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

Review – John Holden – Capture Light – by Progradar

Life never stands still, the world rotates on its axis at around 1000mph (it’s less as you get North but you get my drift!) and day becomes night. The years pass quicker, or so it seems, and the sheer volume of music that is released gets bigger and bigger all the time.

Because of this it is impossible for me to hear every new release that would perhaps pique my musical curiosity and it pains me to think that I will have missed some gems as the clock keeps ticking. However, I can console myself with the wonderful releases that I do get to hear and enjoy.

I’ve been talking to John Holden about his great musical collaboration ‘Capture Light’ for well over a year now and I was honoured to be one of the first to receive the completed article a couple of months ago. I have listened to it multiple times and now feel ready to write my review…

Over two years in the making, an immersive and evolving album opens with the Joe Payne sung track Tears From The Sun. A symphonic and operatic tour-de-force featuring Oliver Wakeman’s keyboards, it has a feel of where The Enid could be now if they hadn’t imploded. After a quelled opening the bombast begins with multi-layered instrumentation before Joe’s distinctive vocal gives the track life and shape. As opening tracks go, this really does take some beating with John’s great music being complimented by his and Elizabeth Buckley’s fine lyrical accomplishment. A complex musical mosaic that keeps your rapt attention all the way through, Joe is on fine form and gives the song a flamboyant drama.

Crimson Sky takes a more symphonic rock oriented route with Julie Gater’s vocal giving it a Celtic rock infused tone. Hard edged and heavier, there’s a feel of early Karnataka to my ears. The powerful music is complimented perfectly by Julie’s dulcet tones, especially on the catchy chorus. Listen out for the superb guitar solo from Billy Sherwood (yes, THE Billy Sherwood) which adds a real sheen of class to what is already a pretty impressive song. I’m already beginning to love the diversity that John has brought to this album and we’re only two tracks in!

John proves he can tell a great story with the excellent title track, full of drama and intrigue, you’ll have to buy the CD to get the whole story but the musical journey is an engrossing and compelling one that will hold your attention throughout and I had to read the credits twice to realise it was Joe Payne who was performing the fantastic vocals again, this guy is pure talent. Oliver Wakeman’s elegant piano playing once again graces the song and adds real pathos to what is already a dramatic and emotional piece of music and let’s not forget Oliver Day’s stylish guitar, lute and mandolin. Let’s be fair, music has forever been about telling stories and John Holden is already proving to be very adept at it. Capture Light will be one of the most enjoyable and absorbing history lessons you’ll ever have…

A choral mantra that could fit a Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice musical, Ancient of Days is an uplifting track that just seems to bring a ray of sunshine along with it with it’s tribal feeling music and the great vocals of Jean Pageau, ably backed by Lee-Anne Beecher and Marc Atkinson. I could quite imagine this song being part of something like Lion King or Joseph with its great theatrical feel. A real shout out must go to Emily Dolan Davies whose skill on the drum kit is utterly evident here.

A song all about Jesse Owens and THAT race in Berlin, One Race is possibly the most progressive track on the album while not being that progressive (if that makes sense?). Joe Payne delivers another consummate vocal performance and the harmonised parts with Max Read give a real Celtic overtone, in fact the whole track reminds me of Clannad or Enya in places. It’s another well crafted song with a great storyline that works brilliantly along with the rest of the tracks on the album and the guitar playing just gives added impetus to the sensation of running along with the narrative.

Now onto the one track that I didn’t click with straightaway, Dreamcatching seemed a bit trite and twee to me on first listen, not quite gelling with the other songs on the album. Trying to explain the legend behind dreamcatchers using spoken word, song and music, this piece of music will either captivate or alienate in my opinion. Repeated listens have led me to appreciate it a lot more, while not actually loving it like I do the majority of the other songs. What does work very well though is the lovely flute and sax work from the ubiquitous Peter Jones who does a good job of adding whimsy and warmth as well as backing vocals along with Julie Gater.

