SiX By SiX, featuring Ian Crichton, Nigel Glockler & Robert Berry, announce release of eponymous debut album 

SiX By SiX is the exciting new trio formed by Ian Crichton (Saga), Nigel Glockler (Saxon) & Robert Berry (3; Emerson, Berry, Palmer), and their eponymous debut album is set for release on 19th August 2022 via InsideOutMusic/Sony Music. 

This hugely accomplished trio of musicians is also pleased to announce their first single ‘Yearning to Fly’, and you can watch the video now here:

The roots of SiX By SiX can be traced back several decades to when Glockler and Berry were together as part of Yes guitarist Steve Howe’s continuation of the band GTR.  Then there’s the Asia connection, where Crichton and Glockler contributed to sessions and recordings, while Berry was the link for his guitarist friend Pat Thrall joining that band. 

Time marches on, paths cross and fate brings these three musicians together, born from a conversation with an industry insider in the UK who connected Ian Crichton in the Toronto area with Robert Berry outside San Francisco, who in turn reached Glockler at his home on the south coast of England.   

Powered by Glockler’s dynamic drumming, the result is an expansive guitar-driven pallet, paired sonically with the unique flavour of the Crichton/Berry songwriting collaboration, which they are very excited to present on this debut album.

Ian Crichton comments: “Throughout my career, I’ve been very selective about what to get involved in outside Saga and when opportunities have arisen, I have said ‘no’ far more often than I have said ‘yes’. When Robert’s manager contacted me in 2020 and explained what Robert was seeking to do creatively and how my guitar could be central to the musical vision, I was intrigued. Now it’s over 18 months and many Zoom calls later, but crucially Robert, Nigel and I have also spent plenty of time together at Robert’s base in northern California. We’re three experienced players from three different countries, and with our six hands, we’re here to break the rock music mould. SiX By SiX is a band that we’ve built together and nurtured into a unique style that I’m very proud of.”

Nigel Glockler continues: “When Robert and Ian first approached me about becoming part of this band, I felt very honoured to be asked and absolutely thrilled to be working with a couple of guys I’ve admired for a long time.  Robert and I first met during GTR days and we’ve kept in touch ever since. My path has crossed with Ian many times on the road over the years, so once the three of us got together in California it was like a meeting of old friends. Musically it immediately clicked and working within the framework of a three piece allows us to branch out in all directions and really push ourselves. I’m best known as the Saxon drummer, but I’ve always been a massive fan of progressive rock – Genesis and PFM are amongst my favourite bands! SiX By SiX is just the beginning of an exciting journey – bring it on!!” 

Robert Berry adds: “After working with the genius of Keith Emerson and losing that musical partnership in 2016 following Keith’s death, I faced a daunting question: whether to bring down the curtain creatively or seek something inspiring which would reach new musical heights. My intuition was to lean into a dramatically more guitar oriented direction. But which guitarist is as impressive as Keith was as a keyboardist? At my manager’s suggestion, an incredible meeting of minds, style and future goals was struck with Ian Crichton. Was it luck, timing or destiny? I think it was all three because 3 is my lucky number. Ian and I were determined to keep this a 3 piece band (there’s that number again) and needed a drummer with a similar mindset and who is a solid, heavy hitter. My friend Nigel Glockler was the perfect fit. And with this extraordinary combination of friendship, musicality, and humor, a Brit, a Canadian and an American have come together as the brand new band SiX By SiX.” 

Available as a Limited CD Digipak, Gatefold 180g LP & as a Digital Album, now available to pre-order here: https://sixbysixband.lnk.to/SixBySix 

The full track-listing is as follows:

1. Yearning To Fly

2. China

3. Reason To Feel Calm Again

4. The Upside Of Down

5. Casino

6. Live Forever

7. The Last Words On Earth

8. Skyfall

9. Battle Of A Lifetime

10. Save The Night

Background:

Ian Crichton is best known as one of the founding members of Saga, alongside his brother Jim. Saga went on to sell roughly 10 million albums world-wide and continue to perform around the world. As the driving force behind SiX By SiX, Ian takes a cunning turn, in assembling another potent band but one that focuses on his guitar prowess.  This time with established players, each with a celebrated past, refined skills, and unlimited potential. 

Nigel Glockler began his career in 1980 as the drummer for the British band Krakatoa. In 1981 he found an opportunity with singer Toyah.  By the end of the year, he joined metal legends, Saxon. Except for two brief absences, Nigel has been behind his massive drum kit as an integral part of Saxon ever since.His powerhouse drumming is the engine that drives SiX By SiX’s songs forwards relentlessly.

Robert Berry first gained international attention with San Francisco-based Hush, releasing well-received recordings and then touring the USA. In the mid-1980s Berry’s first solo album garnered positive reviews in the most influential trade publications and attracted the attention of several major labels. At the suggestion of one of those labels, Robert moved to the UK to work with guitarist Steve Howe (of Yes fame) along with drummer Nigel Glockler in an effort to revitalize GTR. When GTR stalled, Robert partnered with British rock legends Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer to form ‘3’.  With Emerson and Palmer, Robert achieved a top ten charting single and toured the USA. Robert’s melodic sensibilities complement Ian’s extraordinary guitar and Nigel’s signature drumming perfectly.

YES’ Launch YouTube Interview with Steve Howe & Geoff Downes about 50th Anniversary Close to the Edge Tour

Following the sad news of the passing of drummer Alan White, YES will go ahead with their forthcoming The Album Series Tour 2022 in June celebrating the 50th anniversary of their iconic album Close to the Edge, dedicating the tour to Alan White.

On 25 May 2022 Steve Howe & Geoff Downes spoke to Prog Magazine Editor Jerry Ewing ahead of the Close to the Edge 50th Anniversary Tour. This interview was recorded before Alan White passed away.

