Review – Clive Mitten – Tales from a Misspent Youth – Volume II – by John Wenlock-Smith

Clive Mitten is, I guess you could say, what was called back in the day (pre internet age) eccentric raised in a musical family. Clive only discovered rock music at his boarding school. He was originally taught an appreciation and understanding of classical music forms and structures from his Grandmother. He then later graduated to being a bass player in Twelth Night and these days spends his time deconstructing and reconstructing progressive rock classics alongside transcribing old musical scores for the modern age. Clive definitely walks his own path these days, and that is good for all of us as he has turned his gaze to some of progressive rock’s finest moments and created stunning takes and remakes on the likes of King CrimsonYesGenesis, ELP and Rush, among others, with this remarkable 2 disc album.

Clive performs everything you will hear in what has been a very labour intensive task. Most of these tracks will be very familiar to most listeners but what you will notice afresh is the sheer brilliance and beauty of these pieces that Clive conveys and I’m sure you will gain a freshly found appreciation for these old songs. There are no vocals and everything is handled in an orchestral manner, so no wild guitars or the like. In addition, familiar passages are recorded with different instruments taking centre stage so, for example, ELP’s Fanfare For The Common Man has a very layered sound and the throbbing bass of Greg Lake is replaced by a strident piano, with the synths also being replaced by the piano. Yet, even so, the piece does not entirely lose its power, it is just a little more restrained in tone. Yes, you may miss some of the synths but it is still fully recognisable, albeit in an altered form. I actually really like what Clive has done here, it is a bold reinterpretation of a very well known track, it is also abridged from its more familiar nine-plus minutes running time. The drums may be a tad pedestrian in places but it still passes muster, as does the Genesis segment that pulls together the main themes from Watcher of The SkiesFountain Of Salmalcis, The Musical Box and Firth of Fifth together into a rather fine medley, especially the final Firth of Fifth section which is utterly sublime and highlights just how utterly graceful and gorgeous the original piece truly was. I’m sure a certain Mr Anthony Banks would approve of this very graceful and sensitive working. Purists might, I guess, take issue with the version of Firth of Fifth as it relies on orchestrations rather than the one we all know and love, the guitar solo being taken by other instruments yet, once again, within that remains the highly recognisable melody line. Again, I feel his version definitely has merit and allows for a fresh appreciation of the original track.

I think any Progressive Rock fan will find these takes interesting as they show these pieces in a different light and that is a very good thing. Okay, you miss certain little thing like the parts and power chords that Alex Lifeson plays on Cygnus X1 but does it really matter? I think not as when Rush played it live, it was always  different from the recorded version. This version highlights just what incredible interaction and harmony Rush had at the time and just how much they were pushing their own boundaries, okay the drums aren’t in the Neil Peart realm, but they work well with the track as it is. The link between Cygnus X1 Books I and II is interesting and totally new but is in the same spirit as the original versions. Overall this sequence works well as, again, the brilliance of the original is clear to see.

The 21st Century Schizoid Man/Starless combo really makes an impression with the piano playing the main riff and marimba also plays a striking part in the complex rhythms. The original’s almost atonal discordant sound is realised here by the use of these other instruments and their tones, especially in the part that was covered by the guitar. Although the majority of that section is overshadowed by the switch to the Starless melody, with the fabulous guitar line being covered by brass instruments. This really makes a different sound to the original version, a double bass also covering the bass lines with style and grace. I really love this version of what for me is King Crimson’s finest moment.

The albums other songs covered include Close To The Edge by Yes which is also  extremely well done, as is Tarkus (again by ELP), Marillion’s Garden Party/Grendel IQ’s Widows Peak and Refugees from Van der Graaf Generator.

Taken together this album does a wonderful task of fresh revisitations of some truly classic pieces. It is a complete labour of love and a show of total commitment to making an interesting and intelligent re-reading of the seminal tracks.

Released 10th November, 2023.

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2022 Progradar’s Best Of The Year – John Wenlock-Smith’s Top 20

Yesterday saw the editor’s top twenty albums of 2022, today we see what made respected contributor John Wenlock-Smith’s list….

