Live Review – The Prog Before Christmas – CCA Glasgow 18/12/15 – by Progradar

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(Your intrepid correspondent and Jon Hunt, aka jh)

No matter how long and arduous the journey, if the destination deserves it, it was a worthy one. Trust me, the trip up to Glasgow and back for The Prog Before Christmas was decidedly long and, at times, extremely arduous. However, what transpired and unfolded before me on that magnificent night of entertainment at the CCA was utterly magical and entirely worth every mile of train track I covered.

‘Ambitious’ could possibly have been the first word used when I heard that Denis Smith of Abel Ganz was organising a gig on the Friday before Christmas, and way up north in Glasgow too! But, in the inimitable style, they said , “build it and they will come…”and we did…..

The line up was pretty impressive too, legendary Scottish proggers Abel Ganz would be joined by the irreverent brilliance of Peter Jones’ Tiger Moth Tales and the whole darn shebang would kick off with the new kids on the block, Manchester’s own We Are Kin and this, just to top things off, would be their debut live performance. No pressure then eh guys?

Joining me on this jolly adventure way up North would be my mate, the brilliant Jon Hunt and we met at my hotel for a beer before heading over to Sauchihall Street and the impressive CCA venue where we met Adam and Dan from We Are Kin (featured image) outside before heading in for what would turn out to be a superb evening’s musical entertainment….

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Heading up stairs to see Denis doing ticket duties, we walked into the room and I said a few hellos before We Are Kin took to the stage with hardly a sign of nerves and proceeded to leave a puzzled frown on gathered faces. Why a frown? well, did I tell you this was their debut live gig, first……one…..ever….? You would not have believed it as they delivered a superb live performance full of emotion, heart and soul, the twin vocals of Emma C and Nuru holding everybody rapt.

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Home Sweet Home opened the set with Nuru taking lead on this superb track, disarming the audience with its warm embrace. There was more immediacy and an electronic edge to Hard Decision, a joint vocal delivery and underlying grittiness delivering a fast paced, energetic feel and the first sign of Adam McCann’s guitar virtuosity.

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A brilliantly earnest track and one which captivated everybody, Without Them is a slow burner that builds gradually into an eye opening crescendo, Adam’s solo just made the hairs rise up on the back of your neck. The band then followed up with probably the song I had been looking forward to hearing the most. Tides of Midnight has been a favourite of mine since I first heard this unique band back in 2013 and it didn’t let me down, Emma C’s vocal adding layers of gravitas and the keyboards of Dan Zambas adding a polished veneer to the poignant guitar. This music stares deep into your soul and leaves you in a place of contentment.

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Another favourite is Weight of the World, its inspired 80’s synth intro alway makes me smile and it just seemed to come to life in Glasgow with Gary Boast’s intricate drumming and Lee Braddock striding around the stage like some 70’s pimp-daddy with his feather embellished bowler hat. A great live experience indeed. What this band do best is ethereal, endearing and just downright beautiful and the delicate acoustic guitar and vocal that opened The End ticked all those boxes. A moving and yet, slightly sad track that has a mournful grace. I didn’t know whether to smile or cry at the end…

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All good things must come to and end and this utterly wonderful debut performance came to a close with the delicate and soothing charms of The Door. One thing that We Are Kin do extremely well is to make you feel central to the music and this passionate song left me speechless and lost in its allure.

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So, a first debut gig and a triumph, time to nip off to the Gents and the bar and then await the arrival of the outrageously talented Peter Jones, the man behind the much loved Tiger Moth Tales.

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Peter is funny, not in any contrived manner, he is just a funny guy who is full of life and he has a guitar and keyboard combo with drum pedal that makes him appear to be some sort of modern day maestro of the one man band and he is fantastically good at it.

The first track, following some typical Jones banter, is Tigers in the Butter from the first TMT album ‘Cocoon’ and it just leaves you gobsmacked and in awe. Powerful and animated, Peter delivers an utterly convincing performance. A true troubadour, he has the audience in the palm of his hand as he moves onto Story Tellers from the follow up album. A magical album full of fairy tales and fantastic characters, it is Peter Jones whose voice and skill bring them to life on songs such as this. Bewitching all those around, his voice has a wonderful lilt to it as he recounts the tail in his own inimitable style.

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There is a warmth and humility to the banter that flows from Peter between tracks and he had us all in stitches but what he is at heart is a first class musician and he writes songs that draw you in and take you on a fantastical journey like Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright. Like stepping through into Narnia, it takes you to an altogether more exciting place where just about anything can come true. The beautiful guitar work on this song nearly brought me to tears, as if it was really alive with its soaring grace. Now Peter never hides the fact he is a huge Genesis fan and his next track was a cover of More Fool Me and a great homage to his heroes. There was passion and soul in his delivery and he even had the crowd singing along, well those that knew the words anyway…..

