The Bardic Depths formed when Canary Islands resident Dave Bandanna sought out musical contributions and assistance from fellow Big Big Train ‘passengers’ on a project that he was working on. The response being so positive that Dave decided to turn the project into a band to make an album, which became The Bardic Depths first album ‘The Bardic Depths’.
‘What We Really Like In Stories’, the collective’s third offering, arrives in March and offers eight more tracks of their rather unique, intelligent and different take on progressive music. The eight songs are mainly just under the six minute mark, although there are two longer tracks in ‘Vendetta’ and ‘Whispers In Space’.
This album is based on authors and their writing. The lyrics are all written by the band and Dr Brad Birzer, an American history professor at Hillsdale college, Michigan in the United States Of America. Once again, the album has a core group of musicians alongside Dave Bandanna. We find Peter Jones on vocals, whistles, clarinet, trumpet and alto saxophone, Gareth Cole on electric and acoustic guitars and guitar orchestrations and Tim Gehrt on drums and percussion. Dave himself provides lead and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, bass, keyboards and programming.
The album opens with a delightful, if brief, overture, Genius which itself leads into the first song proper, What We Like In Stories, which brilliantly recounts a conversation between CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien in which both authors expressed their dissatisfaction at the lack of books that contained what they would like to read. So they decided to write some for themselves, they tossed a coin and the outcome decided that Lewis would write the ‘space’ stories whilst Tolkien would write time travel stories, the term science fiction having not been coined at this stage. From this decision came CS Lewis’ ‘Out Of The Silent Planet’, ‘Perelandra’ and ‘That Hideous Strength’, all of which saw Lewis’ talents recognised in both the UK and North America, indeed, one could say that CS Lewis and Ray Bradbury made science fiction respectable. Meanwhile JRR Tolkien’s efforts were unsuccessful in the short term, it was two decades before ‘Lord Of The Rings’ appeared and a further twenty for ‘The Silmarillion’ to appear. The next track is a haunting, mid-tempo piece, You’ve Written Poetry My Boy, which has a direct line to the works of Ray Bradbury and, in this song, we learn that Aldous Huxley thought that the words Bradbury writes about ‘so many brave new worlds‘ are like poetry. This has a good saxophone solo from Peter Jones and great guitar orchestrations and flourishes from Gareth Cole. Vendetta concerns the works of comic book writer Alan Moore and takes the theme of one of his books ‘V for Vendetta’, set in a near future time, in a dystopian society where one has to make a stand against the way society is being led by those in charge. However, in this song our hero is finding that to be a challenge and hides away, refusing to face what is going on around him. We are told that silence is a fragile thing and that hiding away and not being involved is not the answer to the predicament or the issue. Musically, this a very good track with lots of interesting parts including fine guitar, keyboards and excellent drums, all with a very strong rhythm.
Old Delights is a homage to writers, a celebration of their talents and how their words can cause us not only to think but also to view things, people and situations in a different light, a very considered viewpoint. It is another fairly brief track but gets its point over very stylishly and it also serves as a clever platform for the next song, The Feast Is Over, which is based the work of Robert E Howard. Howard is regarded as one of the first writers to write in the Fantasy genre and wrote ‘Conan The Barbarian’, which saw him regarded as the father of the Sword and Sorcery sub-genre of pulp fiction. This track features a very memorable refrain repeated on the closing parts, it is also one of the longer songs, meaning it has space to evolve organically. It opens with a gentle acoustic strumming and is is about Sword and Sorcery writings, the second part of the track becomes more expansive in sound with orchestrations playing. In this section there is a lengthy and beautifully expressive guitar solo that ends with some fiery slide guitar, it is a really strong and satisfying track on every level. Stillpoint is based around the writings of science fiction writer Walter M Miller Jr, who’s work went largely unpublished during his lifetime, another relatively short, but highly enjoyable, track. Whispers In Space concludes the album in strong form, this one references the writings of Robert Rankin, an acclaimed writer whose style included, fantasy, comedy, conspiracy theories and steampunk elements. The lyrics are very clever, referencing in many oblique ways the sad death of Big Big Train’s own David Longdon, as in the line “The captain of the skies flies again…” Again, the music on this track is exquisite with lots happening. A graceful, expressive solo is played with great sensitivity and feel in a very special section of the track. Although the meaning of the song is possibly lost on me really, being a bit obscure and elusive, to my ears at least, the music is exciting and engaging on every level, making it a fitting conclusion to a very interesting and rewarding collection of songs.
With ‘What We Really Like In Stories’, The Bardic Depths take a subtly different route from what has gone before, the album having no central theme as such but, rather being a collection of songs inspired by literature. I enjoyed this album immensely and further, extended listens have allowed it to firmly secure a place in my heart and mind, I heartily recommend it.
Released 7th March, 2024.
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