Review – Abel Ganz – Gratuitous Flash (2016 Remaster) by Progradar

I’m not always sure that you should revisit the past, sometimes it isn’t as you remembered it and quite often not in a good way at all. However, in music, going back and remastering an album using modern technology can often add a lot more to the original production (the opposite can also be true but that’s for another time).

‘Gratuitous Flash’ was the first album released by seminal Scottish proggers Abel Ganz and was originally recorded in 1986. After the passing of thirty years the original line-up got back together to remix/remaster the release at South Park Studios in Glasgow. It has been remastered with some additional instrumentation by Hew Montgomery, co-founder of the band and keyboard player until 2007. He is joined, once again, by Hugh Carter (bass, flute & bass pedals), Alan Reed (vocals and Reedotron), Malcolm McNiven (guitars) and Ken Weir (drums and percussion).

The whole mix has been given a very slight clean up but this was kept to a bare minimum.

“You left school at seventeen, you never were the intellectual…”

A song about never growing up and never quite fitting in with your peers at school.

The opening track, Little By Little, gives a huge dose of nostalgia as the keyboard intro sends you rushing back to the 80’s. It’s a song that has an immediate hold on you with the intricate guitar playing and superb keys, the percussion and bass driving the track on. The extended instrumental opening has a really upbeat vibe to it, blending the original music well with the new remastering. When Alan’s vocals begin they are crystal clear and you become engrossed in his lilting tone, seemingly telling you a tale from his youth. It’s like Marillion but with added doses of humour and humility. I never heard the original but this new version doesn’t have me yearning for the past, I’m just thoroughly enjoying what I’m listening to now, including a fiery guitar solo from Malcolm that takes flight with a mind of its own and Hew’s elaborate keyboard playing.

“Have you ever had a day when someone smiled, suddenly you’re feeling much older than today.”

A song about the frustrations of growing old and realising that love is passing you by.

A nicely strummed guitar opens You and Yours and is rapidly joined by the soaring keyboards and superb rhythm section before Alan’s distinctive voice joins in with not a little passion. There’s wistful, almost regretful tone that runs throughout the song and that 80’s neo-progressive sound is as strong as ever, yet brought up-to-date by the considerate remix. Hugh’s elegant bass is particularly outspoken on this track and works well as the metronome in the background. Another fluid and effortless song that has a wistful edge as the story unfolds before you. The polished instrumental sections work exceedingly well within the rest of the track and showcase just what great musicians these guys were (and still are!).

The Scorpion is an instrumental track that was unashamedly inspired for Hew by the playing of Don Airey in his Collosseum II days. it has a particularly grandiose opening before racing off with Hew’s keys and Malcolm’s guitar trading fiery licks and blows along the way. I’m sure Hew should be wearing the archetypal prog-cape as his fingers fly across the keys. Ken’s powerful and quick fire drumming is at the heart of the mix and the whole song has you feeling like you’re on a helter-skelter as Malcolm’s aggressive guitar takes centre stage for a moment. It’s the keys that are the focus of this dynamic and compelling instrumental to my ears though.

“Gets up every morning, at the crack of dawn, fix your working clothes, put your working smile on…”

A song written for someone that Hew worked with years ago whose name was actually Irene Kean and was always happy and enthusiastic about her job.

An emotive piano opens Kean on the Job with some laid back percussion adding to the atmosphere. There’s a whimsical tone to the music as it builds up the song. Alan’s earnest vocal takes up the tale and I’m pretty much engrossed from the first word. The chorus rapidly becomes an addictive earworm that I find myself humming all the time, in fact the whole track stands out on what is becoming a superb album. The tastefully played guitar and classy keyboards add even more gloss to the delightful narrative, all in all a rather excellent song.

“I wrote the song, for the radio, the words reflect the way I feel.”

A song dedicated to a journalist who, in the early eighties when he was a young lad working for a local newspaper, took great delight in making barbed comments about the music of Abel Ganz.

Another energetic and impellant track, title song Gratuitous Flash opens with a charismatic instrumental section with driving guitar, an ebullient rhythm section and compelling keyboards combining with irresistible effect to give a potent feel to the track. As the pace slows Alan’s characterful vocal recounts the details in a measured and distinctive manner, a strong 80’s neo-progressive overtone at its heart, Hew’s swirling keyboards closing out the track in dramatic fashion.

“He was only a boy of six years old, playing kids’ games on a frozen lake. But he ventured too close to the hockey match; that was his only mistake.”

Sometimes there are just some moments that inspire you to write music… and this is definitely one such moment. Inspired by the wonderful saga of Johnny Smith, it’s one of these songs that Hew always felt really satisfied with (although he also felt that there were a few spaces that needed to be filled just a bit, and the remix gave him the chance to do exactly that!).

