John Wenlock-Smith’s ‘Best of 2023’

This is a list of the albums that have made a big impression on me this year. They are not in any order although several marked☆ are my favourites and I will nominate one as my album of the year.

Here is the list:

1.OrionThe End Of Suffering – This came out of nowhere and it is a testament to one man’s vision and willingness to create music that he wanted to.

The End of Suffering | Orion (

2. Tribe 3 – Self Titled- This recent release most definitely impresses with its progressive, inspired take on fusion.

CD ‘Tribe3’ | Tribe3

3. John Greenwood  – Dark Blue ☆☆ This arrived, again largely unnoticed, but what a brilliant release, thoughtful, emotional and an utterly captivating listen.

DARK BLUE | John Greenwood (

4. Material Eyes  – Inside Out excellent prog from the North East of England.

Inside Out | Materialeyes (

5. The Michael Dunn ProjectBridge Across The Years ☆ Canadian musicians superb debut release, 40 years in the making.

The Michael Dunn Project

6. The Drinking Club – Really??? ☆ Very Marillion like in places, another great release.

…really?!? | The Drinking Club (

7. Pryzme – Four Inches – Superb French band release excellent album with a fondness for Rush stylings.

Four Inches | Pryzme (

8. Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – The Light Of Ancient Mistakes ☆ Amazing next adventure for impressive North London duo.

The Light Of Ancient Mistakes | Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate (

9. Downes Braide AssociationCelestial Songs ☆ Excellent new album of epics from the DBA Team.

Downes Braide Association: Celestial Songs, CD Edition – Cherry Red Records

10. Nova Cascade – The Navigator – A musical tribute to Eric Bouilette after his passing, beautifully done.

The Navigator | NOVA CASCADE (

11. Southern Empire – Another World ☆ A strong return for Australian favourites.

Another World CD – GEP

12. Ruby Dawn Beyond Tomorrow ☆☆ A deeply emotional album from Wokingham’s finest.

Beyond Tomorrow | Ruby Dawn (

13. Tiger Moth TalesThe Turning Of The World ☆Deeply Personal album from Peter Jones, largely acoustic but very satisfying.

Tiger Moth Tales (

14. Nick FletcherQuadrivium ☆☆☆ My album of the year. Fusion for today, an album forging forward and beyond while embracing the past.Unbelievably fine music that is beautifully realised.

ONLINE STORE | Nick Fletcher Guitar (

15. Pattern Seeking AnimalsSpooky Action At A Distance – Fourth excursion from some-time Spock’s Beard men along with John Boegehold and a further step forward.

Spooky Action at a Distance (

16. CyanPictures From The Other Side – Second album from Rob Reed’s excellent young project, with Peter Jones and Luke Machin firing on all cylinders.

17. The Emerald Dawn  – In Time ☆ – Beautiful album themed around time and memories and how we perceive them.

In Time | The Emerald Dawn (

18. Dave Foster BandGlimmer ☆ The year’s ‘grower’ album that just gets better with every listen.

Glimmer | The Dave Foster Band (

19. DamanekMaking Shore – A splendidly exciting album from the early part of the year, epic, melodious and really strong.

Damanek – Making Shore – GEP

20. Swan ChorusAchilles and The Difference Engine – My favourite vocal led album of the year, especially the wonderfully poignant track Being There about Peter Sellers, a beautiful song.

Achilles and the Difference Engine | Swan Chorus (

It’s been a tremendously fine year for music. A post-covid boom has inspired some stalwart activities with some excellent and impressive releases, here’s to an even better 2024!

John Wenlock-Smith.

Review – The Drinking Club – …really?!? – by John Wenlock-Smith

This album came up for review and upon listening I could immediately hear elements of early Marillion, I.Q, Pallas and Pendragon to name but four early eighties prog legends that this release harks back to on first and also subsequent listens. This independent release from The Drinking Club was the result of an advert posted over the internet to a Facebook group that celebrated those early 80’s Neo-prog acts mentioned above. In seeking like minded individuals/musicians to join with a project to turn Peter Hewitt’s shelved folder of discarded forgotten ideas into a more concrete and tangible firm reality. This album, ‘…really?!?’, is the result of those labours and efforts. What a labour of love it must have been to see these concepts and ideas taking shape, gaining traction and becoming fully formed.

When you add into that equation that the three members (Peter along with Kevin Borras and Tony Flint)worked on all this remotely, using file sharing and WeTransfer apps to compile the songs with various ideas, it is even more impressive. The results are definitely worthy of investigation by any prog fan as this album has much to savour, appreciate enjoy with some very interesting subject matter along with the guarantee of being wizard, witch and warlock free.

That said though, the element of political comment is clearly present as this album sees the anger and frustration of these 50 year old men venting their collective spleens on the issues of the day, ranging from immigration, the existence of God, tabloid hysteria and a painful divorce, to name but four issues. This is social conscience prog and how different it is to hear music that calls for a response and has strong and informed lyrics. Well this album has that in spades and is so well worth hearing for yourself, along with strong musical passages , solid guitar and keyboards to back everything up. This strong album has shot to the upper reaches of my best of 2023 albums already in a year of some stellar performances and will invariably create big waves come December.

The music is pretty epic at times with a few surprising influences and sounds and possibly some less obvious ones in parts! For example, I can hear traces of 80’s jazzers Working Week, especially when the trumpet kicks in during Light Years. It may not be obvious but I picked up on it for sure. It is a neat touch and one that adds to the gravitas of the subject matter of divorce and a failed relationship, the tangible hurt is sensitively handled without blame but with regret and is a bold exposition of pain and the determination to carry on and continue.

Especially noteworthy is the mock radio broadcast that forms both the introduction and outro of But For The Waves, which poses the question, what has the UK’s immigration process ever done for us? The answers this song offers are intelligent, heartfelt and artfully crafted and well worded and confidently addressed.

The album has a running time of fifty-one minutes and doesn’t drag at all. Each song has merit and the vocals are clear, in addition the guests all add something fresh and different First track Eternity (In An Empire Of Snow)/What We’re Made Of opens with a symphonic overture of synths and a good guitar line that leads into a more urgent section, this in turns leading to a solo guitar and a crash of drums, choral vocals and a subdued chord and a lone piano motif, all this lasts for over five minutes and is an impressive opening statement. I think the song is about the existence of God although I could be wrong on that! Next track is Ticking Clock which appears be about climate change and there are great lyrics in this one. Even better is But For The Waves which addresses the immigration crisis and questions the motives of those in charge and the media’s disinterest in the issue. This song is hard hitting and uncomfortable at times but its questions, while difficult, address our identity as a nation as does how our declining compassion weakens us. The outro is a brilliant and emotive heartfelt rebuttal to the question.

A Song Of Life is about a child growing up and the trials that can bring. Another interesting song in an album full of great tracks. Zero Sum Game is next with great synths and a surging guitar line. The song is about exploitation of artists with the special, often worthless, special edition of an album. This has a voiceover from a faded fictional prog musician who puts things into perspective. Light Years is the albums epic and my favourite with sombre music and lyrics but all wonderfully handled with, I must point out the great trumpet on this track too! The final track is A Song Of Deat. This song is about the cycle of life from birth to death and has a funky bassline that runs through the track and great lyrics as well. The album cover of a lone shoe in the sea is striking and is references in But For The Waves.

I thoroughly enjoyed this album, finding a wealth of great music with lots of nods to early 80’s Neo-prog and the future looks good for this trio, let’s hope there is more to come from The Drinking Club again very soon!

Released 3rd March, 2023

Order from bandcamp here:

…really?!? | The Drinking Club (