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Reviews in this issue:
- Gordon Giltrap - Visionary
- Gordon Giltrap - Perilous Journey
- Gordon Giltrap - Fear of the Dark
- The Climax Blues Band - Sense of Direction
- The Climax Blues Band - Stamp Album
- The Climax Blues Band - Gold Plated
- Steve Hackett - The Tokyo Tapes
- Pete Brown & Phil Ryan - Ardours of the Lost Rake/Coals To Jerusalem
- Bob Downes - Deep Down Heavy
Gordon Giltrap - Visionary
Tracklist: Awakening (3:01), Robes And Crowns (1:23), From The Four Winds (3:31), Lucifer's Cage (4:08), Revelation (3:45), The Price Of Experience (2:22), The Dance Of Albion (1:58), The Tyger (2:01), The Echoing Green (2:02), London (3:02), Night (3:53)
Bonus tracks - Concerto (Previously unreleased): Movement One (4:31), Movement Two (4:41), Movement Two (3:58), On Wings Of Hope (3:10), Visionary (Original Version) (15:20)
Gordon Giltrap - Perilous Journey
Tracklist: Quest (5:11), The Deserter (3:56), Pastoral (5:20), Morbio Gorge (4:15), Heartsong (5:02), Reflections And Despair (3:24), Cascade (3:41), To The High Throne (2:52), Vision (3:36)
Bonus tracks - Heartsong (Original version) (7:08), Quest (Orchestral version) (6:54), Guitar & Piano Demos (21:27), Oh Well (3:12
Gordon Giltrap - Fear of the Dark
Tracklist: Roots (Parts One & Two) (6:11), Nightrider (5:45), Inner Dream (5:03), Weary Eyes (4:47), Fast Approaching (5:04), Melancholy Lullaby (2:29), Fear Of The Dark (7:57), Visitation (4:26)
Bonus tracks - Smiler (2:52), Fear Of The Dark (Single Version) (3:35), Catwalk Blues (2:42), Jerusalem (3:30), Revelation (3:23), Theme From The Waltons (2:34), Birds Of A Feather (3:58)
The 1970's threw up more than its fair share of guitar legends with a late, leftfield contender being Gordon Giltrap. I say leftfield because although he is a technically gifted electric guitarist, the acoustic guitar has always been Giltrap's instrument of choice. Accordingly, he released a string of folk albums between 1968 and 1971 but it was the more eclectic 1976 offering Visionary that defined his career from then on. This was swiftly followed by Perilous Journey (1977) and Fear Of The Dark (1978) which collectively established Giltrap's reputation for melodic, instrumental progressive rock with classical and folk overtones. The success of these albums also played their part in undermining the common myth that prog-rock died a painful death in the late 70's with the advent of punk.
Visionary established the pattern for the next three releases with acoustic guitar, brass and strings providing the dramatic thrust and sterling support from session musicians Rod Edwards (keyboards), John G. Perry (bass) and a very young Simon Phillips (drums). Their playing is totally in tune with Giltrap's vision - not surprising given that Perry had a long association with Anthony Phillips whilst Simon Phillips would likewise work extensively with Mike Oldfield. In terms of style and appeal, Giltrap's music also invites comparisons with contemporaries like Barclay James Harvest, The Enid, Gryphon, Sky and Camel.
Inspired by the poems of William Blake, Visionary combines moments of lyrical tranquilly with surging orchestral breaks and, with each track averaging less than 3 minutes, none outstay their welcome. The soaring Revelation and the equally triumphant The Price Of Experience are especially memorable whilst the acoustic solo Lucifer's Cage was destined to become a live favourite. The medieval rock of The Dance Of Albion and the grandiose finale Night would have both sat very comfortably on Gryphon's classic 1974 Midnight Mushrumps album. Overall, the tracks have a cinematic quality that would have lent them themselves to a variety of film soundtracks.
Perilous Journey picks up from where its predecessor left off but somehow the arrangements are lusher, the production stronger and the melodies more memorable. Edwards, Perry and Phillips are also more prominent as evidenced on Quest which provides an uplifting fanfare with synth and piano riding on a sea of strings. A sweeping arrangement of the same theme, entitled Vision, provides a similarly effective close to the (original) album. But it's the joyful Heartsong that everybody remembers with Edwards' rippling Mini-Moog melody skating over Giltrap's driving acoustic rhythm. It entered the U.K. singles chart in 1977 (a rare distinction for an instrumental) and achieved a good deal of exposure over the next 10 years when it was adopted as the theme tune for the primetime BBC TV programme 'Holiday'.
