Review – Only Echoes Remain – The Exigent – by Kevin Thompson

Space, the final frontier… the vast overwhelming mind blowing epic that fascinates us all.

As a boy I sat transfixed every time there was a space-flight, marvelling at the monochromatic achievements on screen with a head full of wonder.

The feeling has never left me and as I grew fuelled my interests in Science Fiction, from reading and listening to radio shows, to watching early Doctor Who episodes from behind the sofa. It also eked into my film and music tastes and has inspired some of my artwork. Having permeated most aspects of my life, I still marvel at it all now and watch anything related on the news. Fortunately my lovely wife also has a similar interest, but more in a Brian Cox way than Dara O’Briain. It feels like all our lives are touched by it at some level.

From Hawkwind to Devin Townsend, Areyon to Lonely Robot and Public Service Broadcasting, the ideas are as limitless as the growing unknown space in which we reside, affording musicians vast opportunities to explore the outer limits in words and instrumentation.

London based 4-piece Only Echoes Remain, have chosen the subject for their first album release, ‘The Exigent’. This deeply personal concept of the human emotions this illicits, from joy to fear and panic of the great unknown, the band say drives a cohesive narrative throughout the album. The gloriously retro feeling, front cover of the album would not look out of place on an Asimov novel.

Time to fasten myself into my suit, and put my helmet on, ground control this is Major Thom(pson) preparing to open the airlock and bravely go where Only Echoes Remain.

The slightest piano Prelude as the door slides open with a hum and I glimpse the music of the stars for the first time as I push myself into vast nothingness, everlastingness (is that a word) and I float, fettered only by my oxygen and safety lines.

The piano chords build as drums roll myself to get a better view at the Dawn rising over the Earth whilst I listen to a conversation over the radio about a destroyed antenna. Suddenly guitars erupt like flares in the darkness witnessing the glory of the Sun’s light bathing the planet’s surface. I am in awe at the sheer majesty and raw energy which sets my pulse racing.

An Aurora of lights dance across my view to a gentle guitar refrain, the chords echoing away as I float toward the colours created and the music fills my ears as the other instruments join in. The pace increases as patterns swirl in the atmosphere dancing in a frenzy of guitars colliding and creating a wall of illuminated sound. A terrifying raw beauty beyond compare, only to disintegrate into a myriad of notes leaving me breathless and just a little afraid in the realisation this is all beyond my control.

Only Reflections remain in my visor as I float serenely, surveying the vortex created into which the lights and sound have been drawn, edged with strands of phosphorous white gossamer threads. A bead of perspiration runs down the back of my neck and I shudder at the great power created with a realisation and terror that I am merely a speck in this space. Thankfully we are too distant to be affected and I am soothed once more by the ambient sounds I hear.

Guitar chords, like Distant Echoes return to the sound like trapped creatures in the confined space of my helmet. I want to release them in a great crescendo to the universe and listen to them rejoice in a cacophony of celebration, but to do so would involve opening my visor. For a brief second the temptation arises and I raise a gloved hand only to drop it immediately at my foolishness. Instead I revel in the sound, bathed in strings then hit by a complex wave of instrumentation to lift my singing heart as I turn and make for the airlock, all too soon we must return to Terra Firma.

There is a brief Interlude as the desire to remain and a melancholy piano and synth mourn my  change in mood, but there is (No Turning Back) and I enter the lock.

We secure everything, complete our checks in conjunction with control on Earth to prepare for the Descent/Impact ahead. Initiating our return sequence we head for the atmosphere around our planet pulled through by the force of guitars and drums. The craft vibrates and the heat increases with the  crushing pressures and forces. Fear creeps in once more, will she hold?

Suddenly we burst out from blankets of folded clouds into blue skies and float toward the sea below, our parachute brakes deployed. All is calm once more as our transmitter buzzes and flutters into life allowing control to plot our location and we hit the water to a jubilant cheer from us all. We advise control we have landed, they congratulate us, confirm they will be with us shortly and End Transmission. We watch through the windows as we bob on the current and the recovery boat ploughs into view. The door is opened and we are helped on to the vessel and whisked away to waiting questions of which only we have the answers.

The capsule disappears into a speck on the horizon and a feeling of satisfaction wafts through us, we will be greeted as heroes but will we ever be the same after what we have witnessed.

Lauded by our peers we shall talk at great length to those who wish to listen of our great exploration of this cinematic album and the riches it gave forth with a yearning to go back there. We shall pontificate on tales of Stones and Stars, encouraging others to engage in the wonders of the intricately evolved tracks enclosed until our stars fade and we go from the celebrated, to the dust from which we came on sweet refrain.

There have been a number of splendid instrumental bands/albums of late and it is difficult to shine in a sky full of stars, so does ‘The Exigent’ from Only Echoes Remain glimmer brightly enough to be picked out? I think so

It will only take one small step from yourselves to encourage a giant leap of interest for mankind in this band who are:

Arran Oakes
Craig McNaughton
Simon Christie
Alistair Dunlop

Gentlemen, we have lift off, Holy Smoly!

Released 16th June 2017

Buy ‘The Exigent’ from bandcamp

Review – Anathema – The Optimist – by Kevin Thompson

Music is a very personal thing both for the artist and the listener, motivational, inspirational, a catharsis on which a musician can bare their soul and the darkest secrets within. It has always been about emotions, happy or sad, a conduit through which a musician can come to terms with the past and look forward to the future. An outlet affording the chance to confront fears, battle them head on and come through the other side eliciting empathy from devoted fans who recognise the difficulties faced in bringing the music to life.

Artists can quite often be protective of their private lives, yet willing to lay raw past experiences and struggles still faced. We have seen some fall by the wayside, being unable to exorcise their inner demons, yet at the same time others find salvation in their music.

So it is with Anathema. They too have had their trials and tribulations, most recently Daniel Cavanagh’s publicised personal struggles, after the well received previous studio album ‘Distant Satellites’. A hiatus over the last twelve months to recuperate and enable him to return to some semblance of normality has led to a moodier album. Thematically picking up from 2001’s ‘A Fine Day To Exit’, the new album sees the band lead us down a darker path, which  whilst the music guides you it doesn’t provide answers.

It feels like only a detective/gum-shoe could try to make sense of the tale……

I checked the coordinates of first track 32.63N 117.14W’ it gives a location on the west side of Silver Strand State Beach, along San Diego Bay.  So I take a turn off the free-way at Chula Vista and drive the Chevy round there. I arrive in time to see some John Doe pulling himself from the surf like a wet rag and stagger his way up the beach. I’ve no clues as to who our protagonist is so I decide to sit back and observe. I roll the knob on my car radio and slip through the channels, there’s a tune, I recognise the band but then lose the reception.

It’s replaced by catchy digital style beats and my fingers drum on the steering wheel in time to the rhythm. The man climbs into the passenger side of a Buick which has pulled out of the Loews Coronado Bay Resort (as guitars kick in) and exit the kerb. I throw the old girl into gear and pursue at a steady distance the voices joining the tune on the radio sound familiar, urgent, but I ain’t got time to think on it further as they speed musically away from my car, they are Leaving It Behind’. It occurs to me the pair may also be fleeing from some sort of trouble.

I step on the gas and close the distance as we cruise the 75 past the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado and across the bridge. They approach a spaghetti like junction and could go Endless Ways’ but heading for the 14A their car slides on to the I-15N, through San Diego and out past Little Italy settling at a steady speed. I notice it’s some blonde dame driving, a pretty little thing. The name Lee comes to mind and I’ve seen her but can’t place where. She has the window down and is singing to the guy beside her, the words float through the balmy air toward me, the broad sure can hold a tune and clearly doesn’t want him to leave her and the dream she’s creating, lucky guy.

Over Ocean Beach Free-way skirting Enchanted and De Anza Coves we bypass Sorento Valley, this could be a long drive. The no name, let’s call him ‘The Optimist’, in the passenger seat starts telling the girl he feels like a rabbit in the headlights but has to run away before it’s too late. She reminisces about the life they’ve left behind as guitar loops and strings rise from the stereo, growing, filling the car with crying guitars to fade on a haunting guitar.

We eat up the miles of piano keys, twitching rhythms in a regular pattern, flying past San Elijo and over the waters of Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine as we draw nearer to San Francisco’. I can’t hear their voices for noises of the night, maybe they’ve stopped talking for a while as we weave through traffic like snakes through a forest, percussion and keys fluttering in the warm breeze.

A large locomotive hurtles by heading North, pulling carriage after carriage, must be fifty at least, mostly passenger. It’s a brief distraction as we approach Carlsbad and they turn off into the Village pulling in at an all night diner, gleaming polished chrome and neon lights. The couple get out of the car (the man has changed his clothes) and go inside. I top up the gas tank at the pump, then park further down the bays, head for the entrance and in. I sit a few tables down from them so I can still see and hear them without raising suspicion. They order and then the waitress comes over to me, asks if I’m eating alone, she’s cute but I ain’t got time for flirting. I order coffee, black and a couple of caramel and marshmallow cream do-nuts, I need to keep my energy levels up.

Headlights pierce the windows then the entrance door swings open and in come four serious looking guys, in denims, hoodies and leather jackets. I know them, it’s the Cavanagh twins, singer/guitarist Vincent and bassist Jamie with troubled brother Daniel, also a singer/guitarist. They grew up amidst a violent background but are all fine musicians these days. Danny Cardoso is with them, I recognise him from a magazine shot, the article said  he’s a good keyboard player. They join the two I’ve been following saying their ‘hello’s’ and it clicks, the siblings Douglas. John’s a drummer who has struggled with a drug problem and his sister Lee, with the dreamy voice, is the one who picked him up at the beach. So the old Anathema crew are back together again.

I sit and listen, it’s quiet in here apart from the music in the background, a relaxed tune of guitars and keys. They talk and Lee starts singing softly to the tune and wondering “How did I get here, I don’t belong here…”. The music intensifies and I’m only getting brief snatches of conversation, mention of ‘Springfield’, but that’s way up the coast beyond Frisco, maybe they intend going there.

As the music dies down they rise to leave the conversation over, though I do hear someone whisper, “They’re leaving here, and were never seen again”, best I follow a while longer and see if I can work out what their plans are. They refuel and I wait, then we wend our way back to the I-15N and continue the journey. As we do I can hear Lee start to sing again, that dame could charm the birds from the trees. I’m beginning to wonder if this maybe ain’t just a road trip but a journey of the soul, a chance to blow away ‘Ghosts’ of the past and old cobwebs leaving the future a little clearer, not just for the band but me as well.

The music on the car stereo is sweet as we struggle our way through LA, I nearly lose them a few times but ‘Can’t Let Go’ just yet. I’m working things through, though I’m not sure I have many answers yet. The driving rhythm helps soothe me and picks up tempo as we gain speed heading inland through the forest parks toward Bakersfield. We’ve been travelling sometime when their two auto-mobiles swing into the lot of a motel with me following at a respectable distance. They go into reception and I watch as the music fades with only the sound of their  footsteps and the doors as they take a couple of rooms for the night.

I decide to sleep in the car, it’s a balmy night and my budget doesn’t stretch to luxuries especially with tolls to pay en route. Car facing their rooms I yawn, recline the seat, leaving the windows partially open, tip my hat over my face and in my imagination I can hear Lee sing, soothingly ‘Close Your Eyes’ as I do just that.  I’ll sleep tonight and dream on.

I wake with a start and sit upright, my hat falling into the foot-well, shaking my head to shift the fuzziness from my brain and rubbing my tired eyes. The sun is skirting the horizon on it’s ascent to day, red and orange causing a haze in the background, making it look like there are ‘Wildfires’ in the bush and scrub along the bleachers. The parking lot is empty except for my motor, think they’ve given me the slip,did they rumble me? I turn on the car stereo to a piano refrain joined by echoing harmonised voices that float from the speakers out of the window and into the warming air. The drums roll in as I get out of the car and stretch and turn in a circle, a vague attempt at allowing the light breeze to air my slept in clothes, I sure ain’t smelling of roses.

As I look around the music builds, filling out the sound like a grand introduction to the glorious sunrise before me, then echoes away. The sound of waves on the shore return my thoughts to the beginning of this tale and acoustic guitar offers reflection, whilst a male voice taunts me, “You don’t understand…All I need is you”.

I notice something propped on the windshield of the car and pick it up. It’s a CD. The cover is of a car at night driving towards me, making me feel like a rabbit in the blazing headlights. It’s Anathema‘s new one, The Optimist’. Busted! They got me and now they’re gone, ah well I wish them all the best on their journey. No point in going any further I may as well head ‘Back To The Start’, besides I think I have gained enough from what I’ve seen and heard to satisfy my curiosity. The music comes to an end and there is the sound of a knock on an imaginary door, could be one in my brain. The door opens and a male voice asks, “Hi, how are you?” If it’s a question I had to answer right now, this journey has given me time to sort the dumpster in my head and I’m feeling just dandy.

I get back in the car and fire up the engine, she settles to a steady rumble. I take the CD from it’s cover and slip it into the player, there’s the sound of waves and someone on the beach, the soundtrack to this journey, now there’s a surprise. I smile, engage the transmission and head back South, it’s been a ride.

Wait! You were expecting answers? An explanation maybe? Not from this sap, my information on the band remains strictly confidential and what I have discovered about myself along the way highly personal. You want revelations I heavily suggest you treat yourself to a copy of ,‘The Optimist’,  and discover for yourself, I’m sure you’ll find this excellent album is worth it.

Released 9th June 2017

Buy ‘The Optimist’ direct from the band.

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Riverside – Lost ‘n’ Found: Live In Tilburg – by Kevin Thompson

So let’s face the elephant in the room straight away.

This is always going to be emotional on so many levels and affecting people to different degrees. The album was recorded in Dutch Club 013, Tilburg, in the autumn of 2015 and features Piotr Grudzinski who is sadly no longer with us. Not a subject I intend to dwell on and this should be seen as a glorious celebration of the man’s talent at the top of his game.

Every ten years Riverside add an exclusive release to their discography, and ‘Lost ‘n’ Found: Live in Tilburg’, is the latest. The double CD with graphics designed by Travis Smith was to be available only at this year’s shows on the “Towards the Blue Horizon Tour”. This raised an amount of consternation and unrest amongst those who would not be able to attend, no doubt fuelled further by enhanced emotions due to the sad loss of Piotr.

I was lucky enough to attend the concert at The Marble Factory in Bristol on May 20th, last Saturday in fact, and a copy was bought for me which has enabled me to write this review.

Closing the door on the above and opening the one saying ‘Backstage Only’ I stride down the corridor toward the stage where all the action is to take place on these discs. It would be the obvious thing to do, going through the tracks individually and commenting on them. But those who love Riverside’s music don’t need telling how good the songs are, or to be advised on the quality excellent musicianship of the individuals.

Better to look at this as a ‘Live’ experience. So what separates a poor live band from a great one and a quality ‘Live’ album from a dismal disc that ends up on your coffee table as a coaster? Every individual may differ in their opinion, but there are certain things that I like/dislike on ‘Live’ recordings.

It is a feeling, the ability to raise the hairs on the back of your neck with the electrical charge sparked between the band and their audience. It takes you back to that night if you were there, if not it transports you through the speakers to plant you, front row amidst the heaving throng of swaying bodies, as one in unison with the music pumping from the speakers.

