaster. Or maybe she would encourage him to press the button?

I get the feeling that all Tom’s previous works were a flexing of musical muscles, practicing for the real thing. This album is the real thing.

In no small part, I suspect that the excellence of this album is due to the work of two particular people – Jordan Brown and Daniel Bowles who between them played bass, keyboards and guitar and provided production expertise. They have found a way to get the best out of Tom.

Michael Cairns’ drumming contribution is tasteful, thankfully never overpowering the songs.

There is a strength and depth to the musical arrangements throughout the whole album – everything has a purpose to it.

Bad Elephant Music continue to astound me with the excellence of their releases. If there was any justice in the world, Radio 6 and Jools Holland would be full of music like this.

I cannot recommend this album highly enough.

Tom Slatter – vocals, guitars

Daniel Bowles – backing vocals, guitars, keyboards

Jordan Brown – bass, backing vocals, keyboards

Michael Cairns – drums

Suzette Stamp – backing vocals

Released 17th March 2017.

Buy ‘Happy People’ from Bad Elephant Music at bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Orange Clocks – Tope’s Sphere 2 – by Emma Roebuck

Originally devised in 1973 by eccentric producer Tomska R Huntley and destined for German TV, Tope’s Sphere was set to be a ground-breaking animation featuring a live soundtrack by 1970’s UK/Germany supergroup, Klementine Uhren. The series followed Tope, the knitted monkey protagonist, with his sidekick Chode on their outer-space adventures accompanied by lush layers of psychedelic music. Unfortunately for Tomska, Klementine Uhren were unhappy with the final mixes. They promptly disappeared with all the tapes for an ‘extended session’, never to be seen again. Tomska was bankrupted and his dreams shattered; he dumped what was left from Tope’s Sphere into a skip and vanished into the depths of the Himalayan Mountains “.

So reads the Bad Elephant Music promotional material. I think of myself as a Kraut rock fan but I will be the first to admit it missed me completely. That maybe me being a 9 year old in 1970 at the time and I am sticking to that rather than plead complete ignorance of something I feel I should know. It creates a mythology of nostalgia and finds me want to know more of this television series.

It is a story Of Tope, a knitted monkey and Chode his sidekick, a reimagining of the TV series in musical form. Musically it is uplifting and delightful, I hear so many different influences here but imagine Gong’s ‘Flying Teapot’ saga translated into a children’s series sound track.  I won’t single out individual tracks here but the fun the guys had in the studio creating this is glaringly obvious and I’d love to hear the outtakes.

Orange Clocks hail from “East Northamptonshire”

Burn – drums, percussion, Derek Cotter – vocals, bass guitar, Tom Hunt – vocals, synthesisers, Ja Lee – samples and sounds, Dan Merrils – guitar, Stuart Paterson – guitar, Martin Winsley – narration, vocals, percussion.

They have produced something quite unique which holds a reverence for the past but has an amusing irreverence in the way they have made the music with more ‘in-jokes’ from the genre than a Brian (may he rest in peace) Pern series.

It opens with an audio lift from the original series telling one adventure against an arch-enemy of Tope and the battles worthy of any Steampunk adventure. You follow the tale from end to end with a solid narrative and characters. Good versus evil, the music and vocals representing the characters well. I hear Hawkwind, GongGrobschitt, Public Image Limited and Ashra Tempel all in the mix. Musically it is not hard work yet it is incredibly accessible and has its own unique identity.

This is, in true Prog tradition, a concept album but it is also a rollicking space romp of hilarious proportions in anyone’s book. Yes, you read that, hilarious proportions. I am a melancholy soul at best and my taste in music reflects that but I do like to smile and this album makes me grin from beginning to end. In classical music there are a couple of albums that act as doorways to the music, Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and Benjamin Brittan’s ‘A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’, there is even a similar album for King Crimson that I seem to remember. This album, for me, is a great way to introduce the “young mind” to what good modern Psychedelic/Prog should be like without melting the brain. When I say ‘young’ I mean those with no knowledge or background rather than your average Bieber obsessed pre-teen.

This album is yet again proof the music industry should take risks and invest beyond the core “karaoake” style ‘zero outlay, high short term yield’ mainstream we have at the moment. I will not be forgetting this album come December when I look back and review 2017.

