Review – Nova Cascade – A Dictionary Of Obscure Sorrows – by Leo Trimming

What exactly  is ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’?

According to Wikipedia (and who could doubt that source of information!) ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’  is a website created by John Koenig that defines neologisms (that’s new words and phrases to you and me) which are designed to define emotions for which we do not yet have a descriptive term. When you hear this new album by Nova Cascade you can sense why they might decide to use that phrase to name their album. Previously describing themselves as ‘Ambient Progressive Rock’, on their promising but minimalist debut album Above All Else, Nova Cascade have developed that blueprint further with more defined pieces. but there is still an overriding sense of  fragility and dreamlike visions which are hard to define.

Nova Cascade have now moved on from their peculiar origins in an online gaming chatroom out of which artists shared musical ideas, and now present a more fully formed and mature album. The sparse, organic feel which characterised ‘Above All Else’ now gives way to a more lush and layered approach but at heart they retain their more ambient and impressionistic style, with some echoes of later Talk Talk. The gorgeous cover artwork by Charlie Bramald places us in a warm, shimmering and comfortable candle-lit library, and the music conveys a sense we are sat in the glow of candle light as we hear these lush sounds which contain contrasting stories of light and darkness.

Dave Hilborne appears to lead this project with his distinctive light, breathy vocalisation and subtle synth laden soundscapes, such as the opening instrumental Unwavering. There is also a slightly harder edge on some songs, such as the bitter Rabbit Hole (with echoes of later Peter Gabriel) which features quite a percussive programmed edge and pointed lines about deceit:

‘This illusion you expertly weave,

Let’s take a trip to the far side,

Descend in a rabbit hole of deceit.’

However, even such perspectives are coated in fairly lush production with no sharp edges. Echo and Narcissus flows languidly in on a bed of keyboards and softly programmed percussion. Hilborne’s delicate vocals reflect the disappearing fragility of the legendary Echo as she wasted away until only her voice remained. Once again rather tortured lyrics are conveyed in swathes of restrained, rather gentle instrumentation, particularly the evocative violin of Eric Bouillette. Such agony rarely sounded so delicate:

And, oh, that stench in the air is your hate

Just leave me be with what’s left of my fractured soul

Nova Cascade seem to like touching on sinister or negative subjects in rather pastoral ways, such as the instrumental Apophis, which may refer to an Egyptian Pharaoh or  an ancient Egyptian ‘chaotic being’ until you read the sleeves and note one small line: ‘All Eyes to the Sky in 2029…’ a quick internet search reveals that Apophis is a sizeable ‘near Earth’ Asteroid that in 2004 was thought to have a distinct possibility of striking Earth catastrophically in 2029. Readers will be pleased to hear that after re-calculations this possibility has now been deemed Zero! Nevertheless, it gives Nova Cascade the excuse to compose a suitably spacey soundscape, enhanced by Charlie Bramald’s stellar flute, which is then transformed with some more ominous synth throbs before floating off in to space again.

In contrast the nostalgic Plasticine and Paint touchingly conjures up idyllic visions  and memories of childhood with Bramald’s subtle flute underlining the sense of pastoral reminiscence in a rather beautiful piece. In their previous album ‘Above All Else’ there was a sense of it being a rather ‘home made’ or even a ‘demo’ type album, which it’s organic and intuitive approach to capturing sound enhanced. Nova Cascade seem to have moved on from that rather lo-fi or sparse feel but have not lost that essence of fragility and dream like quality.

The centrepiece to the whole album is the decidedly more ambitious extended instrumental ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ which features the Blue Man Group drummer David Anania (indeed the album sound overall would have benefited from more use of a live drummer than programmed percussion.) It is interesting that in the sleeve notes in relation to this song Dave Hilborne has quoted a few ‘neologisms’ for hard to describe feelings, presumably from the aforementioned Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, including:

‘Sonder’ – The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own

‘Kenopsia’ – The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet

Not only are those great new words I will try to use in the right context in future, but somehow the music in this imaginative and evocative piece of work conveys those intangible and almost impossible to define feelings. Hilborne paints the main canvas on keyboards alongside the ever present deft bassist Dave Fick, especially in the second half when Anania’s drums have more impact. Eric Bouillette chimes in with a subtle Steve Rothery like guitar solo in the closing stages in the most ‘progressive’ track on the album.

Nova Cascade quote the now sadly deceased Mark Hollis of Talk Talk in their sleeve notes;:

‘Before you play two notes, learn how to play one note, y’know? And don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it’.

Such a quote tells us where Nova Cascade are coming from, and conveys their philosophy in where they want to go. This album is certainly no ‘Spirit of Eden’ by Talk Talk (and to be fair what else is? – it’s an all time classic!) but you can tell that would have been an influence, especially in the vocals. Guitars, piano, bass and guitars weave together melodically. There are times when it is beguiling and beautiful – there are other times for this listener when I just want something a little more of substance to hold on to as you drift in an ocean of ethereal , vague subtlety.  Nevertheless, ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’  is certainly a very significant step up from ‘Above All Else’ . This album would appeal to lovers of delicate, ambient soundscapes and softly pastoral sounds and images, and I have a sense that the ethereal and talented Nova Cascade will show even more development of their distinctive sound and style in the future…

… now I just need to find a word that can convey that hard to define that feeling?

Released 9th September 2019

Order from bandcamp:

https://novacascade.bandcamp.com/album/a-dictionary-of-obscure-sorrows

Review – IQ – Resistance – By Leo Trimming

We live in contentious and dark times so maybe it’s not surprising that IQ’s latest album ‘Resistance’ has a real sense of titanic struggles, whether they are internal conflicts or global issues, as the band create a tidal wave of dense and dramatic music. If you thought 2014’s brilliant ‘The Road of Bones’ was dark then prepare yourself for the stygian shades that colour this epic double album. IQ have not held back in this release immersing themselves deeply in to gothic depths with intense and yet captivating music.

‘A Missile’ plunges us almost literally right in to the album as a descending drone and falling electronic pulse thrusts us in to a thunderous maelstrom of drums, bass and keyboards – it just sounds absolutely MASSIVE! Pete Nicholls sings powerfully, riding this ballistic Missile of a song with great skill and feeling – this feels like someone expelling their soul in to the void:

‘What I thought could save me was artificial, Raking across my nerves and taking possession…

…There is no Faith can be sustained,

No Original Sin to blame, Now I know…’

Neil Durant spices up the keyboards with weird, distorted synths. Paul Cook is simply outstanding on drums as he drives this absolute panzer of a song onwards.

What Peter Nicholls sings about exactly is always open to interpretation, but he has a tremendous ability to evoke images and feelings through poetic words and obscure phrases – you don’t know exactly but you can certainly draw a sense of the emotions that inspired his lyrics. When you listen to IQ each time a whole new line or phrase can just jump out and hit a nerve in ways you had not noticed the last time you listened. Such a thought also brings me to a conclusion I have drawn about IQ albums.

For this review I had to put up some ‘Resistance’ (yeah, I know, corny) to the Progradar editor who was gently suggesting I should try to complete the review in a few days prior to the album launch gig on September 7th. A listener needs to ‘live’ with an IQ album for a little while, and then they usually reveal their hidden gems. Some of my most favourite IQ songs and albums have not always ‘clicked’ with me initially, but with a little time I ‘get’ it and I appreciate the quality and depth of the material.

That has been the case with ‘Resistance’ for me, and it was well worth immersing myself in the album. The interlinked songs ‘Rise’ and ‘Stay Down’ did not hit me immediately but now I feel awed by their skilful blending of light and dark, Rise commencing with loud foreboding chords like some sort of epic sci-fi landscape, as depicted on the striking and rather beautiful cover by Tony Lythgoe. ‘Rise’ segues in to ‘Stay Down’ which echoes the previous throbbing chords and melody of ‘Rise’ with a simple piano line under Nicholls’ sorrowful voice.  Pizzicato keyboard notes and cello sounds carry the song on gently but the tension rises with guitar and the sound of ticking clocks. This remarkable song then almost literally falls off a cliff with a massive landslide of keyboards, bass, drums and guitars as Nicholls appears to rail against a breakdown:

If I don’t make success out of real life,  Nothing doing

Fall Back, break out, inside, can’t see, can drown

Shut up while I stay down, The less I can handle

The more I can blame on my breakdown

This is dark and very powerful stuff both musically and lyrically, and one has to wonder what Pete Nicholls and Mike Holmes were feeling when they wrote this album. It feels like this release may have been a cathartic expulsion of emotions.

‘Shallow Bay’ is a more straightforward rock piece with an elegiac feel and gives Michael Holmes a perfect showcase for a fluid, emotive guitar solo over a titanic organ for the conclusion. The intensity decreases significantly for the beautiful ‘If Anything’, demonstrating that IQ know that darkness needs to be contrasted with light and hope. With an opening slightly reminiscent of a song by The Cars, Nicholls’ warm vocals lays out lovely images over delicately picked Spanish guitar:

‘Not anyone could take my Heart, And send it soaring so high,

Far above the setting Sun we’d fly’

Tim Esau’s deftly played gentle bass and Paul Cook’s subtle drums and percussion perfectly underpin this gentle piece, demonstrating that it’s not all about power. However, just when we’re settling down in to a soft blanket of a song an ominous drone echoing The Beatles ‘A Day in the Life’ presages the clanging chords heard previously in ‘Rise’ and a Hammer Horror like organ from Neil Durant segues us in to the weird carnival sounds of the  outstanding epic ‘For Another Lifetime’. This peculiar opening evokes the feel of a Ghost Story, especially as the opening sequence eerily slows down and the vocals become distorted and then a classic IQ passage of guitars, drums, bass and keyboards, reminiscent of ‘Sacred Song’ from 2004’s ‘Dark Matter’, builds the tension ominously. This tension breaks with the sound of thunder and a wave of sound breaks over us like a storm breaking – it’s just bloody exciting and stirring stuff! I love IQ moments like this when they really let loose with keyboards and guitars intertwining perfectly whilst ‘Cookie’ and Tim Esau drive the Leviathan on powerfully. Nicholls seems to be screaming in to a Hurricane;

‘And if there’s no Resistance, What am I Fighting For?

