Review – Stuckfish – Days of Innocence – by John Wenlock-Smith

This might be one of the best new albums that I have had to pleasure to hear this year. Yes, it really is that impressive! The album has eight tracks, all above the five-and-a-half-minute mark and two over eight minutes.

No wonder this is attracting the interest of many prog fans for, in Stuckfish, we find a worthy blend of old school prog and classic rock, married together with a great vocalist in Phil Stuckey, who brings to mind a classic style, an excellent bass player (Phil Morey) and a fiery but tasteful guitarist in Ade Fisher. Together with drummer Adam Sayers and keyboard player Gary Holland, they make for a very tight and energetic team.

This is their third album written during the global layoff of 2021, which, as Ade says, was a better use of time than watching Netflix and chomping chocolate hobnobs and the results here can bear witness to that observation.

The album opens in a very Rush like vein with Age Of Renewal and its use of shifting time signatures which allows for some moody synth backing. Vocalist Phil Stuckey really performs well here with a strong clear tone that works well. There is a good synth/guitar interplay here too making the mid-section strong, just before Ade lets rip with a solo that takes the piece forward. Along with the great bass work on show, this is a great opener that will be a sure-fire winner live, seldom has seven minutes passed so quickly! The epic Days of Innocence follows, which features the nimble basswood of Phil Morey anchoring the song down. The track is a heartfelt one, a look back at childhood and the hope of a better future. The song is reflective and a touch maudlin, however it is certainly extraordinarily strong in tone. There’s great vocals too as Phil sings with passion and optimism for a star he has yet to reach. A very impressive track with good orchestration in the closing moments with great brass, unusual but effective and definitely memorable.

Painted Smile picks up the Rush baton once again with a chugging guitar riff that said band would have loved to employ. The song is about clowns and how their painted face often hides or masks their inner pains. This has great keyboards on it that create an aura of the circus with a suitable organ sound strong in the mix. Sounding sinister at times but creating and painting the setting wonderfully, this album makes a strong impression for all the right reasons and will surely appear in many bests of /end of the year’s lists, It will certainly be among my choices for that accolade, the track ends with a piano sound that evokes a silent film and concludes another fabulous track. The urgent guitar riff of Ade Fisher sees a segue into Game Changer, a track that flies out of the gate with style and punchy panache. This song properly rocks but does not forget to have melodies or dynamics that make this optimistic song stand out both musically and lyrically. I am really enjoying this album with its use of light and shade that works very well, as does the graceful guitar playing that leads the song on towards a marvellous rhythmic mid section which really makes an impact. Stuckfish have worked hard on this album, not only in the elegant material but also in the performances that are all highly impressive by any standard.

Thief In The Night is a great song about loss and the memories of a loved one that has gone. The track is very moving and is presented beautifully, with dignity and feeling. Phil’s voice is fantastic and really suited to the feeling of the song and making it my favourite on the album, sympathetically managed and beautifully written, it conveys perfectly what happens when a loved one passes on, glorious and magnificent in equal measures. Yearn is next and opens with a reverb laden piano that sets the tone for the song. With a trumpet evoking a smokey jazz club, it’s certainly very sultry and brooding sounding and has an epic chorus that really impacts. This is a slow burn of a track that creeps up on you and takes over, it’s truly that memorable. It reminds me of a Wishbone Ash song for some reason, must be the vocal inflections that it has. Wonderfully delicate and gracefully imagined and conceived, this is another great song that’s very well performed by all. A really impressive piece of music!

Nevermore is different as Phil sings in a Rob Halford sounding voice to significant effect. It is really distinctive to hear him singing in this manner and the song packs a punch to be sure, one of the shorter pieces but still a good listen. Different Ways closes the album in grand style, being one of the more blatantly progressive songs and one that gives room for the bands musical dexterity to shine through. With a great guitar solo from Ade and good support from all the group, this is a great album ending track.

So, there you have it, eight great tracks in one fine album from a band that are really on the rise. Get it while you can as it is utterly fantastic and definitely a highlight of the year so far!

Released 16th April, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

Days of Innocence | Stuckfish (bandcamp.com)

Review – Envy Of None – s/t – by John Wenlock-Smith

After the last date of the Rush ‘R40’ tour on 15th August 2015 in Los Angeles, Rush were at a crossroads, this was their final tour as they had agreed to bow out on a high note, seeking not to slump into trying to recapture the former glories, as has befallen many other groups over the years. Even the band themselves were unsure of what to do next or even if there would be a ‘next’ moment.

This all came sharply into focus again in January 2020 when Neil Peart lost his battle with brain cancer and, while the world quite rightly mourned his passing, Rush were effectively over. This left Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson in a quandary realising that anything they did would suffer comparison to the might of Rush.

So they did what they could cope with, Alex went fishing and valued his home life, Geddy wrote his memoirs (to be published this year) and both men struggled with the loss of their long term friend. They had both known about his illness yet the end still hit them hard, in addition they needed time to grieve him, plus we had various lockdowns and limitations on life due to covid.

Well, thankfully, that time has come to an end as Alex has now ventured back into the public eye once more by contributing his graceful, elegant guitar tones to a brand-new project called Envy Of None. It could not be any more removed from the progressive elements of Rush. Two of the songs were released by Lifeson on his own social media pages, namely Shadow and Spy House, which were intended to introduce the band to the public.

