Progradar’s Best of The Year For 2016 – Editor’s Choice

So we have had a wonderful selection of Top 10 picks from some of my great collaborators and now it is my turn. I’m going to stray from the norm because mine is going to be a Top 20 to keep it in line with my TEP selection that I spoke with David Elliott about.

Yes, it is a bit of a cheat but it is my website so I don’t have to follow the rules. Anyway,without any further ado, here are my top albums of 2016,not in any particular order but they have all made a big impact on my life this year…

You will also notice that there are no Bad Elephant Music releases in my Top 20. The label I work with had another superb year but it would have been a bit unfair of me to include any releases from the artists on BEM.

Bad Dreams – Déjà vu

‘Déjà vu’ is an album that will stand the test of time and is a great achievement for Bad Dreams. I was impressed from the first note by the accomplished musicianship and the superb vocals, add in the exemplary songwriting and it was sure to be a winner in my book. What makes it stand out even more is the way the music becomes almost part of you and can make you stop what you are doing and just listen for the sake of it and that, my friends, is what truly great music can do to you.

Blue Mammoth – Stories Of A King

Proper seventies epic prog of massive proportions from these excellent Brazilians. The artwork alone is very striking but the music will literally knock your socks off, play it loud,VERY loud!

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Thought provoking, questioning and inventive, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ has all that I ask for in my music. A well constructed and intelligent concept brought to reality by a gifted musician with incomparable support from some incredible guests. It makes you really think about what you have heard and, above all, is a peerless, outstanding and incomparable listening experience that you will not forget any time soon.

Tony Patterson – Equations of Meaning

Well I was utterly mesmerised by ‘Northlands’, Tony’s collaboration with Brendan Eyre and this album deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. To get the utmost from the album you must listen to it from start to finish, preferably with headphones on, in  a darkened room and with your choice of relaxing alcohol. To me, ‘Equations of Meaning’ is not merely a great release, it is a state of mind that we should all aspire to when our Life in the Fast Lane gets too much for us. Superb and highly recommended.

Big Big Train – Folklore

It was always going to be hard to follow ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ albums but the acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling have returned with a fresh collection of stories and tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life…

Damian Wilson – Built For Fighting

Funny how music fits in with your life isn’t it? I was listening to this album walking back home last night and it just struck me as to how much it was a soundtrack to how my life has turned out this year. Painful lows, beautiful highs and, ultimately, balance has been restored.Taking a break form his Prog-Metal roots, Damian delivers a solo release of sublime brilliance.

David Foster – Dreamless

The usually modest and self-effacing Dave Foster has stepped out of the shadows and onto centre stage to deliver his second solo opus and is to be applauded and admired for doing so. Such a variety of moods, styles and colours doesn’t always mix well but when it is done with consummate skill, like it is here, you are treated to a cornucopia of musical delights. While neither ground breaking or game changing, what it is is really rather good.

Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

Gandalf’s Fist truly believe that this is the finest musical work that they have ever created. There’s a mix of all of their influences and, were you to put all of the best bits of our discography into a huge melting pot, you’d end up with something quite close (but not as awesome) as what the guys have created! But don’t just take their word for it – head over to the pre-order store and have a listen to a whopping 10 minutes of audio previews!

Ghost Community – Cycle Of Life

‘Cycle of Life’ is a thought-provoking, beguiling and fulfilling musical journey that excites and satisfies at every turn. Ghost Community may have had to endure trials and tribulations while making this record but the experiences have enabled them to deliver something quite magical and rewarding that will stand the test of time, worthy of a place in anyone’s musical collection.