An unsung renegade evading radar, And if there’s no existence to worship and adore

A lethal chemistry invades, as dark as war’

The darkness seems to recede as Durant’s piano breaks through the clouds like sunshine, introducing a more optimistic sounding guitar line from Holmes, which soars upwards and Nicholls sings emotionally ‘And this is where I will stay, Holding on, Holding on, Holding on…’

For Another Lifetime is destined to become another much loved IQ classic epic song. No other band does it quite like them. Indeed, this album is unmistakably ‘IQ’ – they have a successful formula and they use it with great skill on this album. Sure they turn up the ‘Darkness’ button way up (and the ‘Mellotron’ effect… possibly a little too much at times?)… but the fundamental sound and feel is IQ all the way. They really do not need to experiment when they sound this good.

The second part of this double album is populated with two epic pieces, ‘The Great Spirit Way’ and ‘Fallout’.  This review will not go into great detail about these pieces – some things the listener needs to explore with a largely blank page. The Great Spirit Way is an intense piece which hardly lets up for it’s whole 20 minute plus duration, and features Neil Durant’s enormous organ sounds in abundance. Michael Holmes has shared that what was largely inspiring his music writing for this album was his feelings about the climate emergency, and the complacency towards this global threat. He suggested that groups like ‘Extinction Rebellion’ were the ‘Resistance’ against this issue, and perhaps Nicholls’ lyrics in this piece echo those concerns (but who knows when it comes to Peter’s words?!):

‘All the misfits in the world sure to change it

Though they’ve tried rearranging, Good for Bad,

Still the Mad King Reigns’

Fire and Security is a track that follows the familiar IQ template. It’s fine but not outstanding on the album… it’s difficult to stand out on a disc with two 20 minute epics! However, the other shorter song on disc 2 Perfect Space does succeed in making it’s mark. It is interesting to note in the credits that this is the one song on which it appears Neil Durant took the lead role in writing the music. His keyboard sounds are remarkable on this piece, ranging from a gentle ambient opening to an almost dirty sounding organ which bubbles and spits like lava in an incendiary guitar / organ duel in the middle which returns in the dramatic closing sequence.

The epic Fallout draws this saga to an end… it’s full of light and shade, soft and loud, drama and emotion – it’s a classic piece of IQ imagining, almost impossible to convey in words. The piano does make a welcome longer appearance in this piece – it does feel a little bit like powerful organs and keyboards somewhat dominate at times in this album so a gentle piano is a welcome lightening of mood. But that’s the point – IQ wanted to conjure up atmospheres imbued with gothic darkness with dense soundscapes so they chose instruments more suited to that feel.

1993… 1997… 2000… 2004… 2009… 2014… and now 2019. IQ albums since the 1990’s only appear about every 4 to 5 years. In the world of Progressive Rock music they are truly special events as this is one of the truly great bands of the last 35+ years… does this one match up to that fine heritage? Having ‘lived’ with it a little while I feel that it can honourably take it’s place in their fine canon of music. It’s not perfect – it’s difficult fully sustaining a double album (and perhaps the organ / mellotron sounds can be a little dominant?) , but there’s no weak tracks… and let’s face it even a weak IQ track is better than many band’s best tracks – this is IQ after all – the Crème de la Crème of modern progressive rock.

IQ have produced another fine album of imaginative progressive rock with exemplary musicianship and poetic lyricism – it’s just what they do, and they do it so well. It could be another 4 or 5 years until the next one so immerse yourself in this dense, dark epic world and join the Resistance!

Tracklist:

CD 1:

  1. A Missile
  2. Rise
  3. Stay Down
  4. Alampandria
  5. Shallow Bay
  6. If Anything
  7. For Another Lifetime

CD 2:

  1. The Great Spirit Way
  2. Fire and Security
  3. Perfect Space
  4. Fallout

MUSICIANS

Paul Cook  –  Drums & Percussion

Michael Holmes  –  Electric & Acoustic Guitars

Tim Esau – Bass & Bass Pedals

Peter Nicholls  –  Vocals & Backing Vocals

Neil Durrant  –  Keyboards

Released 27th September 2019

Order direct from the IQ online store:

https://www.iq-hq.co.uk/shop/

Review – The Gift – Antenna – by Leo Trimming

Antenna, the diverse fourth album from The Gift signals a significant change in direction and style for this London based band, driven by a fresh and accessible impetus. In a recent interview Mike Morton of The Gift summarised their new album as focusing on the ‘Difficulty of being Human’, and added that it was about ‘communication missing the mark’ which he encapsulated in the metaphor ‘Broken Plugs and Sockets’.

This is an ambitious and brave project, leaving behind their previous leanings towards more ornate ‘prog’ sounds so one has to ask did they succeed in the communication hitting the mark and connecting?

What is very clear right from the start is that this is a band that has chosen not to stand still or remain in a comfort zone. We are Connected is a striking opening song, with slight echoes of INXS, riding on an insistent guitar riff and threaded throughout with a popping synth backing, indicative of the subject of electronic obsession with social media. Mike Morton sounds angry as he spits out:

A myriad of souls, We have abandoned all controls,

Naked to the core, exposing our emotion

We are connected – we are one – we are connected

The songwriter, David Lloyd, explained in the same TPA interview :

‘It’s about the way in which people have sold their soul to social media… the way people can be damaged or manipulated without really realising it, just through participating in it. It’s got a corrupting side to it.’

This opening is important as a cracking introduction to the album but also as a very clear marker that this is The Gift like you’ve never really heard them before, and they have moved a long way from the expansive and mythically influenced previous album ‘Why the Sea is Salt’. If that album’s lush oil painting like artwork by Mark Buckingham reflected their epic musical canvasses of ornate, multi-layered passages, then Antenna’s more angular, ‘Metropolis’ film graphic based artwork by Brian Mitchell is indicative of the new album’s more direct but carefully constructed contemporary songs. For instance, there is an impressively flowing but understated guitar solo by David Lloyd in We are Connected, but whereas previously it may have been more lengthy and elaborate, on Antenna it is brief but consequently stands out all the more on a song filled with memorable hooks and straightforward lyrics.

The Gift are blessed with a combination of four songwriters in Mike Morton, David Lloyd, Gabriele Baldocci and Leroy James, who all bring something different to the table. Long Time Dead is a song which has appeared occasionally in The Gift’s live set in recent times and this ‘road testing’ has probably helped hone it into an outstanding song. Song writer Leroy James evokes a Wild West atmosphere with a Spaghetti Western type harmonica intro and then we are transported by atmospheric distorted wah wah guitar sounds. Evocatively played ensemble playing conveys a swagger befitting the feel of the song. Gabriele Baldocci even struts into the musical saloon with a dash of bar room piano. Morton carries the ‘carpe diem’ no regrets message of the song perfectly:

So come now raise your head – you’re a long time dead

Love the life you’ve led – you’re a long time dead

In contrast the following song Snowfall exemplifies the differing aspects that characterise The Gift. Over a delicate piano backing which brings to mind images of softly falling snow Morton touchingly sings about a lost relationship. Lyrically and melodically this is simply heart-breaking, and it is imbued with pure emotion and truth. Similarly, the instrumental piece Hand in Hand, the title of which echoes a Snowfall lyric, is also a thing of lovely subtlety, featuring guitarist Lloyd alongside bassist Stef Dickers, showing his versatility on acoustic guitar.

Snowfall and Hand in Hand bookend the far more angular piece Far Stranger, with a staccato, robotic feel appropriate for its subject matter of synthetic humans, with references to ‘Rachel and Roy’ (of the film ‘Bladerunner’) and ‘Pinocchio’. This song does not fully connect for this reviewer – it feels like a song which The Gift would have expanded upon in previous albums to convey the full story, but to me here it sounds like rather a lot of ideas and narrative squeezed in to a shorter piece. This is disappointing as it’s a fascinating theme, possibly fitting an earlier abandoned idea for the album title about being ‘Almost Human but not quite’, and the song and theme may have benefited from a more ambitious, expansive setting. On Far Stranger it is almost as if The Gift were caught between two stools in their transition from their previous ‘proggier’ style into a more succinct approach.

As if to underline that thought the extended piece Changeling is altogether more successful in conveying a narrative as it tells the story of the rise and fall of a politician corrupted by power in three distinct phases, which could easily be separate songs in themselves. This treatment gives the music and narrative time to develop and breath… but this is no extravagant, lush 70’s style ‘prog’ extravaganza. The sparse synth and programmed percussion of opening section A Saviour’s Shoes echoes 80’s era Japan (surely a good thing) with a finely judged vocal from Morton introducing a politician starting out with sincere intentions.  This fascinating opening descends in to much darker territory on the much more ‘rock’ oriented The Shadow Behind part with Neil Hayman in spectacular form on powerful and precise drumming alongside Dickers’ deft use of bass in the driving sections or more contemplative passages. Baldocci throws in a great twisting synth solo to convey the insidious effect ambition has upon the politician’s initial integrity. This outstanding piece then takes a definite ‘left turn’ in the closing Finest Hour section which is a pure glam rock stomp with Morton, acting out the fall of the politician in to total corruption, at his most dramatically camp on vocals and Lloyd and James on great form on guitars. The Gift premiered this section as a stand-alone song at the Fusion Festival in March and it went down a storm with the crowd, getting them to their feet. Curiously, it could be argued that this nearly ten minute piece demonstrates that The Gift remain  very much in the mainstream ‘Prog’ world, but trust me, you won’t think that when you hear it. It’s an interesting melding of different musical styles not normally associated with classic rock tropes, skilfully moulded in to a song cycle conveying the changes of the main character.