Now the album in full is out and, yes, it is something tasty indeed and different to what he has done before, for sure. Yet, even so, within its simpler shorter songs lie strands of Lifeson’s musical DNA. In just eleven short tracks you hear Alex revelling in playing music again and exorcizing his demons and his grief in the only way he knows, through music.

The album has elements of Pop, Rock, Emo and even electronica within its sounds, it certainly is hugely different and that is no bad thing. Take the opener for instance, I Never Said I Loved You, with a strong sequenced opening motif and the dreamy vocals of Mariah Wynne and steady bass of former Coney Hatch bassist Andy Curran driving the song along (the band used various session players to provide drum support). The sound is full and leaves room for each instrument to be clearly heard, in addition, it is a great little song. Sequencing plays a big part in the groups sound, this is all is sympathetically done and does not detract from everything that is going on.

Look Inside is a good example of how this all works together to create something exceptionally fine indeed. There is even a sampled muted trumpet playing in the last moments, a tremendous piece of music that is both imaginative and accomplished. Liar follows but this fails to hit the mark for me. Whilst being well crafted, it is a bit too busy for my liking and has too much layering to really click. Spy House has Lifeson unleashed and all over the track with an insistent riff threaded throughout it. It’s great to hear him in this vein and his solo is fabulous and free spirited. It is the Alex we all know and love to hear and a great moment in a very good track.

Dogs Life is another brooding, moody and slow burning number that builds in its intensity before breaking out into a busy section, this time the slow burn really works well for the track. This album is really a bit of a grower and more volume really helps in this case, making it one of the best tracks so far to these ears. Kabul Blues follows with it Far Eastern sounding synths and delicate guitar lines woven through its grooves. This sounds very exotic and Middle Eastern and quite different to what has gone before, great bass lines from Andy Curran making this another winning track. Old Strings is the album’s longest track at just over five minutes as Mariah sings of lost memories, lost opportunities, and stolen moments. Again, this is a slow burner of a song with subtle but effective dynamics which all combines to make an impressive song with sensitive playing from all parties, marvellous stuff.

Dumb works really well, a strong back beat drives the song along with its great sequenced sounds and a very eighties sounding drum pattern really kicking it out and providing much drive to the song. Penultimate song Enemy is built on hypnotic synthesiser lines and settings that work to a  pronounced effect with strong performances. Growling synth sounds and fabulous dynamics make this is a great song and, again, volume reveals its intricacies beautifully. This leads us to the final piece, Western Sunset, which is an acoustic guitar tribute to Neil Peart. Alex spent a lot of time at Neil’s pacific home and, whilst enjoying a beer, looked out at the shoreline at sunset. This memory was the one that inspired this delicate, brief piece of musical imagery. Ironic really that this should feature but it closes things for Alex. So, as such, it earns it is place here as a tribute to his dearly departed friend.

This album gains in stature the more you play it and it certainly is a very worthy collection of songs. The slow burn of these tracks creep up on you as they reveal their intricacies. I guess that only time will tell if the band continues, like they plan to. What sounds they explore next time remains to be seen, however, for now, this will do very nicely thank you.

Released 8th April, 2022

Order here:

Envy Of None (lnk.to)

Review – Stewart Clark – Journeys – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Journeys’ is the new album from UK based musician Stewart Clark and it’s certainly an interesting concept and listening experience. Stewart was recently commenting about his inability to get people interested in writing a review of his work.

When I read this I contacted Stewart and offered to write a review for him. It must be incredibly frustrating to drum up any interest from prog fans who will happily shell out for the 16th remix or extended version of an album they already have that is 40 years old but has been slightly tweaked or updated by someone whose aunt knew the bassist’s mother over 30 years ago.

Now, I like a good remaster or upgrade as much as the next prog fan but, really, why do we tend to gloss over the smaller acts who are really trying to break into an already full pond? People like Stewart who makes music because he wants to and does it all on a miniscule budget, on a very much ‘do it yourself manner’, but who is really making something that appeals but often fails to capture the wider public interest.

It’s certainly not the music’s fault, I suggest it is the fact that the bigger acts grab the lions share of the activities and the column inches leaving mere scraps for the rest, highly unfair but that’s how it sadly is. I myself see that some bands get lots of exposure whilst other get little or none and it’s the same with gigs, a big name might get bigger crowds but smaller artists are lucky if they can get a handful of paying punters attending. I know covid hasn’t helped but it was bad even before that, this malaise and apathy goes back years and years.

Anyway, enough of that, ‘Journeys’ is a fine listen, opening with the gentle but gripping Snaefellisbaer (The Abandoned Icelandic Road Trip) to kick off proceedings. The song is about a road trip that Stewart and his wife attempted to take in 2012.  Unfortunately, they were beaten by the sheer volume of ice and snow that made the destination unreachable at that time. The track has some very jazzy saxaphone from Mark Norton and lovely swirling organ from Tom Potten (which I think is used to show the northern lights), it’s followed by some heavy guitar riffery from Kerry Mountain, all intertwined with ethereal vocals from Catherine Potten, before returning to Eric Bouillette’s excellent piano motif repeated in the songs outro.