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There was a huge shout when another Genesis track was announced, this time Harold the Barrel, fast paced and humorous, even I was tapping my feet at this one and the more knowledgeable really seemed to join in the fray. After the cover-version interlude we were back to Peter’s original material and the brilliant The Merry Vicar. Quite a tongue-n-cheek and pompous song that has a really wry sense of humour. The way Peter can fit his voice to any song and nuance really comes to the fore on stage. I found myself smiling and chuckling away to the obvious comedy in the song. Not merely a song writer but a consummate entertainer and amazing musician too!

Well the time was surely flying as Peter strode confidently into the penultimate track of this astute and accomplished set, the fan favourite A Visit to Chigwick. It is on songs like this that Peter Jones sometime eccentric English persona comes to the fore. I have called him ‘Batshit Crazy’ in the past but only in a complimentary manner, it is that minor lunacy that allows him to write songs as near perfect as this and ones that appeal to wide audience. The final song was the traditional The Wassail Song (well it is Christmas isn’t it?) and the lengthy cheers and applause that followed the end of his performance are testament to his enduring appeal. If you have never seen Tiger Moth Tales live then you are missing an utter treat.

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After shaking the great man’s hand it was another trip to the gents and the bar before the main event.

It was going to take something rather special to top what had already gone before but, if one band could do it, Abel Ganz could and they stood astride the stage like a Scottish Prog Colossus, time for the music to start……

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What a way to open with the instrumental splendour of Rain again, end of rain. Sending shivers down your spine it really set the tempo and the anticipation. Full of highs and lows, powerful and yet a calming influence. The band then followed with a great track from the last but one release ‘Shooting Albatross’, Ventura. It fits seamlessly into the new style of the band from the last self-titled release, a wandering journey into your mind. The musicians all at the top of their form, working together in harmony (no, not THAT song). Mick MacFarlane’s instantly recognisable voice puts its arm around you like an old friend and you are left under its control. A brilliantly reassuring and heartening piece of music.

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If there is one track that typifies the last album it is the five-part Obsolescence, more a self-affirming musical pilgrimage than a mere song. In a live setting it takes on a whole different aura and tonight these guys gave it wings and a life of its own. Davie Mitchell, Iain Sloan and Mick play their guitars with sheer grace and finesse (Iain’s lap steel dexterity needs a further mention, stunning!), Jack Webb animates the keyboards and Stevie Donnelly parades around his patch, his bass almost like a weapon. The glue holding this all together is the maestro Denis Smith on drums. I love this song even more hearing it played like this, utterly mesmerising.

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A song full of emotion, Recuerdos adds a layer of delightful simpleness to proceedings. Gentle acoustic guitar and Mick’s soft vocal just lull you into a true sense of security. Ethereal and divine, I felt myself lost in wonderment until it came to a close.

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Up next was the fourteen minutes of Prog near-perfection of Unconditional, a song that opens its soul and lets you in. Musically it delves deep into our collective knowledge and it darts from style to style but, ultimately it is very satisfying. Lilting piano, funky keyboards, scorching guitar and jazz style drums all combine to lift you off your feet into a place of musical nirvana. Maybe it is the fuzzy memory from one too many beers but I recall the band playing one of the tightest gigs I’ve seen. One of my favourite bands has now become THE favourite.

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I’ve made it no secret in the past that I absolutely love the track Thank You, it feels exceedingly personal to me so, when it was brought out as the first encore, guess who was shouting and cheering louder than most. Mick’s vocal is a thing of utter refinement, beauty and style and the lap steel guitar backing just adds a subtle grace and dignity (hats off to Mr Sloan again). I was singing at the top of my voice and was that a tear in my eye? Yes, so what, I bloody loved it!

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And to the final song of an unforgettable evening and a tribute to the recently deceased Chris Squire. A great version of  Yes’ Running With The Fox closed proceedings with aplomb and a lengthy standing ovation followed that was seriously well deserved.

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A Prog Before Chritsmas, worth 11 hours on a train? what do you think?, of course it was,it was utterly bloody brilliant. Shall we do it all again next year? Denis!!!!!!!!

All artist pictures thanks to the excellent David Stook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Live review – Lee Maddison at The Rabbit Hole – by Progradar

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“…there’s nothing more intimate in life than simply being understood. And understanding someone else….” Brad Melzer.

