Review – Amanda Lehman – Innocence and Illusion – by John Wenlock-Smith

Amanda Lehmann is that rare article, A genuinely talented Musician who has, until now, never really had the opportunity to shine. Well, this solo album from one of Steve Hackett’s musical foils certainly impresses with its mixture of styles and textures and is backed by several of her fellow ‘Hacketeers’, including main man Steve on guitar on two tracks and harmonica on a third. Ex Hackett collaborator and all round Progfather Nick Magnus‘ keyboards synths and mellotron also come out to play on this short but enchanting release.

Consisting of nine tracks with a run time of just over forty-six minutes, this is a well-rounded set from Amanda who gets to show all her skills on this album, along with some fabulous contributions from the ‘Hacketeers’, who all add much colour to this fascinating album. Let’s have a listen to see what treasures await us in Amanda’s world…

Album opener Who Are The Heroes begins with keyboards and Amanda’s voice singing “Dreamers Dream, While angels fall…”, this is followed by the introduction of Amanda’s trusty red guitar that will be known to any who have seen her sharing a stage on Steve’s ‘Genesis Revisited’ shows in the past few years. Amanda lays down a strong guitar line over the burbling synths of Nick Magnus, who contributes a synth solo after Amanda has played a brief but emotive solo. Amanda has obviously learnt from the master, and it shows well in her fluid emotive playing, which is sublime and elevates the song upwards. This is a strong opener and her voice is in fine form as Tinkerbell follows, it’s another great song, full of wonder in the vocals, you can hear elements of both Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush in her vocals and in the imagery in the lyrics. This track has another brief solo from Amanda and a truly fabulous orchestral arrangement, especially the flying sequence in Tinkerbell, which conjures up a world of enchantment and magic in its melody. When tied to the chorus, it really captures something very special indeed and is one of the highlights of the album.

Only Happy When It Rains features a certain Mr. Hackett on harmonica where he gets to indulge his own unique take on the instrument and sounds equally at home here as he is on six strings. He is also accompanied by Rob Townsend who provides a sultry saxophone solo to the closing moments of the song, this song certainly swings. Next track The Watcher is the album’s longest and one in which Amanda gets to channel her inner Knopfler as she has a very Dire Straits tone to this song. Her playing on this song is highly impressive, very fluid and with a great tone to it. It is all very impressive sounding and makes it very strong track in its own right, one on which she stamps her own identity and authority on, showing that she has not merely called in favours from well-known friends and that she can deliver on her own.

Memory Lane features a beautiful orchestral arrangement by Roger King, who sympathetic melody lends magnificent support to this moving song, the graceful saxophone solo from Rob Townsend is also incredibly. This song is written about Amanda’s mother who died from Vascular Dementia and in the lyrics she recounts the memory loss that her mother faced. This is a very important track and one that will strike a chord with many as dementia is a growing health concern afffecting a lot of people as we get older. A brave song handled with dignity and compassion. Next is a rockier outing with Steve Hackett  playing in tandem and harmony with Amanda. The track is called Forever Days and certainly has a lot of power to it, along with a strident organ (again delivered by Nick Magnus) and a fabulous dual guitar riff that hurtles along very happily and nicely. There is some very impressive playing from all concerned, with a great dual solo as Amanda and Steve trade licks and runs, the muscular riff is very enjoyable and it’s all impressive stuff.

Next is a track that originally featured on the ‘Harmony for Elephants’ charity CD of a few years ago, remixed here by Nick Magnus. This song is a beautiful piece of music with fabulous words and is supporting a very worthy cause too. Childhood Delusions is another emotional journey, this time into childhood dreams and how Amanda feels that “The Man in The Moon Still Follows Me Home”, again, the imagery used in this song is evocative and memorable. The album ends with a duet between Steve Hackett on acoustic guitar and Amanda, whose voice is poignant and moving. The music marries the words and closes this highly impressive release on a high.

This album is a joy to listen to and has much to offer; great music, fabulous performances with warmth and depth and is a tribute to the talent Amanda offers, there’s no wonder Steve Hackett rates her so highly!

Released 20th August, 2021

Order the album here:

AMANDA LEHMANN – INNOCENCE AND ILLUSION CD | Steve Hackett (hackettsongs.com)

John Wenlock-Smith Interviews Steve Hackett

Photo by Tina Korhonen, all rights reserved

It is always a pleasure to spend time talking with Steve Hackett, he is such a gracious interviewee and always has interesting things to say and learn from. This interview is about his new album ‘Surrender Of Silence’ and his forthcoming tour celebrating the album ‘Seconds Out’ recorded whilst Steve was still a member of Genesis. This tour will see the album played in its entirety along with selected tracks from both his new album and from his extensive back catalogue of releases.

John Wenlock-Smith: So how are you sir?

Steve Hackett: Oh I’m alright, fine, how are you doing?

JWS: Yes, we’re ok generally, keeping alright with all this lockdown and stuff.

SH: Well it’s been an unusual time, an extraordinary time really. We’re just about to go out on the road with a tour, having not played a show (well, not properly) for about 18 months. Apart from the odd virtual thing over the airwaves, I’ve done a bit of that and I’m doing one tomorrow with the Hungarians, I haven’t done a live gig in front of an audience for a very long time.

JWS: I’ll bet you’re looking forward to that then?

SH: Well I am, yes. Once we get through rehearsals and everyone knows it, those rehearsals start on Monday.

JWS: You have a new album out soon too?

SH: Yes, ‘Surrender of Silence’ is the new album, the second one this year after ‘Under A Mediterranean Sky’, and it’s completely different to any other one, I really enjoyed making it.

JWS: I’ve heard the album and I like it, it’s very different.

SH: Yes, it’s different in places to what I’ve done before, I don’t think I’ve ever done an African themed song before, after our visit to Ethiopia. I’ve never done a Russian themed song either, They are journeys that became songs, having visited these places and, of course, a good deal of the influence comes to bear on some of the album.