Released 3rd March 2017

Order your copy of ‘Tope’s Sphere 2’ from Bad Elephant Music here

You can listen to the whole album here:

Review – Rog Patterson – Flightless – by James R. Turner

Whilst most people who have read my reviews over the past 20 odd years for various places like the Classic Rock Society and here know I love me my prog, what you probably don’t realise, or hadn’t noticed was how much I love my folk music as well. I think it’s probably the yin to the yang, with the less is more emphasis that folk music has being as fulfilling as the intricate complexity of progressive releases.

David Elliott of Bad Elephant Music is also a massive folk, folk/rock music fan as well, and after the success of their reissue of Twice Bitten’s ‘Late Cut’ album late 2015, there has been demand for the reissue of ‘Flightless’, Rog Patterson’s solo album originally released back in 1989 on vinyl.

So here it is, finally on CD and download, the original 6 tracks remastered and enhanced by three demo versions of tracks that would have appeared on the next album, had Rog actually recorded it!

When ‘Flightless’ was released Rog toured extensively, supporting such luminaries as Fairport Convention, Roy Harper and John Martyn amongst others, and it is into this arena that ‘Flightless’ nicely sits.

A solo album in the complete sense, where Rog plays guitar, basses, vocals and pretty much everything else, the 6 tracks on this album, are some mighty fine English folk prog, and the emphasis here is as much on the vocals as the music, as whilst Rog is an absolutely sublime guitarist (a touch of the Ant Phillips here, the Bert Jansch’s there) he is also an incredibly intelligent lyricist and observer. In fact both vocally and lyrically there is a shade of Bob Pegg about him, but I think that’s as much to do with the accent and attitude, as both men have a unique rather specific political world view, and this is reflected in the songs on here.

To a lot of people folk music is stereotyped as some twiddly nonsense with violins and Morris dancers, to those people who think that way I say ‘Poppycock’, folk music in its truest and strongest sense is the voice of the people, the voice of protest and the most potent form of politicised music possible, and like many others in that ilk, Rog uses this music to put across his concerns in a strong musical style.

From the opening An Englishman’s Home, with it’s well observed vocals and intricate guitar work from Rog, a pattern that will repeat throughout the album, it sets the tone for the rest of the album, and is the shortest track on the album.

Rogs acoustic prog roots show throughout the album, with Ergo Sum clocking in at 9 minutes plus has some of Rogs beautifully intricate guitar playing and strong lyrics railing against the Lords of the manor taking what they think is there right, the pounding bass and acoustic guitar drives the song along as Rogs passionate vocals weave in elements of Robin Hood, and rail against Mans stupidity in following the wrong leader (as apt now as it was then, maybe even more so) and as it builds, it draws you in and it astonishes me how a complex and intricate piece of music like this achieves its power by minimal instrumentation.

Party Piece has a wonderful cyclical riff, with some great lyrics about the human condition, Rogs observant lyrics reflecting the obsessions of youth, and, as is evident throughout the album, Rog is one of those vocalists who doesn’t just sing a song, he lives it, and the closing part has an element of Jethro Tull to it, which is no bad comparison, as both Rog and Ian Anderson have a keen eye for human observations.

Speak for Yourself has a funky riff and another politically astute lyric, suggesting that people think for themselves rather than following the pack.

Conclusions is another epic on the album, clocking in at over 7 minutes long, with it’s brilliant guitar work, and the way Rog manages to make the guitars and bass sound like a much larger band, is a great skill, and brings the most out of this fantastic track that has some fantastic acoustic and slide guitar work, with an almost classical feel, again reminiscent of the work of Ant Phillips, and another impassioned vocal, as Rog lives the song, and builds it to it’s epic conclusion.

Another great example of where less is more when it comes to instrumentation and production.

The original closing track Flightless, the 12 minutes title track, is, as Rog describes the musical interpretation of Becketts Knapps Last Tape, which is a song about itself basically, referencing how it came to be, and how Rog ended up where he ended up, again wrapped up in some of that wonderful guitar work and vocals, rounding the original album on a high.

The three bonus tracks (Alien, Couldn’t Happen Here & The Name Of The Rose) all showcase the way that Rog was intending to go if he’d managed to get his next solo album finished (a work rate that makes Tom Slatter look like Prince by comparison..) and are fantastic additions to the album, rounding out the work of this period.

This is a great-lost folk/prog/protest album that ticks all the right boxes musically and lyrically, well observed, well produced and an intelligent and emotive listen that will finally get the recognition it deserves.

It’s just a shame that nearly 30 years on from it’s release, the political and human concerns observed on here are still current, and still causes for concern today.

Released 3rd February 2017.

Buy ‘Flightless’ from Bad Elephant Music’s bandcamp page.