“Under A Banner are Adam Broadhurst -guitars, vocals, harmonica, cittern; Jake Brooks – guitars and backing vocals; Simon Hill -bass guitar; Tim Wilson -drums, percussion, backing vocals; Kat Davis – keyboards. Powerful, poetic music about the world and the people and spirits which inhabit it.”
When I was sent this album the above information was all I had to go by. They sent an image for the album and a couple of paragraphs from the wonderful PR people at Bad Elephant Music (Martin) in the email.
Wolverhampton’s Under A Banner are another band new to me but I show no fear in my own ignorance or absence of previous hearing. It went onto my tablet and I begun to listen in bed while I settled to peruse the current reading material, a novel in this case, but often it’s a policy or document for work. My first thoughts, after the first pass through, were of the sheer energy and passion captured in the recording. It is enough to run a small power station for a year. The music screams a preternatural folk roots sound that pulls from many different sources and influences as well. They are the natural descendants of The Pogues, The New Model Army and The Levellers, musically and in their choice of song topic.
The songs range for the vicious political narrative of Kill It All, attacking faith and consumerism through to the revolutionary call-to-arms of Legion. The styles all vary greatly but the central core of folk/punk is forever present. About Lovecritiques on the love song and relationships but with a sense of time perspective, misquote here, “it’s about more than the he said she said” and “in a thousand years we’ll all be dead”.
Already There kicks in with a simple guitar line and very traditional vocal style, Adam’s voice over a single guitar, but lyrically it is an attack on our constant need to add to the layers and barriers between us and what we have already. It has a plaintiff violin threading through the whole melody of the song stating “The beauty was already there”.
For me, the ultimate gem on the album is World of Hope and it shines despite some serious competition from the rest of the album. I suppose my inner cynic was drawn to the despair and loathing of a need to constantly look back at things and not see what we could have or have been.
If you have a desire to hear music written and performed with passion, soul and sincerity, as well as a willingness to open beyond limits, then this is definitely the one for you. I used the musical references of bands like the Pogues and NMA as they are the nearest reference points but, trust me, Under A Banner are neither of those bands, they are a unique force of their own.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
– William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
So, there you have two different schools of thought, good old Bill Shakespeare was basically saying that it doesn’t matter what you CALL something, it is what that something ACTUALLY is that matters (well, that’s the way I interpret it anyway).
Yet the differing opinion is that the name can make a difference to how we interpret something and how we actually react to it. Names that give negative connotations can actually inhibit where names that give a positive vibe can add appeal.
I know what you’re thinking, “What is he waffling on about?”, but this very conundrum came up earlier this year for the band formerly known as Progoctopus. The band’s moniker was seen as being detrimental to their progress as if there was an unwritten law that any band should not have the word ‘prog’ anywhere within its title.
This wasn’t just the general public and listening audience, those that make up the mighty cognoscenti of Progressive music had said it was so.
So, what did the band do? well, here’s a clue…..
So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the reborn Oktopus and the changes didn’t end there either.
Original singer Jane Gillard, who sang on the band’s well received debut (as Progoctopus) EP ‘Transcendence’ left the line-up and, to the surprise of many, was replaced (in an almost Genesis style) by guitarist Alistair Bell, making Oktopus a ‘power trio’ completed by drummer Tim Wilson and bass player Samuel C. Roberts.
The band have married the traditions of progressive music with stellar contemporary musicianship and big production values in performance, song duration or tongue-in-cheek humour.
Look, I’ll be honest here, I’m a big fan and friend of these talented musicians (hell, I even wrote the press release) but, as ever, this will be a very objective review and I won’t let my ties cloud my viewpoint, okay?
Discord (Approach) is like a musical Amuse-bouche for the album, a little bit of music which is served before the rest of the album to stimulate the musical appetite. A slow burning, disturbing appetite stimulator at that too!
Now onto the main feature and the first track released from the album, Eyes Open. A frenetic and intricate opening of carefully choreographed disharmony between guitar, bass and Tim’s manic drumming paves the way for some tasty, punk infused, jazz-funk. The staccato riffs and stylish bass provide a counterpoint for Alistair’s actually rather impressive vocals, this lad can sing and sing well. The driving force behind the punchy music is the ever present drumming of Tim Wilson who has some metronomic skill behind the kit. There is an upbeat, tongue-in-cheek feel that runs throughout, especially on the rising chorus that becomes a real ear worm. Never a track to rest on its laurels though, the elaborate jazz/prog fusion section is quite an involved trip for your ears and mind and adds some cerebral gravitas, a great start to the album.