London Grammar, that’s what I thought when I heard the first ultra-cool strains from No Man’s Land with it’s jazzy backdrop to Julie Gater’s silky smooth vocals. A song for lazy days in hazy summers, its chilled and easygoing vibe seems to seep into your very being. The feel good atmosphere seems to infuse every instrument, Gary O’Toole’s polished drum playing and Oliver Wakeman’s relaxed piano and keyboards are the height of sophistication.

A dreamy and contemplative song, Seaglass Hearts is full of longing and the vocals give pause with their elegant reminiscing. A nice interplay between the voices of Peter Jones and Julie Gater give a modern folk feel to the track, one full of wonder and playfulness along with Peter’s soulful sax playing. A sentimental ending to the album, enforced by the sparse piano that fades us out to a close.

A captivating journey through the mystical and historical, ‘Capture Light’ is an accessible, melodic tour-de-force that reveals more of its hidden depths with each listen. John Holden has collected an impressive group of musicians and given us a release that could well be a highlight of the year already.

Released 23rd March 2018

Pre-order ‘Capture Light’ on digital from bandcamp here

Pre-orders for the CD will be available from John Holden’s website soon at this link

Legendary prog-rockers CAMEL announce UK tour dates for September 2018 – Performing the whole of their 1976 classic album Moonmadness plus other classic tracks

Following the recent announcement that legendary prog-rock band Camel will bring their acclaimed live show to London’s Royal Albert Hall in Sept 2018, the band are happy to reveal that this will be preceded by an extensive run of UK tour dates.

During what will be a very special run of shows – performed by Andrew Latimer (guitar, flute, vocals), Colin Bass (bass guitar, vocals), Denis Clement (drums), Peter Jones (keyboards, vocals) – the band will be playing the entirety of their 1976 album “Moonmadness” plus plenty of other classic tracks. Upon release “Moonmadness” left its mark on the UK Top 20 albums chart, going on to become certified silver. In the Q & Mojo Classic Special Edition Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock, the album was included in its list of the best “40 Cosmic Rock Albums” and voted no. 58 in the Top 100 Prog Albums of All Time by readers of ‘Prog’ magazine in 2014.

(Band pic by Caron Malcolm)

The full run of UK dates is as follows. Tickets go on sale Friday 1st Dec at 10am.

Fri 07 Sep 2018 Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK [buy tickets]
Sat 08 Sep 2018 Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle, UK [buy tickets]
Sun 09 Sep 2018 The Assembly, Leamington, UK [buy tickets]
Mon 10 Sep 2018 Friars Aylesbury at The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, UK [buy tickets]
Wed 12 Sep 2018 O2 Guildhall, Southampton, UK [buy tickets]
Thu 13 Sep 2018 Corn Exchange, Cambridge, UK [buy tickets]
Fri 14 Sep 2018 Birmingham Town Hall, Birmingham, UK [buy tickets]
Mon 17 Sep 2018  Royal Albert Hall, London, UK [buy tickets]

Listen to “Moonmadness” on Spotify HERE

Review – Barock Project – Detachment – by Gary Morley

I discovered the talented Italian band The Barock Project after Nellie Pitts recommended their album ‘Skyline’ to me.

I took a gamble and sent her a postal order (or was it a cheque?). Anyway, the sound of young Mediterranean youth playing their hearts out soon won me over. They then upped the ante with an excellent live album, ‘Vivo‘. Live, they were even stronger, with some real power to their collective elbows.

They’ve now returned with their new album and it’s another quantum leap forward.

The old school vibe of the ‘Skyline’ project has been toughened up, the band are now firing on all six cylinders, and if the automotive metaphor was to be stretched to burst, this is a pole position worthy band ready to accelerate away from the pack.

I reviewed this after listening to it and conversing with a friend of the band as I listened, she was able to answer questions as they popped into my head-Amazing thing, technology.