One of the tracks, Shanghai to Samarkand, had the idea of trying to cover the whole of the east in a song with the odd instrument like the Vietnamese Dan Tranh (Zither), related to the Japanese Kyoto, and getting players to play in an oriental style. We got Christine Townsend to play her viola solo with those long bending, sighing notes at the end of phrases, I very much enjoyed that.

I enjoy the virtual travel that’s possible with music, although I am missing the real-world travel too, but that’s all about to change as we get out there again, visiting the British isles in the coming months.

JWS: Is it true that you are getting all over the place, you’re even playing in Stoke-On-Trent?

SH: Yes, I’ve got all the dates here, that’s on the 12th of September, I’m looking forward to that one. It’ll be good to play some places we’ve not been to in a while, it will be good to go anywhere and see anybody!  

It’s strange, lots of people have got tickets and we hope they all make the effort to come, but we can’t force people to come, so folks may decide to stay at home and wear a mask and only talk through the letterbox etc.

Obviously, we’ll be very careful, we’re not doing much interaction with the crowds, we are isolating and in a bubble much of the time. There will be no meet and greets this time around, the venues set the rules that we have to follow, but we’ll do what we have to to be able to play the shows and have a party.

JWS: I did notice that you have Phil Ehart of Kansas playing the drums on the track Shanghai to Samarkand.

SH: Yes, that’s right, I haven’t worked with him since ‘Please Don’t Touch’ back in 1977/1978. He’s one of the drummers on the album, we’ve also got Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train) and we also have Craig Blundell (Frost* and Steven Wilson). There are several people involved on the album from right across the globe, we have a guy from Azerbaijan, Malik Mansurov, on the Tar and a guy from Tajikistan on Dutar called Ubaidullev Sordirkhon Saydullevich, so right across the world really.  

JWS: You like your international collaborations don’t you?

SH: Yes I do, I like doing that. I like my local band but even that is spread across 4 countries now, Nad Sylvan is in Sweden, Jonas Reingold lives in Austria, Rob Townsend lives in Denmark now and we’ll all convene for ten days of rehearsals before being unleashed on the great British public.

JWS: So where did the album title come from?

SH: I prefer not to explain an album title, however, I would say all music flies in the face of silence. The surrender of silence is somewhat applicable when you make music for a living. Other than that, there are some aspects of social comments made in the lyrics where previously I haven’t been quite so vocal. I’m thinking of Fox’s Tango referring to Fox News.

There’s also social comment on the environment in Scorched Earth. Other things, Natalia is more of a story but there is social comment involved with that and then there are the instrumentals and the fun things, so it’s not all soapbox. As you scout around for subjects, I write all the time and my wife Jo writes certain things for lyrics too, we bat the ball back and forth between us and out of it all comes ‘The Surrender Of Silence.’

JWS: There’s an interesting first track in The ‘Obliterati’?

SH: Yes ,well that’s tapping with a kind of tongue in cheek title for all those familiar with certain books and certain writer. I thought it was a way to lead into Natalia but they are really the same tune in a way. I’ve separated them out so that you have a sort of mini overture or kind of underture at the front of the album and exposed tapping.

The last time I used that in isolation was ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’ back in the early 1970’s when I was exploring that the guitar functioning on its own but I decided to add some orchestral backing to it to bring it in line with what was to come with Natalia, which was more of a nod to Russian composers and orchestrators. The song is about an ordinary Russian woman, it’s almost like South Park in that she dies in every scene, in every verse but it’s a different woman and a different time.

The difficulty is that there is lots of orchestration and not a note of guitar playing until we are well into the track and I thought I’d better claim identity so The Obliterati came up as something to kick off the album.

JWS: It’s a commanding start to the album, I was listening to it this morning and wondering if it was a homage to Eddie Van Halen, who I know was greatly influenced by your tapping in his early days?

SH: Well, it’s a funny thing, I’m sad about his passing and that we never got to meet, it’s great when you hear of a fellow professional you’ve been an influence on or they just listen to you.

Earlier this year I was talking to an American journalist who told me that Pat Metheny had been listening to the ‘Under a Mediterranean Sky’ album and I also think of Pat Metheny as an atmospheric jazz player. Then you realize that in the world of jazz you’ll have people like Bill Evans being interpreted by folk like John Mclaughlin, another guitarist of note of course, he also liked the music of Eric Satie, I did an album of interpretations of Satie with my brother John Hackett in the early 2000’s.

He is brave enough not to fall back on technique, jazz is largely technique based and I greatly admire his ability to seek a bigger picture or canvas for his music to be drawn against. So it was interesting to hear that about Pat Metheny, I must reach out to him and talk with him. Perhaps similarities between musicians are greater than we give credit to.

JWE: I had a conversation with your brother John a few weeks ago about the album he recorded solo during lockdown, ‘The Piper Plays His Tune’, he was a lovely chap.

SH: Yes, John is a very gentle man and doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. We’ve been working together on somethings beyond this album too. John has been playing some scat flute like Roland Kirk, most people think of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, but scatt flute goes back further than that to the Mid 1960’s and the Beatnik area in the USA. I’m all for revisiting those eras, wandering in and out of different genres, it’s all possible under the progressive banner. John also has an excellent guitar player in Nick Fletcher.

JWS: Yes, I interviewed him too, he is a fascinating guy as well.

SH: I was greatly impressed by him and his album, I wrote a comment on the album which appears on the rear sleeve. I think Nick is one of the great hopes for British guitar, if there’s a chair to fill with the departure of another musician, then there’s a chair for Nick to fill.

People ask me who I listen to and, whilst there’s Andrés Segovia and Jimi Hendrix who get a lot of publicity, there is also Nick Fletcher, a phenomenal guitarist. Something of Bach and Handel and at the same time they’ll be listening to Miles Davis.

JWS: Nothing wrong with a bit of Miles Davis.

SH: Yes, he’s very interesting and very out there but recorded albums that are very different and was not afraid to do those. At the top of his tree, as a band leader, the people he worked with or chose him, there is this central pivot that is Miles Davis. Logic isn’t always the best seam to wander when writing lyrics.