I Wished They’d Stayed follows and is a song dedicated to a former band mate who died. In the track Stewart recalls the good times they spent together, however the song is not maudlin but merely reflects that this is all a part of life’s journey. There’s No Place Like You is about trying to get back to someone again but being frustrated in doing so. This has bass from Billy Sherwood of Yes fame on it and he does his best Chris Squire impression to give this song some great dynamics in the process. This is a very fine piece and is great musically with its superb synth and bass interplay.

I Remember The Age Of Steam opens with train sounds and a rolling rhythm that emulates train movements while a lone harmonica wails admirably in the background, evoking a hobo’s journey. It’s rather evocative really and certainly appealing, I can see the Big Big Train passengers really taking this song to heart as it strikes or touches many reference points in its grooves, especially the steam effects. Let Me Belong has a strong riff and swagger to it, rather muscular in fact, and it’s theme is about being part of something. There’s a good, fluid but fiery guitar solo and some fine keyboards enhancing the track gracefully which make this another winning song.

On A Leaf, On A Stream is very delicate with gently picked guitar and a good supporting bass line adding depth to the instrumental track. Add in some graceful yet urgent guitar from Sempano Semzedah and this short atmospheric piece scores highly. Final track Travelling Through Hyperspace is another mainly instrumental piece with crazy synths and urgent drums and great dynamics that give it some edge.

In short this almost concept album is about journeys and destinations and is a really underrated and yet highly rewarding trip. Even if the mainstream won’t give it room, I will and I hope that you will too.

Released February 18th, 2022

Order from bandcamp here:

Journeys | Stewart Clark (bandcamp.com)

Review – Asia In Asia Live At The Budokan Arena, Tokyo, December 1983 – by John Wenlock-Smith

The history of Asia is an often complex, involved and even a troubled one as the back story to this latest instalment in the Asia canon testifies. This latest release in band’s history is the then ground breaking satellite broadcast, live from Tokyo’s legendary Budokan theatre on 9th December 1983. This was also the first live video broadcast by MTV, however there was a problem in that, weeks earlier, after lacklustre sales of their hastily recorded follow up album saw it peak at number 67 on the Billboard chart, as opposed to the colossal sales of the band’s debut ‘Asia’ (1982).

Not only had ‘Alpha’ failed to match their debut’s success, the band themselves were also unhappy with the album’s mix and also the haste in which they had been ushered back to the studio to record it. On top of all that Asia were struggling internally with tensions between members, namely John Wetton and, well, anyone really! The success of the debut had hit John hardest as he was unaccustomed to the level of celebrity success had bought, John was also drinking heavily and this was affecting his performances with the ‘Alpha’ tour being particularly affected. So much so that latter dates were pulled. All of these frustrations reached a head and the band’s Management and label demanded a change be made and so John was duly dismissed..

The difficulty was that Asia were scheduled to do the MTV gig but had no lead singer. Time to call in a favour…

Carl Palmer called his old colleague Greg Lake from his ELP days and asked him for his help, Greg consented but was unfamiliar with Asia’s music and had to rely on a teleprompter for the actual show. The band started rehearsals in London with a view to being competent enough for the show. In fact, they played a rehearsal show the evening before at the Budokan to evaluate everything out and to make sure it all worked. The gig went off well and was a success technically, the show was released on video and laser disc but was then largely forgotten and subsequently overtaken by other events in the Asia world. It is now forty years since that show and the film has been overhauled for a re-release. This set includes vinyl and CDs of the show and the rehearsal show and a Blu-Ray of the show and, also, a version of the original laser disc cut of the show.

The sound has been remixed and remastered for premium sound and there is new artwork for the set and lovely it is too. The draw here will be this much improved sound and, when coupled with the previously unreleased rehearsal disc, this should be a rather good selling point. In fact, the sound is exceptionally good and clear and you can hear the band really giving it some oomph! In addition, you can see this for yourself t in the accompanying Blu-Ray, where you can enjoy the energy of show and witness all the members of Asia really playing their hearts out, especially Geoff Downes impressive keyboard set up and his antics during the show.

Greg Lake proves to be an exceptionally good fill in for the departed John Wetton and his bass is muscular when needed. It’s good to see him this way as his Asia tenure was short lived, one that sadly failed to bear any additional fruit. There are no bonus features, as such, and a documentary detailed in the booklet does not appear to be there. Even so, this set has merit and it reintroduces a not insignificant global event that was unique and ground-breaking in many ways.

The band were on form, and it is good to have this record of this event in its remixed and remastered glory once again. The tracks are from the debut with a few select tracks from the ‘Astra’ album. With both Wetton and Lake no longer with us, this set gives opportunity to view that strange moment of musical history once more and I, for one, am extremely glad to be able to do so.

Released 10th June, 2022.

Pre-order here:

Asia – Live At The Budokan, Tokyo, 1983 [VINYL] (lnk.to)

Interview With Steve Howe by John Wenlock-Smith

In this piece I talk to Steve Howe about about both the forthcoming Yes UK live dates, why they are not playing ‘Relayer’ this time around and about the ‘Asia in Asia’ box set that is due out in June.

John Wenlock-Smith – Good afternoon Steve, are you keeping well?

Steve HoweYes I am, thank you.

JWS – You are in Devon today then?

SHYes, in a secret location! I moved here some 26 years ago from London and, whilst I still live in London, I visit as much as I can as my studio is here.

