Now that Counting Out Time has arrived in the nineties and is drawing closer to the present, it is becoming increasingly difficult to select a suitable album for each remaining year. This has nothing to do with the quality of nineties prog rock albums, which is pretty good especially compared to the eighties, but has everything to do with the nature of albums chosen for this historic overview. Counting Out Time has aimed to present you with milestone albums, but in order for an album to become a milestone, or a prime example of a certain period in time or a certain phase in the evolution of progressive rock music, it has to mature over a couple of years. An album rarely becomes a classic the day after it was first released.
An important phase in modern prog rock was the period of existence of a very prolific record label called SI Music, which had its origin in the successful magazine with the same name. One of the first albums to be released on this label, in 1992, was an album called Solitary Witness by a band called Landmarq. Over the years, Landmarq has proven to be one of the most popular bands on the SI Music label, releasing three albums during the time 1992 to 1996. Indeed, Landmarq's last album on the label, The Vision Pit (1996), was in fact SI Music's last hope to arise from the problems it was facing. But even Landmarq could not save the label, which sadly went bankrupt in 1996, leaving a lot of bands suddenly without a record company. But we're running ahead of things here, so let's get back to the beginning.
Landmarq was founded in 1990 by keyboardist Steve Leigh and guitarist Uwe d'Rose, both formerly of Quasar. The band went through several line up changes before settling to what would become the definitive albeit not always firmly established line up for their three albums with SI Music. Bassist Steve Gee and former Quasar colleague Dave Wagstaffe (drums) completed the instrumental section of the band. Wagstaffe recalls: "Towards the end of his time in Quasar, Steve Leigh had written lots of material for Quasar. Some of it has been used, but some of it, in hindsight, was more suitable for what we're doing now with Landmarq, although we didn't see that at the time". The position of vocalist proved to be a problem, though. Several singers joined the band but none of them stayed for very long. Although they found a very suitable singer in the person of former Quasar colleague Tracy Hitchings [see Quasar group-pic], she was not to be on the first album. S.I., having not long released her own solo album, didn't consider it a good idea. As a result, when the time came to record the first album for SI Music, Landmarq was actually without a vocalist! Damian Wilson was suggested by producer Karl Groom at Thin Ice Studios where the recording was taking place and at the 11th hour Damian Wilson was rushed in to do the job. The band landed a contract with SI Music after presenting a demo of Suite: St Helens, which was later to appear in a completed version on the debut album Solitary Witness.
Although Landmarq had been around for several years and written lots of material, the final touch was a big struggle for a band. Because of the instrumental nature of the band, most of the compositions were finished, except for the lyrics. Co-producer Clive Nolan was kind enough to lend a helping hand. Damian Wilson explains: "Clive's very good at working under pressure, I need more time." The song Borders, for example had been written as an instrumental. Wilson: "This actually happened in studio. This song has a three-chord structures, which makes it very easy for a singer to write a melody line. But Clive said: 'I'll just write you a lyric'. I even asked him to come up with something decent, but he just went for a cup of tea and when he returned he had written out the text already, and it really was a damn good lyric. I didn't have a chance to come up with something."
The rush of recording the first album leads to another remarkable story. One of the other songs not finished was Solitary Witness. However, this title really seemed to fit the album's cover-art and the theme of the album, which is about life (April First), getting old (Forever Young), Fear (Freefall) and (im)mortality (Killing Fields, After I Died Somewhere, Terracotta Army). Landmarq decided to keep the title and use the unfinished song by the same title on the next album. This would be the case on the following two albums as well, but it wasn't a deliberate choice at the time. Bass-player Steve Gee recalls: "Solitary Witness was (when we recorded the first album), not entirely completed, it wasn't finished in time. So we always knew that it would go on the next one. And it seemed like a good idea to carry that over. So it became deliberate by accident." Another returning aspect on both albums was the lighthouse, which in itself was a landmark (!), it reappeared on several covers in different forms.
Solitary Witness (the album, not the song) was received very well both by critics and audience. The critics especially praised the Camel-like guitar-style of Uwe d'Rose and the remarkable vocals by Damian Wilson. The readers of the aforementioned SI-magazine voted Solitary Witness as 7th album, leaving important releases like Peter Gabriel's Us and Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells II behind.
Already the next year, Infinity Parade, the follow-up to Solitary Witness was released with the song Solitary Witness as opener. The mystical opening, including bag-pipes showed the diversity of the track. This track was written by Steve Gee, but Uwe d'Rose added an instrumental middle section with a very symphonic key-solo. Towards the end the song slows down again and Damian Wilson repeats one of the greatest choruses Landmarq has produced and, by doing that, shows his capabilities as a singer.
Gaia's Waltz is another very unusual song, since (as the title point out) is a composition in 3/4. Such a rhythm begs for an orchestral arrangement, which has been provided by Clive Nolan, who was (together with Karl Groom) responsible for the production. As a result of this extraordinary 'classical' approach this song was either hated or loved by the fans. In any case, Landmarq proved they had the guts to push boundaries with this track.
