“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
― C.S. Lewis
I have made so many friends through music and not short lasting friendships either, friendships that I hold dear and will last the test of time and for all time. You all know how much I love music but it is the stories behind a lot of those friendships that have made the music much more meaningful and enduring.
I have to thank my good friend and colleague at Bad Elephant Music, David Elliott for introducing me to the fantastic legendary Scottish proggers Abel Ganz through their incredible 2014 self-titled release which was a kind of rebirth for this seminal band.
The conclusion to my review of that album went like this,
“This is music that will stand the test of time and could become a legacy for this superb band. Abel Ganz has delivered what is bound to become a highlight of this already impressive musical year, I implore you to go henceforth and purchase this musical marvel!”
And those words led me on a fantastic musical and life affirming journey to seeing the band live quite a few times including four trips to Glasgow to see them at their own mini ‘Prog B4 Christmas’ festival.
Through those trips and the wonder of social media, I have come to know the band on a very emotive and personal level and I am very proud to call them all friends. Perhaps that close friendship added fuel to the foreboding worry of how they would follow up that wondrous collection of songs that made up 2014’s well loved release? All I know is that, when band leader, drummer and all round good guy Denis Smith sent me the music files in March of this year, I was both excited and slightly apprehensive about what I was going to hear…
So, first to the Press Release:
“A concept album comprising of six thematically linked pieces exploring our relationship with memory and loss. The liminal space between a fading ‘what was’ and an anticipated ‘what is to come’.
The album recalls the hazy technicolour of long remembered summers and the sepia of a love forgotten. A place where we blur the boundaries of returning and renewal. The lyrics chart the course through recollection to premonition. These words are both deeply personal and universal, hope for what is next and a lament for what we have lost.”
Denis told me that the band had deliberately set out to NOT make the same album as before and after dozens of listens I can honestly say that they have delivered something totally different but equally as wonderful as before, to be honest, it is better, in my opinion!
There is something utterly bewitching about this collection of seven perfectly crafted songs. Actually, I’d go further than calling them songs, they are stories, stories that bare their soul, stories of love and loss that can be at times amazingly uplifting and, at others, totally heart-wrenching but they are always beautiful.
This enchanting and captivating musical journey opens with the title track, The Life of the Honey Bee and Other Moments of Clarity, which opens the album with nearly thirteen minutes of enthralling, beguiling brilliance and the album never looks back from there. The song writing is thought provoking and the musicianship second to none with Dave King’s elegant guitar playing providing the ethereal stepping stones for Mick Macfarlane’s soft, Caledonian brogue to draw you in to this mesmerising song and the genius Chromatic Harmonica of Alex Partlin has to be heard to be believed. The masters of Scottish progressive rock are back and it has taken just one song to ease my worries, this is going to be one wondrous experience, I just know it!
As if that wasn’t superb enough then the incredibly moving exquisite grace of One Small Soul (can you tell I like this song?!) takes the bar and lifts it even higher. There are simply not enough superlatives for this ridiculously good piece of music. I always said that Thank You from the previous release was my favourite Abel Ganz track and I still love it but this consummate song has just stolen my heart completely. From the sublime guitar through to the delightful piano, it just touches my soul. The vocals are heartfelt and earnest and Mick’s interplay with acclaimed solo artist Emily Smith is a highlight of the whole album, add in the dazzling guitar solo and you have just about the perfect song.
Dave King took over from long time Ganz guitarist Davie Mitchell and has immediately become one of the family and his self-penned instrumental Arran Shores superbly evokes the image of a wind swept and scenic Scottish shoreline. Just under three minutes of instrumental music that you can just lose yourself in and forget all your worries.
Get the tissues out, trust me, there will not be a dry eye in the house after listening to the celestial strings and evocative vocals of Summerlong. A song with a depth of personal meaning that soars high with a melancholy, wistful grace. On Denis’ recommendation, the first time I heard this track I wore headphones and just stopped dead and listened to every word and every note intricately and I would advise you all to do the same. A thoughtful, yet plaintive song that leaves its mark on your heart and in your mind.
After the contemplative and reflective nobility of the previous track, the first ninety seconds of Sepia and White (written by stylish bass player Stephen Donnelly) has more funk than a New York disco in the height of the 70’s. It is utterly brilliant and put a huge smile on my face before the song segues into a thirteen and a half minute epic with elements of progressive rock, elements of jazz and an added touch of Americana just to mix things up. The guitar motif that runs throughout is a great piece of ingenuity, vocalist extraordinaire Mick Macfarlane really is on top form and Jack Webb’s keys are as accomplished as ever. Sit down with a wee dram or a glass of your favourite red and just enjoy a group of musicians on a creative high as this exceptional song gets under your skin and almost becomes part of your actual being, it really doesn’t get much better than this my friends!
What a wonderful surprise as the first notes of The Light Shines Out fade and the vocals begin, this refined and nostalgic song sees Denis Smith on the microphone and his slightly catching voice is just perfect for the gossamer like feel that the music engenders. Like the sepia tinged early morning dew of a spring day, there is a feel of awakening and rebirth about the whole song and it really stirs your emotions and is a fitting end to the album and I love the way the fading guitar ends the track.
Well I say end, we are actually treated to a radio edit of One Small Soul as things come to a proper close which, let’s face it, is no bad thing…
How to sum up my feelings? I have a very close connection with Abel Ganz but that has not made any difference to how I have reviewed this album. Put simply, it is not just the best album I have heard this year, it is one of the best albums I have ever heard in my 52 years. More than just a collection of songs or even stories, it is part of the band member’s very souls and when they put all of that into making a record, you are going to get something very special indeed.
Released 6th July 2020
Order the album direct from the band’s website here: