Review – Twelfth Night – Smiling At Grief… Revisited – by John Wenlock-Smith

I think history has not looked favourably on the career of Twelfth Night, who were active in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and were a contemporary of Marillion, Pallas, IQ and other bands of that era, and I can’t help but wonder why that was, for the band had the skill and the talent but possibly lacked the record company support that didn’t come until 1984 and the ‘Art and Illusion’ and ‘Twelfth Night XII’ albums. That meant many, indeed too many, prog fans were either unaware of the band, too blinkered to investigate for themselves or merely too fixated on the past groups to the exclusion of anything new. This was their loss truly for Twelfth Night kept the Prog flame alive in the era after Punk and the New Romantics by offering their own interpretation and distillation of prog into something new and different.

I confess to being one of those that let them pass me by, at least until the ‘Art and Illusion’ mini album in 1984, which I bought and thoroughly enjoyed. I then went back and bought  ‘Live and Let Live’ on vinyl, but it was a challenging listen and I wasn’t ready for it. Again, that is my loss.

This latest CD Issue is to celebrate 40 years since ‘Smiling at Grief’ was initially released. This revisitation takes the form of various members, friends and fans of the band paying their own homage to what was a landmark album for the band. Those friends include Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree and Solo), Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales/ Cyan), Karl Groom (Threshold) and Simon Godfrey (Tinyfish and Shineback,Valdez and Tribe of Names), amongst others, who have remixed the original album master tapes and often added new instrumentation and vocals.

This has all been done in a highly respectful manner and with the intent  to enhance the originals rather than just replacing them. I have to say, that approach seems to bear fruit and the project is worthwhile and certainly worthy of being heard, there is so much good music on here. Now bear in mind that I’ve never actually heard the original ‘Smiling at Grief’ release, only this revisitation, so this review is based solely on what I hear, not any preconceived views or ideas.

The album has sixteen tracks, where the original cassette had just nine, so the CD offers extra workings of several tracks. The opening track is East of Eden with Steven Wilson at the helm. Apparently Steven has long been a subscriber to the Twelfth Night mailing list and jumped at the opportunity to get onboard with the project. His take on East of Eden kicks things off in storming style, even more so on the extended remix (the last track on the CD). Many of these songs have alternate vocals from Geoff Mann and guitar parts from Andy Revell, certainly that is the case on both versions of the lengthy epic Creepshow, the song is sinister in tone as are its lyrics. 

This City has been remixed by Peter Jones with Geoff’s vocal benefitting in the process as it brings out the soulfulness of the song. The Honeymoon Is Over benefits from both its remixers, although the Andy Tillison one lacks  the vocals being as upfront as Karl Grooms take, but whichever version appeals most to you, it is a great song in either guise. Puppets is also remixed interestingly, the new instrumentation adding emphasis to the precision of the lyrics with its almost military beat and its angular teutonic sounding vocal lines. This song sounds like a progressive version by Propaganda, it also has great guitar from Lee Abraham and a great vocal from Stuart Nicholson (Galahad).

Makes No Sense also appears in two versions, one from Mark Spencer featuring vocals from Mark alongside Geoff’s original. The other is from August 2021 with Tim Bowness and Brian Hulse where there is also some pitch adjustment to the guitar solo. One thing that shines throughout the album is the intelligence in the lyrics, Geoff had a way of looking at life that was different to many. Whether this was a reflection of his personal faith is open to question and, sadly, we cannot ask him as he died in 1993, after he’d left Twelfth Night to pursue a career that was more closely aligned to his faith and beliefs.

The way this new remix takes on the classic 1982 album gives us chance to discover afresh just what a talent Geoff and the band were and that can be appreciated again in this new revisited version.

Released 1st April, 2022.

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