Review – Duncan Parsons – I’m Here, All Weak – by John Wenlock-Smith

I don’t know how these musicians manage to do all this, Duncan Parsons is not only the drummer for the John Hackett Band, he is also the bass player for author Joanne HarrisStorytime project, along with which he is a composer of his own musical journey bridging progressive music and mixing it up with elements of jazz, funk, ambient and whatever else takes his fancy! All that is before his main work role of software development for GForce Software where he recreates classic analogue keyboards for the digital age, specialising in Mellotrons and String Machines, quite an impressive C.V. really!

In the midst of this activity he has self released six solo albums, mainly via bandcamp. This new release is actually a compilation of those albums and it is an eclectic selection of music ranging from story song Ladybird through to the flute led J: Oi!, which features both the Hackett brothers, John and Steve, along with Nick Fletcher and Gary Boyle and a spoken piece from Bill Bruford, a grand collection of prog luminaries gathered in one glorious piece of music.

F: lower is another imaginative track in which Pink Floyd tones meet Canterbury whimsy and it all ends with John Hackett and Nick Fletcher doing what they do so well, I just wish it were much longer! Furry Leaves will most probably make you smile with its simple well known melody(Fleur De Lis) being developed well, with some fiery guitar from Nick Fletcher really hitting the mark and the more you hear J: Oi!, the more you realise how excellent a track it is. Lavender Rose is also an interesting track, mixing funk and progressive in a new style but all done with taste and aplomb. The Last Mango In Powys takes an approach of mixing ambient electro-folk, like the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, in space to create something both minimalist and also rewarding at the same time.

Variety is definitely the space of life for Duncan on this collection, his voice may be an acquired taste for some (not to me, I love it) but his imagination and how he applies it to this music is certainly not in question. He is truly progressive in his approach and thinking and whilst this doesn’t always make this a straightforward easy listening experience, it is one that will refresh parts that other prog musicians daren’t venture to explore, which I think validates the bravery Duncan exhibits so well. He is not afraid to try new things and new ways of working. I personally feel his way of approaching and applying his musical vision bears great fruit, the performances are good and the guests all contribute worthwhile ideas in their parts and, overall, make this 17 track album a highly interesting and very well realised set of songs.

This Day benefits from the sultry clarinet of John Helliwell, whose touch is delicate, profound and captivating, all at the same time. This track is an edit from his album ‘On Earth As It Is’. Also worthy of note is the almost mariachi style of Gonville, with Raul D’Oliveria’s trumpet leading the way over a sumptuous background of bass and synth sounds, all very sprightly and impressive sounding. Duncan’s willingness to reinvent during this album is very refreshing and appealing, he is one that likes to reimagine and re-envision his own music, thus retaining its freshness for him. This is very laudable and few would be so bold and for this we should applaud him and recognise his efforts to this end.

I for one find this release one that will given space in your music collection with very rich dividends indeed. I admire its balance of thoughtfully considered songs and its sympathetic use of guest musicians, whose touch greatly enhances these efforts of Duncan’s. The booklet is informative and gives a fine insight into what the music is about. I think that all this makes this a very worthwhile listen and I commend it and, indeed, all of Duncan’s music to you as you find within it all a plethora of wonder and imagination. It’s a collection very fine music indeed, everything from folk to funk, via jazz, ambient and even classical. Minimalist ideas abound and there is truly something for every taste, so why not check it out for yourself? You might thank me for the recommendation!

Released 6th October, 2023.

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I’m Here, All Weak | Duncan Parsons (

Review – Duncan Parsons – On Earth, As it is – by John Wenlock-Smith

Duncan Parsons is the drummer for the John Hackett Band and bizarrely the bassist for Joanne Harris’s Storytime band, ‘On Earth, As it is’ is his latest album of original material.

The album is not a concept as such, although it has songs that share a common central theme. Much of the music is performed by Duncan, although he has managed to get assistance from some very interesting guest musicians like John Helliwell of SupertrampDave Bainbridge of Iona and Lifesigns and his fellow John Hackett Band members Nick Fletcher and John Hackett himself, who both add graceful parts to the lengthy opener Heaven, the album’s longest track at twenty three minutes. The song opens with seven minutes of instrumental music before Duncan’s vocals join in. This is intoned with a pulsating synth bass line which is very ethereal sounding, there is then a section of massed non-verbal vocalisations which add to the atmospheric nature of the track. Then follows an acoustic guitar section which which dissolves into deep keyboard bass and more vocalisations along with Lizz Lipscombe’s string playing. An urgent bass then picks up the pace and creates a strong platform for Nick Fletcher’s fusion guitar part in which he shreds wildly and, as always, immaculately with a great clear tone. This then gives way to synths that lead to another guitar outburst from Nick that takes the track towards its conclusion, the guitar playing on this section is breathtaking, very fiery and highly impressive. The song ends with synths and guitar lines playing, a really strong opener.

