Review – Tiger Moth Tales – A Song of Spring

Much loved multi-instrumental progressive musician Peter Jones returns with his best known project, Tiger Moth Tales, to deliver his much anticipated brand new album ‘A Song of Spring’.

Peter, who is also keyboard player with Camel and Francis Dunnery’s It Bites tells us: “I’m cautiously excited about this album. Ha-ha. I think I’ve taken some interesting decisions (musically speaking), and the stories which inspired the writing process meant there was a lot to work with. I think this is a return to TMT form, which I hope the ‘mothingtons’ will enjoy.

Even as far back as the writing stages of ‘Cocoon’, I already had the idea in mind to do the Four Seasons thing, which started off with ‘The Depths of Winter’ in 2017. A fair few things have happened since then, to say the least.”

He adds: “I have a few albums in my head that I want to complete someday, but the time felt right to continue the Seasons saga. As with ‘The Depths of Winter’, I wanted to touch on both the lighter and darker sides, so it’s not all about the joys of spring. There’s some fairly grim stuff there to get your teeth in to.

It was a real pleasure to work with John and Elizabeth Holden on this album. I can normally come up with a few good tunes, but lyrics can sometimes be illusive. So it was wonderful to have some collaboration on some of these new songs. Tracks such as Rapa Nui and Light have some fantastic lyrics in there. It was also amazing to get a contribution from the one and only Andy Latimer on the latter track. I’m very pleased with it all and I can’t wait to see what people think of it.”

A new Tiger Moth Tales release is always a joyous occasion and this new album is no change. Peter Jones is a consummate musician and performer and has that knack of knowing how to write a catchy tune that just clicks. Take opening track Spring Fever another jaunty track that just oozes joy and the feel of the seasons changing, lighter mornings, hazy sunshine and a massive feeling of goodwill. Pete’s sax playing is just phenomenal and adds an added layer of class and a feel of 80’s jazz to proceedings. Forester, with its penny whistle, sees Peter take us back to his earlier works and that impish, at one with nature, fairytale brilliance that only Tiger Moth Tales can imbue. Don’t be fooled though, there is a bit of the dark forest shadows about this song too, very clever songwriting.

Dance Till Death definitely shows Peter’s darker side being, as it is, his take on Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring‘, which is based on about arcane rituals that revere the advent of spring in which a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death. There’s not much light and joy in that as a subject is there? This song, however, is beautifully constructed, hypnotic and mesmeric, almost like a musical opiate. Deliciously dark and yet strangely euphoric in places, it really does stand out on an album full of superb tracks. John Holden wrote the lyrics to the Hindu Festival Of Light based Holi and it is a short but dynamic piece totally infused with that far eastern feel. The stunning, ethereal brilliance of The Goddess And The Green Man is another short piece, this time with the lyrics contributed by Holden’s wife, Elizabeth. Wistfully elegant piano and acoustic guitar contribute to one of the most endearing tunes you will hear.

Peter Jones’ can always inject a whimsical, humorous tune into his works and, on ‘A Song of Spring’, it’s the brilliant, tongue in cheek, capriciousness of Mad March Hare. These kinds of songs from Peter never fail to make me smile and the jolly sax and playful vocals help to deliver another moment of delight. It might just be me but, when the intro to Rapa Nui starts, I immediately think Led Zeppelin! Just me then? The staccato riff and energetic drums and bass combine to give a real hard rock rhythm to another John Holden penned track lyrically. Jones is on top form vocally and delivers a fantastically dextrous performance on what could be considered the most progressive track on the album and one that weaves its tale quite superbly.

Final track Light is about coping with the death of a partner and recovering, with the notion that the new season and curative powers of Spring will bring a sense of healing and of being thankful for the end of darkness and the end of Winter. Written by John and Elizabeth in conjunction with Peter, this song is utterly gorgeous, thoughtful and, ultimately, uplifting, bringing the album to a close with a stunning guitar solo from Andy Latimer.

Actually, to be truthful, it isn’t the final song as there is a bonus, hidden, track that starts about a minute after Light. A funky, heavily jazz infused, instrumental, Maytime could stand on its own as a really, really good piece of music but, tagged on at the end of the album as it is, it just seems a bit out of place to me!

‘A Song of Spring’ sees Peter Jones’ Tiger Moth Tales return with a triumphant collection of songs that touch on love, loss and everything in between but, ultimately this sublime album heralds the return of spring and celebrates the love of life itself.

Released 4th March, 2022.

Order from White Knight Records here:

Tiger Moth Tales – A Song Of Spring (whiteknightshop2.co.uk)

Review – This Winter Machine – Kites – by Leo Trimming

Kites can be blown about in many unpredictable directions but somehow they remain tethered to the ground, and that appears to be a perfect symbol of the journey of the third This Winter Machine album ‘Kites‘, which is due out on 25th October. Let’s face it, the world has taken a rather unexpected battering in the last couple of years, but, on another level, This Winter Machine have also faced considerable upheaval in that period, leaving the main man Al Winter to have to recruit a whole new band around him. Such disruption would have spelled the end of many bands but on the evidence of this album it appears that Al has used it as an opportunity for the band to be re-born.