Here’s a link to the interview:

The Album Series Tour 2022 will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of YES’ iconic album Close to the Edge and will feature the album, performed in full, along with other classic tracks from YES’ extensive catalogue.

The Close to the Edge show will comprise full production and high-definition video wall directed by Andy Clark and featuring the artwork of Roger Dean who will also be joining the tour with an exhibition of YES related art.

The tour line-up will feature Steve Howe (guitars and backing vocals), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Jon Davison (lead vocals), Billy Sherwood (bass guitar and backing vocals) with Jay Schellen (drums and percussion).

About YES

Formed in 1968 by Jon Anderson and the late, and much-missed, Chris Squire, YES have been one of the most innovative, influential and best-loved bands in rock music history. Their 1970s albums The Yes AlbumFragileClose to the EdgeYessongs (a triple live album set), Tales From Topographic Oceans,Relayer and Going For The One were ground-breaking in musical style and content. Their music also became synonymous with artist Roger Dean whose distinctive YES logo design and artwork adorned the lavish gatefold presentation sleeves of many YES albums.

With sales of over 50 million records, the Grammy-award winning YES were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2017 where they performed Roundabout from the album Fragile and the FM radio-friendly Owner Of A Lonely Heart from the 1985 album 90125. In 2021 YES released their 22nd Studio album, The Quest, produced by Steve Howe, which went to No.1 in the UK rock chart and entered the Official UK Album Chart at No. 20.

Review – Kaipa – Urskog – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Urskog’ is the latest, and fourteenth album of the folk/fusion progressive rock group, Kaipa. The band was, in earlier times, home to Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings and it’s easy to see just how he was able to be a part of this band’s heritage and sound.

This album is Stolt free but, nonetheless, it is a very accomplished and epic sounding release and takes you on an aural journey through the forests of the Swedish wilderness and its changing seasons. It is all remarkable considering the album only has six tracks, two epics of fifteen plus minutes, one ten minute track, a nine minute instrumental and one, shorter, six minute song. Yet, within its grooves, you will discover a fabulous world of invention and wonder, at least I did.

I could find touches of Yes in the bass work of Jonas Reingold and the fine, fluid guitar of Per Nilsson, not to mention the epic, and often orchestral, keyboards of Hans Lundin, and that’s before we mention the excellent vocals from Patrick Lundstrom and Aleena Gibson. Along with the powerhouse of drummer Darby Todd, they really create a lush and rich, symphonic sound.

Opener The Frozen Dead Of The Night sets the scene for much of what follows, initially gentle before a stirring synth line from Hans is introduced to favorable effect and the music takes a more rhythmic approach. The drums are then brought into play, this opener is quite keyboard heavy in parts but this works well for the song. The next part of the song leads us towards spring and to the excellent fretwork of Per, who really let’s fly on this section. He has a lovely tone and fleet fingers that fly across the fretboard wonderfully, and highly melodically too.

In A World of Pines takes us deep into the forest and into a sensory experience of mindfulness, even as we learn to appreciate the pine forests and the peace that they offer us. There’s lots happening musically in this song too, lots of lovely keyboard sounds and textures. Next is title track Urskog which has a broody tone to its, almost menacing really. Being sung in Swedish reinforces this and without any translation of the lyrics, it doesn’t help, although there are lots of soaring synths on offer herein. There is also a good bass / drum interaction going on throughout which is highly effective in nature, if only I knew what they were on about!

Far Better for me is Wilderness Excursion which features lots of energetic soloing from keyboard player Hans, guitarist Per and bassist Jonas, who channels his inner Chris Squire to pronounced effect. All of this is surrounded by the busy, yet effective, drum work of Darby. With the song being fully instrumental, everyone gets their moment to shine but it is collectively that they really make a point. This is not mere showing off per se, instead it is collectively highlighting their skills together as an ensemble within the track that works so well. This blistering track really shows how well they get together as a unit and can show that on record too.

The Wastelands of My Mind is hinged on a gloriously uplifting violin melody by Elina Rubensztein which, when coupled with a fabulous vocal from Aleena Gibson, really shines and evokes memories of Kansas’ Robbie Steinhardt. Yes, it really is that good and it makes this definitely one of the album’s finest tracks. Final track The Bitter Setting Sun is also a great with another epic setting and keyboard sounds to match and with lot going on in its fifteen plus minutes running time. The song moves between sections excellently with each part being marked by the different sounds that make it run smoothly.

This album is full of life, you can sense how the seasons change and how life develops as a result. The whole record is very life affirming and an absolute joy to listen to. I heartily recommend it to all prog fans, it’s not that folk oriented but does have a fair element of fusion type embellishments. However it’s all excellently overseen and thoroughly enjoyable as a result.

Released 29th April, 2022.

Order here:

Urskog (burningshed.com)

Review – Strangeways: Complete Recordings Volume 1 – 1984-1995 – by John Wenlock-Smith

The worlds of Prog and AOR often meet and this fine set from HNE/Cherry Red can certainly attest to that, comprising, as it does, the complete recorded output of UK rockers Strangeways and those with US vocalist Terry Brock who replaced original singer Tony Liddell in 1987.

Strangeways were, at the time, championed by the likes of Kerrang and Raw as being rivals to mega US bands like Journey, Styx and REO Speedwagon, with their 1985 debut ‘Strangeways’ coming highly commended in that arena. However, as is often the case, the hype was not realised, in part because Strangeways’ record label, Bonaire, were not up to the case and lacked the promotional push to get the album across to the masses properly. So, whilst the album was solid and had much promise, it failed to sell in sufficient numbers to really get to the next level.