Perhaps as a ‘palate cleanser’ after such an extended and thematically dark piece The Gift follow it up with the optimistic rock/pop of Back to Eden, which rolls along brightly. This is in stark contrast to When you are old, with words by poet W.B Yeats. This slow and sombre piece of reminiscence and regret has hints of ‘Low’ era Bowie – some may love it’s melancholic atmosphere,  some may find it a rather depressing drone… but one has to wonder about it’s sequencing directly after the remarkably rocking Wild Roses.

The highlight of Antenna for this reviewer is definitely Wild Roses, which announces itself with ‘Art of Noise’ like synth effects and percussion before plunging straight in to pure Thin Lizzy territory. Leroy James and David Lloyd really rock out on the guitars and Dickers and Hayman thunder along brilliantly in the rhythm section, whilst Baldocci throws in occasional keyboard stabs and synth runs… but the real surprise is Mike Morton’s vocals – he really throws himself in to a powerful ‘Rock’ vocal, with more than a little resemblance to Phil Lynott! The Gift truly excel in a live setting and one can only imagine just how much they will rock the audiences when they pull that one out of the drawer.

Antenna concludes appropriately with Closer about relationships, which commences with bright jangling guitars over a cool bass line and Hayman in almost funky form on drums in the Where all Roads Divide section. However, for this reviewer curiously for an album which focuses so much on connection this is a song which does feel a little disconnected as that opening section quite suddenly jars in to the rocking instrumental Out of Reach section with synth and guitar soloing. It almost feels like The Gift felt compelled to pull out some ‘Prog Stops’ before the end of the album. As a section alone it sounds fine, but it did not flow naturally from the first part. Similarly, after a significant pause the emotional Closer finale does not flow on from the previous passage. Nevertheless, as a piece in itself Closer impressively builds and builds with delicately picked, almost bluegrass guitar, organ and then a lovely fluid piano. A lyrical soaring guitar solo elevates the piece to even greater heights as Morton proclaims:

If our journeys ever synchronize, Let’s be thankful for whatever, Brings our Universe together

We can be Closer…. Closer…. We can be Closer

On this album Closer feels ironically a little disjointed but as a live piece it may mature, and the excellent closing section will certainly stir the soul.

Well, as asked earlier, did The Gift succeed in communicating and connecting?

For this reviewer the answer is a qualified ‘Yes’.

There are some truly outstanding pieces on this album, but for me some songs did not quite hit the mark or fully connect. In essence some of the ‘plugs’ did not seem to quite fit some of the ‘plugs’. In truth The Gift were never a ‘full-on’ ornate ‘Prog’ band, and each album had more accessible, less musically ambitious and unashamedly ‘catchy’ pieces alongside their epic forays. However, the clear main direction was down well-trodden progressive rock paths, and with classic songs like The Willows they really did it so well. In contrast Antenna feels like a band trying to break out of what may have started to feel like a pigeon-holing musical straightjacket. There may also be a sense of liberation for the wide range of song writing talent within the band, which has added a wholly different and fascinating range of musical colours to their spectrum. The great qualities that marked out The Gift previously are still there in the DNA of their material but maybe inevitably this album does have the feel of a ‘Transition’ album. Sometimes in a transition process older ways of doing things do not always sit comfortably together with new paths. However, that is not a bad thing – transition means growth and ‘progression’ in the true sense of the word. The Gift should be commended for having had the balls to significantly change their sound – as Morton said in a recent interview that change may ‘piss some people off and disappoint’ but ‘that’s just the way it is…’ It will be fascinating to see where they go from here.

The hope is that their previous fans remember the core of what made The Gift worth following before and remain on board, whilst the undoubted high quality of the different range of largely more accessible songs on this album also justifiably attracts other new fans who like … well just rock music, whatever the label.

Antenna sends out a strong signal from The Gift – they do not stand still so leave your preconceptions at the door, open your minds and explore their changing world.

Released 28th June 2019

Order from Bad Elephant Music here:

https://thegiftuk.bandcamp.com/album/antenna

Review – Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part Two – by Leo Trimming

The mercurial Pete Jones seems to have an exhaustible supply of musical ideas at present. Fresh after playing with Camel on a triumphant tour of Europe ending at the Royal Albert Hall, and not long after his last fine Tiger Moth Tales album ‘The Depths of Winter’, Peter Jones returns with the second instalment of his Story Tellers project.  Based on Fairy tales and Children’s stories this is an album of pure whimsy and diverse, entertaining music. Listeners need to check in their more cynical tendencies at the door if they enter this world – this is definitely for the young, and for the young at heart. However, do not be deceived – this is not a collection of simplistic childish nursery rhymes. Pete Jones has skillfully framed these tales in a range of musical styles, intuitively threading elements of pathos, comedy and adventure through the songs.

The opening song Best Friend feels like the opening of a Fairy Tale book with gentle piano notes giving way to some orchestration and Renaissance style acoustic guitars. The catchy, positive lyrics tell of close friends in Jones’ lovely baritone, one of the finest voices in modern progressive rock music. A Hackett-esque guitar line and tinkling keys interlude segues us from this sunlit world into different territory both narratively and musically in Kai’s Journey. Chiming guitars and a tripping, dancing synth evokes the journey perfectly in musical form. An eerie almost jazzy cornet from long time friend and collaborator, Mark Wardle, presages chilling vocoder effects of a sinister snow queen, voiced rather maniacally by Pete’s usually lovely wife Kim! This is an atmospheric and evocative rock instrumental, and the influence of Steve Hackett (one of Pete Jones all time heroes) is strong on this piece, and that is a GOOD thing – indeed, there are distinct echoes of Hackett’s own exploration of children’s tales in his own classic Please Don’t Touch throughout this album.

The delightful diversity of this album is most borne on the next two songs, both masterpieces of whimsical musical imagination in their own very different ways. Toad of Toad Hall is a playful, infectious tune which bounces along mischievously as Jones’ keyboards skips joyfully and eccentrically through this musical vignette. This song also demonstrates Peter Jones’ great ability to sing and talk in distinctive character voices, and his inimitable puckish laugh is absolutely perfect for the character of  Toad of Toad Hall – this is just great fun. In contrast, not a word is spoken in the much more sedate Hundred Acre Wood, but so much is said in different ways. A lovely ambling clarinet tune over gentle piano keys simply conjures up the image of Winnie Pooh and his friends walking in Hundred Acre Wood by instruments alone – close your eyes and you are there.

Eternity takes the album in a very different direction as Peter Jones duets on a lush ballad with his old singing partner Emma Friend whose own lovely voice complements the Mothster’s perfectly… but then he throws in a short soaring guitar solo midway through the song as the duo take flight vocally. I always felt that the fate of The Boy Who Cried Wolf was rather cruel, and it seems Peter Jones agrees as he has produced a rather sombre take on his rather dramatic tale. This more ambitious song admittedly took more time to grow on me as it is not as immediate as some of the other tracks. He uses a range of guitar tones to convey the story, moving from the fear of the wolf attack through to anguish and finally a rather mournful conclusion.

‘Story Tellers part one’ featured the comical A Kid’s Tale, which is surpassed on this instalment with the comic masterpiece of Three Little Pigs, starting with some humourous ‘false starts’. The consistently funny and witty lyrics genuinely made me laugh out loud at one point… and how often can you say that about an album! Played in intentionally childlike or music hall style this song brims with humour and funny voices – kids would love it… I certainly did!

The ghosts of Trick of the Tail / Wind and Wuthering era haunt the instrumental epic of The Palace as Hackett-like guitars  and Tony Banks-like keys thread right through the piece like a stick of Genesis Rock. Peter Jones makes no secret of his love for any era of Genesis, and the influence that legendary band has on his more ‘Prog’ like offerings is there for everyone to hear, and for many that is why they love his material. For such listeners this will be a highlight on the album and Jones’ skills as a fine guitarist and keyboard player pulls it off with aplomb. After such drama Jones soothes us with a touching tale of the Match Girl over a simple piano backing and a melancholic melodica. This song particularly show cases Peter Jones’ lovely voice, emotively singing this poignant tale.

The story book closes with swelling orchestration and electric guitar solo as The Mothster and Emma Friend briefly reprise Best Friends. You can almost see the credits rolling like the end of some Disney-esque animation… and that’s not said in a sneering manner – Disney have done some great adaptations of Fairy Tales!

This album is a real step up from ‘Story Tellers Part One’, which has not been quite as popular or as revered as other Tiger Moth Tales releases. It had some highlights such as the title song and A Kids Tale, but the rapidity in which it was recorded (there was a challenge to make an album in one month!) did mean it seemed to lack some of the depth and quality associated with his other fine albums. To be fair it was always meant as a more lightweight offering. In this second instalment there is still the sense spontaneity that Jones is looking for in this type of project, but he does it more successfully and subtly on this occasion.

‘Story Tellers Part Two’ is an entertaining album, and it does exactly what it says on the tin – it tells stories wonderfully well.  There’s laughs, tears and adventure… all played with skill and touch in a great range of different musical styles. Categorizing it is impossible, to be honest – it’s not deep or symbolic, just great fun.

If you’ve got young kids or grandchildren then get it and play them some of it (especially Three Little Pigs)… or if you feel like a kid yourself and you just need some escapism just play it to yourself –it may help you live Happily Ever After!

