Review – Sanctuary III – Robert Reed – by James R Turner

Since Robert took some time out of the ‘day job’ to release his first homage to Mike Oldfield back in 2014, his own little sub-genre has grown, with two full length sequels (‘Sanctuary II’ in 2016) as well as numerous EPs including variations on David Bedford and his own alternative take on the Doctor Who theme tune. Now Sanctuary III (funnily enough the third in the ‘Sanctuary’ series) is here, available as ever in 5.1 and on vinyl, in a very nice cover indeed.

Rob has taken the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ philosophy to this album, with, as per the first two (and indeed Mike Oldfield’s first three) albums, being a full-length song-suite parts 1 & 2, both emulating the Oldfield approach, which worked so well on ‘Sanctuary’.

Rob has worked with Oldfield collaborators Simon Phillips, Les Penning‘Tubular Bells’ producers Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth and on vocals with Angharad Brinn and Synergy Vocals.

Now I am a massive Mike Oldfield fan, and I would argue that its harder to find a greater run of albums than that encompassing ‘Tubular Bells’, ‘Hergest Ridge’, ‘Ommadawn’, ‘Incantations’ and ‘Platinum‘, and, as with previous ‘Sanctuary’ releases Rob wears his Oldfield inspiration on his sleeve. This is as well as showing off his amazing instrumental prowess as a multi-instrumentalist, playing all the instruments bar recorders and pipes, which are contributed by Les Penning and Troy Donockley respectively.

The themes throughout are standard Oldfield fare with plenty of soaring guitar and repetitive, charming themes that slowly build and grow and, to Rob’s credit, he has widened the palette somewhat on this album. There is an excellent vocal piece at the start and an interesting diversion into folk themed parts via the twangy guitar of The Shadows at one point.

However, there is a touch of an over reliance on the nonsense female vocals that are almost ‘Ommadawn’ but miss out the emotional resonance of that piece and also of the vocoder vocals that sound like they escaped from Five Miles Out. These are familiar Oldfield tropes and ultimately trap the music into being a facsimile. Which is a shame, as if Rob threw out the Oldfieldisms, he could create some truly wonderful original music, instead of pretending it’s 1974 all over again.

That’s fine for a nostalgia trip but I would always return to the original rather than an imitation.

More interesting is the Moonsinger Suite, ChimpanA Remix which, whilst referring to the main Oldfield touchpoints, at least brings it up to date, being more reminiscent of ‘Songs of Distant Earth’ or ‘Tubular Bells III’ (so only 20 years out this time, getting closer!).

The Tom Newman remix on the second disc is also superfluous, being not quite different enough to the original to warrant being included here. Things like that are best suited for anniversary editions or special editions rather than the standard release, as it all gets a bit too samey after a while and you lose where you are at.

If you reading this are Mike Oldfield fans and wonder whether ‘Sanctuary III’ is worth a punt then, well, sadly not. Like I said, I really like Rob’s work, his musicianship and craft and skills are never in doubt and I really want to love this album, I absolutely enjoyed the first one as a piece of nostalgic entertainment. However it seems to me that Rob, whilst putting together an excellent facsimile of an early Mike Oldfield album, has drifted into tribute band territory. The music is good, the performances outstanding but it seemed to me that the Doctor Who theme tune a la Oldfield was an idea too far and ‘Sanctuary III’, whilst being well made, just doesn’t hit the spot.

It doesn’t give you the goose bumps that the opening riff to ‘Tubular Bells’ does, it doesn’t send the shiver down the spine that the closing finale to ‘Hergest Ridge Part 1’ does, and it doesn’t conjure up a sense of wonder like ‘Ommadawn’. Somewhere online I have seen people claiming that this is even better than Mike Oldfield or at least, that it’s better than the albums Mike makes these days. I doubt Rob was thinking of usurping his hero in that way, and ‘Sanctuary III’ doesn’t. It is the musical equivalent of a Big Mac meal, it satisfies at the time because it’s easy and familiar but, in the end, after ten minutes you’re hungry again and want a steak.

After listening to this all I want to do is grab ‘Hergest Ridge’ or ‘Return to Ommadawn’ in 5.1, bang up the volume and lose myself in the pastoral waves as they wash over me.

I would much rather wait and spend my hard earneds on the forthcoming ChimpanA album, as that debut is probably the best thing Rob has done outside of Magenta, being fresh, clever, original and contemporary.