The juggernaut that is mainstream music is a big, ugly bloated behemoth that just tramples all and sundry underfoot. It is a money making machine, long gone are the reasons why people created and performed music in the first place and I am saddened by this loss.

The fact that electronics are much more simple to use and cost relative pennies means that music can be worked on, mixed, mastered and changed beyond all recognition from the first notes that were written. Yes you can achieve near perfection but, surely, you are losing the heart and soul of what the artist intended?

Thankfully, every now and then, something awe-inspiring happens which restores my faith about all that is good in the music industry and, to a lesser extent, humanity in general.

Some artists can strip the music back to the bare essentials, to the core of their creativity to take part of their own soul and create something that is full of joy, sadness and, above all, wonderment.

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Lets take a step back a bit to earlier this year when I first heard Lee Maddison’s gorgeous ‘Maddison’s Thread’ album. A release full of folk tales of wonderment, sadness and joy performed beautifully by the self-effacing musician. Like you do, I struck a conversation up with Lee on social media and ended up reviewing the album for this very website, which you can read here:

Maddison’s Thread – Review

Now things may get convoluted here but the brilliant artist Amanda White did the rather superb album cover for this record:

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And, by a stroke of luck, I already knew Amanda’s husband Howy White through his association with the Brendan Eyre and Tony Patterson ‘Northlands’ project for which he photgraphed the cover art (still with me so far?).

Both Howy and Amanda are long time supporters of Lee Maddison and have arranged a couple of small and exceedingly intimate gigs for Lee in the cellar of their Hartlepool home, imaginatively re-christened The Rabbit Hole. I was lucky enough to be invited to one of these hallowed gatherings this last weekend. Now, does it all make sense?

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Howy is decidedly passionate about these little soirees and had decorated the cellar but would not let any of us go down until gig time so the 15-20 guests had a great time chatting while Lee and his fellow musicians were setting up.

Joining him on this night were acclaimed fiddle player, the ‘ever ready with a smile’ Stewart Hardy and the laconic and laid back Nigel Spaven on 5-string acoustic bass. What we were about to experience would be nothing short of life-affirming and magical……

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When the word was given we all filed down the, decidedly uneven, stairs into the wonderful olde-worlde cellar which was an incredibly intimate and quite surreal setting.

A mixed selection of chairs, benches and stools had been set up for the audience and we were literally only feet away from the performers. It doesn’t get any more intimate than this.

Lee and Stewart

The atmosphere was one of hushed expectation and excitement and then Lee relaxed everyone with a little quip before starting out on the first half of the set. He has a quite outstanding vocal and one that is instantly recognisable. The first song was the upbeat and whimsical One Day and got everyone in the mood, toe-tapping and clapping along. This was followed by Misty Morning Blues, an enchanting and heartfelt journey into Americana and the first of the new tracks that Lee was showcasing, a more stripped back and natural folk song entitled Charlatans and Blaggers. This was a rip-roaring sing along that really got the audience inspired and nodding along appreciatively and this mood was carried over to the first request of the night, the opening track from Lee’s first album, The Viking’s Daughter, a lilting delight of a song where the vocals really are the key and the deft skill of Stewart’s fiddle playing comes to the fore.

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The absolutely mesmerising performance continued with The Country Song, another great sing-along track that just flies along and in this setting it lent a real buzz tot he proceedings, the catching, heartfelt Come The Springtime where the emotional performance brought a lump to your throat and two stunningly delivered cover songs, Tree By The River (Iron and Wine cover) and Lady Eleanor (Lindisfarne cover) where the three musicians led a merry dance through your soul. Sandwiched between these two was one of the highlights of the evening for me, the velvety loveliness of the jazz inspired Night Circus (my request actually) and it just left an utterly relaxed feel to my whole being, the hairs on the back of my neck rising from the unique experience of these matchless musicians in such an iconic venue.

The small crowd walked back up the stairs for the interval talking in hushed tones of reverence after the sublime experience we had just been party to.

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Set 2 began with a great, upbeat cover of Paul Simon’s Slip Sliding Away and then Lee, Stewart and Nigel then proceeded to treat us to the sparse beauty of an utterly spellbinding version of Where Eagles Fly. Haunting and quite hypnotic, it just left me numb with admiration. This was followed by another new track Tumbleweed, a more deliberate and contemplative track that shows where Lee will be going with his new album. The enthralled audience were showing silent appreciation at the skill and artistry of the players and every track was greeted with very appreciative applause. The solemn and melancholy A Crooked Mile Home left a slight feeling of sadness in my soul but its sheer beauty just left me slack jawed.