JWS: I’m part of a writing group and we were doing abstract poetry using lines out of other books to create different words and lines with.

SH: Well poetry is very challenging, you must have music in the words. Stand-alone poetry, if you can draw some music from it, that can be very inspiring. Someone said to me some years ago that it’s no good reading Shakespeare unless you have a good grounding in all the myths and a good knowledge of language. Rather that you should read it for its music first and or its sound.

Years ago, when I was doing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that’s how I went at it, I know diddly squat about Pyramus and Thisbe but I loved the music of it, you’re allowed to do that in poetry, you can do what you want. Peter Gabriel was very gifted at making up new words, as was John Lennon, some of us take longer to come up with new words.

JWS: Well Steve, my time has gone so I’ll say goodbye for now. Thanks for talking as always, good luck with the album and tour

SH: Thank you and good luck with the poetry too.

‘Surrender Of Silence’ is released on 10th September, 2021.

Pre-order the album here:

SURRENDER OF SILENCE – CD – SIGNED [Pre-Order] | Steve Hackett (hackettsongs.com)

Review – Big Hogg – Pageant of Beasts – by Jon Wenlock-Smith

Big Hogg hail from Glasgow, which is over 550 miles from their spiritual, musical home of Canterbury in Kent. Or so it would appear to be, based upon hearing this album, ‘Pageant of Beasts‘, that was released this July on Bad Elephant Music.

This album bears significant reminders of the thriving musical scene that Canterbury gave to the world through bands like Caravan, Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers and many others. It also has a heady mix of jazz leanings and and avant-garde feel, which makes the music different as well as memorable, taking in psychedelia and jazz influences along the way.

The first piece, Golden Beasts, is a solo trumpet fanfare which opens and closes the album and upon hearing it I was strongly reminded of 80’s jazz luminaries Working Week as they ploughed a similar cross-genre furrow back in the late 1980’s, rather successfully too. Next track Here Come The Moles is a little left of centre and hinged on a hypnotic bass motif from Martin Beer which, alongside Justin Lumsden’s guitar and vocals from him and Sophie Sexon, makes a rather impressive impact. Man Overboard brings a distinct west coast USA vibe to the party. Imagine the Beach Boys with trumpets and you’ll get the idea! It is another very interesting track, the brass section sounds fabulous here, adding much colour and impact to a fine track along with sweet flute from Sophie.

Smoking Again starts out like a Faces outtake with a raspy vocal from Justin and some fine fuzz and wah-wah guitar lines. There is a lot going on in this track but it manages to avoid sounding shambolic, in fact, along with Here Come The Moles, it is one of my favorite tracks on the album . This is followed by Willow’s Song which is a lot more atmospheric and ethereal sounding. It comes from The Wicker Man and this version is fabulous. Red Rum has a nod to folk group Pentangle, especially in the bass department. 

All Alone Stone really wears its Canterbury credentials on its sleeve proudly and puts me in mind of Greenslade with its keyboard stylings. This track is very impressive sounding indeed and is the longest track on the album. It is a gentle, yet exciting, musical progression, making it a great listen. I am really impressed by this album and I’ve enjoyed discovering its treasures slowly as they unfold over multiple listens. Magistellus is next and this offers a great interplay between flute and guitar in the middle section and is another very fine track.

The Wyverns is Big Hogg at their most proggy, almost space rock sounding at points and follows the pattern of the latter half of the album where the band really up their progressive side and offer some highly unusual pieces and some excellent musicianship, Bouffant Tail being a case in point, wildly unhinged and all very strange indeed. This is a short track that is rapidly followed by Cat Fool, which sounds like a long-lost track from the early days of King Crimson, albeit with added brass, very interesting and different and it also has a lovely guitar break from Justin. The album ends with the return of the trumpet fanfare, entitled Too Much Belly Not Enough Paw, which brings the album full circle to end as it began.

This is a remarkable musical journey taking in jazz, psychedelia and other influences along the way and is a testament to crafting different, yet still vibrant, music for today’s age. This album will take a while to seep through and sink into your brain, however this is so very worth it. Big Hogg are certainly mining a very interesting seam on this album and they will hopefully be able to create more marvellous music in this style soon. I certainly hope that they continue in this manner as this band have a lot to offer and will appeal to lovers of modern progressive music.

Released 18th June, 2021.

Order the album from bandcamp here:

Pageant Of Beasts | Big Hogg (bandcamp.com)

Review – Steve Howe – Homebrew 7 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Steve Howe is certainly prolific, in the last few years he has released records with his sons Virgil and Dylan and released a new solo album, all along with a live Yes album, ‘The Royal Affair’, and also has a new Yes studio album due for release in October (marking the band’s first new material since the death of Chris Squire).

This new release by Steve of his solo recordings or sketches, ‘Homebrew 7’, is a most welcome set. What is different to his previous ‘Homebrew’ releases is that, this time, all of these pieces have not been written for any of his other projects, like Asia or Yes. The album is a mix of styles and sounds, taking several directions, along with several vocal tracks. Now, while Steve doesn’t claim to be a singer, he is more than okay on these tracks and his guitar skills continue to shine. It is good to hear that Steve continues to create new music regularly and that he is not content to retire or withdraw from musical life or activity just yet. This music shows that he still has a fire and a passion for his creativity to continue unabated for a while yet at least, in an era of ageing rock stars this is a joy to see and hear.

The highlights of this album are many and varied, most of the tracks are really musical sketches or frameworks, ready for further input or completion, let’s have a quick trawl and see what lurks within these pieces…

The album begins with a short piece called The Glider which offers a chance for Steve to show his proficiency on steel guitar, armed with a GS10 processing effect unit to give his guitar a soaring tone to it, all very simple but all very effective and pleasant. Like much of this album, these pieces do not overstay their welcome at all. Steve is from the ‘less is more’ school of guitarists and he does not overplay or over complicate matters at all. In an age where many guitarists are shredders, this makes a welcome and refreshing change.Steve could probably do all that and more but, here, his wisdom and restraint pay real dividends.

