Review – The Tangent For One – To Follow Polaris

When is a solo album not a solo album? There’s a conundrum for you. Well, there’s a story behind this latest release from The Tangent universe, ‘To Follow Polaris’ by The Tangent For One. The ‘One’ in the artist name is, as I’m sure you can guess, Andy Tillison and let’s discover why this new collection of impressive progressive rock is not Andy’s latest solo creation…

‘To Follow Polaris’ is a new ‘full on’ Progressive Rock album by The Tangent, set to be released on the 10th May 2024 (InsideOutMusic). That’s not necessarily a surprise, that’s what the band are known for. But at the same time, it’s something else too. As Andy jokes, playing on the Jaws strapline, he says “well this time it’s actually no personnel”.

In a year when members of The Tangent could be seen onstage all over the world and on recordings by many greats of the prog world, it became clear that there was not going to be time to get together for anything more than one gig in April 2023.

So the band agreed that the band’s leader/main writer Andy Tillison would keep the material coming and would make an album by The Tangent entirely alone. It would still be The Tangent. Just for one.

“Besides Which” Andy says, “I’ve always wanted to do this, use what I have learned from Luke, Jonas, Steve, Theo and many other alumni and take it to final production. Now was the time!”

What transpired over the following year is in one sense an ‘absolutist’ solo album and is entirely the work of one person in all aspects including artwork, layout, design, lyrics, composition, performance, recording, production, mixing, mastering and authoring. But in another sense it’s totally Tangent. “I could not have begun to make this record without having had the experiences of working with the band. So although the different instruments are not attempted to be played in the actual style of the normal lineup, they are inspired by the kind of things these guys do”

So there you go, it’s an album by The Tangent, but not all of them and yet it does sound like it’s by all of them, still following? Let’s have a listen and see for ourselves, shall we?

For anyone who is a fan of Andy and The Tangent you will know immediately that this is an album by The Tangent, he has created a very distinctive sound over the years and one that I can’t get enough of. Created from Andy’s love of artists such as Yes, Van Der Graaf Generator, Porcupine Tree, Groove Armada, Earth Wind & Fire, Roger Waters and his bands, Return To Forever, Deep Purple, Gentle Giant, Steely Dan and any band featuring the keyboard player Dave Stewart, but neither a homage to those artists or a pastiche of their sounds. Andy’s instantly recognisable music is unique to him and The Tangent and is based mostly around his stellar keyboard playing.

The North Sky opens the album with style and panache and is indicative of The Tangent with the elegant keyboard flourishes, dynamic guitar playing and ever funky bass that has a wonderful jazz vibe to it (and is the first time you will hear Andy playing bass on any of his recordings). This song is a hopefully joyous celebration of life under the sky, there is a fluency to this vibrant piece of music, an urgency and joie de vivre that is as addictive as it is palatable, Andy’s stick driven (electronic) drums providing the drive and electronic wind controller the high notes and polish. The wistful, dreamlike section in the middle of the piece is an oasis of calm that gives you a moment to catch your breath and adds to what is a simply stunning start to the album, there could even be a musical nod to Close Encounters in there but that could just be me! Andy’s singular vocal is as acerbic as ever, love it or hate it (and I love it), to me it is much part of what makes The Tangent tick as anything else and his laconic storytelling adds a classic patina to everything the band do. Andy likens it to “sort of channelling the feeling you get contemplating the wonders of the seemingly infinite universe while riding a Harley Davidson”, exactly… A Like In The Darkness takes a more measured approach with a hushed vocal adding to the moody, thoughtful atmosphere. Imagine a smoke filled, whisky soaked venue with the lights down low and an attentive audience hanging on every word and every note, rapt in attention to the musician in front of them who is holding everyone’s attention with his charismatic persona. A beautifully observed slice of jazz/prog fusion, idiosyncratic in delivery and design, it’s a brilliant piece of music with its roots most definitely in the 1970’s and that era of creative, sometimes mind boggling, music that crossed so many genres that it became obfuscated but was always highly entertaining. For Andy it is a personal look into the world of being an obscure artist in the 2000’s, a world where legalised piracy starves musicians and the rationale for that has actually somehow succeeded in replacing payment with “likes” on social media as a sign of “success”. 