A genuine epic, coming it at over 16 minutes, The Dead Zone is one of those tracks that has so many facets that just fit together perfectly. Quite a mournful song at times, especially the opening with its serious and ominous mood, it has a definite gravitas and pathos at its core. The sincerity in Alan’s voice is there to be heard and the exemplary musicianship fits the developing mood perfectly. An all encompassing and absorbing musical experience that seems to fill your whole being with its sentiment and poignancy, a piece of music for late night listening with the lights down low and a glass of your favourite tipple in your hand. Even running into sixteen minutes plus, it is such a gripping song that it never outstays its welcome as the music and lyrics absorb you throughout.

Newly added to this 2016 remaster of ‘Gratuitous Flash’ is Alan Reed’s solo reworking of Kean on the Job. Hew says, ” It’s a beautifully laid back way to end this album…” and he is 100% right in that assessment. A deliciously chilled out and easygoing rendition that flows in an undemanding manner. The capricious instrumentation is jazz influenced and it’s a warming and grin inducing way to close out this musical experience.

For those that have the original in their collection there is absolutely no reason not to upgrade to the 2016 version. A considerate and well thought out remix and remaster has brought out even more layers and given it a well deserved new lease of life. For those who have never heard the original then please purchase this modern take on a classic. Neo-prog doesn’t get any better than this with intelligent and humorous songwriting coupled with excellent musicianship to give a listening experience like no other.

Released 8th May 2017

Buy ‘Gratuitous Flash’ on digital from bandcamp

Buy ‘Gratuitous Flash’ on CD from ProgRock

 

 

 

 

Review – Long Earth – The Source – by Progradar

Not sure if you’ve noticed but I like music, I like a whole gamut, a plethora even, of different musical styles and the bands that produce it but, being the man who actually runs this website, it also means I get sent a lot (and I mean A LOT) of new music on a weekly basis and sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with it all.

When I met Neil Mackie (vocals and guitar) of Long Earth at last year’s ‘A Prog Before Christmas’ gig we had a good chat about their forthcoming new album and, don’t ask me why, that seed stuck in my mind and grew when news of the impending release of ‘The Source’ broke.

So, while it may have taken me time to get round to it (due to real life pressures and earning a coin), I always intended to review the album and here is my take on it but, first, a little background…

Long Earth came together by a series of fortunate but unexpected coincidences. Born from an agenda of no agenda, the principal from the outset was to create a musical adventure with no preconceived plan of the final destination.

Mike Baxter (Keyboards) came from an exemplary background of having been at the forefront of the Glasgow music scene. It was during Mike’s tenure with Identity Crisis that, despite moving in converging circles, Mike played with Gordon.

Gordon Mackie (Bass) has a background in music spanning more than 40 years. Moving into the ’90’s, and a move east, saw Gordon hooking up with Mike in Identity Crisis.

Ken Weir (Drums & Percussion) was the foundation not only musical but also in terms of timeline of Abel Ganz. During his time with the mighty Ganzers, Ken was there from the early days of Milgavie Town Hall through to and beyond the Gullible’s Travels days – featuring a line up changed to Paul Kelly, Hew Montgomery, Gordon Mackie and himself.

Neil Mackie (Vocals & Guitar) is, surprisingly enough, Gordon’s brother. Due to Gordon’s influence, Neil learned bass and performed with a number of Central Scotland covers bands from the ’80’s onwards. 

As things progressed, the band agreed we needed an amazing and very particular type of lead guitarist to join the ranks – so the hunt began. Thankfully in September 16 we were joined by the insanely talented Renaldo McKim (ex Suicide Underground).

The final cog in the wheel is Hew Montgomery, Abel Ganz / Comedy Of Errors / Grand Tour who acts as a motivating factor in Long Earth. A semi silent partner almost…

Neo_prog started in the early 80’s and hit its heyday later in that decade with the likes of Marillion, Pendragon, IQPallas et al and it’s influences can still be felt today, just listen to the recent solo releases from Alan Reed (ex Pallas) and Paul Menel (ex IQ) and you’ll know what I mean.

You can hear the way that Neo-Prog has shaped Long Earth’s debut ‘The Source’ but the quality of the songwriting gives it something a little different. It’s made up of two song ‘suites’ and three other tracks and is an engrossing listen throughout. Title track The Source is made up of four constituent parts beginning with i -Through The Void, a stylish instrumental that takes me straight back to the 80’s with it’s simple keyboards and elegant basslines. To these ears it almost combines the era’s other stand out music, New Romantic, with some stylish prog overtones and is a great opening to the album. There’s a segue into ii – The Source which is another nostalgia soaked unpretentious piece of music but one that grows and morphs into something much more up-to-date. There’s a relaxed tone to the music and Neil’s vocals and when the tempo increases, it becomes something more vibrant. Up to now it’s been Mike’s keyboards that have been the overriding contributor to the music, aided and abetted by Gordon and Ken’s stylish rhythm section and there’s a nicely laid back keyboard solo in the centre of the track. To be fair, everything is nicely judged but it’s just missing that little extra, until it arrives in the shape of a classic guitar solo from Renaldo towards the close, powerful and compelling and making the circle complete.