JWS – Fair enough. I have spent many happy times in Devon. It is a lovely area.

SHYes, well I certainly like the slower pace as opposed to the madness of London!

JWS – So the tour that you are doing in June, how come you are not going to do the ‘Relayer’ album, as originally announced and intended?

SHWell, with it being a shorter run of dates, as we cancelled the European leg, it’s now just the ten shows in the UK. We felt that it was better to postpone that particular album, especially as ‘Close To The Edge’ is 50 years old this year, and perform that in its entirety instead. We will also do a few other favourite songs and some of ‘The Quest’ album, although I’m not saying which we will play, keep it under wraps as it were. 

So that is the plan now, and save ‘Relayer’ till next year when we can give it the treatment that it deserves, so we chose to concentrate on playing CTTE this time around, to give it a good airing and celebrate the anniversary in this manner.

JWS – Yes, because you have had Patrick Moraz along for some shows doing ‘Gates of Delirium’ ?

SHWe had Patrick play Soon with us on a tour that Tony Kaye had joined us for, the celebratory tours. We like doing that sort of thing, although we have no plans on that as yet, not that to say that that it’s out of the window but, at the moment, we are concentrating on getting back out on the road after three years enforced time away.

Also, that is why coming back after 3 years away, we are doing what we are comfortable with and can do to the standard that is required and that Yes fans warrant and demand.

JWS – Yes, I can understand that way of thinking, plus it leaves the way open for a further tour with ‘Relayer’ being featured.

SHExactly…

JWS – I am glad that tracks from ‘The Quest’ will be featured, as I really enjoyed that album. I thought The Ice Bridge was exceptionally fine, reminiscent of Fanfare For The Common Man in the keyboard sounds, and also your solo Album ‘Love Is’, with Jon Davison on vocals.

SHThank you.

JWS – Well I thought it was a good set of songs, well performed.

SHYes, Jon did a wonderful job on that, didn’t he?

JWS – I also really enjoyed the ‘Homebrew 7’ album.

SHThank you, that was quite different for me in that it did not have the usual Homebrew story but was mostly unreleased tracks and ideas that I was able to work to fruition and completion. It was a retro album of music that was unreleased so thank you again for appreciating that.

JWS – I enjoy listening to latest music, especially music that you have released, so what are the chances of having your two original Atlantic albums (‘Beginnings’ and ‘The Steve Howe Album’) being re-released again?

SHWarner’s, Rhino, Atlantic or whoever have been so nice to me, they are officially releasing those albums, so I will investigate that. I think it’s marvellous to be part of the story of Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic label founder).

Howe Sound, the label that releases many of my albums, is quite diverse really and I feel comfortable with what they release for me, plus I like to do things differently and not be stuck in a treadmill way of things.

JWS – I do not blame you, variety is the spice of life, or so they say.

SHIndeed.

JWS – Now Asia, that new Boxset (‘Asia in Asia’) that is coming out in June (10th) is very impressive…

SHBMG have released the Reunion albums, with Fantasia releasing the DVD but this one is even nicer. That is, I especially like the diligence, I like detail anyway and this set really has an elevated level of detail to it, making it worthy of attention. When we did those shows some forty odd years ago, Greg (Lake) was really inspiring in that he was singing John’s (Wetton) parts, playing his bass lines too and doing it all with dignity and aplomb.

The Asia story is all told within those sets really, the two original albums, ‘Go’ and ‘Asia In Asia’ and then the years where Geoff was holding the banner, keeping the flame alive as it were, with various people drifting in and out including myself. Then there’s the reunion and subsequent albums and tours, it’s all in those albums and the ‘Asia In Asia’ especially shows a period where Greg really rose to the occasion magnificently as the set testifies in such a great way.

JWS – The only criticism I have, and it is a minor one really, is that, in the booklet, it mentions a documentary filmed around that time in which each member traces their Asia journey and, although mentioned, I cant see it on the Blu-Ray?

SHWell, I thought it was there, but I will investigate that and see. Although Blu-Rays are notorious for not being easy to find things on, I know that from experience, so I will check into that for sure.

JWS – I agree that Greg did an outstanding job. This is borne out in the remixed audio on the CD’s where he sings, albeit in a lower register on some tracks, but in a very accomplished manner and his bass playing is equally as inspiring too.

SHWhen I heard the audio for the mix, it was good until we got to the last two tracks, Heat Of The Moment and Sole Survivor, where they sounded awful. So I took it up with the label and they said Steve’s really on the ball, those two tracks hadn’t been remixed. I insisted that they were brought up to the same standard and I’m glad to say that they did just that and now they sound fantastic.  

JWS – Good, I am very much looking forward to seeing you in Manchester on the tour.

SHGood, well I love the Bridgewater hall, I played a solo concert there several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It reminded me of those early shows where I learnt my craft, like the one when I played support to Delaney and Bonnie along with Eric Clapton and George Harrison etc, remarkable times and music.

JWS – Have you heard Geoff’s Downes Braide Association stuff at all?

SHYes, I have heard that it is an exciting outlet for his music.

JWS – Plus Roger Dean participates in the artwork for that.

SH – Yes, well Roger is a big part of the Yes story, he will be on the tour too.