A quality sound is imperative, too muddy or overproduced and it will be ruined. A fine line and delicately balanced it’s not easy to achieve the right mix and excellence whilst retaining the ‘Live’ atmosphere. The one that puts a smile on your face as you sit listening, a slave before your master, the sound system. The first applause introduces the arrival of the band on stage and the notes of the introductory track kick in, you close your eyes and raise your arms in supplication to the gods of your living room.

Your head nods and you mouth the lyrics to yourself, by now blissfully unaware that no one else is in the room (except the pets) and if the magic is taking a hold, then neither are you.

This brings me to another possible pitfall, the applause and running dialogue betwixt band and discerning crowd, or should I say, distinct lack of it on some so called ‘Live’ recordings. It saps the very energy from the atmosphere like a music hating succubus. The vampire intent on draining every last bloody drop of musical theatre from the sound. It has always puzzled me the urge to eradicate any and all components that allow a ‘Live’ recording to breathe naturally, nurturing the adoration and adulation blossoming from the performers and watchers alike.

It is the lifeblood which links the individual tracks, the pitfalls, dropped notes and reciprocal banter, in stilted attempts at the local dialect causing a warm felt humour. The band tune and retune whilst taking the opportunity to introduce the individual musicians, allowing you brief respite to settle back in your armchair whilst staying connected, before unleashing the next eagerly anticipated adrenaline injection of melody through the speakers.

By now the cat and dog have left the room, convinced you have lost a grip on reality and you don’t even notice the twitch of a whisker. You have no need to rise from your seat as the multi-disc player slides into the second CD, carrying you away on waves of euphoria, the bliss of release from day to day strife falling away as time slips by without a care in the world. All that matters is the here (or there) and now. Nothing can pull you from the crowd, eject you from your respectful reveries as your mind applauds an imaginary stage.

All too soon they reach the final song then leave the stage, the ecstatic crowd baying for more, clapping, stamping cheering and whistling. You are participating in the temporary auditorium created among the sofa and coffee table, with the closed curtains across the bay window shutting out the light, enhancing the illusion.

You, along with the attendant throng will the band to return for just a little while, play some more, don’t let go, not yet. Wetted appetites are slated as the members wander casually back into view, towels caressing well earned perspiration from weary but satisfied brows, in the knowledge that the final line is in sight and they will cross to the winner’s enclosure.

Every last drop of remaining emotion is wrung from the instruments, vocals accompanied by audience participated backing voices, from dry throats tortured to burning point by the smoke machines. Louder they get, to near hysteria levels, the ultimate note is struck and there is the briefest of silent pauses before realisation dawns that the band have played their last. Tumultuous waves of sound  from suffering air-pipes erupt in fervent appreciation for the unforgettable evening that has been bestowed upon the dedicated listener. The band leave the stage throwing drumsticks and plectrums to the hands reaching out and they’re gone.

Animated and enthused the multitude filter into the cold night air, steam rising from the heated bodies, wisps fading like the the lights, into the night.

It’s done and you rise flicking on the light switch to bathe the room in a warm glow, time to make a cup of tea and let the pets out into the garden. But don’t be too despondent as you can relive the event when and as often as you like.

‘But he’s hardly mentioned Riverside‘, I hear you cry.

Look again dear reader, they are there in every good word, every sentence to raise plaudits, every vowel, noun and space, for this is Riverside ‘Live’ in Tilburg. They have realised the dream and created moments to remember, scenes that will live forever in the mind. If you want a true ‘Live’ album then look no further, for the fan a must buy, for those interested a great introduction to one of the foremost modern bands on the scene.

Out of the darkness comes light and Riverside are bathed in it. Catch them on tour, you never know, you might even be on the next ‘Live’ release.

Available exclusively from each date on Riverside’s ‘Towards The Blue Horizon’ tour.

 

 

 

 

Review – Valerian Swing – Nights – by Kevin Thompson

A shift of late has seen many bands classed under ‘heavy’ and ‘post/math rock’, expand their horizons and feel the need to spread their musical wings of experimentation. I have mentioned in previous reviews how easy it is to get lost in the masses and the difficulty facing up and coming bands in finding their unique selling point. The sound that will see them cut through the dense undergrowth of bands to the road leading in the direction of success.

One such band are Valerian Swing.

Emerging from the historic town of Corregio in the valley of Po, Italy, this intriguing trio first set out on their quest in 2011. Describing themselves as ”Three Italian lunatics playing mathy, violent, anthemic, and largely-instrumental songs”, does not really cover the full scale of their work and may discourage some. But if you like music that keeps trying to find new ways to express itself then you may want to give this a listen, as isn’t that what Progressive music is all about?

With the departure of bass guitarist Alan Ferioli the band currently line up as:

Stefano Villani: guitars, electronics, vocals, David Ferretti: drums and Francesco Giovanetti: baritone guitar, synths.

The introduction of Francesco to the fold has enabled them to expand and explore other musical areas and add to their previous sound.

At the dawning of first track ‘A Leaf’, it’s clear the band are willing to experiment as the clicking of a percussive ‘cricket’ beats his sticks together and synthesised insects buzz around the speakers building to a pounding drum beat and catchy guitars. Everything floats on a creative breeze building to a cacophony of sound, which tugs at the last leaf on the tree. Buffeting and pulling at the single stalk from which it hangs, the curled cuticle, pigmented colour draining from green to copper brown dangles perilously for most of the day, until a gust of guitars snatches it away and across the sky.

Rising on thermals of digital key-work, the leaf is carried from the noises of the wood behind it swooping and swerving. Dipping and looping over countryside on through the night, it is driven by the instrumentation across the land and above the sea, where the wind suddenly tails off briefly as daylight rises. The leaf floats down to the deck of one of ‘Two Ships’ the large sails tacking to find the rising wind. The sails on the one carrying the band catch, billowing out and straining at their ropes tied fast to the masts, as both clippers race toward the coast like white ghosts on horsetails spray, crossing the finish line to distorted cheers from the crowd  lining the bay.

Cruising into dock the band leave the crew to moor up the winning vessel and disembark with their gear to the adulation of Stefano’s processed vocals and raise the trophy. ‘Three Keys’ are presented to them and it’s time to relax overnight, before mounting three of ‘Four Horses’ in the early hours (the fourth carrying their supplies) and riding from the port across the tracks stretched out before them. The keyboards set the rhythm with the thrum of Stefano and Francesco’s guitars on which they ride, the pounding drums from David raising dust beneath the hooves.

In a couple of days they reach a city with ‘Five Walls’ as dusk beckons. Riding through it’s gates they are blanketed by the cosmopolitan sounds of digitised voices going about their daily business in the crowded city streets. Arriving at a compound in the western corner of the city they dismount, open three stables with the keys they received and unsaddle the horses. They take rest and sustenance in preparation for the next passage, whilst in the cool of the evening, festivities bring relief to the citizens, from the drudgery and heat of the day.

At dawn the band leave the city, walking, the ascending sun caressing their necks as ‘Six Feet’ set a fast tempo. Time is pressing and the musical terrain needs to be fully covered, they cannot afford to stumble or trip over frets.

The guitars scream to a halt as they look upward in a haze of feedback at the ‘Seven Cliffs’ before them. Care is needed as gentle notes and syncopated drum patterns mark the uneven ascent, one wrong or dropped note could cause disaster. But sure-footed they move with confidence then gain pace, with the elated guitars, drums and keys gaining footholds to reach the summit, collapsing on a dying line of feedback.

Exhausted but exhilarated the band rest, gaze out at the sounds of a new day being born. Food is produced from backpacks and fine beer to wash it down as they regale each other with tales of the journey. A bloated blood red sun ventures from the horizon, bathing everything in hues of pink and red. They watch as vermilion ripples across the sea, ribbon towards the base of the cliffs and they are satisfied.