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The complete contrast of the tongue-in-cheek light and airy Making The Morning Last had us all bouncing around with its breezy and carefree delivery and Stewart’s impish fiddle playing was a joy to listen to. A delicate and poignant cover of Galway To Graceland (Richard Thompson) was followed by the biting satire of Parasiteful, a song delivered with edgy aplomb and a biting vocal and then Wonderful Day, a slight more serious track and one which really captivated the entranced audience on this night, pared back but with lustre and finesse with the ever impressive Nigel Spaven and Stewart Hardy really coming to the fore. I know it’s a cliche to say all good things must come to an end but I really could have stayed in that cellar all night listening to these peerless performers go about their work, unfortunately The Way You Shine was the last offering they had to give us. A song that never made the cut of the first Maddison’s Thread album but one that fits this special setting perfectly.

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Life gets so convoluted and complicated at times that we forget that, at its simple best, it is a joy to behold. That night in Howy and Amanda’s cellar, that shall forever be known as The Rabbit Hole into perpetuity, was quite an uplifting and moving musical experience and one that shall stay with me for all my life. Music does not have to be complicated to be life-affirming and amazing and that night just emphasised this fact immensely.

All pictures are courtesy of the amazing Howy White.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Djam Karet – Swamp of Dreams – by Progradar

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“We pass through the present with our eyes blindfolded. We are permitted merely to sense and guess at what we are actually experiencing. Only later when the cloth is untied can we glance at the past and find out what we have experienced and what meaning it has.” – Milan Kundera

When you have accomplished a lot of things in your life, it is sometimes worth stepping back and taking a retrospective view of what you have achieved. Not to say that what you did in the past was better but, perhaps, to say, “That was where I started, this is where I am now….”

Yes, always looking back can actually be self-defeating but only if you do not progress and use those memories to become bigger and better than what you were originally.

For musicians especially, I think it is great to re-visit some of your earlier music and remember what it was that influenced you originally and how you took those influences to improve on your sound and songwriting.

I am not advocating dragging out the old hits to produce a cash cow for retirement and the new release from Djam Karet is a perfect example. ‘Swamp of Dreams’ is a collection of older tunes that were originally only available as individual tracks on different compilation CDs and fund raiser albums, released between 1990 and 2006.

With this album, their 18th full-length release, Djam Karet are making this long-lost music available again to a much wider audience. The six tracks are sequenced chronologically with each song taking you further back in time. Re-mastered with greater clarity and increased dynamic range, it retains all that is good about the music of Djam Karet, a band who have been making music since 1984.

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The first track on this release, Voodoo Chases The Muse is a funky, psychedelic fun-fest that is a musical acid trip for the mind. The driving rhythm section warps your psyche while the excellent, sharp-edged guitar work really strikes a chord. The weird 70’s edge is kept together by some distinctly freaky keyboards and you are left feeling like you are caught in someone’s feverish imagined version of what 70’s music is all about. Stoner Rock? No….. Totally Stoned Rock would be more like it….

The next step back in time is The Shattering Sky, now the band openly state that they make their music with no regard to potential radio play or commercial success and this track is a true testament to that ideal. It starts quite interesting, like a sci-fi soundtrack before some fuzzy guitar blurs the edges. Urgent and edgy, as if it is just about to flee, it gets right into the little nooks and crannys of the deepest parts of your mind. A musical mind control drug maybe as it looms ominously in your consciousness. The second part of the track sees some incredibly flexible bass playing, backed energetic drums which all adds to the psychological drama.

Using our musical TARDIS, we edge back through the years with the equally creepy Pentimento, a track with an utterly otherworldy feel to it. If you told me that this was a song that was intended for use on the soundtrack for 2001 : A Space Odussey, I wouldn’t be surprised. It sits in the back of your mind, influencing your thoughts with tribal-like percussion and convoluted guitars. You never quite feel comfortable with the music, it is like something darkly dangerous, like a fix you know you shouldn’t take but need nonetheless. Let’s just say it is very ‘out there’, the undulating beat and heavy, portentous rhythm are quite hypnotic and trance-like in their execution.

Heading further back through the eons we arrive at New Light On The Dark Age, which begins with a slight note of alien dissonance. Another mysterious journey to the deepest recesses of your inner soul. This is a slow burning, deliberate voyage with sequencer driven rhythms and leaves you holding your breath, your heart hammering in your chest as you wonder what awaits around the next corner. With an atmosphere vaguely reminiscent of Krautrock and Stoner Rock, it opens up into a much more composed mind-set, as if the destination is more paradise than hell-hole.