Listening to Luca’s amazing piano playing, typing a query as I listen and someone hundreds of miles away answers it, the ultimate footnotes to the album. A new angle here, an interactive listening session

One example being my comments about that piano playing:-

Me: “he’s certainly versatile, from rippling flurries of classical notes to almost jazz chords

And traces of Jools Holland piano on The The’s “Uncertain Smile”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dz50N2_tCCg&feature=youtu.be&t=3m24s

My “source” – “Oh he’s amazing, classically trained, you can tell, he’s a real pianist, not a computer geek who prods keys”.

I’ve listened again and the depth of musicality is being uncovered.

Track 3, Happy To See has a pure Jon Lord Hammond solo that is pitched perfectly before the guitars slice through with a very Steve Luthaker tight controlled solo with a hint of Francis Dunnery in the note bending climax

There are hints of the “not singing in my native tongue” in the closing part of the song, but the vocals are still enunciated beautifully and the instrumental canvas is a pleasure to lose yourself in.

My source filled me in on this too.

Luca, who writes, plays keyboards and produced the album also sang on all the tracks as in a Spinal Tap type “gardening accident” the band lost their vocalist and front man during the recording of this album.

In the best Prog tradition, following in the footsteps of that short bloke from Genesis and that American drummer with the Italian name that now plays with the quintessential British Prog band, he stepped up, and knocked off an albums worth of vocal, as you do.

There is another vocalist on the album too, a Mr P. Jones, Esq. that many of you know from his appearances fronting the lovely Tiger Moth Tales and the noisier Red Bazaar.

All these multi talented people, gathered together on one album, the sum is even greater than the parts.

I must confess to “assisting” with the lyrics of one track, but my involvement was very peripheral, merely a view of the lyrics written out in English, I was happy to be of some use as the lyrical flow presented here is a credit to Luca’s resolve to “get it right” and sing in a natural way using a second language so yet another string to his bow!

One Day starts with some neo classical guitar figures, before switching to a 12 string sound, a real “classic Prog” vibe here, my initial point of reference was BJH, there is that element of lush pastoral beauty to the melody , the classical piano underpinning adds to the “feel”.

It’s the classical background that comes over here, with a splash of flute bouncing across harpsichord and yes, it does go a bit Jethro Tull in the middle eight, but in a good way.

Secret Therapy starts with Tablas and fast acoustic guitar runs, along with a grand piano, in fact the more you listen, the more instrumentation you find in the mix.

Production is lush and warm, none of that awful tinny drum heavy sound that blights much modern rock, no here we have a soundscape constructed by someone whose palette expands beyond drums, pro tools and auto tune.

Rescue Me is very poppy with a catchy little riff.

It Bites almost, or should I be referencing Frost* now?

I could go on, but the beauty of this album is that it encapsulates you in it’s own universe completely.

You want to listen all the way from start to finish without skipping a track.

There are some beautiful guitar parts too, nothing too flashy or show boating, but they flow organically with the songs, they’re not bolted on or shoehorned in as is the case with some material.

There’s some melodic underpinning of the songs from Francesco on bass that enables the instrumentation to spread out and fill the room.

I get the feeling that this album was made by a band of friends in a room all at the same time, the old school way.

The way Bob Dylan and the Band recorded the basement tapes – music made for the joy of making music together. Like that album, we are privileged that the creators wish us to share their world.

Released 20th March 2017

Buy ‘Detachment’ direct from the band.

 

 

Review – The Gift – Why The Sea Is Salt – by Leo Trimming

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Let’s get straight to the point – ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ is a truly exceptional album, and deserves to propel The Gift in to the higher echelons of current British Progressive Rock Music. Simple as that – it really is that outstanding. Very few albums indeed have the potential to attain the status of a potential ‘classic’ album, which will live long in the memory like ‘Why the Sea is Salt’. This is a work which greatly appeals to the heart and mind in equal measures, and similarly beguiles and stimulates in its beauty and drama.