“A song about “Constant Bad News – something I have heard nearly everyone I know speak about regardless of their age or background.” That’s Andy’s short precis of The Fine Line, a song that, despite its subject matter, has a real cool and elegant feel to it. Imagine Gentle Giant turning up to a 70’s disco party dressed as Earth, Wind & Fire and you’re some way to getting the vibe of this gloriously funky piece of music. An acerbic social commentator he may be (or that could just be the Yorkshireman in him!) but Andy is just a lover of music and a lover of creating music at heart and that can be sensed through every word and note of this track and please just check out his fantastic, laid back bass playing! Andy says it owes a lot to ‘Aja’ period Steely Dan and is also a nod to Petula Clarke’s Downtown and, let’s be honest, it doesn’t get more prog than that! While Andy and The Tangent may be known for their brilliantly creative prog epics, it’s songs like this that define the true nature of the man and his music for me and I love it. Talking of lengthy prog epics, no true album by The Tangent could be classed as complete without twenty plus minutes of prog largesse and pomp and circumstance, all with a bit of true Yorkshire caustic diatribe thrown in for good measure and that’s what you get with The Anachronism. The song posits that all forms of government are manifestly unfit for purpose, unless the purpose actually is to create division, argument, suffering, war, poverty, racism. It centres on elections in so called democratic nations in which the amount of “say” a person actually has in this democracy is so vanishingly small that in two major Western Nations only four manifestos will even be actually considered in 2024. The longer song is a format that Andy likes to work in and he has loved this format since hearing Close To The Edge by Yes and you can tell, all of the longer tracks by The Tangent can be considered classic songs by the band and this is no exception. A track driven by purpose and calculation and a piece of music with a lot to say and which is delivered eloquently and in a direct manner. The music is as stylish as ever and travels across many genres seamlessly, almost a who’s who of 70’s prog styles and embellishments but all delivered in Andy’s witty and self-effacing style.

The Single (Taken From A Re-Opened Time Capsule) is a re-recorded version of a track Andy wrote more than 25 years ago for his band Po90. As it never reached that many ears he thought he would update it. “It comes from an album called ‘The Time Capsule’ which I did say that one day I might revisit… because that was implied by the title.” Andy continues, “It is a song that in many ways was the place The Tangent actually began.  in and among all the dark Po90 stuff, here was this little ditty that was almost a blueprint for songs like “GPS Culture” , “Spark In the Aether” and even “The North Sky”. Now Spark In The Aether is my favourite all time shorter track from the band so it means that The Single had a lot to live up to and, while it may not replace Spark in my affections, it is definitely up there. Lyrically it’s very focussed (As Fine Line) on News Media/Music Business and the contemporaneous attitudes towards Progressive Rock Music itself. It’s a marvellous piece of The Tangent history updated for a new audience and you can see the evolution of the band and Andy’s songwriting in its six minute running time.

The album closes out with a Radio Edit of The North Sky which intensifies and concentrates the inspirational feel of the original and, if you get the limited edition CD Mediabook or 2LP Vinyl, the bonus track Tea At Bettys, seventeen polished minutes of delightfully 70’s feeling easy jazz music, interjected with some frenetic and intentionally chaotic interludes, dedicated to the iconic Harrogate Tearooms that I have been lucky enough to frequent on several occasions.

‘To Follow Polaris’ is intended to be thought of as a regular Tangent album – but not as the future of the band. It’s everyone’s intention to make the FOURTEENTH album as The Tangent. For Five. However, taken in isolation, what you have is a wonderfully inventive and amazingly performed collection of songs that stay true to the core of Andy and the band’s beliefs. Witty and acerbic throughout but with some moments of pure musical bliss, it is yet another highlight in this storied musician’s stellar career.

Released 10th May, 2024.

Order the album here:

Direct from the band: The Tangent : Official Website – Home

or here: To Follow Polaris (