It has taken ‘Eight Dawns’ to reach the conclusion of this varied album, full of passion, riffs and sublime technique. Cinematic, energetically varied even flirting on the edges of pop with their experimentation, in ‘Nights’, Valerian Swing have created their most accessible album to date and paved the way to what could be a bright future.

All three of these gentlemen are excellent musicians and work seamlessly together. It is not my way to normally favour anyone but on this occasion, I feel I must praise the power house on drums that is David Ferretti and state quite simply that he is ‘formidabile’.

Released 12th May 2017

Valerian Swing – Nights (Pre Order)

 

 

Review – Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – On Her Journey To The Sun – by Kevin Thompson

Right! Listen up class! Roll call before we start, David Elliott, Martin Hutchinson, David Rickinson, Emma Roebuck, Tony Honour, Leo Trimming, James R Turner and Rob Fisher, all present and correct.

As announced in assembly this morning we have a very special guest in our music lesson today. Martin Hutchinson, down the front please, I am not having you and Leo Trimming messing about at the back of the class.

No David Elliott, it isn’t Denzil Dexter from the Fast Show.

As I was saying, we have a guest who is going to play the music from his soon to be released new album On Her Journey To The Sun, under the band collective name of Gungfly, so please give a big round of applause for Mr Rikard Sjoblom and his fellow musicians:

Petter Diamant (drums), Rasmus Diamant (bass), Sverker Magnusson (keys), Martin Borgh (keys) and David Zackrisson (guitar).

Those of you familiar with Mr Sjoblom’s previous work with Beardfish, recent forays with Big Big Train and solo output may have some idea what to expect from this accomplished multi-instrumentalist. If not, those admiring the opulent Santana/Mahavishnu type cover of this album may also hope to glean some clues as to what lies between the grooves of the latest from this excellent musician.

So pay attention, we will discuss each track on completion and there will be homework………

Well girls and boys that was the first track, Of The Orb, what do we think?

Yes Leo, I can see you waving frantically and please take off that top hat, we are not holding auditions for Alice in Wonderland. So you think it is reminiscent of some of your Dad’s old 70’s material, with the keyboard sounds, mixed with more contemporary progressive instrumentation. And you like the synthesiser and guitar harmonies David Elliott along with Mr Sjoblom singing the catchy line throughout of “Stay with me, care for me, I will be yours”. It is quite an epic track in length, Martin Hutchinson, and please try not to shuffle so much on your seat. Oh, you’re chair dancing because you think it’s catchy, well don’t get carried away.

Back to the music, this is the second track On Her Journey To The Sun….

You liked that did you Emma Roebuck, thought it was jazzier, had a bit of swing to it but is maybe more of a pop tune. Yes, Petter and Rasmus Diamant are brothers and yes their drums and bass do work well together to create an effective rhythm section. It’s Mr Sjoblom to you young Rob Fisher, not Rik, but yes he does have a high voice sometimes, anyone know what this type of vocal is called. It’s not ‘girly’ Hutchinson, it’s Falsetto.

Track 3 is entitled He Held An Axe….

Would you you like to take a moment out from digging a tunnel to your brain via your left nostril David Rickinson and give us the benefit of your opinion. You thought the acoustic beginning to this one was good and the way the same chords segued into the electric guitars which loop throughout parts of this track and then back to the acoustic sound. Yes Mr Sjoblom’s voice does change, he has quite an impassioned vocal range and the lyrics do seem to be about quite a gruesome story, I thought that would get your interest.

Number 4 is, I believe, My Hero….

It was an exciting, heavier track Tony Honour, I quite agree, but could you please remove your gum, there is no chewing in class. Don’t stick it under the desk put it in the bin thank you. You think the guitar work sounds quite complicated on this one and it is more up tempo. Well the guitars played by Mr Zackrisson and Mr Sjoblom do have some very fine interplay and yes, you could call this one a ‘rocker’ with some powerful drumming. Please note David Elliott you will get a headache if you keep trying to head-bang like that.

On to Track 5 class, If You Fall, Pt 1….

Emma Roebuck, you think this has a beautiful piano introduction and a gentler organ melody. Anyone else? Yes it does sound quite sad in a way Leo, maybe a bit wistful and it is quite a contrast to the previous track. It is shorter than the other songs which also enhances the change in pace, with a fading ending, which as you will hear, adds emphasis to the intro of  Track 6, Polymixia….

A ‘funky’ start you say James R Turner. Why are there no vocals you ask? It’s what is known as an ‘instrumental’, with no singing. It is the longest track so far James and yes it has multiple layers on top of each other which reveal themselves subtly and I’m sure you would be able to distinguish many melodies and time changes with further listening. You feel there is a sprinkling of whimsy do you Rob Fisher and it is bubblier, with more of an upbeat. I’m glad you think so and have decided to join in the discussion as I thought for a moment that you had nodded off. Please take note how the length of this track allows these wonderful musicians to stretch and show their instrumental talents to the best of their abilities.

Hand up again Martin, oh you need the toilet. Okay be quick about it and no, it isn’t an excuse for everyone else to go, you can wait until the end of  the lesson. Whilst Martin is out of the class, the band will have time to retune and I would like the class to ponder on the rather delicious keyboard contributions on this album from Messrs Sverker Magnusson and Martin Borgh which are most excellent indeed.

Now Mr Hutchinson has returned to the fold we can continue with Track 7, Over My Eyes….

You seem quiet Miss Roebuck, why don’t you take a moment from drawing love hearts on your exercise book and tell us what you thought of this song. Who is the lady playing the exquisite  violin on this one you ask? It is none other than the lovely Rachel Hall who plays in a band I consider to be one of  the front runners in Progressive music today, Big Big Train. If you remember I told you at the start of the lesson that Rikard, apologies Mr Sjoblom, plays in the very same band. Yes it has a rippling piano lead in, Emma, and the violin does float above it like birds over the farm fields under a darkening sky, very imaginative. You can stop the sniggering David Elliot the birds would not be plopping on your head, I swear shaking yours has done some damage.

We now have Track 8 which is called Old Demons Die Hard….

What are you whispering to David Elliott, Rickinson? You think the title is about me, don’t be so facetious, see me afterwards. Tony Honour the view out of the window is not that interesting, why not give us your thoughts on this song. It has a blues and jazz feel to this one in places with some intricate guitar work that at times reminds you of your Mum’s Steely Dan LPs. She still has LPs, I’m impressed. It has got some very good bass work too, yes I would concur.

Now class, we have another of those instrumental tracks, Keith (Son Of Sun)….

Mr Hutchinson your thoughts on this one? You thought it was quite ‘lush’, smooth and laid-back did you. A bit like Mr Trimming with his feet up on the desk at the back there, take them off please Leo.  That means you won’t be able to walk does it, very funny. You can wait behind with Rickinson at the end of the lesson as well. It sounds like a church organ at the start you say Turner, I suppose it does and yes there are intricate rhythms which show great restraint to create a ‘chilled’ tune. Well I can’t argue there Turner and I would say the jazz influences give it that sort of  vibe.

Does anyone know what ‘penultimate’ means? Your hand will drop off as well as your feet Leo, if you keep waving it that frantically, but please enlighten us. You are quite correct it means second last, which Elliott unfortunately was in last week’s cross country.

And so we come to the penultimate and longest tune on the album, The River Of Sadness….

Mr Fisher, you have your hand raised. You feel it takes you on an emotional journey with all the differing changes of tempo and you like the various soloing with whirling keyboards and guitars which go from laid back to more aggressive. Yes Emma, it does showcase everything the band are capable of whilst being a track that sums up the album nicely and despite it’s length it seems to be over quickly and you would like to hear it a few more times to hear all the subtle nuances. Well you all have a digital file of the album to listen to tonight as part of your homework so you can do so when you get home.

