Review – Regal Worm – Pig Views – by James R. Turner

Let’s talk about eclectic for a moment, shall we?

I have tastes that vary from Abba to Zappa and all points in between, drifting off at a tangent (via The Tangent) taking in psych, rock of the Yes/King Crimson/VdGG variety plus many other gleefully eclectic sounds. That’s not to mention electronica, ambient, classical and many other genres, so when I come across a renaissance man like Jarrod Gosling who bestrides genres and, indeed, disciplines like a multi-media, multi-talented master of all he surveys then, of course, my curiosity is piqued.

I first encountered Jarrod’s music from I, Monster when they blitzed the charts with their single Daydream in Blue, and the mix of pop and rock, darkness and light and sophisticated sounds weren’t just pushing pop’s boundaries, they were redrawing them. Then there was the more acoustic side of Jarrod’s style – The Skywatchers collaboration, followed by stints with Henry Fool. As well as working on the artwork for Tim Bowness’ solo career, Jarrod also found time to form the absolutely brilliant Cobalt Chapel where his gothic folk vision is matched by the vocals of Cecelia Fage (well known for her work with Matt Berry and The Maypoles) not only that but Jarrod announced himself on the new alternative scene back in 2013 with his triumphant Regal Worm debut album ‘Use and Ornament’, followed, fairly closely, by ‘Neither Use not Ornament’.

Now Regal Worm return with the cheekily titled ‘Pig Views’ (named after Jarrod’s studio, which overlooks one of Sheffield’s football grounds – as a fellow Yorkshireman I won’t go into which one, as it might cause an online ruckus and we don’t want that), did I mention that Jarrod was also a Yorkshireman? A true Sheffield original like Henderson’s relish, and as vital an ingredient to any musical dish as Hendos is to cookery.

I’ll stop with the Hendos and talk about the music, I was eagerly awaiting this album, as the last two Regal Worm albums have crossed prog with psych with Jarrod’s inimitable style and charm and have brightened up every record collection they have joined.

This new addition to the family, with it’s stunning artwork and also available as a pink double vinyl set, looks very smart indeed. Artwork, of course, is by the man himself, while he covers all bases musically with guests including Mick Somerset-Ward on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones and flute, Peter Rophone on voice and acoustic guitar, Louis Atkinson on Alto and tenor saxophones, Emily Ireland, Heidi Kilpelainen and Paul Putner on voice and Graham McElearney on harp.

Amongst Jarrod’s musical arsenal are items like Mellotron, Hammond Organ, Rickenbacker bass, Mandolin, Lap steel guitar percussion and many others. This mix of instrumentation, particularly the sax and flute, give this a very English sound, reminiscent of Canterbury scene bands. Throwing in Jarrod’s love of jazz and psych, and his rock sensibilities then all the work combines to create a unique musical delight.

Rose, Rubus, Smilax, Vulkan is a brilliantly arresting opening, with it’s chant style chorus, and the way it builds and segues nicely into Revealed as a True Future Tyrant is sublime and shows Jarrod’s innate musical sensibilities and style.

He also has a knack for a title, and the wonderfully named Rose Parkington, They Would Not Let You Leave is a wonderfully keyboard driven piece where the pulsating and thundering keyboard and the duelling sax propel what is one of the most joyful sounds I have heard on record for a long time.

You hear the other side to Jarrod on the wonderfully atmospheric Jag Vet, that falls under the heading of a section titled Under den Svenska Vintern (During the Swedish Winter) this suite of songs demonstrates Jarrod’s versatility as the acoustic haunting Jag Vet leads into the 3 part The Dreaded Lurg (like I said, Jarrod has a knack of wonderful titles) where his piano and keyboard playing slowly builds up the song, adding layers of sound and, if you’re looking at best multi-instrumentalist for any awards that happen to be going, I reckon Jarrod has to be in with a shot. His use of the flute as a melodic weapon to drive the piece on is inspired, and it’s those touches of flute and sax, bursts of synths and the juxtaposition of sounds that recall more obscure 70’s Radiophonic Workshop soundtracks or the films of Tigon.

This isn’t copying though, this is weaving disparate and eclectic influences into a new musical whole, pulling random strands together to create something new and unique with little hints and nods to the musical journey Jarrod has been on and wants to take you on. As a musician Jarrod has always done something different and interesting with every release, and this is no different, whilst there are hints of the styles that dominate Cobalt Chapel and I, Monster, Regal Worm is its own different musical entity, one that draws you in with some of the most innovative and eclectic sounds I have heard on record all year.

With the wonderful chorus of the almost hymnal and reverent Huge Machine, You Are So Heavy and the albums wonderfully eclectic style and sound, Regal Worm sits at the forefront of the new English alternative scene. If your record collection has room for a Schnauser or a Knifeworld in it and not a Regal Worm then you need to rectify that forthwith.

This is one of the most exciting and original albums I have heard all year and I implore you, if you enjoy well crafted exciting, innovative and eclectic musical journeys then ‘Pig Views’ is the album you need in your life.

Album of the year so far? I reckon so.

Released 13th July 2018

Order the album on CD or Vinyl at bandcamp here

Review – The Kentish Spires – The Last Harvest – by James R. Turner

The Gentlemen behind the Summers End Festival, Huw Lloyd-Jones and Stephen Lambe, have branched out into a record label as well, Sonicbond, truly covering all progressive bases and, following on the release of the excellent Talitha Rise album, they now unleash this album, described as a spiritual successor to the classic Canterbury Scene. With a wonderfully rich and warm sound, this is an assured and impressive debut album.

The band’s members are no stranger to the contemporary prog scene, with guitarist Danny Chang bringing his considerable influence to bear and Rik Loveridge’s wonderful Hammond flows throughout the album. Phil Warren and Tim Robinson on bass and drums provide the impressive back beat that allows the guitars and synths to paint wonderful musical pictures, while the woodwind of Paul Hornsby adds a wonderfully English feel. I am a sucker for bands that use woodwind and brass like The Home Service, Brass Monkey  and Supertramp and this definitely ticks all the boxes for me. Topping it off are the sublimely soulful vocals of Lucie V, who brings her warm, smokey soulful voice to bear on these superb tracks.

From the wonderful opening 11minutes plus opener Kingdom of Kent, this well and truly sets the scene with evocative lyrics (and distinctions between Kentish Men and Men of Kent – having lived there in the Medway towns for a while, this is an important distinction for residents of this garden county,) stirring musical moments, wonderful woodwind and keyboard work, and oh, those vocals. Lucie adds soul to the music that is full of heart and, as an opening track goes, it acts as both a statement of intent and as an opening to a new album by a new band. It is assured and has plenty of verve and swagger. The bonus track Clarity (mixed by one of progs busiest men Rob Reed) is a wonderfully direct song about indecision and direction (something we can all identify with) and, again, Lucie’s vocals add the world-weary element to this, while the band are sublime.

The Canterbury vibe filters its way through the album with the wonderful flute on TTWIG (That’s the Way it Goes) sounding like it snuck in the back from a ‘70’s Tull album. Along with the sax, the woodwind and the wonderfully organic Hammond organ sound, this album reminds me of other great English bands like Kapreker’s Constant or Big Big Train circa ‘The Underfall Yard’ era.

With only 8 tracks on here, the album has room to grown and breath and while it is not a concept album, several of the tracks do link into the history of Kent, songs like Hengist Ridge (not to be confused with a Mike Oldfield album of a similar name) and the opener deal with the subject of the regions wars and battles.