This Day follows and has plucked guitar harmonics from Duncan and bass from the legendary Leland Sklar, whose bottom end anchors everything together wonderfully. The track has Duncan playing a washboard and also John Helliwell elegant clarinet. This has a very satisfying jazz elements to it and the saxophone from John also impresses highly. Fissures of Men is a short, dynamic piece featuring violin, viola and cello all set against a sparse piano but it all sounds really good. This is followed by another shorter track, Finish Line, which alludes to a fractured and possibly broken relationship but, ultimately, the song is about how we choose to be.

Unnecessary Kindness opens with an acoustic guitar and is largely a solo guitar instrumental track and very accomplished it is too with plenty of shades of Anthony Phillips in evidence here, at least to these ears. Three Sixteen is more muscular in tone with some crunchy guitar and a simple, but effective, solo halfway through that is ended by the cello as the vocals begin again. This is followed with a mournful violin and some jolly flute as a contrast then a solid tap on what could be a cowbell leads to the last verse of the song. There’s not a little urgency and a comfortable yet easy guitar line leads to the song’s conclusion. This is a very good track indeed, a clear winner. Lead Us Not is another shorter track with the solid bass of Leland gracing proceedings again, along with the graceful flute of John Hackett. The song seems to be about temptation and how we battle with it and how it leads us to where we don’t wish to be.

There is reprise of the earlier Fissures of Men track but it is only very brief, this leads to the last and second longest track, Valediction (Power And Glory) which closes the album out. This song features John Steel on various guitars and is a very atmospheric piece of music with lots of good sounds and textures. It is all fairly free form in nature but very well assembled, with some fabulous acoustic guitar interjections and a great solo that moves over the sumptuous backing and it all sounds really impressive. Along with Heaven, these two epics bookmark what is a most impressive collection of tracks that certainly makes you think as you listen to this fine album. It is one that  most folk will be largely unaware of and more’s the pity, as this is a highly intelligent and articulate album of music.

Released 2nd December, 2022.

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Review – John Hackett Band – We Are Not Alone – by James R. Turner

Following on from ‘Another Life’ released back in 2015 this, the sequel by John and band (Nick Fletcher, Jeremy Richardson & Duncan Parsons) came out last year in a special two disc set, one featuring the new album and another featuring a bonus disc recorded live at the Wesley Centre in Maltby back in May 2016 for our old friends the CRS.

I will come back to Maltby and the live disc later (having family from Maltby I could tell you all sorts of stories!) but first..

‘We Are Not Alone’, adorned by a striking cover painting by Lizzie Spikes, and opening with bluesy and powerful Take Control, is an album that grabs you from the get go. John needs no introduction and, as you can imagine working with a guitarist like his older brother, John is used to powerful guitar work. With co-writer and collaborator Nick Fletcher providing said fantastic guitar, particularly as Take Control stretches it’s legs, and with some fantastically soulful vocals from John and some great flute as well, the whole band give it some welly and, at well over 8 minutes long, it has time to grow and doesn’t feel like it’s outstayed it’s welcome.

It’s a perfect opener to what is an excellent sequel to ‘Another Life’.

With some more of that wonderful guitar work and some great vocals and, indeed, lyrics on Never Gonna Make a Dime, also with his brother providing some wonderful harmonica (his only appearance on this record), it’s clear that musically and thematically John is his own man.

This album continues in its melodic rocky fashion as the tracks alternate between instrumentals that showcase the full range of this tight band’s ability, from Nick’s wonderful acoustic guitar work on the beautiful Blue Skies of Marazion, to Johns wonderful flute and keyboard work, whilst Jeremy Richardson’s vocals shine on his track Jericho.

The track by Duncan Parsons, Queenie & Elmo’s Perfect Day, is a fantastic instrumental as well and it showcases that the whole band are highly talented instrumentalists and musicians, each bringing something special to the table.

With songs like Summer Lightening and Castles, this album really shines, it has a real groove and chilled out vibe in parts. This is another fantastic and strong album.

Live on the second disc, the band treat us to a selection of great material from ‘Another Life’ with the title track and Life in Reverse getting an airing.

On stage, the band are taut and dynamic, their musical interaction spot on and their execution flawless. This must have been one hell of a gig (one I would have liked to have seen but, you know, it’s not like the old days when it was round the corner, I can’t just pop up to Maltby from Bristol for a gig these days) so it’s great that this is documented here and even nicer is the dedication to Stephanie Kennedy, someone I got to know really well throughout my CRS gigging days, and who I’m sure there’s lots of us out there who miss her.

This is a perfect combination, as I end so many reviews wishing I could hear the band live, and with this disc, well, you can! Win, win I say!

Released 29th September 2017

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