Review – The Bardic Depths – The Bardic Depths by John Wenlock-Smith

The Bardic Depths is an all new progressive rock project formed from the writing team of multi-instrumentalist, Dave Bandana with lyrics and concept from Bradley Birzer. The self titled debut album releases in March 2020 and features performances from Peter Jones – Saxophone/ Vocals (Camel/ Tiger Moth Tales), Tim Gehrt – Drums ( Streets/ Steve Walsh), Gareth Cole – Guitar (Tom Slatter/ Fractal Mirror) and Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) amongst a host of other amazing musicians from the progressive rock community.

To say that this is an unusual album is nothing odd, but such is the way of modern music making in that this one stands out for being very different, especially when you consider that this collective has never actually met in full or in person, as yet. In fact, up to a few weeks ago Dave and Brad had not even spoken by phone, skype or similar, this despite them having collaborated on two of Dave’s previous albums.

This group or project came to be because all involved are “Passengers”, the collective noun used by fans of the group Big Big Train for their Facebook group forum. When Lanzarote / Canary Island based musician Dave Bandanna put out a message looking for some musicians to help him with a new project, The Bardic Depths came into being, albeit it through the virtual world of file swapping and editing..

Dave, whose normally work entails entertaining holidaymakers by providing music in the evening at various holiday resort and hotels (he also feeds the islands large stock of feral cats) was inundated with great responses. These came from the likes of Gareth Cole, Peter Jones and Professor Bradley Birzer of Hillsdale College, Michigan among others, with Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) acting as a producer. This album is certainly different because of all these factors.

The album itself is a celebration of the friendship between C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien, both of whom were members of the Oxford University literary group The Inklings, where they would meet to talk about their writing projects and read to each other.

This album explores that friendship across its seven lengthy tracks.  The music wears its influences openly with a touch of Pink Floyd and snatches of latter-day Talk Talk’s prog sensibilities, to name just a couple. All are very lovingly collated together to create a highly impressive, moody and emotionally moving musical collage of ideas, influences and performances that, when taken together, merge to create a series of epic pieces reflecting on friendship through the storms of one’s life.

I know I say this about many of the albums I review, but I feel this really is a remarkable project and one that will be viewed very positively come the end of year listings. Well I certainly think that will be the case here, I know it will be for me. Once again this album will need some time for its treasures to become fully apparent for it is only with increasing familiarity that this will become clear. There is so much great music here for your ears to embrace and enjoy that this journey you take will be a most worthwhile and revealing one for you to both start and to appreciate.

Opener piece, The Trenches, refers to the first world war experiences that both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien endured and it is very evocative. Greek literary characters are used to ask the questions about the decisions made, and what the impact of those choices had, on the average man in the trenches. Biting Coals, speaks of the writing group and how, as war survivors, they meet and discuss and talk things over. This song has a lot of atmosphere that is utilised to great effect creating both a safe and cosy environment for the conversation.     

Depths of Time is the first real epic, clocking in at 12:33 which gives this three-part piece lots of room for some very extensive instrumental sections. These include some fine, airy sax from Peter Jones amidst some fabulous rhythmic guitar playing from Gareth Cole. The music here is rather ethereal sounding in tone with lots of space surrounding it to give an open effect and a chilled and relaxed tone, all very impressive really. The next piece is Depths of Imagination which opens with spoken word from Brad Birzer and a strong pulsating bass line from Dave Bandanna along with some great keyboards from Paulo Limoli that offset Dave’s vocal delivery.

Depths of Soul follows, opening with some fiery lead guitar from Gareth and more spoken word from Brad. It’s all very evocative sounding and moves onwards fiercely, fuelled by the drums of Tim Gehrt drums and Dave’s fine bass playing once again. The End is another atmospheric piece that contains some great cello from Mike Warren, a fine piano melody from Paulo Limoli and some lovely flute from Dave. This song has a great melody which suits its gentle tone, the music has passion and depth and sounds exceptionally fine indeed. It is all very musical and tuneful with great melodies that really suit the tone of the songs.

The final song, Legacies, opens with bells and a powerful drumbeat. This piece is about what this friendship leaves in its wake and why it made a difference then and still does for us today. How these men lived, what they believed in and lived for still matters for us today and that is the legacy they left us.

What we live for is important, the final spoken words draw the circle to a close with the words and a truly epic guitar solo opened Gareth and finished by Robin. It is simply sensational and a stunning close to what has been an enjoyable album. One of the best of the year so far and one that you really need to hear for yourself.        

Released 20/3/2020

Order from bandcamp here:

https://thebardicdepths.bandcamp.com/releases

Prog ‘Supergroup’ Shits n’ Giggles release Christmas Charity EP ‘Wake Up’

It’s that time of the year where Christmas Songs come flying at you from left, right and centre. Prog Rock collective Shits n’ Giggles have announced the release of their charity Christmas E.P. ‘Wake Up’ which will be online for purchase this evening.

Here’s the press release:

“With Christmas fast approaching, a bunch of us have teamed up to concoct a festive song entitled ‘Wake Up’ which was released as part of an EP on December 1st. Wake Up features Colin Tench (Corvus Stone), Gareth Cole (Mike Kershaw, Tom Slatter), Ben Bell (Patchwork Cacophony, Gandalf’s Fist), Stefan Hepe (Gandalf’s Fist), Peter Falconer, Pat Sanders and Manu Michael (Drifting Sun). The song was mixed and mastered by Jon Huxtable at Smallfish Studios, Scotland. Also included in the EP are 7 songs previously recorded by the musicians who contributed to the making of ‘Wake Up’.