Kites’ is still recognisably in the same vein of the This Winter Machine sound developed on ‘The Man Who Never Was‘ (2016) and ‘A Tower of Clocks‘ (2019), but there is a different feel to this album, with echoes of the 1980’s threading through an album suffused with nostalgia, regret and some defiance.

Al Winter has described the theme of the album as:

“how we fight against life and the directions it blows us in… It’s about how we fight against being blown in the wind, but we don’t realise until we look back that these were some of the best days of our lives… we were buffeted by the wind but we always had the rope anchoring us to the ground… …and some day we’ll all be kites for the last time.

So, it would appear that, buffeted by circumstances, Al was the rope that tethered This Winter Machine so it was not lost to the Four Winds. However, the question is has this new incarnation of the band managed to make a successful transition with their new album?

There is definitely a whole new feel around the double guitar attack (with a decidedly more fluid style) and the keyboard sound is significantly changed. The departure of keyboardist Mark Numan from the original version of This Winter Machine was potentially the most significant issue for the band as he was a central member of the band in terms of writing the music. Two songs on this new album, This Heart’s Alive and Broken, still feature music written by the talented Numan. Indeed, Mark Numan’s original keyboards can still be heard on the yearning, heart-breaking and beautiful Broken. Al Winter has partly solved the keyboard issue for this release by recruiting the talented Pat Ganger-Sanders of the band Drifting Sun to guest on keyboards for the majority of the album, along with Reuben Jones on the final two tracks of the album.

Apparently, the search for a long-term keyboardist continues but Ganger-Sanders definitely provides some high-quality input, particularly on his self-penned opening piano intro Le Jour D’ Avant, and, in contrast, some great, towering organ work on the following dramatic two part piece The Storm. This blockbuster opens with sinister apocalyptic warning announcements, some rumbling drums from by Alan Wilson and a sinister bass line from Dave Close that sounds like its slouching towards Bethlehem. Killer guitar riffs blast in and Ganger-Sanders adds Gothic pillars of organ to the structure of this epic sounding song. Meanwhile, Al Winter sounds like he’s bellowing defiantly into the teeth of a howling gale, such is the passion he is putting into the vocals. However, we seem to hit calmer waters with a sudden change in tempo and atmosphere with a gorgeous fluid guest guitar solo from Mark Abrahams of the legendary band Wishbone Ash, around which Ganger-Sanders weaves eerie, shimmering synth lines.

This lovely section fades away to the sound of water and acoustic guitar for part two of The Storm. In this calm eye of the Storm wistful, heartfelt words from Winter are framed in a delightful acoustic pastoral setting, with some lovely subtle bass work from Close. The full power of the Storm soon returns with an infectious wall of sound from the band as guitars and keyboards combine magnificently with the rhythm section, before a flowing guitar solo by Dom Bennison takes us towards an echoing guitar and synth coda which almost feels like light reflected in water.

That liquid sense is maintained in the short but smooth (almost jazzy in places) bass led instrumental Limited, written by bassist Dave Close. This feels like a linking piece as does the later much more dramatic Bennison written short piece Whirlpool in which Ganger- Sanders in particular shines in the musical maelstrom alongside Bennison’s lead guitar. Enjoyable as they were, there was a sense for me that these two shorter instrumental pieces sound like they could have been parts of more ambitious extended pieces. Maybe in future as this formation of This Winter Machine becomes more established, they may develop such pieces further… or maybe they just like them the way they are – what do I know?!! (😊)

This Heart’s Alive has been kicking around as a song for some time (the band spoke about this song as due to appear on ‘A Tower of Clocks‘ to this reviewer in an interview in 2018) but I can hear why it was held back for this album as the style very much fits the melodic and melancholic feel of much of this latest release. It commences rather pastorally with acoustic guitar and subtle synths and then flows along lushly with gorgeous harmony vocals for the refrain (and even a short beautifully sung acapella interjection later on). An understated and tasteful guitar piece from Bennison adds emotion and class – he really is quite a find for Al Winter and the band, complimenting Winter’s lovely vocal melodies with Andy Latimer and Steve Rothery type guitar flights. Some may feel the song out stays it’s welcome a little with its repeated refrain, whilst others will delight in its mantra like progress.

This Winter Machine tread rather new ground on the gorgeous love song Sometimes, which features the inimitable vocal talent of Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales and the legendary band Camel. This lovely song is testament to the fine song writing talent of Al Winter and also shows a generosity of spirit and insight into what other artists could bring to his work that he invited Peter to sing one of the best songs of the album. There is a distinctly Folk feel to the song with an acoustic guitar strumming as Jones imparts a great vocal melody and then is joined for a rich vocal harmony refrain. The band come in with finely judged contributions as the song builds towards a beguiling violin solo from Frenchman Eric Bouillette, who usually plays electric guitar with The Room and Nova Cascade. It’s an infectiously lovely sounding ballad.