The lack of sales meant something had to change and so out went Tony Liddell and Terry Brock was recruited. Brock was unknown but had a glorious voice and the band gelled with his superior vocals. This all bore fruit on 1987’s ‘Native Sons’ album which yielded the minor hit Dance With Somebody, produced by John Punter. The album was, and is still, highly rated as a landmark moment in British AOR recordings, one that could stand side by side with anything the US could offer, it was that strong and was highly enjoyable too.

Sadly though, despite positive press and reviews, again Bonaire failed to capitalise on the groundswell of acclaim and the album floundered and then lost momentum completely, leaving the band high and dry once again.

So it was that, once again, in 1987 Strangeways regrouped to record ‘Walk Into The Fire’, this time for RCA as Bonaire had fallen by the wayside. The album did not even get a UK release but was available as an expensive import. As the album failed to gain much (if any) traction in the UK, and with no tour support or dates in tow, the band disappeared from the public eye.

Such is the way of things I guess, although this new set at least gives us the opportunity to revisit and re-evaluate the bands career. It contains their three AOR albums and also their more progressively inclined fourth album, ‘And The Horse’, from 1994 that was ignored by everyone, despite it being particularly good in parts. Terry Brock had left by this time and joined Mike Slamer’s project and then Giant for their ‘Promise Land’ release.

The great little set also includes thirteen demo tracks and four live tracks, which prove the band to be formidable in a concert setting. The band certainly had the skills and the songs but were sadly let down by the record company and by events that were very much beyond their control, yet they left us with several albums of classy song writing and some sterling performances shown across the four discs.

Of the four albums, obviously, ‘Native Sons’ is the standout with its near perfect blend of classy and distinctive AOR and with a world class vocalist in tow raising the songs to an extraordinary standard and level. The debut ‘Strangeways’ album is also a very strong album but lacks that extra bit of sparkle, polish and magic that Terry Brock adds to proceedings. The third album, ‘Into The Fire’, is almost as good as ‘Native Sons’, but not quite and you can begin to sense the frustrations coming out of the band with their lack of progress to greater success and acclaim.

By the fourth album a seismic shift had taken place in that Terry Brock had gone and Ian Stewart had taken over the vocals. In addition, the musical landscape had changed with grunge coming to the fore and so Strangeways had changed their sound, gone was the AOR instead a more bluesy and jazz influenced sound had emerged. It makes this fourth and final album rather interesting and vastly different. Indeed, the sound is a lot more intimate sounding, Ian’s vocals are efficient at best he certainly is no Terry Brock! but his voice suits what is happening musically. The songs are longer, allowing room for Ian to indulge his inner Pink Floyd to fine effect. The album is not an easy one to find these days, so this set offers a terrific opportunity to make its acquaintance    

For me though, it is the first three albums that really shine and, even more so, the second and third ones where Terry Brock’s fine voice really shake the rafters. This is a notable set and one I heartily Recommend to fans of this Genre.

Released 26th May, 2022

Order from Cherry Red here:

Strangeways: Complete Recordings Vol. 1 1985-1994, 4CD Box Set – Cherry Red Records


Review – Twelfth Night – Smiling At Grief… Revisited – by John Wenlock-Smith

I think history has not looked favourably on the career of Twelfth Night, who were active in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and were a contemporary of Marillion, Pallas, IQ and other bands of that era, and I can’t help but wonder why that was, for the band had the skill and the talent but possibly lacked the record company support that didn’t come until 1984 and the ‘Art and Illusion’ and ‘Twelfth Night XII’ albums. That meant many, indeed too many, prog fans were either unaware of the band, too blinkered to investigate for themselves or merely too fixated on the past groups to the exclusion of anything new. This was their loss truly for Twelfth Night kept the Prog flame alive in the era after Punk and the New Romantics by offering their own interpretation and distillation of prog into something new and different.

I confess to being one of those that let them pass me by, at least until the ‘Art and Illusion’ mini album in 1984, which I bought and thoroughly enjoyed. I then went back and bought  ‘Live and Let Live’ on vinyl, but it was a challenging listen and I wasn’t ready for it. Again, that is my loss.

This latest CD Issue is to celebrate 40 years since ‘Smiling at Grief’ was initially released. This revisitation takes the form of various members, friends and fans of the band paying their own homage to what was a landmark album for the band. Those friends include Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree and Solo), Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales/ Cyan), Karl Groom (Threshold) and Simon Godfrey (Tinyfish and Shineback,Valdez and Tribe of Names), amongst others, who have remixed the original album master tapes and often added new instrumentation and vocals.

This has all been done in a highly respectful manner and with the intent  to enhance the originals rather than just replacing them. I have to say, that approach seems to bear fruit and the project is worthwhile and certainly worthy of being heard, there is so much good music on here. Now bear in mind that I’ve never actually heard the original ‘Smiling at Grief’ release, only this revisitation, so this review is based solely on what I hear, not any preconceived views or ideas.

The album has sixteen tracks, where the original cassette had just nine, so the CD offers extra workings of several tracks. The opening track is East of Eden with Steven Wilson at the helm. Apparently Steven has long been a subscriber to the Twelfth Night mailing list and jumped at the opportunity to get onboard with the project. His take on East of Eden kicks things off in storming style, even more so on the extended remix (the last track on the CD). Many of these songs have alternate vocals from Geoff Mann and guitar parts from Andy Revell, certainly that is the case on both versions of the lengthy epic Creepshow, the song is sinister in tone as are its lyrics. 

This City has been remixed by Peter Jones with Geoff’s vocal benefitting in the process as it brings out the soulfulness of the song. The Honeymoon Is Over benefits from both its remixers, although the Andy Tillison one lacks  the vocals being as upfront as Karl Grooms take, but whichever version appeals most to you, it is a great song in either guise. Puppets is also remixed interestingly, the new instrumentation adding emphasis to the precision of the lyrics with its almost military beat and its angular teutonic sounding vocal lines. This song sounds like a progressive version by Propaganda, it also has great guitar from Lee Abraham and a great vocal from Stuart Nicholson (Galahad).