So who noticed it was actually two tracks and that The River Of Sadness leads straight into the final haunting tune with spoken vocals which reflect that maybe it’s All A Dream. Yes Martin, I agree that it is the ominous synthesiser rumble combined with the echoing piano keys that create the atmosphere on this and in being brief leaves you wanting more.

Well that’s it and there’s the bell for home-time, if we could give Mr Sjoblom and his associates a huge round of applause before we leave for taking the time to gift us the thought provoking music on this wonderful album. Please listen to it again tonight and I expect at least a two page essay on my desk tomorrow with your full review and no rude diagrams in the margins this time Trimming.

Make sure you consider the impressive mixing and production values and don’t fail to mention Mr Sjoblom’s accomplished 12 string fretwork along with his other talents.

By all means let your parents have a listen and please inform them the album is released on 19 May,  should they wish to purchase on 2 CD Special Edition and will be available on all digital platforms. You might also mention to your Mum, Tony Honour, that it will also be available on 180g double vinyl which may pique her interest.

Class dismissed! Not you Trimming, Rickinson. You two can stay behind and help Mr Sjoblom and his band take the equipment out to the van. Not fair you say Mr Turner and Miss Roebuck, anyone else think so? Very well you can all give a hand, but don’t be late home and be careful with the equipment.

Released 19th May 2017

Pre-order On Her Journey To The Sun on all formats from Inside Out

 

 

 

Review – The Fierce And The Dead – Field Recordings (Live) – by Kevin Thompson

Despite saying they would be easing off a little after last year’s hectic release schedule, Bad Elephant Music (BEM) are showing no noticeable signs of slowing down in unleashing new music to our ears for 2017.

Soon to be released and highly anticipated is the ‘Field Recordings’ EP from one of BEM’s rising bands The Fierce And The Dead, (TFATD) and catching them in all their glory, live from last year’s Ramblin’ Man Festival. It includes four of the regular favourites and two new tracks, which the band tease may or may not appear on the new album which they are currently recording.

Based in Northamptonshire this 4 piece instrumental rock band formed in 2010. They line up as:

Matt Stevens – guitar/loops, Steve Cleaton – guitar, Kev Feazey – bass and Stuart Marshall – drums.

(Eggcellent Photo Credit to Allyson Blue-Sky)

Serving up a sound that continually evolves taking in every genre they can squeeze in and veering from scuzzy guitars to chilled Hawaiian licks we find jazzy undertones married to punk style jerks and everything in between, moulded into their own distinctive sound. You can never get too cosy listening to the chilled rippling strings, because just as you sink into your deck chair, hanky on head with a cool drink in your hand you can be hit with brutal metal riffs and twitching rhythms that will have you up and jumping around, your head waving wildly like a rag doll. Their loyal and growing following have already seen them supporting Crippled Black Phoenix and The Aristocrats among others.

Now whilst I have the band’s recorded output I must confess I have yet to have the opportunity to see TFATD live, something I must remedy in the future, so I can only review this from listening and using my wildly vivid imagination.

(Photo Credit – Ashley Jones of The Chaos Engineers)

They kick straight in after the briefest of understated introductions, blowing any clouds away with the fast distorted riffs of Magnet In Your Face and anyone trying to chill is brought abruptly back to the land of the living. They lay on a few laid back chords like cars drifting smoothly round corners then crash back into the fray with Stuart’s drums careering like one huge pile up on the biggest of motorways with Kev Feazey’s bass weaving like Vin Diesel through the traffic as Steve and Matt’s guitars flick the NOS switch and hurtle to the finish line.

But there is no pit stop or time to refuel as it’s straight into Ark, with the guitars switching briefly to cruise after the bass revs it’s engine. But the temptation to rev will out and throughout the chilled rhythm the drums pull at the choke and the plugs spark in bursts.

Many albums can be lost in the studio as they are mixed and chopped, losing the ‘live’ feel. So it’s nice to hear the crowd and banter haven’t been removed from between the tracks and a credit to Mr Feazey’s mastering capabilities that he retains the atmosphere and gives him the chance to introduce the band before the next track, Dancing Robots, (a new one for those who do not have the knowledge).

Looping guitars drift in as the drums tick over before the bass presses the start button and we side-slip into the traffic before whipping out on to the fast lane racing weaving through the crowd and away.

We are treated to the sounds of tuning and a short modest merch promotion, before being introduced to another new track Verbose which will ‘probably’ be on the new record out this year. Drumsticks count us in and then frantic short riffs followed by the throbbing bass blow the wind through our hair and from somewhere I’m reminded of ‘Radar Love’ before the intensity builds and gains pace, all the while the bass driving the tune on. This is probably the heaviest track on this EP and ends with screaming distorted guitar as it slides down the scale.

Perfectly suiting the open top car on a sunny day, a looping Hawaiian lick introduces us to Palm Trees, the only track with ‘vocals’, but you’ve no sooner taken your beach towel out of the boot and spread it on the beach, when a huge wave of distortion hits you and you are left soaked in crumbling guitar notes.

Last track, live favourite 666…6, is introduced as the band’s hit single to a ripple of appreciation from the audience. Looping tropical chords warm up the engine one last time twisting through the air before a Biffy Clyro style riff changes gear and rips through them. Down a gear again to the loop before the band rev again. It’s like trying to reign in a muscle car that doesn’t want to cruise and pose along the sea front but would rather burn rubber and screech down the road towards the dramatic climax. This is how to burn out a musical clutch. The speed builds and it all comes to a crashing end, fading out as the crowd applaud and cheer an exhilarating performance.

For anyone not having heard the band previously I can heartily recommend this as not only do they revel in playing ‘live’ but it is a great taster for the distinctive TFATD sound. Then if you like it make sure you catch up on the rest before the new album comes out later this year.

If I can also give a special mention to the fabulous cover art from the legendary Mark Buckingham, nice.

‘Field Recordings’ is how live music should sound and many bigger bands could learn from this. Looking forward to the new album boys.

(Photo Credit Cover Image – Bo Hansen)

Released 28th April 2017

Order ‘Field Recordings – (Live)’ from bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview With Teddy-James Driscoll of Telepathy – Kevin Thompson

Recently I had the privilege of talking to TEDDY – JAMES DRISCOLL from TELEPATHY, a band who are generating a fair bit of interest from the Press, with new album Tempest’ (which I also had the opportunity to review for Progradar) and the single from it, Celebration of Decay.

Hi Ted.

Hi Kev, great to talk to you.

Things seem to be going quite well for the band at the moment with the new album garnering favourable reviews, the single release and with some upcoming tour dates to promote them you must be feeling quite pleased?

Yes absolutely, the band have had a good team behind them since before I joined in 2015 and we all have a lot more experience now. Various people do a great job of handling our press and promotions for UK & Europe, plus we are on a great label who are very responsive to what we need and want to do. We are pleased the album and single have had a good reception so far.

Reading the blogs you seem to thrive on touring, are you the sort of band that feeds off the audience rather than shoe gazing as you play?

Yes, we tour as much as possible, between day jobs. We obviously would like to do more gigs and it to be a full time thing. We like the immersive experience live, and have great crowds who always come to see us afterwards for a chat and it’s important to connect with them.

I notice that you have stayed over in some unusual places whilst touring, a converted meat freezer and an old bank/squat? It beats sleeping in the van but are these the most unusual places you have stayed and any odd incidents?

Last tour we did in Belgium, Pete, a tattoo artist, put us up in the squat, it was really nicely done up. It’s occupied by a left wing activist cooperative and they were really nice to us, although we have no political leanings and stay away from it with our music. We were in the vault and it was very cosy but a bit weird as it still had the huge vault door and we wouldn’t have wanted to get locked in. The next night we were put up in an old meat locker that has been re-purposed in Antwerp, with bunk beds and kitchen. You could still tell it was an abattoir but it had been cleared out and done up with a shower block upstairs.

