“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.”
― Alphonse de Lamartine
What a wonderful quote and it fits perfectly how I feel after listening to the long awaited second album from Riversea, the on/off musical project of my good friends Marc Atkinson and Brendan Eyre.
The music and lyrics that they have written come from their very heart and soul and when it is conceived like like, it has the ability to almost come alive and infuse the listener with all the joy and love that went into creating it. It’s not just music it is alive, vibrant and soulful.
The core band of Marc, Brendan, Dave Clements (bass) and Alex Cromarty (drums) are joined by a veritable who’s who of the progressive rock world adding guitar, flute and backing vocals. Where ‘Out of an Ancient World’ was a spiritual offering, ‘The Tide’ focuses on the realities of living in the world of today with meaningful lyrics adding a touch of social commentary to the music:
“If God can’t save us from his followers, how do we save us from ourselves. If all they see is blasphemy, what will they make of you and me.”
The opening of The Tide sees Peter Aves powerful guitar give a dramatic edge before the subtle layers of Brendan’s keyboard work adds a real sophistication. This is an album full of exquisite nuances and he distinctive soulful vocals of Marc leave a cultured trail wherever they lead, is there a more emotive singer around at the moment? I think not! These songs are created with layers of beauty and polish and seem to flow organically. There’s a funky edge to Shine that is punctuated by the uplifting chorus and the superb guitar work of Lee Abraham who delivers a vibrant solo.
Marc and Brendan have spent a long time creating this musical work of art, fitting it in around their daily lives and other projects and it is the level of care and attention to detail that stands out across the meticulously crafted songs on this album. I can imagine the painstaking process that went into each note, there is nothing here that doesn’t belong and it makes for a quite wonderful release.
The passionate Blasphemy is another highlight among many with Paul Cusick’s sensuous guitar work adding layers of intensity to what is a really powerful song, the music intense and impassioned and Marc’s voice a commanding presence. Brendan Eyre weaves an absorbing web with his refined keyboard playing throughout this amazing sonic tapestry and the rhythm section of Dave Clements’ bass and the drums of Alex Cromarty provide a suitably assured back drop.
Every track is exceptional, it’s rare to get an album without at least one throwaway song but the songs intertwine perfectly with each other, the wistful and nostalgic Your Last Day sees a wonderful low key and slow burning guitar solo from Robin Armstrong and the silken six string of Simon Godfrey joins the guys on the touching strains of Strange Land, a song that has strong roots music foundations.
The gentle feel of Fall Out Warning is added to by the flute of Tony Patterson to give a contemplative, melancholy atmosphere but there is beauty, charm and artistry to every single song. The sombre overtone of the excellent Uprising is added to by the reflective keyboards and Tony’s ethereal-like flute. Marc’s vocals are almost pleading,
“Their voices will be heard, their chanting becomes one. But a nation stands divided with a bullet from a gun.”
It is a haunting piece of music and one which makes you look inside at your own heart and is followed by the contrast of the gloriously uplifting The Tide Reprise to close the album on a more thoughtful and hopeful note.
There’s been some good music released this year already and also some utterly outstanding albums and ‘The Tide’ definitely falls into the latter category. Marc and Brendan have lovingly crafted twelve pieces of music that come together to create a release of beauty and refinement and one that will stay in your heart for a very long time. It’s not just music, this is something that is actually life-affirming and I can’t give it higher praise than that.
A columnist from an upmarket daily mentioned recently, that this time of year isn’t good for new music. How do these people get employed?
Two weeks into the new year and the quality of releases out and arriving are breathtaking, in scope and variation. Anticipation is at fever pitch at the expectation of numerous releases from new artists and old hands and I for one am looking forward to what the year brings.