Makes No Sense also appears in two versions, one from Mark Spencer featuring vocals from Mark alongside Geoff’s original. The other is from August 2021 with Tim Bowness and Brian Hulse where there is also some pitch adjustment to the guitar solo. One thing that shines throughout the album is the intelligence in the lyrics, Geoff had a way of looking at life that was different to many. Whether this was a reflection of his personal faith is open to question and, sadly, we cannot ask him as he died in 1993, after he’d left Twelfth Night to pursue a career that was more closely aligned to his faith and beliefs.

The way this new remix takes on the classic 1982 album gives us chance to discover afresh just what a talent Geoff and the band were and that can be appreciated again in this new revisited version.

Released 1st April, 2022.

Order direct from the band here:

Shop » Twelfth Night

Ryo Okumoto announces new solo album ‘The Myth of the Mostrophus’ 

The album features guest appearances by current and former Spock’s Beard bandmates Nick D’Virgilio, Al Morse, Dave Meros, Ted Leonard, and Jimmy Keegan.

Ryo Okumoto, long-time keyboardist for prog rock group Spock’s Beard, is pleased to announce his new solo album ‘The Myth of the Mostrophus’, due out on July 29th, 2022 on InsideOutMusic. The six song prog extravaganza features Okumoto’s signature style accompanied by the talents of a who’s who of progressive rock.

The album features guest appearances by a number of incredible musicians including current and former Spock’s Beard bandmates:

Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train, Spock’s Beard) – Drums & Vocals

Al Morse (Spock’s Beard) – Guitar

Dave Meros (Spock’s Beard) – Bass

Ted Leonard (Spock’s Beard. Transatlantic) – Vocals

Jimmy Keegan (Spock’s Beard) – Vocals

Steve Hackett (Genesis) – Guitar

Michael Sadler (Saga, ProgJect) – Vocals

Mike Keneally (Steve Vai, Frank Zappa, ProgJect) – Guitar

Jonathan Mover (Joe Satriani, ProgJect) – Drums

Marc Bonila (Keith Emerson/Kevin Gilbert) – Guitar

Doug Wimbish (Living Colour) – Bass

Randy McStine (McStine & Minnemann, Porcupine Tree) – Guitars & Vocals

Lyle Workman (Todd Rundgren) – Guitar

Michael Whiteman (I Am the Manic Whale) – Guitars & Vocals 

You can watch the trailer for the album here:

Tracklisting:

1.     Mirror Mirror (9:27)

2.     Turning Point (6:53)

3.     The Watchmaker (Time On His Side) (6:25)

4.     Maximum Velocity (8:11)

5.     Chrysalis (7:35)

6.     The Myth Of The Mostrophus (22:14)

Engineered and Mixed by Rich Mouser

The album is now available for pre-order here:

https://ryookumoto.lnk.to/TheMythOfTheMostrophus

Twenty years since Ryo Okumoto’s last solo album ‘Coming Home’ (2002), work on the new album began in November 2000, when Okumoto reached out to I Am The Manic Whale vocalist/bassist Michael Whiteman, following that band’s performance on a livestream event that Okumoto had taken part in.  An exchange of demos resulted in the writing of the initial tracks for the album. Okumoto then reached out the fellow Spock’s Beard bandmates (Nick D’Virgilio, Alan Morse, Dave Meros, Ted Leonard and Jimmy Keegan) to join in and the album started to take shape before rounding out with additional guest stars through his Okumoto’s new group ProgJect including Michael Sadler, Jonathan Mover and Mike Keneally. With the additions of Steve Hackett, Marc Bonila, Doug Wimbish, Randy McStine, and Lyle Workman, the star-studded lineup was complete. The result is a prog rock tour de force from one of the most entertaining and influential artists of prog’s modern era.

Review – Ghost Of The Machine – Scissorgames – by Leo Trimming

Scissor Games‘ is the debut album by Ghost of the Machine, formed when the majority of This Winter Machine split with singer, Al Winter, and joined up with Charlie Bramald, previously vocalist with covers project Harmony of Spheres. This Winter Machine had built a growing reputation with their first two excellent albums, ‘The Man Who Never Was’ and ‘A Tower of Clocks’ so it was rather a risk for most of the band to embark on a new project with a younger and largely unknown vocalist, even if he had once guested with them in their This Winter Machine days. Clearly the band name harks back to their former band, but as most of them originated in that band it’s hardly surprising they chose a name referencing this heritage.  

So, having cut that connection how have Ghost of the Machine shaped up on this debut?

Well, it’s a genuine pleasure to report that Ghost of the Machine have produced an outstanding debut album which clearly has influences from the band’s previous incarnation, but takes a rather different slant. ie This is not ‘Son of This Winter Machine’! The core of that band had already become a polished outfit capable of producing classy rock performances with a progressive edge. Ghost of the Machine seem adept with different sounds and styles on this album. However, they appear to be going down a largely much more ‘Prog’ direction, particularly with the remarkable bookend epic Scissors pieces… but we’ll come to that later. Charlie Bramald wrote the majority of the lyrics for this album and the rest of the band wrote the music and arrangements. He has shared that at least half the music was written before he joined them in January 2021, and most of the rest of it written by the summer of 2021. The band were very keen to ensure the album sounded right before it was put out, hence the time taken since then to get it recorded and eventually released.