My favourite track on the album is also, funnily enough, the longest at 13 minutes plus. The Last Harvest is a wonderfully English epic where Chang’s guitar soars and Lucie’s vocals take the music to another level, almost reminiscent in points of either Pink Floyd or Mostly Autumn. The closing organ piece that rounds the track off is both sublime and elegiac, reminiscent of Harvest festival celebrations in Churches and Village Halls, the haunting sound you only get from a traditional organ.

This album is a fantastically mature and accomplished debut with some wonderfully English influences drawing from things as wonderfully diverse as folk rock, progressive rock and the Canterbury scene and it weaves them all into an incredibly rich tapestry of sounds and styles. Never jarring and in keeping with the rich musical seam of talent that runs through this album.

I really enjoyed this record, and it is one that will grow on you just like it grew on me and, in Lucie V, we have another wonderful singer with a unique voice who is integral to the success of this record. If you like your English progressive music, and want to try something new, The Kentish Spires are exactly what you need.

Released 27th July 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – Chris Squire – Fish Out of Water (2CD / 2DVD / 1LP / 2 X 7″ SINGLES LIMITED EDITION BOXSET) – by James R. Turner

At the last count there have been about 1 million approx. solo albums (ed. – I think you may be exaggerating there James…) from various members of Yes in it’s variety of incarnations (although to be fair, most of them are by Rick Wakeman!) and, now while the band strides the earth in two distinct incarnations (the ‘official’ Yes, where Billy Sherwood has stepped up into the much missed Chris Squire’s boots  and Yes Featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman), neither band has the anchorage or the sheer musical presence that Chris Squire had, the only man to appear on every Yes studio album and whose distinctive bass sound turned bass playing into an art, where it became more than just part of the back beat.

Billy Sherwood is excellent live at taking Chris’ place but there can only ever be one Chris Squire, Rickenbacker in hand, propelling the sound of Yes onwards.

Which is why, for my money, ‘Fish Out of Water’ is the finest solo album by any member of Yes ever released, it’s the finest album that Yes never released, and showcased Chris at his best. Here he takes on some astonishingly great sounds, aided and abetted by old Yes sparring partners Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz, such luminaries such as Mel Collins and Jimmy Hastings and orchestral arrangements by old friend Andrew Pryce-Jackson. This is pure undiluted Squire, where he lets his vocals and his bass take central stage.

In fact, he didn’t sound as powerful and as energised as this again until on the Yes ‘Drama’ album from 1980.

This re-issue on Esoteric Recordings  is available in both a standard double CD set, which includes the original album and the new stereo mix by Jakko Jakszyk (complete with bonus tracks, the single version of Lucky Seven and Chris Squire and Alan White’s Run with the Fox/Return of the Fox single) or a deluxe boxed set that includes the CD but also replica 7” singles of the bonus tracks, the album on 180g vinyl and ‘Fish Out of Water’ in a new 5.1 mix.

The only quibble I have with this is that the 5.1 mix is only available in the far more expensive box, and for those of us who love the album but don’t need the vinyl or bonus 7” singles, the cost of the box to get the 5.1 is quite prohibitive.

Hopefully when the box runs out, there may be second run of the CD with the 5.1 disc as I am sure the demand for it is out there.

Whilst some of the content (the interview with Chris Squire and track commentary for instance) is also on the 2006 Sanctuary edition of the album, the sound quality and remastering work is stellar. Where the Sanctuary copy fell was the sound of the album, it was very muddy, and the booklet looked like it had been run through a colour photocopier.

The mastering here brings out all the subtle nuances throughout the record and, of course, Jakko’s new stereo mix is a revelation, bringing new life into such epic pieces as the fantastic Hold Out Your Hand and You By My Side.

The two epics on this album were always Silently Falling, with it’s astonishing extended coda, and the orchestrally brilliant Safe (Canon Song) with its lush orchestrations taking up pretty much the whole of side two. This was true progressive music, none of yer regressive nonsense, this was Chris Squire pushing boundaries and making exciting dynamic and, on Safe, truly memorably moving songs.

You get the room for these songs to breathe and grow and develop, and the intricate sounds, subtle musical nuances, even the funk that’s on Lucky Seven (which to me was always the weakest on the album) has even grown on me and I can appreciate it a hell of a lot more than I ever did. Silently Falling for me is the centrepiece of this album, and oh, I would have loved for Yes to take this and make something of it as well (not that there is anything wrong at all with this version, far from it, but to hear Squire and Anderson singing on this together would have been amazing).

The 5.1 is even more astonishing, like King Crimson, Gentle Giant and, indeed, Yes, 5.1 is the music system progressive music was built for and, of course, Esoteric have a great track record in 5.1, as the Hawkwind ‘Warrior at the Edge of Time’ and the recent Barclay James Harvest re-issues show. It is a truly immersive experience for the music lover and it feels, just for the length of the album, that Chris Squire is in the room with you, that this is a private performance just for you, the sound of Silently Falling in 5.1 sending tingles down the spine. The whole mix is revelatory, there is so much more going on, and the mix is beautifully organic, pulling the sounds to life without ever compromising the album.

For those of you who already have this album on CD from previous below par re-issues and indeed the original vinyl and are wondering if it is worth getting a copy, I would say the sound has radically improved over any previous CD version and the Jakko stereo mix is revelatory. If you were thinking of the 5.1, which is on a par with the wonderful 5.1 version of ‘The Yes Album’ by the way, then you would have to look at your budget and decide if it is worth having,  complete with the vinyl.

This is a legendary ground-breaking record, from a legendary ground-breaking musician and, other than a Christmas record (the amusingly titled ‘Chris Squire’s Swiss Choir’) stands as the solo testament to Yes’ anchor. Maybe it is so good because he never made another, not knowing the man I couldn’t speculate on why not, maybe he felt he’d said all he needed to say solo, or perhaps he felt more comfortable within Yes, who can say? However, as one of the most innovative and distinctive musical forces in music, and a year after his untimely passing, this remaster is the appropriate way to celebrate his definitive musical statement.

Released 27th April 2018

Buy the boxset here

Review – Mabel Greer’s Toyshop – The Secret – by James R. Turner

Before Yes, there was Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, a band that originally existed between 1966-68 until original member Clive Bayley left and they became the first Yes line up.

MGT Re-formed back in 2014 with original members Clive Bayley, drummer Robert Hagger, Hugo Barre on bass and Max Hunt on keyboards. The album ‘New Way of Life’ was released in 2015 and ‘The Secret’ is the follow-up recorded and released towards the end of last year.

Mixing Bayley’s vocals and the bands power, they have headed down a route that both Yes and The Nice attempted with varying degrees of success, by blending new material with classically inspired pieces, (Turning to the Light – inspired by Tchaikovsky, Angel Sent – inspired by Beethoven, Swan – inspired by Tchaikovsky and the Closing the Secret inspired by Holst). Traditionally a lot of original prog was inspired by rock musicians wanting to make classical sounds, and this return to the bands roots is a nice nod to the journey the genre went on.

Bayley has a wonderfully deep English voice and a line in well observed melancholy and beauty, that makes this more than just a cash in on the Yes name.

There are some wonderful long songs that have room to breath and grown, like the opening Big Brother, Little Brother about the plight of the indigenous native Americans moved on by the white settlers, while two spiritual pieces (Love’s Fire and Image of Existence) use the words of the legendary Sufi academic and writer, the Iranian born Dr Javid Nubaksh, an example of Bayley’s widely travelled outlook, and his spiritual ideas.

In fact, this whole album runs a wide range of styles and sounds, and the band are absolutely on fire. Hunt’s keyboards add some wonderful bluesy style to More and More with its disdain for the consumerist lifestyle, while the guitar work reinterpreting Ode to Joy on Angel Sent is an absolute pleasure to listen.