This album is a considerable step up in ambition and achievement by a band that has evolved very significantly over the last year. Commencing as a studio project by Mike Morton and Leroy James in 2006, The Gift released promising debut anti-war album ‘Awake and Dreaming’, then went to sleep for a few years due to other life commitments. Morton then teamed up with talented song writer David Lloyd to re-form The Gift and record the excellent album ‘Land of Shadows’ in 2014 as one eclectic label Bad Elephant’s first ever releases (The third to be precise). This hard working band has been playing live over the last couple of years to develop their sound, skills and audience at venues across the UK and even a first trip to Europe in 2014 to play in the Netherlands. Stalwart Stefan Dickers has been their rock on bass for that period. They successfully appeared at last year’s Summer’s End Festival in Wales, and it was clear then they were on an upward trajectory.

The Gift have wanted to take a different and more ambitious musical approach requiring some changes in personnel, with no disrespect to their able predecessors. They recruited new drummer Neil Hayman from BEM label mates progressive hard rockers, Konchordat. He definitely adds more experience, creativity and power to the band. Leroy James also ‘came home’, rejoining the band late in the writng process of this album and just before recording started, adding his deft guitar skills and a more rock oriented approach to David Lloyd’s subtle flowing guitar work. The last but possibly most significant piece in bringing The ‘New’  Gift Jigsaw puzzle together was the recruitment on keyboards of an Italian bona fide Classical Music star, Gabriele Baldocci, who performs piano recitals around the world, alongside teaching at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in Greenwich. Morton heard that Baldocci loved Genesis, Queen, Yes, Beatles, Crimson, Camel and Tull, and wanted to use his classical skills in a progressive rock band. The Gift were delighted to recruit him, and on the evidence of this album it is clear that his undoubted incredible keyboard skills, eminent classical background and love of great rock music adds something really special to the mix. He is a real gift to The Gift!

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‘Why the Sea is Salt’ is a rich presentation of musical styles and sounds, social commentary,  mythological references, and touching expressions of personal feelings of loss and mourning. This is an album with very strong and distinctive individual songs. However, ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ has even more impact if consumed as a whole with lyrical and musical themes threading through the tapestry of the album, producing a remarkably consistent and resonant piece of work. The focus is upon man’s sad disconnection from life’s real meaning, with the poetic sense that in human existence our collective tears ‘salt’ the sea. This description may make it sound like a ‘weighty’ piece of work, but crucially The Gift never forget that the Song is Key, and it is filled with memorable melodies and harmonies which make it accessible, entertaining and interesting for a wider audience. In fact, this album is notable for the balance between lyrics and music. They compliment each other, but crucially the lyrics allow enough space for the music alone at times to breathe and convey the spirit of the song.

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The song which may inevitably attract the most attention from some is The Tallest Tree, featuring contributions from Anthony Phillips and Steve Hackett of Genesis fame, alongside the more recent emerging talent of Peter Jones from Tiger Moth Tales. Anthony Phillips provides characteristically beautiful and shimmering 12 string guitar with Peter Jones playing a touching Irish whistle to add suitable pathos to the intro. This is a heartfelt song of loss about the passing of vocalist Mike Morton’s father with deeply felt and succinct lyrics, based on a poem Mike Morton wrote for and recited at his father’s funeral. Towards the end Steve Hackett perfectly reflects the elegiac feeling with a tasteful and distinctive guitar solo, and then perhaps appropriately the song fades away wistfully into the distance. I do not mind sharing with you that the first hearing this song reduced me to tears as it touched on my own parallel loss of parents with Morton. Memories of holding my own mother’s hand as she passed away were reflected in similar images of Morton taking his father’s own hands towards the end:

‘I Take Your Hands… Now as Fragile as a sigh,

As through this Veil of Tears, We say our last Goodbye

 Now the Tallest Tree is Falling, Our Faces Feel the Rain,

As Darkness Turns to Morning, Love is What Remains’

It is unusual for this reviewer to share such a personal memory in a review, but it is done to show how The Gift’s lyrics and music can truly touch the listener. Such is the simple beauty of the music and honest expression of deep emotions, which will touch many listener’s hearts, that it seems clear this song could become regarded as a classic.