October follows and sounds like something from the George Winston/Windham Hill album which is no bad thing at all. This is a briefly orchestrated piece and sublime sounding it is too. Next up is the first Vocal Track Half Way, with Phil Spalding on bass. This is quite a surging rock song with a chugging riff and chiming guitar line in amongst everything that is going on. With nice brief solos accompanying the vocals, it’s a great little number that is really fiery and the end is sudden and final. This in itself is brave in not having any long run out or fade and is highly effective. The Only One is next and offers a bluesy swing, again, another highly effective interlude. Sadly this piece is way to short, it would have been good to hear Steve wail over this track a lot more. In One Life follows and this piece dates back to 1982 and is a simple piece in a similar vein to Muskrat.

Outstanding Deal is the second vocal track. I feel that Steve’s voice may not be really suited to this song but, even so, he gets away with it because the music is brilliant, with a great sounding steel guitar part that elevates the piece and gives it a sense of atmospherics that carry it well. Be Natural is different in that it features Steve’s guitar being powered through a Leslie Speaker which gives a very unique sound, all very clipped and slightly overdriven. This is a neat but effective trick and it sounds great. It’s a short piece but highly effective and interesting. Cold Winds is another older piece from 1983 with some great double tracked guitar lines and includes drums from a 14 year old Dylan Howe. Deanscape is a piece Roger Dean has used on his website for a while. Dating from 1982, much of what was used has been forgotten over the years but, again, this is an atmospheric piece.

Tender Hooks is up next and is an acoustically driven piece with steel guitar lines soaring over the top, it is another fairly simple piece but one that is full of melody and charms. Another vocal song, A Lady She Is, follows and this is a quiet tranquil piece with electric mandolin in a duet with Steve’s Gibson ES175D. This is simply a beautiful piece of music and again highlights Steve’s talents and skill superbly. Two Sided offers Steve chance to play over a choral backing and add his unique steel guitar sounds to a brief piece of music. This is followed by Strange Wayfarer, a jolly little jaunt that has comedic leanings written all over it. It has a simple rhythm and sounds suitable for Children’s TV series played on a Synth effect guitar. It is certainly different and yet somehow still interesting. Devon Girl is another short vocal track. An older track from 1983, it is still a good little number one that could work as a worked piece at some future stage perhaps. Safe Haven features an ascending guitar line with multiple guitars answering each other most effectively. The excellent crunchy guitar line added to proceedings makes this another effective number.

A Matter Of Fact is a fine bluesy number with a strong guitar line making it stand out significantly. Touchstone is a short but highly effective number with some great Telecaster guitar tones and lines in it too. Effective, brief and excellent. From Another Day dates from the ‘The Steve Howe Album’ sessions in 1979 and is the final vocal song. This is a brief song followed by Forgone Conclusion which is another piece with wailing steel guitar sounds. It’svery spacey sounding and a great little piece. Space Void is 70 seconds of synthesizer sounds and noise, like a lost Hawkwind track from 1972! The final track, From The Get-Go, is a song featuring Steve’s favourite Gibson ES175D as the star. With a lovely tone and delightful sound added to a shuffling beat, this closes the album in style.  

Well, there you have it. Twenty one straight forward pieces of artistry from a man whose guitar skills have graced many classic prog albums over the years. From ‘Close To The Edge’ to the forthcoming Yes album, ‘The Quest’, from Asia’s debut in 1982 to his own collection of solo and group albums, this man has done it all with style and here he shows the bare bones of his skills in a great set that is a worthy addition to his canon or works. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Steve Howe on guitar…

Released July 30th, 2021

Order the album from Cargo Records here:

Steve Howe ‘Homebrew 7’ (cargorecordsdirect.co.uk)

Review – Evership – The Uncrowned King Act 1 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Evership are, if you do not already know, the new face of American Prog, their music is a graceful and enticing mix of lots of classic US Prog and Pomp Rock bands like Kansas, Styx and Starcastle, to name just three. This ,along with their love of European progressive rock like Genesis, Yes, Gentle Giant and PFM (and romantic classical music) makes for a heady mix of sounds and textures.

They are most definitely a band to watch in the next few years. Led by Shane Atkinson (keyboards, drums, vocals, percussion, theremin and sound design) and aided by Beau West (lead vocals), James Atkinson (lead guitar) and John Rose (rhythm, classical, acoustic and lead guitar). They are also supported by Ben Young on bass and a few other friends also lend their talents to this album.

The album takes its inspiration from a book published in 1910 by Harold Bell Wright called ‘The Uncrowned King’, an allegory in the style of John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrims Progress’ with a story arc that fuses Mark Twain’s ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ with Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. The book is about the search for truth and how real truth cannot be found solely with just our five senses. That truth  is a more transcendent concept and one must show courage in the pursuit of it and its consequences. This is a two part story, this album is part 1, with part 2 in the pipeline. If you like the works that Neal Morse has offered, like ‘The Great Adventure’ and ‘Similitude Of A Dream’, appeal to you then I suspect that this one will too, as it ploughs a similar furlough in style and meaning.

Unlike Neal’s work, this album merely hints at spirituality rather than making any blatant declarations. This is, I feel, a highly effective tactic as it means the listener must reach his own conclusions about the viewpoints raised in the album. The album touches on religion, but it is not about religion although it does feature throughout.

The album has seven tracks, an epic sixteen minute track, three long tracks around ten minutes long and three shorter tracks. Together, this all lasts for just around sixty minutes and is full of excellent music and songs with quality lyrics. You will need the booklet with you to comprehend and grasp the subtleties of this album to get maximum enjoyment and appreciation of this piece of exquisitely crafted music.

The album opens with The Pilgrimage, which starts with a long instrumental section of about four minutes with lots of keyboards and synths, this is followed by some chunky guitar riffs as vocals are introduced. This is very symphonic sounding prog and very well done indeed. The pilgrimage details the journey the traveller makes from the Desert of Facts to The Temple of Truth and acts as an opener to the tale. Upon reaching the temple the traveller must meet the criteria for entry. The traveller is granted entry to The Quiet Room where he will be visited by four voices, firstly The Voice of The Waves who speaks of The Great That Is, The Uncrowned King and a Magic Crown.