All the profits from the sales will go to TIERHILFE SAUERLAND E. V. Barbara Hellekes, CEO of the animal welfare organisation said “We’re over the moon about this! Winter is coming, and it’s really hard to get the poor souls through the winter, especially in Hungary and Greece, where we support and help privately organised shelters in keeping the streets free of stray dogs, trying to find them a forever home”

We, Shits ‘n Giggles, take this opportunity to thank everyone who has taken up their valuable time to bring their contribution to this EP to help make this release possible, and we hope that the charity organization we have chosen will benefit greatly from the generosity of the people who donate to their cause, cheers everyone and Merry Christmas to all!”

The EP is available to purchase from:

Purchase the ‘Wake Up’ Charity EP here

 

 

Review – Mike Kershaw – What Lies Beneath – by Gary Morley

Cover

Mike Kershaw is a “Passenger”, or fan of Big Big Train, and we’ve met (in cyberspace) and our lives have been connected through their Facebook page.

I was invited to review this, Mike’s latest solo recording, by Martin Hutchinson, another Passenger whose life is a little more connected to mine in that we have had conversations: Exchanges of ideas and the like, in between him sending me albums to review and me handing in my homework.

So I transferred the files onto CD, placed it in the player and after sharpening my reviewer’s pencil, pressed play.

The following are the notes written as I listen, a running commentary if you will.

The first impression is that the drum sound is warm, jazzy and gentler than other recent Prog albums. There are none of the extraneous fills and beat s that detracted from Dream Theater’s recent excursion into Lloyd Webber land here.

I will research later, but the instrumentation on this is warm, organic and very “English”.

Mike’s voice is not a musical weapon of mass destruction, not chilling roars or over enunciated shouting here. The nearest comparable voice I can think of is Marianne Faithfull. His voice falters and cracks as hers does on “Broken English”, both frail and resilient at the same time. It adds to the charm of the piece as the voice makes the words even more personal and the deliver almost intimate, a rough take charm that grows as the album progresses.

Scott Smith Photography

(Picture by Scott Smith Photography)

The album hints at the great journey we are all on, unfolding and layered with detail that adds to the repeated listening pleasure. Track 2 starts off with a drum track that brought Dire Straits to mind, that simple shuffle beat underpinning the mix. Keyboards float above it, Mike’s voice is higher, almost childlike here. It’s always tricky to write about lyrics without the aid of a “cheat sheet” album cover present, so I tend to leave that to the end user (and the writing on CD inserts is not “People of a certain age friendly at all! That’s why we collect vinyl – to read the notes!)

There are chiming guitars; beautiful bass playing that had me thinking of the Cure at their most pastoral on track 3. The melodic force is strong in this one, the song growing, tide like before the chorus crashes on the shore, then fades and ebbs with lovely electric piano . We have a military drum beat and a ghostly choral backing that fades to voice and rhythm section.

Mr Kershaw, you are a very talented man. Songs that unfurl gently and reveal secrets, your folk singer delivery brings another point of reference here, The spirit of Roy Harper seeps through the 4th track, with it’s guitar textures and space between the component parts allowing the voice centre stage.

“Another disguise” is full of lovely slide guitar and swooping keyboards, this track is very Pink Floyd in it’s sound, warm guitar and icy keyboards over a solid drum part , again no pyrotechnics from  the players, the ebb and flow is complimentary to the lyric.

Or does it bring back memories of  The Enid circa 1981 that ? That period when RJG discovered vocals? There are hints of that too, along with a smatter of Dylan, Track 5 being a bouncy charmer, full of gruff guitar charm and a timeless vocal performance.

Mike

(Picture by Scott Smith Photography)

Track 6 starts with a gentle keyboard piece then we hear of the protagonist, who seems beaten by life, a frustrated individual trapped in some private hell. Kershaw’s words of rallying around a flag, joining a cause, whether wrong or right spookily poignant after recent events in Yorkshire that shocked one and all, here we have the plight of the loner , the isolated man captured in a 3 minute song.

I’ve played the CD 4 times now, each time it releases another little Easter Egg …

This time, Mike’s Voice on track 1 reminds me of Tim Blake (Hawkwind and solo artist) performing “Lighthouse” – half spoken, half intoned lyrics set to a jaunty, almost funky soundscape with keyboards coming at you from all directions. Lyrically it’s not a million miles from the anti war rhetoric of Hawkwind / Tim Blake /The Enid from the 80’s ( we were all going to die in a mushroom cloud caused by Reagan and Russia goes to war over Europe with tactical Nukes proliferating on both sides. Scary times, but produced some great music – “Who’s Gonna Win The War” & “ And Then there were none” being the two that this shares a common bond with.

This is the “Proggiest” track here, with some great synth lines at the conclusion sliding over your ears into your brain.

The more I listen, the less convinced that it’s Prog. Not in a derogatory way, but this album is full of songs, some great musicians playing to complement each other, most tracks are around the 5 minute mark, there are no dragons, anthropomorphic creatures, aliens or starships. No warriors on the edge or any vast inhuman machines keeping people in ignorance and servitude.

There are some glorious tunes, great instrumental pieces and a sense of warmth, almost organic well being generated through the listening experience.

It’s just good music, no matter which box you think it should be put in.

Mike has produced a fine album, a personal statement of where he sits in the musical pantheon and the world is a better place for his efforts.

Released 27th May 2016 by Bad Elephant Music.

Buy ‘What Lies Beneath’ from bandcamp