To go back to the album’s beginning, ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ commences aptly with the suitably nautical and mythical At Sea, premiered to great acclaim at the recent ‘Power of Three’ gig in London. Mainly written by David Lloyd, this acts like an overture for the album as Gabriele Baldocci shows his classical piano excellence with a softly undulating piano solo with hints of Ravel as we start our musical voyage, leading onto Lloyd’s gently floating guitar. Like a sudden storm rising, the tempo and power suddenly builds with Hayman pounding away and Baldocci running a sinuous synth line above the backing in a scintillating instrumental section. The guitars and keyboards intertwine to great effect, and then Dickers’ melodic bass line leads us into a short but expressive guitar solo, before we settle back into a piano section… and after six minutes a ‘Becalmed’ singer Mike Morton finally enters the fray. Quite an opening to an album.  This is Morton as Greek chorus with sonorous  but vulnerable vocals, setting the scene including some mythic images (… but have no worries, this album is no corny ‘sword and sorcery’ epic!) The finely judged concluding guitar solo completes the ‘overture’ and takes us on into the main body of the album.

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The Gift next take us into a horror story with Sweeper of Dreams, a baroque intro leading into a powerful song full of characterisation reminiscent of Alex Harvey.  This is a dramatic ‘story’ song with lyric writer Morton singing menacingly in character as ‘The Sweeper’. One can only imagine what Morton will do to portray this scary character in concert. Baldocci and Morton wrote the majority of the musical themes, Gabriele showing that he can really rock alongside his classical skills, as the song alternates between hard rock and scary ‘evil clown’ carousel sounding interludes. Writer Neil Gaiman was pleased to permit The Gift to use the theme and name of one of his short stories for this song. Fittingly, the images evoked by the memorable music and lines such as ‘Dispose of the Debris, Lying around in your Brain’ may well enter the dream worlds of many listeners.

The Gift take us in a very different direction with the touching and delightful Tuesday’s Child , based on a lyrical idea from Baldocci, shaped and developed by Mike Morton, telling a personal story of an older sad man woefully looking back to the beautiful but forsaken joy and innocence of childhood. The Road of Ashes instrumental opening draws us in beguilingly with keyboards creating a lovely soundscape for an emotionally delicate, floating guitar line. Acoustic guitar then takes us into a beautiful sung lyric in the First Flower section. This is subtle, intelligent and heart felt lyric writing, characteristic of Mike Morton, and for which he should become much more well-known. He makes the connection between emotions and the sea in touching but catchy choruses :

‘Someone’s been waiting for me, somewhere not quite light enough to see

Is this the one I used to be? Cast adrift amongst the Shadows and Salt Waters, That Flow from Me’

Alongside such insightful and emotive lyrics this song of redemption and self-realisation is also expressed perfectly with finely crafted music  as the bass and drums deftly back Lloyd’s flowing and sensitive concluding guitar solo – demonstrating the skill of The Gift in marrying words and music together with skill and insight in conveying the ‘feel’ and message of a song.

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The main inspiration for the album title ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ comes originally from a Norse legend in which a man finds a mill that grinds out anything he wants. However, he gets too greedy, and when he asks it to grind out salt for his food, the power behind it grinds endlessly, swamping him and everyone. The mill then falls into the sea, where it still churns, thus making the sea salty. This mythological source is re-interpreted by The Gift on this album as modern man’s  greed for ‘stuff’ which consumes and hurts us.  Nowhere is this better expressed than on the epic song cycle of All These Things, a piece largely written mainly by Lloyd and Morton. Apparently this song cycle was originally called Black Friday but that title was felt to be too specific as the piece had a wider perspective. Lloyd’s love of Jethro Tull and early Strawbs is demonstrated by the opening acoustic guitar and vocal harmony section in The Vow, portraying marriage as a transaction, a swapping of rings, underlining society’s pre-occupation with possessing things, including each other. Church organs resound as a slight dig at organized religion before we flow into the Harvest of Hollow. The use of understated flamenco guitar shows that The Gift are not afraid to stretch their boundaries. Indeed, it appears that this is a band who wanted to avoid simply repeating previous patterns as they used previously unexplored sounds and styles.