This is followed by Crownshine/Allthetime which relates more of the backstory to the tale and commences with keyboards for one and a half minutes before Beau West starts singing of how the Crown was beautiful, magical and marvellous. All this is aided by some soaring guitar lines, choral voices and what sounds like tubular bells, although it could be played by the the synths of Shane Atkinson, all in all a strong and agreeable opening section.

The Tower follows where the narrative is told in song, of how the two princes in the kingdom wanted more than what they could see. Whilst looking from the tallest tower in the land they could see in the distance another land that looked good to them and so they sought consent from the king to go and discover this land for themselves. As they looked beyond their world to seek out and find new experiences and attractions to satisfy their wanderlust, the two princes, Really-Is and Seemsto-be, are prepared to risk everything.

There is a lot going on in the section with some excellent musicianship and some strong themes, along with lots of information pertaining to the story. We are also introduced to the two princes, Really-Is and Seemsto-be and we are also told of the life they lived, happy in a land where they enjoyed freedom of choices about what they chose to believe and the way they lived by. It also tells us of how they both looked the same and no one could tell them apart, a critical part of the tale as it transpires. 

The Voice of The Evening Wind introduces the two princes, their steeds Reality and Appearance and set us up for the adventures they had in the pursuit of what they did not have. This is the paradox at the heart of the tale and how truth can be deceptive, and wisdom can be forgotten and forsaken in foolish quests.    

The book on which this tale is based is certainly an interesting and intriguing one, one that, because it is over 200 years old, is not always clear in the points it makes but it is worth looking into. It is a book much loved by Shane and Beau and the video on their website details its impact on them. 

This album takes you partway into the tale with the remainder to follow later this year and if it is as good as this one is it too will be very warmly welcomed and received, you really need to listen to it several times to understand, excellent work from all concerned.

Released May 21st, 2021.

Order direct from the band here:

Evership Store – Purchase CDs, Vinyl, T-shirts and other Evership Merchandise

Review – Hardin & York: Can’t Keep A Good Man Down – The Hardin & York Anthology – by John Wenlock-Smith

I grew up in the 1970’s and discovered rock music through my peers who were buying albums from Virgin mail order in the early part of the 1970’s. This was mainly albums by The Groundhogs, I particularly remember ‘Split’ and ‘Hogwash’ being popular at that time. They then  moved onto Deep Purple and the ‘Burn’ album, although Supertramp’s ‘Crime of the Century’ was also popular with this group of my peers. I eventually followed suit and became enamoured with Purple’s ‘Made in Japan’ album and also with Emerson Lake and Palmer’s ‘Brain Salad Surgery’. Also popular was Ian Hunter’s book ‘Diary of a Rock and Roll Star’ that was passed about during my schooldays, a book that I grew to love and treasure to this day .

So, why then, in all those times, did no one ever mention this duo to me? Maybe it was because there were only two of them and they looked a bit wet if I am honest but, listening to them now, I can clearly see that I missed out on something different and really special. This fabulous Box set from Grapefruit via Cherry Red is something very spectacular, comprising as it does their entire 1970’s output in one neat 6 CD set with a highly informative booklet along with lots of unreleased tracks, including an early German Bootleg recording of Eddie Hardin and Pete York Recorded in Germany in 1970.

If, like me, you like the organ playing of Keith Emerson then this set will be a revelation to you, especially the live side of ‘The Worlds Smallest Big Band’ and the whole of the ‘Live at The Marquee’ album, both of which feature extensive organ workouts from Eddie Hardin.

Hardin and York came out of the latter day incarnation of The Spencer Davis Group in which Eddie had replaced the recently departed Steve Winwood, being of a similar voice and playing keyboards. Pete York was the drummer and the two joined forces after leaving Spencer Davis. They were tremendously popular in Germany and, to a lesser extent, here in the UK where they were frequent Performers at places like The Mothers club in Birmingham and The Marquee. Their stage show was energetic and, with just the two of them, it needed to be to capture the attention of the audience. They did this by using the dynamics of a sole keyboard player along with a jazz rooted drummer who packed a mighty punch, their interplay was dazzling and effusive at times, especially shown here on the various live tracks on this compilation.  

The first disc is their 1969 Debut album with six tracks recorded for a 1969 BBC Radio session and this is quite a strong opening statement that the pair deliver. For a duo they certainly kick up a lot of noise between them, Eddie Hardin has a very soulful voice and you can see why Spencer Davis hired him to replace the departing Winwood. The sound is full and the organ playing is dynamic and aggressive, it reminds me a lot of the playing of Purple’s Jon Lord, with whom Hardin worked with in latter years. This music has lots of energy to it and it will appeal to early Deep Purple or Nice fans, or indeed anyone that is interested in keyboard driven rock of the late 60’s / Early 1970’s.

For me, ‘The Worlds Smallest Big Band’ and ‘Live at the Marquee’ discs capture this duo at their peak, especially on the utterly fabulous Rock and Roll Medley (JailhouseRock/Mean Woman Blues/Rip it Up), The Pike and the Northern Medley (Lady Madonna/ Norwegian Wood)  that form part of the live in the studio recordings side of the album. The Rock And Roll Medley, with all its energy and atmosphere is really good and, as it’s just the two of them, sounds fabulous, mind-blowing actually! It is so unusual and different, you wouldn’t believe how good just an organ and drums could possibly sound and you don’t miss a guitarist or bass player as its all covered by Eddie’s Hammond Organ filling the gaps spectacularly. This is so brilliant you cannot believe that you have never heard this before, it is like being music’s best kept secret somehow and you feel all the better for being in the know about this duo.

The Pike, a track about their long serving roadie, is a tour de force between Eddie’s Hammond and Pete’s jazz chops with some spectacular drumming and some solid and virtuosic organ playing in a style like that of Keith Emerson, it is utterly fantastic and awesome in sound, as it shows just how fine a keyboard player Eddie Hardin really was. This is followed by the equally fine Northern Medley and this one really works the Hammond to the extreme with lots of improvised runs, all subtly supported by the syncopation that Pete York’s jazzy drumming allows. This is fabulous music and shows just how strong the bond between Hardin and York was and how the two complemented each other’s abilities and talents, it really is something to behold, appreciate and enjoy. 

