ISSUE 2016-023

Reviews in this issue:

Arcade Messiah - II
Arcade Messiah - II
Country of Origin: GB
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 59:53
Links:
Track List:
Moon Signal (7:17), Red Widow (6:46), Black Dice Maze (8:33), Gallows Way (3:07), Fourth Quarter (4:31), Via Occulta (1:19), Read the Sky (6:34), Start Missing Everybody (2:58), The Four Horsemen (18:44)
If you ever need an example of a musician maturing in the public eye you never need look any further than John Bassett. His first releases under the name King Bathmat mixed pop, rock, psychedelia and all sorts of other genres with a dash on whimsy that over a series of seven album gradually developed a new identity for releases under that name. Perhaps becoming a bit restricted by the musical corner he had written himself into, Bassett chose the acoustic route for the first, and currently only, release under his own name. But the urge to grind out heavy riffs and flail away on electric guitars was always in the background and resulted in the eponymous 2014 release by Arcade Messiah (reviewed here). I am pretty sure that album caught a lot of people off guard and was a pleasant surprise to those who maybe had not been than enamoured by the Bathmat albums. Thankfully, there was more in the tank for Arcade Messiah and so the second album, with the simple title of II, has been delivered.

First off, anyone who enjoyed the debut album will not find any fault with the follow-up. Eight self-penned originals and one, perhaps unlikely, lengthy cover version, sees Bassett once again delivering the goods. As on the first album it is an entirely solo project although the cohesion throughout is certainly more akin to a well rehearsed and tight band that a one man orchestra. This probably because of the overall heaviness of the pieces, created by just two guitars, bass, drums and the occasional keyboard. Bassett has the dual guitars down to a pat with one providing the heavy riffs and the other adding accents, wayward melodies or solos above, below and around. Drums are once again quite prominent and, as on the first album, are absolutely perfectly suited to the style of music, particularly as they are not played by a drummer or on a drum kit!

It is not all an onslaught though. Two, well one and a half actually, of the originals take the tempo and volume down a bit, sandwiching Read the Sky. The first, Via Occulta, is a slow piece with individually picked out notes on the main guitar with the second guitar providing more of a drone backing. The second is Start Missing Everybody, a rather more delicate and sombre piece with some lovely keyboard cellos adding to the pathos, although this only lasts for just over half the piece before the loud electrics give out a metaphorical cry of "fuck all that" and blast through!

The final track, lasting for nigh on 19 minutes is a cover of the Aphrodite's Child piece The Four Horsemen from their most famous album 666. Widely regarded as a, if not the, masterpiece of Greek progressive rock, the album is one that I have never really been able to get to grips with. And I suspect many other have cried shy of an album featuring Vangelis and Demis Roussos as two of the three protagonists. In my time I have owned the album at least twice but have culled it during space saving clear out sprees. However, hearing the version by Bassett on this album I am somewhat regretting the decision as I really want to hear the original again! What is certain is that the Arcade Messiah version is not entirely true to the original which lasted under a third of the time of this remake! It is also different for the original material on the album in that it features vocals, albeit one that have been slightly treated to make them fit in with the overall ambiance of the album. I have to say that the cover is really a masterpiece of interpretation, Bassett has taken the original sound and made it his own, making it fit in with the Arcade Messiah sound and taking it far from the original.

So, if you liked the first album, this second is a must. If the first one passed you by then get hold of this one and then go back and pick up the debut. Although beware, neither is like anything else Bassett has produced, Arcade Messiah are for those who can't resist guitars blazing from their speakers!
Conclusion:
Mark Hughes: 9 out of 10

Tony Banks - A Curious Feeling [CD/DVD]
Tony Banks - A Curious Feeling
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 1979/2016
Time: CD 54:36, DVD 64:44
Links:
Track List:
CD (stereo mix): From The Undertow (2:47), Lucky Me (4:27), The Lie (4:56), After The Lie (4:50), A Curious Feeling (3:59), Forever Morning (6:04), You (6:29), Somebody Else's Dream (7:51), The Waters Of Lethe (6:33), For A While (3:39), In The Dark (2:57)
DVD (5.1 surround sound mix): From The Undertow (2:47), Lucky Me (4:27), The Lie (4:56), After The Lie (4:50), A Curious Feeling (3:59), Forever Morning (6:04), You (6:29), Somebody Else's Dream (7:51), The Waters Of Lethe (6:33), For A While (3:39), In The Dark (2:57); 1979 promotional films: For A While (3:28), The Waters Of Lethe (6:40)
With Peter Gabriel's departure from Genesis in 1975 and Steve Hackett's in 1977 it became apparent that Tony Banks was the band's foremost creative force and as such the prospect of a debut solo album was one to savour. Unlike Gabriel and Hackett, however, Banks didn't feel the need to relinquish the comfort zone of Genesis to fulfil his ambitions as a solo artist. Almost inevitably with such high expectations when the newly released A Curious Feeling hit my record deck in October 1979 my initial reaction was one of disappointment. Over time however I grew to appreciate its qualities and this reissue in particular has been significant in my reappraisal of Bank's seminal album which mirrors his work with Genesis closer than any of his subsequent solo releases.