The dictionary defines Sanctuary as ‘a refuge or safety from pursuit, persecution or other danger’ and this is definitely a refuge in the past, ultimately this music sits in a very safe place indeed.

‘Sanctuary III’ is fine as a nostalgia led piece but when there are so many interesting contemporary instrumental bands out there like Agusa or Zombie Picnic, revisiting music from 40 years ago isn’t pushing the boundaries, it’s more like a cup of tea and a pair of slippers, and a musical cul de sac.

Released 20th April 2018

Buy ‘Sanctuary III’ from Rob Reed Official Here

 

Review – Robert Reed – Variation On Themes By David Bedford – by James R. Turner

I like Robert Reed, I think the work he has done with Magenta is stunning, and I do wish he’d finish the sequel to Chimpan A.

I also love David Bedford (and indeed Mike Oldfield) and the influence that both Bedford and Oldfield had on contemporary classical and rock genres are there for everyone to see.

So you’d think that the merger of these great musicians would work? Well…

Following on his successful ‘tonight Matthew I’m going to be Mike Oldfield’ ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Sanctuary’ II homages, Robert brings his not inconsiderable talents to bear on rearranging three of David Bedford’s shorter and more commercial pieces.

You get Rio Grande with great vocals from Angharad Brinn, King Aeolus (featuring Mikes brother, Terry Oldfield on his trademark flute) and Nurses Songs with Elephants, all reinterpreted in the Robert Reed does Mike Oldfield style, right down to the Oldfieldesque languid guitar and production techniques.

Now as pieces of music, they are all superb. Bedford was after all an amazing composer, his work of melody and structure are known to all, and it would take an absolute fool to mess them up. Robert is no fool, and the performances on the tracks are great, musically adept, and as homage to Bedford set out all they achieve to do with great skill and dexterity.

However the whole EP, especially with 3 different versions of Rio Grande and Nurses Songs with Elephants (definite overkill there) is a bit of an unnecessary extravagance, surely it would have been more fun musically, not to mention more challenging to reinvent the ‘Stars End’ suite?

I like the music, I like the performances, but something about it doesn’t grab me where it should do. It doesn’t resonate emotionally with me like the originals do, and whilst it’s pleasant to listen to once or twice, I will reach for the original Bedford albums every time over this.

It seems to me that this is a bit of musical self-indulgence and a trip too far down the Oldfield road, with the musical returns diminishing every time.

There are people who will love this, however I think I’m going to go and make a cuppa and put ‘Stars End’ on.

Released 12th June 2017

Buy ‘Variations On Themes By David Bedford’ from bandcamp

Main feature image of Robert Reed by Howard Rankin.

Review – Les Penning – Belerion – by Kevin Thompson

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As a boy, for most of us, the way into music at school was by learning the recorder, wooden for the posh lads and plastic for the rest of us, although I did eventually get a wooden one. A class full of fumbling fingers covering various holes on the instrument (keep it clean please), to produce a range of notes that the music teacher desperately tried to knit together into some semblance of a tune. It has to be said that no one I know mastered the recorder whilst at school and took it up professionally. On leaving the establishment, mine was confined to a box along with my slide rule, action man and trigonometry books to eventually find their way to a table at the local jumble sale.

As a teenager listening to the music of Mike Oldfield was a real eye opener and seemed mind blowing that someone could play so many instruments. There were of course guests of renowned proficiency sometimes invited to appear, one of these being Les Penning on recorder for the album ‘Ommadawn’ and hit singles In Dulce Jubilo and Portsmouth. And yet, in my glib tender youth, it was easy to overlook the contributions of those around him and focus purely on Mr Oldfield’s creativity.

And so it has been until recently when multi-instrumentalist and all round nice guy Rob Reed recorded his self penned homage to the music style of Mike Oldfield, ‘Sanctuary’, and follow up ‘Sanctuary II’, with Les guesting on the latter. Now older, and I like to think a little wiser, I am more inclined to investigate music I like in depth and appreciate all the musicians involved. To this end I now find I have the pleasure of reviewing Les’ album ‘Belerion’, who’s gestation during the Oldfield years has only now come to fruition, thanks to the wonderful Mr Reed and contributions of former ELO2 singer/guitarist, Phil Bates.

Here’s the homework bit: Belerion is an ancient name given to Cornwall that has been translated as meaning “Shining Land” as well as “Seat of Storms”, both quite apt descriptions of the area. The photo on the cover, if I’m not mistaken (I’m sure someone will be quick to correct me if I am), is of  Boscawen-un Stone Circle, just west of Penzance and before my head explodes with new found knowledge let us proceed to the album. Ladies and Gentlemen pray take your partners and places for the merry dance that is Belerion.