Even better though is the 1971 ‘Live at the Marquee’ disc that was, presumably, a double LP back in the day but the information in the booklet is not clear on the release of this album. Suffice to say that it is 68-minute romp through music that was otherwise not recorded by Hardin and York ,with an extended version of The Pike in which both musicians get room to showcase their talents to good effect. It is the standout track of this album although Freedom Suite is also particularly good too. For me, this disc shows the very best that this group had to offer, with its mix of dazzling drumming and strong keyboard playing, it really is a long-lost classic restored to its full glory and is highly recommended indeed.

The other discs in this set are good but overshadowed by that fantastic live album, it really is a masterpiece and one that makes this set well worth looking out for. Eddie Hardin recorded other albums and recorded a final reunion release ‘Still a few Pages Left’ in 2005 and then sadly he suffered a fatal heart attack in July 2015, leaving behind a rich musical heritage and is sadly missed. This set gives an opportunity to see the brilliance that he possessed and how unassuming and yet proficient he was during the Hardin and York years.

Released 28th May, 2021

Order from Cherry red here:

Hardin & York: Can’t Keep A Good Man Down – The Hardin & York Anthology, 6CD Box Set – Cherry Red Records

Review – Dave Brons – Not all Those Who Wander are Lost – by John Wenlock-Smith

JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of The Rings has long been a source of inspiration for many, both in its allegorical context and for its worldview.

Written by Tolkien in 1954 and comprising three volumes, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, all set in this Fictional world called ‘Middle Earth;, these books have been read by millions over the last near 70 years and have inspired many artists, including Led Zeppelin, who’s song Ramble On is Tolkien influenced, as are many others including Enya, Joni Mitchell and even Black Sabbath.

Well, Bradford based guitarist Dave Brons has now composed a whole album, ‘Not all Those Who Wander are Lost’, which encompasses the journey of Frodo Baggins and his friend Sam in The Lord of The Rings. Dave has completely composed and arranged this suite of instrumental pieces himself, with assistance from the likes of Dave Bainbridge, Sally Minnear, his father Ian Brons, Catherine Ashcroft and Mark Swift and this this 67-minute album is the result of that interest and devotion to the books.

Dave is clearly a huge fan of the books and he revels in the chance to make his affection known and, in this work, he can combine his deep appreciation for the books with his love of progressive music and guitar virtuosity. The music is epic, as you would expect, but there is so much more to appreciate here in this album. The booklet that accompanies the album is beautifully conceived and realised and details the story behind each piece of music, along with insights into the performances. Dave is very quick to acknowledge the people who have helped him bring his dream to life and the part they each played in this task.

Dave is a ferocious guitar player yet, despite his flawless technique, he never shreds for mere effect, rather everything is played to support the music and move the narrative along, which is admirable.

Another neat touch to the album is the use of a recurring melody line that is actually My Lagan Love (which was an inspiration for Scarborough Fair) and this adds a delicate touch to the music throughout the album. The music is a journey that begins with eternity and circles around to end with eternity too. The album is a delight for the ears and is best heard as a complete piece of music with the lights low and something suitable to drink or someone suitable to snuggle with and enjoy as the music envelops you. Which it will, if you give it time for the magical music to drip down into your mind with repeated listens. This is an album that deserves to be listened to, and appreciated, for the fabulous musical journey that it will take the listener upon. There is so much to appreciate and enjoy here, the ethereal wordless vocals of Sally Minnear and the 100 plus strong choir, who’s vocalisations add significantly to the atmosphere of the album, the Uilleann pipes of Catherine Ashcroft, the fine cello from Ian Brons and the lyrical fluid guitar From Dave himself, all wrapped up in the beautifully clear production of Dave Bainbridge (one of Dave’s oldest musical friends).

This release is really a bit of a revelation and it is not afraid to touch upon the faith of JRR Tolkien and his wartime experiences and how they affected him. I especially enjoyed the Celtic feel of some of these pieces and the Uillean pipes that add great atmospherics to the overall sound. This is an album that is to be both treasured and revisited frequently, as you let the music take you to a special peaceful place. I highly recommend this fine album to all. 

This album has a card from Dave that says ‘Adventures in music for Tolkien Fans, may it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.‘ These personal touches from Dave really add value to what is an excellent package and one that has obviously been a labour of love for him as it revels in the value and worth that these books have bought him over the years. The music is epic, cinematic and expansive in sound and depth it really is an uplifting and positive listening journey and one most progressive music fans would surely enjoy.

Dave has an earlier album out called ‘Based on A True Story’ that is, again, instrumental but, although without a theme, it has extraordinarily strong musical statements and is a valid companion to ‘Not all Those Who Wander are Lost’. Dave is an independent musician and, like all non-major label artists, would benefit from your support for his music and art and you can embrace and enjoy the journey for yourself here.   

Released January 6th, 2020

Order from bandcamp here:

▶︎ Not all Those Who Wander are Lost | Dave Brons (bandcamp.com)

Review – Ray Fenwick – Playing Through The Changes – Anthology 1964-2020 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Modern music has long had its own set of musical minstrels who journey between different groups and sounds, how would Elvis sound without Scotty Moore and James Burton’s inspired playing? where would Cliff and most British rock be without Hank Marvin’s Stratocaster and graceful guitar lines? Music is littered with the artists whose sole role was to make the music the boss, make it sound better or different. Ray Fenwick is one such journeyman musician who skills have graced recording of the Spencer Davis Group, Fancy, the Ian Gillan Band and many over in his 50 plus year career, Ray also replaced Steve Howe in The Syndicats in 1964.