From the start, Fear Of The Dark sounds more like a collaborative band effort although as the soaring Nightrider and the elegant Melancholy Lullaby testify, strings are never far away. The production is also once again improved with Giltrap's acoustic playing in particular sounding punchier. The moody Inner Dream brings Pink Floyd (circa Wish You Were Here) to mind whilst the mellow, BJH flavoured Weary Eyes features not only electric guitar but also vocals! Andy Latimer-ish electric guitar is also prominent during Fast Approaching which otherwise sounds like a re-run of Heartsong. The dramatic title track Fear Of The Dark is slightly let down by a dated disco rhythm leaving Visitation to bring things to a typically epic finale.
Although all three albums have been previously available on CD from Voiceprint with bonus tracks (as reviewed Here), Esoteric have raised the stakes with first rate re-mastering and yet more bonus material. This certainly enhances their viability and enjoyment, as on Visionary, for example, which includes the three-movement classical biased Concerto containing themes that were eventually used elsewhere on the album. The cover of Fleetwood Mac's Oh Well (included on Perilous Journey) is now considered by Giltrap to be a wrong move (perhaps because it flopped as a single) but it actually works very well with Giltrap's acoustic guitar and vocal capturing the spirit of the original. Fear Of The Dark contains the most eclectic extras including Giltrap's take on Jerusalem (more refined than E.L.P.'s sterile version) and unexpectedly the theme from the sentimental American soap The Waltons (remember "Goodnight John-Boy"?) which recalls Mike Oldfield's version of Blue Peter.
Playing these albums back to back it's possible to detect a transitional arc from the folky-ness of Visionary to the more mainstream Fear Of The Dark with Perilous Journey occupying the mid-ground and for me getting the balance just about perfect. Either way, all three come heartedly recommended and if I were you I would start as history intended with Visionary and if you like what you hear, continue through to Fear Of The Dark, you won't be disappointed.
Visionary - 8 out of 10
Perilous Journey - 8.5 out of 10
Fear of the Dark - 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Gordon Giltrap CD & DVD Reviews:-
|On A Summer's Night|
|"Extremely peaceful and relaxing, this is a recommendation for those who require some background music while working or doing something else."|
(Nigel Camilleri, 8/10)
|",,,no weak spots, and even has some "light" progressive influences."|
(Rob Michel, 6.5/10)
|Music For The Small Screen|
|"...never bad, but never really spectactular..."|
(Rob Michel, 5/10)
|Sixty Minutes With|
|"...a fine introduction to the music of Gordon Giltrap..."|
(Bob Mulvey, 7.5/10)
|At The Symphony Hall|
|"If like me, superbly crafted and skilfully executed acoustic and orchestral music is high on your agenda then it’s an absolute must."|
(Geoff Feakes, 8.5/10)
|Double Vision | In Vision [DVD]|
|"...a few scheckles may be well invested in this delightful DVD."|
(Bob Mulvey, 8/10)
|Ravens & Lullabies|
|"...this is an album of two halves; the songs and the instrumentals, and I much prefer the latter."|
(Roger Trenwith, 6/10)
|Other CD Reviews:-|
|Visionary (1999 Review)||Perilous Journey (1999 Review)||Fear of the Dark (1999 Review)|
Previous Gordon Giltrap Live Reviews:-
|Summer's End Festival, Lydney, U.K. (2013)|
The Climax Blues Band - Sense of Direction
Tracklist: Amerita/Sense of Direction (6:08), Losin' the Humbles (2:39), Shopping Bag People (4:02), Nogales (4:11), Reaching Out (5:18), Right Now (6:33), Before You Reach the Grave (3:13), Milwaukee Truckin' Blues (Chipper's Song) (1:44)
Bonus tracks - Sense of Direction [single version] (3:32), Shopping Bag People [alternate version] (3:58), BBC Radio One Bob Harris "Sounds of the 70s": Amerita/Sense of Direction (6:23), Right Now (6:14), Milwaukee Truck Song Blues (2:47), Losin' the Humbles (4:32)
The Climax Blues Band - Stamp Album
Tracklist: Using the Power (4:29), Mr. Goodtime (5:16), I Am Constant (3:10), Running Out of Time (5:23), Sky High (5:07), Rusty Nail/The Devil Knows (4:15), Loosen Up (4:56), Spirit Returning (2:54), Cobra (2:18)
Bonus tracks - BBC Radio One John Peel session: Before You Reach the Grave (4:36), Reaching Out (4:53), Spirit Returning [first version] (4:21), Rusty Nail/The Devil Knows [first mix] (4:28), BBC Radio One John Peel session: I Am Constant (3:11), Running Out of Time (4:51)
Yet another Climax Blues Band triple hits the desk of DPRP, although this time they bring with them sad tidings. On October 30th this year, lead guitarist and founding member Peter Haycock passed away in Germany, which will undoubtedly cast a dark shadow over this otherwise rather light set of reviews. It should be noted that he was a fine musician and songwriter, as the two albums I've received demonstrate fully.
