Review – John Holden – Proximity & Chance – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Proximity & Light’ is John Holden’s fifth album in six years, it all started with ‘Capture Light’ in 2018 which was followed by ‘Rise and Fall’ in 2020, ‘Circles in Time’ in 2021 and ‘Kintsugi’ in 2022, all of which contained some remarkable and diverse music from John and his chosen cast of colleagues. Well, this album is slightly different in that the circle of assistants John has used this time is a lot smaller, with the missing parts being mainly provided by John himself. I have to say, I think it works very well indeed, especially with the amazing cast of vocalists, Peter Jones, Shaun Holton (Southern Empire) and the evergreen Sally Minnear.

Another difference this time around is that John has used a virtual studio system, Slate VSX, which allows you to recreate the sounds of top end studios without either the cost or the hassle. I must admit that it sounds very good to these ears.

The album begins with the powerful and intriguing tale of 13, which was a club that, over its time, included notable bastions of American society, including five US Presidents. The purpose of the club was to debunk superstitions surrounding the number ’13’ being unlucky. This is an excellent opening song with a lot happening in its confines. John is in good form here, playing some great guitar fills and riffs, he even provides a fine first solo, leaving room for a brief appearance from Dave Brons, who adds some joyful guitar runs to close the track out. The Man Who Would be King introduces Shaun Holton on vocals, his vocal style is very different to Peter Jones (who sang on the previous track) and here it works very well. The song is based on Rudyard Kipling’s book ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ and is, in part, about colonial misunderstandings. It is also about how we, the British, used to behave towards the local population, not always in a good way either, as you can well imagine!

A Sense of Place is an instrumental that features John Hackett on flute and Vikram Shankar on piano. It is a beautiful and delicate track inspired by visits to Veddw in Monmouthshire, on the Welsh borders and is a very charming piece of music. It leads into my favourite track of the album, Burnt Cork and Limelight, which tells the gruesome tale of Richard Arthur Prince and William Terriss, a noted victorian actor who meets his death at the hands of an unhinged understudy, Prince, who felt he was being unfairly held back by Terriss and so stabs Terriss in the back outside the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1897. Prince is arrested and sent to Broadmoor Psychiatric hospital where he performs, literally, to a captive audience of fellow inmates. This track has an emotionally charged vocal from Peter Jones and great piano melodies from Vikram Shankar. It is a sad tale told exceptionally well and I really enjoyed it.

Agents concerns itself with the exploits of foreign powers acting within our borders, in this case the events in Salisbury when Russian provocateurs attempted to assassinate Sergei Skripal, a defected Russian military officer and his Daughter Yulia. They were poisoned with a nerve agent, novichok, and this act of aggression came to be seen as the boldness of the Russian state to impose its will indiscriminately, as we see in the war against Ukraine that continues to this day. This is a well written and expertly performed track with guest guitarist Luke Machin sprinkling his magic over this track liberally. In addition, Peter Jones plays great organ and sax solo on this song. Fin is a rather sad and mournful recounting of a love that failed to reach it potential with our heroin reaching the realisation that it is over whist being left alone in Paris. A very emotionally laden track which gives great scope for Sally Minnear’s expressive and honest vocal.

Proximity is a very well orchestrated instrumental which combines melodies from some of the other tracks to create an interesting new piece that talks about how life came to Earth rather than to, say, Mars. Again, John has done his research for this track and it really shows with a strident, confident delivery and some interesting ideas. The final track of this fine album is the superb Chance (Under One Sun), which explores the issue of chance in our own family trees and how this evolves and makes us who we each are and how random it all is, making us look to the skies and wonder, what if? This is a well written and delivered track, it’s mostly positive but encourages you to think about your past and why it is in a world of proximity and chance such as ours. I must say one thing that really stands out on this album are the incredible orchestrations that John has used so very carefully and intelligently in order to craft music of real depth beauty and warmth. From the sympathetic horn parts in Fini, the sinister tones in Agents, all the way to the theatrical nuances that abound in Burnt Cork and Limelight, they all sound really great. Obviously John has put much effort in doing so for our benefit and to deliver such a gloriously strong sounding album

For me, this is John’s strongest release yet and one can only wonder what this unheralded creative force will bring us next. For now, though, this will suffice in the interim but we should certainly applaud the efforts here on a release that will definitely will be high on many end of year listings, including mine! ‘Proximity & Chance’ is utterly brilliant and very highly recommend indeed.

Released 29th May, 2024.

Order mp3 from bandcamp here:

Proximity & Chance | John Holden (

Order CD direct from John here:

John Holden Music | New Album Coming Soon!

Interview With Nick Fletcher

I sat down with fellow Yorshireman, and all round good egg, Nick Fletcher to talk about all things music. We discuss how it all started, his influences, his latest album ‘Quadrivium’ and the current state of the music industry and it sounds like two mates talking in the pub. However, I can confirm that no alcohol was consumed…

Progradar: Nice to meet you Nick, are you alright?

Nick: Yes, I’m fine Martin, how are you?

Progradar: I’m good thanks. This was instigated by the post you put on (Facebook) by that musician friend of yours where he said, in so many words, that there is no point making great albums any more! I think you are a little older than me but we are both from that generation where music was all about the hard copy, spending your 80 pence pocket money, or what you got in those days, on vinyl. I thought it would be good to have a chat about that and the state of the industry but, also to get a bit of background.

I got to hear about you from John Wenlock-Smith and his reviews of your albums at Progradar, especially ‘Quadrivium’. I get drawn in by great album art and I love the cover of that album so, after reading John’s review, listening to the album and chatting a bit with you online, I thought it would be great to find out more about you. From a bit of research, I found that you left music college in 1981 and became a classical guitarist, a teacher and a session guitarist. That’s the bare bones so can you fill me in on your back story?

Nick: Originally, I wanted to play the electric guitar when I was much younger. Then I came across quite a few bands in the 70’s where guitarists were venturing into other areas of music as well and I got to hear people like Steve Hackett, Steve Howe and Jan Akkerman, those kind of players who were also introducing elements of the classical guitar into what they did. That kind of sparked my imagination with getting involved in, and developing, that kind of playing.

When I was younger, If you wanted to take playing the guitar more seriously, the only outlet you had really was to do a classical music course, there was nothing else available in those days. You either did that or there was one course available in Leeds, a jazz music course and, at the time, because I’d been getting into the classical guitar, I didn’t feel that was appropriate for me, so I went down that classical route.

I then became a classical trained musician and, when I left there, I started doing concerts, I was doing a lot of teaching but I was also playing the electric guitar, playing in a lot of bands, I used to play with Dave Bainbridge quite a bit. Dave went to the Leeds College of Music and I went to the Huddersfield School of Music and we met through a mutual friend and formed a couple of bands together.

