Review – The Bardic Depths – Promises of Hope – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Promises of Hope’ is the second album from The Bardic Depths, the unusual group formed through the Big Big Train “Passengers” Forum which brought together the talents of a disparate group of individuals, united by musical interests. Their first, self-titled album told the story of the friendship between JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis and their experiences in The Great War. This new album also features CS Lewis along with Greek poet Virgil and its theme is that of suicide and redemption.

What is different this time though is that folks who were contributors last time have joined Dave Bandana and now become official members of the band, these being Peter Jones, Tim Gehrt and Gareth Cole. Once again, they are aided by historian Bradley Birzer who provides the lyrics and various other guests appear on the album (like Sally Minnear of Celestial Fire).

The subject matter might seem quite heavy and dark but the music is anything but. The story is that a Queen tries to kill herself but heaven will not allow it and offers redemption instead…

Right from the opener, And She Appeared, there is a new sense of presence in the band, Robin Armstrong’s sympathetic production certainly helps, as do the stellar performances of the whole ensemble. Some great sound effects and expansive keyboard sweeps lead into a triumphant fanfare of synths and a penny whistle before a thrusting bass line kicks in and Peter’s fabulous vocal begins, Dave Bandana joining in with the vocals as the song surges forward. This is exceptionally good stuff indeed and Gareth Cole’s is glorious too. The excellence of the opening track means the album really flies out of the gate with a great refrain of promises of hope but never victory, a truly epic song to start with.

Regal Pride follows and is a more even-paced track, although some fabulous saxophone licks and riffs pump up the tempo as the song tells of the failing of the relationship that caused her to want to commit suicide. It is very languid and almost lazy sounding, again some great classical guitar playing throughout makes a seriously good impression. Consumed opens with more classical guitar and sounds of the sea washing ashore. There’s more penny whistle from Peter Jones, that sounds uncannily akin to Men of Harlech, along with lovely violin from Olga Kent. This track is a slow burner and its folky interludes really add significantly to proceedings, It is all really impressive and a step forward from the debut album, the introduction of a core nucleus certainly helping with stabilisation of the music and allowing for more improvisation to occur naturally.

This is an album that has been carefully assembled and crafted and it shows in the strength of tracks, The Burning Flame continuing the story with some distinctive guitar lines from Gareth, in which he gets to contact his inner ‘Gilmour’, adding an epic scope to the song. The track talks about the Queen’s attempt to end it all and utterly captivating playing makes this a real highlight of the album thus far, you can intimately sense the loss of hope in this song.

Colours and Shapes follows with more moody saxophone, as an instrumental this gives free rein to the jazzy playing of Peter Jones and it is a wonderful thing to hear. When Tim Gehrt’s solid drumming kicks in, it really soars, heading off into lots of different directions until Gareth’s mighty guitar takes flight. It’s really fine track, epic even, with the cool sax segueing in to Why Are You Here?, the song opening with various voices asking ‘Why Are You Here?’, which sounds reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, as it shares a similar tempo and sound. The track also has a suitably moody and epic guitar solo.

Returned has a different feel to all that has gone before, sounding like an outtake from The Power Station, with its funky stylings and use of vocoder. In this song our Queen is advised to return to love as it is her path to redemption and you can get the 80’s vibe in this track. It is another highpoint in what is rapidly becoming an ambitious and really interesting album. The Essence continues the 80’s sound with heavy drums and lots of synths burbling away. ‘The universe may feel…’ is the refrain on this track and lots more superb saxophone makes it another winner

Imagine concludes the album, opening with a majestic church organ, courtesy of Richard Krueger, that makes a grand statement of intent. This is the redemption that has been offered and received by our Queen, more marvellous keyboards in the middle section and great vocals from Dave and Peter keep the song bubbling along. The guitar part is very reminiscent of a certain Steve Hackett, Gareth showing that he certainly can play in that style. This is a fitting finale to an album that is really something incredibly special indeed.

‘Promises of Hope’ will invariably appear in various end of year listings, and rightfully so too, for it is exceptionally good and I heartily recommend it to all.

Released June 24th, 2022.

Order direct from Gravity Dream here:

The Bardic Depths – Gravity Dream Music

New single and new album pre-order from Cosmograf…

Much loved UK progressive rockers Cosmograf, the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Robin Armstrong, have released a video for brand new single British Made, from their forthcoming ninth studio album ‘Heroic Materials’.