Ray is probably best known for his time in the Ian Gillan Band, which was formed after Gillan first left Deep Purple in 1973. The music the band made was hugely different from Purple with more Jazz, and even funk, elements present. The Ian Gillan Band made three albums, ‘Child in Time’, ‘Clear Air Turbulence’ and ‘Scarabus’, along with a set recorded in Japan that gained eventual UK release after the band had split up.

Ray is also remembered for his part in the Fancy project, who recorded a steam version of Wild Thing by The Troggs, the band was originally fronted by Penthouse Pet Helen Caunt, then by Annie Kavanagh, an ex-Musicals singer who had appeared in Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. Fancy had a follow up hit single She’s Riding the Rock Machine that was also a bit hit in the states.

Their unique blend of poppy, funky rock was in a similar vein to The Average White Band and, whilst Fancy enjoyed some US success, they failed to capitalise on it in any significant way which then led to Ray getting involved with Roger Glover’s Butterfly Ball, project where he worked along with various Deep Purple related musicians, including Ian Gillan which is where the Ian Gillan Band idea was first conceived.

This expansive 3 CD set covers all areas of Ray’s career and includes a few rarities, along with some excellent tracks that really show Ray’s skills as a guitarist, writer and arranger. Especially fine is an eight minute plus psychedelic track called The Dream, recorded for Ray’s 1971 solo album ‘Keep America Beautiful, Get A Haircut’, released in 1971 on the Decca Label, an album that now commands a hefty price tag on various well-known auction sites and on line retailers It may be time for a proper reissue?

After the Ian Gillan Band years, Ray turned to being a session musician, recording with a variety of artists including Roger Glover and Eddie Hardin’ (in his Wizard Convention albums and concert) and worked with Graham Bonnet before forming the all-star rock project Forcefield in the mid 1980’s. This called on such luminaries as Jon Lord, Don Airey, Neil Murray and Cozy Powel. Jan Akkerman appearing on ‘Forcefield 3 – To Oz and Back’, along with Graham Bonnet.

If I have one criticism of this set it would be that the music is so very varied that it would be better presented in sets or eras, that way you could have all the 60’s tracks together, all the Deep Purple related tracks in one place and also Forcefield and Ray’s solo stuff and session work together. This would give better continuity and make this more accessible to listen to. That is just my opinion though and, hell, what do I know? I am only a reviewer, not the artist.

Some of these tracks are really hidden gems that passed the public at large by and really deserve a platform and should be heard. I am thinking of the Wizards Convention tracks, especially Money to Burn with David Coverdale, who turns in a fabulous performance. The Wizards Convention 2 tracks also impress, as does the Hardin and York track Have Mercy Woman. In fact, the second disc is crammed full of good tracks and many surprises, also noticeable is just how versatile a guitarist and musician Ray really is, playing a mean slide guitar on Between the Devil and Me.

The different styles of music that Ray plays on this set range from hard rock, jazz fusion, pop and country to reggae and all points in between. The more progressive of his work appears as tracks by Ray Fenwick in the main, although there is a whole stack of stuff to enjoy over the three discs. Packaged in a handsome three panel set with good photos and a highly informative booklet that gives the lowdown on his extraordinary career, this is a fine set indeed and well up to the usual standard of Cherry Red reissues and box sets.

Released 30th April, 2021

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

Ray Fenwick: Playing Through The Changes – Anthology 1964-2020, 3CD – Cherry Red Records

Review – Frost* – Day And Age – by John Wenlock-Smith

What a year this is turning out to be, eh? We have had lockdowns, a new US President, I was so glad to see the back of Donald Trump and his inane ‘Twittering’s’, along with his clan of hangers on and thugs. Thankfully so were most Americans, sick of his lies and arrogance and concern for himself and so voted him out, although the incidents at the Capitol Hill probably sealed his fate, for now at least.

In other news, we have seen mass vaccinations against Covid, the emergence of random variants and possible hope for return to a more normal way of living, although some changes will probably remain in situ for now. In this time of uncertainty there are signs of new life, especially musically, as bands are emerging, once again, with the promise of live shows nearer to reality and new material in the can awaiting release.

Frost* are one such act. After a fine digital EP last year, ‘The Others’, and the ’13 Winters’ box set that brought the first ten years of the band together in one fabulous complete 8 CD set, comes this new release ‘Day and Age’ which opens the next stage of their ongoing history.

Consisting of 8 tracks lasting just over 53 minutes, this is a stroll through the modern world as seen by Frost*. Expect despair, hope, longing, confusion and fear along with strong melodies and inspired music, albeit with an edge of discomfort and unsettlement.

“Welcome to the rest of your life… sit back and remember, enjoy yourselves, you scum”, or so the disturbing child’s voice intones at the beginning of opener Day and Age. Things settle into a mid-paced track with lots happening musically, a powerful back beat and masses of keyboards and chiming guitars and with John Mitchell sounding not unlike a certain Mr Gabriel on this song. Everything passes swiftly with nary a wasted second, indeed, as an opener, it is certainly one of the most effective I’ve heard this year and stands right up there with tracks like Hypersonic from ‘Liquid Tension Experiment 3’ and Out Of This World from Kayak. Yes folks, in a dim world, there is mighty fine new music being conceived and delivered by our prog heroes who are, to a man, refusing to allow Covid restrictions to curtail their ongoing creativity and we are most thankful for that.

The album has a few shorter tracks in amongst the longer ones and, in all of these, you can hear the pop sensibilities that Frost* employ so wonderfully, along with the thunderous drums of Kaz Rodriguez, Darby Todd and Pat Mastelotto, each of whom pound away very satisfyingly indeed with power, strength and finesse..

This is especially so on the awesome The Boy Who Stood Still, which includes a fine voice over from Jason Isaacs. Sound wise, this song reminds me of the mighty Propaganda of ZTT Records fame who, through a blend of hard-edged percussion and angular vocals, married funk and progressive elements so wonderfully. Check out Duel or Dr Mabuse for an example of their sound and then see how this Frost* track compares, I can certainly see the similarities. The track is a decent length too and benefits from the extended running time to realise its ideas fully, it really is an interesting song. Lyrically this is a dark album and, were it not for the imaginative music Frost* create, could be considered very mournful and sad. Yet the music works with the lyrics to create something that is not really that sad somehow, I think it is the imagination they employ that elevates the songs to different heights. 