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Opening with a gentler version than Mike Oldfield’s, of the traditional tune Portsmouth, we are  transported to the glorious English coastal fields on a summers day, overlooking Portsdown Hill to the Solent beyond with birds swooping and soaring to a backdrop of blue waters topped with the froth of white horsetail waves. You’ll find nothing so brash as heavy bass or thundering drums with screaming guitar riffs in this musical world. Instead we are enchanted with the delights of the Bodhran, Crumhorn and Loriman pipe among the instruments used.

St Clement’s Isle is a small rocky islet once the home to an ancient hermit and lies just offshore of the harbour wall to Mousehole (pronounced “Mowzel”) one of Cornwall’s most picturesque hamlets.  It is also the title of the first original tune penned by Les on the album. It’s impossible to separate the tunes from the background stories as they weave such wonderful pictures in your head and whilst they hark back to an earlier, more innocent age they have a timeless air.

All of the tunes on the album are very pleasing, including foot tapper Nobody’s Jig, taken from a dancing manual first published by John Playford in 1651 and containing the music and instructions for English Country Dances.

The gentle refrains of Easter 84 will have you happily strolling along a country lane, with the warmth of the sun on your neck, marveling at mother Natures’ beauty. A fitting contribution in memory of a friend.

It’s impossible not to think of Oldfield’s earlier work and Rob Reed‘s music (hardly surprising as he contributes to this album) but this is to no detriment as Belerion neatly stitches them all together like golden thread weaved into a musical coat of many colours.

Look lively Gents, to your partners for Selinger’s Round, a twisting little folk dance. Spin the Ladies round and watch as their skirts twirl to the music. Also known as The Begining of the World, it’s another foot tapping number.

And yet more brisk fare as we are whisked along to a breezy rendition of the old familiar 17th Century marching song British Grenadiers. A great little interpretation with a rousing climax.

Slow it down to catch your breath as Les leads us through the historical landscape of the renaissance tune Tower Hill, written originally by baroque composer Giles Farnaby.

Dance across The Baskerville Down  with Les to the Baskerville Arms, a hotel where he wrote this little ditty and has sometimes performed.

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The album oozes happiness and joy, even The Stones Feel Warm in Belerion, you can lay back on the sun kissed grass watching the clouds float slowly by, whilst listening to this peaceful number dedicated to Les’ friends.

But it’s not all about sunshine and balmy summers’ days, there is warmth to be found for all seasons in our hearts. Gather round the Christmas tree, see the flames rise on the fire as the logs spit and spark. Move the coffee table from the centre of the room, roll up the rug and manoeuvre your loved ones round the space to a jaunty celebration of the traditional Sussex Carol. Quite apt for the time of year.

After your exertions, recline with a fine mulled beverage as you take in the sparkling Bach Minuet, I’ll let you figure out who originally wrote this and who it was for, about time you did some of the homework.

A brief self-penned number from our venerable Pied Piper in Quirk, which squeezes in some strange musical patterns given the short running time, before we reach the ‘epic’ of the album.

Running in at 7:09 minutes, the penultimate Lyme (For Louise) is by far the longest track and is another original piece written by Les. He calls it dream music and if the mention of a military style, marching drum backing makes you think otherwise, trust me it is very soothing and relaxing.

The ribbon round this delightfully wrapped package comes courtesy of  His Rest another dusted off tune of Mr Farnaby’s, to see us out and give Les the chance to put his feet up. He can rest easy in the knowledge he breathes a modern air over the traditional songs which fit smoothly in with his own. You don’t have to be a Folk fan to like this album it is lovely music and can be enjoyed by all without having to don your straw hat and bells, revel in the most excellent musicianship. Maybe I should have practised more at school….

Released 1st December 2016

The 14 track CD is accompanied by a DVD that features an interview with Les where he discusses his career and the period in the mid 1970’s when those famous tracks were made. There are also promo videos for two of the pieces.

Buy ‘Belerion’ here

 

 

Review – Robert Reed – Sanctuary II – by Kevin Thompson

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So let’s get this out of the way, this is not Mike Oldfield!

What we have here is the very talented multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer Robert Reed, (of Magenta fame) with his follow up to the excellent ‘Sanctuary’ from 2014, on Tigermoth Records. Produced, mixed and engineered by Rob, and once again joined by the legendary original “Tubular Bells” production team of Tom Newman (who also plays a mean Bohdran) and Simon Heyworth, who have once again made important contributions to the sound of the album.