Released 18th October 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – Valdez – This – by Leo Trimming

When first hearing about Valdez, a new band based in Philadephia, featuring Simon Godfrey (ex-Tinyfish and Shineback) and Echolyn bassist, Tom Hyatt, I made some initially lazy assumptions about it’s probable sound. I was wrong. Please check in your assumptions at the door because this is an album a long way away from Echolyn or Tinyfish. Simon Godfrey moved to America in 2014 when he married an American, and his personal journey has further stretched his musical horizons in an already wide ranging career encompassing Prog rock, acoustic songs and the electronically drenched unique rock of Shineback. When he met Tom Hyatt in Philadelphia they immediately hit it off and started jamming, then deciding to form Valdez (the name taken from a former band of keyboardist Joe Cardillo from the 1970’s.) Teaming up with the excellent electric keyboardist from Cool Blue, Cardillo, and drummer Scott Miller, Godfrey and Hyatt have produced with Valdez an eclectic and warm album, lovingly steeped in the sounds and textures of classic instruments.

The range of different styles is interesting but one thread that goes through them all is the sense of a solid, well written song. These are not sonic soundscapes of epic proportions, rather vignettes in engaging songs of sometimes wry observations of life around them. This is perhaps most acutely demonstrated in Thirteen, a song which opens with a subtle reference to the opening lines of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ in which in early April the clocks ‘struck thirteen’. The song gives us pithy observations about how our societies have come to be in their current political messes, and this is all served up in waves of ‘bubblegum pop’ as Godfrey has described it. There’s a real 70’s vibe to this catchy song with excellent electric piano, reminiscent of Billy Joel.

Godfrey has explained the thinking behind the band as having a real focus on the song, whether  ‘it’s a short song, a long song or a mad, complex one. As long as it’s good we’ll grab it with both hands and spin it until we’re dizzy’, which very much comes over, especially in Thirteen. Similarly, opening song Black Eyed Susans chimes in with all the swagger and attitude of a Joe Jackson song, which is a GOOD thing!

The diversity and skill of Valdez is exemplified by the melancholic and evocative take on dementia in Sally Won’t Remember. This emotional but not mawkish song successfully conveys the debilitating slowness and sheer psychological effort associated with caring for someone with dementia. Like Godfrey this listener has experienced the sad decline of a parent with dementia, and this song echoes those feelings, but even in their dementia strangely our parents indirectly teach us about life and caring.

The stand out track on the album is the title track This, which apparently refers to ‘the world of wonder right in front of us which we forget, simply because we see it every day’. Opening intriguingly with the sound of a wurlitzer and a chiming piano, it then rises like a sun as acoustic guitar and percussion join in to then be filled out with bass and keyboards… and then it settles back in to the song with Godfrey’s distinctive and emotive voice leading us to a swelling killer chorus. This lovely song rolls along memorably and then takes a breath before a pulsing bass introduces us to a resonant final section with great multi-layered harmony vocals as it rises to a crescendo. In some ways this listener would have liked to hear a few more songs of this nature, but only because it was so bloody good!

No Stone Unturned is a more bluesy number, Godfrey sounds like George Michael vocally at times (which is no bad thing), but the real star of this number is the excellent keyboard work of Cardillo. Godfrey has shared that the whole band really thinks that the majority of the best music came out of the instruments made famous in the 60’s and 70’s. Consequently they have used a range of classic keyboards, such as the Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, upright pianos, classic acoustic and electric guitars, recorded through old amps, and this is particularly evident on the warm, lush, atmospheric sounds of No Stone Unturned and Little Keys. Not every song works for this reviewer (take a bow Spite House) but this is an engaging album that will draw you in.

On ‘This’, there is a real sense of looking back affectionately but not slavishly to the past, as evoked by Mark Buckingham’s striking artwork of a 1950’s style woman swinging on a balloon. This is an album of fairly stripped back but well played and constructed songs. Godfrey has also shared that this album, produced by Hyatt’s legendary band mate in Echolyn, Brett Kull, was recorded without sequencing and as miked up to make it as live as possible. Such loving attention to vintage recording techniques combined with classic equipment clearly  influenced the whole atmosphere of the album, and it particularly pays off in the strong final duo of segued songs, Colorado and Smile for the CameraColorado, written by Cardillo, has an enchanting rolling and melodic intro and evokes the free open space of that state, with some beautiful bass by Hyatt. An ambient, feedbacking interlude connects us to the beguiling Smile for the Camera, which floats in with a delicately picked acoustic guitar, with echoes of classic Supertramp’s heyday. This extended song takes a jazzier turn with peculiar sounds and a twisting synth solo… it seems that Godfrey and Hyatt couldn’t quite contain all their ‘Proggier’ impulses for a whole album! However, this is a brief diversion before this piece takes another turn into the beautiful blissed out harmony vocals reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash, possibly with the help of Kull who added vocals and guitar alongside his production duties. Nevertheless, ultimately this is a Valdez song because the song then concludes eerily and possibly a little darkly with the last line ‘Smile for the Camera’ .

Valdez have created an interesting album, which crosses various genres and combines the myriad talents of the band in an engaging mix of sounds and songs. It’s not particularly ground-breaking or innovative, and was never intended to be so – but if you’re looking for some well written and well performed songs in classic style  with warmth, with and spirit ‘This’ could be it!

Released 19th May 2017

Order ‘This’ in the UK, Europe & ROW (excluding USA) from Bandcamp here

Order ‘This’ in the USA from bandcamp here

 

Review – Bjørn Riis – Forever Comes To An End – by Leo Trimming

An Airbag is a device designed to save your life or reduce injury in the event of a collision.

Can music save your life? Who knows?

But life does does bring us in to collisions with all sorts of unexpected events and we try to find ways to survive or at least lessen the impacts. From the sound and themes of Bjørn Riis’ second solo album, ‘Forever Comes to an End’ , it does seem evident that perhaps life has been impacting upon him deeply, reflected in an emotional release. Emotion is not a word usually associated with the sweeping, glacial Floydian soundscapes so beloved of Airbag, but Bjørn Riis has successfully created a more personalised album, infused with fragile feelings and delicate melodies alongside his trademark architectural sonic structures.

Bjørn Riis is the main songwriter and lead guitarist of the Norwegian Progressive rock band, Airbag, and that background is very apparent in the style of this album, although title track Forever Comes to an End does open the album in furious and heavy fashion, exploding into action immediately with Henrik Fossum of Airbag pounding out insistent driving drums. The theme of broken relationships and loss, with musings on the tension between Love and Hate are starkly focused upon in this crunching number

‘Fear, Do you Fear, Do you feel the hate…. But I’m scared to let you go out of my life…’

Bjørn Riis contrasts the darker hard riffing passages, reminiscent of Sabbath’s Toni Iommi, with occasional lighter, less intense shafts of musical sunlight, framing impassioned pleas to stay. Vocally Riis delivers this song, and the whole album, with a sense of  beautiful melancholy and yearning. This is powerful stuff in more ways than one. The brief bleak interlude soundscape of Absence atmospherically takes us to the emotive shores of The Waves, seguing with Ocean sounds as Riis intones mournfully :

‘I’ve been down for too long, I almost drowned,

There was darkness all around and it pulled me down to the deep’

In The Waves there is a fragility and emotional intensity in Riis’ voice, akin to Tim Bowness of No-Man, which gives this album a sense of honest emotion and humanity, born from personal experiences, and moves parts of this album away from the now predictable trademark Floyd style so successfully produced by Airbag on their albums. The Waves wistfully fades as the tide of the song recedes with echoes of the cinematic soundscapes of Thomas Newman film scores.

Instrumental Getaway slowly builds and builds, with layers of guitars across a sweeping canvas on synths, until a break of echoing keys and percussion is glided over by an icy guitar line. The driving rock theme returns with added wah-wah guitar, outstanding drums and riffs that more than hint at Porcupine Tree, that all add up to quite a thrilling ride. Calm shimmers with delicate beauty with a simple piano motif and acoustic guitars over lain with flute sounding keys, and then the whole piece eventually drifts away in to the distance, virtually acting as a beautiful introduction into Winter, the centrepiece of the whole album.

A gentle opening adorned with lilting acoustic guitar, over lain with subtle, tasteful  electric guitar dashes in the vein of Marillion’s Steve Rothery, express the contradictory emotional forces of resentment and forgiving, hate and love…

“Now she’s gone, but I still want her here, She stole my heart and she turned it into stone…”

This remarkable piece develops with increasing intensity as Riis builds with beautiful musical textures and Sichelle Mcmeo Aksum adds a female delicacy to the vocals, alongside Riis. The inevitable Gilmour like soaring lead guitar parts are used sparingly but effectively. Riis’ guitar is the main ‘voice’ in Winter as he uses it intuitively to emotionally express probably what words sometimes cannot say about broken relationships. A lovely bass line with uncanny echoes of Porcupine Tree’s classic ‘Dark Matter’ underpins the gradual elegiac disintegration of this great song.

A simple but touching piano melody by Simen Valldal Johannessen introduces Riis’ finely judged emotional vocal in the  final heart-breaking song Where Are You Now. Flute like keyboards float over a gradually building theme before Riis emotively illustrates this emotional song with a glistening, gliding guitar solo. The song and album finishes as Riis’ fragile vocals lead to the simple stark beauty of the opening piano motif. Heart break seldom sounds so beautiful.

There will be inevitable comparisons by some to later Pink Floyd, and fans of that band will find much to admire and touch them in this album. Sonically the production is perfect – this drips with feeling and atmosphere. Some of the songs would also not sound out of place on an Airbag album, which is inevitable considering Riis’ main role in that band. However, there is much more to ‘Forever Comes to an End’ than a Floyd pastiche or just an Airbag album by another name. Riis has really put his heart on the line on this release and such emotion exudes from the imaginative music and heartfelt lyrics on this intensely personal album.