Pleasure and Purpose, alongside The Storm and Sometimes, is one of the standout tracks from the album, and may be one of the best ‘songs’ that This Winter Machine have ever recorded as it skilfully and intuitively combines a touching set of emotional lyrics with memorable melodies and skilful instrumentation. It is also a great showcase for Winter’s classy vocals, smoothly ranging from fragility to real passion. This is a song which has really burrowed into my soul and has been on constant repeat for some days now.

Al Winter has shared the background to the song as follows:

“…it’s about how a lack of clear communication brings an end to relationships. Things that can be sorted easily grow until they become unmanageable. It often means there’s no going back”

It is remarkable that often the best songs are also the saddest, and this is a piece imbued with a great sense of regret with powerful lyrics touching on deep emotions:

I just needed Forgiveness, A Little Restraint, I needed the time so I could just explain

All the Pleasure and Purpose tumbling down, Now there’s nothing but anger, covered in shame

And I finally had to accept the blame, All the Colours and Virtue just left on the ground

At the zenith of Winter’s vocals This Winter Machine take the song onto more musical heights as first Simon D’Vali plays a stratospheric guitar solo which Dom Bennison then joins in a flowing dual guitar harmony. Bennison then takes on the second half of the solo in an equally rippling fluid guitar display before the piece suitably fades wistfully – it’s a wonderful song.

‘Kites’ concludes with the upbeat title song, commencing with an impassioned yell from Al Winter – yeah, it has been quite a year or two, Al! Whilst much of the album has explored more melancholic and introspective areas Kites feels more defiant and triumphant:

So all of the people for all of the time, You can’t go thinking it’s the end of the line,

There’s gotta be something that we can do anytime

This would make a great live song to stir the crowd, with the quality rhythm section of Wilson and Close driving this rock song on. In the latter half Bennison throws in another great guitar solo before a curious vocal sample haunts the melody. Al Winter has given two explanations for this mysterious haunting voice in the background as either ‘a disembodied voice recorded in a Haworth graveyard at midnight on the longest day…’ Alternatively and more prosaically he explained ‘it’s an early advert for an Edison Phonograph… it sounded quite romantic and nostalgic’. I think I prefer to believe the first explanation!

Well, what’s the answer to the original question: has this new incarnation of the band managed to make a successful transition with their new album?

As this album is called ‘Kites’ it may be worth recalling that Benjamin Franklin once rather eccentrically in the 1750’s reportedly flew a Kite in an electric storm to try to collect electricity through the line into a metal key in a Leyden jar (don’t try this at home, kids!) It could be said that similarly, Al Winter sent this new version of This Winter Machine aloft with ‘Kites’, and that the album has similarly been charged with a surge of electricity and new life. Exposed to the elements alone Al Winter formed a talented new band and has clearly drawn great energy and inspiration from this new This Winter Machine. After a torrid couple of years generally and for the band it is utterly remarkable just what a high-quality album This Winter Machine have created. ‘Kites‘ will rightly sail high to be regarded as one of the best melodic progressive rock albums of 2021, and the future looks very bright for the band… as long as someone holds on to the rope!

TRACK LISTING:

  1. Le Jour D’Avant                       (1.40)
  2. The Storm (Part One)             (5.37)
  3. The Storm (Part Two)             (4.37)
  4. Limited                                      (2.00)
  5. Pleasure and Purpose            (6.35)
  6. This Heart’s Alive                    (6.31)
  7. Whirlpool                                 (2.17)
  8. Broken                                      (4.58)
  9. Sometimes                               (4.05)
  10. Kites                                          (7.19)

Released 25th October, 2021

Order direct from the band here:

Kites – CD Album PRE ORDER – This Winter Machine

Review – Cyan – For King And Country

Taking music written and recorded over thirty years ago and rewriting, rerecording and reimagining it can be said by some to be a cynical marketing exercise and I must admit I wasn’t entirely convinced when I heard that prog scion Robert Reed was resurrecting his old Cyan band name and doing just that with the original material.

To be fair to Rob, I had to listen to the album and make my own mind up and, after just a couple of listens all the negative connotations disappeared. Whether it helped that I had never heard the material before, I don’t know but this ‘new’ album is like a breath of fresh air, the songs are wonderfully created and performed by this stellar collection of progressive rock stalwarts.

You will never go wrong when you have the dulcet tones of Peter Jones ( and his superb flute playing) gracing your album, add in the searing guitar talent that is Luke Machin and the stylish bass of Dan Nelson then you have the beginnings of something special. Take that trio and add the unique talent that is Robert Reed and you take everything up another notch and on this album they create something quite remarkable indeed.

A beguiling musical journey from the powerful and compelling The Sorceror to the emotive highs and lows of the incredibly moving title track For King And Country, I have never stopped smiling through my multiple listens to this outstanding achievement. There are some highlights, like the amazing Snowbound and its dazzling display of instrumental brilliance, the warm and tender wistful tones of I Defy The Sun, the epic and intricate scope of Man Amongst Men and the joyous strains of the beautiful Call Me, but every track is a sweet-sounding gem and whenever the amazing voice of Angharad Brinn blends seamlessly with Peter Jones then the symmetry is just perfect.