Galahad’s ‘Seas Of Change’ is one of my most eagerly awaited. Having been a fan of Stu and the band from the earliest days I have always admired that, whilst they have their trademark sound, they have never been afraid to experiment and push the boundaries. Having followed a heavier path of late (last year’s release, ‘Quiet Storms’, being an exception) ‘Seas Of Change‘ sees the band mixing their various musical guises to give us a veritable melting pot of all that was, is and now will be Galahad.
Though I was sad to hear of long term guitarist Roy Keyworth departing the fold, the return of the wonderfully talented Lee Abraham riding on the crest of his excellent solo album ‘Colours’ and formidably wielding the guitars here, adds a refreshing impetus to the band demographic.
Talking of sound, keyboardist Dean Baker should give himself a huge slap on the back for writing all the music and compositional arrangements on ‘Seas Of Change’. He has done a impressive job in creating an ‘epic feel’ of an album, a feast for the aural senses. A sweeping panorama of sound that crashes like a tidal wave through your sound system, drenching you in it’s thrall. That’s before we get to mention just how good he actually is as a keyboardist and conjurer of effects.
As for Mr Stu Nicholson’s vocals, they have to my ears never sounded or fitted the material better. Let us also not forget the valued contributions from the formidable engine room, Spencer Luckman on drums & percussion, combined with the return of Tim Ashton on bass guitar. The album also features long term Galahad honorarian, the lovely Sarah Bolter, sprinkling the album with fragrant flute, clarinet and soprano sax.
It takes someone of a certain quality to harness all this energy and polish it into a glistening diamond. No problem there as ‘Seas Of Change’ was mixed and mastered, most ably, at Thin Ice Studios in Surrey by the magician that is Karl Groom, producing a sound as clear and fresh as a crystal lake, all nicely wrapped in a wonderful album cover by the ever talented Paul Tippett.
“So what of the album itself?” I hear you cry, “the subject, content and the tracks?”
There is dear reader, only one ‘Cecil B. DeMille’ size track that comprises the whole album.
According to Stu it was intended to be all of seven minutes but grew into the force formidable to which it now stands. Galahad have never shied from difficult, thorny subjects and if you are looking for English, pastoral poetry, with hearts and flowers, look elsewhere.
Stabbing at the heart of the government, this merry band of men (and lady) take politics and politicians skilfully and tactfully to task over Brexit, the public debates surrounding and following it, as the politicians have circled like sharks with the British public as bait, causing much confusion.
With a wry nod and a wink Galahad deliberate through the music as it rises and falls, majestic one moment, reflective the next. The quality of the material, musicianship and sound is faultless. This album cannot be dipped in and out of, but must be consumed as a whole which if you do, you should find most satisfying, whether your palate be to a fine glass of merlot or a huge feast.
If you have sampled the band before and found them not to your taste I will not force feed you, but merely ask you try this album or you could miss out on one of the tastiest releases of 2018. Me? I’m off back for seconds…
In the sleeve notes for the comprehensive new package that comes with this remix of Cosmograf’s 2011 critically acclaimed release ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’,Robin Armstrong writes,
“I sometimes think about all the people I once knew that are now gone and I very much struggle to come to terms with their collective struggles, joys and achievements in life coming to an end. It’s an enduring theme in a lot of what I write. I decided some time back that it would be a tragedy to leave a life with no legacy left behind and it’s a driving force for me to leave as much music as I can with the hope that someone will remember…”
Robin is the man behind Cosmograf and is an extraordinary musical storyteller. His involving concepts and often personal historical narratives take you, the listener, directly to the centre of the story and envelop you in a whole gamut of emotions, all invoked by his remarkable songwriting.
Following the brilliant ‘The Hay Man Dreams’, released last year, Robin has taken it upon himself to revisit ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ to completely remix and master it and, in his own words,
“…address some of the issues that were less than perfect on the original recording. Many of the original guitar, bass and vocal parts have been re-recorded, new string arrangements added and a more dynamic low volume level master produced…”
I’ll confess, I have never heard ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ before so I can’t give a ‘before and after’ review but, as a big fan of Cosmograf, I’ll tell you what I think of this release as a whole.