Will this album save your life?

Very probably not, but like an Airbag ‘Forever Comes to an End’ may very well stop you getting a headache (!!) and  will certainly help you deal with the collisions and impacts of what life throws at us.

(Photos of Bjørn by Anita Stostad)

Released 19th May 2017

Order ‘Forever Comes To An End direct from the artist (Europe)

Order ‘Forever Comes To AN End from Burning Shed (UK)

Review – Lonely Robot – The Big Dream – by Leo Trimming

‘To go to sleep and never wake up… to be simply not there forever and ever…

… That’s such a curious thought… that’s such a curious thought’

These spoken musings of an unidentified philosopher about sleep and death permeate the instrumental cinematic opening sequence Prologue (Deep Sleep) of Lonely Robot’s second album ‘The Big Dream’, and atmospherically sets the scene for an album which considers our mortality. Lonely Robot is a solo project from John Mitchell, renowned as guitarist, producer and vocalist with bands such as Frost*, Arena, It Bites and Kino. ‘The Big Dream’ is more reminiscent of Kino than It Bites, but such is the excellent quality and imagination of the ‘Lonely Robot’ project Mitchell has arguably now created material which surpasses the achievements of his time with either of those bands. Following on from Lonely Robot’s impressive 2015 debut ‘Please Come Home’, which featured a range of guest artists, in ‘The Big Dream’ John Mitchell takes on all the vocal, guitar and keyboard duties to great effect, alongside his Frost* band mate Craig Blundell on drums.

‘The Big Dream’ once again showcases Mitchell’s strong song writing and distinctive fine guitar style, but also shows his excellent keyboard work throughout this musically dynamic album. Whilst this is an album of ‘Big Ideas’ it is largely expressed in a series of accessible and polished rock songs, alongside some more progressive cinematic passages. For John Mitchell the song is key and whilst he undoubtedly has the musical chops he is not about indulgent technique, preferring songs punctuated with memorable hooks and riding along on waves of melodic progressive rock, such as the ‘earworm’ song Sigma and it’s heroic sounding refrain.

Similarly to ‘Please Come Home’, once again the album has a science fiction context – not a concept album as such, but with recurring themes and featuring the central character of ‘The Astronaut’. However, whilst the previous album was largely associated with Space it appears in ‘The Big Dream’ The Astronaut wakes from a cryogenic sleep in a strange woodland. There are peculiar hints of a space age Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ with the gentle pastoral prog pop of Floral Green, featuring some delightful vocal dexterity from Mitchell, presumably supported by Kim Seviour (ex-Touchstone) on backing vocals. A short expressive guitar solo over sensitive keyboards skilfully  illustrates this delicate number… sometimes less really is more.

In contrast Everglow blasts in like some sort of sci-fi movie spectacular with powerful, driving guitars intertwining with sparkling, pulsing keyboards, whilst Craig Blundell provides a remarkable drumming masterclass to drive this impressive highlight of the album along… oh, and Mitchell throws in yet another short but golden guitar solo before we rejoin the thunderous refrain and heavy curtain of sound that introduced the song. If that’s not enough we then segue into the lighter, dreamy and appropriately shimmering False Lights, in which Blundell initially shows a much more subtle side on percussion, before it builds in intensity and then recedes in echoes. Symbolic, is rather insistent, perhaps lacking some of the subtlety and in my view somewhat interrupting the flow of the cinematic sweep of the latter half of the album, but it’s still a trademark Mitchell finely honed rock song… which is no bad thing!

In 2016 John Mitchell released under his own name an E.P. called ‘The Nostalgia Factory’, featuring four cover songs (which is well worth seeking out). ‘The Nostalgia Factory’ included a fine version of the Phil Collins song Take Me Home and it sounds as if The Divine Art of Being has distinct echoes of that great anthem… which is a good thing! John Mitchell certainly knows how to pen a song with great melody and choruses that resound around your brain like The Divine Art of Being, a song which also highlights the great quality of his voice, perfectly suited to his pitch and intonation.

The Big Dream feels like the finale of the album and projects us into spacey, epic Floydian territory, reminiscent of A Godless Sea on ‘Please Come Home’. The Big Dream is widescreen in nature with a wall of grandiose, cosmic keyboards echoing the intro of ‘Awakenings’ over which a wonderful high pitched guitar swoops eerily. This is spectacular stuff which feels like a film soundtrack. As this evocative track closes the philosopher returns with his spoken musings on death and sleep and then in a direct link back to ‘Please Come Home’ we hear the strangely heartbreaking lines:

‘Please Come Home Lonely Robot, Your Heart is Beautiful, Programmed to Receive, We Miss You now Lonely Robot, Ever so Beautiful’

After the drama of The Big Dream there is a sense of release and optimism as the coda song Hello World Goodbye is like musical sunlight breaking through the clouds. A piano plays a simple melody before Mitchell’s almost whispered soft vocals resonate with optimism, beautifully backed by Kim Seviour, and Mitchell pours a lovely soaring, rippling but subtle guitar solo over the conclusion. Epilogue (Sea Beams), with it’s title hinting at the tragic replicant Roy Batty from ‘Bladerunner’ (the ultimate Lonely Robot?) is a delicate ending, feeling like the end credits for a movie. The elegiac whistle like sounds underline the nautical but cosmic connection and underlines the emotion at the core of this remarkable album. John Mitchell has released a remarkable album which subtly conveys meaning and depth with accessible and finely written songs.

The juxtaposition of machine and emotion in the ‘Lonely Robot’ project is peculiarly touching, and one wonders if many of us lead similarly robotic, regimented lives, not knowing how to escape or truly express our inner feelings…

‘…That’s such a curious thought…’

Released 28th April 2017

Order ‘The Big Dream’ from InsideOut Music

 

 

Review – Kaprekar’s Constant – Fate Outsmarts Desire – by Leo Trimming

6174 – there you go, 6174 apparently is virtually always the Answer using Kaprekar’s Constant, which may lead some to ask what is the Question? … and what does it have to do with a new Kent based Progressive Rock band, featuring David Jackson, once of veteran ‘Prog’ greats Van Der Graaf Generator? Who knows?

‘Fate Outsmarts Desire’ is their interesting and rather impressive debut album, written and largely played by multi-instrumentalists Al Nicholson and Nick Jefferson, who formed this project in 2015. Why they have the rather peculiar band name is rather a mystery but research shows that ‘Kaprekar’s Constant’ is a number theorem devised in 1946 by an Indian mathematician in which the answer is virtually always the number 6174 in no more than 7 steps… all rather mystifying but you can google it as well if you’re really interested!

Strange as it may seem, the choice of the band name indicates that this is a group with an interest in enigmatic curiosities and history, which imbues the atmosphere of this album.

The stark and memorable opening lines of this album:

“Your band of scrotes and their dredging boats robbed the shingle from under our feet…”

make an immediate statement that this is a work steeped in atmospheric historical narrative. Hors D’Oeuvre effectively acts as a promising overture for the album, referencing elements of the longer pieces to come, and David Jackson evokes slight hints of A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers by VDGG with his distinctive droning sax sounds.

Perhaps the strongest and most memorable composition on the album is the elegiac Hallsands, (but I may be biased as I live very close to that beautiful but tragic location!) A fine song based on the true story of the negligent environmental disaster visited upon a South Devon village by rapacious developers who stripped a shingle bank protecting the village to provide material to build the docks at Devonport in Plymouth. This led to the eventual collapse of the whole of Hallsands village in to the sea in 1917 – perhaps a lesson for modern times and it’s exploitation of the environment. The music is suitably nautical and evocative of a simple seaside community falling victim to thoughtless dredgers. Paul Gunn provides some thankfully brief narration interludes, but the main impact is conveyed by the folk tinged fine vocals of Bill Jefferson, conveying more than a little anger and bitterness. Acoustic guitars with whistles and flutes conjure up the simple seaside community, ultimately destroyed by

arrogant lies… the beach went to Devonport, the houses went to the sea”.

Epic in length and evocative in nature, Hallsands holds the attention and touches the emotions with skillfully composed music which very successfully conveys the images atmospherically. Contrasting simple acoustic passages, reminiscent of Jethro Tull in some ways, with more discordant storm driven percussive sections, Hallsands is one of the main highlights of this album, successfully describing a captivating and instructive story in our recent history.

Real US police radio conversations introduce and underpin the remarkable Four-Faced Liar. Inspired by much more recent events, the story of the capture of the Boston Marathon bombers is conveyed in a fine lilting melodic rock song, sung perfectly by Bill Jefferson, backed colourfully with some well judged keyboards and string sounds. The events are described from the perspective of the Clock of the Boston Custom House, called the Four Faced Liar locally as none of the clock faces tell the same time. Maybe that is a metaphor for the different perspectives on how one story can be reported, or may just be an interesting local detail for a band that evidently likes idiosyncratic stories from reality. The relative brevity but excellence of this song is a reminder for progressive rock bands that sometimes ‘less is more’.

Pearl of the Lake features Dorie Jackson (daughter of David Jackson) on some lovely vocals in a much shorter and simpler song, relying purely upon the strength of the melody and the lyrics to express itself.

Dorie Jackson takes lead vocals for the epic concluding piece, Houdini – King of Cards, based on the renowned escapologist. A possibly over extended first lyrical section sets the scene before giving way to an instrumental passage, combining keyboards and saxes possibly conveying the peculiar atmospheres of séances. Houdini was very skeptical of tricksters in his life time, but wondered if he could effectively ‘cheat death’ by communicating with his wife Bess after his death. They agreed on a very personal message between them that he would try to communicate from beyond the grave. Bess started the tradition of spiritualism sessions to see if her husband, the man who could escape from any jail, managed to escape death. For 10 years after his death Bess organized these sessions without receiving a sign from her husband, and then ceased them convinced that even he could not cheat death. The closing melodic section is sung beautifully by Dorie Jackson over a slowly building backing, with her father adding some effective woodwind. The apparently real archive spoken parts from that era are interlaced with this song, and add an eerie and authentic element to the narrative.