Having come only a few years after the bands debut (only a mere 49 years after they were formed!) this shows that Bayley has started mining a rich creative and musical seam and now the band has coalesced to 4 like-minded musicians looking to the future. This album is one that has a few nods to the past and where the band came from, but also shows where Bayley’s journey differed from that of his earlier band mates, and looks far more to the future than to the past.

The biggest nod to the past however is the presence of the late Peter Banks on the final track The Secret, where his wonderfully unique guitar sound cuts through the track and sends shivers down the spine. As one, much like Bayley, (and despite having appeared and been fundamental in the early Yes sound on the first two albums), Banks long seems the forgotten man of Yes.

Finally, the current incarnation plays Time and a Word in tribute to him (with a big picture on the stage) and this guitar solo only continues to enhance his reputation.

This album is never going to be the forefront of a new genre or hit the top spot in the charts, I have no doubt that that’s not what its creators intended. Instead with its philosophy, it’s classic/rock crossover sound, it’s melancholy and languid guitar work and vocals, it is an English prog rock classic, refining and redefining what progressive music is and taking several steps forward whilst reflecting, representing and commemorating where they came from.

All in all, a very classy, mature and intelligent album that is a welcome addition to the band’s catalogue and see’s them hitting their stride with this new line up.

Released 8th December 2017

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – Mansun – Attack of the Grey Lantern (Deluxe Remastered Reissue) – by James R. Turner

Somewhere at the arse end of Britpop, where record labels and the bigger bands had either lost the plot or were rapidly evolving to avoid the Britpop tag, there were some truly great albums released in that fag end; ‘Urban Hymns’ by The Verve or ‘Be Here Now’ by Oasis captured the decline of the Britpop years beautifully, while Radiohead’s ‘Ok, Computer’ set the controls for the heart of the sun. Meanwhile four-piece Mansun, who were lumped, unfairly to my ears, into the whole Britpop scene (well, they were British, and they made music!) took the top of the charts with ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’.

Despite the strength of the follow up ‘Six’, as well as ‘Little Kixx’, the band folded amidst much acrimony, leaving behind a collection of albums that, if you were there you’d get, if you weren’t then you would be amazed that you hadn’t heard them before.

Now signed to Kscope for his debut album and having achieved critical acclaim for his come-back and his tour supporting Steven Wilson, original Mansun frontman Paul Draper recently toured the UK selling out venues performing ‘Attack…’ in it’s entirety for the first time.

With the Mansun back catalogue now on Kscope, they have brought out a luxurious 21st anniversary edition. This pulls together demo’s, live tracks, unreleased material and, the holiest of holies, a shiny new 5.1 mix of the album.

Back in 2010 when the rights were held by EMI, they produced a triple disc edition of the album and while, inevitably, there is some cross over, the demo’s and 5.1 mix make this new package as attractive to new fans and older ones who want to relive their youth.

Astonishingly there are people buying music today who weren’t even born when this album appeared, and doesn’t that make me feel old?

Starting out as a concept about a superhero, The Grey Lantern, the band admitted there weren’t quite enough songs to complete the concept, but it doesn’t matter when the material on here is of such quality and style.

Anyone unfamiliar with the original album won’t know how it starts with the best Bond theme there never was, the dramatic string laden and powerful The Chad Who Loved Me, before leading into the sardonically titled Mansun’s Only Love Song (this quirky sense of humour and self-deprecation was to be a trade mark of the band) and, while they were put into the Britpop box, there was always more going on musically, as the brilliantly Beatles inspired, and pure festival singalong, Taxlo$$ proved. There were the brilliant single releases like the epic Wide Open Space and Stripper Vicar, the former being an absolute musical epic, and the latter being a very English piece of musical high-farce which could only have been made by an English band.

With a closing quartet of songs, She Makes my Nose Bleed, Naked Twister, Egg Shaped Fred and Dark Mavis, there is no bad track on this album. It is one of those organically produced records from the golden age of CDs where the sequence is everything and the album must be listened to in its entirety. This is no collection of songs to stream or put on as background, this is an album as art and, as such, is full of class, heart and soul.

Which is why it is perfect for the 5.1 treatment. There was always plenty going on musically with Mansun and the 5.1 mix enhances and expands this, giving the tracks real wide open space to breath. This makes it a completely immersive experience, taking it all back to listening to albums as they were meant to be listened to, you, a room and the sounds taking them over.

The fact that Mansun were so obviously head and shoulders above most of the Britpop crowd means they were more on a par with Pulp than Oasis, in that they have made timeless, classy intelligent rock music, music that wasn’t afraid to be a bit different from the norm. Listening back now it’s hard to imagine that if Mansun appeared from nowhere and released this today that it would get to number one. While it is easier to access music today, I have a suspicion that, looking at the demographic of the record buying youth 21 years ago, they were probably more accepting to trying something slightly different than the youth of today. So different, in fact, that they let, and actively encouraged Radiohead and Mansun to get away with blatant prog right under their noses in the depths of Britpop, the cheeky little scamps!

After seeing Paul Draper perform ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’ live (a gig I’d only been waiting to see for 21 years) my interest in all things Mansun has been rekindled and, as Kscope have the full back catalogue, it appears that the follow up to ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’, the even more astonishing and out there ‘Six’, is being readied for 5.1.

If ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’ was the gateway drug, ‘Six’ is where we hit the hard stuff. With Paul Draper promising to perform it in it’s entirety live next year, well, I am already eagerly awaiting the next instalment in the Mansun story and, after immersing yourself in this well made, and well remastered set (the new mixes sound sublime and are really sympathetic to the original album) you will be too.

(As a note for those of you who aren’t into 5.1, there is a standard edition available as well, shiny and remastered for your pleasure.)

Released 8th June 2018

Buy the album from Burning Shed here

Band pictures by Pennie Smith.

 

Review – Strangefish – The Spotlight Effect – by James R. Turner

Back in the day when I was more heavily involved in helping at gigs and on merch desks for the CRS than I am now (and we’re talking not quite 20 years ago) I had the pleasure of seeing some amazing bands at the HLC in Rotherham, during what some regard as the golden era of the old CRS. I watched bands like Mostly Autumn, Karnataka, Arena, Threshold, among many others (all of whom are now household names across this mighty span of genre that we cover here at Progradar) make their first tentative steps into the spotlight, some more successfully than others. Some became instant favourites but some took time to bed in.

Now, other than the mighty Jump, there was only one band who never played the same set twice and brought bags of charm and charisma to the stage, and who presided over some of my favourite CRS gigs over the years that I was attending either as staff or simply Johnny Punter.

That band of course is Strangefish, those Mancunian scamps who used to pop over the border on a regular basis, not just as ‘the turn’ but also as members of the audience. These guys didn’t just play prog, they were immersed in the scene, loving the music they were playing and the bands who weren’t them.

After releasing one EP and two albums, the last of which, ‘Fortune Telling’, was their masterpiece, a full blown and fantastic concept album, they took an extended holiday. Drifting off a scene that they had illuminated and blown away with their musical presence, wallflowers they weren’t, and yet once they’d reeled us in, they were gone. Always leave ‘em wanting more it seemed.

Now, only a mere 12 years after their last album, they return, with an enhanced line up, and a brand-new slice of sound, ‘The Spotlight Effect’.

The core band, charismatic vocalist Steve Taylor, Paul O’Neill on keys, Bob on guitars and Dave Whittaker on drums, welcome new members Carl Howard on bass and Jo Whittaker on vocals, (and having seen this line-up at their debut gig a few years ago, I can confirm they are a mighty powerful musical combination) this is Strangefish reborn.

The break seems to have done them the world of good and, on the surprising opener, the acoustic Death of Common Sense, the well observed and intelligent lyrics are back yet the sonic palette is expanded. It might seem brave opening an album with an atypical song and a new sound for them, but this is the confidence of a band who know they’ve still got it and have a renewed sense of purpose.