Before listening to these albums, the only knowledge I had of the Climax Blues Band was from the previous reviews written by my colleague Roger Trenwith, who felt he should pass the buck to someone else after reviewing six of their albums in a row. You'll notice that this hasn't stopped him from snapping up the band's most popular album, leaving me with the lesser two. Despite the band's decidedly non-prog sense of direction, the albums I have received have that infectious and affable warm glow about them which has kept me interested enough to revisit a few times. These are two interesting releases that I can readily place alongside other blues-related bands like The Greatest Show on Earth.
Sense of Direction was the band's sixth studio album, released in 1974 and showed the band rising rapidly from the depths of obscurity. From the liner notes penned by Esoteric's enthusiast Malcolm Dome, I am acutely aware of how the band rated their success in terms of commercial sales rather than artistic merit; numbers relating to the U.S. Billboard charts frequently arise in both essays. This might seem dastardly to the prog lover, but let us not forget that the '70s was a decade where musical excellence and commercial success often went hand in hand, a paradigm that is very much the opposite nowadays. Should it mean anything to you, dear reader, Sense of Direction made it to #37 in the Billboard 200 and stayed in the charts for 29 weeks. Big whoop!
I know that I was wincing before slipping the disc into my laptop, expecting to hear a bunch of cheesy country music, but the album's opener Amerita/Sense of Direction won my heart within the first minute. The soul/gospel style opening quickly gives way to a well choreographed speedy instrumental, something any prog fan can enjoy. The segue into the titular track is well executed, and the Sense of Direction track itself has a powerful and moving finale. If not hooked, I'm certainly intrigued.
If I'm honest, this was probably the best track of the two albums, but the rest is not without merit. While staying true to their name and concentrating on the blues, The Climax Blues Band manage to work a variety of elements into their music, ensuring that this is not the samey experience that it could have been. Shopping Bag People has a sarcastic air in its 12-bar structure while Reaching Out shows the band adding more funk and soul to their repertoire, allowing them to sound like their Scottish contemporaries Average White Band, whose hit Pick Up the Pieces was released in the same year. Interestingly, Malcolm Dome highlights this track by saying that CBB had "throw[n] a curve ball", thereby using a rather American expression. Indeed, CBB had by this point Americanised themselves with the intent of breaking the lucrative market across the Atlantic as can be understood from the band's chart positions during this era, so it's interesting that Dome should follow this same pattern. Keeping in line with this, I too have attempted to insert a few Americanisms into this very review. Right Now is the other notable track on the album, and remains resolutely in the blues realm, with an extended instrumental that makes it longer than the two-part opener.
The band's eighth album overall - as signified by the '8' on the cover - was arguably a lesser album than Sense of Direction, both artistically and commercially; this one only got to #69 and stayed in the charts for 11 weeks. Ouch! Musically, Stamp Album saw the band taking fewer risks and following a more commercial route, even though this would ironically give them fewer sales. Even the bonus tracks for this album feature renditions of tracks from the last one, perhaps in a bid to make listening a more worthwhile experience.
If I'm honest though, it's not too bad. The catchy I Am Constant, which had previously been released on the band's live album FM/Live, has an enjoyable vocal harmony throughout, and the understated use of organs gives the track a special sonic vibrancy. Rusty Nail/The Devil Knows is an interestingly written piece that shows the band venturing more towards a Led Zeppelin sound, especially in terms of musical technicality. Similarly, Running Out of Time includes an interesting rhythmic device in the instrumental which is unfortunately merely glanced over. Elsewhere, it's a bit more rigidly structured, especially on the shorter tracks. Using the Power is a little bit cringeworthy with the falsetto vocals, but this is well balanced by the infectious Mr. Goodtime, which conversely uses deep sounding vocals to much greater effect.