Watch the video here:

The new album, released through Robin’s own label Gravity Dream on 9th September, 2022, is a conceptual piece, centred around the character William ‘Billy’ May, who looks back on his life at the age of 99 and realises the world has completely changed since he was a young man put into an impossible scenario, defending his country from the air. He no longer recognises much of the modern world but understands that the human race must live in a different way in the future.

The album sees the character wrestling with his memories of the war, and harbouring nostalgia for a past era but he realises that change is essential if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.

“This album is really about change, our refusal to accept it, but also recognising that it’s essential to our survival”, says Robin. “The story centres on a WWII Spitfire pilot who laments a lost golden era, but reflects that the human race must change its ways in order to preserve our existence on the earth.”

The album will also see a special guest appearance from Robin’s ex-Big Big Train bandmate, keyboard player Danny Manners, who plays piano on the 13 min title track, set in three parts.

Heroic Materials will be available on CD, Deluxe Media book edition, vinyl and digital formats.

Pre-order the album here:

Cosmograf – Gravity Dream Music

Review – Cosmograf – Rattrapante – by Martin Hutchinson

I was talking to Robin Armstrong, the man behind Cosmograf, about how lockdown has really affected my writing. Barring a handful of reviews, my creative juices had dried up, I still loved listening to and appreciating the new music that was out there but I really found it hard to put my feelings into words.

Maybe it was happy coincidence, who knows, but the announcement of lockdown easing and a light at the end of the tunnel has seemed to get my mojo working again and it just happens to have occurred at the same time as Robin is about to release the latest instalment in the history of Cosmograf, happy days eh!?

Cosmograf was formed in 2008 when Robin produced his first home demo album, followed by the release of ‘End of Ecclesia‘ in 2009. The sound is rooted in 70’s classic rock with many contemporary influences from rock, progressive rock and metal. There is always a particular emphasis on concepts and atmospheric production leading to comparisons with artists such as Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson.

‘Rattrapante’ is Cosmograf’s eighth album and is a collection of 5 songs about our interaction with time; we measure it, but yet waste it more, it defines our existence and forms our memories. Some seek to beat it by being the first or the fastest and some can appear to outlive time itself through their achievements…

You may not know this but Robin is a rather fine expert in mechanical watches and goes on to say, “The idea for the album was inspired from from my work with mechanical watches. Rattrapante is a French word deriving from ‘rattraper’ meaning ‘to catch up or recapture. A Rattrapante chronograph can simultaneously time 2 events such a lap split time and a final race time, it was the perfect metaphor for our own interaction with time.

The press release speaks of comparisons with the likes of Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree but, in my opinion, Robin moved past those a very long time ago and, when I hear a new Cosmograf album, I think of it as being Cosmograf immediately. Like a lot of my favourite musicians and bands, as soon as you’ve heard the first few notes, you can recognise it is them. This is most definitely the case here as the slow burning intro to In 1985 builds into a powerful crescendo guided by Robin’s compellingly dominant guitar and Kyle’s intense drums. Robin’s vocals are as good as ever and give a feeling of melancholy nostalgia to this potent and commanding song. The magic here is the feeling that you are in 1985 and yet the music is very modern in its delivery and textures, drawing you deeper and deeper into the narrative, the sign of a brilliant storyteller and songwriter at the height of his powers. As the track comes to a close, like a live recording, I can’t help but smile and give a nod to a master.

Well, if you thought that was good, then you are in for another fantastic treat as title track Rattrapante hoves into view like rock leviathan, all primal and monolithic at its core. The edgy and agitated keyboards in the background give a chaotic nervousness to proceedings and Robin’s deliciously dark and impish guitar work adds a real sense of mischievousness to proceedings. This track flies along as if caught in a maelstrom and leaves you breathless. I’m only two tracks in and yet I am really loving this album already, it has an immediacy that grabs but is full of hidden depths like the wondrously fluid and hyperactive keyboards and guitar solo that corse through the centre of the track like liquid fire.

The brilliant Chrissy Mostyn of The Blackheart Orchestra joins Robin on the airy, ethereal joys of I Stick With You, a mythical tale of a man who is growing older, but seemingly has been cursed with immortality. He is somehow trapped in time and unable to connect to his loving partner that he will outlive. A wistfully moody track with its roots in shades of darkness and light but one that really strikes a chord deep in your soul.

Memories Lie is a classic Cosmograf track, intelligent songwriting, note perfect musicianship and an insightful storyline that makes you think while you enjoy the velvety smooth music. While there is no such thing as a bad album by the band, Robin seems to get better and better with age and his music is maturing like a fine red wine, in fact you could do worse to pour yourself a glass while listening to this exquisite song in a darkened room, oblivious to the world around you. Special note must be made of the stunningly bewitching guitar solo that actually made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!

Some cliches are actually 100% correct and, unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. ‘Rattrapante’ closes with Time Will Flow, another absorbing journey into the complex and wonderfully creative psyche of Mr Armstrong. I think Pink Floyd, Steven Wilson et al would be very happy indeed to put their names to this song, nearly thirteen minutes of progressive tinged rock of sublime perfection. A track that ebbs and flows with a fantastic voice over from Tommy McNally whose dulcet tones, full of a gorgeous, lilting Scottish brogue, fit perfectly. Guitar, keyboards and drums create a synergy of sound that creates a world in between your ears and Robin’s halting vocal performance is perfect.

There is no such thing as the perfect album as musicians are forever craving to create something more impressive than before but, every now and then, we should just stop and step off this ever evolving world and just enjoy the moment and what we have in front of us. At this moment in time there is nothing I would rather listen to than this incredible new album from Cosmograf, will Robin’s latest pièce de résistance still be up there at the end of the year? Most probably but, here and now, it just does not get any better than this!

Released 26th March 2021 (CD, vinyl will be later).

Order direct from Gravity Dream Music here:

Rattrapante CD (Pre-Order) – Gravity Dream Music

Rattrapante Vinyl (Pre-Order) – Gravity Dream Music

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:

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly announce UK co-headline live dates with Cosmograf

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly are pleased to announce they will come to the UK for 3 select live dates in October 2020. The band will play London & Manchester, co-headlining alongside the Robin Armstrong-led Cosmograf, before continuing on to Summer’s End Festival.

Rikard comments: “When I think on how much I’ve played in England over the years, it’s really strange that Gungfly as a band haven’t been over yet! So to say that we’re ready and willin’ is kind of an understatement! We’ll probably even bring some new tunes for you. Robin Armstrong and I of course know each other from our time in Big Big Train together and we thought this would be a nice mix to do a few dates with – don’t miss it!”

The dates are as follows and are on sale now:

Friday 2nd October – Dingwalls, London

Saturday 3rd October – Academy 3, Manchester

Sunday 4th October – Summer’s End Festival, Chepstow

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly released their most recent album ‘Friendship’ in 2018, and was last seen supporting The Flower Kings on their December 2019 European tour.

Watch the video for the Prog Award-nominated ‘They Fade’ here:

The album is available as a limited CD Digipak & gatefold 2LP + CD (both including 3 bonus tracks) as well as digital download. Order now here: https://Gungfly.lnk.to/Friendship

Rikard comments: “The idea for ‘Friendship’ came to me because of an old photo of me as a child. I found this old photo at my parents’ house, depicting me standing on top of this really tall treehouse in a glade near our house. Although I of course remembered it as being really high up in the tree tops as a child, this picture proved that it really was! As I reminisced about the treehouse I started thinking about my childhood friends with whom I built it. We were the best of friends and we spent so much time together in this little village where I used to live. This of course made me think about all the friends I used to have, these relationships where you hung out all the time, went through childhood together, grew up and knew everything about each other and then all of a sudden, for some reason, disappeared from each other’s lives. This phenomenon of falling out with someone is still a mystery to me, but I’ve learned to accept it, much like the separation of death it’s just a part of life and the nature of our course of life, I guess. So this is a collection of songs about and for all of my friends, dead or alive, past and present. I chose to base the stories around the treehouse in the glade, not because all of my memories are from there, but rather that it’s the place that made me think back on all of this.”

Rikard comments of the musical direction: “Musically, what can I say? This is prog rock, but I want to be free to move in whatever direction the music wants to go and I happily go exploring where it wants to take me. Even though there are a few softer songs and sections, most of the album turned out to be a rocker; a collection of hard rock songs with lots of tricky parts, some heavier moments and some downright jazzy elements too!”

Rikard Sjöblom is perhaps best known as the multi-instrumentalist frontman of Beardfish, who established themselves as one of the most consistently brilliant modern-day progressive rock bands over the course of eight studio albums. In recent years, he has also become known for his work with English progressive collective Big Big Train, playing live with them as well as performing on their recent studio albums. 

Review – Riversea – The Tide – by Progradar

“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.”
― Alphonse de Lamartine

What a wonderful quote and it fits perfectly how I feel after listening to the long awaited second album from Riversea, the on/off musical project of my good friends Marc Atkinson and Brendan Eyre.

The music and lyrics that they have written come from their very heart and soul and when it is conceived like like, it has the ability to almost come alive and infuse the listener with all the joy and love that went into creating it. It’s not just music it is alive, vibrant and soulful.

The core band of Marc, Brendan, Dave Clements (bass) and Alex Cromarty (drums) are joined by a veritable who’s who of the progressive rock world adding guitar, flute and backing vocals. Where ‘Out of an Ancient World’ was a spiritual offering, ‘The Tide’ focuses on the realities of living in the world of today with meaningful lyrics adding a touch of social commentary to the music:

“If God can’t save us from his followers, how do we save us from ourselves. If all they see is blasphemy, what will they make of  you and me.”

The opening of The Tide sees Peter Aves powerful guitar give a dramatic edge before the subtle layers of Brendan’s keyboard work adds a real sophistication. This is an album full of exquisite nuances and he distinctive soulful vocals of Marc leave a cultured trail wherever they lead, is there a more emotive singer around at the moment? I think not! These songs are created with layers of beauty and polish and seem to flow organically. There’s a funky edge to Shine that is punctuated by the uplifting chorus and the superb guitar work of Lee Abraham who delivers a vibrant solo.

Marc and Brendan have spent a long time creating this musical work of art, fitting it in around their daily lives and other projects and it is the level of care and attention to detail that stands out across the meticulously crafted songs on this album. I can imagine the painstaking process that went into each note, there is nothing here that doesn’t belong and it makes for a quite wonderful release.

The passionate Blasphemy is another highlight among many with Paul Cusick’s sensuous guitar work adding layers of intensity to what is a really powerful song, the music intense and impassioned and Marc’s voice a commanding presence. Brendan Eyre weaves an absorbing web with his refined keyboard playing throughout this amazing sonic tapestry and the rhythm section of Dave Clements’ bass and the drums of Alex Cromarty provide a suitably assured back drop.

Every track is exceptional, it’s rare to get an album without at least one throwaway song but the songs intertwine perfectly with each other, the wistful and nostalgic Your Last Day sees a wonderful low key and slow burning guitar solo from Robin Armstrong and the silken six string of Simon Godfrey joins the guys on the touching strains of Strange Land, a song that has strong roots music foundations.

The gentle feel of Fall Out Warning is added to by the flute of Tony Patterson to give a contemplative, melancholy atmosphere but there is beauty, charm and artistry to every single song. The sombre overtone of the excellent Uprising is added to by the reflective keyboards and Tony’s ethereal-like flute. Marc’s vocals are almost pleading,

“Their voices will be heard, their chanting becomes one. But a nation stands divided with a bullet from a gun.”

It is a haunting piece of music and one which makes you look inside at your own heart and is followed by the contrast of the gloriously uplifting The Tide Reprise to close the album on a more thoughtful and hopeful note.

There’s been some good music released this year already and also some utterly outstanding albums and ‘The Tide’ definitely falls into the latter category. Marc and Brendan have lovingly crafted twelve pieces of music that come together to create a release of beauty and refinement and one that will stay in your heart for a very long time. It’s not just music, this is something that is actually life-affirming and I can’t give it higher praise than that.

Released 20th April 2018

Order The Tide from the band’s website

 

 

Review – Cosmograf – When Age Has Done Its Duty (2018 remix) – by Progradar

In the sleeve notes for the comprehensive new package that comes with this remix of Cosmograf’s 2011 critically acclaimed release ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’, Robin Armstrong writes,

“I sometimes think about all the people I once knew that are now gone and I very much struggle to come to terms with their collective struggles, joys and achievements in life coming to an end. It’s an enduring theme in a lot of what I write. I decided some time back that it would be a tragedy to leave a life with no legacy left behind and it’s a driving force for me to leave as much music as I can with the hope that someone will remember…”

Robin is the man behind Cosmograf and is an extraordinary musical storyteller. His involving concepts and often personal historical narratives take you, the listener, directly to the centre of the story and envelop you in a whole gamut of emotions, all invoked by his remarkable songwriting.

Following the brilliant ‘The Hay Man Dreams’, released last year, Robin has taken it upon himself to revisit ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ to completely remix and master it and, in his own words,

“…address some of the issues that were less than perfect on the original recording. Many of the original guitar, bass and vocal parts have been re-recorded, new string arrangements added and a more dynamic low volume level master produced…”

I’ll confess, I have never heard ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ before so I can’t give a ‘before and after’ review but, as a big fan of Cosmograf, I’ll tell you what I think of this release as a whole.

The concept of the album is based around Robin’s personal experiences as a boy, visiting his Auntie Mollie and Uncle Harry at their home, Pear Tree Cottage, in a tiny village called Cleobury North in rural Shropshire and he has expanded the concept to cover the emotions and experiences we feel through the ageing process from birth to death. The stunning, original artwork is done by Graeme Bell.

Into This World is a an eleven minute piece that sets the scene with ‘Birth’ as the theme and is instantly recognisable to any fan as a Cosmograf track. Slow building and slow burning with a fragile piano note and Robin’s distincive vocal, the clever lyrics are used to convey the hopes, fears and aspirations that follow the bringing of a child into the world. A powerful and edgy song where the stylish drums of Bob Dalton are used to very good effect. As always, this excellent musician has you gripped from the first note with a moody and atmospheric song that asks questions and, while there is always a feeling of venturing into the unknown, deep down it is hope and optimism that is at the core. The elegant bass of Steve Dunn joins us for Blacksmith’s Hammer, a tribute to his Uncle Harry who worked the forge, shoeing horses right up to his death, age 73 in 1987. It’s an uplifting piece of music, an ode to a modest life where simple pleasures (like smoking a pipe) were enjoyed to their full. An almost spiritual song, there’s a superb (if short) guitar solo that burns with a humble honesty and the lyrics literally describe his demise; he sat back from shoeing a horse and drew his last breath.

Written about Pear Tree Cottage, a special place in Robin’s childhood, On Which We Stand was originally a poem which he wrote to read at his Aunt’s funeral and has become the lyrics to this beautiful song. A wistful and nostalgic opening courtesy of Simon Rogers’ guitar opens into a sublime vocal where Robin reminisces of all the happy times he had in the cottage, the games and the fond memories of he pastimes that made it such a wonderful place. Sit and listen to the words, let the music wash over you and you can almost imagine being there, a sentimental musical journey down memory lane. An old light switch that Robin remembers triggers flashbacks to previous memories and dramas, this is the essence of Bakelite Switch, sounds or smells we experience that snap you back to a previous event in time. On my first listen to the album, this was one of the songs that immediately stood out, the compelling , almost mysterious opening that erupts into a forceful and dynamic guitar riff catches your ear straight away. Bob’s drums drive the track along and you’re hooked as soon as Robin’s vocal begins, “We had electric light in the 70’s, flick the heavy switch, lights up all our lives.” A very involving song that speaks about the novelty of going back to a house that is very much ‘back in time’ and the emotive guitar solo from Luke Machin combines with some swirling keyboards to add even more drama to the visceral memories that Robin is invoking.

Huw Lloyd-Jones adds a poignant vocal to the emotive background of Memory Lost. The song is about an old lady battling on as best as she could after the death of a partner, and living alone with her memories. The title referring to hanging on to the only thing you have left when someone dies…your memory of them. A pared back and sincere track that really hits you hard and makes a mark on your heart and soul, a single tear rolls down my cheek as I listen to the intensity of Huw’s voice, Robin adding a wonderful harmony. I challenge you not to be moved by this seven minutes of Robin trapping history so he would never lose the detail as the years passed, the guitar solo that closes the song is just superb. Documenting Mollie’s last days at the cottage, title track When Age Has Done Its Duty opens with a wonderful recital of ‘Growing Old’ by Tom O’Bedlam spoken over an eloquent piano and keyboards and then Steve Thorne lends his stirring vocals to this bitter-sweet tale. In the 20 years after harry’s death, Mollie always seemed to just be waiting to be with him and in the days leading to her death she just huddled against the Rayburn in the kitchen refusing to eat or move. A sad but elegant song that documents the passing of this proud woman. Robin’s songwriting skills really come to the fore on this track and his choice of Steve Thorne as the vocalist is perfect, the pathos and sentiment he brings to every word is perfect. Just when your emotions are as strung out as you think they can be, Robin fires another stupendous guitar solo at you, leaving you utterly drained.