Glass Hammer – Valkyrie

With its insightful, thoughtful lyrics every bit as important as the mightily impressive music, ‘Valkrie’ is a concept album in the true sense of the word. With some delightful departures from what some would call their signature sound (The Beatles anyone?) Glass Hammer continue to evolve into one of the world’s foremost Progressive Rock bands. This iconic group of musicians lead you on a journey through the horrors of war with a totally immersive sixty-five minutes of music and you will come out the other side changed forever. I can’t recommend this album enough, one of the best albums of 2016? One of the best albums of recent years more like…

iamthemorning – Lighthouse

‘Lighthouse’ is an amazing musical journey from the first note to the last. It is bewitching and beguiling and removes you from your everyday life to a place of wonder. Darkly captivating, it is not all sweetness and light but is a musical legacy that iamthemorning can build on and the ‘Lighthouse’ can light the way. These two exceptional artists have now moved into the major leagues and it is well deserved, album of the year? why not!

Nerve Toy Trio – Accidental Bar-B-Que

A really impressive and ultimately satisfying release that really gets into your psyche and has you reaching for the repeat play button again and again. Nerve Toy Trio has given us one of the best instrumental releases of the year with ‘Accidental Bar-B-Que’ and one with which the music really does stand comparison to the excellent album art. Seems my gut feeling was right once again, a highly recommended release.

I Like Trains – A Divorce Before Marriage

A real late comer to the party, in fact I haven’t reviewed it fully yet! This sublime and haunting collection of instrumental marvelousness from these Yorkshire musicians is a soundtrack to the film of the same name. Ethereal and yet solidly powerful, I haven’t heard anything like it all year and it demanded to be in this selection of top releases.

Patchwork Cacophony – Five Of Cups

There is intelligence and a wry humour than runs throughout this remarkable album. Ben Bell has an immense talent and really knows how to put it to good use. Intelligently crafted songs that make you want to listen to them show him to be a great songwriter and what he delivers proves what a notable musician he is as well. In the world of progressive rock a new star is set to rise.

Blue Rose Code – …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing

Blue Rose Code is Edinburgh-born songwriter Ross Wilson. At the edge of contemporary alt-folk, Wilson’s music evokes a meeting of Van Morrison and a young John Martyn, both shipwrecked with a bunch of Motown records. A deep emotive well of stunning music that affects you at a core level, another late discovery of 2016 for me but a band I will be keeping my eye on now!

Of the new record, Wilson says, “It’s an album for music fans and musicians. A challenging record, I think, and it’s  abundantly clear that the process has been undertaken away from the cynicism of any record company.”

Ray Wilson – Makes Me Think Of Home

Ray Wilson has taken us on a deeply personal musical journey full of hope, despair, pain and, ultimately, salvation and I was hooked on every word, every note. This is music at its very best, written from the heart and full of the passion and soul of the artist. This is an album that I will return to again and again, no matter how much new music crosses my path and is surely a collection of songs that can, and will, stand the test of time.

Thence – We Are Left With A Song

What Thence have delivered with ‘We Are Left With A Song’ is no mere album, it is a breathtaking, creative powerhouse of sonic delight that grows to fill any space that it occupies to take on a life of its own. It is a life that you will want to share until your dying breath, above mere superlatives, it is an utter triumph.

Tilt – Hinterland

What TILT have delivered is a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done!

Marc Atkinson – Home Grown

To me, this is what makes writing about music worth every single minute I take. I have been involved in this long musical journey in some small way from start to finish and when you hear the finished article, it is almost like welcoming a newborn into the world. Marc Atkinson will have agonised about every single word and note on this album and to my ears it has been worth every single second he has taken. This is music that takes over your mind and soul and which you can relate to on a very personal level. Fifteen songs that are extremely personal to this gracious man and we should be glad that he has released them for us to enjoy. A great album and one that I have no doubt is the complete pinnacle of Marc’s solo career to date, I am extremely proud to be able call him a friend.

Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum

Drifting Sun have delivered quite a work of art, one that touches on the past for influences but, also, has its own, confident vision of the future. Consume it in one listen to get the full effect of this great album, it is one that will live in the memory for a long time.

So, there you have it. 2016 was another brilliant year for music and I hope our End Of Year choices might make you go out and buy the music to support the artists involved. Please join me and my fellow authors at Progradar in 2017 for what I hope will be another stellar year for lovers of music.