Esoteric's treatment of these albums is satisfactory as usual. Both feature nearly half an hour of bonus tracks each, effectively doubling the running time and Dome's notes are informative if rather ardent. However, the treatment of the artwork is not up to my high standard. Sense of Direction has a decent reinterpretation of the original U.K. Polydor artwork designed by Hipgnosis, although the alternative artwork that came with the U.S. Sire version is nowhere to be seen. This isn't a big deal. However, the entire inner gatefold image of a stamp collection from the original Stamp Album LP is missing from the second reissue. More confusingly, the bottom right corner of the 'stamp' on the front cover has been altered from the original to mirror the top left corner. Why this has happened is utterly beyond my comprehension. This sort of treatment doesn't get my stamp of approval.
Though they don't usually release albums outside the prog realm, Esoteric clearly believe there's money to be made from Climax Blues Band, otherwise they wouldn't have set about re-releasing nine of their albums. Who knows whether there will be any more to come? Given that each individual CD is rather expensive, it might be worth Esoteric's while to create a boxset with all of the albums. Just my two cents!
These two albums show the band finally getting toward their long-time goal of commercial success, and doing so with style. The band's most successful period was just around the corner, and for that, I'll leave you in the more capable and knowledgeable hands of Roger...
Sense of Direction - 6.5 out of 10
Stamp Album - 5 out of 10
The Climax Blues Band - Gold Plated
Bonus tracks - Fat Mabellene (3:14), Together and Free (3:16), Chasin' Change (5:16), Shadow Man (1:24), Couldn't Get It Right (3:11), Chasin' Change (4:41), Together and Free (3:58), Mighty Fire (5:06)
Since the last tranche of Esoteric Climax Blues Band reissues were reviewed here we have had the sad news of Pete Haycock's death, and he now joins co-founder Colin Cooper in that great 12-bar line up in the sky. This series of reissues by Esoteric Recordings has provided a fitting if unintended tribute.
Gold Plated was, until many years later, both my entry and exit point where following the career of the Climax Blues Band was concerned. This was courtesy of the band's biggest hit Couldn't Get It Right which was released in the late autumn of 1976. A few weeks later the seismic shift of punk burst on to the U.K. scene and well-crafted blues funk was consigned to the dumper by those of us who were the right age at the right time and in the right place. This was a shame, because Gold Plated, the band's ninth album, was a set of finely crafted funky moves, of the kind favoured at the time by the likes of Kokomo and the Average White Band, with some well-seasoned blues chops never far below the surface.
If you look at the chart trajectory of their previous albums, you can see a slow but steady upwards progression in the States, albeit in the foothills of the chart mountain, and unfortunately no action to speak of back home. The band decided to popularise their take on the blues by stirring in the funky ingredients, and it worked, as Gold Plated turned out to be the high point in their career charts-wise, peaking at no. 27 in the U.S.A., and even making an appearance in the charts over here.
CBB came to the funk from their blues background, where the two bands I mentioned above had soul dancin' shoes. Dem blooze are still well represented on this highly polished record, produced once again by Mike Vernon. Although the record has a very sophisticated American sound, it was actually mostly recorded in the decidedly English setting of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. The band's U.S. label decided the record needed a hit and this turned out to be a song written in no time at all and included on the album without Vernon's participation, recorded separately in London. The off the cuff nature of "the hit" is apparent when listening to the album, but it remains irresistibly catchy to this day.
The album opens with the radio friendly Together and Free, and already fans of the band must have been taken aback by the change in the group's sound, but the usual high quality musicianship and writing meant that this was probably only a fleeting reservation. Mighty Fire combines the blues chops with the new-found funky dance moves with some panache, and many rugs are cut to the precise and at the same time loose-limbed Chasin' Change, which exemplifies the AWB comparison.
Despite its title, Berlin Blues is more of an R&B belter in the mould of the Allman Brothers than a straight blues workout. "The hit" we've already mulled over, and it is testament to its sharps hooks that it reached the dizzy heights of no.3 in the States and no.10 over here.
We have to wait until Rollin' Home for the first out-and-out blues number, and even that is not a traditional 12-bar, adding in some Stax soul for good measure. The guitar on this is quite magnificent by the way! Sav'ry Gravy is a slow funk shuffle, and the album concludes with Extra, which rolls out some more down home boogie for our delectation. The "gold plated" of the album name also refers to Pete Haycock's Veleno guitar, and great fun was had by the guitarist reflecting the spotlight back into the audience, no doubt!
The bonus tracks include a session for the John Peel show, and without the benefit of studio production embellishments the sheer professionalism of the band stands out. It cannot have been long after that session that punk took over, ironically given its first radio exposure by Peel, and the Climax Blues Band were never as high profile again, but that does not detract from a highly crafted and fun album.