John says, “It’s been a great year for music, especially prog, with many fine releases from established and also newer acts. Here are twenty that really struck a chord with me, in no particular order but all worthy of inspection and consideration.”


In which well known prog aficionados beguile us with their inner CSN&Y. It’s all acoustically in the main but a very strong collection of songs that must warrant a second visit – here’s hoping so at least!

Hats of Gentlemen It’s Adequate – The Confidence Trick 

A wonderful and diverse set of songs around the concept that we are being led by arrogant fools whose overconfidence is actually severely dangerous, examples being Trump, Johnson and, more recently, Liz Truss whose overconfidence nearly destroyed any chance of economic growth.

Stuckfish – Days of Innocence 

A simply marvellous album that impressed many with its thoughtful lyrics and excellent music.

SiX By SiX – Self Titled

A bit of Saga, a bit of Saxon, add Robert Berry’s muscular bass and you have a blistering rock album with very progressive elements and leanings. Again this one impressed greatly.

Kaipa – Urskog

The long established Swedish folk-proggers delivered a truly graceful album with several epics and more than a touch of vintage Yes, a great set of songs.

Derek Sherinian – Vortex 

In which the ex-Dream Theater keyboard man delivers a captivating, electric set of tracks supported by several big name friends including Steve Stevens, Nuno Bettencourt, Bumblefoot and Joe Bonamassa, to name a few. Blistering in parts and excellent overall.

The Mighty Ra – All Secrets Known 

A new band of mainly Welsh prog musicians who began writing together with this rather fine album being the result. An excellent new album with great promise.

Verbal Delirium – Conundrum

This was new to me but what a find! A very classy album with a great vocalist, strong songs and great playing from all, definitely one to discover.

Arc Of Life – Don’t Look Down

The second album from Yes spin off Arc of Life. Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood delivering the album that Yes maybe should have. Epics like Real Time World and Arc of Life were standout tracks in an album of importance and strength.

The Bardic Depths – Promises Of Hope

Literature loving progressive band deliver a fine second album about suicide via a fictional tale of a suicidal queen whose death is prevented by the Gods. Enthralling and with many guests in tow.

Tribe of Names – Evolver 

Evolutionary album from ex-Tinyfish man Simon Godfrey & colleagues that sees them stretching their legs musically. There’s a welcome strong Rush influence throughout and its a superb album overall. 

Phi Yaan Zek – Interdimensional Garden Party

This very strange but satisfying album occupies a realm the sadly departed and much missed Frank Zappa would have graced with its blend of instrumentals and strong songs. Wonderful weirdness is obligatory with such stunning tracks as Wickety Wickety being enough to make anyone smile. A seriously good album that warrants investigation.

John Holden – Kintsugi 

John lives close to me and he delivers a strong fourth album of various pieces with a stellar assembly of guests, a highly varied and ultimately satisfying and enjoyable album.

Pattern Seeking Animals – Only Passing Through

This is the third album from Spock’s Beard writer and contributor John Boegehold. With excellent support from existing members of the band, strong songs and catchy hooks abound.

Red Bazar- Inverted Reality 

Another unexpected pleasure with a harder edged sound and excellent vocals from Peter Jones, this was very welcome indeed.

Dave Brons – Return to Arda 

Simply divine and beautifully melodic Celtic-tinged music from Dave Brons and friends with a concentration on melody with moments of shredding brilliance. Totally sublime and utterly captivating. 

Ghost Of The Machine – Scissorgames

A triumphant debut from ex-This Winter Machine men who, along with sublime vocalist Charlie Bramald, fuse melody and muscle in a devastating combination. Truly awesome, well received by many and rightly so too!

Clive Mitten – Tales From A Misspent Youth Volume 1

Entirely orchestral versions of songs that inspired Clive whilst growing up. His take on key songs from Pink Floyd, Genesis, Supertramp and Rush really are a must to hear. How he brings out hitherto hidden beauties to much loved pieces is gorgeous.

Evership – The Uncrowned King Act 2

The final part of the tale is a sobering statement of intent from fine US proggers Evership and the additional vocals from Saga’s Michael Sadler impress greatly.