Ghost of the Machine prove they can lay down a catchy and impressive rock song as Mark Hagan’s mountainous synth chords and Stuart Mcauley’s thunderous, but lithe bass line introduces the ear worm melodies and riffs of 80’s style rocker, Mountain. This rollocking, rolling song conversely carries a sad tale of unrequited love as the protagonist eventually realises he may as well have tried to love an implacable mountain:

Just another fool who thought that he could move a mountain…

…I was holding on to a heart of stone that never loved me

Now I’m letting go even though it’s killing me, It’s killing me

The tempo and atmosphere change significantly with the much more contemplative Just for Reference, focusing on the gaslighting of abuse victims. Such a sombre theme is introduced on a stark piano and keyboards from Mark Hagan, joined by a softly chiming guitar riff. These are a soft bed for Bramald’s initially melancholic vocals, which become increasingly impassioned as the song’s subject realises who they once were and sees clearly once again. It seems clear that this is an album in which the recurring theme is people finding hope and redemption in their darkest moments. In a similar vein thematically, and with a similar musical restraint, is the later song Dead to Me, with lyrics written by guitarist Graham Garbett. This is an atmospheric, melancholic song showcasing Hagan’s delicate piano playing and Bramald’s emotional singing in an apparent poetic stream of consciousness without verse or chorus. It’s clearly from the heart for Garbett, who has shared that ‘It’s about breaking free from something / someone in your past you no longer need, and the courage to take that risk no matter what the consequences’. An ethereal guitar line floats eerily above the haunting end.

The thread of redemption is also played out on the much more driven and energetic rock of January’s Child, which was one of the first songs written together by Ghost of the Machine when they formed in January 2021, hence the title. Bramald has shared it is about how: ‘January’s Child undergoes a journey of self-reflection to overcome the trauma of a difficult adolescence and grow into the person they really want to be.’ For me the jarring contrast between the upbeat feel of much of the music and the more sombre nature of the lyrics undermines the impact of this song. A more soulful piano led middle section is more engaging. However, the relentless, thumping finale and recapitulation of the opening synth riff feels rather incongruous and a little repetitive towards the end in all honesty. In an album of high-quality songs this is one piece which simply did not connect with this listener.

Mercury Rising picks things up considerably with an 8-minute slab of melodic progressive rock with a magnificent instrumental part one, which is apparently one of drummer Andy Milner’s favourite parts of the album. Apart from the style of music we know we must be back in the ‘Legendary Land of Prog’ as this is a piece based on a poem by Roman poet Ovid about a river nymph, Larunda. Let’s face it in this day and age, a band has got to have some real balls in 2022 to put out a song based on classical mythology!!

Bramald has explained: ‘Mercury was tasked with escorting Larunda to the Underworld after Jupiter tore out her tongue for spilling his secrets. On the way, Mercury becomes infatuated with Larunda and attempts to woo the nymph. She finds herself caught between hell and a half-life, unable to speak a word of protest either way’.

I hope you were keeping up there! To be fair, Ghost of the Machine do a fine job with their very own ‘Fountain of Salmacis’, although this no copy of that Genesis classic. Garbett’s and Owen’s echoing guitars over a keyboard wash introduce a suitably heroic and evocative landscape. The keyboards and guitars combine well, like some sort of epic film theme, as the tempo and volume increase until Milner’s drums and McAuley’s bass drive this leviathan of a song headlong. Then Mercury Rising pulls back almost cinematically with a more reflective vocal soliloquy and gently lilting piano with definite echoes of one of Marillion’s greatest songs, ‘Incubus’ (you may hear that band name again!😉) A delicate guitar line ascends and the tempo increases as a point of revelation is reached. The earlier musical theme returns in a rip-roaring finale and a sinuous synth line by Hagan snakes above the mayhem, with Milner in particularly powerful form on the drums. It’s full on classy melodic Prog and a highlight of the album.

Before we come to the conclusion let’s deal with two rather large elephants in the room for some:

Firstly, the ‘schism’ in the ranks of This Winter Machine, which led to the formation of Ghost of the Machine. I do not know the details behind that split, and I will not speculate. Indeed, frankly I am going to completely ignore that elephant – let’s just take this album on face value on its own merits.

Secondly, there is the issue of the style of much of this album, particularly the epic album bookending Scissors suite.  There is ‘Progressive’ as an approach to music, and there is ‘Prog’ as a distinct musical genre. The epic Scissors pieces, along with Mercury Rising, places this album and band squarely in the ‘Prog’ category, with a capital ‘P’. Some may see that as a definite advantage and recommendation, whilst others may be wary or a little ‘sniffy’ about this adherence to a genre originated in the early 70’s and developed in the 80’s. We could have a long debate about it, obsessively inspecting our navels… or perhaps we could just enjoy the music?!

To get straight to the point, the Scissors suite is the undoubted highlight of an excellent album. Indeed, this suite could well come to be regarded as among the best pieces of ‘Prog’ in 2022. There are many Prog bands out there attempting to mimic the musical heroes of their youth, often unsuccessfully and frankly lacking sufficient spirit, skill, energy or class. Sure, the Scissors suite has distinct echoes and influences from earlier Prog generations, (and Marillion may well be consulting their lawyers if they ever hear this… but then again, the same was said of them about echoes of early Genesis back in their 80’s heyday!)  HOWEVER, Ghost of the Machine really pull off such a thrilling Prog tour de force on Scissors that you simply don’t care whether you may have heard similar stuff before (you definitely have I can assure you!!). It doesn’t matter – it really is that good.

The opening salvo with the definitely 80’s Marillion-esque keyboard fanfare and towering drums, bass and guitar chords is a massive and enjoyable opening. Ghost of the Machine really know how to juxtapose power with subtlety, and they drop away to an interlude of Hagan and Bramald on piano and voice with McAuley’s subtle bass, which gives the lyrics and storyline room to breathe. Apparently, bassist McAuley wrote the guitar solo at the end of the first section way back in the 90’s and Graham Garbett skilfully realises that solo finally in 2022. Some things just take time.