Oh...it's not prog, in the slightest!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Climax Blues Band Reviews:-
|The Climax Chicago Blues Band|
|"...there's nothing here you won't find any bar band still churning out today."|
(Roger Trenwith, 6/10)
|"The band has obviously become much more confident in a short space of time, and sound tighter, but looser as a result."|
(Roger Trenwith, 6.5/10)
|A Lot Of Bottle|
|"Gone is the experimental playfulness of Plays On, a vibe that is replaced with a more sleeves-rolled-up workmanlike approach..."|
(Roger Trenwith, 7/10)
|"Mixing traditional blues structures with bar room bonhomie, the album is a highly polished and enjoyable affair."|
(Roger Trenwith, 6.5/10)
|"...an altogether more polished affair than anything they had produced up to this point."|
(Roger Trenwith, 6.5/10)
|"...a rabble-rousing live album that was both a commercial and artistic success..."|
(Roger Trenwith, 7/10)
Steve Hackett - The Tokyo Tapes
CD 1: Watcher Of The Skies (8:59), Riding The Colossus (3:32), Firth Of Fifth (9:32), Battlelines (6:43), Camino Royale (9:06), The Court Of The Crimson King (7:39), Horizons (1:53), Walking Away From Rainbows (3:47), Heat Of The Moment (4:06)
CD 2: ...In That Quiet Earth (4:02), Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite (7:26), I Talk To The Wind (5:28), Shadow Of The Hierophant (7:14), Los Endos (6:54), Black Light (2:30), The Steppes (6:48), I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) (5:51), Firewall (Studio track) (4:42), The Dealer (Studio track) (4:23), All Along The Watchtower (New studio recording) (4:42)
DVD: Watcher Of The Skies, Riding The Colossus, Firth Of Fifth, Battlelines, Camino Royale, The Court Of The Crimson King, Horizons, Walking Away From Rainbows, Heat Of The Moment, In That Quiet Earth, Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite, I Talk To The Wind, Shadow Of The Hierophant, Los Endos, Black Light, The Steppes, I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Although not normally a big fan of 'live' recordings, I regularly played The Tokyo Tapes on its initial release some 15 years ago. The attraction was the retro setlist and the excellent line-up of Steve Hackett (guitar, vocals), John Wetton (bass, vocals), Chester Thompson (drums), Ian McDonald (flute, saxophone, keyboards) and Julian Colbeck (keyboards). The album was assembled from two shows recorded at Koseinenkin Hall, Tokyo on 16th and 17th December 1996. Although it was a line-up never to be repeated, they had all performed on Hackett's Genesis Revisited album released earlier that same year.
Given the timing, the setlist unsurprisingly includes several Genesis tunes peppered with Hackett's own songs, a couple of King Crimson favourites and two Wetton penned songs. The performances are, as you would expect impeccable with only the occasional lapse into self-indulgence arrangement wise. The sound quality was good to begin with and benefits further still with all tracks newly remastered and packaged in a neat little box set along with the DVD recording of the same show which was originally released separately in 2001.
Watcher Of The Skies opens proceedings just as it did the classic Genesis shows of 1972 through to 1974. Colbeck and McDonald combine to recreate Tony Banks' gothic Mellotron and organ overture whilst Thompson gleefully hammers out the rhythm. When he joined Collins and co in 1977 this particularly song had long disappeared from the setlist.
More familiar to Thompson is Firth Of Fifth which recreates the Genesis Revisited arrangement rather than the original. Gone is Banks' piano intro and outro as is his memorable synth solo, replaced with a discordant orchestral jam which segues uneasily into Hackett's legendary solo. The short acoustic guitar piece Horizons has become Hackett's signature solo and it's easy to forget that it was once the intro to Genesis' finest hour (or 30 minutes at least), Supper's Ready.
CD 2 opens with the underrated ...In That Quiet Earth from the 1977's Wind And Wuthering album, an infectious instrumental that was clearly written with a live performance in mind with flute and sax embellishments courtesy of McDonald. The popular Genesis show stopper Los Endos makes room for McDonald's semi-improvised sax solo which for me undermines its customary impact leaving I Know What I Like (with a shambolic lead vocal from Hackett) to bring the set to a light-hearted close. The only other blight is Colbeck's thin, anaemic synth sound which sounds more like a product of the '80s than it does the '90s.
Of the Hackett solo pieces, the highlights for me are the instrumentals including a stirring Riding The Colossus with its memorable tune and customary soaring guitar work, the slow burning Shadow Of The Hierophant (Hackett's answer to Tubular Bells) which is unfortunately cut short for Thompson's protracted drum thrash leading into the aforementioned Los Endos and the monumental The Steppes. Camino Royale and Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite on the other hand both share Hackett's half spoken vocals, a repetitive riff and impromptu soloing.