JWS – Well Steve, my time has gone, so may I just thank you for your time today and I will hopefully see you in Manchester next month.

SH – Thank for talking to me and for your interest in my music and of Yes too, thank you John.

Order the Asia boxset here:

Asia – Live At The Budokan, Tokyo, 1983 [VINYL] (lnk.to)

Review – Bill Bruford – Making A Song And Dance: A Complete – Career Collection – by John Wenlock-Smith

You’re going to need time, lots of it too, to get maximum enjoyment from this pretty exhaustive and, at times challenging, box set of 6 CDs. If you do then you can evaluate the career of Sevenoaks born drum maestro William (Bill) Bruford. The box set covers the 40 odd years of his often-erratic career choices and defining drum work.

Bill was an original member of Yes, leaving them shortly after the success of the ‘Close To The Edge’ album for what could be considered more challenging music as offered by King Crimson, with whom he made several seminal albums like ‘Lark’s Tongues in Aspic’, ‘Starless and Bible Black’ and ‘Red’, before Crimson fractured and took a hiatus for several years. This was considered an odd move by many, but Bruford wanted to challenge himself, rather than playing the same music ad-nauseum. He was also a part of the original U.K. project with John Wetton and Alan Holdsworth but, again, left after their debut album and tour to concentrate on forming his own band, Bruford, who made three excellent albums and played some fine live shows.

Bruford joined a reformed Crimson for their popular 1980’s reinvention, Adrian Belew and Tony Levin appearing alongside Bill and Robert Fripp for the albums ‘Discipline’, ‘Three Of A Perfect Pair’ and ‘Beat’, that tell the story of that era. When Crimson took an extended break, Bill started his own jazz project, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, which was significantly different to all that he had done before. Much of this can be explored on the other four discs within this set along with his involvement as a supporting musician to the likes of Roy Harper, Chris Squire, Al Di Meola, Steve Howe and David Torn. There are also a slew of collaborations with Patrick Moraz and Michael Borstlap, in their piano and percussion ensembles.

Bear in mind that a lot of this was improvisation at its rawest, so this is not always easy to listen to, yet there is much of worth and value to these discs. It’s not all about the big groups, much of Bill’s joy has been found in the less high profile works. This set is challenging and you can hear how Bill uses space in his music to fine effect and how he has a ‘less is more approach’ to making music. He is a skilled musician and he prefers to underplay as opposed to overplaying, subtlety being the key here, which is why he is so highly regarded by his fellow musicians and his contemporaries. Neal Peart of Rush says that the advancements that Bill made in the realm of electronics were a benefit to everyone.

The Bruford tracks are really fabulous music with a strong bass presence from Jeff Berlin and urgent sympathetic drumming from Bill. Tracks like Joe Frazier from ‘Gradually Going Tornado’ really show Bill’s skill as a band leader. In contrast, the Earthworks tracks are far mellower in the main but still with enough going on to make them of interest and investigation. The band’s revision of Downtown, as made famous by Petula Clark, is exceptionally inventive as they play around with a well-known piece to make it something rather different and exciting.

I really liked the spontaneous elements in the Bruford-Moraz tracks with just piano and drums playing together. The sound is full ,even though there are only two people playing and both Bruford and Moraz use the space in the music to create something pretty remarkable really. As are the tracks with Michael Borstlap which also fuse Bill’s drumming with piano in free form jazz tracks that again use the space to improvise across. This is especially the case on The 16 kingdoms of the Five Barbarians, with it’s thunderous drums and tense piano fills and flourishes, this track really makes an impression as does the highly rhythmic interplay on display on the Stand on Zanzibar, which features a graceful piano melody line and delicate yet informed drumming from Bill.

Equally fascinating are the trio of tracks from David Torn on which Bill appears as part of the rhythm section. Some of this jazz is pretty brutal and harsh, such is the way with the unconventional Torn, but it makes for interesting listening once you get used to it.

The set is split into three sets, discs 1 & 2 represent The Collaborator, discs 3 & 4 are The Composing Leader, disc 5 is The Special Guest and disc 6 Is The Improviser. Much of the first two discs will be familiar, as this encompasses his time with Yes and King Crimson whilst discs 3 and 4 cover the Bruford and Earthworks era, with everything else on discs 5 & 6. Either way this set is simply fascinating and one that will appeal to the more broad-minded prog fan as its grooves contain much very fine music indeed. The included book and poster are decent too and give a good overview from Bill himself, who was fully 100% involved in this project.

Released 29th April, 2022.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Making A Song And Dance: A Complete-Career Collection (burningshed.com)

Review – Pattern Seeking Animals – Only Passing Through – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Only Passing Through’, the third Pattern Seeking Animals album has landed and, yes, it is another goodie. A fine set of modern progressive rock tracks, inspired by the greats, but no mere copy or imitation, this set takes the genre and gives it a contemporary twist and shake.

Let me explain the concept, John Boegehold, who has been a lyricist for Spock’s Beard for the past decade, had amassed a wealth of material that, whilst progressively inclined, were not suitable for the band. So John started a new project in which he could realise his vision of marrying his progressive leanings with modern pop/rock music where melodies were king. Hence Pattern Seeking Animals came into being. Using current Spock’s Beard alumni Ted Leonard (vocals and guitars), Dave Meros (bass) and Jimmy Keegan (drums), the project became reality, releasing their debut, self-titled album, in 2018 and the follow up ‘Prehensile Tales’ some 9 months later and the stage was set. The band line up also includes John himself on keyboards and programming and he also oversees the production with Rich Mouser performing the engineering, mixing and mastering side of things.