With the musical treadmill still in reverse Inventions of the Monsters begins with a feel of being lost in a prehistoric jungle, surrounded by fabulous, incredible creatures that you only thought existed in your mind. It is a hesitant, ominous atmosphere, as if you are the alien and your surroundings are foreign to you. You feel at a disadvantage, uncertain as the brooding music washes over you. As you step cautiously through the menacing synthesised sounds, a huge sense of foreboding descends upon you. I let out a nervous laugh when the sound of cat emerges from the speakers and it doesn’t sound like a happy feline either. This song is spine chillingly spooky in deliciously eerie manner, don’t turn the lights out whatever you do, I did warn you…..

Our travails in the H.G Wells time machine reach their end with the title track Swamp of Dreams and it feels like a nostalgic track, mysterious, supernatural and uncanny. I’m sure this so-called ‘Time Machine’ has dropped us bang in the middle of an episode of Patrick McGoohan’s ‘The Prisoner’, are we now Number 6 ? Unique and quite single minded, it really does have a feel of something totally experimental before it opens up into a funky 80’s style instrumental with jangling guitars, spaced-out synths and one of the best basslines you’ll hear in many a year. It has a more sparse, natural feel to it than the previous tracks, perhaps due to it being the earliest track on the album and yet it is still distinctly Djam Karet with the wailing guitar solo and analog synthesisers and is a fine way to close this retrospective.

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I have been a fan of Djam Karet for a while now, their deeply felt commitment and uncompromising vision do not make for music that will appeal to everyone and, to be honest, they don’t care. Their critical acclaim and long time cult following prefer this ‘in your face’ attitude and I’d include myself in that. What they do is make brilliant, spaced-out, psychedelic music that could only come from Djam Karet and ‘Swamp of Dreams’ is a perfect example of their skill and flair. Take the inflexible and obstinate route and you may find that you’ll love it too!

Released 9th October 2015

Buy Swamp of Dreams direct from Djam Karet

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah II – by Progradar

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There is a place in music for everything. There is a place for quiet and contemplative and a place for upbeat and energetic. Heartwarming and heartbreaking can be found in every listener’s record collection. I mean, even the blasted wasteland of thrash and death metal will float quite a few people’s boats somewhere.

Yes, as individuals we can shut ourselves off from what we dislike to concentrate on the music that resonates and innovates our souls but, that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone, somewhere who really appreciates that which we do not. Yes, even chart music, the anodyne, tasteless blurb that blasts out from shopping centres all across the world, even that has its place, much as it pains me to say it.

As  a music reviewer I try to cover a hell of a lot of bases and keep my musical tastes varied and relatively indiscriminate. I like the beauty and soul that emanates from a lot of progressive music but, then again, I also like the hard hitting and innovative too. And, sometimes, I just like to listen to something that blows my bloody socks off and tries to remove what little hair I have left.

One artist whose music resonates with me for its power and deep down raw energy is John Bassett. English multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and producer John hails from Hastings in Sussex. He first came to my notice as the driving force behind the Progressive Rock band Kingbathmat who are well known for their style of prog that combines cutting vocal melodies with sledgehammer riffs and psychedelia.

As well as the eight albums he has released with the band, John also released a brilliant, acoustic based, solo album ‘Unearth’ last year but, it is John’s other solo instrumental project, Arcade Messiah, that is the centre of attention for this review.

The first, self-titled, Arcade Messiah album was released last year to wide acclamation. I penned these words about it, “Dark, bleak and full of despair it may be but, when it is this good, that pales into insignificance as one of the UK’s premier progressive musicians re-invents himself with assured aplomb once again.” 

Arcade Messiah Album Cover

It was also bloody monstrous, a huge tapestry of immense musical brilliance and John is just about to release the follow up to the album, imaginatively titled ‘Arcade Messiah II’.

John was surprised by the success of the first album and that spurred him on to record the follow up, hopefully bigger, better and more refined but without losing the edginess of the first release.

Produced and recorded by him in his studio in Hastings, it has quite a lot to live up to…..

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John has gone to the unusual lengths of releasing the download for 99p but, it is the CD version that I review here. This includes a near nineteen minute cover of The Four Horsemen by Aphrodite’s Child. There is absolutely no way I was missing out on that!

First things first, the artwork, absolutely stunning and carrying on the style first encountered on the debut Arcade Messiah release.

The main album is eight tracks of near-perfect instrumental hard rock with an infinite depth to it. Opener Moon Signal is a perfect marker for what is to follow with its restrained opening, the resonant guitar sound of John Bassett instantly recognisable. When the thunderous riffs and almighty drums kick in, it is enough to knock you back a step or to, immensely powerful and not for the faint-hearted. You feel yourself surfing on a huge wave of sonic dominance and you know you will fall off the wave eventually so enjoy the ride while you can. There is no let up to the ferocity of the precisely engineered music and it is highly addictive, please approach with caution. Red Widow carries on in a similar vein, this time with a menacing background aura to it. Compelling and commanding, it has a real heavy metal riff running throughout it, a sound that is granite hard as it hits you from all sides. Believe me when I say it is like a beautiful aural assault and one that you cannot back down from. It is like staring into an endless, limitless abyss and still jumping in with no safety line, obsessively habit-forming.

Taking the mysterious route, Black Dice Maze opens up with an enigmatic guitar note, lighter, lithe and agile. It is almost hypnotic in the way that its featherlight tendrils touch your synapses, leaving you in a calm and collected mood. The complete antithesis to what has gone before it would seem but, wait, all is not as you would presume it to be and another monstrous riff kicks in and drags you along in its wake. The mercilessly incessant drums and quick fire licks hook you in and steal your soul as this roller coaster ride of instrumental inventiveness carries you away on an influx of musical torque only to leave you exhausted on some metaphorical shore. Will there be time to catch your breath? It would appear so as the gentle undulating calmness of the guitar introduces Gallows Way, an altogether much more serene proposition. A tranquil and harmonious contrast to the intense maelstrom that has preceded it. At three minutes, a relatively short but perfectly placed respite and one that allows you to collect your thoughts before moving on to more of the dangerously addictive towering musical force that is Arcade Messiah.

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Fourth Quarter strides confidently into the room on the back of a coruscating guitar and stylish drum beat. Almost like a mind control drug, you find yourself focusing on that astringent guitar note as it overwhelms your very being. A guitar-led break impacts with even more of the bleak, barren grace that radiates from this track. Reminiscent of a post-nuclear landscape that has been scorched and left with a naked and raw beauty, this song really impacts on your soul. Just over one minute of refined, statuesque refinement, Via Occulta packs a lot of intent and meaning into a very short timescale, I just wish it was longer.

By the time you reach the sixth track, you are comfortably ensconced in the metaphorical musical seat that John Bassett has provided for you. Read The Sky is another intensely acute listening experience that washes over you as if you were a gravel shoreline being assaulted by rolling Atlantic breakers. Meticulously created riffs from another planet hit you from every angle leaving you a laughing, maniacal wreck, the experience is vivid as your synapses reverberate with the brilliantly vivid soundscapes created by this innovative musician. Almost like a meditative come-down, the introduction to Start Missing Everybody is an esoteric opposite to the general atmosphere with a guitar note that feels like Ennio Morricone could have invented it. Hold your horses though, the thunderous musical train is on the track and coming your way with no brakes, the final run out of the song pulverising your senses before it comes to an abrupt close.

So, onto the CD bonus track and the cover of The Four Horsemen by Aphrodite’s Child. Perhaps with more of a feel of KingBathmat to it, it is quite an impressive musical odyssey. Mesmerising guitars and dynamic drums and bass combine to deliver one of the best tracks of the year. You really do get lost in the striking grandeur of the music, a wide-ranging vista of imposing melodic inspiration and sagacity and one that takes over your world for the nineteen minutes of its duration.

John

‘Arcade Messiah II’ takes all that was good with the first album and enhances by taking the raw, coruscating energy of the first release and developing it into a superb sound that, while holding nothing back, is full of nuances and intelligence. A ‘Wall of Sound’ that makes Phil Spector’s look like a diminutive picket fence and it is quite possibly the best thing this highly talented musician has ever produced.

Released 22nd November 2015

Buy direct from the artist’s bandcamp page

 

 

 

 

Review – Comedy of Errors – Spirit – by Progradar

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“Human spirit is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism. It is the belief that problems can be solved, differences resolved. It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile. It can be blackened by fear, and superstition….” – Bernard Beckett.

“It’s not so much the journey that’s important; as is the way that we treat those we encounter and those around us, along the way.” – Jeremy Aldana.

To me, the beauty of music is the way it can tell a story, heartwarming or heartbreaking, it doesn’t matter. The best albums take you on a musical and spiritual journey, one that will, hopefully, leave you in a better place than when you started.