Progress in Reverse is a scathing look at where we are now over an amazing musical piece, really jumping out on you after the opener. This is more familiar territory but with that subtly harder edge and deeper sound, this is a real boot you up the bum moment.

As the title of the album (and its subtitle – the phenomenon in which people tend to believe they are being noticed more than they actually are) suggests, it’s overriding themes are over exposure and the fact that anyone can be a celebrity by being online.

Topics which the wonderful, and heavier edged, Iconacon (what a fantastic title) tackles with some skill and aplomb, Bob rocking out with the best of them and the band musically on top form, trading licks and riffs and vocals.

There’s also loss felt on this album, the lovely Summer Slips Away is a hauntingly beautiful poignant ballad where the understated guitar work of Bob and Paul’s gentle keyboards allow Steve and Jo’s wonderful duet to shine. The two voices work perfectly, it’s amazing the impact a second vocalist has on the band’s sound.

Strangefish have always been fond of their epics and well known for their effervescent stage presence and fun-loving attitude. There’s been serious undercurrents from tracks like Ignorance of Bliss of ‘Fortune Telling’ and, of course, they are no strangers to epic work outs that give them room to breathe and build and here is no exception.

The centrepiece of the album is the three-parter Delicate, consisting of 1: Now is not the time, 2: Half the Battle and3: The Light at the other side. This is a full-blown epic, looking at the struggle of life, the human condition and reaching out for help. There is so much going on here that I could spend the whole review analysing it however, the nature of the subject matter and the nuances and, indeed, resonance it will have with you is dependant on your perspectives and experiences, so I will leave it for you to decipher emotionally. I will say that Steve has never sounded better on vocals, particularly about 12 minutes in on the Half the battle section, before the motive spoken word part and then Bob’s guitar and Paul’s keyboard kicks in, it is heart wrenching.

The part where Jo’s vocals kick in after Paul’s sublime subdued keyboards and leads us into the Light at the other side, followed by Steve returning with a haunting counter melody, is the sound of 2018 Strangefish. Two powerful vocalists pushing each other on and giving the song such emotional depth and resonance.

Title track The Spotlight Effect features some great heavy guitar and bass work, the addition of Carl has ever so subtly brought the heavier and darker sound of the bands music out, with Bob and Dave sounding like they are enjoying themselves, riffing away whilst Paul’s keyboard work sparkles.

The instrumental Reverse Switch does that sneaky prog trick of revisiting Progress in Reverse, leading into the album closer, the rousing and stirring Up toYouThis has the closest sound to ‘old’ Strangefish as anything on here, with it’s big chorus and optimistic message, it finishes this cracking album with a positive and funky vibe.

Bands reforming after a break with new members can either give us a ‘90125’ or a ‘Calling All Stations’. Fortunately, this album is the follow up that ‘Fortune Telling’ deserved and is Strangefish’s strongest album to date. After having had that break, I think we can now put Strangefish back where they belong.

Next time when you look in the dictionary under the phrase ‘Comeback’ you will see a picture of this album.

Released 18th June 2018

Contact the band at sales@strangefish.co.uk to get a copy of the CD

Band picture by Jo Eames – Bank Studios

Review – Haken L-1VE – by James R Turner

 

Haken released their rather special ‘Affinity’ album back in 2016 and followed it up with a celebratory 10th anniversary European tour which, unsurprisingly, focused on that electro inspired album and its predecessor, the album that made their name, ‘The Mountain’.

Now, in the best tradition of all bands, they have decided to release their first live album, and what a package it is for fans.

Not only do we get a double disc live set taken from their gig in Amsterdam last year, but we also get the full set on DVD, complete with a 2nd DVD of their 4-song set at ProgPower USA in 2016 and the official music videos for Initiate, Earthrise and Lapse.

For anyone who was on that tour (and I was) this is a wonderful memento, and for those who weren’t lucky enough to be there, well, let me tell you more.

Its good to see Haken releasing their first live album as I get incredibly bored with bands getting on the album, tour, live album treadmill, especially where (particularly with the bigger bands) the set lists are written in tablets of stone and, much like dinosaur remains, are very much museum pieces. The key to a great live record (like ‘Wings Over America’, Wishbone Ash’s ‘Live Dates’ or ‘Field Recordings’ by The Fierce and the Dead) is its scarcity, and its immediacy. No-one wants to see a concert where the band duplicates their album sound live on stage with no spontaneity or the feeling that you are living in the moment, and no-one wants to buy a live album from a gig that sounds like the studio recordings, that’s the ultimate example of irrelevance. If you keep releasing live albums you lose your audience and Haken, wisely, have chosen a moment when they have a breadth and depth of songs to chose from and a moment in time when they are currently an energetic and enthusiastic live band with a lot of presence and charisma.

The current line-up of Ross Jennings (vocals) who works the stage like a frontman should which, added to the powerhouse drumming of Raymond Hearne and driving bass of Conner Green, puts that bedrock together to give Richard Henshall’s & Charles Griffiths guitars room to stretch. The keys of Diego Tejeida round it out and it’s the electronic sound that helps make the ‘Affinity’ material so strong on stage.

This taut and assured performance is reflected throughout this record. One of the treats for those of us who love the longer songs is Aquamedley, 22 minutes of the tracks from their debut album ‘Aquarius’, reworked and forming an integral part of the set.

That is what a live show, and album, should be all about, all eras are covered, with a rousing version of Visions closing the record. As previously stated, ‘The Mountain’ and ‘Affinity’ make up the bulk of the tracks, as songs like 1985, Affintiy.exe/Initiate and epic The Architect get a good work out, making their their mark on the bands set.

The only minor issue I have with Haken at this juncture of their career is that they seem to have their feet in a number of camps, neither being full blown prog, prog-metal or sitting in the electronic arena that ‘Affinity’ introduced to their sound. I would like to see them pick a direction (preferably the electronic sound) and move more cohesively towards it, but that’s my opinion, and it doesn’t detract from what is an excellently produced and sublimely performed live show.

With the superb bonus material on the second DVD, and the videos from their excellent Affinity album, this is a fantastic snapshot of where Haken are now, and of what a powerful and confident band they have become.

If they continue down this road, and hone their sound following the electronic influences of ‘Affinity’ they could be well positioned to be one of the defining bands of the new era.

Released 22nd June 2018

Order the album from Burning Shed here

 

Reviews – Esoteric Reissues Round-Up Part 5 – Stray – by James R. Turner

Across these 6 discs and two sets, one a four disc box and one a double disc set, Esoteric Recordings meticulously collects together the 8 albums (‘Stray’, 1970, ‘Suicide’, 1971,‘Saturday Morning Pictures’, 1971, ‘Mudanzas’, 1973 and ‘Move It’, 1974 recorded for Transatlantic & ‘Stand up and Be Counted’, 1975, ‘Houdini’, 1976 and ‘Hearts of Fire’, 1976 all recorded for Pye) complete with demos, singles and b sides. These are the definitive musical collections of Stray, the London based four piece who were so highly regarded, and who worked bloody hard between 1974 and 1976.

Stray – All In Your Mind – The Transatlantic Years 1970-1974: 4 CD Box Set

Like so many of their peers who made a great live impression in that early part of the 1970’s, Stray had already built up a large following. Lead guitarist Del Bromham (a guitarist who is still highly regarded among guitar aficionados today) had already been plying his trade as a teenager in his brother’s band, so had honed his live skills early on.