Of course, as soon as we left college, which would have been ’81, like you said, it was a bit like a scorched earth, ‘progressive rock’ what’s that?, that’s all done with now!

Progradar: Yes, and I’ll put my hands up here, that was the start of the New Romantic style of music, bands like Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Ultravox etc. and I loved them!

Nick: And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that I went into music college in ’79, came out doing some classical stuff but also wanted to do some progressive rock but it was like, well, where’s it gone!? In two years it had vanished! I couldn’t get a gig, there were no gigs to be had, no one was interested!

So, to that end, I got involved doing some jazz and jazz fusion stuff because there were some gigs for that kind of thing. I also got involved with a couple of record companies at the time who needed a couple of session players to do some stuff for them and I developed a bit of a career in doing that as well.

Progradar: Did that desire to play progressive rock disappear or was it always there in the background with no outlet to take it any further?

Nick: It’s like anything in life, if you’ve got the opportunity to do stuff then you get on and do it but if the opportunity isn’t there, you have to find a different way, don’t you? Basically, the doors were shut on that for me for many years and then I had a family and, of course, that entailed not being able to go away from home too much because of the kids and everything.

So I did develop more and more solo work and more and more teaching so I could make a living out of doing that. I didn’t actually play the electric guitar in a band for twenty five years, I stopped playing it really.

Progradar: So no noodling in the back room if you had half an hour then?

Nick: I probably would do a bit of that, yes, but very little really for a long period of time because it just felt inappropriate, it just felt like that opportunity had gone, to do that kind of music. Then I did a solo concert, in Sheffield actually, and John Hackett was in the audience. John introduced himself at the end of the gig and, of course, I knew straight away who he was, we got chatting and I discovered he lived in Sheffield too.

We got to know each other, it must have been around 2009, we started playing together and then, through John, I met Steve (Hackett) and became friends with him. John then wanted some help with the launch of an album he’d done, I think it was called ‘Another Life’, he had to go and do a lunch show in London and was a bit terrified of it as he’d never done that on his own, playing keyboards and presenting your songs.

I said to him one day, why don’t you play it with me, let me have a listen and have a run through and see how it goes. So he did and, as he was playing, there was an electric guitar and amp in the corner that belonged to his son, I switched it on and started playing and John suddenly stopped and said, I didn’t know you played electric guitar like that, you kept that quiet!

I just said I hadn’t done it for a long time, he was just astounded that I could play the electric guitar! So he said do you want to come and join me, it would help him and give a bit more of an interest to the performance if I played guitar as well, so that’s what we did. I went down with John, we did that and then, when we came back, John thought well I could put a band together, he’d always wanted to do it and then he asked me if I’d play electric guitar.

I thought that it sounded like a bit of fun so, yeh, let’s do that and it morphed into being more than a bit of fun, I thought, after a while, I’ve really missed this, what have I been doing for all these years? It was the opportunity, you see? the opportunity arose and I took the opportunity and went with it. It kind of revitalised my whole interest in the electric guitar, I think that it had always been there but, because I hadn’t had the opportunity, I’d put it to one side.

I then started to develop that playing seriously, did some writing, did some work with John. We did an album together in 2018 called ‘Beyond The Stars’, which I think John Wnelock-Smith reviewed as well, and then I started doing some more solo stuff, which I’ve been doing ever since and that’s about it really.

Progradar: So, to put you on the spot then, would you say that you are an electric guitarist who can also play classical guitar or classical guitarist who also plays electric? Or are you just a meld of both really?

Nick: I’m a meld of both…

Progradar: You’re a guitarist basically?

Nick: Yes, they’re both two quite different disciplines. The technique and the approach to playing are both quite different really, I think one of the reasons I shut down the electric guitar is, while I was trying to build up the classical playing, there was too much coming from the electric side and it was interfering with the development of that technique.

The thing is, once I had developed that technique, I could go back and play anything, it just opened up the doors, technically, to go into all sorts of areas with the guitar that I otherwise would have found more difficult to do, I became more adept at using my fingers, basically!

Progradar: Is there one you find more enjoyable than the other? Or this that saying that, if you had two kids, which one do you like more!?

Nick: There like two sides of the same coin, I enjoy playing solo, performing on my own but it’s a very different discipline to playing in a band and I enjoy that side as well, it’s more of a social thing. You interact musically with each other and also on a social level. So, for me, it’s the best of both, I like doing both and I’d find it hard to stop doing both, doing one of them exclusively. I’d like to keep doing both.

Progradar: It surprised me, even after reading John’s review of ‘Quadrivium’, how modern it sounds and it’s quite heavy in places. When you read your background, you think here’s a guy who’s a classical guitarist, you think that here’s a guy who plays electric but will be more intricate, delicate in the way he plays it but ‘Quadrivium’, in places, just absolutely blows you away! Not that I can see you with hair down past your shoulders playing speed metal Nick! but there’s some really technical playing on the album.

Nick: Those days have gone, yes, but i did have longer hair in my youth!

Progradar: You mentioned those guys at the start, people like Jan Akkerman, Steve Howe and Steve Hackett, but, when you first started playing the guitar, were they your first influences?

Nick: No, one the influences that got me into the electric guitar was Hank Marvin, there was a Shadows album in the house, I had an older brother who introduced me to music that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I heard Hank Marvin and I thought it was just magic, what’s that sound? That got me into the electric guitar, it really sparked something.

After that, what really got me into the electric guitar was listening to Jimmy Page, I heard some early Zeppelin stuff and it kind of blew my mind, those sounds he was getting out of the guitar, I thought I want to do some of that! That really sparked my imagination, I think Jimmy Page is a great individual player, there’s a real character to his sound.

I also liked some quite melodic players as well, and I still do as one of them is still going, that’s Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash. I really liked Andy’s playing and I still do, I think he’s actually quite an underrated player, a fabulous electric guitar player.

Progradar: I’ve recently got back into collecting vinyl and I’ve literally just bought the Wishbone Ash live album, ‘Live Dates’, there’s some really good playing on that! I quite like to listen to a studio album, I like the structure but, then again, if a live gig is done right, it can be brilliant on record.

Nick: Talking of live albums, probably the biggest influence on me, musically, in the early 70’s was, more than anything, Focus, because, Focus, for me, had everything. They had this classical thing going on, they had jazz improvisation, they had really great, bluesy, rock roots, they had it all for me.

I thought they were such an interesting combination of music that made you think, well, actually, why is music in a box? Why do we compartmentalise it because, actually, here’s a band that can fuse it all together and make a sound that’s so original, very unique and it’s brilliant. It draws on all the things that I was interested in.

I still think that ‘Focus – Live At The Rainbow’ was one of the greatest live albums that I’ve ever heard. I’ve listened to it recently and it’s so good, these guys were in their 20’s and, bloody hell, could they play! The music they were playing was just off the chart! I still love it today, I think it’s a great live album.