David Longdon – Door One

Posthumously released after David’s unexpected death in 2021, this telling collection reveals his continued evolution as a writer and, whilst short, this bittersweet album reminds us of of the great man we lost last year.

So, there you have it, that’s it for 2022 from John and myself, see you on the other side…

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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Review – Clive Mitten – Tales From A Misspent Youth – Volume 1 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Clive Mitten first came to my notice when he released his C:Live Collective project in which he rewrote much of his Twelfth Night music, Clive having been the bass player throughout that band’s lifespan.

That album was to start a whole new way of working for Clive and opened his way of thinking so that he could then go further back and revisit other Twelfth Night pieces in a new way, orchestral re-interpretations realised via the use of real orchestral instrumentation recorded to a very high and professional standard and then collating all that together to craft and create fresh interpretations of his music. This he did for the ‘Suite Cryptique: Recomposing Twefth Night’ project album earlier in 2020 which was widely acclaimed upon its release.

Clive then decided to revisit the favourite music of his youth in a similar method which has resulted in a different type of album, one which revisits, reworks and reinterprets some genuine prog classics in a manner that really highlights the skill that was employed and used in their original creation. This album has no vocals yet, even so, the melodies of these pieces really shine through and captivate your attention. Although it can lack the dynamics of the original pieces, this actually makes you focus on the melodies employed to bring these pieces to life.

If you want, you can do what I have done and play the original versions back-to-back to with Clive’s interpretation and really see the brilliance of each composition stand out. This worked for me, especially on the Rush tracks Countdown, La Villa Strangiato and Xanadu, songs that I know well, this approach revealed the skill of the original late 1970’s and 1980’s’s recordings.

Clive’s take on Genesis’ ‘3 Sides Live’ version of the In The Cage Medley is equally compelling. In fact, I prefer Clive’s versions more than the originals, in many cases, such is the beauty and magic the music unveils. Clearly this has been a real labour of love for Clive to undertake. He says that, in doing this project, he has really begun to appreciate just how intelligent and skilled the compositional skills of Tony Banks truly are.

This album is good in that, unlike the royal Philharmonic Orchestra take on the music of Genesis and Pink Floyd is, this is better in that it is far truer and nearer to the originals, which is high praise. Clive is an unorthodox soul who uses real skill and shows deep appreciation and love for these pieces. He has somehow elevated these well-known classics in such a finely distilled manner that he manages to bring out their voices afresh and breathes a new life into each piece.

Clearly Clive has both an affection and an affinity with these songs, best of all he has further instalments planned and in the pipeline, which certainly will be worthy of investigation but, for now, this double CD set is more than enough to be going on with for now to enjoy a fresh view and slant on these well-known classic album tracks. I cannot recommend this enough as its very nature shines new light on some old classics and is a splendid and often breath-taking aural experience

On this album you will find some seriously inspired song choices, like Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Tubular Bells (Side One), Suppers Ready, Echoes, Solsbury Hill, Living In The Past and Jeux Sans Frontiers. This mixture of longer and shorter tracks really works and, of course, with a CD player you can program and play the CD in any sequence that appeals to you. But, whatever sequence suits you, be prepared to settle down and rediscover these songs afresh for yourself and enjoy this visionary approach and take on these pieces.

It has been a 2-year project that Clive has undertaken here, often difficult with his health problems and his sometimes-fragile mental health as he suffers from agoraphobia and has serious ongoing vision issues. The level of time, energy and commitment he has lent to this album is simply remarkable and, when you consider that Clive arranged and played everything himself and produced this on his own, makes this even more remarkable. The booklet is a fascinating read into how Clive approached and realised his vision and the whole package is simply exceptional and highly commended.

Released 28th January, 2022.

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Review – Clive Mitten – Suite Cryptique: Recomposing Twelfth Night 1978 – 1983 – by John Wenlock Smith

This 2CD set is a revisitation and reimagining of music originally performed by the band Twelfth Night in their early 1980’s incarnation before Geoff Mann left the group. The albums reimagined are ‘Live at the Target’, ‘Live (and Let Live)’ and ‘Fact and Fiction’ along with reworkings of tracks The Collector and Creepshow.