This meant that when Stray coalesced around Del Bromham, vocalist Steve Gadd, drummer Ritchie Coles and bassist Gary Giles, the band had already had a few years gigging experience, working the clubs in 1967/68 (even though the band were all only around 17.) This hard work ethic, and the fact they had honed their craft on the road meant they had already served their time when they were eventually signed to the Transatlantic label, who were looking to expand their horizons into the burgeoning underground scene. It also meant that, as a band, they were already the finished article, so there’s no first album jitters or false starts on their debut ‘Stray’ (1970).

Instead, you get a highly confident and energetic 8 song debut album. Borrowing the phrase ‘all killer and no filler’ the fantastic opener All in Your Mind (eventually covered by Iron Maiden of all people) acts as a statement of intent,  as (to all intents and purposes) what is their stage act is laid down here for all to enjoy. You wouldn’t know their age based on the song writing on show here.

The soulful vocals of Gadd and the bluesy guitar work of Bromham works in tangent to create a vibrant and energetic debut that is an absolute joy to listen to. It reminds me in part of the debut by Wishbone Ash, not so much musically but, certainly, spiritually in that unique sound both bands have and, in their sheer innate confidence of their own talent, that they can go out there and make any kind of music they like just because they can.

By 1971’s ‘Suicide’, another highly rated album, the boys had none of the sophomore slump that afflicted bands like Yes or Deep Purple instead, they bounced out of the studio with another mighty fine hard rocking set of originals (that’s another one of their strengths, for their first 4 albums they relied entirely on their own song writing), the bands musical sound had expanded, as to be expected, with the introduction of instruments like mellotrons and pianos.

Other than that they were still the hard rocking London quartet that they started out as, building on the success of the debut and, with some fine Bromham cuts like Where Do Our Children Belong and Do You Miss Me, and the Steve Gadd penned Dearest Eloise, the band were expanding their sound whilst remaining true to their roots.

Listening to these albums, you can see that no matter what they did, there was always something innately Stray about them, you could never mistake them for anyone else.

By the time 1971 finished the band had already released their third album, the more expansive ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’ (complete with the obligatory Hipgnosis sleeve), which really opened up the bands sound, due in part to the maturity of their song writing (check out After the Storm or the instrumental passage in Queen of the Sea) but also due to the production by the legendary Martin Birch (who was moving into production after making his mark engineering for bands like Deep Purple).

Birch of course made his mark with Iron Maiden but here, his list of contacts helped widen the bands sound out. With the calibre of guests such as the wonderful PP Arnold, Vicki Brown and Lisa Strike, all of whose sublime voices added so much. This was a step up in sound and quality and was due to the band’s building success.

1973’s ‘Mudanzas’ saw a more widescreen approach in term of production, with orchestra and brass on tracks like the driving Come On Over (a decision which didn’t sit too well with Bromham, who thought they drowned out the band at points), it certainly smacks of ambition and puts a more commercial sheen on the sound and, given a push, could have put them on a sounder and more successful commercial footing, especially with elements of the ELO approach running though this and  Gadd’s vocals just getting better and better. Tracks like the brilliantly bluesy Gambler work well with the brass and the funky bass of Giles, who, along with Coles, is the powerhouse rhythm section that keeps the band motoring along. Bromham’s guitar is fine as ever and the harmony vocals he now also provided, add so much more to the music.

By 1974’s ‘Move It’ the band were on the verge of leaving Transatlantic and, for the first time, not only did they record a cover version but, they also made it the title of their album! Relocated at the managements suggestion to the States, ‘Move It’ was recorded in Connecticut, produced again by Wilf Pine from their management company. As Del Bromham is incredibly honest about in the superb booklet notes by Malcolm Dome, it was a mistake on the band’s part to switch management.

Opening with a drum solo called Tap (after all, this was 1974, and it was illegal for all prog and rock albums to be released without a drum solo) they then launch into Move It, which was completely Strayed up and has plenty of that guitar and power they well were known for. To be honest, it blows Cliff’s version out of the water.

The rest of the album, whilst being classic Stray, has always been regarded by the band as bit of a mish mash where they were trying too many different things. Tracks like Bromham’s rocking Hey Domino,their cover of Jimmie Helm’s Customs Man or Gadd’s Mystic Lady and Our Plea especially, moving the band into slightly softer and more melodic areas. This is the sound of a band searching for a new direction and not quite finding it, not a bad record at all, but certainly one which has plenty of alternative musical avenues to head down.

With the final disc in the Transatlantic Years containing their Pye demos from 1968, which show how fully formed the band already were, to the singles A’s & B’s and a couple of tracks from a Transatlantic compilation in 1975, this is the bands early years complete, and completely marvellous.

This is a fine collection of 5 brilliant albums from a band who are sadly underrated and who could so easily have been one of the biggest bands in the early 1970’s.

All In Your Mind – The Transatlantic Years 1970-1974: 4CD Box SetStray

Stray – Fire & Glass – The Pye Recordings 1975-1976: 2CD Remastered Edition

The second collection, ‘Fire & Glass’, picks up the Stray story in 1975. Upon leaving Transatlantic, looking for a label with more clout in the rock area, Stray found themselves on Pye and, having also lost original member Steve Gadd, who was moving into different musical areas than Stray. Luckily they had already hired a second guitarist, Pete Dyer, to do some of the heavy lifting on stage so Gadd could be the frontman so, when Gadd left, it ended up with Bromham and Dyer singing and playing guitar.

This had an impact on the sound, as Bromham took songs that he was intending to use as a solo album and brought them to Stray, ‘Stand Up And Be Counted’. With a far more cohesive sound than its predecessor, and a different feel, with two guitarists in the band and two vocalists, it has elements of Wishbone Ash to it but, then, that’s more the two guitars than the music.

Musically it shows how Bromham’s song writing had matured and this shows across all three of these Pye albums in fact, tracks like Stand Up and be Counted, with its soulful female vocals, and Waiting for the Big Break (autobiographical perhaps) are a couple of standout songs on a fantastic album.

1976’s ‘Houdini’, released just at the dawn of Punk, is, again, a fantastically coherent set of material, running against the perceived current style. We can ignore the fashion as this year’s fashion is always next years cast offs, true class will always shine through and that is what Stray have by this point in their career. A relaxed muscular swagger on tracks like Give a Little Bit, with some fine guitar work from both Bromham and Dyer, the wonderfully anthemic Everybody’s Song and the brilliant Fire and Glass (which provides this collection with its title) showed a band still in control of their sound and their music with some real funky swagger on Bromham’s Gonna Have a Party.

Their final album before the band split up was 1976’s ‘Hearts of Fire’, released in December in one of the most incongruous sleeves ever, one which Bromham also, in candid honesty, wasn’t too chuffed about. It’s some weird robot which has nothing to do with the content of the music, ah record labels hey?

Tracks like Buying Time brought a funky sound and use of the talk box to add some fine effects to the solos, meanwhile Knocking at Your Door has a far more laid-back West Coast vibe, not dissimilar to where Fleetwood Mac were at the time.

Again, Bromham was the principle songwriter on these album, with only one track (Take a Life) being a co written with the original Stray trio. With Bromham writing the bulk of the album, again it has a musical flow and coherence that some of the earlier albums didn’t have.

The mix of acoustic and electric guitars and subtle keyboard parts give this album a real laid back and chilled out vibe. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of that defining guitar sound, but the song writing has matured into a real soulful sound and this is reflected by the arrangements and themes on the album. I Wanna Be having that amazing driving guitar work and powerful bass line, hints of disco bubbling under, and reminiscent of the sound that certain NWOBHM bands would use.

This is a fantastic set of well written and performed rock sounds and, despite Stray being the same age or younger than the Punks who reduced music to a Year Zero approach in 1976, they were being old school, they unfortunately split up, never quite having been as successful as they deserved.