In contrast album opener Bluebird demonstrates for me just how NOT to use spoken parts!

Based on the story of Sir Malcolm Campbell and other high speed motoring pioneers Bluebird is introduced and constantly punctuated by short explanatory spoken parts by Paul Gunn, which are clearly delivered in a tone intended to sound contemporary to the story… but have the unfortunate effect of sounding like the rather pompous Harry Enfield comedic character ‘Mr Cholmondley-Warner’. The music is melodic progressive rock imaginatively expressing the events, including the dramatic journey of the car ‘Babs’ along Pendine Sands in Pembrokeshire. A restrained but expressive guitar carries the middle section, alongside Jackson’s saxes and flutes. This is an ambitious song of nearly 18 minutes full of some finely played music, but one has to wonder whether there was enough narrative to justify such an epic treatment. Just when you think it’s over Gunn’s voice pops up to let us know the story was moving to the next stage. This is a clumsy device which for me distracted from the music – it felt like I was looking at a lovely painting in a gallery and then suddenly a tour guide stands in front of it telling me what I am seeing, but now cannot see because the guide is in front explaining it to me! The whole song feels episodic and rather a history lecture, which is a pity as there is some good music on this piece. Perhaps this new band needed to rely less upon the ‘Basil Exposition’ type interludes and really trust much more in the imaginative power of their music.

However, it would be grossly unfair to focus on this flaw, (which explains why the first song on the album appears at the end of the review), rather than commend Kaprekar’s Constant on what is undoubtedly a very promising and good debut album.

They are clearly talented musicians and singers with a mission to entertain and inform with fascinating stories and melodic rock songs. Their historical narrative songs are clearly in the same territory as the eminent band Big Big Train, but let’s not forget that a band such as Big Big Train took quite some years to mature and develop in to their current excellence. If Kaprekar’s Constant continue to develop their evident melodic sensibilities and further hone their songwriting craft they have the potential to offer much more to Progressive Rock. To think that this is a debut album is remarkable…

… now what was the question again?

Whatever, 6174 is the answer.

Released 10th March 2017 via Uranium Club

Buy ‘Fate Outsmarts Desire’ from Uranium Cub on bandcamp

Progradar Best Of 2016 – Leo Trimming’s Top 10

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Simply stunning. Robin Armstrong has imagined a rich narrative of alien incursion (or paranoid breakdown?!) with sonic brilliance. The imaginative story is unnerving, whilst the music is captivating on a human level but cinematic in scope – ranging from crunching Purple riffs, through atmospheric acoustic passages to sweeping Floydian soundscapes. Robin Armstrong’s multi-instrumental ability would be nothing without the excellent song writing and fascinating concept of this outstanding album. Undoubtedly, Album of the Year for me, from one of the best Progressive Rock artists of this generation.

(I’ve put Cosmograf as my Album of the year… the rest are in no particular order… they’re all great albums.)

Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase

This was my TPA’s review’s conclusion early in the year for this surprise package, and I’ve had no reason to change it since…

‘This is an excellent collaboration: Red Bazar have helped Peter Jones express more of his serious, darker side and also allowed him to display more vocal dexterity. In return Red Bazar have gained a talented and very fine rock vocalist who has added great lyrical skill and vocal feeling  to their own fine emotional musical palette…

This may be a bit of a dark horse, but Red Bazar may just have released one of the Prog albums of the year.’

Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays

A favourite on two levels – it’s a great album of subtle artistry and fine music, and on another level the artist & his music  touched me personally. My Progradar review concluded:

Matthew Parmenter has stepped aside from the magnificent, gothic group dynamic of Discipline to create a solo work of art suffused with dramatic shades and emotional lyricism, conveying tragedy and hope. This is an album that is likely to captivate and beguile with subtlety and delicate emotion. It certainly gave me unexpected comfort – Inside.’

Nine Stones Close – Leaves

A darkly trippy and psychedelic album. Part dream, part nightmare – this is an album for which repeated listens gradually unpeal the layers, like all the best progressive releases. My Progradar review observed:

Nine Stones Close create rich musical landscapes suffused with a sense of the dramatic and psychedelic… They do not stick to their old formula and want to progress. My advice is stick with these guys because you are never quite sure in which direction their songs or this albums may turn, but it sure is an imaginative and fascinating ride!’

Big Big Train – Folklore

A much anticipated release does not disappoint as the album describes modern folklore, ancient legend, elegies for lost love and epic stories of heroism and loss … plus bees (!) in a rich tapestry of folk tinged progressive rock. Lyrically intelligent and insightful, conveyed with integrity and emotion, and played with consummate skill and passion. Impossible to ignore – we all sort of knew it would be great. Of course it’s great!

Marillion – F.E.A.R

This is a remarkable release from the Prog veterans that rightly propelled them back to wider prominence with an album full of anger and insight in to the state of the world, with the dominance and influence of the ‘super rich’. Of course, none of those political thoughts or feelings would count for anything in an album without outstanding music – Marillion have conveyed their message with powerful rock passages and also subtle melody. Three epic songs with ambitious scope are clearly modern and truly ‘Progressive’ without lazily resting on ‘Prog’ tropes.  A late contender for album of the year, but who would guess that well over 30 years in to their career that Marillion would pull off an album that truly has something to say about today’s world with such impact and sensitivity, and really mean something.  Beautiful at times, dramatic at other times… thought provoking throughout.

The Gift – Why The Sea Is Salt

Let’s get straight to the point – ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ is a truly exceptional album, and deserves to propel The Gift in to the higher echelons of current British Progressive Rock Music. Simple as that – it really is that outstanding. Very few albums indeed have the potential to attain the status of a potential ‘classic’ album, which will live long in the memory like ‘Why the Sea is Salt’. This is a work which greatly appeals to the heart and mind in equal measures, and similarly beguiles and stimulates in its beauty and drama. The Gift have skilfully and  beautifully draw upon a variety of influences, inspirations and ideas and artfully crafted them into an imaginative and enjoyable musical experience that touches the heart and stimulates the mind. Just brilliant.

What more could one want from an album?!

Paradigm Shift – Becoming Aware

This is an outstanding album musically and lyrically, with this young band fusing elements of heavy rock, psychedelia, rap, politics and progressive rock tropes in an intoxicating mix.

Paradigm Shift create finely played music based on well known influences with a largely retro feel. It is refreshing to see a new, younger band on the progressive rock scene willing to inject a political but not overwhelming edge to their songs on this very promising debut album, addressing such issues with vigour and passion.

What remains to be seen is whether Paradigm Shift can sustain this very impressive early showing, and how they develop and absorb other influences in the modern progressive music scene. However, with this album I think many progressive rock fans will definitely be ‘Becoming Aware’ of this promising young band.

TILT – Hinterland

TILT have delivered a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done. It is a clever mix of styles with some subdued, complicated sections weaving between the more straightforward rock themes and gives TILT their own definite sense of identity. This is a talented group of musicians who are at the top of their game and it shows.

Yorkston,Thorne and Khan – Everything Sacred

Finally, and completely out of ‘left field’ for me after seeing them at a festival.

What do you get when you combine a talented Scottish folk singer-songwriter, (James Yorkston) with a reknowned double bass jazz player (Jon Thorne) and finally an award winning Sarangi player and classical singer from New Delhi ( Suhail Yusuf Khan)?

You get an album of beguiling beauty, heart breaking emotion and diverse sounds, blending styles and cultures in a fascinating mix. Listen to songs like ‘Broken Wave’ and ‘Everything Sacred’ and try not to dab the corner of your eye. At other times you are drawn in to hypnotic Indian rhythms with hints of folk, and always played with such delicacy and skill.

Is it ‘Prog’? Of course it bloody isn’t!

But what is more ‘Progressive’ than skilfully and intuitively blending musical and cultural influences to create something so new and so beautiful? Go on… challenge yourself – it’s a great album.

 

Leo Trimming Interviews Adrian Jones of Nine Stones Close for Progradar

NSC_band_lores

Leo:  Hi Adrian – it’s been a few months since the release of ‘Leaves’ on Bad Elephant Music.

What has been the reaction so far in terms of critical reaction and interest from fans?

Adrian: It’s been interesting. Critically we have received mostly positive reviews across the board, there seems to be an appreciation of what we are doing musically, as in not standing still. It would have been easy to have followed up ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ with a similar sounding and style of album, but that’s not very interesting, is it?

I don’t write to formula, or sit down to write something in a specific style, I just write what comes naturally to me at the time and ‘Leaves’ is a statement of where my mind was when the songs were written. I know for sure we have lost some fans with this album, and a few have openly said in public and to myself that they really don’t like the change of singer, but that was out of my hands. Obviously those line-up changes have driven some of that – Aio (Adrian O’Shaughnessy) is a very different singer to Marc (Atkinson) and he brings something new to the sound. His range is fantastic, as you can hear on the album. On the flip side I also had messages from people saying that they really love the new singer and album. Overall, I think we lost some fans but maybe gained a few new ones along the way. For me writing and recording is about progression, development of yourself as a writer and artist, exploring new territories. I do think ‘Leaves’ is a natural progression of Nine Stones Close.

Leo:  What is the origin of the band name?

Adrian: It’s named after an ancient stone circle in Derbyshire, England near where I grew up. I visited the place earlier this year with my brother and my son, a kind of pilgrimage. It took us bloody hours to locate it. Google maps is no help at all ! We found it in the middle of a farmers’ field on Harthill moor. It’s a beautiful spot, very peaceful.