Of the rest, the King Crimson classics The Court Of The Crimson King and I Talk To The Wind are most welcome and beautifully executed with the former benefiting from more grandiose Mellotron and vocal sampling. In his tenure with KC, McDonald was the chief architect of both these tunes so their presence here is wholly justified as is Asia's AOR anthem Heat Of The Moment. It's transformed by Wetton into a pleasing acoustic ballad updating the original line that set the song firmly in the '80s with "And now you find yourself in '96". Wetton's own song, the evocative Battlelines is performed with similar grace and restraint.
The two 'bonus' studio instrumentals, Firewall and The Dealer, sound a tad dated now, mainly due to keyboardist Aron Friedman's synthetic drums. A new studio recording of All Along The Watchtower fairs better with Hackett's uncharacteristically bluesy guitar and Wetton's earthy vocal jointly capturing the spirit of the Hendrix version.
The DVD recreates the entire performance providing a rare opportunity to view vintage material like The Court Of The Crimson King and Watcher Of The Skies in a professionally recorded environment. The stage setting is spacious with (from left to right) Colbeck, Hackett, Wetton and McDonald positioned stage front and Thompson centrally located behind the guitarist and bassist. A far cry from the 1989/1990 ABWH tour where Colbeck was all but lost in the shadows at the back of the stage. The stage backdrop and lighting here is economical but effective, reminiscent of the Genesis shows from the early '70s. A good deal of the footage is shot from the audience's view point although the onstage cameras ensure that individual solos and Thompson in particular are not overlooked.
Put aside my minor gripes (Hackett's questionable lead vocals, the dated keys sound and the occasional instrumental excess) and you have an excellent souvenir of a fine performance that comes highly recommended. It will be interesting to compare this reissue with the recently released Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith box set so watch this space for my forthcoming reviewing.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Steve Hackett Studio Album Reviews:-
|"To be honest, this Hackett-album is not the one I expected. It is, apart from two or three songs, very atmospheric and although it's a nice atmosphere that Hackett creates, this album lacks the necessary variation."|
(Jan-Jaap de Haan, 7/10)
|To Watch The Storms|
|"It's been a long time coming, but I believe that this album is the true and logical successor to earlier albums like Spectral Mornings and Defector."|
(Chris Meeker, 9/10)
|"For me however, it's back to Spectral Mornings, Genesis Revisited and Darktown."|
(Geoff Feakes, 7.5/10)
|Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth|
|"...the ultimate time travel through Steve Hackett's musical history."|
(Menno von Brucken Fock, 9/10)
|Beyond The Shrouded Horizon|
|"...there are a couple of numbers that fall s bit short of the mark but the rest is of a high enough quality to achieve a recommended tag."|
(Mark Hughes, 8/10)
|Other CD & DVD Reviews:-|
|Genesis Revisited||Live Archive 70, 80, 90s||Somewhere In South America|
|Live Archive NEARfest||Hungarian Horizons - Budapest||Live Archive 04|
|Once Above A Time [DVD]||Genesis Revisited II||The Tokyo Tapes|
Previous Steve Hackett Live Reviews:-
|Tilburg, Netherlands (2003)||Dublin, Ireland (2003)||Newcastle, U.K. (2003)|
|London, U.K. (2004)||Middlesborough, U.K. (2004)||Summer's End Festival, U.K. (2009)|
|Zoetermeer, Netherlands (2009)||Pontardawe & Gateshead, U.K. (2010)||Zoetermeer, Netherlands (2011)|
|Night of the Prog (2012)||Cardiff, U.K. (2013)||Amsterdam, Netherlands (2013)|
|Manchester, U.K. (2013)|
Previous Steve Hackett Interviews:-
|with Jan-Jaap de Haan (2002)||with Menno von|
Brucken Fock (2010)
|With Menno von|
Brucken Fock (2011)
|with Menno von|
Brucken Fock (2012)
|with John Wenlock-Smith (2012)|
Pete Brown & Phil Ryan - Ardours of the Lost Rake/Coals to Jerusalem
Ardours of the Lost Rake
Mr. Night (4:04), Weather News (4:02), They Call Me The Blob (4:38). Hard To Say (4:52), Money Hymn (4:23), London's Burning (4:11), The World And Arthur (5:13), What'll It Be (5:24), Here It Comes Again (5:21)
Coals to Jerusalem
Ordinary Man (4:58), Brain Money (4:50), Armoured Priest (5:25), Don't Take Your Fish To The Swimming Pool (6:04), A Hint Of Blonde (5:08), Pratlinu Rides Again (3:12), Consuming Passions (4:48), I Begin With You (5:08), Holy Smoke (5:11), Dark City (4:47), That's Me I'm A Winner (5:00), International Fear Cocktail (5:28)
Bonus tracks: Computer Generated Woman (4:03), Between Us (5:25), Liverpool Echoes (4:38), Time Travelling Man (4:20)
Pete Brown, he of the famous Cream and Jack Bruce connection and latterly of his own bands Piblokto! and Battered Ornaments; and Phil Ryan, mostly known for his various stints behind the keyboards for Welsh wizards Man, had known each other since the late '60s, and had played together in various bands before drifting apart musically, but growing closer on a friendship level.