Progradar: I didn’t get into progressive rock until the late 80’s/ early 90’s, the first prog album I heard was Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe, then there was Rush ‘Hold Your Fire’, it was my ex-wife’s stepfather who introduced me to those. Before that, as we’ve touched on already, my original musical influences started with The Police in the late 70’s but then, like my friends at school, I got into Duran Duran, Ultravox and Simple Minds, bands like that.

When I left school, a friend of mine was heavily into hair metal, heavy rock, Van Halen and all that sort of stuff. I don’t know if you remember but, in the late 80s’, Channel 4 was the first channel that would have programs on after midnight and there was one called ‘Music Box’. We used to got to the pub, get in and we would listen to ‘Music Box’, it was when David Lee Roth had just left Van Halen and he was with Steve Vai on ‘Eat ‘Em And Smile’.

So that was an influence, then I got into progressive rock and then it was the blues. I remember seeing Joe Bonamassa play at Bridlington Spa and B.B.King playing Sheffield Arena with half of it curtained off, he was too big for the City Hall but not big enough to fill the arena! As things have gone on, I have settled back into progressive rock so my musical influences are all over the spot.

I do like the fact that I didn’t get into progressive rock until the 90’s because, now, I can discover it all, I’ve bought every Genesis album on vinyl. People would say to me that this band sounds just like Genesis but the only stuff I’ve heard is Land Of Confusion! So I think that’s why I tend to write about a wide variety of music due to my musical influences over the years.

Nick: Which is great, the interesting thing about progressive rock is that it does incorporate so many other elements. If you’re generally interested in music, it’s a stylistic form that actually incorporates stuff from all over the place that you’ve dipped into over your life. You like that and you like this and , all of a sudden, you hear someone putting it all together. If you’re somebody who is open to music then progressive rock is amazing, it’s a great thing.

Progradar: I would never have listened to jazz music without listening to progressive rock first.

Nick: Well, I didn’t either.

Progradar: If you take jazz on it’s own, originally I just wouldn’t have listened to it!

Nick: I got into jazz music probably through Bill Bruford. When he left Crimson and he started doing his own thing, I bought his albums and they were just incredible, well crafted albums, the music, the production, everything about them. But listening to those albums got me interested in what had influenced him, why is he writing that stuff, where is it coming from? Then you delve back into some other stuff and realise, well, that’s jazz, isn’t it? It’s not coming from rock or blues, it’s coming from a different place all together. So I think listening to Bill Bruford really helped me develop an interest in other music as well.

Progradar: I got, through working with David Elliott at Bad Elephant Music, into Snarky Puppy and delving into their back catalogue. I do like a bit of trumpet and cornet, I love saxophone and things like that and the only sort of reference, when you mention saxophone to most people, is Gerry Rafferty and Baker Street or Tina Turner, We Don’t Need Another Hero, those are the two that everyone comes up with! I think you’re right in what you’re saying, it opens you up to so many other things. It’s like sponge, isn’t it?

Nick: It is and, if you’re open minded, and want to be educated a bit more, broaden you’re horizons, you can listen to this stuff and it takes you into other areas that you never have probably gone into.

Progradar: Talking of your solo career, when you first start writing an album and, to be fair, you’ve probably got another that you’ve already started now, how do you go about writing? Where do you get your influences from for the tracks? Do you have four or five all on the go at once or do you start with one track, finish that and then go on to the next one?

Nick: I do tend to have lots of ideas which, over time, either become something or they don’t. If it’s a strong idea, you’ve developed it and then I go back and I play stuff, an idea that I might have had and thought I couldn’t take it anywhere. Strong ideas tend to develop and start to have a life of their own.

The initial idea will spark off the rest of the progression of the music, it will develop out of that. If the idea that you had isn’t going anywhere then it tends to just become a dead end but I do tend to have several pieces of music on the go at once, I don’t just write one piece and then move on to the next.

Progradar: Obviously, if you’re in a band then you’re all working together, you’re bouncing ideas off each other, as a solo artist do you bounce ideas off, say, your wife or fellow musicians or is it just something you keep to yourself?

Nick: No, it’s totally in my head, it is literally in my head, I write in my head.

Progradar: So you’re not going to have any idea of how your music is going to be felt by anyone else until you’ve literally finished and played it then?

Nick: The thing is, I don’t use any software and I don’t record anything at all until I go into the studio, I write it all out, apart from the improvised sections, obviously I don’t write them. The main structures of the pieces are all written out and I play around on the guitar and practice what I’m going to record but I have an idea in my head of what I want it to sound like but it’s not until I start recording it that it starts to unfold. So it’s very gratifying when you’ve finished an album, that was what was in my head and now it’s out of my head and on record.

Progradar: It’s very organic then, it’s a very organic process…

Nick: It is very organic, I don’t use software and, this is going to sound weird, I don’t plug the electric guitar in to write, I just play the thing with virtually no sound at all.

Progradar: It’s like a silent disco!

Nick: It is a bit like a silent disco, it’s a bit odd. The reason I work like that is because, if you play an idea with a great sound then you tend to develop the idea using the sound, the colour of the sound that you’re working with and it kind of develops from there. For me, I like to work purely with the music, I think of it like a pencil sketch, an artist would often do a pencil sketch of a landscape and then they would take into their studio and fill it in with the colour and the paint and develop it from there but they would always start from a pencil sketch.

You look at Turner’s work and he always had loads and loads of pencil sketches, so did Constable, any of these landscape artists and they would go into the studio and develop it, using the colours that were available, to make it come alive. That’s exactly how I think of it, I sketch out lots of ideas but I have no ideas of how the sound is going to be appropriated until I actually start the recording process.

A lot of people these days, they use the equipment, they use the sounds to generate the music, the form and the structure. There’s nothing wrong with doing that but, for me, it just doesn’t really work like that because I have such a lot of strong ideas in my own mind. I feel that you could spend hours and hours messing around trying to find the right sound whereas I don’t have that problem.

Progradar: Do you think you write music like that because of your classical training?

Nick: I think it might partly to do with that, I’ve never really thought of it in that way, it just feels right to me to work like that, you know?

Progradar: Getting on to the elephant in the room and what initiated this conversation in the first place, the Spotify and streaming generation. It’s a generational thing, our generation, we loved that thing of going down to the record shop and buying the vinyl buying the CD and having the physical product in our hands.

We didn’t have instant access to the music, our Spotify was almost the radio, wasn’t it? That was where you’d hear snatches of music and, if you liked it, you would go out and buy the album, you wouldn’t have the option of, having heard that one track, now being able to stream the rest of it. My own personal opinion is that it has devalued music massively.