Rob Reed: “Little did I know in 1983, sitting at the school piano writing these songs, that almost 40 years later those same songs would sound like they do on this album. I remember the original Cyan, made up of school mates, pooling our money, £35 to record them at a local 4 track studio with basic equipment. It’s been amazing to finally hear the songs at their full potential, with modern recording techniques and an amazing line up of players.”

I never mind admitting when I am wrong and my initial thoughts about this release were so wide of the mark that they were downright embarrassing. Robert Reed has looked to the past to create something that is definitively of our time now. A masterpiece of intricate melodies, mellifluous vocals and intelligent songwriting, ‘For King And Country’ delights on every level and makes you smile. You can’t really ask for much more than that, can you?

Released 24th September, 2021.

Order the album here:

Cyan (tigermothshop.co.uk)

Magenta’s Rob Reed and Camel’s Peter Jones come together to resurrect the band CYAN with reimagined and reworked material from the band’s debut album.

CYAN features Luke Machin, Pete Jones, Dan Nelson
 
New album ‘For King and Country’ due out on Sept 24th

Keyboardist and composer Rob Reed, known for his work with Magenta, Kompendium and Sanctuary solo albums, is pleased to announce a brand-new album from Cyan – For King and Country, due out on the 24th of September 2021. 
 
Prior to Magenta, almost 30 years ago, Reed release three albums with his then band Cyan. Out of the ashes of that band, Magenta was borne.  Now, on this new Cyan album, Reed has rewritten, rerecorded and reimagined material from the early days of Cyan, and this time with a brilliant new lineup. The group features vocalist Pete Jones (Camel, Tiger Moth Tales), guitarist Luke Machin (Maschine, The Tangent), and bassist Dan Nelson (Godsticks, Magenta).  The band will be playing their first show at Summers End Festival, Sunday, Oct. 3rd
 
The album is available for pre-order here:
https://www.tigermothshop.co.uk/store/Cyan-c117062595
 
Watch the video for the 15-minute opening track and first single “The Sorceror” here: 

Rob Reed on the new album:  “Little did I know in 1983, sitting at the school piano writing these songs, that almost 40 years later those same songs would sound like they do on this album. I remember the original Cyan, made up of school mates, pooling our money, £35 to record them at a local 4 track studio with basic equipment. It’s been amazing to finally hear the songs at their full potential, with modern recording techniques and an amazing line up of players.
  
“I’d held off releasing this album because I couldn’t find a vocalist to do it justice. Meeting Pete ticked that box, as soon as I heard him sing the first track. His voice just blends so good against Angharad Brinn, who I’d worked with on the Sanctuary solo albums. Having Luke play the guitar parts was just the icing on the cake. He is such a great player, with technique and feel. What a line up!”
  
Pete Jones had this to say about the project: “I had known about the reworking of For King And Country for a while, so it was a great thrill to be asked by Rob to work with him on the project, alongside the other amazing musicians such as Luke and Angharad. The songs are fantastic. They have a youthful and yet vintage quality to them, as well they might, given that they were first done in the early 90s. But with the benefit of Rob’s experience, they have been reworked into an album which I feel is right up there with the classics.”

Tracklisting:

1.The Sorceror
2.Call Me
3.I Defy The Sun
4.Don’t Turn Away
5.Snowbound
6.Man Amongst Men
7.Night Flight
8.For King and Country

Magenta/CYAN/TigerMothTales Website
https://www.tigermothshop.co.uk/

Review – John Holden – Circles In Time – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Circles in Time’ is the third, and latest, album from John Holden who has, over a period of just 4 years, written and created three quite different albums that are all rooted in his love of progressive music by the likes of Yes, Genesis and many others. John lives about 5 miles from me, on the border between Staffordshire and Cheshire, although I actually came to know him through Facebook and his recognising our shared love of music in reviews I had written for DPRP at the time.

His first album, ‘Capture Light’, came out in 2018, followed by ‘Rise and Fall’ in early 2020. Like the rest of us, John has been in lockdown and has wisely used his time to accelerate the release of his next album which has emerged as the already mentioned ‘Circles in Time’.

This new album marks a big change in how John has approached the music, in that he has delivered a truly epic piece in the last track, KV62, which sits comfortably alongside five other songs of varying length yet all bearing the same hallmark of quality. John has called on many of the musicians who graced his earlier albums, especially using the keyboard  and arrangement skills of Vikram Shanker more prominently than he did on ‘Rise and Fall’. Once again the cover and booklet are full of information and excellent pictures that both draw the eye and also unfold the mysteries contained in the songs.