Leo:  Can you describe the creative song writing process for you and the band?

For instance, do the music or the lyrics come first?

Adrian: I generally start just noodling around on whatever guitar I happen to pick up and then see what flows musically. I never really learned to play anyone else’s songs, only the odd riff, phrase etc, so I start just messing around rather than playing anything specific. Usually an idea flows fairly quickly. I never had any guitar or music lessons so I don’t really follow any musical rules, which probably helps me be more creative. Sometimes it can be a guitar effect that triggers and idea, or a drum loop or beat. I also bought a GR55 guitar synth unit a couple of years ago for the ‘Jet Black Sea’ project and that helps me create ideas in new ways too. Once I have the idea I can run with it and usually write the whole thing on the fly very quickly, afterwards properly shaping it can take some time. I like to layer guitars with harmonic chords and lines, sometimes quite a lot of them, much to the annoyance of our producer (laughs). The track ‘Spoils’ had about 95 tracks, I think, when we came to mix it. I pretty much always write the lyrics at the end – it’s the hardest part for me. I tend to make notes, write down the odd line that comes into my head and then start to expand on the idea. The music inspires the lyric in a way as well.

Recently I have been working more with Christiaan (Bruin) during the writing sessions and it’s been great to be able to bounce ideas back and forth interactively with someone, but more often than not I write alone.

Leo:  You can certainly hear the multi-layering on ‘Spoils’ – it sounds so intricate, intriguing and wonderful – a real ‘grower’.

What do you prefer? Writing or recording?

Adrian: Writing. Definitely. Recording is fun too, but the initial creation of the song, is where the excitement really is for me –  that creation of something from nothing. I do think I am lucky in that I seem to be able to write every time I pick up a guitar. The ideas just seem to flow. There is a joke in the band that if they are late arriving for a session in the studio I will have written at least one more song before they arrive (laughs). Actually, thinking back, the song ‘Complicated’ happened exactly like that.

I also write the additional guitar parts on the fly and I am terrible at writing things down, so I often have no idea what I played afterwards. I am trying to get better at writing that stuff down as it does become a problem when you have to relearn something to play it again live or in rehearsal. Over 2 hours of material was written for ‘Leaves’, and at one point a double album was discussed. However,  what we put out was my vision of a cohesive album. A couple of songs were even dropped very late on after I decided that they didn’t fit, and I really don’t like long albums anyway. 40 odd minutes is still a good length for an album in my opinion, so we overstretched that yet again, probably because we had 4 years making it. My hard drive is full of unused ideas and almost finished recordings which may never see the light of day due to lack of time.

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Leo:  Is there an overarching theme to the album, and why is it called ‘Leaves’?

It seems clear you like to maintain some ambiguity in your lyrical ideas but a few clues as to the background of the songs may be interesting!

Adrian: It’s not a concept album, but there is definitely a theme.  It encompasses many things about modern life – what we are doing to the world we live in and to ourselves … and Lies of all kinds.

When I started writing the lyrics I was in quite a dark place, personally, for a number of reasons. I think we live in very dark times right now, but many people are totally oblivious, blinded by the mainstream bought and sold media, and so buried in iPhones, Netflix and other materialistic stuff that the world could be ending and they wouldn’t really notice. It’s a kind of enforced escapism, I guess.

In the end I decided to call the album ‘Leaves’ after the lyric I wrote for the title track. It’s a very ambiguous word and covers many of the themes that the album deals with.

You are right, I do like ambiguity, and I purposefully write lyrics in that way, I like the listener to be able to derive their own meaning from the songs. I remember in a review of the previous album someone mentioned that the song ‘The Distance’ was about the complete breakdown of a relationship … well, it is and isn’t, but you can certainly read it that way.

Leo:   I’ve been listening to this fascinating album again repeatedly recently and cannot help feeling how ‘dark’ much of it feels in tone, lyrical content and atmosphere.

Are the songs largely based on personal reflections of your personal experiences or feelings, or are they more detached manifestations of your imagination?

Adrian: A bit of both, I think. It’s definitely dark. As I mentioned, I was in a pretty dark place when writing much of this album. I am really happy with the overall atmosphere that we created musically. I think it has a very definite “feel”. Some of the lyrics were easier to write than others. ‘Complicated’, for instance, was very easy to write lyrically, it just flowed. It’s theme is the Lie we present to the outside world, and reflect back onto ourselves. If all of our thoughts were visible and openly accessible to everyone else, would we be able to cope with that?

Other songs, like ‘Spoils’, went through several lyric re-writes to try to avoid being too obvious, to create a mood without saying “This song is about blah blah blah”. See, I am not going to tell you what it is about even now (laughs).

Tone wise, the album is definitely heavier, more heavy guitar driven, than previous albums. That just happens to be how it turned out. There were some songs that we didn’t use which were too close to the feel we had on the ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ album, and didn’t really fit where I wanted to go with ‘Leaves’.

Leo:  You really don’t want to give too much away about the lyrics, do you?!

Probably just as well – the listener can interpret and feel it in their own personal way – much more intriguing and engaging.

On this new album you ambiguously described epic song ‘Goldfish’ as:  about a new world sociopath and others might think it is about …. something else …’.

Any further clues as to what that actually may mean?!!

Adrian: No!!  One reviewer described it as being about “media brainwashing”, one said it was about the “short attention span of the internet generation”, another said it was about something completely different. Looks like my ambiguous lyric is working!

It was actually written from the perspective of a “new world sociopath” (whatever that is, I just made it up), but it does also have a deeper meaning.

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Leo: Antonio Seijas has done some wonderful artwork for Marillion and Gazpacho. How did you connect with him and why did you choose Antonio for the album artwork?

How does he come up with his artistic ideas in relation to your music – do you give him visual ideas upon which to work?

Adrian: I love working with Antonio, he did an amazing job for ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ and the ‘Jet Black Sea’ project album. Antonio creates the art work based on the music and the lyrics and puts that into the concept. What he came up with for ‘Leaves’ is a perfect fit for the music and words –  it’s stunning. I connected with him initially via Frans Keylard, a good friend, when I was looking for artwork for ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’, obviously I was already aware of his artwork for other bands. I think he has a really unique style and he’s a lovely person too.

Leo:  That’s interesting, because it was through Frans Keylard that I first heard your music. He played your album ‘Traces’ on his old podcast ‘Rogues Gallery’ on the Dividing Line Broadcasting Network about 6 years ago, and I was immediately VERY interested in Nine Stones Close. ‘Traces’ is another wonderful album. I miss those podcasts from Frans, and he ALWAYS played at least one Marillion song on every show!

To bring things up to date, there have been some significant personnel changes in Nine Stones Close for this album. I expect fans will be particularly interested to know why former vocalist Marc Atkinson (of Riversea) is no longer involved, and why Brendan Eyre (also Riversea) is no longer on keyboards?

Adrian: Marc decided to leave the band after ‘One Eye On the Sunrise’ for his own personal reasons, there was nothing I could say to change his mind. Everything else is about commitments, timing, etc etc. Everything got a little twisted after ‘One Eye….’ I wanted to push on, get another album out within a year or so and I also started to line up potential live dates. That really didn’t fit with everyone else’s perspective and possible commitment, and it led to a fracture in the whole Nine Stones Close journey. I guess I can be blamed for being over ambitious and I also made a few mistakes there. Everyone else involved has other bands or projects as well, and families, jobs, etc etc, so it is difficult to align commitments to getting an album made, never mind a tour. I sincerely hope to create some new music with Brendan Eyre in the near future, time allowing, as I think we have a great mutual musical understanding. He has been working on some great stuff too with Tony Patterson, and there is another Riversea album in the pipeline. Everyone who worked on ‘Leaves’ will be involved in the next album.

Leo: Thanks for your openness. It really can’t be easy trying to pull these things together whilst everyone involved has other projects and ‘real lives’ in which to make a living and survive. I agree with you about Brendan Eyre’s work with Tony Patterson – their album ‘Northlands’ is genuinely outstanding. I am also greatly looking forward to the new Riversea album.

It’s good news that you’re working with the same line up that played on ‘Leaves’ for the new album as I’m fascinated where the Nine Stones Close journey will go next with such a talented band.

How did you find new band members and why did you choose them in particular?

Adrian: As I mentioned, it was a difficult time after ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ came out. I was on a bit of a high  – I thought we had created a really great album and we had a chance to really take it to the next level, but it simply didn’t work out. Almost immediately after the release Marc left the band and I spent a long time looking for another singer, and that massively delayed the new album. We tried a couple of people, but it didn’t work. I wanted someone with a different voice, who could bring something unique and new to the band, to me there was no point playing safe and finding someone with a similar style to Marc. Aio came on board after being recommended to me and flying in for a session. We connected straight away and his voice brings a new edge to the sound and I think really fits the new songs perfectly. We recorded the vocal for ‘Complicated’ in the very first working session together. Christiaan I met through Pieter (van Hoorn), we had a rehearsal session in Arnhem and hit it off instantly. He is great to have around and is always full of enthusiasm and great ideas for music. Peter Groen came on board later when we were nearer the final recording stages of the album – he is also great to have around in the band.

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Leo: The excellent new album ‘Leaves’ seems to be a very clear change in tone / direction after ‘One Eye…’.

Was that related to the personnel changes and the different sounds / styles they bring to the band, or was that a clear change from your perspective as band leader?

Adrian: Great to hear you are enjoying the album. I never stand still musically. The three previous albums are all very different from each other too. Aio is an element of that new sound but the material was written before he came on board so the change in sound was already progressing. I am always moving forward, musically, and can guarantee the next album will be different again. Of course, the new singer brings a change to the band’s sound, as does any change of singer. It’s so up front and obvious, of course. Christiaan and Peter both bring their own sounds and approach to the music, and that too changes the overall sound of the band.