Title track Worlds Apart is a full-on jazz infused prog-fest from start to finish. Here the musicians get to show off their not inconsiderable prowess and you get flashes of Alistair’s Aeon Zen persona with his skilful guitar playing (albeit utterly jazzed up rather than ‘heavy metalled’). Stylish jazz lounge drumming from Tim (light cymbal tapping ahoy!) and some silky smooth bass from Samuel all add to the feeling of panache, the vocals having a touch of the laconic and ironic Ben Folds. Busy and energetic, this song takes you on an enjoyable series of twists and turns that leaves you with no idea of where you’ve been or where you are and not caring anyway. A labyrinthine guitar solo leaves a smile on your face as this jazz/prog fusion special closes out.
The Adventures of Jerry Troutmonto (Part 1) is a humour filled three minute instrumental homage to a (possibly) fictional character. A musical smorgasbord of wilful guitar wankery, frenzied drumming and maniacal bass playing. Alistair is having a field day with his fiery licks and unabashed noodling and his partners in crime give him the canvas to perform on.
Haru, a mid-album break of oriental pipes and mysticism. Just over one minute where you can step off the world and take a break in its peaceful and ethereal atmosphere and come away emotionally cleansed before taking on all comers once more.
The Hand On Your Shoulder begins with real laid back and chilled vibe, gentle guitar and vocals being the artist’s utensils. But this is Oktopus so the calm and collected doesn’t last for long and we set off on another convoluted journey, this one with a decidedly darker shade of fun and games. The vocals have a more serious tone and the whole song has a much more grown-up and sober atmosphere. Shut the door and leave the kids outside, this is where it gets deadpan and no prisoners are taken. I like the contrast between the light and the dark that this track invokes, it’s clever and no-nonsense.
So the final part of this thirty four minutes of musical mayhem and japery, Minotaur, begins with another slice of the funktastic, restless prog/punk/jazz fusion as the guitar slaps you in the face with some pin sharp riffing, the drums do what the hell they like (as usual) and the bass tries to restore some semblance of order. Alistair gives another excellent vocal delivery, he has some lungs on him this lad, and you are sucked into a thoroughly enjoyable vortex of tomfoolery and horseplay from which you emerge laughing hysterically and with your eyes not quite focused. However, if you look below the thin veneer of humour, merriment and gaiety, you will find three musicians who really know their stuff and this prowess is on display for all to experience on the dextrous and inventive instrumental section running throughout the middle section of the track. The last part of the song is all about the ‘power’ in power-trio as the guitar hits you with some seriously heavy riffing, the drums mount a final attack and Sam’s bass acts as the conductor and hold on for the little surprise in the last sixty seconds or so….
So, what’s changed with the moniker? Perhaps a more mature and concise feel to the reckless abandon and boisterous energy? Alistair steps up to his vocal duties with aplomb and these three musicians deliver an exciting, high strung and irascible thirty four minutes of near perfect jazz-infused prog that leaves you asking, “What happened to the rest of the album?”, it’s that good!
Midlands based progressive-rock band Oktopus (formerly Progoctopus) have revealed their new, three-piece, line-up along with details of their upcoming exciting debut album and forthcoming live performances.
After the recent departure of singer Jane Gillard, the band have decided to forge ahead as a trio with guitarist Alistair Bell taking on lead vocal duties. Samuel C. Roberts (bass) and Tim Wilson (drums and vocals) complete the dynamic make-up of this distinctive act.
Tim Wilson – “Parting company with Jane was a difficult decision, but ultimately we felt a change in direction was important for the growth of the band. She played an important part in laying our foundations and we thank her for her valuable input.”
Later this month, the band will enter Rob Aubrey’s respected Aubitt Studios to begin work on their debut album, ‘Worlds Apart’, which will land in early Spring to coincide with their appearance at the HRH Prog Festival and a further three dates supporting District 97 and The Dave Kerzner Band.
The band marry the traditions of progressive music with stellar contemporary musicianship, superb live performance and tongue in cheek humour.
Oktopus UK Spring Tour 2016 (so far confirmed)
Thursday 17th March – HRH Prog, Pwllheli (w/Hammerhead, Third Quadrant and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown) Now Sold Out
Saturday 26th March – The Borderline, London (w/District 97 and The Dave Kerzner Band)
Sunday 27th March – The Musician, Leicester (w/District 97 and The Dave Kerzner Band)
Monday 28th March – The Robin 2, Bilston (w/District 97 and The Dave Kerzner Band)
What’s in a name? Do the emotions that a band’s name evoke influence your likelihood to like or dislike that particular artist’s music? And why am I even asking this question in the first place?
Progoctopus, that’s why. This new progressive band from Birmingham have just released their debut E.P. ‘Transcendence’ and, so far, it is garnering some great reviews. However the band’s choice of moniker seems to be engendering some less than positive comments.
I, for one, really like the name. There seem to be some rigid tenets in place for when you choose the sobriquet by which you wish to be known. Here we look at the three major ones.
1. Get a name that really stands out.
Make it so it is memorable and creates a vivid image or evokes a feeling in the mind of the listener. Well the guys have certainly ticked that box for definite!
