Review – John Holden – Circles In Time – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Circles in Time’ is the third, and latest, album from John Holden who has, over a period of just 4 years, written and created three quite different albums that are all rooted in his love of progressive music by the likes of Yes, Genesis and many others. John lives about 5 miles from me, on the border between Staffordshire and Cheshire, although I actually came to know him through Facebook and his recognising our shared love of music in reviews I had written for DPRP at the time.

His first album, ‘Capture Light’, came out in 2018, followed by ‘Rise and Fall’ in early 2020. Like the rest of us, John has been in lockdown and has wisely used his time to accelerate the release of his next album which has emerged as the already mentioned ‘Circles in Time’.

This new album marks a big change in how John has approached the music, in that he has delivered a truly epic piece in the last track, KV62, which sits comfortably alongside five other songs of varying length yet all bearing the same hallmark of quality. John has called on many of the musicians who graced his earlier albums, especially using the keyboard  and arrangement skills of Vikram Shanker more prominently than he did on ‘Rise and Fall’. Once again the cover and booklet are full of information and excellent pictures that both draw the eye and also unfold the mysteries contained in the songs.

The album opens with Avalanche and a fast and muscular riff section from Eric Potapenko and strong vocals from Jean Pageau of Mystery fame. The song is about social media and how folks use it to slander and undermine others. Liner notes say this song is a response to all the negativity and blaming and shaming that exists in the social media, the sun will rise in the morning and the world will keep on turning. It is a strong opener and a good statement of intent that sets you up for all that is to follow. In this case this is the song High Line. The High Line is a real place in New York and is in actuality an elevated greenway or linear park that cuts through the city’s west side. It was constructed along the setting of an old freight line that went through very rough neighbourhoods, in fact, it was so bad it they christened it ‘Death Alley’. The song has a very jazzy vibe to it with some lovely saxophone from Peter Jones, who also provides the smooth vocals for the song. This is a wonderfully evocative piece that nods its hat to Blue Note Jazz and also to Steely Dan.

The next song, The Secret of Chapel Field, is very much a grower and is based on a story John discovered whilst looking at gravestones in his village church graveyard. The song reworks the known facts that Mary Malpas, a 15-year-old girl, was murdered by Thomas Bagguley at Chapel Field in Hunterston. He later killed himself, thus avoiding justice. This sombre song is graced by vocals from Marc Atkinson (Riversea) and Sally Minnear (Celestial Fire) and the mournful violin lines of Frank Van Essen (Iona). It is a fine track and its words will stay with you long after the song has concluded.

Next John whisks us off to Andalucía in Spain for the track Dreams of Cadiz where we encounter the spirit of flamenco, imbued by the fluid guitar from the nimble hands and fingers of Oliver Day alongside a graceful piano. This song is an instrumental piece that captures the fire and passion of the dance and is duly accompanied with dramatic flourishes, handclaps and foot stomping that all add to the atmosphere of this piece.

The penultimate track is Circles which is a very personal song for the protagonist Libby who is an ovarian cancer survivor who has known, and continues to have, serious health issues. Here in this song, she encourages us to live in the moment and not to grieve but instead to be grateful for all that we are and all we have now in the present. The song also encourages us with the power that love brings to any situation. It is beautifully realised with the gracious voice of Sally Minnear and some gentle and subtle arrangements.

This leads us into the atmospheric world of KV62 and ancient Egypt and the discoveries made by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon during their archaeological expeditions of the 1920’s where they uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. This song has narration by Jeremy Irons and vocals from Joe Payne and Peter Jones. The song reveals the agony of the protagonists as they searched fruitlessly for the tomb and pushed themselves financially to do so until they finally succeeded. The music is suitably Arabian sounding with some great guitar from Zaid Crowe.

The Wonderful Things segment has some fabulously wild synthesizer passages from Vikram accompanied by fine piano and percussion from John. This section sees the death of Lord Carnarvon from Tutankhamun’s curse. It was actually an infection from a mosquito bite that killed him, however the curse of Tutankhamen sold more newspapers so the truth of his demise was sacrificed at the altar of the media and the fable then famously spread.

Lord Carnarvon had sold exclusive rights to the tale to The Times (Pre Murdoch, when it was a worthy paper and not the rag it is nowadays). The song is lifted by extended instrumental parts interspersed between the vocals that tell of the press and media frenzy about the discovery and how Carter came up against Egyptian Bureaucracy. A largely disillusioned Carter returned to London where, amongst the parties and media storm, he died impoverished, penniless and alone. The song is epic in its scope, however it is ultimately a sad tale of loss and missed opportunities.,

John had Seen the Tutankhamun exhibition in London in the 1972 at the British Museum and has been to the valley of the Kings on several occasions, KV62 being the name designated to the site of the tomb in the Valley of The Kings.

The whole album is simply fabulous, somewhat mellow in parts but with an astounding lyricism and magnificent musicianship. John Holden has done it again and pulled another blinder of an album out of his metaphorical hat. It is one that really impresses and I highly recommend this album full of modern-day prog and brilliant songs, here’s to album 4 John!