The Gift are not afraid to make political points of social commentary, with Morton particularly animated by his distaste for the current politics of the UK as a ‘crop of bitter weeds’. The Gift direct their focus on the futile emptiness of materialistic consumerism, leading to endless acquisition but never enough to satisfy:

‘So which of us is satisfied? Tell me, are you satisfied?

The Roulette spins in empty eyes, Our Hungerbeasts prowling and growling inside

It’s an unhealthy appetite, Take another bite… Having is Nothing, Hunting is All’

This song cycle takes an ever darker turn as we enter Feeding Time in which The Gift have never sounded so brutal and menacing with an angry and coruscating guitar duo between David Lloyd and Leroy James – the instruments cinematically telling the story as powerfully as any words. In contrast, the next lilting section The Jackdaw, Magpie and Me commences with bird sounds and a gentle acoustic guitar motif as Morton intones with such clarity about the selfishness and emptiness of collecting things trinkets like magpies.  Dickers and Hayman’s subtle bass and drums underline the piece with skill, showing that they are not all about power. The animal imagery is carried on into the gentle re-birth or turning point of the Swan and Butterfly section, with perhaps even a subtle or subconscious reference to previous album’s highlight The Willows.  The lyrics encourage the notion that if we reconnect with Nature, both its external aspects and our inner selves, we have no need to complete ourselves through ‘things’.  The gentle pastoral feel of this section with piano and flute sounds accentuate this as a more meditative section in which the song’s protagonist realises he is as free as creatures of both water and air if he chooses to free himself of the distractions of the media and possessions and reconnect with the earth he walks upon.

As this reviewer is rather melancholic at times I did have some initial reservations about the finale to this song section as Heartfire concludes this piece on a more celebratory almost hymnal note, an echo to the ecclesiastical hints in the opening part, The Vow. However, with repeated listenings it became clear that The Gift were right to conclude this remarkable song cycle with a more upbeat conclusion after the gentle pastoralism of the previous section. Morton urges us to ‘come to your senses’ , encouraging us to let the world outside fill our senses because there is enough joy and thrill in those experiences to keep us fulfilled all our lives. Cleverly, all five senses are lyrically engaged with the sight of ‘silver cloak of winter’, the touch of ‘summer heat’, the ‘taste of joyful tears’, the ‘scent of gardens’ and hearing ‘whispers in the dark’. These positive feelings are evoked by sun filled backing which skips along with a joyful synth line, and harmonic backing vocals, concluding ‘Take Heart’.

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The coda to this album is the haunting Ondine’s Song. Baldocci’s eerie synth soundscape backs Morton’s mournful vocals, bringing us full circle to the sea based and mythically imbued lyrics of the opening At Sea. Ondine is a legendary elemental being associated with water, whom has inspired an opera by Debussy, a ballet by Henze and even The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson… and now a song by The Gift! The story involves her marrying a human to gain immortality, but if the human is unfaithful they are fated to die. On a more fundamental level in this song Ondine stands for the essential nature of Water as Life itself, and a plea not to pollute the world – without water there is no life, leading to the elegaic fading refrain:

‘Every Mortal Breath, By Her Grace Alone…. By her Grace Alone…’

In the legend the man’s infidelity breaks Ondine’s heart, and in this song Ondine’s heart is broken by Man’s treatment of the world. Her sorrow and man’s sorrowful salt tears run into the oceans. Once again the music sensitively expresses the flowing almost wraith like feeling of this piece.

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The Gift have really stepped up a few levels with this remarkable album. They have not stretched the boundaries of music – very few artists truly do that. What they have undoubtedly done is skilfully and  beautifully draw upon a variety of influences, inspirations and ideas and artfully crafted them into an imaginative and enjoyable musical experience that touches the heart and stimulates the mind. What more could one want from an album?! Do yourselves a favour and just go and buy it!