The album opens with Avalanche and a fast and muscular riff section from Eric Potapenko and strong vocals from Jean Pageau of Mystery fame. The song is about social media and how folks use it to slander and undermine others. Liner notes say this song is a response to all the negativity and blaming and shaming that exists in the social media, the sun will rise in the morning and the world will keep on turning. It is a strong opener and a good statement of intent that sets you up for all that is to follow. In this case this is the song High Line. The High Line is a real place in New York and is in actuality an elevated greenway or linear park that cuts through the city’s west side. It was constructed along the setting of an old freight line that went through very rough neighbourhoods, in fact, it was so bad it they christened it ‘Death Alley’. The song has a very jazzy vibe to it with some lovely saxophone from Peter Jones, who also provides the smooth vocals for the song. This is a wonderfully evocative piece that nods its hat to Blue Note Jazz and also to Steely Dan.

The next song, The Secret of Chapel Field, is very much a grower and is based on a story John discovered whilst looking at gravestones in his village church graveyard. The song reworks the known facts that Mary Malpas, a 15-year-old girl, was murdered by Thomas Bagguley at Chapel Field in Hunterston. He later killed himself, thus avoiding justice. This sombre song is graced by vocals from Marc Atkinson (Riversea) and Sally Minnear (Celestial Fire) and the mournful violin lines of Frank Van Essen (Iona). It is a fine track and its words will stay with you long after the song has concluded.

Next John whisks us off to Andalucía in Spain for the track Dreams of Cadiz where we encounter the spirit of flamenco, imbued by the fluid guitar from the nimble hands and fingers of Oliver Day alongside a graceful piano. This song is an instrumental piece that captures the fire and passion of the dance and is duly accompanied with dramatic flourishes, handclaps and foot stomping that all add to the atmosphere of this piece.

The penultimate track is Circles which is a very personal song for the protagonist Libby who is an ovarian cancer survivor who has known, and continues to have, serious health issues. Here in this song, she encourages us to live in the moment and not to grieve but instead to be grateful for all that we are and all we have now in the present. The song also encourages us with the power that love brings to any situation. It is beautifully realised with the gracious voice of Sally Minnear and some gentle and subtle arrangements.

This leads us into the atmospheric world of KV62 and ancient Egypt and the discoveries made by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon during their archaeological expeditions of the 1920’s where they uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. This song has narration by Jeremy Irons and vocals from Joe Payne and Peter Jones. The song reveals the agony of the protagonists as they searched fruitlessly for the tomb and pushed themselves financially to do so until they finally succeeded. The music is suitably Arabian sounding with some great guitar from Zaid Crowe.

The Wonderful Things segment has some fabulously wild synthesizer passages from Vikram accompanied by fine piano and percussion from John. This section sees the death of Lord Carnarvon from Tutankhamun’s curse. It was actually an infection from a mosquito bite that killed him, however the curse of Tutankhamen sold more newspapers so the truth of his demise was sacrificed at the altar of the media and the fable then famously spread.

Lord Carnarvon had sold exclusive rights to the tale to The Times (Pre Murdoch, when it was a worthy paper and not the rag it is nowadays). The song is lifted by extended instrumental parts interspersed between the vocals that tell of the press and media frenzy about the discovery and how Carter came up against Egyptian Bureaucracy. A largely disillusioned Carter returned to London where, amongst the parties and media storm, he died impoverished, penniless and alone. The song is epic in its scope, however it is ultimately a sad tale of loss and missed opportunities.,

John had Seen the Tutankhamun exhibition in London in the 1972 at the British Museum and has been to the valley of the Kings on several occasions, KV62 being the name designated to the site of the tomb in the Valley of The Kings.

The whole album is simply fabulous, somewhat mellow in parts but with an astounding lyricism and magnificent musicianship. John Holden has done it again and pulled another blinder of an album out of his metaphorical hat. It is one that really impresses and I highly recommend this album full of modern-day prog and brilliant songs, here’s to album 4 John!

Released March 26th 2021.

Order the album direct from the artist here:

John Holden Music | Listen and buy the new album “Circles in Time”

Review – Tiger Moth Tales – The Whispering Of The World – by John Wenlock-Smith

This is the latest album for Tiger Moth Tales (aka Peter Jones) but this time around it is a quite different beast indeed. This album is a marked departure from the glorious madness and tomfoolery that Peter has offered up with earlier albums like ‘Cocoon’ and ‘The Depths of Winter’ and is far more direct and straightforward. It is also the first time Peter has worked at a different location, this album being recorded at Fieldgate Studios in Penarth, South Wales, also utilising the production skills of Andrew Lawson.

So, the sound is different, it is basically Peter Jones playing a grand piano and singing, although, this time, he is backed highly effectively and sympathetically by a string quartet. This lends the music a different tone as any solos are either taken by Peter’s piano or by the string quartet.

This is a very brave album with Peter certainly taking a real risk here but, in doing so, he reaffirms just what an excellent singer he really is. This approach also allows the songs to speak for themselves with the strings providing both a warm backdrop and accentuating the lyrical themes.

So, what does it sound like?

Well, it is certainly different but listening to the several times will reveal this to be a very personal set of songs that deal with life, mortality, the dawn chorus, recollections of early holidays and remembrance and the importance of having memories.