Beats sleeping in our van that we tour in, nicknamed ‘Pumba’. The Turek brothers’ Dad usually does the driving for us, with Rich’s Girlfriend doing the Merch stand and my brother as roadie.  But it will be just the band on these upcoming dates, all the gear squeezed in ‘Pumba’ with us. We are precious about the sound but at the moment tend to use house PA systems whilst trying for the best sound possible and it’s usually pretty good. We understand with the complex sound we need it as clear as we can and would like own sound guy eventually.

How do you find the audiences here and abroad, is it a wide age range, are they more male than female?

It tends to vary in regions rather than countries, an audience in London for instance may tend to be more serious than one up North where they like to have a bit of fun.  In Europe, again it is different for various areas in each country as well. The audiences do tend to be predominantly male but we are starting to notice more females  watching with a range of ages.

What happens on tour stays on tour, but who’s the ladies man out of you all?

All of us have girlfriends except Peter, we call him Mr December as he’s our calendar model, He’s such a good looking guy so definitely him. He always stands out when we have a photo shoot, but he’s no lothario and always a gentleman.

There is plenty of information on line but it seems to neatly sidestep personal details about you, is this a conscious effort on your parts to keep it separate and do you feel a need to retain a certain amount of privacy?

I didn’t realise there wasn’t more information on our site, I will check it out. We don’t feel we are big enough, for the amount of interest in us at the moment to be to be an issue. We don’t really mind people knowing about us, I hadn’t really thought about it until now and myself I’m quite an open person. We don’t tend to get asked those sort of questions usually just the generic press ones.

Outside of the music do any of you find time for hobbies or interests?

We all have day jobs, I work in a call centre which I enjoy. I go to kick boxing and have quite a busy social scene that takes up my time. Rich focuses his attention on the band out of work whilst Albert and Peter love their motorbikes. We don’t rehearse every day but it tends to build up in intensity more, nearer gig dates. Before the CD was released we spent the whole six months prior on the band. We are all focused and know where we want to be with the band and the level we want to achieve.

In your busy lives do you get time to listen to any other music and do you have a guilty music pleasure?

Good shout, I saw two gigs by ‘Everytime I Die’ before Xmas and love ’em. In the gym or car I tend to play metalcore & deathcore, bands like Killswitch Engage. That sort of music was popular when I was at college and I grew up with that sort of thing. The lads like to rib me about it. Guilty pleasure? We have Cyndi Lauper’s greatest hits in the van and have a good sing-along as a bit of light relief when we’re touring.

So how did you get together with the band and why this style of music?

I had my own business, a cafe which didn’t work out, was off looking for a new job and saw Rich’s message on a Facebook group looking for a bassist. I’d played guitar and though ‘F*** it’ I’d give it a go. I didn’t own a bass at the time so borrowed gear off a friend, rehearsed a few times learnt the first album. I tried out  and it just clicked then we were straight into doing the new album. ‘Celebration’ was the only one already fully written when I joined so I had to learn it. The rest of the tracks were written as a band thing, all four in a room and we are all so opinionated. Peter is always writing riffs and I have a few riffs but the one in ‘Smoke From Distant Fires’ is my only one on this album.

We do it as a collaborative effort and all have our different ways, I tend to sit back and feed off the others. Having played guitar before, bass is a totally different discipline and I have had to teach myself, incorporating my own style into it. I like to emulate Geezer Butler he’s one of my main influences. I’m quite good at arranging so say my piece when we are doing this and that is probably where I am most involved, in the arrangements. There is more space on Tempest than on the previous album, which allows it to breathe and expand. It’s designed as a soundscape.

There has always been a need to categorise the style of music played, into genres and you describe yourselves as ‘furiously played progressive sludge, intricate soundscapes and a bucket-load of riffs’. Do you think labelling your style restricts you and the prospective audience as whilst I agree with most of the sentence, I wouldn’t call your sound ‘sludgey’?

Aw, thanks Kev. Thing is with us, I know it’s an old cliché but we don’t like labels. We get called post metal a lot among other titles and we definitely have that sort of influence, but try to put lots of different genres in, to me it’s ‘InstruMetal’ our own style.

On listening to the album I personally felt the absence of vocals (negating those briefly in the background of  Echo of Souls) added rather than detracted. It allowed me to focus on the complex melodies. Did you plan to be an instrumental group?

When the band first started they were going to get a vocalist but things evolved and they felt one wasn’t needed. I did vocals on Echoes, for an effect and we may use vocals in future if it serves a specific song. I’m open to it if it works but if not leave it out. When I first watched the band before joining I thought vocals would be good, but now I’m in the band it feels more and more like they’re not needed.

How did the concept of the album come about?

When I first came into the writing process a few names for songs had been kicking around.  We started writing and three or four songs in after demoing them we began to establish a theme in our minds and discuss what the music made us think of. Two themes in particular stood out water and earthquake ruins. We developed the story from that, with each new song bringing a new part of the story.

Peter played what became the intro to the album whilst we were working on tracks and we thought it would be a great start. As if someone woke on a beach to all of the devastation and go from there. You can get your own storyline from the music seeing it differently to the band. That’s the beauty of it being instrumental you can paint your own pictures.

You must all have dreams and ambitions but put on the spot where’s the one venue you would most like to play and why?

I have loads, but I would feel I’d made it if I could play Brixton Academy, headlining. We are happy for our progress to go up in small increments, start at small venues and sell them out, then build up hopefully.

I know you supported Raging Speedhorn and they are fans of yours, given the chance what other act would you like to play on the bill with and do you know of any other famous fans you have? 

If I could chose from any bands,  Mastadon, Gojira, or Tool. No famous fans that I know of other than Raging Speedhorn, their Bass player Dave wore a Telepathy t-shirt for one of their gigs we felt really honoured.

Are you technologically minded and gadget freaks or are you straight instrument and amps guys?

Pete and Rich have vast pedal boards with all kinds of effects, I wouldn’t even try to tell you what they do. I keep it simple with a tuner and distortion pedal, but I trigger samples between songs as well, as we don’t like to leave silence between tracks. The continuity is important to tie the tracks together. For the most part with the music sounds we generally use big distortion, wind and atmospheric noises, waves, birds etc.

Albert’s drumming makes it sound intense, without him we would sound totally different, he’s awesome. He doesn’t talk a big game but when you see us live everyone watches him, I know, I used to when I watched the band.

So what would you say has been your greatest extravagance to date?

Love to be able to tell you we’d trashed penthouse suites in hotels and partied all night, but we are just happy to get beers and food on our rider. We don’t have a lot of luxuries as a band  as it is still very grass roots. It’s the kindness of others that gives us the extravagances like when we were given an apartment in Germany for one gig, fully stocked, next to the venue just a few steps away. It was really nice having our own space, in Tilburg.

We went out and bought 30 beers after the gig and drank them outside and that’s about as extravagant as we get. The generosity of others keep us going. Everyone has been so nice and helpful at the moment including the press. Yours is the best review I’ve ever seen, it’s cool that you really got what we are trying to do with the album.

So, to the the most important question of the day before we wrap up our chat, yoghurt and fruit or full English breakfast?

Oh, full English 100%, given the choice, every time. Especially on tour, continental breakfast just doesn’t fill you, definitely full English.

Well it’s been great talking to you Ted, thanks for taking the time out to chat with me. I hope all goes well with the release party and touring the new album. Who knows, I could be interviewing you in ten years time, with multi-platinum album sales after selling out Brixton Academy.

That would be awesome and if we’re up North, you must hook up, come to see us live and catch up, thanks Kev.

And with that we ended our chat. Ted’s a lovely bloke and I wish he and the band all the best in the future. I will certainly make the effort to try and see them live as well as meeting the rest of the band. Who knows, in ten years time….. Mind you, by then I don’t know if my zimmer frame will fit back stage.