Eventually, sometime after Punk, they formed a permanent songwriting team, and with another ex-Manband member John McKenzie, who assumed bass and production duties, they recorded Ardours of the Lost Rake, originally released in 1991 on Pete's own label Interocetor Records.
Reading Pete Brown's new essay in the booklet, it seems he sometimes lived in a musical bubble, asking if They Call Me The Blob is a "pioneering" rap number. The Lost Poets or Grandmaster Flash may disagree. And he says he's proud of a couple of political songs, one being about the Brixton riots and called London's Burning. That particular combination of subject matter and title made me laugh. Remember this album was released in 1991! However, Pete does admit that "When the horror of Punk set in (he) semi-bailed from the music business", but it's a poor excuse if you ask me. If you need that explaining you either live in the same bubble as Pete, or you might be rather young, in which case ask your dad!
Funnily enough those two songs I've just mentioned are amongst the best on the album. They Call Me The Blob, far from being rap is actually more reminiscent of the kind of spoken word narratives that Adrian Belew used to belt out for the mighty Crim. London's Burning has the feel of an action movie soundtrack, driven along by some tribal drumming from Pete's "Talkin Drum" (sic).
All the songs on this album are easily placed from an audio perspective in the late '80s/early '90s era, that somewhat cheesy keyboard sound (Synclavier?) being everywhere, not to mention the occasional dreaded drum machine. Thankfully the strength of the songwriting overcomes the musical fromage. Well, mostly it does, anyway. Pete has lost none of his supreme abilities at crafting a lyric, from the heartfelt to the amusing and ambiguous, it's all still there.
Judging by the song titles alone Coals to Jerusalem promises to be far more interesting. I mean you can't go wrong with a title like Don't Take Your Fish To The Swimming Pool, surely? The opening song, Ordinary Man, with Jim Mullen's lovely guitar work, shows that the production values have been upped no end in comparison with the earlier album. Dick Heckstall-Smith gets to lay down sax and trumpet is added to the mix by Claude Deppa on a few of the tracks, and with a much larger supporting cast, the sound is much fuller and less easily pinned to its time of recording.
It also helps that this record was recorded as live as possible, with "no machines", as Pete puts it, making the end result warmer and much more human. I dare you not to tap your feet to the easy funk of Brain Money which sounds like a real good time was had by all. The Fish song is more of the white boy soul that permeates this record and is the story of a guy who loses his trophy wife, replacing her with a blow-up doll. They don't make 'em like that anymore!
More of Jim Mullen's marvellous plank spanking features on the effortlessly sexy Hint Of Blonde which would not sound out of place on a Stevie Winwood album from the same era.
Although the album proper tails off a bit in the second half, the cheese returning on the croon-ballad I Begin With You, it is redeemed at the end with Alan Weeks' fiery guitar on International Fear Cocktail (a prescient title, that) and the song reminds me of Nutbush City Limits for some reason, albeit it doesn't really sound much like that at all. Still, it rocks out quite nicely. The bonus tracks feature some more stellar playing from Mullen and Heckstall-Smith, so all's well that ends well. Mind you, the less said about the "singing" and lyrics of Computer Generated Woman, the better!
This double CD package is worth it for Coals to Jerusalem alone, which is a classy exercise in highly professional songwriting and arrangement. It's not "prog", but does that really matter?
Ardours of the Lost Rake - 5 out of 10
Coals to Jerusalem - 7 out of 10
Bob Downes - Deep Down Heavy
Back in the mists of time, when I was four foot ten and looking for ways to waste my paper round money, and under the influence of my mate’s much older cousin, who was a hip dude, and into all the underground sounds of the late '60s and early '70s, I was often led by virtue of necessity to the bargain bins of record shops for my obscure vinyl fix.