Leo:    Are there any plans / aspirations for playing as a live band, either on tour or at Prog festival events like ‘Summers End’?

Adrian: We would love to, hopefully someone will invite us to play!

The problem is the logistics of where everyone lives, available time, family commitments, work commitments and finances. So far it’s just not worked out for a combination of all those reasons. Hopefully in the future it will work out. We are currently working on a possibility for 2017, I hope that we can make it happen this time.

Leo: I really hope Nine Stone Close can make it to the live stage at some point.

Many artists ‘self release’ these days. How did your working relationship with David Elliott of Bad Elephant Music develop, leading to the release this  album?

Adrian: I started out with self-release myself with the ‘Lie Big’ album then ‘St Lo’ and ‘Traces’. We are still best friends with the local post office staff in Leiden! I had known David informally for a while though The Dividing Line Network. I also met with Matt Stevens a few times for a beer and he was always telling me how Bad Elephant were doing a great job for his band, The Fierce and The Dead. The real introduction though was via my mate Brendan Eyre who linked me up with David and Martin (Hutchinson) for a discussion about finding a home for the release of ‘Leaves’. Fortunately, after hearing the album, they were still interested (laughs). It’s been great to work with such an open, realistic, and enthusiastic label, long may it continue.

Leo:   They are certainly an eclectic and supportive label who seem to genuinely have the interests of the artists and the music at the heart of what they are doing.

Whom is your favourite / most influential guitarist/ musician, and what are the main artists that you feel have influenced you as a musician and song writer?

Adrian: It’s almost impossible to choose just one. I listen to a LOT of music. I think Jimmy Page has to be up there. Not just as a guitarist, but as a producer, writer, performer, guitar orchestrator, he was a complete package. Those Zeppelin albums still stand up today. Obviously, as a guitarist, I have been influenced by many other great players : David Gilmour, Steve Rothery, Andy Latimer from the progressive world, but equally Jerry Cantrell was a huge influence. Then there are Kim Thayil, Ty Tabor, Alex Lifeson, Tony Iommi, Trevor Rabin, Zappa, Adrian Belew; way too many to mention. In terms of artists, Talk Talk were a phenomenal band in terms of their progression and output, Pink Floyd, obviously, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, King’s X, Kate Bush, …. I could go on for ages.

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Leo: On ‘Leaves’ you skillfully used violinist, Annelise Rijk, and cello player, Ruben van Kruistrum on the great song ‘Lie’.

Are there any other particular artists with whom you would like to collaborate in future, possibly on your next album?

Adrian: Yes, they did a fantastic job on ‘Lie’. Christiaan also has to take the credit for the string arrangement on that part of the song. Katy Bell provided beautiful cello on the last album too, and Matt Stevens provided some crazy guitar work.

I think there are always other artists I would like to work and collaborate with. I am always open to offers to play on other artists’ material too. I love to do that – it’s a nice challenge which is very different to writing and performing on my own material. I recently provided some slide and lead guitar for the track “Kindest Eyes” on Tony Patterson’s latest album. That was a pleasure to do and it turned out great, I think. Hopefully there will be more  collaborations in the future. Anyone interested should feel free to contact me!

Leo:   Progressive or ‘Prog’ music fans can be remarkably conservative at times, which does sound contradictory to the concept of progression.

How would you describe Nine Stones Close as a band, and what is your view on how some fans may find it difficult dealing with changes in your band’s style and personnel over time?

Adrian: I have phrase I came up with recently, “progression has collateral damage, prog doesn’t”.

I do agree with you that some ‘Prog’ fans can be very conservative these days. For me ‘Prog’ is very different to ‘Progressive’ in meaning these days. ‘Prog’ is more of a style thing now, you know: “sounds like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson or Pink Floyd, must have widdly widdly bits, long songs and huge amounts of time changes”.

If you look at bands that have truly progressed, they have changed, lost fans, gained fans, always moved forward regardless of any fashion or commercial success. It’s fine for fans of our previous albums not to like what we are doing now. It’s perfectly natural. You see that music divides opinion like that. Some people for instance, refuse to listen to any post Peter Gabriel Genesis album, whereas I think they made their best albums after he left. Some people feel the same way with Marillion, for example. Music does polarise opinion. Personally, I want to move forward and not create the same thing over and over again just because some people might like it. There is no money to be made from doing this – it’s purely an artistic outlet, so what is there to lose? I might as well do whatever I want to do. I have no pressure to be an AC/DC type band, effectively churning out the same sounding album year after year. Where is the fun in that? If I am not enjoying making music and run out of ideas and things to say, then I will stop. Nine Stones Close music comes from my heart and soul, I pour everything into it, I hope that some of that comes across to the listener.

Leo:  A really interesting response – I particularly like the phrase “progression has collateral damage, prog doesn’t”I may nick that!

More seriously, it is very clear that you have poured your heart and soul in to the Nine Stones Close albums. They are not formulaic or repetitive, and certainly have engaged this listener.

I know you’ve only recently released ‘Leaves’ but are there any embryonic ideas to the direction of the next Nine Stones Close album, and possible timescales?

Adrian: Yes, actually, there is. I had some discussions with our producer about what I want to go for on the next album. It will be different again, especially in terms of overall sound and feel, I want to take it somewhere new again. It will be a challenge to do that, but hopefully what I have in my mind we can somehow get out onto a CD. Working with Paul van Zeeland (producer) is great, because he has such a deep understanding of sound and how to translate that into a recording and mix. I recently started writing and working on arrangement ideas with Christiaan and we have some great ideas on the go already. The plan is try to record the album somewhere in 2017, but that is all dependant the usual work, family, time commitments. It will definitely not take 4 years this time, if it does then it will never see the light of day! I can’t go through that again.

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Leo: One last silly question.

We’ve recently had the Olympics and Paralympics. If there was an Olympics for Music which 3 albums would you give Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and why?

Adrian: Oh, that’s a very difficult question for a throwaway last question (laughs). Music is always a very personal thing for the listener as well as the musician trying to convey something. I grew up in a house where there was always new music available. My father used to work as a sales rep for various record labels over the years and there were promo copies of albums and singles coming through the door pretty much on a daily basis as I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. I used to  play almost everything that came into the house and quickly learned about different styles and genres and also what spoke to me. I have a huge music collection at home, so choosing a top 3 would be impossible. If I had to choose 3 off the top of my head, like now, hmm.

Here are 3 that grew my love of music and made me the writer I am today …

Bronze

Led Zeppelin – ‘The Soundtrack From The Film The Song Remains The Same’

This is the reason I picked up a guitar. I went to see a re-showing of the movie shortly before my 16th birthday with some school friends. Despite my love of music I had never really thought about actually playing an instrument myself, and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity back in those days, we were not well off as a family. I remember just being totally blown away watching Zeppelin perform, and immediately after I got home I asked my parents for a guitar for my birthday. They scraped together some money from somewhere and managed to get me a starter classical guitar, not exactly the Les Paul I had in mind, but it was still amazing to have a guitar and it set me on my own musical journey. The version of No Quarter on this is fabulous, Jimmy’s solo is sublime. I know everyone thinks it is not a great representation of how amazing they were live, but I love it.

Silver

Alice In Chains – ‘Dirt’

I still remember the day I bought this album. It’s left such a lasting impression on me. I was with a friend shopping for stuff in Bristol and went into one of my favourite record shops. It had just been released, and having heard the earlier stuff I was interested to see where they were going. To say it blew me away is an understatement. I remember getting home and cracking open some beers and putting it on the hifi.  About 8 hours later we were still listening on repeat and still drinking beer. The first listen was such a shock, we ended up sat in silence the whole album just taking it in. Jerry Cantrell is a massive influence for me, the way he plays, what he plays, how he writes, hugely underrated in my opinion. Layne had one of the best voices rock has ever known and his combination harmonies with Jerry were just sublime. If you listen to the album I made with my previous band Lie Big – “Severed”, you will hear how big an influence this band had on me. If you only try one track from ‘Dirt’ then listen to ‘Rain When I Die’. What an incredible and inventive song. Frankly there are no weak moments on the whole album, it’s a true classic and it still gets played regularly today.

Gold

Talk Talk‘Spirit Of Eden’

I was always a Talk Talk fan from day one. I remember having the promo of their first single from my dad and thinking the singer was fantastic and that there was more to them than the single. In this case no one really know how much more. I can’t think off-hand of another band who progressed as far as they did over just 5 albums. The Colour Of Spring was an incredible album, but nothing prepared me for this one. I remember first hearing it and just not getting it, I was thinking “Where are the songs? What are they doing?”.

Over time it grew and grew with repeated plays until I became totally obsessed with it for a while. The production is amazing and they absolutely captured the mood of those sessions. This is easily in my top albums of all time and certainly in my most played. 28 years later and this is still regularly on the hifi. If you haven’t heard it then you definitely need to.

Leo:  I don’t know Alice in Chains or ‘Dirt’ so I’ll have to track that one down as you recommend it so highly. I remember seeing that Led Zeppelin film at the cinema and loving it – just one of THE great bands. Love your choice of ‘Spirit of Eden’ and had similar reactions to you when it came out – it’s ageless. Fascinating and varied choices – a real insight into your development and influences.

Thank you Adrian for taking the time to do this interview with Progradar – it’s been really interesting for me and I am grateful for your openness and the thought you have given your answers.

I hope your current excellent album ‘Leaves’ continues to receive the attention it deserves, and I wish you all the best for the next project.

‘Leaves’ was released on 13th may 2016 and can be bought from the Bad Elephant Music bandcamp site:

Nine Stones Close – Leaves

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(Leo Trimming)