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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