Review – Patchwork Cacophony – Five of Cups – by Progradar


There’s been a lot of discussion recently about a loss of ‘value’ to music, in the sense that people seem to think that they should be able to listen to it for free, either via streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music or by illegally downloading it from the plethora of music sharing websites that haunt the internet.

What hasn’t helped is the fact that now virtually anybody can make an album in their bedroom with a laptop and, unfortunately, virtually all these so called ‘records’ are of very poor quality. To be fair, I’d be a bit hacked off if I’d spent £10 on a piece of music that sounded like caterwauling cats singing over somebody’s guitar lessons but the majority of music is still made over a lengthy period of time by artists who put their heart and soul (plus a not unreasonable sum of money) into creating these musical gems.

To have that devalued by the marketplace as it is now must be heartbreaking, especially when you are a multi-instrumentalist who actually plays virtually all the instruments on a new release, as well as writing all the songs and producing and engineering their works of art.


A message came into Progradar from Ben Bell, the multi-instrumentalist behind Patchwork Cacophony, asking if I’d take a listen to his latest release ‘Five of Cups’. I duly did and was intrigued to find out more…

Ben first came to prominence as the keyboard player, co-composer and producer on Fusion 2 Orchestra‘s acclaimed 2013 album ‘Casting Shadows’. When I started waxing lyrical about his new release on social media, it also came to light that he is the new keyboard player for my favourite cult prog-rock outfit Gandalf’s Fist and this was pointed out to me by my friend (and Fist’s drummer) Stefan Hepe.

He released his debut solo work, ‘Patchwork Cacophony’, independently (and with little fanfare) in 2014 and it immediately garnered glowing reviews for its distinctive take on classic symphonic prog. The trademark multi-layered vocals, effortless mixing of styles and intricate instrumental passages earned him wide-spread praise as a ‘huge talent’.

The follow up album, which I’m reviewing here, ‘Five of Cups’ sees a further development of Patchwork Cacophony‘s sonic identity and Ben also welcomes guest guitarists in Marcus Taylor and veteran live session musician Tim Hall.


The album opens with the four part Fairytale (Parts 1-4) and part 1 is the wonderfully atmospheric instrumental Are You Sitting Comfortably? and then we segue into the breezy and upbeat keyboard heavy progness of Once Upon A Time. We get to hear Ben’s unique vocals for the first time and they fit the classically progressive music perfectly. The musical interplay is excellent and you really wonder how one guy does it on his own! There’s a real polish to the keyboard playing that makes it hugely infectious and I was hooked the first time I heard it. Ben’s skill on all the instruments is very impressive, the rhythm section of the dynamic drums and the funky bass especially. I think I may stumbled upon something special here…We take the instrumental route again with The Wonder Of It All, a wonderfully quirky track that has its own ideas and agenda. Cheerfully buoyant and optimistic, the instruments seem to bounce of each other with reckless abandon and without a care in the world. It is a really refreshing song that puts a spring in your step and Ben’s fingers fly fluently around the keyboards with enough energy and gusto to put even Rick Wakeman to shame! The last part is called Life Is Not A Fairytale and opens with Ben’s rather sombre piano, all the spark and joy of the previous track replaced with a more serious and morose overtone. It is a beautiful tune though and one that almost brings a lump to your throat when the delicate and fragile vocals begin. There’s an almost melancholy edge to Ben’s voice which is emphasised by the graceful notes that emanate from the elegant piano playing. There’s a serious, if thoughtful, message coming from this song and one that we should take notice of, I am left in a deeply reflective frame of mind as this four-part gem comes to a sober and solemn close.

Choices brings back that busy feeling with the energy and dynamism of the opening keyboards and drums that give it an early Yes feel. Quite frantic and yet structured and deliberate, the track opens up with Ben’s precise vocal delivery and takes on a persona not unlike a hyperactive Billy Joel. There is definitely a feeling that Ben has lifted his ambitions on this release and this stylish track is evidence of that. Just check out the infectious Hammond organ that races through the centre of the track, it’s brilliant. Counting Chickens opens with a piano/keyboard combo that brings to mind Changes from Yes, with its catchy and repetitive tempo. It goes on to become a really inventive song with Ben’s signature keyboard virtuosity stamped large all over it. There’s a calmness that falls over the track, a laid back feel before that piano led mantra begins again, addictive and really enjoyable. A great instrumental that I keep returning to again and again.