2. Get an unused band-name.
Well have you heard of another band called Progoctopus? Exactly, point two is in the affirmative.
3. Make it relevant to the genre.
Progressive rock? Progoctopus? I think we can agree that that one is a definite yes too!
On a more serious note, will the band name put you off the music, come on, of course not or, at least it shouldn’t. Aren’t we all open minded, won’t we give something a try before shunning it? I should bloody hope so.
There is a hint of tongue-in-cheek japery about Progoctopus and I know the band are amused by, and love, all the discussion about the merits of that controversial handle.
Enough dissection, it’s time for the usual history lesson because, if there isn’t one, it isn’t Progradar!
Formed in November 2014, Progoctopus are set to take the prog world by storm with their debut EP, ‘Transcendence’.
The band consists of Jane Gillard (vocals), Alistair Bell (guitars), Samuel C. Roberts (bass) and Tim Wilson (drums).
“We’ve only been together a short time, but the ideas never stop flowing. The guys jam relentlessly and are seldom in 4/4” chuckles lead vocalist, Jane .
With this debut EP, the band have married the traditions of progressive music with stellar contemporary musicianship and big production values in performance, song duration or tongue-in-cheek humour.
“We combine as much anarchy, order and cheese as we can, rather than should, do in a musical democracy” Tim jokes. “For us, it’s about a happy, will-do attitude, rather than the number of notes. We have a mischievous and fun-loving manner and are always trying to slip each other up with a crazy new beat or riff.”
Guitarist Alistair comments on this positive sense of musical adventure. “The interesting thing about writing music with these guys is that we rarely know what’s going to happen next. One minute we might be playing a fusionesque jam a la Holdsworth, the next we’re playing anthemic rock, then we’re straight in to some Opeth style death metal. It’s mad but we love it!”
So onwards and upwards and time for the review of this four part E.P.
The first two tracks are actually part of the Transcendence Suite and, obviously, we begin with Part 1 and the winding of a clock before a funky, jazz style vocal introduction, heavy on the bass and with Tim’s drums providing a frenetic background accompaniment. A sort of Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s funktastic riff is provided by Alistair and off we go on this fun-filled maniacal free-flight through progdom. Things open up and become calmer with a really classy riff before Jane’s distinctive vocals take up the story. A powerful voice, full of clarity and soul, it is part of the lifeblood of this impressive start. The rhythm section is there just slightly hidden yet holding everything in place with a metronomic and precise beat. There is a joyful freedom deep at the heart of this music, the catchy chorus and funky music just have a definitive joi de vivre about them and you can’t help but be transfixed by it. A left turn into a more divisive and edgy feel fits in perfectly, there is even a hint of alt-country to Jane’s voice in places as the genre-swapping nearly loses you but you keep up, even if it leaves you breathless and in hysterics……
More of the same with Part 2? I hope so, there isn’t enough fun in music nowadays. A kind of mystical, trance-like piece of music holds you in sway as the second part takes on a more laid back feel at first. It isn’t long before the full-blooded chicanery and tomfoolery return in full force though and this time with a much heavier edge to it, Jane’s vocal taking on a feel of Ann Wilson from the early days of Heart before they went all soft-rock on us. A squirelling guitar run and repetitive return to the enigmatic riff of Part 1 keeps everything flowing smoothly. The dynamic chorus and persuasive, forceful melodies come to head as the track runs out to an energetically heavy conclusion.
A playful, more minimal aura surrounds the beginning of Like Stone. Acoustic guitar and chilled out drums play in the song before Jane joins the soiree with a gentle, nostalgic vocal that lifts you away on a gossamer thin cloud of celestial wonderment. Peaceful and refined it dances graciously along your synapses leaving you in a state of grace. A pleasant interlude from the prog chops of the first tracks.
Now onto the longest track on the E.P. Running in at just over 9 minutes long Carousel bounds into the arena with a hook ridden melody and boundless energy. The first verse is delivered in a slightly subdued manner but with a feeling of a pent up vitality hiding in the background. Unleashed and set free, Jane’s diva like voice commands the whole track and gives it a vivid life of its own. The intrepid rhythm section provides an all-authoritative backdrop for the vocals and guitar to engage in a bit of offbeat, funky and jazz infused interplay. The middle section of the track sees the three guys head off on a visit to virtuosity-ville and show their undoubted skill-sets but, it’s when the impressive melodies and harmonies kick in that you just kick back and let an indulgent smile creep across your face. As the track draws to its conclusion you just get the feeling that the band are having so much fun producing this music for us and I applaud them for it. The way the track runs out to its final notes is just another gratifying part of this satisfying new entrant into the progressive world.
One conclusion that you have to come to with Progoctopus is that there is a heartwarming love of life deep at the heart of this quirky English quartet and this comes across emphatically in the impish delivery of their music. Uplifting music for a sunny day that gives a rose tinted glow to anybody’s outlook on life. Come join the fun, you will never look back.