Rob was inspired to become a musician and composer at the age of seven after discovering Mike Oldfield‘s ‘Tubular Bells’. So inspired was he by the album, that he learned to play not just one, but all the instruments featured on the album. ‘Sanctuary II’ is a further opportunity to utilise his abilities as a multi-instrumentalist and create another album in this vein, available in various formats this is only a review of the main album.

So, how to review a follow up of the successful homage to an inspirational musician without mentioning him, let’s see…..

Rob Reed

The weather may be dubious at the moment and varies in light, shade and temperature, there is promise of sunnier climes and thoughts of holidays as PART I drifts into the mind. Birds swoop across the sky as you look out across the sea the sun breaks the clouds, then you are transported to  to some far flung land where natives of that country go about their daily tasks singing in harmonious tongue. Fishing nets are cleaned and hung out to dry in the warmth of the midday sun.

You lay back listening to the music your body warming like the nets, shaded by the nearby palms, eyes closed as the guitar drifts fluidly through your ears, caressing your senses.

The Synergy harmony changes to a more European flavour and you are swept away once more to a clearing in the English woods. The recorders of Les Penning and the twang of the banjo sparkle as the temperature of Simon Phillips’ percussion rises, guitars speeding round the trees, echoing keyboards and all dance in pagan celebration. Flowers are scattered in wild abandon as the frenzy reaches it’s peak and the harmonising gently brings it down again only to burst in quick flourishes, the dancers flushed with expounded energy and happiness, twirl and gyrate.

 The solo angelic voice of siren Angharad Brinn leads to muted guitars and a respite from the festivities. Waterfalls of tinkling keys ripple along a brook which runs through the woods and the native tongues stir the guitar again as you run without care through the trees. A gentle summer breeze and trailing foliage brush your skin as you trip through the greenery. The marimba and vocals join as flowers sway and turn their open faces to the sun’s rays, catching the light. You burst into the clearing again and fall to rest along with everyone else as the first half draws to a celebratory close.

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A gentle guitar and timpani refrain float in the introduction to PART II, the small sail boat that carries you across the lake buffets against the rippling water as the breeze of guitars and accompaniment of numerous instruments fill the sails and it picks up speed. The lure of Spanish style guitar and castanets draw you back to the isle in the centre of the watery expanse but as you near it is replaced with the warbling recorders and others as they raise a dance again.

Approaching the shore you can hear as all join in traditional steps, your fingers tapping on the boat side, ’tis a merry tune. The boat hits sand and you leap out to secure the mooring. Treading along  the shore feet sinking in soft warm sand, you make your way toward the music as it wafts through the lush vegetation the siren briefly calling you before the instruments take up the rejoicing given direction by a synthesised voice.

The terrain rises gently as you follow the trail, winding it’s way upward as the music fades in the density of the plant life. Gentle keys and guitars plucked to guide you gently on your way and the voices seem momentarily distant now in the lush vegetation. You forge your path with the guitars determined to see what lies ahead, attain the rise and can see the clearing nestled among the trees below, the singers move from side to side in rhythmic motion and the glockenspiel signals your descent.

Throbbing bass, strummed strings and air breathed through drilled wooden pipes, guide your feet over the uneven path and running keys of water skip over stones and through crevices as it flows in the stream falling alongside. The dipping track quickens your step as the music keeps pace. Your pulse races to the beat and you burst through into the clearing once more, elated and surrounded by smiling faces, all is well with the World.

 And there you have it.

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Someone once asked what ‘Sanctuary’ sounded like and I advised along the lines of, it’s like Mike Oldfield but takes it further making it even more cheerful and uplifting. ‘II’ takes us on a magical, musical mystery tour and lifts the spirits higher.

I have only covered the main album, but if you can, buy the 3 disc deluxe digipak version, as not only do you get an extras disc packed with other wonderful tunes edits and remixes which did not make the main disc, but the whole album on DVD in 5.1 surround sound and 24/96 stereo mix (don’t ask), along with promo videos.

There will also be a chance to to see Rob record a performance of the album ‘Live’ at Real World Studios later in the year with a ten piece orchestra, if you are lucky enough to purchase a ‘golden’ ticket and be one of the privileged audience.

 This may not be Mike Oldfield, but he may wish it was……..

Released 10th June 2016

Buy ‘Sanctuary II’ from Bandcamp