The overriding impression from listening to these albums and reading the history is that Stray were the right band but never quite in the right place, or on the right label, at the right time. Instead, like so many great ‘cult’ bands, they have been discovered by word of mouth and people have liked what they heard.

What has astonished me is that in my 20 odd years rooting round in the obscure corners and lost attics of prog and classic rock music, I have never heard of Stray before, or had them recommended to me. Which just goes to show that you can show an old hack a new trick and that there are still some amazing bands out there to rediscover and rehabilitate.

Stray reformed in the 80’s and carry on working now, however it is these 8 albums that made their reputation and which are an absolute delight to discover. If you’ve never heard them you are in for a treat, if you have heard bits, then you’ll be amazed what you’ll find and if you’re already a fan, then you’ve probably just wasted the last 15 minutes having me tell you something you already know!

Fire & Glass – The Pye Recordings 1975-1976: 2CD Remastered EditionStray

Reviews – Esoteric Reissues Round-Up Part 4 – by James R. Turner

Gandalf – Journey To An Imaginary Land: Remastered Edition

This week over in my special little corner of Progradar I continue to catch up (and round up) a whole sphere of different releases from the Esoteric label, which is as wide and varied as the name implies, and so we’ll start with their reissues of ‘Journey to an Imaginary Land’  by German electronic pioneer Gandalf.

There is nothing more prog than a Tolkien inspired name and this, remastered and reissued, is his debut solo album. Gandalf (real name Heinz Strobl) had done the hard yards in a variety of bands throughout the 70’s and he took all his experience and ideas and visions andworked on them himself, without a deal at the time.

The result is what is highly regarded as one of the defining instrumental albums where prog meets classical influences then meets new age music.

There are obvious nods to the work of Mike Oldfield and Tangerine Dream here but, as these are symphonic pioneers, it would be very hard to create this kind of album and not be influenced by them somewhere along the line.

However, Gandalf is no mere copyist or homagist, instead he takes the idea that electronic music can also be symphonic and runs with it. Having previously been a songwriter, he has a strong idea of melody and structure and simply replaces vocals with electronic sounds.

Not only that, Gandalf fully understands structure and flow, and from the opening Departure to the closing Sunset at the Crystal Lake, we are taken on a soothing and entrancing musical journey.

From the joyous moments in The Peaceful Village (with the guitar driven, almost folky, ‘The Dance of Joy’)to the epic and flowing March Across the Endless Plain, the music and, indeed, the titles are incredibly evocative, providing a soundtrack to an imaginary fantasy film.

The blend of flowing synth sounds and compositional structure and, indeed, use of acoustic guitar on here creates some beautiful ambient soundscapes, nothing is rushed. This is the sort of album where the music slowly builds and grows.

After being out of print for a while it is good to hear this influential album getting the treatment it deserves and, if you like anything ambient and electronic, this is the one for you.

Journey To An Imaginary Land: Remastered EditionGandalf

Osmosis – Osmosis: Remastered Edition

Moving from German ambience, we head over to America, Boston in fact, for the extraordinary only album released by Jazz Rock fusion band Osmosis.

Originally released in 1970 on RCA, this was the culmination of a few years hard gigging by the band formed around the Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts. Neither one thing nor t’other, the band featured legendary flautist and saxophonist Charlie Mariano, Bob Knox on vocals, Danny Comfort on bass, Lou Peterson on drums, Bobby Clark on percussion and drums, Andy Steinborn on guitar and backing vocals and Charlie Bechler on keyboards.

Mixing jazz influences and rock power, this was the band’s debut, and only album, making its appearance here on CD for the first time ever. It’s hard to credit that a band with this much power and musical precision behind them could have dropped off the radar for so long, but such is the fickle finger of the music business.

With Mariano up front, his flutes and saxes acting almost like a lead guitar, and then the power that having two drummers brings, this merges some of the great improvisational styles of jazz with the full balls out rock. Tracks like the unusual and insanely paced Of War and Peace (In Part) with it’s unusual time signatures and vocal chanting distils the band essence into one song.

The rock vocals of Knox are powerful and add a soulful edge to tracks like Sunrise.The band, instead of having solos here there and everywhere, pull together to create some truly astonishing musical moments, like the psychedelic wig out that goes on throughout Sunrise.

Whilst the band hated the production and the sleeve notes written by producer Dave Blume, feeling he muffled their sound, the structure and sound on Shadows for instance makes it near perfect.

In fact, this whole album is superb with the unique blend of disciplines and styles that the band bring make this a phenomenal release, even more amazing when you consider RCA only gave them 8 hours to record it! Packed with fantastic sleeve notes from Sid Smith, this is an album that, if you are a fan of the melting pot where rock and jazz meet, you need to hear.

Osmosis: Remastered EditionOsmosis

The Flock – Truth – The Columbia Recordings 1969 -1970: “CD Remastered Anthology

Staying over the pond we now turn to The Flock, this time heading over to Chicago where, along with Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears, they formed a mighty triumvirate in the late 60’s and, like the other two, were signed to Columbia records. ‘Truth, The Columbia Recordings 1969-1970’ brings together their two albums and disparate singles recorded for the label, 1969’s ‘The Flock’ and 1970’s ‘Dinosaur Swamps’.

With violinist Jerry Goodman to the fore, their blend of classical influences, R ‘n B and origins as a guitar band meant they had a wide musical palette to draw from. The wonderful Introduction, which features Goodman to the fore, sets the scene perfectly for their debut, which had impressive sleeve notes by John Mayall who had seen the band live in 1969 and was blown away.

Their blend of blues/funk and Goodman’s violin makes this sound fantastic. The extended funky work out on the Kinks’ So Tired of Waiting is exemplar of what a good cover version should be, taking the original and melding it into something totally new and funky.

The vocal harmonies by Goodman and guitarist Fred Glickstein blend perfectly over a funky bass from Jerry Smith, whilst the bands’ brass section of Rick Canoff on tenor Sax and Frank Posa on trumpet really go mad and bring a real swing vibe to this track.

It’s these musical meetings of minds that make this album sublime, as the guitar work from Glickstein and the violin from Goodman vie for attention throughout. Whilst the 7-piece including funky powerhouse drummer Ron Karpman and Tom Webb on sax, flute, harmonica and maracas brings the sound tightly together.

This album, to put it bluntly, swings and rocks, the combination of brass and violin is one that works sublimely well together as the 6 tracks on the original prove. Nothing outstays its welcome here, and the length of some of the songs gives some real room for improvisation and freewheeling. I know that not everyone appreciates that but the intricacies that the band play, and the stylish solos particularly on expansive original closer Truth, can’t help putting a smile on your face.

This first disc is rounded out by the edited single versions of Store Bought – Store Thought and Tired of Waiting, the non-album tracks What Would you Do if the Sun Died?and Lollipops and Rainbows plus a real curio, the French edit of Clowns, split into two parts for one single.

By 1970’s ‘Dinosaur Swamps‘, the title taken from a trip that band had, Tom Webb was replaced by Jon Gerber, who not only bought flute and sax to the party, but also his banjo, adding a different vibe to the album.

The album is one the band describe as their ‘Sgt Pepper’ and it is an evolution rather than a revolution in their song writing, the familiar is still in place, and the band haven’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater. However, the experience of being on the road, playing some big American gigs, and of recording a debut album, is obvious on tracks like Big Bird which oozes confidence and a real country vibe with the mix of violin and banjo on show.

The band have really gone to town on this album and, again, the mix of brass, rock, violin and banjo create a huge musical sound with mood changes and real up-tempo vibes, particularly on Hornschmeyers Island which, with Goodman’s improv to the fore, sees how he brought his skill to the mighty Mahavishnu Orchestra when The Flock folded.