This album is progressive but not necessarily in a manner that you would expect, let me elucidate…

This is a bold, brave (and possibly foolish) concept that could trash your love for those early albums as they sound significantly different and altered here. Some might see this as a vanity project or even conceited, however, I see this a very bold musical statement that has much depth and character, plus a lot of imagination at play, to make something totally new and absorbing, standing as a testament to those fabulous years and times.

This is not easy listening, as in ‘popped up’ orchestral classics, instead this is rather more studiously applied music that uses minimalism and classical flourishes to bring out the themes that were somewhat hidden in the early albums.

Clive has single-handily pulled all this together during lockdown and has had musical advice from Geoff Mann’s wife Jane and from former band colleagues Brian Devoil, Andy Revell and Mark Spencer. With the arrangements textures and sounds, this sounds very minimalist so, if you like Steve Reich or any modern minimalist composers, this may find favour with you.

This really has been a labour of love for Clive, keeping him busy and occupied during some very lonely and hard times.

Although I am not a long time follower of Twelfth night, I find this album deeply satisfying as it has some very gracious and fine music to it, along with fabulous performances. The sound is very expansive and yet, somehow, very open with equal room given to each instrument. This is somewhat surprising seeing as Clive has used very expansive (and expensive) libraries of orchestral samples, originally recorded by a plethora of top London orchestral players, making this both highly impressive and also aurally confusing, as you’d swear there actually was a real live orchestra playing these parts.

The album will take several listens before you get the concept fully. This is a journey of discovery that you must be willing to undertake for yourself. As with any journey, the joy is not only in the destination but also in the completion the journey itself, and this is a most enjoyable one, in my opinion. The use of strings and oboes (and all manner of other artificial wind and string instruments) is both beguiling and confusing as you forget that this is all artificially created, lovingly crafted for sure but all bogus, artificial and man-made. The album has passages of great beauty, especially on the opening track Part One: Live at the Target which has an extremely dramatic violin section and some great percussion interludes, along with a vibrant violin and French horn passage that really grabs your attention.

Reimagining and recomposing means taking the music apart and remaking it again differently, yet keeping the same sentiments as the original. A difficult task to be sure, not only challenging but also very worthy as these pieces show clearly. This project has been in Clive’s mind for 40 years but it was only during the first lockdown that he was finally able to address the question of what if? and realise his ambitions. Personally, this album makes me want to go and explore those original albums and discover their magic for myself. Thankfully, a lot of this is available on bandcamp or from Twelfth Night directly so I can discover it for myself.

This project has not only inspired Clive to look at the early days of Twelfth Night but also to compose suites that include works by his favourite prog artists, like Yes, Supertramp, Genesis and Rush, amongst others, and he already has plans for at least two more albums of equally innovative re-compositions of classics, all of which are in the planning and creation stages. I, for one, am very much look forward to hearing those when they emerge.

For now, though, this remarkable album shows the fabulous imagination and talent that Clive Mitten has and which he lent to all this fabulous music that he was a major part of all those years ago. He has shown great skill and bravery in refashioning this music in such a unique and vibrant manner. This really is an amazing album of music, look out for the Mission Impossible theme that he weaves into Part Two: Live (and Let Live), which was apparently a favourite of Geoff Mann, Clive lovingly working this in to honour his departed colleague.  

Each part of this album addresses a different period of the band in a unique manner, listen with your ears open and find the beauty that is within these pieces. The use of melody and harmony, syncopation and dramatic dynamics all stand up clearly in these musical pieces, it is all fabulous stuff, challenging, absorbing and, above all, rewarding and dignified. Part Three: The Collector is simply magnificent, taking a live favourite and making it completely new is inspiring and fine testament to a great song.

The abstract album cover is actually a sketch by Geoff Mann, originally created for the ‘Fact and Fiction’ album but never actually used. Clive Mitten you, sir, are a genius and I applaud your commitment and efforts in making this fabulous music. Respect is well due.

Released 2nd April, 2021

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