Released March 26th 2021.

Order the album direct from the artist here:

John Holden Music | Listen and buy the new album “Circles in Time”

Review – John Holden – Capture Light – by Progradar

Life never stands still, the world rotates on its axis at around 1000mph (it’s less as you get North but you get my drift!) and day becomes night. The years pass quicker, or so it seems, and the sheer volume of music that is released gets bigger and bigger all the time.

Because of this it is impossible for me to hear every new release that would perhaps pique my musical curiosity and it pains me to think that I will have missed some gems as the clock keeps ticking. However, I can console myself with the wonderful releases that I do get to hear and enjoy.

I’ve been talking to John Holden about his great musical collaboration ‘Capture Light’ for well over a year now and I was honoured to be one of the first to receive the completed article a couple of months ago. I have listened to it multiple times and now feel ready to write my review…

Over two years in the making, an immersive and evolving album opens with the Joe Payne sung track Tears From The Sun. A symphonic and operatic tour-de-force featuring Oliver Wakeman’s keyboards, it has a feel of where The Enid could be now if they hadn’t imploded. After a quelled opening the bombast begins with multi-layered instrumentation before Joe’s distinctive vocal gives the track life and shape. As opening tracks go, this really does take some beating with John’s great music being complimented by his and Elizabeth Buckley’s fine lyrical accomplishment. A complex musical mosaic that keeps your rapt attention all the way through, Joe is on fine form and gives the song a flamboyant drama.

Crimson Sky takes a more symphonic rock oriented route with Julie Gater’s vocal giving it a Celtic rock infused tone. Hard edged and heavier, there’s a feel of early Karnataka to my ears. The powerful music is complimented perfectly by Julie’s dulcet tones, especially on the catchy chorus. Listen out for the superb guitar solo from Billy Sherwood (yes, THE Billy Sherwood) which adds a real sheen of class to what is already a pretty impressive song. I’m already beginning to love the diversity that John has brought to this album and we’re only two tracks in!

John proves he can tell a great story with the excellent title track, full of drama and intrigue, you’ll have to buy the CD to get the whole story but the musical journey is an engrossing and compelling one that will hold your attention throughout and I had to read the credits twice to realise it was Joe Payne who was performing the fantastic vocals again, this guy is pure talent. Oliver Wakeman’s elegant piano playing once again graces the song and adds real pathos to what is already a dramatic and emotional piece of music and let’s not forget Oliver Day’s stylish guitar, lute and mandolin. Let’s be fair, music has forever been about telling stories and John Holden is already proving to be very adept at it. Capture Light will be one of the most enjoyable and absorbing history lessons you’ll ever have…

A choral mantra that could fit a Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice musical, Ancient of Days is an uplifting track that just seems to bring a ray of sunshine along with it with it’s tribal feeling music and the great vocals of Jean Pageau, ably backed by Lee-Anne Beecher and Marc Atkinson. I could quite imagine this song being part of something like Lion King or Joseph with its great theatrical feel. A real shout out must go to Emily Dolan Davies whose skill on the drum kit is utterly evident here.

A song all about Jesse Owens and THAT race in Berlin, One Race is possibly the most progressive track on the album while not being that progressive (if that makes sense?). Joe Payne delivers another consummate vocal performance and the harmonised parts with Max Read give a real Celtic overtone, in fact the whole track reminds me of Clannad or Enya in places. It’s another well crafted song with a great storyline that works brilliantly along with the rest of the tracks on the album and the guitar playing just gives added impetus to the sensation of running along with the narrative.

Now onto the one track that I didn’t click with straightaway, Dreamcatching seemed a bit trite and twee to me on first listen, not quite gelling with the other songs on the album. Trying to explain the legend behind dreamcatchers using spoken word, song and music, this piece of music will either captivate or alienate in my opinion. Repeated listens have led me to appreciate it a lot more, while not actually loving it like I do the majority of the other songs. What does work very well though is the lovely flute and sax work from the ubiquitous Peter Jones who does a good job of adding whimsy and warmth as well as backing vocals along with Julie Gater.

London Grammar, that’s what I thought when I heard the first ultra-cool strains from No Man’s Land with it’s jazzy backdrop to Julie Gater’s silky smooth vocals. A song for lazy days in hazy summers, its chilled and easygoing vibe seems to seep into your very being. The feel good atmosphere seems to infuse every instrument, Gary O’Toole’s polished drum playing and Oliver Wakeman’s relaxed piano and keyboards are the height of sophistication.

A dreamy and contemplative song, Seaglass Hearts is full of longing and the vocals give pause with their elegant reminiscing. A nice interplay between the voices of Peter Jones and Julie Gater give a modern folk feel to the track, one full of wonder and playfulness along with Peter’s soulful sax playing. A sentimental ending to the album, enforced by the sparse piano that fades us out to a close.

A captivating journey through the mystical and historical, ‘Capture Light’ is an accessible, melodic tour-de-force that reveals more of its hidden depths with each listen. John Holden has collected an impressive group of musicians and given us a release that could well be a highlight of the year already.