‘Tempest’ is released on March 31st and you can pre-order it from Golden Antenna here.

You can read Kevin’s great review of the album below:

Review – Telepathy – Tempest – by Kevin Thompson

 

Review – Alan Reed – Honey On The Razor’s Edge – by Kevin Thompson

Meteorological Spring is in the air and there is a buzz around the Progressive music scene which is currently a veritable hive of activity.

Music in general has seen an influx of singer/songwriters, some more of the worker bee type, scattered like pollen among the genres and trying to stick to a secure career, whilst others clearly stand out from the crowd as prime males with honey sweet tunes fit to serenade a Queen, the two recent releases from Marc Atkinson and Lee Maddison being fine examples.

Into the honeycomb flies Alan Reed with sophomore album ‘Honey On The Razor’s Edge’ and this time there’s a grittier, more assertive edge reminiscent of his work with his previous band and with echoes of solo outings by a certain fellow Scotsman nearing the twilight years of his musical output.

I have to admit that whilst I like Alan’s first solo outing it felt like it didn’t have his full confidence and was maybe reflecting in his situation at that time. With this album there is no hesitance and it’s straight in with up-tempo rippling keyboards and electric riffs on first track My Sunlit Room. Alan sounds in fine fettle blowing away any faint concerns as his vocal pipes dance a highland fling through the melody in this rousing starter that crashes to an end.

Now I mentioned another of Alan’s fellow countrymen and I have to say the main riff on Razor is very reminiscent of his output, but Alan adds his familiar style and harmonica flourishes (courtesy of  a certain Mr Steve Hackett no less), as he argues with himself and exorcises demons. There is a great video release of this track on YouTube to enhance your listening pleasure on which Alan shows he’s moving on not looking back. My inside sources tell me he may have had sore skin after filming numerous takes for the video. Ah, the sacrifices a man makes for his art.

Cross My Palm with silver and I’ll be only too happy to tell you this is a man who is not sitting on his laurels as he warns of treachery in the big smoke, but there’s no need to worry,  with some nifty guitar soloing from Jeff Green and the keyboard flourishes of Mike Stobbie building to a crescendo finish it’s another belter.

Notable for their relegation until now, up pop the familiar acoustic strings on Leaving (no cause for alarm, he’s not just yet) as vocals wrangle, with lovely female harmonies on the chorus, over a twisted relationship. Now I might be mistaken but ageing ears cannot distinguish whether this track is bolstered by the stunning sound of the one and only ‘Leode’ from none other than Lazuli’s Claude Leonetti or an Ebow, either way c’est formidable.

I must also point out that Alan has an enviable trio of fine female singers assisting him on this album in Magenta’s Christina Booth, Harvest’s Monique Van Der Kolk and Weendo’s Laetitia Chaudemanche adding the cream on top of some tracks here, giving him vocal riches beyond avarice.

Not content to let the lady leave he begs she stay to the Other Side Of Morning, as he reasons with her over their differences and similarities, the good must surely out-way the bad times and Mike gets to bare the whites of his keyboards as stalwart drummer Scott Higham more than ably keeps the rhythm and beating heart of this track pumping, as he does throughout the album. This, the longest track on here builds to a fevered climax that is completed with one last gasping ‘stay’.

History lesson time, as this next track is about The Covenanter. Covenanters were Scottish Presbyterians who in 1638 signed the “National Covenant” to uphold the Presbyterian religion, and the “Solemn League and Covenant” of 1643 which was a treaty with the English Parliamentarians. The Covenanter’s made a stand for political and religious liberty that led to almost a century of persecution and their widespread migration to Ulster and the American colonies.

But their role in history was not as simple as that, as they were the children of the Protestant Reformation in Europe and sought to have the church of their belief, according to the Scriptures. Above all, there was but one Head of the Kirk – Jesus Christ, and they refused to accept the King in that role. From this opposition to the King all their troubles arose. Ushered in by the sounds of unrest, Alan protests with righteous indignation and berates the persecutors and liars throughout, casting light on Celtic roots at the heart of much of Alan’s musical heritage.

Alan is a gifted poet and romanticist, with the ability to touch the hardest of hearts, as on the penultimate track, recalling a love lost who ‘looked at me, like I Used To Be Someone. With  a   beautiful instrumental introduction and beat me with a haggis if I’m wrong but it may just be flowing from the lovely ‘Leode’. Tinkling ivories and guitar loops sway like smitten lovers on the dance floor in time to Alan’s lyrics. For me he never sounds better than on tracks like this, as the emotion he injects into his voice feels so genuinely heartfelt. The music swells and the wonderful sound from the beginning floats in again before the vocals tug gently at the heartstrings one last time to float delicately away on fading notes.

Alan’s work may take him away from his homeland, but whilst you can take the wee laddie out of Scotland, you can’t take Scotland out of the man, as he looks to the Northern Light on the final offering of wistful musicality which midway through turns into an instrumental clash of clans before the keyboards kick thistles into the faces of the rest and triumphantly lead us out.

This is an album through which threads of tartan tinged tunes dance a merry jig with modern rock forces, and Alan has surrounded himself with an array of accomplished musicians to enhance the tunes pushing him firmly to the fore among his peers. I mentioned a certain fellow Scot earlier and Alan’s physical stature may not match the  Big Man’s but this album proves he could well fill  upcoming vacant boots.

Having had the great pleasure of meeting Mr Reed a couple of times he is a most affable chap, always willing to take the time to chat. Whilst in conversation with one of his colleagues on this album,he was described as very difficult to work with, but it was said with a wry smile and bundles of affection, because that’s the effect he has on you.

Alan is one of the nice guys in this business and he deserves every success with ‘Honey On The Razor’s Edge’, it’s a braw album. Slange!

Released 14th March 2017

Buy ‘Honey On The Razor’s Edge’ from The Merch Desk

 

 

Review – Mice On Stilts – Hope For A Mourning – by Kevin Thompson

I have to say this is the first band I have ever reviewed from New Zealand, with an intriguing name.

I had no preconceptions as I have not heard of Mice On Stilts previously so how would ‘Hope for a Mourning’ fare in my ears, will it stand above the general masses or will it wobble precariously and fall from the heights? What type of music will this six man collective from Auckland who have been together just over 4 years I believe, have to offer, the tags on their site seem to cover a varied scope of genres.

They line up as:

Guy Harrison – Piano/Trumpet
Tim Burrows – Bass/Producer
Rob Sanders – Drums
Sam Loveridge – Violin/Guitar
Charlie Isdale – Violin/Sax
Benjamin Morley – Guitars / Vocal

I have a healthy taste for sweet melancholia when the mood takes, as some of you may have deduced from previous reviews I have written for Progradar. I don’t usually find it depressing, on the contrary I can find it quite melodic, relaxing and sometimes uplifting. A release from the hustle and bustle of the working day as you drift on swathes of laid-back sometimes cheerless vocals partnering sombre echoing tunes, tenaciously resisting any temptation to increase tempo greatly and a master-class in masochistic restraint.

The haunting piano from Guy Harrison, ghost like around our aural receptors as mist across the grass, brushes the blades of our consciousness on first track Khandahlla, which just happens to be the name of a suburb of Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, located on hills overlooking Wellington Harbour. Its named after Khandela, which is in India and one of it’s meanings is ‘The resting place of God’, among a few other interpretations. Benjamin Morely’s plaintive vocals cling refreshingly to your skin. He has described this as “a happy song about happy things” and the swirling wisps of the other instruments and uplifting choir leave you wistfully cheerful.

Orca drifts through the waves of deviation, lapping at the shores of your mind as the first chorus leads to changes in style and an ambient passage floats out to return to the ripples of the chorus once more, only to lethargically swim away on an instrumental tide.

 Acoustic guitar takes the fore on The Hours to carry the harmonising vocals on a bed of lighter piano keys in one of the less complicated tracks, with an ear-worm chorus.