Bramald’s outstanding lyrics and imagery on Scissors are poetic and flowing, telling the dramatic story of how an abused woman eventually snaps and kills her abusive partner with the nearest sharp object – scissors. This is dark and thought-provoking material.

Flash a fistful of silver, you’re the rock and I play the scissors

Cutting out the pages of my life for you to rearrange

All the threads exposed, tugging on the strings my nerves unfold

I’m a plaything, I’m a captive of the Puppet King

The music and lyrical imagery are perfectly intertwined, conveying the wretched emotions and unfolding drama from different perspectives, particularly on the remarkable ‘The Puppet King’ section, which brims with menace and vanity. Bramald has shared: ‘An abuser’s victims are not just their partners. They fool everyone around them. That’s where the idea of the Puppet King came from; it’s a title this character bestowed on himself out of sheer vanity, a belief that he’s somehow godlike and above everyone – pulling the strings, if you will. But “Puppet King” regimes are also false and hollow.’

There will be inevitable and justified comparisons between Charlie Bramald’s singing and wordplay with Fish of early Marillion, but there also distinct lyrical and vocals echoes of the harder edge of early Twelfth Night with the now sadly departed Geoff Mann – as a life long Twelfth Night fan let me tell you that’s quite a compliment. Bramald’s use of recurring and double edged images and symbols is clever and insightful. Bramald even gets to play a short flute passage in the instrumental passage of The Game, which clearly harks back to Gabriel era Genesis. Graham Garbett also plays a beautifully clean guitar melody over an acoustic guitar backing in this more contemplative interlude.

The drama and pace really pick up on the following short Fighting instrumental section with Hagan building a wall of keyboards as Scott Owens launches a stratospheric guitar solo over titanic drumming from Andy Milner – it really is a stirring passage. However, the real pay-off comes with the sudden segue into the sorrowful Shame section with Bramald’s excellent and soulful vocal alone with Hagan’s gentle piano, singing words which will go round and round your ears with their delivery and impact:

I’m fighting,

Against the strings,

I turn around and catch a glimpse

I see all the lives the Puppet King collects

I’m in a room filled with human marionettes

No-one dares to speak against a god,

I’m crying out but no-one will respond

The final Hope instrumental rises to a crescendo in a more positive way, until we are just left with Hagan’s plaintive piano.

Scissors (Reprise) concludes this epic story, starting off more contemplatively in the first section Cut, with gently undulating piano, subtle drumming and bass with tasteful guitar lines supporting a softer vocal from Bramald. Ghost of the Machine also seem to know when to pull back and convey stories and emotions more subtly. The Wake short instrumental passage features a beautifully played Mcauley bass line in a keyboard and piano setting. The final triumphant Winner section is carried on a wave of flowing melodic progressive rock, and apparently Milner’s expressive and joyous drumming inspired the ‘Cry for Victory’ verse. A scintillating guitar solo takes off over the furious but controlled drive of the band and they sweep onwards to the finale of a truly outstanding suite (yeah, I know I say ‘outstanding’ a lot – this time it’s justified!)

Mark Hagan’s excellent piano and keyboards are key to the Scissors pieces, as they are for the whole album. Alongside him the double guitar attack of Graham Garbett and Scott Owens excel, and throughout the album the interplay between keyboards and guitars is a joy. The Mcauley and Milner rhythm section are classy and precise in their intuitive approach to underpinning the songs. These skills are captured and conveyed sonically with some very fine production from Bob Cooper. The Scissors suite shows a band in perfect unison with words and music locked together, telling such a deeply meaningful story.

Scissor Games‘ is a remarkable debut album. It clearly owes so much to earlier eras of Prog Rock but when it is done with this sheer amount of brio and skill, allied with powerful, impactful lyrics, then it is entirely valid and worthy as a piece of music and art. Many Prog fans will absolutely fall in love the style and emotional content of ‘Scissor Games‘ which will very probably be rightfully be regarded as one of the best debut progressive rock albums of 2022.

That’s quite enough from me, just listen to the music – Cut!

TRACK LISTING:

1. Scissors
I. Starting Line
II. The Puppet King
III. The Game (Instr.)
IV. Fighting (Instr.)
V. Shame
VI. Hope
2. Mountain
3. Just For Reference
4. January’s Child
5. Mercury Rising (Pt. 1 & Pt. 2)
6. Dead To Me
7. Scissors (Reprise)
VII. Cut
VIII. Wake (Instr.)
IX. Winner

MUSICIANS:
Charlie Bramald  –  Lead Vocals & Flute
Graham Garbett  – Guitars & Backing Vocals
Mark Hagan  –  Piano, Keyboards & Mellotron
Stuart Mcauley  –  Bass, Pedals & Mellotron
Andy Milner  –  Drums
Scott Owens  –  Guitars

Released June 3rd, 2022.

Order from the band here:

Scissorgames: CD – Signed Pre-order – Ghost Of The Machine (ghostofthemachineofficial.com)

Or bandcamp here:

Scissorgames | Ghost Of The Machine (bandcamp.com)

Review – Stuckfish – Days of Innocence – by John Wenlock-Smith

This might be one of the best new albums that I have had to pleasure to hear this year. Yes, it really is that impressive! The album has eight tracks, all above the five-and-a-half-minute mark and two over eight minutes.

No wonder this is attracting the interest of many prog fans for, in Stuckfish, we find a worthy blend of old school prog and classic rock, married together with a great vocalist in Phil Stuckey, who brings to mind a classic style, an excellent bass player (Phil Morey) and a fiery but tasteful guitarist in Ade Fisher. Together with drummer Adam Sayers and keyboard player Gary Holland, they make for a very tight and energetic team.