Maybe due to my influence, my stepson will listen to the whole album from start to finish but he is an anomaly of the current generation. The whole point of the music that you write, that Big Big Train write and the bands that I really enjoy listening to is that they write an album of songs and they will put them songs in order, in the structure, that they are meant to be heard in. You’re not supposed to pick a little bit out here and there and I find it frustrating!

Nick: I do as well. For me, going back to my classical background, I view albums as like symphonies, you know? The reason the LP came into being was because it was a way of fitting a symphony onto a disc, that was why the LP originated, there was no other reason why the LP should exist. A long player exists because record companies wanted to find a way of putting long form music onto a recording. For me, the progressive rock stuff is the same, it’s an album that has a start, it has a finish, it takes you on a journey, it takes the listener somewhere.

They’re not just disparate tracks, it’s not a ‘best of’ album, it’s something that’s got a narrative and a direction. It unfolds like it would a film, you go and watch a film, you don’t pick and mix or watch that scene and watch that scene just because you like them, you watch the whole narrative start to finish. That’s the process, that’s the enjoyment of watching the film and, for me, it’s the same with music, it unfolds over a period of time, it takes you on a journey and it stimulates your imagination.

Progradar: I think the question posed by the musician you quoted was, is there any point in making a great album anymore? In his opinion, it didn’t have a place in today’s society. Well, I disagree, I still think that music like that is an art form and art is still out there. As people still paint pictures, people still like to listen to music.

Nick: Definitely and, like you said before, it devalues it. If you start cutting it up into bits, little sounds bites here and everywhere, you devalue the whole thing. In fact the YouTube generation of people who go out there and do their thing, play their guitars and play their songs, they have thirty seconds to get somebody’s attention because there’s so many millions of people doing it. They’ve got to do all this stuff which, half the time, isn’t very musical, it’s just to get people’s attention.

In the old days you’d have record companies doing their best for the bands or the artists which would give them longevity over a long period of time, they’d put money into it, they’d develop the artist and the companies would see a return for their money over a period of time. Whereas now everyone wants instant everything, they want instant return on their money, instant gratification from the music, you know.

There’s not many gigs, everyone’s just sat in their bedrooms playing music and hoping that, within thirty seconds, someone will take notice of them or they’ll switch onto the next one. What’s that doing to music? It’s just devaluing the whole thing.

Progradar: You’ll be like me, there was an old record store in Bridlington called Turners and they had listening booths. You’d get the album out and put the headphones on. On a Saturday you’d spend hours in there but you’d come out of there having spent quite a few quid by the time you left!

Nick: Exactly, it was all part and parcel of the enjoyment of the music. It’s a generational thing because kids these days have so many other distractions what with games and everything. We never had that when we were younger, music was part of our culture.

Progradar: It was a tactile thing, wasn’t it? It’s lost that tactility.

Nick: Definitely, I hope it comes back but I’m not going to stop doing it.

Progradar: I don’t want you to stop doing it! I want to hear what comes next after ‘Quadrivium’, I love that album. Right, we are going to have to wrap it up now Nick, I really appreciate you talking to me tonight, it’s been brilliant.

Nick: It’s a pleasure Martin, thanks for talking to me. I start the new album soon and I’ll keep you in the loop.

Quadrivium’ was released on 15th September, 2023.

You can order the album (and all of Nick’s other projects) direct from Nick’s webstore here:

ONLINE STORE | Nick Fletcher Guitar (

You can read John Wenlock-Smith’s review of the album here:

Review – Nick Fletcher – Quadrivium – by John Wenlock-Smith – Progradar

Review – Ellesmere – Stranger Skies – by John Wenlock-Smith

I have come to the realisation that certain genres of music have the most impact on me. Growing up it was initially the raw power of Deep Purple that did it for me then, later on, Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s ‘Brain Salad Surgery’ made a huge impression on my young mind. I started exploring music for myself, helped in part by the fine chaps at my local record shop of choice, Reddington’s Rare Records in Birmingham, behind Marks & Spencers. This treasure trove or Aladdin’s cave of wonders was a crucial part of that, as the music I heard there was life changing. 

I was also an avid reader of Sounds and Melody Maker, later progressing onto Guitar World when I started to play the guitar. When I was in my 20’s, Kerrang and Raw Power came into my sphere of influence and with them I discovered multitudes of new and exciting groups and artists.

Some of those artists helped shape my tastes today, I, like many others, went through a heavy metal phase and also a blues period and later I went through a Miles Davis phase. However, one resounding constant has been my love of the likes of Kansas, Styx, Starcastle, Magnum and Queen, alongside Yes and ELP. For me, symphonic prog hits all the right spots, as Progradar Editor Martin Hutchinson knows only too well. So, when he offered me this new album from Ellesmere, I was certainly only too happy to accept, despite the group being totally new to me.

This album is actually the fourth excursion for multi-instrumentalist Roberto Vitelli’s project, visually and musically strongly linked to his ‘Wyrd’ of 2021. Although for this incarnation, Roberto has added a vocalist John Wilkinson of Swan Chorus, whose distinctive vocals aid with Roberto’s vision in creating music that has echoes of Genesis’ ‘Trick Of The Tail’ and Rush’s ‘Moving Pictures’.

In addition to John Wilkinson, featured are guests like Clive Nolan who provides keyboards and John Hackett, whose flute graces several tracks, and many others appear as well. The artwork is provided by Rodney Matthews whose artwork has graced many albums, including Magnum and Praying Mantis, to name but two. The artwork shows the setting visually by depicting a cold side (the first four tracks) and the other side being the warm side (the 2 lengthy tracks that complete the album).

The album seems to be centred on a series of imaginary or imagined adventures but what is the music like? let’s dive in and find out. The album begins with a mini epic called Northwards which is suitably spacious with lots of keyboards. It sounds vast and also a little foreboding, despite some rippling keyboards offering a bold soundscape. This evokes the warranted cold feelings wonderfully and all of this is in the first 2 minutes! The song concerns itself with an attempt to get to the North Pole overland by sledge, it is a very strong and moody track but handled marvellously by all. Tundra is next with a very sturdy bass part and thrashing drums. Again, the imagery used in this song evokes the cold and open spaces of the tundra most convincingly. I can hear elements of Yes in this track, notably in the vocals and also with the guitar work of Giacomo Ansolemi. Crystallised is an instrumental with acoustic guitar from Graham Taylor and also features David Jackson providing saxophone and other woodwind instruments. With a strong and prominent synth line, the track is excellent and very musically accomplished and shows splendid playing from all once more. Artica opens with a sturdy guitar riff and guitar lines. This song appears to be about climbing in the Arctic and the strength of character needed for such activities. The track has a strong essence of Asia to me, sounding like something from the ‘Alpha’ era of the band.