Released 23rd March 2018

Pre-order ‘Capture Light’ on digital from bandcamp here

Pre-orders for the CD will be available from John Holden’s website soon at this link

Review – Mystery – Delusion Rain – by Rob Fisher

cover

After releasing the excellent ‘One Among the Many’ (2010) and the superlative ‘The World is a Game’ (2012), expectations are rightly high for ‘Delusion Rain’, the fifth studio album from Canadian band Mystery. In the intervening years, ex-Yes front man Benoît David, lead vocalist since 1999, made the difficult decision to step down and take a break from music after touring with the band in 2013 (captured on the wonderful live recording ‘Tales from the Netherlands’). His replacement for this new release, Jean Pageau, first joined the band on tour in 2014 before heading to the studio to work on the new album.

Pageau is an absolutely inspired replacement and instantly brings a voice which is more authoritative, pronounced and assured whilst capable of the same sweeping range and delicate nuanced subtleties. Indeed, it is precisely the sensitive responsiveness of his voice which makes him a perfect fit for the unmistakable Mystery ‘sound’, bringing extra depth and expressiveness whilst also pushing the boundaries further to create the most expansive vocal orchestrations and layered harmonies which swiftly become a trademark feature of this new release.

Pageau’s distinctive infusion seems to bring a new lease of life to band leader Michel St-Père who, supported on guitars by Sylvain Moineau, finds much greater freedom to mirror his vocalist’s assertiveness in providing a strong bedrock of power chords mixed with acoustic cadences whilst at the same time innovating through soaring and melancholic riffs which are as magical and as forceful as they are fleeting.

Yet ‘Delusion Rain’ also brings much more clarity and depth to the musicianship than is apparent in previous releases, due primarily to St-Père’s excellent production. Benoit Dupuis on keyboards is allowed to provide a rich and enhancing atmosphere within which both vocals and guitars are nested, the sound sumptuous, enveloping without ever becoming suffocating. François Fournier on bass is superb and for the very first time we can really hear a dynamism and a bite which supplies an extra and most welcome dimension to the recording. Jean-Sébastien Goyette on drums is a strong and driving heartbeat which pulses throughout each track, keeping things fresh with changing tempos and some lovely teasing cymbal work whilst always ensuring a disciplined and at times dramatic mastery that keeps the band true to the themes and the lyrics.

Band

The album also sees contributions from Antoine Michaud (Monochrome Seasons), touring guitarist with the band, and Sylvain Descoteaux (Huis) on piano. Add into the mix Pageau’s ephemeral flute playing on A Song for You (Track 6) and some occasional keyboards as well and you get the sense that ‘Delusion Rain’ marks quite a significant point in the history and development of the band where they finally have the pieces in place to be able to push on and really do full justice to the adventurous musical project that is Mystery.

As such this album excels in two respects. On the one the hand, it consolidates, tightens and defines the signature sound of the band, and does so with style and panache. The first three tracks, Delusion Rain, If You See Her and The Last Glass of Wine are beautifully refined statements of musical intent and it is easy to see these quickly becoming audience favourites on any set-list. The music is rich, lush, sweeping in scope and embracing in the way it engages the listener. There are anthemic choruses and soulful refrains combined with lyrical intensity.

On the other hand, the final three tracks show us the true promise of what Mystery can become. The band have always been at their very best when the focus is on extended song-writing, telling stories through their music and producing the kind of epic ballads which are a wonderful showcase for both their exceptional talents as well as their innovative creativity.

‘One Among the Living’ gave us the fabulous Through Different Eyes, weighing in at a spectacular 20+ minutes and pushing the boundaries of scintillating and adventurous musical creativity. ‘The World is a Game’ gave us Another Day, 19 minutes of complex and hugely enjoyable instrumental invention and inspiration.

‘Delusion Rain’ suddenly comes alive with The Willow Tree (Track 4), 20 minutes of utterly spectacular writing which transports you through changing musical landscapes and shifting emotional horizons to reach creative heights that are wonderful and exhausting. Wall Street King extends this incredible vision, increasing the intensity, adding layers of forcefulness but at around the 4.30 mark releasing it all in staggering waves of glorious guitar work. A Song For You brings the album to a pulsating close, the instrumental work fabulously delivering a rousing and climactic finale which leaves you wanting more and yearning with anticipation for what the next release will hopefully bring.

This album has certainly been well worth the wait. In particular, what Mystery have achieved here is something highly significant: they have simultaneously consolidated and confirmed their excellence in musical skill, virtuosity and lyrical brilliance whilst at the same time pushing much further than in any other previous release the scope and ambition of the band’s musical vision and reach.

‘Delusion Rain’ gives us a tantalising taste of genuinely cutting edge progressive music from a band who are willing to create, innovate and really push the boundaries of what they want to do and where they want to take us as a result. In the process, they may have created a rod for their own backs by setting the bar even higher for the next instalment on this wonderful journey.

Released 1st November 2015

Buy Delusion Rain direct from the band’s website