Another Excellent song is Kill The Orchestra, it opens with some rather dreamy piano that is completely in contrast to the darkness of the lyrics. That may, of course, be in part due to the locations involved in the writing of these songs, namely a converted coastguard tower in the south west of England amongst other locations. This possible bleakness contributes to the darkness and stark feelings contained in these songs, which, when you read the lyrics, is clearly apparent as a dark and yet interesting view of the world becomes clear.

All of this makes the album all the better for it does not sugar coat the band’s views and takes such a bold lyrical stance. Kill the Orchestra is particularly dark in tone with its tale of a would-be rock star who is lost in his own self worth to the point of self-obsession. All of this is backed by some epic musical sections to make a seriously good song.

This is an ambitious set of songs performed wonderfully and are very satisfying musically. With the modern edge to its sound, ‘Day and Age’ is an album that is impressive from its disturbing opening voice right to the end some, 53 minutes later. This is one that is best heard loud in the dark I think, you will love it!

Released 14th May, 2021

Order from Burning Shed here:

Day And Age (burningshed.com)

John Wenlock-Smith interviews Ronnie Platt of Kansas

John Wenlock-Smith: Good day Ronnie, how are you doing?

Ronnie Platt: Hello again John, yes, I am very well thanks, how’s things with you these days?

JWS: All good here, we’ve both had our vaccinations and we can see things starting to open a little here now, which is good. We had our first coffee out on Tuesday which was good, no masks and almost normal even, have you had all your vaccinations yet?

RP: Yes I am all good, did you have any reactions, flu-like symptoms or anything?

JWS: No, all fine, my arm ached a little a few days after but, otherwise, nothing.

RP: So, is everything open again now?

JWS: It is getting there but not everything yet.

RP: What about travel, can you go freely yet?

JWS: Around the UK, yes but internationally, no. We still have a list of approved places that we can go to but everything is starting to open a bit. It will get much better in June when more restrictions are lifted.

RP: Yes, it is pretty much the same here. I am speaking from the suburbs of Chicago, from my den in the basement, which is full of old guitars and equipment, if you could see the mess that it is in!

JWS: Well this is my den (shows him guitars, CD’s and piano).

RP: Can you play John?

JWS: Sadly I am a one finger only type player. I can play most melody lines but nothing with the right hand really.

RP: Whether you are playing with one finger or are an established player, I always say that music is the best therapy, how long have you been playing guitar?

JWS: Years, however I cannot really play much, I can do chords and rhythm but nothing technical really.

RP: Well, keep at it, practice makes perfect I find.

JWS: So the new album is out next Friday?

RP: Yes, ‘Point of Know Return: Live and Beyond’, we could not be prouder of it.

JWS: Can I ask, why is there no live video of it?

RP: Into today’s world, when I kook out in the audience, I see everyone holding their phones up watching and it ends up on YouTube. It makes it all exceedingly difficult to do and compete really, hopefully, at some stage, we will be able to do something but right now our attention is focused on getting back out on the road and playing live again.

JWS: London next year for you (Kansas) isn’t it?

RP: Yes, hopefully we will get there next year as the last two times were cancelled. In the 7 years I have been in the band we have wanted to come, especially since ‘The Absence of Presence’ is doing so well there.

JWS: We are hoping to be able to get to it ourselves, my wife knows that I want to go and she is happy to come along with me. So how was it for you singing these songs from ‘Point of Know Return’?

RP: It is amazing to me to, and I will include the entire Kansas catalogue in this, these songs that I have just loved my entire life, being a huge fan for many years. It is really a dream come true and surreal to be doing it. For my generation, you would buy an album and memorise the entire sequence of songs. It is special how I bought these albums and also being such a huge Kansas fan for all my life. To play the album in its entirety in the sequence that it was recorded in is a real honour and privilege to do.

JWS: I grew up in the 70’s and first heard Kansas in 1975. I then got hold of the ‘Point of Know Return’ album and it was a favourite of mine for many years but I especially loved songs like Hopelessly Human and Closet Chronicles. Kerry Livgren was such an awesome writer, his material is always strong and good.

RP: So John, you are like me, you love the deep cuts, not just Dust in the Wind but the less celebrated tracks like Nobody’s Home, I love singing those deep cuts.

JWS: I used to have the album cover on a mirror but that has gone now, sadly. I like that this album has some rather obscure Kansas songs like Two Cents Worth which is completely different to Song for America. The only disappointment for me is that People of the South Wind does not have Phil Ehart’s fabulous drum fills on it but, even without the drums, you keep the groove going. Will it be the same set in London?

RP: We will possibly change a song or two but we will do all of ‘The Point of Know Return’ album but who knows what it will be? It’s one of the great things about Kansas, there is such a library of music to draw from.

JWS: I am really looking forward to that show, my wife is looking forward to seeing the band and she trusts my taste in music. We are also seeing Genesis in October this year.

RP: Another of my favourite bands, ‘Wind and Wuthering’ is one of my favourite albums along with ‘A Trick of the Tail’.

JWS: I spoke to Steve Hackett a few weeks ago, he has recorded three albums in lockdown!

RP: Wow, he has been a busy boy, that makes us look lazy! I believe that Genesis will be in Chicago sometime in November but we will be out on the road ourselves, so I will probably not be able to catch them.

JWS: I spoke to Tony Banks last year and he said that with Genesis, it is always a case of never say never, we are always talking about reconvening activities.

RP: I used to open with Dodo in one of the bands I was in during the 80’s, I even took my mother to see Genesis.

JWS: Well Ronnie, my time has almost gone.

RP: Thanks John, it has been good to talk to you again, keep practising the guitar and keep playing the keyboard and we will hopefully see you next year in London.  

Kansas – ‘Point of Know Return: Live & Beyond’ is released on 28th May, 2021.

Order the album here:

Point of Know Return Live & Beyond (burningshed.com)