John says that his aim is to make music that is always trying something new or unexpected and that changes as it plays. He is a skilled writer and he has risen to the challenge by making interesting and intelligent albums. Then came lockdown and Covid. However, they have not been idle and have created this latest release which continues the goal of providing a new twist on progressive music. This time we are treated to several new twists on progressive rock with John also using brass enhancements on some songs.

The song Time Has A Way uses several novel innovations in its sound to make the album’s longest track really something a bit special. Changes in tempo and the ebullient brass section really raise the bar on this fabulous song. One could compare this sound to Big Big Train and their use of a brass ensemble to bring extra dynamics to their sound. The brass is used sparingly but effectively, adding rather than swamping everything, a lone trumpet adding a mariachi element to proceedings too, which is certainly different yet a highly enjoyable and effective take on the sound. This song is a monster and really a highlight of the album, symphonic prog at its finest.

Ted Leonard is on good form vocally and he plays some very graceful guitar melodies, he has really matured as a guitarist over the three albums the band have released and it is good to hear his skills on these songs. Also worthy of note are the rhythm section of Meros and Keegan, who bare both really both driving and supporting these efforts as appropriate. Sometimes on the beat, other times driving or pulling it along with them, all highly impressive sounding. I think it would be fair say that I really am enjoying this album.

Rock Paper Scissors is another fine track, if not a bit different. The violin part by Rini shines and puts me in mind of vintage Kansas as Ted Leonard projects his inner Steve Walsh. This is, in fact, extremely high praise as Kansas are one of my favourite bands ever, with this section of the track evoking many happy memories of that group. Much Ado is a riff driven track with quite unusual lyrics that talk of depression and a lack of will or desire to do anything for oneself. Whilst the lyrics could be seen as depressing, there is a lot going on in this song musically, plus it has a great guitar break from Ted. Only Passing Through is a song about the temporary nature of our lives, especially how we are only passing through this world. It is a beautifully written and composed track and one that certainly makes you think.

Said The Stranger is another highlight and a mariachi inspired track. It is one that thunders along with a great guitar break thrown in for good measure, there are interesting lyrics to this one too. The final song on the album, Here With You With Me, is a ballad of sorts, albeit one with more prog than a normal syrupy ballad. It has great words and sound with lots happening musically. The track is a terrific number on which to end, although the cd version has two bonus tracks, I Am Not Alright and Just Another Day At The Beach. You do not really want an album this good to end so the extra seven and a half extra minutes are very welcome indeed!

The first bonus song is about mental health issues and is dealt with in a sympathetic and delicate manner. It is very well written and observed, whether this springs from personal experience or mere observation is not clear. It is a powerful statement either way and is an issue that should be written about, especially now in the wake of covid and lockdown life and the problems that has both created and exacerbated for many folks. The other bonus track is far more upbeat and cheerful sounding although it does say that when it comes to love we are all on our own swimming, treading water or going down another time!

So, even within the happy song there is an undercurrent of sadness or darkness. Even so, this is a very strong and highly enjoyable musical statement of intent from Pattern Seeking Animals, long may it continue.

Released 1st April, 2022.

Order the album from Burning Shed here:

Only Passing Through (burningshed.com)

Review – Kaprekar’s Constant – The Murder Wall – John Wenlock-Smith

This then is the new album from Kaprekar’s Constant, it is an interesting concept and listening experience and one that will engage you in some history, bravery, tragedy and triumph, all from the comfort of your own armchair!

The concept is about mountaineering, one of the band, Al Nicholson, knows the area around the Eiger in Grindelwald and Scheigg and came up with the concept of linking six attempts to conquer the North face of the Eiger between 1935 and 2007. This makes for an interesting and unusual set of pieces, as with every Kaprekar’s Constant album. Research has been conducted by the band to make the context real and valid and this project has been well composed and recorded to their usual high quality. The band have really worked on imbuing these tracks with life and capturing the daring boldness of the various climbers detailed throughout.

The album begins with a prologue that sets the scene for all that follows, the graceful voice of Dorie Jackson and the contrasting rougher vocal of Bill Jefferson gel together beautifully and really lend a powerful performance to proceedings.

This is an album that will require you to give it some time for is subtlety to shine through. The music is mainly folk based but with enough electrification to make it worthwhile. There is some understated excellence at play here with some lovely guitar lines and melodies along with great keyboards and the ever reliable saxophone and flutes of David Jackson, whose presence is a key part of this band’s sound and ethos.

After the short instrumental Theme (Hall of Mirrors) we are told of Tall Tales By Firelight on which David really excels, the song talking about the world carrying on in the face of disaster. Failure Takes Care Of Its Own follows and this song tells of the disastrous attempt on the Eiger in 1936 by Toni Kurz, Andreas Hinterstoisser, Willi Angerer and Edinburgh Rainer that is still one of mountaineering’s most notorious tragedies. The sound is a moving and sorrowful one and leads into Another Man’s Smile which tells the story of the tragedy the befell the four climbers on the mountain, dying young on ‘The Murder Wall‘ that is the Eiger’s North Face. One that is frequently affected by devastating storms, leaving climbers both exposed and vulnerable to the rarest elements imaginable.