Released 28th October 2016

Buy ‘Why The Sea Is Salt’ from Bad Elephant Music

 

 

 

 

Review – Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase – by Progradar

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“A good marriage winds up as a meeting of minds, which had better be pretty good to start with.

When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, and engage in new trains of thought.”

I know, you’re wondering what the heck am I going on about now but please lend me your ears and I shall explain….

When I heard that the instrumental progressive rock of Red Bazar was courting the vocal and lyrical talents of a certain Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales fame I, being a natural optimist, was certain it would be a glorious union.

I’d listened to the odd track or two from Red Bazar and had always been impressed by what I’d heard and, as for Peter, I’m sure you know I am a long term fan of this mercurial musician (and very nice bloke).

But, as well as successful accords, history is littered with stories of disastrous tie-ups, now you could bet your house on this joining together of musical marvels being a success, however, until you hear the material of the new partnership, you can never know for sure…..

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Red Bazar formed in 2007 with Andy Wilson on guitar, Paul Comerie on Drums and Mick Wilson on bass and keyboards.  The trio released their debut album in 2008, ‘Connections’ which was an instrumental album.  It was very well received by the prog world and garnered excellent reviews from around the world.  

 The following year they started work writing and recording the follow up album ‘Differential Being’ which again was an instrumental album. The album was released in 2010 and this too received excellent reviews and saw the band move forward, making a video to the first track (Paragon) from the album  and undertaking a series of gigs.

The band’s next release was a three track EP ‘After The Ice Storm’ released in 2013.  This used more keyboards, allowing them to create a wider variety of sounds.  The EP also received glowing reviews.l

The use of more keyboards made it difficult for the band to play live as Mick was juggling between keyboards and bass, so the band took the decision to find a keyboard player.  After a long search and many auditions, along came Gary Marsh.  He was perfect and was promptly added to the band’s line-up towards the end of 2013.

Peter Jones, attended a Red Bazar gig in Nottingham and suggested if we ever wanted to try some vocals he’d be ‘up for it’”, explains Andy. “We sent him a track and were really impressed with the lyrics and melodies. The rest, as they say……is history.”

Through 2014 and 2015 the band wrote and recorded the songs for ‘Tales from the Bookcase’ which is a collection of musical stories, many of which are based on Pete’s favorite books, with him providing the lyrics for all of the tracks except one, Sunset For A New World.

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By jove, they do love irony these rock bands, let’s laud the fact we now have a vocalist and start the new album with an instrumental! Actually In The Beginning is a rather fine opening to this new release with its slow burning feeling and ramping up of anticipation. Andy Wilson’s guitar is the lead here, ably assisted by the other musicians and setting the scene perfectly for Queen Of The Night Pt.1. A heavy riff opens the track with pounding drums and a tasty bass line before the distinctive voice of Peter Jones adds a edgy tone. Moving away from his usual progressive tinged vocal, Peter gets to rock out a bit more on this song and you get the impression that he’s really enjoying it. The punchy guitar and dynamic drums drive the track along giving it an added impetus before the laid back interludes where Peter’s voice takes centre stage amid a tug of war between dark and light where he takes on two distinctive characters with his clever invectives. The inventive music can, on one side, lull you into a feeling of goodwill and yet, on the other, leave you feeling like you’ve been run over by a force of nature. The next track is a particular highlight for me, Calling Her On is an almost perfect symbiosis of Peter’s Tiger Moth Tales persona and the inherent brilliance of the original musical quartet. A delightfully subdued opening where the vocals lay the foundations of the story is quite captivating, a gentle tranquility amid a hectic world. As expected, it doesn’t last forever as a sweeping riff demands your attention, the compelling rhythm section urging, the vocals taking on a pressing tone. The central part of the song opens up with Andy’s expansive guitar solo, one that carries you away on a wave of emotion. He’s always been a master storyteller Peter Jones and his new partners in crime just add to his skills as a troubadour of note on this compelling musical tapestry, a journey that twists and turns dragging you along with it as a willing victim, the mellow, unhurried closing out of the track soothing your troubled soul.