This track concludes the ‘cold’ side after which we progress on to the ‘warm’ side of the album with the first long piece Stranger Skies, a song about a pilot who undertakes a very strange flight indeed, one that takes him to a strange world full of strange creatures and leaves him with no way home. The track has a long instrumental section in the middle section that builds this atmospheric track well. The tense atmosphere of the lyrics is displayed convincingly in this track and I really like it, with John Wilkinson’s voice definitely capturing the Genesis sound of the Phil Collins era most impressively. The run out of the track especially sounds very pastoral and English prog like. Another World is the albums other long track and also the last track of this fine release. Opening with another strong guitar riff to lead in to the track, the song is about a searcher who finds another world that is very different to the one he knows. There is sumptuous, fluid guitar work on this track, all backed with sumptuous keyboard textures and sounds and some lovely flute from John Hackett as the journey concludes back at the North Pole, emphasising the circular nature of life.

‘Stranger Skies’ is a most compelling and very well conceived release, intelligently imagined and realised. Unsurprisingly I thoroughly enjoyed the album, it really stays with you and is most definitely worth checking out in my opinion.

Released 12th January, 2024.

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Steve Hackett launches ‘Wherever You Are’; second track taken from ‘The Circus and the Nighwhale’

Legendary rock guitarist Steve Hackett is set to release his new studio album ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’ on 16th February 2024, via InsideOut Music. A rite-of-passage concept album with a young character called Travla at the centre of it, ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’s’ 13 tracks have an autobiographical angle for the musician who says about his 30th solo release: “I love this album. It says the things I’ve been wanting to say for a very long time.”

Today a brand new track is revealed, titled ‘Wherever You Are’, and you can watch the video now here:

Of the track, Steve comments: “’Wherever You Are’ is a song of love winning through, shattering the chains of the physical world… Light obliterating darkness. A new universe has opened up with the hope that such a strong love could even survive death. The dreams of childhood realised, there is a sense of everything coming around full circle… Even the three part harmony guitar at the end of Genesis’ The Musical Box is revisited in spirit with the joy of celebration during this song.”

The albums opening track ‘People of the Smoke’ was released in December. Watch the video here:

The new album is available to pre-order on several different formats, including a Limited CD+Blu-ray mediabook (including 5.1 Surround Sound & 24bit high resolution stereo mixes), Standard CD Jewelcase, Gatefold 180g Vinyl LP & as Digital Album. All feature the stunning cover painting by Denise Marsh. Pre-order now here:

Steve will celebrate the release of his new album with two HMV instore events in London & Birmingham, where he will be taking part in a Q&A and signing albums. Find out more details on those here:

‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’ is Steve’s first new music in over two years. Recorded between tours in 2022 and 2023 at Siren studio in the UK – with guest parts beamed in from Sweden, Austria, the US, Azerbaijan and Denmark.   The line-up for ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’ includes some familiar faces alongside Steve on electric and acoustic guitars, 12-string, mandolin, harmonica, percussion, bass and vocals. Roger King (keyboards, programming and orchestral arrangements), Rob Townsend (sax), Jonas Reingold (bass), Nad Sylvan (vocals), Craig Blundell (drums) and Amanda Lehmann on vocals. Nick D’Virgilio and Hugo Degenhardt return as guests on the drumstool, engineer extraordinaire Benedict Fenner appears on keyboards and Malik Mansurov is back with the tar. Finally, Steve’s brother John Hackett is present once more on flute.

The full track-listing is as follows:

1. People Of The Smoke

2. These Passing Clouds

3. Taking You Down

4. Found And Lost

5. Enter The Ring

6. Get Me Out!

7. Ghost Moon and Living Love

8. Circo Inferno

9. Breakout

10. All At Sea

11. Into The Nightwhale 

12. Wherever You Are

13. White Dove

Summing up ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’, Steve says: “It’s a lovely journey that starts dirty, scratchy and smoky and becomes heavenly and divine. How can you resist it?”

Steve Hackett & band will tour the world extensively in 2024, including a brand new 16-date UK tour ‘Genesis Greats, Lamb Highlights & Solo’, in October which will see him return to the legendary Royal Albert Hall. He will also return to North America early this year, with European shows booked in for the Summer.  For the full list of dates, head to:

Steve Hackett reveals the first single “People of the Smoke” from his new conceptual studio album ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale – Out 16th February, 2024.

Legendary rock guitarist Steve Hackett is set to release his new studio album ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’ on 16th February 2024, via InsideOut Music. A rite-of-passage concept album with a young character called Travla at the centre of it, ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’s’ 13 tracks have an autobiographical angle for the musician who says about his 30th solo release: “I love this album. It says the things I’ve been wanting to say for a very long time.”

Today he is pleased to reveal the first single, and the albums opening track, ‘People of the Smoke’, you can watch the video now here:

Steve says of the track: “People of the Smoke spins us all back in time to 1950, when bustling post-war London was stifled with smog from trains, chimneys, industry and smokers. I was born into that world! This song kicks off an album following my life’s journey both literally and metaphorically…”

The new album is available to pre-order on several different formats, including a Limited CD+Blu-ray mediabook (including 5.1 Surround Sound & 24bit high resolution stereo mixes), Standard CD Jewelcase, Gatefold 180g Vinyl LP & as Digital Album. All feature the stunning cover painting by Denise Marsh. Pre-order now here:

Steve will celebrate the release of his new album with two HMV instore events in London & Birmingham, where he will be taking part in a Q&A and signing albums. Find out more details on those here:

‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’ is Steve’s first new music in over two years. Recorded between tours in 2022 and 2023 at Siren studio in the UK – with guest parts beamed in from Sweden, Austria, the US, Azerbaijan and Denmark. The line-up for ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’ includes some familiar faces alongside Steve on electric and acoustic guitars, 12-string, mandolin, harmonica, percussion, bass and vocals. Roger King (keyboards, programming and orchestral arrangements), Rob Townsend (sax), Jonas Reingold (bass), Nad Sylvan (vocals), Craig Blundell (drums) and Amanda Lehmann on vocals. Nick D’Virgilio and Hugo Degenhardt return as guests on the drumstool, engineer extraordinaire Benedict Fenner appears on keyboards and Malik Mansurov is back with the tar. Finally, Steve’s brother John Hackett is present once more on flute.

The full tracklisting is as follows:

1. People Of The Smoke

2. These Passing Clouds

3. Taking You Down

4. Found And Lost

5. Enter The Ring

6. Get Me Out!

7. Ghost Moon and Living Love

8. Circo Inferno

9. Breakout

10. All At Sea

11. Into The Nightwhale 

12. Wherever You Are

13. White Dove

Summing up ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’, Steve says: “It’s a lovely journey that starts dirty, scratchy and smoky and becomes heavenly and divine. How can you resist it?”