The album fulfilled Bank's desire to produce a concept piece and although it's often credited as being based on Daniel Keyes' book Flowers for Algernon, the story of an intelligent man gradually losing his mind was adapted by the keyboardist himself. Wisely he avoided a lengthy list of guest musicians restricting it to a trio and in addition to keyboards he contributed guitars, basses and percussion. Lead vocals were provided by Kim Beacon, a Charisma Records label mate of Banks who during the mid-70's had a brief stint in String Driven Thing. Chester Thompson was a natural choice as drummer being already established as a regular member of the Genesis touring unit for the previous two years. The album was recorded during a break in Genesis busy touring schedule prompted by the need for Phil Collins to resolve his marital issues and would soon be followed by debut solo albums from Mike Rutherford and Collins respectively. If the atmospheric opener From The Undertow seemed familiar to Genesis fans then that's because it was originally conceived as the instrumental intro to the song Undertow from the And Then There Were Three album the previous year. It had also been reworked by Banks along with Rutherford to provide the soundtrack for the UK movie The Shout, although it was hardly used in the finished film. Here it provides the perfect overture with an air of quiet anticipation punctuated by a series of symphonic crescendos that characterised Genesis pieces like The Fountain of Salmacis and Eleventh Earl of Mar. In contrast, Lucky Me is a more traditional song with an uplifting chorus and ringing 12-string backing reminiscent of early Genesis. Although Beacon doesn't have the most powerful of voices, he conveys the central character with harmonious conviction. In his extensive liner notes for the reissue, Banks reveals that having lost contact with the singer, he discovered sometime after that he had sadly passed away in 2001.

The Lie is a more up-tempo affair with a memorable middle eight based around Banks' now familiar jaunty piano style (a la the title song from Genesis' A Trick Of The Tail). It segues into the aptly titled After the Lie which like so many of the songs here is driven by rhythmic electric piano leaving synths and string keys to provide the instrumental colouring. The highlight here is the strident ARP solo that plays out. Appropriately the upbeat title song A Curious Feeling is probably the strongest of the albums more pop-rock inflected tunes thanks to a catchy instrumental hook and a rousing half spoken introduction from Beacon. In a different vein Forever Morning epitomizes everything you would hope for in a Tony Banks track. The music builds layer by layer reaching moments of intense grandeur although still takes time out for a delicate theme at the midway point that put me in mind of Time Table from Foxtrot. The dramatic closing section on the other hand sounds pure George Gershwin.

Laidback to begin with, You is dominated by sensitive vocals and more Genesis flavoured ringing guitar before a fiery synth solo opens up into a bombastic instrumental sequence that would have sat comfortably on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway album. Somebody Else's Dream benefits significantly from Nick Davis' excellent remixing with extra weight and presence given to Thompson's stomping drum pattern. Beacon gives his best vocal performance here mirroring the protagonist's mental decline, which is also echoed in Banks' deliberately off-key piano. The Waters Of Lethe remains for me probably the albums most successful offering built around a simple but lyrical piano theme before breaking out into a grandiose guitar and keys fanfare in the style of Barclay James Harvest.

The penultimate For a While is another of the albums more straightforward songs and although it has an engaging melody, the optimistic tone is a tad out of place given the context of the story at this juncture. It does however feature a rare electric guitar break from Banks and again benefits substantially from the remixing. Totally fitting on the other hand is the mood created by In the Dark, a beautifully understated piece on which to conclude although in true Banks style it includes one final and majestic orchestral flourish. For all 5.1 surround sound junkies this edition comes with a bonus DVD meticulously mixed by Nick Davis in said format. The DVD also includes two promotional videos which are worth more than a second look even though they appear a tad outdated now thanks to the overuse of split screen and overlapping images.