iii – First Steps is a short, slow moving and brooding instrumental with a dreamlike quality to it, the music washing over you and putting you into some kind of relaxed stasis, calm and composed before iv – The Call begins, an intelligent song which gets me in a thoughtful frame of mind straight from the off. Haunting keyboards and jangling guitars give an alternative music vibe, like something out of 1990’s North West England. That dreamlike aura lingers among the smooth vocals and the effortless rhythm section. Below the unhurried surface the guitar adds some edge and body without spoiling the tranquil ambience. It’s a piece of music to lose yourself in and just enjoy the mesmerising music, let another quality guitar solo from Renaldo lift your spirits high and let them soar on the musical updrafts. and enjoy the serene ending to the song.

The second multi-part track is Ghosts and the first piece is i – Invisible, an eerie sounding keyboard precedes the haunting vocals as the track builds slowly with a slightly nervous and tense feel. It has a wistful sound to my ears, it’s almost like a song of longing and regret, of looking to the past with a heavy, melancholy heart. The subdued guitar solo is dignified and seems to be holding back the sea of emotion waiting to spill out. This is a song that is not in a hurry to get anywhere and its presence is felt deep in your soul, the contemplative voice over works very well and the whole track leaves you looking into your own mind in a sobering manner. ii – Above And Beyond is another short and pensive instrumental with an absorbing and reflective atmosphere, there’s an almost otherworldly sound to the keyboards but it is fleeting as it segues straight into the sombre tones of iii – Ghosts. The solemn vocals add to the absorbing music to leave the listener pondering life, the universe and everything. I love the echoing guitar note, it just adds layers and layers of pathos and sentiment and the whole song is a really poignant piece of music with a deep yearning and sentiment. Overall this is a melancholy song about loss and longing that stays with you long after it fades out.

The last part of these two multi-faceted tracks is iv – Her Ghost In The Fog and it opens with an almost euphoric keyboard note, a feeling of hope in the desolation of loss, much more upbeat than what has preceded it and the 80’s feeling repeated guitar motif is really catchy, you will find yourself humming this at the most inopportune moments. There’s almost a nostalgia overload with the keyboards slap bang in the 80’s but the great songwriting once again lifts this song above the ordinary. Neil’s voice has an emotive overtone, quite affective and touching and the keyboards and piano add real gloss. Once again that excellent rhythm section of Ken and Gordon provides the engine room that keeps things ticking over and Renaldo weaves his special brand of magic throughout.

Where Is The Laughter takes a slightly different route with a really engrossing introduction where Gordon’s bass is more front and centre before Neil’s plaintive vocal begins. There’s more of a mainstream feel to the song, although it is still rooted in the neo-progressive arena (dare I mention that well known & tall Scottish singer). I like the elegant music that seems to just glide over your synapses and leave an indelible mark as a layer of sophisticated calm falls over your shoulders. Music for lazy days and long drinks in the garden, a smooth jazz aura seems to emanate from the keyboards in the middle of the song, the bass and drums joining in the impromptu musical jam session. It is one of the best lead outs to a track I have heard this year, just so relaxed and uber cool, just stop what your doing, relax and enjoy it. Children Of War is a superb song that occasionally lets itself down, and that is by the verses being a tad too long. It starts with a feeling of suspense and trepidation, Neil’s moving vocals making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and all is well. It’s a haunting song about the unknown casualties of war, mainly the children, and it is a moving sentiment but it tends to meander too much for its own good and you get a feeling of treading water with no particular destination in mind. When the brilliant guitar breaks out that spell is broken and you sit, wide eyed, at Renaldo’s virtuosity, it really is quite superb. The verse begins its slow traverse and, once again, things become a bit static, only to be lifted by the rarefied harmonies, it’s a small criticism but a criticism nonetheless. Things come to a close with The Deafening Silence, an organ opening proceedings with Neil’s high pitched vocal adding a bit of theatre. Next, a smile breaks out on my face as a really catchy riff hits you full in the face and the powerful drums and keyboards drive things on. More of a hard rock song that your neo-prog, it works really well with some funky bass and edgy guitar thrown in the mix. It’s a pleasant surprise to have a short and relatively uncomplicated track closing an album out and I’m really enjoying it when Gordon goes all 70’s funk on us with his short but ever so sweet bass solo and, not to be outdone, Renaldo leaves us with another thunderous guitar solo. To me, it’s a great choice of song to close out what has been a thoroughly entertaining listening experience.

Taking what was great about classic 80’s Neo-Prog and adding some modern drama and pathos, Long Earth have given us a debut album that has been years in the making and all the better for it. Yes, it is not without some minor flaws but it certainly is an album that you will return to many a time and will be even more gratifying every time you do, bring on the next one guys!!

Released 9th May 2017

Buy ‘The Source’ from Grand Tour music:

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