Steve recently completed his North American Tour where he continued his ‘Foxtrot At Fifty + Hackett Highlights’ run.  Next year he will tour the world extensively, including a brand new UK tour ‘Genesis Greats, Lamb Highlights & Solo’, which will see him return to the legendary Royal Albert Hall.  For the full list of dates, head to:

Review – Beatrix Players – Living And Alive

After a 5 year hiatus, the award-winning Beatrix Players are back with a brand new eight piece line up and an intriguing new concept album.

The band’s sophomore album ‘Living & Alive’ will be available digitally from 22nd Sep 2023 and, for fans of vinyl and cd, it can be pre-ordered now from Burning Shed with a limited edition of just 500 copies pressed on coloured vinyl.

Founding member, writer and vocalist, Amy Birks is joined on the album by her co-writers from the original Beatrix Players line-up, Helena Dove, and guitarist Tom Manning. Also joining this expanded group are doyen of progressive music, flautist John Hackett, guitarist Oliver Day (That Joe Payne, Yes Please), drummer Andrew Booker (Tim Bowness) and storied cellist Jane Fenton (LSO, LCO, RPO, Britten Ensemble etc). Pianist Matthew Lumb and bassist Kyle Welch complete the on-stage octet.

A trio incarnation of the band released the band’s debut album, ‘Magnified’ in March 2017 and they went on to appear as special guests on UK dates with artists such as Steve Harley, Carl Palmer and Big Big Train. In October 2017 they performed two songs at Prog Magazine’s star-studded annual awards event at London’s Globe Theatre and walked away with the best newcomer prize.

With that line-up on permanent hiatus Amy subsequently released two well received solo albums in 2020 and 2022 and picked up Best Female Vocalist award at the 2018 Prog Awards before recruiting a third iteration of Beatrix Players leading to the recording of this brand new album. 

So that’s the story behind the creation of the album, let’s dig a bit deeper, shall we…

“Take time it’s your life, What a beautiful life it could be…”

Great music has the ability to stir emotions and create small oasis of calm and beautiful solitude and ever since I heard ‘Magnified’, I have been hooked on what Amy Birks (on her solo releases) and Beatrix Players can create. Beautiful, wistful and ethereal music that is passionate and emotive in equal measure and that is just intensified on this new release.

Birks says, “Living & Alive is an honest album, that explores how life isn’t just about living, but that it’s about having the courage to really be alive and own it. Simply put; you are your best you, and will only ever be second best if you’re trying to be something other than you…

And Amy is right, there is a raw honesty to the music, a sparsity that is delicate and graceful to songs like Snowflakes, the charming track that opens the album much in the chamber-prog style of the debut album but this group of musicians, and Amy Birks in particular, have matured and have additional facets to their music and songwriting.

“There’s no such thing as an ordinary moment, There’s never nothing going on, There’s never such a day as clear as the day that’s too late, Too late and lacking of any conviction…”

Somebody Else’s Eyes is dominated by the haunting cello of Jane Fenton, painfully melancholy and alluring in its delivery. Oliver Day’s gorgeous playing adds a layer of sophistication to the music and Amy’s vocals are touching and plaintive. This is music that just bleeds emotion in every word and every note. There’s an insistent, almost off-kilter feel to This Is Your Life, implicit in the vocals that hit home with every word. A song with sharp edges among the charm and wonder.

“This is your life and there’s no one to blame, No matter how hard it gets…”

The music has a real bluesy feel to it, John Hackett’s flute flowing jauntily and Oliver’s pin sharp guitar really hitting home along with the superb cello, a rather pleasing track indeed.

Starts Again arrives with a jaunty atmosphere, created by the fantastic musicianship and Oliver’s laid back guitar. Another thoughtful track about how a relationship that’s going astray may work if only we could start again. The delightful chorus and relaxed mood give a feel of a sophisticated folk song with added layers of inventiveness, especially with that impish flute…

“And I doubted many a night, With your eyes poised to strike, And your tongue cut like a knife, It’s just no way to live life…”

Amy co-wrote A Beautiful Lie with John Hackett, a song about a relationship that’s run its course but we’re still living ‘A Beautiful Lie’. Gorgeously simple and shimmering with restrained intensity, there’s an uncomplicated honesty to the song and Jane’s pensive cello adds a touch of elegant sorrow to proceedings. A wonderful, if sad song that will really touch you.

“Dam your love and dam the water, Hold it back to keep control, Dam your love and dam the water, Until the day you overflow…”

Another somber track, Overflow carries on the pared back and less-is-more feel where the vocals add to the tension and pent up emotion. The music works in tandem with the vocals to add a wall of delicious sound, adding to the suspense and apprehension. Purgatory has a really serious tone, dealing with the mental abuse of a child but done in a very sympathetic manner. Amy is not afraid with dealing with contentious subjects and the beauty of the song even adds to the gravitas of the situation.

“Why can’ t you just smile, And wish me well, But you can’t hit a nail, Where it won’t go…”

Painful and yet hauntingly beautiful, there’s a solemn tale at the core of You Can’t Hit A Nail. A melancholy song that bleeds wistful sorrow from the flute and cello and where the vocal performance could have come straight from the stage of a West End musical. Sorrowful and even bitter, why do sad songs say so much? Fragile, poignant and yet, ultimately uplifting, Free has a feeling of emotional release in its heartfelt lyrics and superbly pared back music, just listen to the brilliant guitar playing and the inspiring close to this elegant song.

“There’s a clock ticking inside of me, And it won’t leave me alone, And it’s joined by a friend, my conscience, And it owns my body and soul, And it keeps on beating along to the sound of Me, I Am Me…”

This insightful, charismatic musical journey is brought to a close with the superb Me, I Am Me, bringing the story around full circle. An assertive vocal mirrors the lyrical content and the music has an almost classical feel to it. Powerful, affectional and heartwarming, this song is making a personal statement and one that is delivered with confidence. It is the perfect close to the album.

Beatrix Players return triumphant with the mesmerising ‘Living & Alive’, a collection of songs that are bewitching and compelling and leave you in no doubt of their stature in the music industry of today. The sublime voice of Amy Birks and outstanding musicianship on show have created one of the most outstanding releases of 2023 and one that should be on your list of must buy albums, it really is that good!

Released 22nd September, 2023.

Pre-order digital here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 2nd December, 2022.

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Review – Ms Amy Birks – In Our Souls

Ms Amy Birks returns with ‘In Our Souls’, the follow up to her debut solo album ‘All That I Am & All That I Was’.

‘In Our Souls’ represents Amy’s second time around as a producer and mixing engineer. She recalls the process as being “a time of solitude, of many a late night, exploring ideas and losing myself in the books and poetry of the Bronte’s and my own personal journey over the past few years, developing my ears, skills and confidence as a composer. My first record, ‘All That I Am & All That I Was’, was very much about deeply personal experiences but with this album I wanted to extract more strength and feeling from the musical palate and have more fun with it, which has enabled me to step back a little from the lyrics and put more faith in my ability to write not only songs but pieces of music.”