The mountain foe holds beauty, challenge and danger in equal measures, a sentiment that Years To Perfect encapsulates succinctly in its lyrics. This song has a cameo vocal from Judy Tzuke which is a real pleasure and a treat to hear. Hope In Hell extols the bravery and the foolishness of people who try in vain to conquer The Murder Wall and Victorious tells of the day in July 1938 when the notorious wall was finally beaten by Henrik Harrer, Fritz Kasperk, Ludwig Vorg and Anderl Heckmair. Finally, four brave men have tamed the mountain, bravo!

The Rain Shadow is a brief interlude which, I think, points to the years of the second world war 1939-1945 and to Switzerland’s neutrality and to the absence of further attempts to climb the mountain during those years. Third Man Down opens with an elegant guitar line and is accompanied by a beautiful organ. This lengthy opening section is very compelling leading into the odd tale of the attempt by Adolf Derungs and Lukas Albrecht, two Swiss stonemasons who made their ascent in 1959. Albrecht wore an old overcoat that he threw down the mountain leading to fears that one man had died on the climb. The mystery was solved when they both returned from their climb and were able to explain their actions satisfactorily.

A Silent Drum is about the motivation of a man like John Harlin had when he completed the task that cost his father his life on the Eiger some 40 years previously and how he focused his thoughts and efforts with the goal of succeeding in his aim and letting his actions honour his late father’s memory. The Stormkeeper’s Daughter is about the mountain itself and how it feels about being scaled and how it reacts to these attempts. The track opens on acoustic guitar before becoming more of a band piece, the good dynamics on this piece make it memorable, forming part of The Stormkeeper’s Daughter suite. This also includes the haunting World Before Man section before returning to the A Storekeeper’s Reprise.

Endeavour is a brief instrumental interlude before the epic Mountaineers, which evokes the spirit of the sixties adventurers and its references to a swinging London of those tumultuous years. Hall Of Mirrors concludes the album gracefully with a refrain we have heard earlier in the album

This is a fitting conclusion to an impressive and bold album. There is much here that will appeal to fans of good progressive music, especially to fans of Big Big Train as Kaprekar’s Constant’s historical focus offers a similar style and approach. Three albums in and now the band are venturing out once more and in this album they have a fine platform on which to set forth and have given us a superb album with remarkably interesting lyrics too. I do recommend that you have the lyrics to hand whilst listening as it all falls into place that way. Great songs and playing, lovingly produced with great artwork as well, what is there not to enjoy?

Released 25th March, 2022.

Order the album here:

Kaprekar’s Constant – The Murder Wall CD (talkingelephant.co.uk)

Review – Electro Compulsive Therapy – by John Wenlock-Smith

This group may be new to many of you, yet they join an ever-growing roster of fine progressive acts under the careful banner of the Progressive Gears Records label.

The sound is everything you could want ranging from an almost chilled Pink Floyd vibe through to urgent, frantic riffery and solos with lots of expressive keyboard textures, Anathema are a good comparison in parts as there is a clever balance of power and restraint at play here.

Opener Glow sets the scene well with a moody synthetic opening, growling bass line, power chords and some very acceptable guitar lines. The bass work on this song is fabulous, really anchoring the song yet leaving lots of room for both keyboards and guitar to make their presence known. It’s an accomplished and polished performance with some good vocals from Guillermo Garcia Herreros and some fiery guitar from Andres Jasso. Also worthy of mention is the solid bass of Rodolfo Gonzalez and the strong percussive thrust of Javier Villarreal. After the urgency of the opener, the graceful melodies of Colours Fade Away balance delicate piano lines against a stunning and highly memorable chorus. Stirring stuff indeed, during its latter stages the song evolves further with chunky riffing and driving bass runs before reverting back to the fabulous chorus. It’s an impressive song and a great solo from Andres brings the song to a fine finale.

Blackstar follows and this one has dynamics galore running throughout, making a fine impression. There’s a good use of keyboards here that draws the song onwards to a soaring guitar section from Andres which is accompanied by impassioned vocal from Guillermo. This all leads to a very ‘Gilmourish’ solo with lots of atmosphere and tone. Again this piece really impresses highly, it is a splendid piece of music that deserves a far wider audience than it will probably receive, such are the problems of getting prog fans to accept and acquire new music. It is such a pity when the music this outfit offer is so exceptionally fine and warrants a wider reach and awareness. Gemini is a shorter track, yet still crammed full of great touches and builds well with the guitar taking a leading role. There are remarkably interesting lyrics too and great sounds from the keyboards, in fact I detect shades of Marillion ‘Brave’ era in the sound, again it is exceptionally fine and impressive playing.

In Through The Light has a very retro style and dynamics balancing the past and the present to favourable effect again. Great guitar sound and use of effects make this song surge well and then the keyboards return the song to more moody atmospherics. Walking Ghost is a far quieter song but one that still has fabulous dynamics along with a great running bass line. As the song builds in intensity and depth you are poised waiting for the moment when everything comes to life, which it does at the two minute, thirty second mark with a glorious chorus and melodies and a great emotional guitar break. The track continues to surge and build like a hill climber reaching another peak before the summit, glorious stuff.