The album opens with Taking the Dawn, high strings leading into a striking piano melody and creating a rhythm of sorts, before Peter begins to sing and delights in the commencement of the dawn chorus and the joy that sound brings him. He really praises the power of nature and celebrates that power and the sense of fullness that it gives him, the gift of living from the skies. This is a particularly good opener, personal and uplifting and it sets a good base for all that is to follow.

Next comes is the moody, slightly dark The Whispering of the World, on which the strings get their chance to play some evocative moody and slightly chilling tones. The song is based upon childhood memories of sounds heard on a deserted Devon beach coming through a hollow rock that scared Peter as a child. Sweeter Than Wine is Peter’s remembrance of a school friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly, here Peter assures us that they may be gone but they are not forgotten and will be remembered in the memories that he treasures and the gratitude he feels in having known them.

Quiet Night features a haunting melody and, having a lot of sensory imagery, this is a striking track that seems to deal with how we cope with loss and the hope of a life thereafter. Peter is not religious but seems to think that lives that have gone play some part in our lives now. As I say, this is a very personal and emotional song and is handled very delicately by all. A Town By The Sea follows and is the lone, completely instrumental track and one that acts as a tour de force for the string quartet to really shine along side the stately grand piano of Peter Jones. This brief interlude works as a demarcation between the two halves of the album, the song Blackbird is next and while it’s not a cover of the Paul McCartney track of the same name, it does bear similarities to that song. Peter talks of walking home late at night and hearing a lone blackbird singing before the dawn, striking imagery for these days in which we find ourselves, a glimpse of hope for better days that are coming.

Waving, Drowning is another very personal track, one in which Peter talks of the depression that he has suffered from, of how the suffocating feelings of that time made him feel and how he finally managed to break free. He recalls how friends reached out to him and helped him establish firm ground under his feet, enabling him to take tentative steps to freedom. This is a very hopeful song, emotionally bare and yet striving for a life that has been eluding him but one that he is determined to have once again. This is a wonderful track full of warmth and life, brilliant.

The closing song of the album, Lost To The Years, is simply beautiful and is a comment on the loss of Peter’s grandmother in 2019. In this song he remembers her with warmth and love and much gratitude for all that she meant to him and talks about how he is determined to keep her memories alive in his life. This is a beautifully dignified and lovely set of memories that he sings of and he uses them as a challenge to himself to ensure that he learns from what she has taught him and as to how he will live going forward from here. This is highly personal and very emotionally laden with love and gratitude. Ultimately, he realises that death, while incredibly sad, comes to us all and that we should learn to make the most of the time that we have available to us. Which is a very realistic and encouraging sentiment for us all to live by

This album is one that will really touch you emotionally, or should do if you have an open heart to hear the message that it sends out, “Life is precious, love and enjoy those around you whilst you can”. There is much depth in these words and this album is very recommended for being a heartfelt, beautiful collection of some vastly different and personal, yet universal, songs for us all to appreciate.

Released 4th December 2020

Order from White Knight Records here: 

https://www.whiteknightshop2.co.uk/store/Tiger-Moth-Tales-c36255878

Review – The Bardic Depths – The Bardic Depths by John Wenlock-Smith

The Bardic Depths is an all new progressive rock project formed from the writing team of multi-instrumentalist, Dave Bandana with lyrics and concept from Bradley Birzer. The self titled debut album releases in March 2020 and features performances from Peter Jones – Saxophone/ Vocals (Camel/ Tiger Moth Tales), Tim Gehrt – Drums ( Streets/ Steve Walsh), Gareth Cole – Guitar (Tom Slatter/ Fractal Mirror) and Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) amongst a host of other amazing musicians from the progressive rock community.

To say that this is an unusual album is nothing odd, but such is the way of modern music making in that this one stands out for being very different, especially when you consider that this collective has never actually met in full or in person, as yet. In fact, up to a few weeks ago Dave and Brad had not even spoken by phone, skype or similar, this despite them having collaborated on two of Dave’s previous albums.

This group or project came to be because all involved are “Passengers”, the collective noun used by fans of the group Big Big Train for their Facebook group forum. When Lanzarote / Canary Island based musician Dave Bandanna put out a message looking for some musicians to help him with a new project, The Bardic Depths came into being, albeit it through the virtual world of file swapping and editing..

Dave, whose normally work entails entertaining holidaymakers by providing music in the evening at various holiday resort and hotels (he also feeds the islands large stock of feral cats) was inundated with great responses. These came from the likes of Gareth Cole, Peter Jones and Professor Bradley Birzer of Hillsdale College, Michigan among others, with Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) acting as a producer. This album is certainly different because of all these factors.

The album itself is a celebration of the friendship between C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien, both of whom were members of the Oxford University literary group The Inklings, where they would meet to talk about their writing projects and read to each other.

This album explores that friendship across its seven lengthy tracks.  The music wears its influences openly with a touch of Pink Floyd and snatches of latter-day Talk Talk’s prog sensibilities, to name just a couple. All are very lovingly collated together to create a highly impressive, moody and emotionally moving musical collage of ideas, influences and performances that, when taken together, merge to create a series of epic pieces reflecting on friendship through the storms of one’s life.