Amy, lead singer and lyricist of Beatrix Players, is joined on the album by Helena Dove and Tom Manning , two co-writers from the original line-up of that award-winning band. Manning also composed and played all the guitar parts on the album. Amy is once again accompanied by flautist John Hackett while introducing violinist Frank Van Essen and cellist Clare O’Connell to what is a virtuosic line-up.

For ‘In Our Souls’, out of the twelve tracks on the album, Birks, a long-standing fan of the Bronte sisters, sets the words of three Bronte poems to music. Birks furthered her knowledge of the sisters and their personal musical leanings through several trips to Haworth and the Bronte’s parsonage prior to selecting poems that would provide inspiration for the album.

Ms Amy Birks takes the beautiful sound that she developed on her first album, that, in itself, an extension of the Beatrix Players’ amazing combination of chamber orchestra and popular music, and elevates it to an even higher level of brilliance. The whole album is just under fifty minutes of sheer musical wonderment where Amy’s stunning vocals blend perfectly with the consummate musicianship of her amazing group of players.

There are no highlights really but only because every song is an exquisitely crafted gem of ethereal grace and wonder. The opening, title track, In Our Souls, commandeers the words of Charlotte Bronte’s poem, ‘Evening Solace’ and creates a song that just oozes sublime calm, Hold On is a song about a transformation, at soul level, which is what Amy thinks nature can do for a person, if they are open to it and has more urgency engendered by the vocal and a superbly improvised violin from Frank van Essen. There’s a powerful dynamism to Elsa, a song Amy wrote when at university about a woman who is aware of her desires and her attraction and of the wife she knows exists but cares little for, the music creating an aura of drama and tension.

Brothers is without-doubt the most personal track on the album, Amy explains; “I have two estranged brothers and those tumultuous relationships have been the subject, or at least the undercurrent of many a song. For whatever reason, we have never seen eye to eye, hence the opening words of ‘I don’t understand why. Do you? Do you know why?’ and the build-up of aggression through the instrumentation. This, I suppose, is my therapy.” It makes for truly thought provoking piece of music, full of tension and emotion. There’s a delicate, if melancholic, refinement to The One That Got Away, a sad sort of love song about a relationship that almost was something more than friendship but was more of an awakening and a red flag. Wistful and rueful, its artistry belies the plaintive undertone that the track’s subject engenders. A Death Scene takes the words from the wonderful Emily Bronte poem with the same name to create a contemplative and slightly dark piece of music with a thoughtful edge and features some spellbinding guitar playing from Tom Manning and the remarkable flute of John Hackett.

The Woman In White, a song where Amy looks back at herself as a young bride and not really recognising who that person was anymore, is possibly the darkest track on the album from a lyrical point of view and this lends a brooding quality to the piece. With the layers of driving strings and guitar, this is Amy enjoying herself. It’s a highly visual piece that takes her back to an earlier time. The third Bronte poem on the album, The Dream, is from the greatly underappreciated (in Amy’s opinion) Anne Bronte and has a lighter, more frivolous and sweeter feel though, in keeping with the woman who wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the mid-section has a power and authority all of its own. Goodnight For Now is another song that Amy wrote while at university. A gentle, graceful, acoustic piece that, once again, showcases Amy’s amazing voice, it’s about a woman gently letting down a man for she is out of bounds and shows that Amy has always had her head in the romance of Austin and the Bronte’s.

There’s a heart wrenching feel to the wonderfully dramatic Living In Sin, a song about transformation and having the strength to be who you really are. The sombre tone of the music and Amy’s downplayed vocal give real sentiment and fervour to the track. Amy wrote Cannot Contain about greed and how we can all get sucked in by wealth and ‘success’ if we’re not paying attention. It is quite a curt track with an edgy tension underpinning the whole song and the almost irascible tone to Amy’s vocal brooks no argument! The album comes to a rather satisfying close with the wondrous, almost elemental, joy of an instrumental version of the title track.

Well, what can I say, Amy is a rather prodigiously talented songwriter with a quite remarkable voice and when that is put together with musicianship of such stellar talent as is shown here, you are well on the way to musical perfection. ‘In Our Souls’ is a collection of wonderful songs that will delight, enchant and enrapture musical connoisseurs for a long time to come, it truly is that good!

Released 8th April, 2022.

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Review – John Hackett – The Piper Plays His Tune – by John Wenlock-Smith

John Hackett is the flute wielding, multi-instrumentalist brother of Steve Hackett and the two share a musical, as well as a familial, bond. They have worked together on and off over the years with John popping up on Steve’s albums, alongside this John also is the leader of his own group The John Hackett Band and has released several albums over the years such as 2015’s ‘Another Life’ about a faltering relationship and 2017’s ‘We Are Not Alone’, which was a 2 disc set of the album and a live concert recording of a Classic Rock Society gig in Maltby in 2016 (which included tracks primarily from his ‘Checking Out in London’, ‘Another Life’ and a few pieces from the ‘We Are Not Alone’ album.

This new album is a little different in that a) It was recorded in Lockdown 2020 and b) John plays all the instruments that you hear and produced and mixed it all at home. The result is a rather mellow but seriously tuneful set of songs with progressive overtones and embellishments, which are all seriously fine pieces of music.

The album lasts for around 45 minutes but, within that, you will find some fabulous music, all very well realised and performed. Unsurprisingly, there is a fair amount of flute playing but also some very fine guitar playing, in the style of brother Steve. The drums are all from a program, not that it matters really.

The quality of the songs is high and they all have strong memorable melodies. Any solos are brief but fit the song and are not showboating in any manner. There are even bongos on the album but I will leave it to you to discover exactly where they appear. There are a lot of pop elements on show as John gets in touch with the 80’s vibe on a few tracks like In Love, which has a very jaunty beat to it, others have a more melancholy or subdued air about them.

Crying Shame has a brief but satisfying guitar solo, it’s worth remembering that John was originally a blues guitarist in his teens before seeing King Crimson and taking up the flute after being inspired by Ian MacDonald’s playing.  

Another pleasing aspect to this album is the sparseness of the arrangements and how John uses that spaciousness to work for him, this also allows his bass playing to really make its mark, anchoring each song solidly. You especially notice this on Broken Glass which is a phenomenal song, slow paced but full of melodic touches and great harmonies. It’s probably my favourite track here along with Julia and Too Late For Dreamers, which has a lovely summery feel to it with some fine sweeping guitar chords and rhythm driving it along. John is very proficient on each instrument, creating layers of sound to achieve a full sound on the album.