The concept of the album is based around Robin’s personal experiences as a boy, visiting his Auntie Mollie and Uncle Harry at their home, Pear Tree Cottage, in a tiny village called Cleobury North in rural Shropshire and he has expanded the concept to cover the emotions and experiences we feel through the ageing process from birth to death. The stunning, original artwork is done by Graeme Bell.
Into This World is a an eleven minute piece that sets the scene with ‘Birth’ as the theme and is instantly recognisable to any fan as a Cosmograf track. Slow building and slow burning with a fragile piano note and Robin’s distincive vocal, the clever lyrics are used to convey the hopes, fears and aspirations that follow the bringing of a child into the world. A powerful and edgy song where the stylish drums of Bob Dalton are used to very good effect. As always, this excellent musician has you gripped from the first note with a moody and atmospheric song that asks questions and, while there is always a feeling of venturing into the unknown, deep down it is hope and optimism that is at the core. The elegant bass of Steve Dunn joins us for Blacksmith’s Hammer, a tribute to his Uncle Harry who worked the forge, shoeing horses right up to his death, age 73 in 1987. It’s an uplifting piece of music, an ode to a modest life where simple pleasures (like smoking a pipe) were enjoyed to their full. An almost spiritual song, there’s a superb (if short) guitar solo that burns with a humble honesty and the lyrics literally describe his demise; he sat back from shoeing a horse and drew his last breath.
Written about Pear Tree Cottage, a special place in Robin’s childhood, On Which We Stand was originally a poem which he wrote to read at his Aunt’s funeral and has become the lyrics to this beautiful song. A wistful and nostalgic opening courtesy of Simon Rogers’ guitar opens into a sublime vocal where Robin reminisces of all the happy times he had in the cottage, the games and the fond memories of he pastimes that made it such a wonderful place. Sit and listen to the words, let the music wash over you and you can almost imagine being there, a sentimental musical journey down memory lane. An old light switch that Robin remembers triggers flashbacks to previous memories and dramas, this is the essence of Bakelite Switch, sounds or smells we experience that snap you back to a previous event in time. On my first listen to the album, this was one of the songs that immediately stood out, the compelling , almost mysterious opening that erupts into a forceful and dynamic guitar riff catches your ear straight away. Bob’s drums drive the track along and you’re hooked as soon as Robin’s vocal begins, “We had electric light in the 70’s, flick the heavy switch, lights up all our lives.” A very involving song that speaks about the novelty of going back to a house that is very much ‘back in time’ and the emotive guitar solo from Luke Machin combines with some swirling keyboards to add even more drama to the visceral memories that Robin is invoking.
Huw Lloyd-Jones adds a poignant vocal to the emotive background of Memory Lost. The song is about an old lady battling on as best as she could after the death of a partner, and living alone with her memories. The title referring to hanging on to the only thing you have left when someone dies…your memory of them. A pared back and sincere track that really hits you hard and makes a mark on your heart and soul, a single tear rolls down my cheek as I listen to the intensity of Huw’s voice, Robin adding a wonderful harmony. I challenge you not to be moved by this seven minutes of Robin trapping history so he would never lose the detail as the years passed, the guitar solo that closes the song is just superb. Documenting Mollie’s last days at the cottage, title track When Age Has Done Its Duty opens with a wonderful recital of ‘Growing Old’ byTom O’Bedlam spoken over an eloquent piano and keyboards and then Steve Thorne lends his stirring vocals to this bitter-sweet tale. In the 20 years after harry’s death, Mollie always seemed to just be waiting to be with him and in the days leading to her death she just huddled against the Rayburn in the kitchen refusing to eat or move. A sad but elegant song that documents the passing of this proud woman. Robin’s songwriting skills really come to the fore on this track and his choice of Steve Thorne as the vocalist is perfect, the pathos and sentiment he brings to every word is perfect. Just when your emotions are as strung out as you think they can be, Robin fires another stupendous guitar solo at you, leaving you utterly drained.