I love this sound, the mighty mix of jazz, rock and violins, it probably would have passed me by 20 years ago but now I love how the moods change, the bass sneaks in suddenly to underpin a beautiful solo and then the brass kicks in. This is just as progressive as any of the bands from ’69 like Yes, King Crimson or Floyd and, just because it starts with jazz and blues doesn’t make it any less important, innovative or bloody good music.

The guitar work on tracks like Lighthouse are sublime and the way everything just works on this album showcases how tight a band The Flock were, and how they were pioneers of this sound and vibe.

Of interest in this collection are 4 tracks recorded for their never finished album ‘Flock Rock’ that Sony exhumed in the 1990’s for a compilation, and which rightly join their brethren here on this impressive double set. There is a whole lot of music here and, if you love music that has its fingers in many pies and is refreshing, original and bloody cool, then this is for you. An absolute blast from start to finish.

Truth – The Columbia Recordings 1969-1970: 2CD Remastered AnthologyFlock

Quintessence – Move Into The Light – The Complete Island Recordings 1969 – 1971: Remastered Edition

Next, we head back to Britain, London to be more specific, and the environs of Ladbrook Grove in the late 1960’s where the multinational band Quintessence were formed out of a variety of talented musicians who had gravitated to London to play in the nascent psychedelic scene. ‘Move into the Light’, a double disc anthology collects their three albums (‘In Blissful Company’ 1969, ‘Quintessence’ 1970 and ‘Dive Deep’ 1971) recorded for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records.

Mixing Western rock vibes with Indian mystical ideals had worked for George Harrison and whilst for some bands it was fashionable to have a sitar in one or two songs, Quintessence mixed the whole Indian and Western vibe together over three diverse and interesting albums.

If you have ever heard George Harrison’s ‘Wonderwall Music’ album (and if not, why not??) then take that as the starting point, it’s where Indian and English rock merges for the first time successfully and Quintessence take that vibe and carry it further than George did, as tracks like the debut album’s Gange Mai, with it’s rock background and Indian chanting shows. Flowing straight into the aptly named Chant, with it’s Hare Krishna chants (a refrain that is very popular through rock over the ages, as musicians seek out divinity – of interest is also ‘The Radha Krishna Temple’, produced by George Harrison and released on Apple, that is far more Indian chant based then Quintessence but comes from the same sphere) and the familiar sound of the table and the sitar, with its rhythmic and structured chants and repetition, it’s the Eastern version of Gregorian chanting, and a possible link to the universal chord and the music of the spheres.

Whilst most bands from this era had paid lip service to the Eastern vibe, Quintessence were far more serious than that, taking on Indian names, so Aussie keyboard and vocalist Phil Jones (a successful musician in his native land) became Shiva whilst fellow Aussie band leader Ron Rothfield, flautist and songwriter, became Raja Ram, Richard Vaughan on bass became Shambhu Babaji and Dave Codling on rhythm guitar became Maha Dev.

This blend of Eastern mysticism and Western rock led to hypnotic chant and sitar sounds mixed in with more trad rock sounds like on the wonderfully entrancing Notting Hill Gate, about the area in London they were based in. Moonlight Mode with its instrumental twists and turns and Indian drone coda shows the bands musicianship.

The fact that Island Records gave the band complete artistic freedom can be heard here on this incredibly mature and complex debut album, recorded with producer John Barham, who helped facilitate the bands ideas (and who, coincidentally had also worked on ‘Wonderwall Music’), this successful relationship carried on through to the band’s self-titled second album released in 1970.

The bands lavish sensibilities were not just confined to the music, but also their artwork and, again with Barham in the studio, the band expanded the sound with more confidence, after all, the reason they were signed originally was their power as a live act. Opening with the powerful Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Guaranga the second album was more of the first but with a subtler blend of the mystic, the esoteric and the experimental.

Barham as a producer was like their George Martin, helping get more out of the band and push them in the studio. With guitar work from lead guitarist Allan Mostert replicating the scales of the sitar and replacing it on lengthy instrumental work outs, the complex and circling sounds were almost hypnotic and meditative.

The band had decided to write an Opera and the only track left from that concept is High on Mount Kasailash, with its chant and sparse instrumentation, again a subtle blend of minimalism and Indian that works well together. Burning Bush and St Pancreas, both live cuts, show the bands mighty fine live credentials off here on an album that wears its Eastern and Western influences on its sleeves (of a psychedelic musical jacket).

By 1971’s ‘Deep Dive’ Quintessence had moved on from John Barham, with the band musically confident and even more in control of their own musical destiny to realise they can handle it all themselves and this is their most complete album yet, 6 tracks that reflect the bands musical maturity and inner vision. The title track, for instance, has some lovely guitar work from Allan, and an almost transcendental middle passage.

Meanwhile we are introduced to a Hindu belief of the Highest Universal Principle, Brahman, via a slow building percussion driven piece that boils the principle down to everything is Brahman, with a fab chorus, some sublime vocals and a great flute piece. The Seer is a fantastically soulful track, sounding like it could have dropped off any late period Traffic album, with more of that driving percussion and sublime guitar work.

Despite recording a few albums for the Mercury label, these Island albums are the ones where Quintessence made their name, and the ones which showed their passion, their diversity and their musical skill. This is one for fans of that period where psychedelia merged into folk, and of interest to those who wanted bands like The Beatles to take the Indian/Rock sound further.

Move Into The Light ~ The Complete Island Recordings 1969-1971: Remastered EditionQuintessence

John McLaughlin, John Surman, Karl Berger, Stu Martin, Dave Holland – Where Fortune Smiles: Remastered Edition

Our journey on this little musical mystery tour ends in New York, where five pioneering jazz musicians met in 1970 and created ‘Where Fortune Smiles’, an absolutely electric combination of some of the finest jazz musicians of the early 70’s, John McLaughlin, the pioneering British jazz guitarist who rewrote the rules with his fluid playing and his influential Mahavishnu Orchestra, John Surman with his incendiary baritone sax, German Karl Berger (whose vibraphone playing led to stints with Don Cherry), Stu Martin (the American born drummer who worked with Duke Ellington and John Surman) and Dave Holland, the British bassist who’d worked with artists like Miles Davies.

At this juncture, when these 5 musicians had either worked together or knew people who knew each other, the jazz scene, like the folk scene, was very incestuous, so they just all happened to be in New York one day in 1970 and recorded these five tracks in that day. Talk about spontaneity, musical compatibility and the sheer verve and energy that these five big names who would each make their mark elsewhere, bring to this session. You only need to listen to the power of Stu Martin on McLaughlin’s Hope whilst McLaughlin gets noises from an electric guitar that you wouldn’t expect.

The power, innovation and originality across these 5 tracks is astonishing and, at just 35 minutes long, this album never outstays it’s welcome, The way that Surman’s sax or Berger’s vibes drift through the music, whilst McLaughlin does what he’s best at, is a joy to hear With Dave Hollands innovative bass adding so much, when rounded off with the powerhouse drumming, this album is an absolute blast, with invention and excitement throughout every track.

This kind of fusion free form improvising is not for everybody and, if you prefer your music more structured or regimented, you really won’t enjoy this. However, if, like me, you’ve recently discovered the joys of this style of music, then this is a welcome addition to any CD collection.

Where Fortune Smiles: Remastered EditionJohn McLaughlin/John Surman/Karl Berger/Stu Martin/Dave Holland

 

 

Reviews – Esoteric Reissues Round Up Part 3 – Blonde on Blonde, Anthony Phillips and Tim Blake

This time round, those busy people at Esoteric have been rooting out some of the best albums you’ve never heard to continue building an amazing archive of lost acts, those who were fantastic and never quite made it.