Julia is a song John wrote many years ago that now gets its first outing on this album. This is a great little song, very evocative, with a driving guitar riff and has great lyrics to it. Another song that works well for me is the closer, There You Go Again, with its jolly guitar lines and sympathetic keyboards. The track is a bit of a love song really and the chorus is upbeat and memorable and will stay with you long after the album has ended. It also has some jolly flute and acoustic guitar interchanges and a penny whistle solo, all very merry and fine sounding. This closes the album out in strong style and you are left with the option to simply press play and enjoy it all again. I know I certainly want to, this album is brim-full of strong songs, energetic playing and good lyrics.

For an album recorded under some difficult conditions, John has really crafted a fine low-key release here and one that is most certainly worthy of your time and listening. I really enjoyed it and it gets even better the more that you play it. Please buy it from John direct as, like all other musicians now, they need all the help they can get and every album counts. So why not splash the cash and support John at this time, you will get a great sounding album and John will appreciate your support. As Hot Chocolate once sang Everyone’s A Winner!

Released 18th November , 2021.

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The Piper Plays His Tune – Hacktrax

Interview With John Hackett – John Wenlock-Smith

In this piece John talks to John Hackett about his latest album, a collection of songs recorded during lockdown in spring of 2020 in which John plays all instruments and produced and mixed the album on his own. The album ‘The Piper Plays His Tune’ is the result, released on his own Hacktrax label.

John Wenlock-Smith: Morning John, are you keeping well?

John Hackett: Yes, I have been doing quite a few walks with my wife trying to lose the lockdown tummy that has emerged because of watching Netflix at night whilst eating chocolates!

JWS: We have been doing that as well. The dog starts barking at a pigeon outside and is removed out of the way, lockdown, thank goodness it is coming to an end eh?

JH: Yes, it has been a tough time for many people.

JWS: Unfortunately it has, especially for people like yourself who have been without any income for over a year.

JH: I have been fortunate as my wife works from home, so I have been able to do a bit from home.

JWS: Well, I am retired now as the result of a stroke which has left me with vascular dementia but I get support from my local stroke survivors group. I have heard your new album and I like it, it is quite mellow though.

JH: Well, it is a collection of songs that I guess you would say is quite melody driven as I have spent most of my life as a flute player, which basically means you are following the tune.

JWS: So your wife works from home you say?

JH: Yes, she is an administrator for the church and she is particularly good with technology, which has been especially useful.

JWS: I have been listening back to some of the older stuff you worked on, starting with ‘The Geese and The Ghost’ and ‘We Are Not Alone’, then ‘Another Life’ and ‘Sketches of Satie’ with your brother Steve, I like the live CD that came with that album.

JH: Well, that was early days for the band, I think that was about the fourth show as a band, recorded at the Classic Rock Society who were very generous to us as a band, allowing us to record that show for posterity. I suppose that album is a bit more ‘proggy’ than some of the more classical stuff I’ve been involved with, especially the opening track Take Control and also the track Winds of Change, in which Nick Fletcher, our guitarist, gets room to play a little. My Brother Steve said recently that he thinks Nick is the best jazz rock guitarist in the country at the moment. High praise indeed, I do not know if you have Nick’s album ‘Cycles of Behaviour’ but it is a real testament to his playing.

JWS: Yes ,I have that album, I have just done an interview and album review that will be published on Progradar shortly. I especially liked Philosopher King, the longest track on the album.

JH: I am glad you like that one.

JWS: I like long songs, it gives them room to stretch and breathe a little, give me a longer song anytime.

JH: Sounds like a song title, I might use that in a lyric sometime.

JWS: Go for it, you can have that one for free.

JH: Good, I will look forward to reading that John, he (Nick Fletcher) and I have a lot in common. He has spent a lot of time as a classical guitarist and I have spent a lot of my time as a classical flautist, although we both love rock music and we both feel comfortable working in both fields. I used to think that I had to make a choice, one or the other, but Nick and I both feel that they can feed off each other, in that you can apply some of the techniques used in classical pieces in the rock stuff. Really, the rock stuff benefits from playing the classical pieces too, with the rock stuff you are always thinking about keeping it strong and I think that background can really help in with the energy and direction you create.

Nick and I worked together on the ‘Beyond The Stars’ album and he had a vision for the album. It has a fabulous long track, That Ship Has Sailed, on which Nick gets a chance to really stretch out, it is his Pink Floyd moment, his Comfortably Numb, as it were.

JWS: So what was your first love in rock music?

JH: Well I started off as a blues guitarist, my brother taught me House Of The Rising Sun and showed me a few bits, then we saw King Crimson with Ian Macdonald playing the flute and Robin Miller on oboe. That got me into learning to play the flute, which I did at University in Sheffield. In 1978 I joined Steve’s band as a flautist/bass player, recorded ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’, amongst his other earlier albums, and toured extensively with him as part of the band. Good times! we still work together occasionally, usually doing a Christmas show at Trading Boundaries in which I play flute, along with Roger King on keyboards and Rob Townsend on sax, that is always a good venue as the audience are at tables near the stage.

JWS: Yes, we have not got to Trading Boundaries yet as it is too far from where we are in Cheshire, although I do have a Downes Braide Association album that has a live show from Trading Boundaries with it.

It certainly looks like a great little venue; we have seen you with Steve Hackett a few times on his more recent tours in Manchester, often with Amanda Lehmann in tow too. I suppose Sheffield to Manchester is only about an hour away?

JH: Yes, not too far at all and it is always great to be a part of Steve’s shows, I really enjoy those appearances.

JWS: Obviously gigging is coming back slowly,

JH: We have our first gig in August at the 1865 in Southampton.

JWS: Are you playing in Bilston at the Robin 2?

JH: Yes we are playing there as part of an all-day festival.

JWS: Will there be a new John Hackett Band album soon?

JH: Yes, I certainly hope so, we need to do something soon, watch this space.

 JWS: Have you had your vaccinations?

JH: Yes, I had those at the Sheffield Arena, I am not sure if the others have had theirs yet, I guess we will find out soon enough. I had to take my shirt off and I was wearing a John Hackett Band T Shirt and the nurse said what’s your T shirt and I said it’s my band, I said I’d always hoped to get to Sheffield Arena as a band appearing, not as an OAP getting vaccinated! 

JWS: You have some nice guitar playing on the album.

JH: Thank you, I was listening to an old Tamla song and heard some bongo’s and I thought I could do with some of those. I went out shopping and I found some in Lidl, I thought that was a sign to get on with it!

JWS: Would you do another album in that way?

JH: I would not rule it out but not yet. 

JWS: Well I think that’s all I must ask you about, thanks very much for talking to me and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

JH: Yes, Thanks for your time John, I’ll drop you an email later, so you have my email too, nice talking with you.

‘The Piper Plays His Tune’ was released 18th November, 2020.

Order the album from bandcamp here:

The Piper Plays His Tune | John Hackett (