The journey isn’t always easy, there will be highs and lows, moments of sheer ecstasy and moments of utter despair. It is becoming a rare ability to write and perform songs that can move you emotionally and make a difference to your life and I spend most of my days searching for that scarce and rarefied commodity.

Recently I was the lucky recipient of the latest album from the esteemed Scottish progressive band Comedy of Errors and it promised to be one of those rare beasts, a work of music that would be challenging yet profound and, ultimately, life affirming.

‘Spirit’ is the band’s most musically ambitious album so far, representing a major step forward in the band’s development, dealing with themes of grief, loss and ultimately, hope. The cornerstone of the album is a 45 minute unbroken piece taking the form of an emotional journey at once personal and universal, despairing and uplifting.

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After a long absence from the scene, Comedy of Errors re-formed in 2010 and have been busy increasing their profile since then through gigging at venues in the UK and Europe and appearing on the bill at several UK prog festivals. They are excited and delighted to add the United States to the growing list following an invitation from the organizers to play at Rosfest 2016.

They have also released 3 albums during that time, their first album effectively being ‘Disobey’ (2011) followed by ‘Fanfare and Fantasy’ (2013) and their most recent album ‘Spirit’ released in October 2015.

Based near Glasgow, Scotland, Comedy of Errors are Joe Cairney (Vocals), John Fitzgerald (Bass), Bruce Levick (Drums), Jim Johnston (Keyboards), Sam McCulloch (Guitar) and Mark Spalding (Guitar).

Joe, Jim and Mark were in a former incarnation of the band some years ago where they gigged extensively and released various demos during that period. When they disbanded Jim kept on working on revising songs and writing new music before getting the band back together in 2010.

Piano

The main track, Spirit, has been divided into multiple tracks but, as the CD booklet says:

“…..these divisions and titles are arbitrary; the ‘song’ is in fact one long single unbroken piece of music best listened to in its entirety from beginning to end.”

For the sake of the review I am going to follow the band’s ‘arbitrary’ subdivisions….

You’re God and You let me down, My grief lies all within….

The opening to My Grief Lies All Within is almost revelatory, the keyboards waking you from a stupor before the rest of the band arrive with a cacophony of guitar heavy staccato notes. There then follows a more pensive section, thought provoking, before Joe’s immediately recognisable vocal takes up the tale. The track takes on a choral feel with the harmonies and organ like keyboards, the bass and drums delivering an even handed tempo. Emotive and stirring, Joe Cairney’s voice is the centrepiece around which everything is grounded. There seems a sadness deep at the core of this powerful song, a poignancy that pervades the melancholy guitar solo that runs out the track.

Playing with our hopes we bow to you, in helpless, hapless, hopeless despair….

There is a seamless segue into Infinite Wisdom which is a fast paced, almost frenetic two minutes of sceptical hell or no notion. An anger consumes the vocal and gives a slightly menacing feel to the whole track.

Spirit shines, Undiminished, Like a flower, Gentle, unbreakable….

This quite unique musical experience continues with Spirit Shines/Spirit, a slow burning build up leaving tendrils of warmth enveloping your very soul. There follows an uplifting, feel-good piece of music with a repeated vocal motif that just really ‘gets’ you emotionally and I feel the tears welling up, tears of joy and happiness, as if a great weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Joe’s vocal delivers empathy and succour in equal measure, his compassion and the delicate piano note lift you up and leave your very being re-born.

Tension…….tightening, Frightening……dread….

Uncertainty is the overwhelming mood that is imparted at the beginning of Can This Be Happening/Timeless, anxiety and concern leech from the song. The music is measured one minute and hectic and unsure the next. A maelstrom attacks your aural senses leaving you misdirected and momentary lost, all the moods and emotions imparted by the excellence of the musicians and conducted by Joe’s commanding, theatrical delivery.

We gather together in darkness, While endlessly waiting for answers…

The questions continue with In Darkness Let Me Dwell, we seek the answer to the eternal question of a greater being. A dominating bass line runs throughout this compelling track. Joe’s vocal is both questing and demanding. A profound, complex and intricate song and one that leaves more questions than answers….

Abstract

Destroyer of Angels, On the wind of your breath, you deal out disaster, Destruction and death.

A reverie of angelic voices opens I Call And Cry To Thee, leaving you somewhat in rapture, a timely pause to allow your soul and senses to catch up with you. A solemnity surrounds everything, a contemplative yet austere tone that is carelessly tossed aside by the compelling, hard-edged riff that overtakes everything, like a musical tsunami. Joe Cairney’s challenging vocal then takes over, still demanding of the heavenly entity, leaving a melancholia surrounding proceedings.