Like Pink Floyd’s lesser known (but better looking) brother, Maybe strides confidently into the arena on a wave of elegant drums and edgy, funky guitars. This is where Ben takes a step back and lets one of his stellar guests take over and Marcus Taylor really does the business with some superb guitar playing. Ben’s vocal goes up a notch, full of angst and barely concealed anger and it is a great vocal performance. There’s a nice instrumental section that builds up to a rather tasty guitar solo, full of power and emotion, Marcus really reaches the heights on this one. Overall it is a song brimming with energy and disquiet and one that really shows the direction Ben is heading in with its focus and sophistication. A shortish epic at just over nine minutes, Every Day is an immersive and contemplative listen and one that gets the headphones treatment from me, to better enjoy its subtleties. A low down vocal and jazzy instrumentals give it a polished feel, in fact, it is probably the most jazz oriented track on the album with some interesting time signatures and a hesitant pace. Take your foot of the pedal and step of the incessant treadmill of life and let this calm and collected piece of music just wash over you as if you don’t have a care in the world.The middle part of the song is almost like a sci-fi soundtrack, bringing to mind epics such as 2001:A Space Odyssey and the like with its mysterious and cryptic keyboards leading the way before we are treated to synth heaven and Ben gets to show off a little, a really inventive and satisfying track that stays long in the memory.

Chasing Rainbows is a hectic, agitated and frenzied song that really smacks of Ben Folds Five on acid to my ears most of the time. Ben’s vocal has a harder, almost distraught edge and the music is full of nervous energy as it goes from animated note to animated note. A real uptempo and tumultuous jazz-infused track that you seem to feed off and become fevered yourself. There’s a sudden and sharp change of focus and feel half way through where an elegant piano brings order and calm to the chaos and enables you to get your breath back, not for long though as an insistent piano note precedes the return of the tumult, turmoil and barely concealed anger, what a great ‘in your face piece’ of music.


A haunting piano refrain opens the nostalgic and wistful instrumental of From A Spark. Dignified and ornate as if from a bygone era of cultured gentility, the piano leaves tasteful notes on your mind as it weaves its graceful and cultured path through your psyche and leaves its mark on your very soul. Bewitching and captivating, it brings the whole world to a stop for nearly seven minutes to listen and take in its restrained grandeur.

The final song on the album is the masterful splendour of Brand New Day, over twelve minutes of progressive rock that really knows its chops. The opening is all pomp and circumstance with the energetic rhythm section aiding and abetting the compelling keyboards and Tim Hall‘s potent guitar. It opens up into a classic track full of nods to the great progressive tracks of the past. Ben’s vocal is full of intent and gives the song the grounding that lets the instruments take over the show with no need for restraint. There are time changes galore and Ben plays a bewildering number of different instruments throughout this intricately complicated and lengthy work, just sit back and enjoy what is laid before you. You hear little deft homages to the likes of Camel, Yes, Genesis and even IQ as Ben opens up and runs through his full repertoire of talents. Moments of quiet contemplation mix with elaborate instrumental interplays and yet the undoubted talent of this musician never overshadows the music itself. Tim’s guitar is always there waiting to explode into the burning solos that appear towards the end of this mightily impressive song and I am just left feeling very humble and inadequate at the incredible skill and aptitude to be found in Ben Bell.

There is intelligence and a wry humour than runs throughout this remarkable album. Ben Bell has an immense talent and really knows how to put it to good use. Intelligently crafted songs that make you want to listen to them show him to be a great songwriter and what he delivers proves what a notable musician he is as well. In the world of progressive rock a new star is set to rise.

Released 7th November 2016

Buy Five Of Cups’ direct from the artist.

Listen to ‘Five Of Cups’ at bandcamp

Check out Brinkmanship from the first Patchwork Cacophony release: