Review – Dave Brons – Not all Those Who Wander are Lost – by John Wenlock-Smith

JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of The Rings has long been a source of inspiration for many, both in its allegorical context and for its worldview.

Written by Tolkien in 1954 and comprising three volumes, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, all set in this Fictional world called ‘Middle Earth;, these books have been read by millions over the last near 70 years and have inspired many artists, including Led Zeppelin, who’s song Ramble On is Tolkien influenced, as are many others including Enya, Joni Mitchell and even Black Sabbath.

Well, Bradford based guitarist Dave Brons has now composed a whole album, ‘Not all Those Who Wander are Lost’, which encompasses the journey of Frodo Baggins and his friend Sam in The Lord of The Rings. Dave has completely composed and arranged this suite of instrumental pieces himself, with assistance from the likes of Dave Bainbridge, Sally Minnear, his father Ian Brons, Catherine Ashcroft and Mark Swift and this this 67-minute album is the result of that interest and devotion to the books.

Dave is clearly a huge fan of the books and he revels in the chance to make his affection known and, in this work, he can combine his deep appreciation for the books with his love of progressive music and guitar virtuosity. The music is epic, as you would expect, but there is so much more to appreciate here in this album. The booklet that accompanies the album is beautifully conceived and realised and details the story behind each piece of music, along with insights into the performances. Dave is very quick to acknowledge the people who have helped him bring his dream to life and the part they each played in this task.

Dave is a ferocious guitar player yet, despite his flawless technique, he never shreds for mere effect, rather everything is played to support the music and move the narrative along, which is admirable.

Another neat touch to the album is the use of a recurring melody line that is actually My Lagan Love (which was an inspiration for Scarborough Fair) and this adds a delicate touch to the music throughout the album. The music is a journey that begins with eternity and circles around to end with eternity too. The album is a delight for the ears and is best heard as a complete piece of music with the lights low and something suitable to drink or someone suitable to snuggle with and enjoy as the music envelops you. Which it will, if you give it time for the magical music to drip down into your mind with repeated listens. This is an album that deserves to be listened to, and appreciated, for the fabulous musical journey that it will take the listener upon. There is so much to appreciate and enjoy here, the ethereal wordless vocals of Sally Minnear and the 100 plus strong choir, who’s vocalisations add significantly to the atmosphere of the album, the Uilleann pipes of Catherine Ashcroft, the fine cello from Ian Brons and the lyrical fluid guitar From Dave himself, all wrapped up in the beautifully clear production of Dave Bainbridge (one of Dave’s oldest musical friends).

This release is really a bit of a revelation and it is not afraid to touch upon the faith of JRR Tolkien and his wartime experiences and how they affected him. I especially enjoyed the Celtic feel of some of these pieces and the Uillean pipes that add great atmospherics to the overall sound. This is an album that is to be both treasured and revisited frequently, as you let the music take you to a special peaceful place. I highly recommend this fine album to all. 

This album has a card from Dave that says ‘Adventures in music for Tolkien Fans, may it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.‘ These personal touches from Dave really add value to what is an excellent package and one that has obviously been a labour of love for him as it revels in the value and worth that these books have bought him over the years. The music is epic, cinematic and expansive in sound and depth it really is an uplifting and positive listening journey and one most progressive music fans would surely enjoy.

Dave has an earlier album out called ‘Based on A True Story’ that is, again, instrumental but, although without a theme, it has extraordinarily strong musical statements and is a valid companion to ‘Not all Those Who Wander are Lost’. Dave is an independent musician and, like all non-major label artists, would benefit from your support for his music and art and you can embrace and enjoy the journey for yourself here.   

Released January 6th, 2020

Order from bandcamp here:

▶︎ Not all Those Who Wander are Lost | Dave Brons (bandcamp.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released March 26th 2021.

Order the album direct from the artist here:

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

Review – 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

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