White Light Awaits takes on the question that has been asked through the ages, what happens after you die? Written as if Robin was having an ethereal conversation with Mollie, asking her what it was like to die and did she experience anything after death. Being a devout Methodist, she would have been appalled by this idea. There’s a bitter, angry tone to the song and the edgy guitar of Lee Abraham adds to the almost cynical, questing tone of Robin’s vocals. Drums are, this time, provided by Dave Ware and their dynamic feel just adds to the challenging aura. The album closes with the heartwarming Dog on the Clee, an inspring song which tells the story of Robin forging a privileged bond with Mollie’s Border Collie ‘Laddie’, a dog that didn’t really like many people at all. The graceful acoustic guitar and Robin’s ethereal vocal bringing a sense of wonder and inspiration to the final chapter in this utterly captivating story.
It may have been originally released in 2011 but this completely remixed and mastered version of ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ feels as fresh as if it was recorded yesterday. Possibly the most emotional journey that Cosmograf has ever taken me on, I feel it is Robin at his most open, a wonderfully involving musical journey with a narrative very close to his heart. There’s nothing quite like a Cosmograf album and this could possibly be the best of them all.
The Seasons Turn, the latest impressive album by Lee Abraham, has the theme of the passing of time interweaved through the songs.
“There’s never such certainty in life, but that’s the game
Just watch the Seasons Turn, never with a sense of shame
Watch the Seasons Turn as another year goes by
Feel the winter chill as we long for summer’s high..”
These lines from the conclusion of the opening 24 minute epic title track led me to thinking about my own personal journey over the last few years following Lee Abraham’s music. It does not seem that long ago when I distinctly recall first hearing Lee’s music on the now sadly defunct ‘Rogues Gallery’ Podcast with Frans Keylard on The Dividing Line Broadcast Network in about 2009. Frans played the whole of the new album at that time ‘Black and White’ by the recently departed bass player with Galahad, a band I had heard of but had not yet explored.
I was absolutely blown away by the excellence of that album, particularly the closing suite of songs – Black (with ex-Big Big Train vocalist Sean Filkins on vocals) and White (with Steve Thorne on vocals.) I still think that music is some of the finest to come out of the resurgence of Progressive rock music since the turn of the new century, with the sparkling and emotional song White simply being one of my most favourite Prog rock tracks ever. It was remarkable to me that I had never heard of this artist and yet here he was releasing a stunningly good album.
‘Black and White’ received very positive reactions and certainly raised Lee Abraham’s profile above the level attained by his previous album ‘View from the Bridge’. I went back to that album and whilst it showed a lot of promise it had to be acknowledged that ‘Black and White’ was a considerable step up and put Abraham on a whole different level. He also involved a variety of renowned Prog musicians, including Jem Godfrey (Frost*), Gary Chandler (Jadis), Simon Godfrey (ex-Tinyfish, Shineback, Valdez) and John Mitchell (It Bites, Frost*, Arena, Lonely Robot… etc, etc!),
‘Black and White’ really touched me deeply. I remember having one of those ‘perfect moments’ with this album we sometimes get in life associated with a piece of music. It was later in 2010 and I had just spent a fantastic weekend with a group of great friends, whom all shared an interest in music. We had travelled to Liverpool to visit The Beatles sites around the city and have a few drinks at The Cavern Club… and elsewhere! We shared in great camaraderie and then all went our separate ways.