As on the first album, keyboard-player Steve Leigh was responsible for the majority of the material. Landslide is another instrumental with his signature. It's a very jazzy, upbeat track, which may even date back to the time when jazz-rock was played by several members in the London circuits.
The mid-point and highlight of the album is another composition by Steve Leigh: Ta'Jiang, which means 'great river'. The song was inspired by a river with the same name in Thailand. Ta'Jiang consists of no less than 5 parts, two of them being instrumental. All in all it takes Landmarq no less than 16 minutes of captivating music to tell us the story of the 'river of golden sand' (Chi'n sha' jiang). A lovely piano-riff forms the heart of the song, which returns on several occasions in the composition. An intriguing organ leads to a heavier (instrumental) part with a prominent role for Uwe d'Rose on guitar at the side of Leigh's keyboard-stuff.
The More You See, The More You Lose?
A drum-pattern and moody keyboard-sounds introduce us to Tailspin (Let Go The Line), which is the result of a collaboration of Steve Gee and Uwe d'Rose. Unlike Ta' Jiang, Tailspin offers the time to sit back and enjoy the echoing vocals of Damian Wilson on top of an on-going bass-line. For some reason, this track was never played live by the band until recently.
Although Infinity Parade in not a concept album, several themes (like on the first album) return. Subjects like 'fear', but also 'change' and 'the state of the world' play an important role in the lyrics. This time Damian Wilson also was responsible for both vocal melodies and lyrics.
After the atmospheric Tailspin, the mood of the album changes (again!) with a faster song: The More You Seek, The You Lose. The keyboard-melody breathes an 'Oriental' atmosphere, but the main part of the song is rather straightforward. The speed of the song makes it possible to include extensive lyrics on the position of human life in the world. Despite this, the song remains positive and 'light', not unlike some of the early Saga songs.
Guitar-player Uwe d'Rose is responsible for the finale of the album: Embrace. This ballad shows the romantic part of Landmarq, including a very gentle Damian Wilson, who is able to keep refrain from his normal 'bombast' and show the fragile side of his voice. The last two minutes of this song are completed with a beautiful, sweeping guitar-solo and great female backing vocals.
Again both critics and public were very enthusiastic about Infinity Parade. This time Landmarq reaches a 5th spot in the readers-poll of SI-magazine and singer Damian Wilson is rewarded the 'best vocalist'-award by the Classic Rock society. Regrettably, this fame leads to an offer Wilson can't refuse After Infinity Parade, Damian Wilson was offered a very lucrative deal to join Luxembourg-based band LaSalle and he leaves Landmarq. Ian Gould, better known as Moon, joins the band for several live performances. However, during recording sessions for the follow up to Infinity Parade, musical differences between Gould and the rest of the band result in him leaving the band. So again, Landmarq are without a singer on the eve of a new album release. And again Damian Wilson came in to save the day, just as he had done in 1992. The Vision Pit was released in 1995 on SI although they had (commercially more interesting) offers from Road Runner-records. Regrettably, 1996 proves to be a very bad year for Landmarq. Not only SI Music goes bankrupt, but they also have to part ways with Damian Wilson again and this time it seems he will not return.
But then Landmarq surprises everyone when a new singer is presented, because it is none other than ex-Quasar vocalist Tracy Hitchings. Her comment on this 'return' to Landmarq: "In a strange way it is a coming home. I was the original singer in Landmarq, although I now strongly believe that it wouldn't have been right at the time. But back then I strongly disagreed with a certain person from the record company I was with at the time, who said he would not allow it. But in retrospect I think he did the right thing there, but I was still hanging around. And I am glad that it has not happened until now, because I've had so much time in between to work with the likes of Clive Nolan and various people, Gandalf - I shared the same album with Steve Hackett - and so on. So I've learned so much more from the very early Quasar-days, dare I even talk about that? And that's not only singing itself, but also writing, because I have always felt creative and wanted to be on the writing side. And the situation was that they were virtually folding, they were bored, because the didn't have a lead-singer who was able to be there all the time, so I said: Why don't you use a singer that will be there?'. And because I have always loved them, it was just right, the situation was right. So for me it is like coming home."
With Science Of Coincidence she made a furore and brought Landmarq back into the spotlight. Live, she performed several old songs with Landmarq, among these beautiful versions of Solitary Witness and Tailspin, both off Infinity Parade. By doing this, she keeps the legacy alive, since both Solitary Witness and Infinity Parade regrettably are not available anymore. Hopefully, they will be re-released some day. We tried to point out in this place that Landmarq's music is worth to be heard.
Written by Jan-Jaap de Haan
and Derk van Mourik
• The Official Landmarq Homepage
• Tracy Hitchings: illustrated biography
• As well as several SI-magazines and iO-pages