I know I say this about many of the albums I review, but I feel this really is a remarkable project and one that will be viewed very positively come the end of year listings. Well I certainly think that will be the case here, I know it will be for me. Once again this album will need some time for its treasures to become fully apparent for it is only with increasing familiarity that this will become clear. There is so much great music here for your ears to embrace and enjoy that this journey you take will be a most worthwhile and revealing one for you to both start and to appreciate.

Opener piece, The Trenches, refers to the first world war experiences that both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien endured and it is very evocative. Greek literary characters are used to ask the questions about the decisions made, and what the impact of those choices had, on the average man in the trenches. Biting Coals, speaks of the writing group and how, as war survivors, they meet and discuss and talk things over. This song has a lot of atmosphere that is utilised to great effect creating both a safe and cosy environment for the conversation.     

Depths of Time is the first real epic, clocking in at 12:33 which gives this three-part piece lots of room for some very extensive instrumental sections. These include some fine, airy sax from Peter Jones amidst some fabulous rhythmic guitar playing from Gareth Cole. The music here is rather ethereal sounding in tone with lots of space surrounding it to give an open effect and a chilled and relaxed tone, all very impressive really. The next piece is Depths of Imagination which opens with spoken word from Brad Birzer and a strong pulsating bass line from Dave Bandanna along with some great keyboards from Paulo Limoli that offset Dave’s vocal delivery.

Depths of Soul follows, opening with some fiery lead guitar from Gareth and more spoken word from Brad. It’s all very evocative sounding and moves onwards fiercely, fuelled by the drums of Tim Gehrt drums and Dave’s fine bass playing once again. The End is another atmospheric piece that contains some great cello from Mike Warren, a fine piano melody from Paulo Limoli and some lovely flute from Dave. This song has a great melody which suits its gentle tone, the music has passion and depth and sounds exceptionally fine indeed. It is all very musical and tuneful with great melodies that really suit the tone of the songs.

The final song, Legacies, opens with bells and a powerful drumbeat. This piece is about what this friendship leaves in its wake and why it made a difference then and still does for us today. How these men lived, what they believed in and lived for still matters for us today and that is the legacy they left us.

What we live for is important, the final spoken words draw the circle to a close with the words and a truly epic guitar solo opened Gareth and finished by Robin. It is simply sensational and a stunning close to what has been an enjoyable album. One of the best of the year so far and one that you really need to hear for yourself.        

Released 20/3/2020

Order from bandcamp here:

https://thebardicdepths.bandcamp.com/releases

Review – John Holden – Rise and Fall – by John Wenlock-Smith

John Holden’s ‘Rise and Fall’ has been in my possession for a while now and I was very gratified to be given access to this remarkable album some three months prior to its official release. I was also very pleased that I had been thanked  in the album credits, that having been an ambition of mine for quite some time.

‘Rise and Fall’ is the second album from John Holden and features substantial input and assistance from several core musicians including Joe Payne, Oliver Day and Oliver Wakeman, Sally Minnear, Jean Pageau and Michel St Pere from Mystery, not forgetting the always remarkably impressive Peter Jones. If, like me, you enjoyed John’s debut release ‘Capture Light’ (still available from John via Bandcamp) then I’m sure you will love this one too.

The album consists of just seven pieces, they are, however, lengthy and well written. It is also expertly recorded and produced by John himself while the whole album was mastered by Robin Armstrong of Cosmograf fame.

The guest list of collaborators is impressive with each bringing their own skills to bear. Especially worthy of note are the keyboard skills and musical arrangements of Vikram Shankar, a musician who is not very widely known yet. The album is a great place to discover him for yourself, he certainly looks to be a musician with a bright future awaiting him.

As a side note, the packaging on this release is again impeccable, as are the extensive sleeve notes in the booklet which give a deeper insight into each of these tracks.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right on in then shall we…

The opening track, Leap of Faith, features Peter Jones on vocals, recorder and whistles, in fact Peter bookends the album with a further performance on the last track Ancestors and Satellites with both tracks sharing a recurrent musical passage, albeit it in a different key.  

Leap of Faith concerns itself with the antics of Eilmer, A Benedictine monk who lived at Malmesbury Abbey in the 11th century and one who was fascinated by the flight of the birds and bats that lived around the priory He had it in his mind to fly like they did so attempted (like Daedalus, the Father of Icarus of Greek mythology fame) to fly using wings he had made attached to his back and arms. You can read the story in the song lyrics but I can say that gravity prevailed! This piece is very moving and very atmospheric with Peter Jones really bringing the tale to life in his own inimitable way.

This is a fantastic opener that sets you up for all that follows, which, in this instance, is the superb Rise and Fall voiced by Jean Pageau of Mystery. This talented vocalist gives a very emotionally raw vocal delivery that makes you feel his anguish as he sings of the relationship that one has with both their addictions and the person they care about, who also suffers the brunt of this addiction. This is a very honest song and another classy piece of work.