I was on the train home to Devon and was listening to the track White as the train travelled along right next to the sea between Exeter and Teignmouth. The sun was going down, shimmering beautifully on the sea and as I looked out of the train window I had a feeling of reverie. I felt such a sense of peace and contentment that I was returning home after a great time with my friends, back to my lovely family in the beauty of a place like Devon. I felt so fortunate. The beautiful closing words sung so delicately by Steve Thorne really stirred great emotion in me:
“My Memory has returned, I’m seeing Clear again,
I’ve got to go back to the start, I’m going to end it now and take control again
Black is dying out, it feels so good again, So now I close my eyes, to all the hate and lies
A World now open wide, where once a dream had died, No more in Black and White…”
I guess ‘you just had to be there’ as it’s hard to explain that personal moment, but that’s what Lee Abraham’s music meant to me at that specific ‘perfect moment’, and it’s a much cherished memory which comes back to me every time I hear that brilliant song.
I was fortunate enough to see the Lee Abraham Band, including Sean Filkins on vocals, perform most of that album at the one-off ‘Winter’s End Festival’ in Stroud in 2010 – he was one of the main reasons I attended that event. This may well be the only ever live performance of Lee’s solo progressive rock material so far, and Lee and his band certainly put on an accomplished show.
Sadly, the economics of such shows and fitting such activities in to ‘real life’ make such performances difficult to arrange and sustain. It is to be hoped that as Lee Abraham’s profile continues to rise with the continuing quality of his albums this may make it easier to countenance a return to the stage for the Lee Abraham Band in future, which Lee recently hinted at in a recent interview may be a possibility.
Lee Abraham next came to my notice on ‘War and Peace and other Short stories’, the 2011 album by Sean Filkins. Yet again this was a real surprise to me as I had yet to really delve in to the world of Big Big Train at that point so Sean was not known to me. Once again Frans Keylard’s Rogue’s Gallery podcast can be thanked for introducing that previously unknown album and artist to me. (Prior to ‘Progzilla Radio’ these days, finding new Prog was reliant on such podcasts, including The Amazing Wilf’s ‘The European Perspective’ by ‘Prog Guru’, David Elliott).
Sean Filkins’ debut release was an utterly outstanding album of consummate musical skill and epic Progresssive rock song writing, which Lee Abraham produced excellently and contributed to musically. This again is another very special album for me personally, and it’s sonic brilliance owes much to Lee’s skills as a producer in the studio. It is to be hoped that Sean will one day feel able to follow up that modern Prog masterpiece, maybe with Lee’s help again? Who knows what will happen as the seasons turn and time passes?
Despite the positive reactions to ‘Black and White’ it would be another 5 years until Lee Abraham released his own follow up album ‘Distant Days’ in 2014. A lot can happen in 5 years and this was an angrier album, partly borne out of the turmoil of the economic problems in the intervening years. It was also an album in which the passing of time featured as a theme in the songs, particularly the epic closing song ‘Tomorrow will be Yesterday’ with Steve Thorne on great vocals yet again:
“The rest of time is on our side, I hope deep down you know,
Let’s make tomorrow yesterday, and never let it go….”
Life for me had also changed, including the loss of a parent and all that entails emotionally as one adapts to loss and a growing realisation that time stands still for no-one. Excellent though it is as an album, ‘Distant Days’ did not have quite the same impact for me as ‘Black and White’.
Sometimes such preferences are simply down to where we are personally and emotionally when we hear an album, and how attuned we may be to the message or feel the artist is trying to convey. However, it is interesting to note that Lee Abraham in an interview recently rated ‘Black and White’ alongside his new album as his favourites, which may indicate that he recognizes there was something special about that particular album.
The title track on Lee Abraham‘s new release, The Seasons Turn, continues in the vein of the epic grandeur of Blackand White , opening with a delicate piano motif from Rob Arnold leading to rising keyboards and then the rest of the band powerfully joining in like some sort of Prog overture before returning to the piano. The mellotron like keyboards drench the piece in atmosphere again before the band launch in to the heart of the song, driven along by Gerald Mulligan’s skilful drumming. Mulligan has been a stalwart band member with Lee Abraham for years, alongside the other talented core band members Christopher Harrison (guitars), Alistair Begg (Bass) and the aforementioned Rob Arnold, assembled for the previous album ‘Distant Days’.