For every Yes, there’s about half a dozen no’s littering the path, who, for whatever reason (bad management, no record label support, right album wrong time), never hit the history books.

Blonde On Blonde – Rebirth

Released in 1970, ‘Rebirth’ was the second album from Welsh prog band Blonde On Blonde. Having returned to Newport after they weren’t making enough cash in London, the band signed with Ember records (home of BB King & Glen Campbell at the time) and with new vocalist, 18-year-old David Thomas, the band set about crafting this masterpiece.

With effusive sleeve notes on the original album from the effusive Tommy Vance (who was a big supporter of the band) this experienced live act, who had played the Isle of Wight Festival twice, brought all their skills honed on the road into the studio.

As the band freely admit in the sleeve notes the opening Castles in the Sky (written by Eve King & Paul Smith) was included on the album at the behest of a BBC producer John King who had got the band a showcase performance on a BBC Bristol TV show, and his wife wanted to be on the album. Blonde On Blonde (yes, they were named after that Dylan album) didn’t feel it representative of them, though overall as songs go, it is of it’s time. However, if you feel it jars then we have the beauty of the CD skip button.

The band had been compared to the Moody Blues but that did get used quite a lot when you have a band who are rock in their outlook and symphonic in their vision.

The band, Gareth Johnson on guitars, Richard Hopkins (bass, organ) and Les Hopkins on drums, had a wide musical palette to draw from, having been influenced by the R’n B scene and with taut instrumentation, great vocals and an ear for a melody, I find they fit into areas Wishbone Ash would sit in. With some sublime extended work outs on tracks like Colour Questions and Time is Passing, they showed a maturity of song writing, whilst the closing piano driven You’ll never Know Me/Release, with it’s wonderful vocal refrain and driving beat, is a real delight for anyone who appreciates good quality classic rock and the powerful musical coda is up there with anything else recorded in this period.

These guys were the real deal, and as the band grew in musical power they really pushed the boat out on their next album.

Rebirth: Remastered and Expanded EditionBlonde On Blonde

Blonde On Blonde – Reflections on a Life

Released in 1971, the epic ‘Reflections on a Life’ saw another change in personnel as Richard Hopkins moved on to be replaced by Newport based guitarist Graham Davies who also added bass, acoustic guitar, banjo and vocals.

Now with the music written by both Thomas and Johnson, this epic collection of tracks that widens their musical horizons more with blues, country music and more, is a conceptual song cycle telling the story of someone’s life from birth to death. Recorded at the legendary Rockfield studios and on a tight budget, the band utilised all their creativity and, indeed, turned in a fantastic collection of songs dealing with some seriously dark lyrical matter tied to some wonderful rock. The powerful driving rock of I Don’t Care, all about incest, contrasted with the wonderfully mellow blues folk of Love Song.

The band really took the ball and ran with it, despite, or because of, the disdain of the record label. They threw everything into this album and, with tracks about family murder (the nicely ironic Happy Families), the incredibly experimental Gene Machine and some suitably iconic artwork, it makes for a fantastic listening. The addition of Graham Davies helps widen their sound, bringing a fantastic vibe to tracks like Bar Room Blues and The Bargain.

This has some fantastic musical moments throughout and a great set of lyrics as well, superbly observed and well written. From it’s striking cover to it’s brilliant contents, this is a fantastically well-made record and was, musically, the last recorded statement the band made. Having lacked record label support, slogged their hearts out on the road and never achieved the success they deserved, the band had dissolved by 1972.

Now this can be reappraised and enjoyed, especially by anyone who likes a well written, tightly produced exciting journey, that mixes musical genres and showcases the bands versatility.

Reflections On A Life: Remastered and Expanded EditionBlonde On Blonde

Anthony Phillips – Invisible Men

Esoteric are continuing their extensive and comprehensive reissue of the Anthony Phillips back catalogue and this release, originally from 1984, marries up the two versions of ‘Invisible Men’ including the respective tracks missing from the American and UK edition, as well as a second disc containing alternative songs and demos from this period in Ant’s career.

Persuaded by his management that he needed to do something a touch more commercial, Ant and collaborator Richard Scott had developed an excellent working relationship and the use of a drum machine to underpin the songs.

As a result, the lush orchestration of some of Ant’s earlier albums is replaced here by a harder edged sound that is entirely of it’s time. However, don’t let that distract you from the music as Ant has always been a fantastic songwriter. Writing with Richard Scott, the two developed an excellent working relationship, and this album is well worth investigating.

From the incredibly 1980’s cover which mixes their promo photos with all the visible skin removed and the bright colours, to the programmed drums, this also sees Ant taking vocals on for the first time and he has a fantastic voice which really comes to the fore on the lovely Traces.

Meanwhile, influenced by outside events, both The Women were Waiting and Exocet (the latter featuring the sample of Iain MacLeod) are highly charged comments on the Falklands War, whilst the wonderful Going for Broke is proper old school prog, with some fantastic guitar work for Ant, and is a successful mix of the old and the new.

The blend of guitar and flugelhorn on Falling for Love provides a sublime musical moment whilst Sally is a slice of pure 80’s power pop that has a great blend of synth sounds, vocal power and a pure 80’s sax solo, it could have been used in any number of 80’s movies.

The second disc (complete with the copious sleeve notes) has some interesting different versions of album tracks like Falling For Love, Golden Bodies and My Time Has Come. Other tracks recorded over the same period are just as fascinating including tracks like Darling and Shadow in the Desert, being almost finished and never heard before.

Whilst this might not be the first place to start looking into the work of Anthony Phillips, it certainly shows his experimental side and that, as a musician and performer, he isn’t prepared to stand still. Whilst sometimes the drum machine does slightly jar (and you wish for some real live drums), overall this is a fantastic collection of complex pop/rock songs that are very much of the era they were made and yet still shine over 30 years later.

INVISIBLE MEN: REMASTERED & EXPANDED 2CD EDITIONAnthony Phillips

Tim Blake – Noggi ‘Tar

Influential electronic musical pioneer Tim Blake has performed with both Gong and Hawkwind and is, to my mind, more influential in electronic composition than his French contemporary Jean-Michel Jarre.

Blake released some fantastic albums in the 1970’s and in the current century worked again with both Gong and Hawkwind. He decided that, on this album, he should be the lead guitarist on an electronic record with no guitar, hence the title, a wonderful little pun, and, whilst this was originally recorded and released back in 2012, it never had a physical release, being a digital only album.

Marrying the old and the new is something Tim has always been good at, right from his Crystal Machine and Blake’s New Jerusalem days, where he was at the cutting edge of electronic music (if you don’t own those albums, hunt down the Esoteric remasters, they are essential to any fan of electronic music).

The four tracks on here are, again, the pinnacle of how electronic music should be done, the conceit of using the keyboard as lead guitar is one that works so well and, of course, we know what a Master of Music Blake is.

It could have ended so differently had Blake not survived the car accident, the resuscitation and the subsequent three-day coma that Blake references here in The Blue Light Zone, where he pulls all aspects of his subconscious together in a sublime electronic journey.

The songs, over less than 40 minutes, are ambient, transcendental and are a real musical journey. Working hard here he makes it seem effortless as The Arrival of Migratory Cranes segues into Absent Friends, rounding out with Contemplating the Southern Cross.

There might be no guitar on here but, putting the keyboard in place of the guitar is a masterpiece, he uses it to create riffs, runs and moments, and front the whole album, whilst the mighty wall of synth sounds that washes over you is sublime.

This is electronic music at its finest, a fantastic example of how composer and instrument can become one and take you on a sonic journey that leaves you exhilarated and wondering where the time went.

I love this and highly recommend it.

Tim Blake: Noggi Tar, Re-Mastered EditionTim Blake