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Peter is a well known Genesis fan and City And The Stars has that revered prog rock band written large all over it. The gentle introduction with the Gabrielesque vocal and the Tony Banks inspired keyboards is inspired and the rest of the track does not let you down in any way. The guitar playing is sublime, the drums are smooth as you like and the bass is suave and sophisticated. It all leaves you cocooned in the nostalgic, whimsical 70’s bubble from which you never want to leave as it paints pictures in your mind. There is an undercurrent of despair deep at the core of this powerful song though and the longer it goes on that feeling of being safe and secluded drifts away. Intelligent songwriting delivers quite a profound tale and one of which we should surely take note. Andy Wilson delivers another coruscating guitar solo of note and you are left with a slightly hollow feeling of wistfulness. Lights Of Home is the centrepiece of the album and is a track of intricate sensibilities amid a story of endurance and bravery. The opening is busy and engrossing with a percussive riff and Paul Comerie’s abilities as a drummer are brought well to the fore, aided and abetted admirably by Mick Wilson’s driving bass. This guy has inherent brilliance behind the kit and it is allowed to shine here. There’s an impatient, restless quality to the song, never settling, an urgency that you feel through the impressive musicians and the vocals add direction to that verve. A lull in proceedings midway through allows you to gather your thoughts on the scenario before you and then a brilliant guitar solo creeps into your mind, the guitar seemingly piercing your very being, Gary Marsh adding the distinctive panache of his keyboards. A track epic in scope and delivery and one that stays in your mind long after it has come to a close. There’s something really addictive about the guitar theme that runs through Sunset For A New World, something that gets under your skin and into your very soul. I can’t describe it exactly but I really like the feeling it engenders as it meanders along, captivating and beguiling. The intricate drumming and ever so polished bass line just add to this feeling of uber-cool jazziness that runs throughout this high-class track. Peter’s vocals are heartfelt and fervent and give the song a feeling of perfection and rightness. The pent-up emotion that erupts out of Andy’s guitar on the evocative solo is amazing to behold and, added to the dapper keys, adds that final veneer of elegance to what is a really excellent piece of music.

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The darkest track on the album and one that deals with Peter’s own previous battles with depression, Almost Over begins in a solemn and restrained manner, building the scene gradually. Peter’s voice has a more hushed tone and there is a muted feeling that overshadows everything before a dark riff strikes out. There’s an intentionally oppressive tone to the song, one that provokes an aura of despair and anguish. Long gone are the jolly themes and jocular tones of Tiger Moth Tales’ ‘Storytellers’ yet the song is still as persuasive as any other on this release, even the the guitar solo has a slightly ambiguous and obscure feel to it. Despite the darkness inherent in the track’s theme it does seem to, finally, come to a more optimistic close, there is hope to be found inside your own mind.

The final track on the album is the conclusion to the first, Queen Of The Night Pt2. revisiting musical and lyrical themes originally explored in the opening track. A more refined opening with a staccato riff backing Jones’ dulcet tones as the scene is described in detail. Occasional glimpses of the heavy riff prevalent on Pt1. tie the two tracks together. You must listen to the decidedly impressive lyrics  as they add not a little weight to the music and Peter Jones must be one of the pre-eminent lyricists at large today in the world of progressive music, if not the whole music industry. Listen to the superb nuances in the bass, drums and keyboards with their jazzy feel and the charismatic guitar that seems to glow with a life of its own, there is an organic quality to the music that gives it a unique tactility. The song opens into a huge soundscape that entrances and delights in equal measure, an infinite depth that becomes almost primordial and elemental and, as it fades to a close, one that has captured your very soul.

The addition of an artist of the calibre of Peter Jones to the already impressive musicians in Red Bazar always had the potential to create a new force in the world of progressive music, the question was how good would they actually be? Well my friends I can answer that firmly in the positive. ‘Tales From The Bookcase’ is a new classic to my ears and an album that should be in any discerning fans collection, roll on the next one!

Released 22nd March 2016.

Buy ‘Tales From The Bookcase’ from White Night Records

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.