They drive this epic song along with a balance of power and beautiful melody, but the master stroke by Lee Abraham for this epic piece was in asking Marc Atkinson (Riversea / ex-Nine Stones Close) to put his fantastic voice on this piece. Atkinson has probably one of the finest and most engaging voices in recent Progressive rock, as evidenced on the debut Riversea album ‘Out of an Ancient World’ (2012) and the two Nine Stones Close albuma upon which he sang, especially the classic ‘Traces’ (2010). His voice perfectly evokes the contrasting senses of wistful elegy and heroic defiance. Martin Orford (ex-IQ & Jadis), a mentor figure for Lee Abraham from his early days, comes out of his musical retirement briefly to add a lovely but all too short flute interlude in the middle section.
This is a piece marked by soaring and stirring stellar guitar solos (presumably by Simon Nixon and Christopher Harrison), particularly in the closing section. This is quite an opening piece, which Lee stated did not start out as an epic piece but evolved over time. Lee Abraham has admitted that lyric writing is ‘the hardest bit’ and it perhaps shows in this lengthy piece, which may have needed rather more substance lyrically in my view. Nevertheless, that quibble is easy to forgive as you are seduced by the excellent, stirring music and overall epic sweep of this piece.
In contrast to the opening track, Live for Today is a much more straightforward rock number, featuring Dec Burke on powerful vocals and distinctive guitar work, and continues the theme of time passing and living for the moment. Marc Atkinson returns on vocals for the hauntingly beautiful Harbour Lights, which once again is perfect for his marvellous voice. Rob Arnold shines on piano again in this evocative piece. Lee Abraham lives by the sea on the South coast of England, and is perhaps inspired by the ocean in this shimmering piece, filled with hope:
“The Night is growing weaker, I see the Sun ahead
The Harbour Lights are dying, they’ve shown the Road ahead for me..”
The shortest and lightest song on the album, Say Your Name Aloud, surprisingly finds Mark Colton of Prog Rock band Credo very engagingly singing what can only be described as a pop song, showing his versatility as a vocalist. It’s a nice contrast to the more portentous songs on the album.
The eerie, Floydian sound effects in the opening of the album closer The Unknown returns us to epic prog rock territory with Simon Godfrey singing with great feeling. This is a much darker piece with echoes of Porcupine Tree in places. David Vear adds in a surprising saxophone later in the song, which helps give this song a different atmosphere, but once again, it is Lee Abraham and Christopher Harrison’s guitars that take centre stage. A rather curious and seemingly almost endless 3 minute fade out tone closes the album. Perhaps it symbolizes the imagery in the closing lyrics of journeying endlessly into the Unknown :
“The Road to Freedom is all that keeps us Sane, The Miles go on and all we need is a Home
Will this never end the Path to the Unknown..”
I am not entirely sure what the song means, but having recently experienced great personal loss as a listener I draw some comfort from these words and this music. The beautiful artwork on this album by Paul Tippett shows a landscape experiencing all four seasons in one scene. Over the last few years I have also experienced the bloom of summer in a ‘perfect moment’, the autumnal decline of loved ones and the cold death of winter. For me it feels like it’s time for Spring again as reflected in Lee Abraham’s words:
“The Promise of Hope, the Promise of Freedom will be shown…”
Music is subjective and is filtered through all our own feelings and circumstances. Do I like this as much as ‘Black and White’ ? – probably not, but that may have more to do with my internal feelings rather than musical quality. ‘The Seasons Turn’ is undoubtedly another very fine album for Lee Abraham. We all read what we will into music, but it takes evocative and beautifully played music upon which to cast our thoughts and feelings. Lee’s music has provided some meaningful moments for me in recent years, and this excellent album continues that journey. Thanks.