As well as remaindered LPs on Vertigo, RCA Neon, Dawn and all the others, all now worth a fortune of course, I occasionally bought a new record on one the budget labels of the time. One such was Music For Pleasure, who normally specialised in cheesy easy listening records, with the rare exceptions of the likes of What'd I Say and Birth Of Success which were little more than cash-in semi-official bootlegs by the pre-fame Jimi Hendrix. They were terrible by the way! Another excursion into the rock world by MFP was Deep Down Heavy by Bob Downes, made all the more attractive to the just-teen me by having a psychedelicised rear view of a naked woman on the cover.
Downes was a prolific session musician in the '60s, appearing on many records of the day, and by the end of the decade decided it was time to try his hand at making it under his own name. 1970 turned out to be the most prolific of his sporadic solo career, seeing three albums released; Electric City, Deep Down Heavy and Open Music.
Deep Down Heavy retained the services of early jazz rock luminaries Alan Rushton (drums), Harry Miller (bass – who later appeared on Crim's Islands), and Ray Russell (guitar) from the fist Downes' album Electric City, along with a youthful Chris Spedding. Electric City was a rumbustious affair featuring a who's who of the jazz rock scene of the day. Now highly collectible, that record was released on the famous Vertigo "spiral" imprint. Also collectible is the third release Open Music, which came out on Vertigo's parent label Philips. It is odd that Deep Down Heavy was put out on a budget label, but I can only surmise that it was because the recoding quality was so poor.
The MFP record sounded like it was recorded on a single microphone placed strategically underwater and in the next street to the studio in the rush hour, so the first thing I want to find out about this first ever CD issue of the album, is, does it sound any better? Well, slightly yes but unfortunately mostly no. It turns out that the street noise from traffic, chatter, and Underground trains is intentional, the latter even get a credit on original sleeve notes. Just kidding, I knew that anyway, but I'm not sure in this instance what the over-used term "remastered from the original tapes" actually means. Although the sound is somewhat clearer, the several instances of tape drop-out and distortion, particularly prevalent with the drum sounds on the woefully poor sounding MFP issue are still all there, giving the aural experience a strange dislocated feeling, just like the original. I can only guess that only the completed master survived, not the individual tracks that make it up.
Steven Wilson hates being referred to as one who "remasters", as all that really involves is tweaking the tone and compression, which is what seems to have happened here. No, what he is, and what this album cried out for, is a "remixer", getting right down into each recorded track, be it from a four-track or sixteen-track, or whatever number of tracks there are on the original masters. The remastering claim made by Esoteric therefore comes with caveats.
Of course, the only slightly improved sound of this reissue over the original could be laid at the door of the primitive recording techniques explained in humorous detail in Sid Smith's liner notes, but if that is the case then you would have thought that would have been explained, as the often misunderstood and grandiose term "remastered" can be misleading.
And so, on to the music...
Deep Down Heavy is far looser than its predecessor, and uses a lot of street noise in an early example of "found sound" being used on a rock record.
Battling hard to try and overlook the murky and wavering sound, there are some great little workouts on this album.
Boasting the high calibre of musicians as already noted backing up Downes' rough and ready vocals, saxes and flute, a track like Got No Home contains some blistering guitar work, possibly courtesy of Spedding. The lyrics are sung from the soul on the heavy funk workout Walking On by Downes, a tune that suffers so badly from the aforementioned tape dropout that it is nigh on impossible to ignore its sonic failings, although Downes’ double sax blowing still gives it some power. This tune and the soul-funk of Don’t Let Tomorrow Get You Down appear in earlier versions on Electric City, an altogether much more professionally recorded album, also available from Esoteric Records.
Most interesting is Downes being recorded in the street or in a café, or on a bus or in the Underground playing his bamboo flute, these sections then edited into the whole, complete with the recorded urban ambience. On The Wrong Bus you can hear Downes asking if the bus he's just jumped on goes to Holborn! U.K. jazz fusion progenitor Ian Carr, who played on the Electric City album, described Downes as an "inveterate pioneer", something you cannot argue with, and praise indeed from the great man.
Robert Cockburn's melancholic poem Hollow Moment leads into album closer Circus Rising, and these two pieces highlight the collision of psychedelics, jazz, street poetry and rock moves that constitute the backbone of the album perfectly. It's just a shame the sound is so poor, the whole thing sounds like a cleaned up CD recording of a cassette bootleg.
I can only say that at most this is a curio for collectors of proto-jazz-fusion. If you want to investigate Downes' undoubtedly pioneering sound, track down Electric City or Open Music instead.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10 (would be a 7, but for the sound)