White Light Awaits takes on the question that has been asked through the ages, what happens after you die? Written as if Robin was having an ethereal conversation with Mollie, asking her what it was like to die and did she experience anything after death. Being a devout Methodist, she would have been appalled by this idea. There’s a bitter, angry tone to the song and the edgy guitar of Lee Abraham adds to the almost cynical, questing tone of Robin’s vocals. Drums are, this time, provided by Dave Ware and their dynamic feel just adds to the challenging aura. The album closes with the heartwarming Dog on the Clee, an inspring song which tells the story of Robin forging a privileged bond with Mollie’s Border Collie ‘Laddie’, a dog that didn’t really like many people at all. The graceful acoustic guitar and Robin’s ethereal vocal bringing a sense of wonder and inspiration to the final chapter in this utterly captivating story.

It may have been originally released in 2011 but this completely remixed and mastered version of ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ feels as fresh as if it was recorded yesterday. Possibly the most emotional journey that Cosmograf has ever taken me on, I feel it is Robin at his most open, a wonderfully involving musical journey with a narrative very close to his heart. There’s nothing quite like a Cosmograf album and this could possibly be the best of them all.

Released 26th January 2018

When Age Has Done Its Duty CD (2018 Remix Edition) -PREORDER

Oh, and for vinyl fans like me, there will be a vinyl release later in 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

Vinyl Review – Cosmograf – The Hay Man Dreams – by Progradar

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”
― Michael J. Fox

Surely every musician strives for perfection on every new record that they are working on but perfection cannot be attainable otherwise what else could they seek to achieve? When you follow an artist across their album releases you accompany them on this journey to a perceived nirvana of musical enlightenment, every release opening another door into their soul for clearly that is what every musician leaves with their music, a piece of themselves?

Robin Armstrong is the man behind the highly respected musical project Cosmograf, the Cosmograf sound is rooted in 70’s classic rock with a contemporary and progressive twist with obvious influences from classic progressive rock such as Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis, but with more contemporary flavours from bands such as Porcupine Tree, Muse, and Radiohead.

Cosmograf albums are built around concepts – Conceptual Progressive Rock allows the freedom to span genres, stop and start in different tempos, with the inclusion of relevant soundscapes and effects to build the story.  This creates a musical freedom far beyond the commercial rules and constraints of a disposable 3 minute pop song.

Robin’s musical odyssey began in 2008 with a rough demo called “Freed from the Anguish” and ‘End of Ecclesia’ which was self released in 2009. The break-through release that really brought Cosmograf to the music industry’s notice was ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’, released in 2011 and the quality and excellence never let up through 2013’s ‘The Man Left In Space’, 2014’s ‘Capacitor’ and last years superb ‘The Unreasonable Silence’, a release where many thought Robin had actually reached his musical zenith.

However, an artist with the talent and imagination of Robin Armstrong can’t sit on their hands and, despite health problems (thankfully resolved now), Robin has returned with another Cosmograf release ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ which, for the first time, will be released on vinyl through Chris Topham’s Plane Groovy label.

A retrospective album in both theme and style, ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ harks back to the sound and feel of the classic prog era fused with the raw energy and darkness of a rock behemoth. The 6 track album is measured at a single LP length and instrumentally delivers the vintage sound of guitar, bass and drums with a sprinkling of classic keyboards.

The theme presents as a mythical tale of a farm labourer meeting an early death, and leaving a loving wife and young family. His widow builds a scarecrow effigy as a shrine to her loss, and this ‘Hay-Man’ spends his weather beaten days in eternity, dreaming beyond his field.

The new album features guest performances from Rachael Hawnt (The Beautiful Secret), Kyle Fenton (These Septic Stars), Matt Stevens (The Fierce and the Dead), Rachel Hall (Big Big Train) and former BBC Voiceover artist David Allan.