This is their third album written during the global layoff of 2021, which, as Ade says, was a better use of time than watching Netflix and chomping chocolate hobnobs and the results here can bear witness to that observation.

The album opens in a very Rush like vein with Age Of Renewal and its use of shifting time signatures which allows for some moody synth backing. Vocalist Phil Stuckey really performs well here with a strong clear tone that works well. There is a good synth/guitar interplay here too making the mid-section strong, just before Ade lets rip with a solo that takes the piece forward. Along with the great bass work on show, this is a great opener that will be a sure-fire winner live, seldom has seven minutes passed so quickly! The epic Days of Innocence follows, which features the nimble basswood of Phil Morey anchoring the song down. The track is a heartfelt one, a look back at childhood and the hope of a better future. The song is reflective and a touch maudlin, however it is certainly extraordinarily strong in tone. There’s great vocals too as Phil sings with passion and optimism for a star he has yet to reach. A very impressive track with good orchestration in the closing moments with great brass, unusual but effective and definitely memorable.

Painted Smile picks up the Rush baton once again with a chugging guitar riff that said band would have loved to employ. The song is about clowns and how their painted face often hides or masks their inner pains. This has great keyboards on it that create an aura of the circus with a suitable organ sound strong in the mix. Sounding sinister at times but creating and painting the setting wonderfully, this album makes a strong impression for all the right reasons and will surely appear in many bests of /end of the year’s lists, It will certainly be among my choices for that accolade, the track ends with a piano sound that evokes a silent film and concludes another fabulous track. The urgent guitar riff of Ade Fisher sees a segue into Game Changer, a track that flies out of the gate with style and punchy panache. This song properly rocks but does not forget to have melodies or dynamics that make this optimistic song stand out both musically and lyrically. I am really enjoying this album with its use of light and shade that works very well, as does the graceful guitar playing that leads the song on towards a marvellous rhythmic mid section which really makes an impact. Stuckfish have worked hard on this album, not only in the elegant material but also in the performances that are all highly impressive by any standard.

Thief In The Night is a great song about loss and the memories of a loved one that has gone. The track is very moving and is presented beautifully, with dignity and feeling. Phil’s voice is fantastic and really suited to the feeling of the song and making it my favourite on the album, sympathetically managed and beautifully written, it conveys perfectly what happens when a loved one passes on, glorious and magnificent in equal measures. Yearn is next and opens with a reverb laden piano that sets the tone for the song. With a trumpet evoking a smokey jazz club, it’s certainly very sultry and brooding sounding and has an epic chorus that really impacts. This is a slow burn of a track that creeps up on you and takes over, it’s truly that memorable. It reminds me of a Wishbone Ash song for some reason, must be the vocal inflections that it has. Wonderfully delicate and gracefully imagined and conceived, this is another great song that’s very well performed by all. A really impressive piece of music!

Nevermore is different as Phil sings in a Rob Halford sounding voice to significant effect. It is really distinctive to hear him singing in this manner and the song packs a punch to be sure, one of the shorter pieces but still a good listen. Different Ways closes the album in grand style, being one of the more blatantly progressive songs and one that gives room for the bands musical dexterity to shine through. With a great guitar solo from Ade and good support from all the group, this is a great album ending track.

So, there you have it, eight great tracks in one fine album from a band that are really on the rise. Get it while you can as it is utterly fantastic and definitely a highlight of the year so far!

Released 16th April, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

Days of Innocence | Stuckfish (bandcamp.com)

Review – Envy Of None – s/t – by John Wenlock-Smith

After the last date of the Rush ‘R40’ tour on 15th August 2015 in Los Angeles, Rush were at a crossroads, this was their final tour as they had agreed to bow out on a high note, seeking not to slump into trying to recapture the former glories, as has befallen many other groups over the years. Even the band themselves were unsure of what to do next or even if there would be a ‘next’ moment.

This all came sharply into focus again in January 2020 when Neil Peart lost his battle with brain cancer and, while the world quite rightly mourned his passing, Rush were effectively over. This left Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson in a quandary realising that anything they did would suffer comparison to the might of Rush.

So they did what they could cope with, Alex went fishing and valued his home life, Geddy wrote his memoirs (to be published this year) and both men struggled with the loss of their long term friend. They had both known about his illness yet the end still hit them hard, in addition they needed time to grieve him, plus we had various lockdowns and limitations on life due to covid.

Well, thankfully, that time has come to an end as Alex has now ventured back into the public eye once more by contributing his graceful, elegant guitar tones to a brand-new project called Envy Of None. It could not be any more removed from the progressive elements of Rush. Two of the songs were released by Lifeson on his own social media pages, namely Shadow and Spy House, which were intended to introduce the band to the public.

Now the album in full is out and, yes, it is something tasty indeed and different to what he has done before, for sure. Yet, even so, within its simpler shorter songs lie strands of Lifeson’s musical DNA. In just eleven short tracks you hear Alex revelling in playing music again and exorcizing his demons and his grief in the only way he knows, through music.

The album has elements of Pop, Rock, Emo and even electronica within its sounds, it certainly is hugely different and that is no bad thing. Take the opener for instance, I Never Said I Loved You, with a strong sequenced opening motif and the dreamy vocals of Mariah Wynne and steady bass of former Coney Hatch bassist Andy Curran driving the song along (the band used various session players to provide drum support). The sound is full and leaves room for each instrument to be clearly heard, in addition, it is a great little song. Sequencing plays a big part in the groups sound, this is all is sympathetically done and does not detract from everything that is going on.