The next track, The Golden Thread, I consider a truly beautiful song, one that has extra depths to it as it is a requiem written by John’s wife Elizabeth who is a cancer survivor. She wrote this to express her deep love for John and also so that, if she were not around, the song and her memory would live on as a musical legacy of her life and struggle. This piece of music is very gentle with an almost classical tone to it and is sung by the remarkable talents of John Payne and Lauren Nolan as a duet, not being written as such initially but Lauren’s voice worked so well with Joe’s that adaptations were made to make it work in this way. The sentiments that this song espouses and expresses are both very warm, loving and deeply profound indeed with Oliver Wakeman and Vikram Shankar playing on the song to magnificent effect.

The music reaches a crescendo before fading away to the harder edged Dark Arts on which Billy Sherwood provides a bass part in the style of the late great Chris Squire, playing the sort of bass runs the great man would have done whilst alive. The track also features a spoken excerpt of Francis Urquhart of House of Cards fame, setting the tone for a politically charged song about the abuse of power by those in charge. Once again Joe Payne vocalises with real passion and power to deliver a truly remarkable track along with more fine keyboards from Oliver Wakeman. I heard this song in an unmixed state six months ago and was suitably impressed then, and still am, by its magnificent, powerful delivery and content that is right on point.

The next track is Heretic which speaks of how ISIS destroyed lots of priceless artefacts in Palmyra in Iraq after killing the 82 year old custodian Khaled Al-Assad at the site and smashing 3000 year old plus pieces in a show of cultural terrorism. He was beheaded in front of his family and his body was then hung in the central square. Again, whilst a dark song, there is hope that the displaced peoples will one day return and, as John says, “Empires rise and fall, ideologies are replaced but still the healing power of love endures.” Sally Minnear’s vocals are excellent on this too as she sings in tandem with Joe Payne.

After the Storm is about a journey one woman takes and utilises the weather outside as a metaphor for storms in her life and the ultimate realisation that, eventually, the storms both outside and inside her will pass leaving a calmer and clearer path ahead. This is mostly an acoustic piece and that adds a good contrast for the album with some fine playing from Oliver Day.

The final song, Ancestors and Satellites, returns to the opening section of Leap of Faith as Eilmer saw Haley’s comet twice in his lifetime with John using this comet theme again to show how little we’ve learnt in the days gone past. This song has vocal contributions from Peter Jones, Joe Payne, Sally Minnear and Lauren Nolan but mainly its Peter who sings this so delicately and with real warmth and all set to suitably atmospheric keyboards from John, and Vikram Shankar.

The song talks about cave paintings over 40,000 years ago and also of the Apollo mission that landed on the moon in July 1969 and of the footprints they left there for ever. There follows an ensemble of synthesizers playing a multi tracked passage to great effect and the massed vocals singing the chorus once again before the comet melody returns once again to bring the song towards its impressive finale. Another thing of note is the fantastic and powerful drum work from Nick D’Virgilio. On this track and throughout most of the album Nick adds his magic and his drive to power these pieces along in a most delightful and satisfying manner.

The vocals are impassioned and strong and Michael St Pere’s epic guitar line is heard, along with a bank of synths, sounding very epic and majestic to bring this fantastic album to a fine conclusion.

To think that this is only the work of John, Elizabeth and a few select friends funded from the sales of his earlier album and without and label support is remarkable. It shows John Holden to be a man with both vision and a purpose. I for one applaud him hugely for his fine efforts on this most excellent album. This is going to be one of the albums of the year for those who take notice.

Released 22nd February 2020

Order from John Holden here:

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

Encircled Announce Third Album – The Universal Mirth – Released 4th August

Midlands prog rockers Encircled will release ‘The Universal Mirth’ ‪on August 4th.

‘The Universal Mirth’ is their third album, a follow up to the bands critically acclaimed 2017 album ‘The Monkey Jamboree’.

“We have gone a bit darker on this album”, says Bass/keyboard player Scott Evans. “The music came first and we had a lot written whilst we were promoting the last album, it maintains some of the song writing elements of ‘The Monkey Jamboree’ that people latched onto but more complex and layered. Busby (vocalist – Mark ‘Busby’ Burrows) has taken his lyric writing to a new level and really explored darker themes, all relevant to today’s cyber security paranoid nation”

Guesting on the album is Prog legend Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales, Red Bazar, Camel). “Pete contributed a 3 minute keyboard solo on the closing 13 minute track Log Out that is one of the finest things I have ever heard, a goose bumps moment for the band”, says Scott.

Pre-orders for the Digipack cd and digital album go live at the start of July on the bands site https://encircled.bandcamp.com

Track listing:

Log In – The Mystical Way
The Obsession
Past Times
This Is Goodbye
Smiling On The Inside
22 Likes
Fantastic Souvenir
Log Out – The Universal Mirth

Band:
Gareth Evans – Lead Guitar
Mark Busby Burrows – Vocals & Guitar
Scott Evans – Bass, Keyboards & Programming

Kym Hart – Guest Vocals
Peter Jones – Keyboards on Log Out – The Universal Mirth
Shaun Lowe – Producer and additional drums