There’s a darker tone to the jazz style piano on And We Saw His Needs Through The Casket giving this track an eerie feel. The haunting vocals from the choir hang in the misty air as the guitar drifting through the damp avenues of this track unnervingly permeate your ears.

 The spectral feel flows into Yhwh turning more wistful before heavier guitars and instrumentation crash in like a monster from the fog only to disappear just as suddenly, leaving sparse jittery sounds and solo guitar before it dramatically lurches back into view, roaring foetid notes in your face before swamping you and carrying you away into the darkness.

Calm returns in waves of piano and male/female duetting interspersed with Guy’s Trumpet on title track, Hope For A Mourning, seguing into a sober instrumental passage for the second half of the track.

I have to say the rhythm section from Tim and Rob add a gently disturbing current on which the rest of the instruments ride most ably, like a ferryman taking passage across an expanse of murky water, serenaded on parts of the journey by the violins and sax from Sam and Charlie.

Plucked acoustic guitar leads you to the Funeral and Benjamin’s stark, emotionally melancholic lyrics on what is probably the saddest song here, as the rest of the band’s mournful cortège pick up the harrowing procession.

It’s easy to feel the music at times is quite sparse, until you listen intently to discover the complexity of the darkly rapturous arrangements. Both vocals and instruments flit like brief visions at times, in a hall of despondently melodious mirrors, no more so than on the final song, Monarch.  Saxophone slips between violins like serpents as they slither across the bleak body of this track in a chilling rapture of blackened souls.

You have to like this type of music, with scents of Nick Cave, Radiohead and the recently discovered Down The river Dead Men Go brought to mind. But if you do it is a beautiful melancholy in which to wallow and bide a little while, which I feel will stand the test of time.

(Band photo credit Nathan Smith)

Released 15th April 2016

Buy ‘Hope for a Mourning’ on bandcamp

 

 

 

Review – Les Penning – Belerion – by Kevin Thompson

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As a boy, for most of us, the way into music at school was by learning the recorder, wooden for the posh lads and plastic for the rest of us, although I did eventually get a wooden one. A class full of fumbling fingers covering various holes on the instrument (keep it clean please), to produce a range of notes that the music teacher desperately tried to knit together into some semblance of a tune. It has to be said that no one I know mastered the recorder whilst at school and took it up professionally. On leaving the establishment, mine was confined to a box along with my slide rule, action man and trigonometry books to eventually find their way to a table at the local jumble sale.

As a teenager listening to the music of Mike Oldfield was a real eye opener and seemed mind blowing that someone could play so many instruments. There were of course guests of renowned proficiency sometimes invited to appear, one of these being Les Penning on recorder for the album ‘Ommadawn’ and hit singles In Dulce Jubilo and Portsmouth. And yet, in my glib tender youth, it was easy to overlook the contributions of those around him and focus purely on Mr Oldfield’s creativity.

And so it has been until recently when multi-instrumentalist and all round nice guy Rob Reed recorded his self penned homage to the music style of Mike Oldfield, ‘Sanctuary’, and follow up ‘Sanctuary II’, with Les guesting on the latter. Now older, and I like to think a little wiser, I am more inclined to investigate music I like in depth and appreciate all the musicians involved. To this end I now find I have the pleasure of reviewing Les’ album ‘Belerion’, who’s gestation during the Oldfield years has only now come to fruition, thanks to the wonderful Mr Reed and contributions of former ELO2 singer/guitarist, Phil Bates.

Here’s the homework bit: Belerion is an ancient name given to Cornwall that has been translated as meaning “Shining Land” as well as “Seat of Storms”, both quite apt descriptions of the area. The photo on the cover, if I’m not mistaken (I’m sure someone will be quick to correct me if I am), is of  Boscawen-un Stone Circle, just west of Penzance and before my head explodes with new found knowledge let us proceed to the album. Ladies and Gentlemen pray take your partners and places for the merry dance that is Belerion.

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Opening with a gentler version than Mike Oldfield’s, of the traditional tune Portsmouth, we are  transported to the glorious English coastal fields on a summers day, overlooking Portsdown Hill to the Solent beyond with birds swooping and soaring to a backdrop of blue waters topped with the froth of white horsetail waves. You’ll find nothing so brash as heavy bass or thundering drums with screaming guitar riffs in this musical world. Instead we are enchanted with the delights of the Bodhran, Crumhorn and Loriman pipe among the instruments used.

St Clement’s Isle is a small rocky islet once the home to an ancient hermit and lies just offshore of the harbour wall to Mousehole (pronounced “Mowzel”) one of Cornwall’s most picturesque hamlets.  It is also the title of the first original tune penned by Les on the album. It’s impossible to separate the tunes from the background stories as they weave such wonderful pictures in your head and whilst they hark back to an earlier, more innocent age they have a timeless air.

All of the tunes on the album are very pleasing, including foot tapper Nobody’s Jig, taken from a dancing manual first published by John Playford in 1651 and containing the music and instructions for English Country Dances.

The gentle refrains of Easter 84 will have you happily strolling along a country lane, with the warmth of the sun on your neck, marveling at mother Natures’ beauty. A fitting contribution in memory of a friend.

It’s impossible not to think of Oldfield’s earlier work and Rob Reed‘s music (hardly surprising as he contributes to this album) but this is to no detriment as Belerion neatly stitches them all together like golden thread weaved into a musical coat of many colours.

Look lively Gents, to your partners for Selinger’s Round, a twisting little folk dance. Spin the Ladies round and watch as their skirts twirl to the music. Also known as The Begining of the World, it’s another foot tapping number.

And yet more brisk fare as we are whisked along to a breezy rendition of the old familiar 17th Century marching song British Grenadiers. A great little interpretation with a rousing climax.

Slow it down to catch your breath as Les leads us through the historical landscape of the renaissance tune Tower Hill, written originally by baroque composer Giles Farnaby.

Dance across The Baskerville Down  with Les to the Baskerville Arms, a hotel where he wrote this little ditty and has sometimes performed.

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The album oozes happiness and joy, even The Stones Feel Warm in Belerion, you can lay back on the sun kissed grass watching the clouds float slowly by, whilst listening to this peaceful number dedicated to Les’ friends.

But it’s not all about sunshine and balmy summers’ days, there is warmth to be found for all seasons in our hearts. Gather round the Christmas tree, see the flames rise on the fire as the logs spit and spark. Move the coffee table from the centre of the room, roll up the rug and manoeuvre your loved ones round the space to a jaunty celebration of the traditional Sussex Carol. Quite apt for the time of year.

After your exertions, recline with a fine mulled beverage as you take in the sparkling Bach Minuet, I’ll let you figure out who originally wrote this and who it was for, about time you did some of the homework.

A brief self-penned number from our venerable Pied Piper in Quirk, which squeezes in some strange musical patterns given the short running time, before we reach the ‘epic’ of the album.

Running in at 7:09 minutes, the penultimate Lyme (For Louise) is by far the longest track and is another original piece written by Les. He calls it dream music and if the mention of a military style, marching drum backing makes you think otherwise, trust me it is very soothing and relaxing.

The ribbon round this delightfully wrapped package comes courtesy of  His Rest another dusted off tune of Mr Farnaby’s, to see us out and give Les the chance to put his feet up. He can rest easy in the knowledge he breathes a modern air over the traditional songs which fit smoothly in with his own. You don’t have to be a Folk fan to like this album it is lovely music and can be enjoyed by all without having to don your straw hat and bells, revel in the most excellent musicianship. Maybe I should have practised more at school….

Released 1st December 2016

The 14 track CD is accompanied by a DVD that features an interview with Les where he discusses his career and the period in the mid 1970’s when those famous tracks were made. There are also promo videos for two of the pieces.

Buy ‘Belerion’ here