Look Inside is a good example of how this all works together to create something exceptionally fine indeed. There is even a sampled muted trumpet playing in the last moments, a tremendous piece of music that is both imaginative and accomplished. Liar follows but this fails to hit the mark for me. Whilst being well crafted, it is a bit too busy for my liking and has too much layering to really click. Spy House has Lifeson unleashed and all over the track with an insistent riff threaded throughout it. It’s great to hear him in this vein and his solo is fabulous and free spirited. It is the Alex we all know and love to hear and a great moment in a very good track.

Dogs Life is another brooding, moody and slow burning number that builds in its intensity before breaking out into a busy section, this time the slow burn really works well for the track. This album is really a bit of a grower and more volume really helps in this case, making it one of the best tracks so far to these ears. Kabul Blues follows with it Far Eastern sounding synths and delicate guitar lines woven through its grooves. This sounds very exotic and Middle Eastern and quite different to what has gone before, great bass lines from Andy Curran making this another winning track. Old Strings is the album’s longest track at just over five minutes as Mariah sings of lost memories, lost opportunities, and stolen moments. Again, this is a slow burner of a song with subtle but effective dynamics which all combines to make an impressive song with sensitive playing from all parties, marvellous stuff.

Dumb works really well, a strong back beat drives the song along with its great sequenced sounds and a very eighties sounding drum pattern really kicking it out and providing much drive to the song. Penultimate song Enemy is built on hypnotic synthesiser lines and settings that work to a  pronounced effect with strong performances. Growling synth sounds and fabulous dynamics make this is a great song and, again, volume reveals its intricacies beautifully. This leads us to the final piece, Western Sunset, which is an acoustic guitar tribute to Neil Peart. Alex spent a lot of time at Neil’s pacific home and, whilst enjoying a beer, looked out at the shoreline at sunset. This memory was the one that inspired this delicate, brief piece of musical imagery. Ironic really that this should feature but it closes things for Alex. So, as such, it earns it is place here as a tribute to his dearly departed friend.

This album gains in stature the more you play it and it certainly is a very worthy collection of songs. The slow burn of these tracks creep up on you as they reveal their intricacies. I guess that only time will tell if the band continues, like they plan to. What sounds they explore next time remains to be seen, however, for now, this will do very nicely thank you.

Released 8th April, 2022

Order here:

Envy Of None (lnk.to)

Review – Stewart Clark – Journeys – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Journeys’ is the new album from UK based musician Stewart Clark and it’s certainly an interesting concept and listening experience. Stewart was recently commenting about his inability to get people interested in writing a review of his work.

When I read this I contacted Stewart and offered to write a review for him. It must be incredibly frustrating to drum up any interest from prog fans who will happily shell out for the 16th remix or extended version of an album they already have that is 40 years old but has been slightly tweaked or updated by someone whose aunt knew the bassist’s mother over 30 years ago.

Now, I like a good remaster or upgrade as much as the next prog fan but, really, why do we tend to gloss over the smaller acts who are really trying to break into an already full pond? People like Stewart who makes music because he wants to and does it all on a miniscule budget, on a very much ‘do it yourself manner’, but who is really making something that appeals but often fails to capture the wider public interest.

It’s certainly not the music’s fault, I suggest it is the fact that the bigger acts grab the lions share of the activities and the column inches leaving mere scraps for the rest, highly unfair but that’s how it sadly is. I myself see that some bands get lots of exposure whilst other get little or none and it’s the same with gigs, a big name might get bigger crowds but smaller artists are lucky if they can get a handful of paying punters attending. I know covid hasn’t helped but it was bad even before that, this malaise and apathy goes back years and years.

Anyway, enough of that, ‘Journeys’ is a fine listen, opening with the gentle but gripping Snaefellisbaer (The Abandoned Icelandic Road Trip) to kick off proceedings. The song is about a road trip that Stewart and his wife attempted to take in 2012.  Unfortunately, they were beaten by the sheer volume of ice and snow that made the destination unreachable at that time. The track has some very jazzy saxaphone from Mark Norton and lovely swirling organ from Tom Potten (which I think is used to show the northern lights), it’s followed by some heavy guitar riffery from Kerry Mountain, all intertwined with ethereal vocals from Catherine Potten, before returning to Eric Bouillette’s excellent piano motif repeated in the songs outro.

I Wished They’d Stayed follows and is a song dedicated to a former band mate who died. In the track Stewart recalls the good times they spent together, however the song is not maudlin but merely reflects that this is all a part of life’s journey. There’s No Place Like You is about trying to get back to someone again but being frustrated in doing so. This has bass from Billy Sherwood of Yes fame on it and he does his best Chris Squire impression to give this song some great dynamics in the process. This is a very fine piece and is great musically with its superb synth and bass interplay.

I Remember The Age Of Steam opens with train sounds and a rolling rhythm that emulates train movements while a lone harmonica wails admirably in the background, evoking a hobo’s journey. It’s rather evocative really and certainly appealing, I can see the Big Big Train passengers really taking this song to heart as it strikes or touches many reference points in its grooves, especially the steam effects. Let Me Belong has a strong riff and swagger to it, rather muscular in fact, and it’s theme is about being part of something. There’s a good, fluid but fiery guitar solo and some fine keyboards enhancing the track gracefully which make this another winning song.

On A Leaf, On A Stream is very delicate with gently picked guitar and a good supporting bass line adding depth to the instrumental track. Add in some graceful yet urgent guitar from Sempano Semzedah and this short atmospheric piece scores highly. Final track Travelling Through Hyperspace is another mainly instrumental piece with crazy synths and urgent drums and great dynamics that give it some edge.

In short this almost concept album is about journeys and destinations and is a really underrated and yet highly rewarding trip. Even if the mainstream won’t give it room, I will and I hope that you will too.

Released February 18th, 2022

Order from bandcamp here:

Journeys | Stewart Clark (bandcamp.com)