It’s great to see an album that was conceived to be a vinyl release from the outset, the packaging is excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Plane Groovy, and you get that frisson of excitement as you remove it from the shrinkwrap and take the slipcase and liner notes out of the sleeve. The singular artwork is very impressive and really stands out. Time to take it out of the slipcase, put it on the record deck and lower the needle…

“I’m tethered and bound to the earth today
It’s hard to walk free when you’re made of hay
Tethered and bound to the earth I say
Nothing to fear but nothing to say…”

The ominous and suspenseful opening to the first track Tethered And Bound raises the hairs on the back of your neck and David Allan’s atmospheric voice-over just helps to build the tension. The eerie feeling continues before a powerful and methodical guitar riff breaks through the uneasiness and Robin’s distinctive vocal adds an authoritarian tone. This song is pure and definitive Cosmograf but turned up to 11 with emotive guitars and mountain moving percussion provided by Kyle Fenton. It’s like the best of progressive rock met math-core and morphed into something quite unique. I love the creeping tension that lies throughout the song, it’s almost like hiding behind the sofa watching Doctor Who when I was a kid but brought bang up to date for the 50-something adult I am now. A really powerful, imposing piece of music that dominates its surroundings with Rachael Hawnt’s vocal talents also put to good use to add even more theatre, a thunderous start to proceedings.

“These trees surround the field
The boundary marks the forest
It forms a perfect shield
Protects the summer harvest…”

Trouble In The Forest is a massive contrast with its wistful, gentle nostalgic opening that is full of the feeling of lazy, hazy sunny days and a forest with the dappled sun’s rays lighting up the forest floor. A wonderfully calm and collected track full of assured grace and composure. There’s a feeling of longing to the elegant, ethereal guitar and contemplative percussion that gives an otherworldly aura to the music. I can’t imagine a more laid back song that I’ve listened to this year as Robin’s voice finally joins in, all soothing and tranquil and with a meditative timbre to it. The tempo increases slightly, a note of urgency bleeding into the vocals before another voice over from Mr Allan sets the scene. The gentle meander and preamble takes on a slightly discordant edge as the immediately recognisable tone of Matt Stevens’ guitar opens up and he goes into Guthrie Govan mode with an intricate and convoluted guitar solo that only a guitarist of Matt’s talent could ever hope to deliver. The snaking, coruscating guitar work fits in perfectly with the almost spiritual ambience of this song and the ambient effects add even more mystery as this superb piece of music comes to a serene close.

“The motorway extends in grace, the shiny metal’s keeping pace
The engine’s calling out to me, rev it more and let it breath
Let it breath…”

A stylish acoustic guitar motif opens The Motorway with an assured note, another tell-tale Cosmograf sound that is instantly known to this reviewer. It lulls you into a false sense of security as it gently ambles on before Robin’s emotive vocal begins, backed by Kyle’s classy drums and a real 70’s sounding keyboard, Rachael’s carefully considered backing vocals adding lustre. Everything seems good natured and jaunty as the song moves along at a measured clip but the mood changes as Robin’s voice switches to a more ardent intonation and the whole song seems to transform into something altogether more serious, sombre and thoughtful. A thunderous riff emerges and the drums go all native on us as Robin turns into a seriously heavy rock vocalist, all dark and dangerous, it’s quite an about face, I’m thinking 70’s Deep Purple or Bad Company myself. A sultry break with more of that acoustic guitar calms things before Robin opens up with a superb guitar solo that literally pins your ears back to the side of your head and screams passion, fervor and feeling at you (yes, it’s air guitar time!) before the song comes to resounding close and so does side one of this utterly captivating and arresting vinyl release.

“Spoil the view
Do what you want to do
A greener field
Made from a muddy hue…”

A deliberate and pensive piano opens Cut The Corn, the first of two relatively shorter tracks, and this precedes Robin’s instrospective, absorbing vocal, full of sentiment and warmth and yet there’s a melancholy edge that runs throughout the song, a yearning and a longing for something out of reach and this adds a fragile beauty to the whole track. The tempo is deliberate and restrained and adds to the mournful sense that emanates, even more so when the reflective and thoughtful acoustic guitar is played to the captivated audience leaving you lost in thought as the track comes to a close.