Set your spirit free….

A calm reflectiveness descends as Set Your Spirit Free/Goodbye My Love Until We Meet Again begins. An ethereal, wistful instrumental that plucks at the heart strings with a feeling of letting go, a finality of slightly sorrowful bereavement.

Spirit shines, like a flower, Gentle, unbreakable.

A very moving introduction, fateful and momentous holds your attention as Ascension/Et Resurrexit/Auferstehen – Arise In Love Sublime, Arise – Spirit builds into something utterly sublime, The organ note from the keyboards transfixes you with its celestial grace and then Joe repeats the refrain from Spirit Shines, inspirational and incredibly moving. A spiritual and refined experience that fills your heart with love and compassion.

Rise again, oh rise again in everlasting love…..

Another perfect transition and Into The Light continues the uplifting atmosphere. The transition from despair, grief and loss to hope and joy is nearly complete. The vocals lead us with the realisation that we shouldn’t question the greater powers, where there is death, there will always be love and happiness, our is not to reason why. The joyous music is an outpouring of both grief and delight and lifts up your soul to greater heights.

The Time and distance disappear, beyond the rooftops twilight urban glow..

The final segment of this epic journey is Above The Hills and is as full of hope and longing as the earlier tracks were of anguish and despondency. Joe’s mercurial voice leads the whole band in a jubilant celebration of life and of death. A nostalgic note creeps into his voice, a hint of sadness but with a thoughtful edge. The culmination of an eventful journey though life, love, despair and happiness, that these superb musicians can impart this whole gamut of emotions through their music is testament to their songwriting skill and musicianship.

Aubitt

Part 2 ‘Epilogue

This Is How It Has To Be is a brilliant instrumental where the skills of the musicians come to the fore. The drums and bass provide the backbone on which the rest of the instruments can rely. A demonstrative guitar guides you through the rest of the track, ably abetted by the delightful keyboards. A reflective musical trip that really gets you thinking, the change into a Mike Oldfield style second half is clever and gives the song a second lease of life. A livelier, shanty style that really gets your foot tapping, quite ingenious.

The closing track on this particular copy is the Spirit (single) and it is a worthy addition to the album bringing back all sorts of emotions as you hear Joe singing that fantastic refrain once more, a quite sublime song with a superb guitar solo.

Do you believe music has soul? I do and, when it is as deeply involving and emotionally uplifting (and draining to be honest!) as this, it becomes life affirming in many ways. All the songs were written by Jim Johnston but I’m sure even he would agree that they are given life by the whole of Comedy of Errors. A contender for album of the year and one that should be gracing everybody’s music collection, just brilliant.

Released 20th October 2015

Buy Spirit direct from the band

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Kershaw Joins Bad Elephant Music

Mike Kershaw

MIKE KERSHAW JOINS BAD ELEPHANT MUSIC.

Press Release From Bad Elephant Music

“We are proud to announce that Mike Kershaw, well-respected British progressive rock musician, has joined our family of artists.

Blending strong textures with powerful lyrics, Mike’s haunting music can perhaps best be described as ‘atmospheric progressive rock’ but ever the iconoclast he regards this as a framework rather than a prison, and very simply takes the music where it needs to go.

Mike continues to develop his own style, and his latest album ‘What Lies Beneath’ is his most complete work to date. To supplement Mike’s prodigious talent there is an impressive roster of guest artists – Gareth Cole, Stuart Nicholson (Galahad), Leo Koperdraat & Frank Urbaniak (Fractal Mirror), Joshua Leibowitz (Leibowitz), Stuart Stephens (Whitewater), Clare Stephens, Marco A Vásquez L., and Tom Slatter. Leopold Blue-Sky (Unto Us) is at the mixing desk, as well as contributing bass, guitars and keyboards. Artwork is by Steven J. Catizone.

Mike Kershaw: “I am honoured and delighted to be joining Bad Elephant Music and its fabulous roster of musicians. I’ve worked with David Elliott on post-production with my last two releases and I’m over the moon to enhance our association. BEM is a unique, friendly label and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Bad Elephant Head of PR, Martin Hutchinson: “I’ve known Mike for quite a while now and have always been a fan of his richly rewarding music. Detailed and complex, it is a perfect fit with what BEM has become known for. Add in the fact he’s a fellow Yorkshireman and we can’t go wrong, can we?”

‘What Lies Beneath’ will be released through Bad Elephant Music in the second quarter of 2016. Check out the teaser video trailer below!

Picture of Mike courtesy of Scott Smith.