Mike Kershaw is a “Passenger”, or fan of Big Big Train, and we’ve met (in cyberspace) and our lives have been connected through their Facebook page.
I was invited to review this, Mike’s latest solo recording, by Martin Hutchinson, another Passenger whose life is a little more connected to mine in that we have had conversations: Exchanges of ideas and the like, in between him sending me albums to review and me handing in my homework.
So I transferred the files onto CD, placed it in the player and after sharpening my reviewer’s pencil, pressed play.
The following are the notes written as I listen, a running commentary if you will.
The first impression is that the drum sound is warm, jazzy and gentler than other recent Prog albums. There are none of the extraneous fills and beat s that detracted from Dream Theater’s recent excursion into Lloyd Webber land here.
I will research later, but the instrumentation on this is warm, organic and very “English”.
Mike’s voice is not a musical weapon of mass destruction, not chilling roars or over enunciated shouting here. The nearest comparable voice I can think of is Marianne Faithfull. His voice falters and cracks as hers does on “Broken English”, both frail and resilient at the same time. It adds to the charm of the piece as the voice makes the words even more personal and the deliver almost intimate, a rough take charm that grows as the album progresses.
(Picture by Scott Smith Photography)
The album hints at the great journey we are all on, unfolding and layered with detail that adds to the repeated listening pleasure. Track 2 starts off with a drum track that brought Dire Straits to mind, that simple shuffle beat underpinning the mix. Keyboards float above it, Mike’s voice is higher, almost childlike here. It’s always tricky to write about lyrics without the aid of a “cheat sheet” album cover present, so I tend to leave that to the end user (and the writing on CD inserts is not “People of a certain age friendly at all! That’s why we collect vinyl – to read the notes!)
There are chiming guitars; beautiful bass playing that had me thinking of the Cure at their most pastoral on track 3. The melodic force is strong in this one, the song growing, tide like before the chorus crashes on the shore, then fades and ebbs with lovely electric piano . We have a military drum beat and a ghostly choral backing that fades to voice and rhythm section.
Mr Kershaw, you are a very talented man. Songs that unfurl gently and reveal secrets, your folk singer delivery brings another point of reference here, The spirit of Roy Harper seeps through the 4th track, with it’s guitar textures and space between the component parts allowing the voice centre stage.
“Another disguise” is full of lovely slide guitar and swooping keyboards, this track is very Pink Floyd in it’s sound, warm guitar and icy keyboards over a solid drum part , again no pyrotechnics from the players, the ebb and flow is complimentary to the lyric.
Or does it bring back memories of The Enid circa 1981 that ? That period when RJG discovered vocals? There are hints of that too, along with a smatter of Dylan, Track 5 being a bouncy charmer, full of gruff guitar charm and a timeless vocal performance.
(Picture by Scott Smith Photography)
Track 6 starts with a gentle keyboard piece then we hear of the protagonist, who seems beaten by life, a frustrated individual trapped in some private hell. Kershaw’s words of rallying around a flag, joining a cause, whether wrong or right spookily poignant after recent events in Yorkshire that shocked one and all, here we have the plight of the loner , the isolated man captured in a 3 minute song.
I’ve played the CD 4 times now, each time it releases another little Easter Egg …
This time, Mike’s Voice on track 1 reminds me of Tim Blake (Hawkwind and solo artist) performing “Lighthouse” – half spoken, half intoned lyrics set to a jaunty, almost funky soundscape with keyboards coming at you from all directions. Lyrically it’s not a million miles from the anti war rhetoric of Hawkwind / Tim Blake /The Enid from the 80’s ( we were all going to die in a mushroom cloud caused by Reagan and Russia goes to war over Europe with tactical Nukes proliferating on both sides. Scary times, but produced some great music – “Who’s Gonna Win The War” & “ And Then there were none” being the two that this shares a common bond with.
This is the “Proggiest” track here, with some great synth lines at the conclusion sliding over your ears into your brain.
The more I listen, the less convinced that it’s Prog. Not in a derogatory way, but this album is full of songs, some great musicians playing to complement each other, most tracks are around the 5 minute mark, there are no dragons, anthropomorphic creatures, aliens or starships. No warriors on the edge or any vast inhuman machines keeping people in ignorance and servitude.
There are some glorious tunes, great instrumental pieces and a sense of warmth, almost organic well being generated through the listening experience.
It’s just good music, no matter which box you think it should be put in.
Mike has produced a fine album, a personal statement of where he sits in the musical pantheon and the world is a better place for his efforts.
Released 27th May 2016 by Bad Elephant Music.
Buy ‘What Lies Beneath’ from bandcamp