“The colder air it hurts my throat
as I walk the stony roadway
There’s demons on the moonlit path
They plot to steal the break of dawn…”

The emotion, passion and fervor reach a climax on the wonderfully stirring and affectional Melancholy Death Of A Gamekeeper, a track where, if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought Robin had co-opted David Gilmour into appearing. The whole song is a complex blend of emotions from Robin’s sultry vocal, Kyle’s elegant drums and the flowing keyboards but it is the incredibly impressive guitar work that really stands out and makes this a song I keep returning to time and time again. I could sit and listen to the searing, powerful and ardent playing all day long, this is music that moves you on a primal level and stirs the soul, I can’t get that guitar note out of my head and I don’t want to either. Touches of Pink Floyd? Yes, but it’s an affectionate nod of the head, not a blatant copy and I think it works fantastically well.

“The rain comes
It soaks his worn out clothes
I follow everywhere he goes
Hay Man dreaming of the sun
Hay Man are you having fun?”

Well, it is going to take something really special to top that and, to Robin’s eternal credit, he just gets on with it and produces another instant classic with the title track The Hay Man Dreams. From the first exquisitely delivered word that Rachael Hawnt utters we are given a song that will stand the test of time and should be considered a classic of the genre. Rachel’s hypnotic vocal is utterly beguiling and enthralling and the guitar, bass, drums and keyboards ooze style and sophistication. A track for late nights, darkened rooms, powerful red wine and forgetting about the complexities that life throws at you. The longest song on the album at over twelve minutes, not a second or a note is wasted and Robin delivers possibly his best guitar work yet with playing that bewitches, dazzles and delights even the most seasoned hack, just sit back and enjoy. That’s not all though, it’s a song in three or more parts and the mood is broken by David Allan’s voice over one more time before things take a darker turn as the carefree jazz/blues guitar is overwritten by a more compelling and aggressive riff, the drums dominating and Rachel delivers an outpouring of passion and fervor as the atmosphere turns chaotic around her, as if a tornado has hit the Hay Man. All of a sudden an argent and incandescent guitar solo breaks loose irradiating the sky, a furious and dynamic piece of guitar playing that hits you right in the solar plexus. This thunderous refrain comes to a sudden halt to be replaced by the elegant strains of Rachel Hall’s violin and order is restored once more. The album closes out with a feeling of pastoral calm and relaxed repose as the needle comes to a stop and silence settles around you.

What an incredibly emotional roller coaster Robin Armstrong has taken us on. I have no qualms in saying I have always been huge fan of his music and on ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ the sheer scope of his songwriting and imagination is barely conceivable. Cosmograf albums are lovingly crafted nuggets of musical brilliance created not for commercial gain but for the enjoyment of the listener and, on this latest opus (especially as it is available on vinyl), Robin has delivered his most impressive work yet. Perfection? maybe not but it doesn’t get much closer than this.

Released 14th July 2017

Buy ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ on vinyl via Burning Shed

Buy ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ on CD and Download from Cosmograf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cosmograf Announce Limited Re-Pressing of ‘The Man Left In Space’ by Progradar

Great news for cosmograf fans, the man behind it all, Robin Armstrong, has announced that there will be a limited -re-pressing of the brilliant 2013 release ‘The Man Left In Space’.

“As some of you know the 2013 release – ‘The Man Left In Space’ has been out of print on CD for some time. This has lead to odd copies turning up at Amazon etc. at eye-watering prices none of which comes back to the artist. The cost of re-pressing is pretty large but due to demand we are planning a limited re-press. Further info will be here and possible pre-order once we have confirmation.”

“In our race for achievement and success, we sometimes gamble with our lives only to collect isolation, unhappiness and failure.”  

‘The Man Left in Space’ is a concept album exploring the themes of aspiration, achievement, and the failures that our quest sometimes brings.  The story is played out against the analogous theme of a doomed space mission, launched in a bid to save mankind. The story provides a metaphor for the perils of success, such as boredom, isolation, unhappiness and ultimately failure…

The 9 track  progressive rock album draws on many past and contemporary influences in music, and takes a journey into the unknown to feed the imagination, and appetite of the listener of intelligent music.   It features a number of special guests from the progressive rock community including Nick D’Virgilio  (Spock’s Beard/Big Big Train ),  Dave Meros (Spock’s Beard), Matt Stevens, Greg Spawton (Big Big Train), Simon Rogers, Steve Dunn ( Also Eden ),  Lee Abraham ( The Lee Abraham Band ), Luke Machin ( The Tangent/Maschine ) and Dave Ware.

(Featured image by Dan Armstrong)

http://www.cosmograf.com/