Penultimate track Stop…Wait and Transcend has a fabulous mix of light and shade and I detect some Simple Minds type dynamics at play here as the sound is very reminiscent of their late 1980s output, I mean that as a compliment! There’s more great bass work on offer here, the keyboard work is evocative and works well in tandem with the great guitar sound. The song is a bit of a slow burner but eventually it reaches a peak at the five minute mark and ends on a suitably dynamic point. Which leaves the final track Supernova to draw things to a close. This is another slow burner of a song, medium paced, and one that allows room for expression. As it gathers momentum it reveals itself to be a fine rocker of a song and a fine closer to what is a fine album from Mexico’s Electro Compulsive Therapy.

I really enjoyed this CD and find much to appreciate and to enjoy within its grooves. This is an album of many colours and textures and is one that will grow in stature as you embrace all the wonders that it offers. It is finely crafted and well produced, the music is strong, the melodies equally so. The artwork itself is sublime and, overall, I think this debut bodes very well for the future, surely bigger stages await these guys, well they certainly deserve so in my opinion at least. This is one of the better of 2022  so far and one that should appeal to fans of bands like Porcupine Tree or Anathema as it contains some stirring music within its fifty three minute playing time and that graceful guitar playing of Andres Jasso is, for me, the icing on a very good cake.

Released March 18th, 2022.

Order from Progressive Gears Records here:

Electro Compulsive Therapy | Electro Compulsive Therapy | Progressive Gears (bandcamp.com)

Review – Clive Mitten – Tales From A Misspent Youth – Volume 1 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Clive Mitten first came to my notice when he released his C:Live Collective project in which he rewrote much of his Twelfth Night music, Clive having been the bass player throughout that band’s lifespan.

That album was to start a whole new way of working for Clive and opened his way of thinking so that he could then go further back and revisit other Twelfth Night pieces in a new way, orchestral re-interpretations realised via the use of real orchestral instrumentation recorded to a very high and professional standard and then collating all that together to craft and create fresh interpretations of his music. This he did for the ‘Suite Cryptique: Recomposing Twefth Night’ project album earlier in 2020 which was widely acclaimed upon its release.

Clive then decided to revisit the favourite music of his youth in a similar method which has resulted in a different type of album, one which revisits, reworks and reinterprets some genuine prog classics in a manner that really highlights the skill that was employed and used in their original creation. This album has no vocals yet, even so, the melodies of these pieces really shine through and captivate your attention. Although it can lack the dynamics of the original pieces, this actually makes you focus on the melodies employed to bring these pieces to life.

If you want, you can do what I have done and play the original versions back-to-back to with Clive’s interpretation and really see the brilliance of each composition stand out. This worked for me, especially on the Rush tracks Countdown, La Villa Strangiato and Xanadu, songs that I know well, this approach revealed the skill of the original late 1970’s and 1980’s’s recordings.

Clive’s take on Genesis’ ‘3 Sides Live’ version of the In The Cage Medley is equally compelling. In fact, I prefer Clive’s versions more than the originals, in many cases, such is the beauty and magic the music unveils. Clearly this has been a real labour of love for Clive to undertake. He says that, in doing this project, he has really begun to appreciate just how intelligent and skilled the compositional skills of Tony Banks truly are.

This album is good in that, unlike the royal Philharmonic Orchestra take on the music of Genesis and Pink Floyd is, this is better in that it is far truer and nearer to the originals, which is high praise. Clive is an unorthodox soul who uses real skill and shows deep appreciation and love for these pieces. He has somehow elevated these well-known classics in such a finely distilled manner that he manages to bring out their voices afresh and breathes a new life into each piece.

Clearly Clive has both an affection and an affinity with these songs, best of all he has further instalments planned and in the pipeline, which certainly will be worthy of investigation but, for now, this double CD set is more than enough to be going on with for now to enjoy a fresh view and slant on these well-known classic album tracks. I cannot recommend this enough as its very nature shines new light on some old classics and is a splendid and often breath-taking aural experience

On this album you will find some seriously inspired song choices, like Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Tubular Bells (Side One), Suppers Ready, Echoes, Solsbury Hill, Living In The Past and Jeux Sans Frontiers. This mixture of longer and shorter tracks really works and, of course, with a CD player you can program and play the CD in any sequence that appeals to you. But, whatever sequence suits you, be prepared to settle down and rediscover these songs afresh for yourself and enjoy this visionary approach and take on these pieces.

It has been a 2-year project that Clive has undertaken here, often difficult with his health problems and his sometimes-fragile mental health as he suffers from agoraphobia and has serious ongoing vision issues. The level of time, energy and commitment he has lent to this album is simply remarkable and, when you consider that Clive arranged and played everything himself and produced this on his own, makes this even more remarkable. The booklet is a fascinating read into how Clive approached and realised his vision and the whole package is simply exceptional and highly commended.

Released 28th January, 2022.

Order direct from the artists here:

Clive Mitten: Tales From A Misspent Youth – Volume I » Twelfth Night

Or from bandcamp here:

Tales From A Misspent Youth – Volume I | Clive Mitten | Twelfth Night (bandcamp.com)

European customers are advised to order from bandcamp!