For me, this reissue brought a fresh insight and sonic clarity into Banks' original vision. In many respects A Curious Feeling was an extension of Genesis pieces like One for the Vine. Each part flows beautifully into the next with the song sections providing a narrative link between the sumptuously (and semi-classically) arranged instrumental excursions. Just a final note of caution for those who already own Esoteric's 2009 anniversary edition of A Curious Feeling, this is the same release (same remixes, same DVD) with different packing. Whilst that came in a stylish hardback book style case, this comes in a more modest standard jewel case with a slipcover.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 9 out of 10

Tony Banks - The Fugitive [CD/DVD]
Tony Banks - The Fugitive
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 1983/2016
Time: CD 53:02, DVD 57:00
Links:
Track List:
CD (stereo mix): This Is Love (5:16), Man of Spells (3:47), And the Wheels Keep Turning (4:47), Say You'll Never Leave Me (4:34), Thirty Three's (4:43), By You (4:32), At the Edge of Night (6:01), Charm (5:27), Moving Under (6:04); bonus tracks: K2 (4:02), Sometime Never (3:42)
DVD (5.1 surround sound mix): This Is Love (5:16), Man of Spells (3:47), And the Wheels Keep Turning (4:47), Say You'll Never Leave Me (4:34), Thirty Three's (4:43), By You (4:32), At the Edge of Night (6:01), Charm (5:27), Moving Under (6:04); bonus tracks: K2 (4:02), Sometime Never (3:42); promotional video: This Is Love (4:03)
After the release of Tony Banks' debut solo album A Curious Feeling in 1979, a further four years would pass before its successor The Fugitive appeared. In the interim period Banks had been kept busy with two highly successful Genesis releases, Duke (1980) and Abacab (1981) whilst Genesis (1983) was only four months away. Sales for A Curious Feeling had been modest compared with Genesis' output and as they were heading in a more commercial, mainstream rock direction Banks followed suit with The Fugitive.

In addition to keyboards Banks sings lead vocals, something he hadn't done since the very early days of Genesis. He is supported by resident Genesis stage guitarist Daryl Stuermer and legendary session bassist Mo Foster whilst drum duties are divided between Steve Gadd, Tony Beard and Andy Duncan. Originally produced by Banks, this version features new mixes by the keyboardist and producer, engineer Nick Davis who has worked with Genesis (band and solo projects) since the early 90's.

At this juncture I should admit that whilst I was a fervent Genesis supporter during the 70's, by 1983 my devotion to the band (and prog in general) was being severely tested. As a result I let The Fugitive pass me by and to be honest when I heard it for the first time a few years later, I was glad I did. Whilst the best music has a timeless quality, this album, like so many others from the period, sounds like a very dated product of its time. I hadn't intended to do a track by track analysis of The Fugitive but I felt this prestigious reissue deserved one.

With its solid reggae-ish beat, This Is Love is a poppy, upbeat opener and whilst it doesn't fully suit Banks' low-key singing, he does a convincing job. The bass and drum sounds are both strong and thankfully (given the period in which it was recorded) un-synthetic.

Banks believed that doing the singing himself would give the album a more personal identity although as a result the songs were compromised by his limited vocal range. To my ears he combines the stilted tones of Rupert Hine with the strangulated pitch of original Greenslade vocalist Dave Lawson with a bit of Al Stewart melancholy and John Lennon sardonic whimsy thrown in for good measure. Ironically, Genesis roadie Dale Newman is credited in the sleeve notes for "equipment and food". Given that he has a fine voice, as demonstrated on Anthony Phillips' 1979 album Sides, it's a pity he wasn't asked to step up to the microphone.

Man of Spells has a melancholic charm with Stuermer's beautifully searing guitar doubling the vocal lines. The mid-tempo And the Wheels Keep Turning on the other hand is mostly forgettable although I did like the harmonica like synth solo.

The yearning, John Lennon-esque Say you'll Never Leave Me is elevated above the ordinary thanks to the eloquent lead guitar and moody bass line whilst the rhythm guitar is very reminiscent of Genesis' Your Own Special Way. Stuermer does a rescue job on one more than one song on this album and it's a pity he was never invited to play on any of Genesis' studio recordings after Steve Hackett's departure.

The album includes two strategically placed instrumentals although they both fall short of Banks' usual high standards. That's despite the slow burning Thirty Three's bringing to mind In The Air Tonight (minus Phil Collins' vocals and explosive drum pay-off) and incorporating a brief nod to Undertow from Genesis' And Then There Were Three. Charm doesn't quite live up to its name but it does have a catchy, uplifting melody, combining the sound of a Wurlitzer Fairground organ with late-70's electro-pop (ala Pop Muzik by M).

The rhythmic By You is an oddity (for Banks) with its sparse synth-pop arrangement and gimmicky processed vocal but it is compelling in its own way and one of the albums most memorable tracks. In contrast, the jaunty but one-dimensionally banal At the Edge of Night at 6 minutes long outstays its welcome whilst the best thing I can say about Moving Under (the inventive guitar coda aside) is that it brings the album to a welcome close.

Like previous CDs, this release includes the two bonus tracks from the original recording sessions. K2 is another John Lennon pastiche in the same vein as Say You'll Never Leave Me (which is probably why it never made the original album). The electric piano driven Sometime Never would have sat very comfortably on the Genesis album released the same year.

There is no doubt that Davis' stereo remix breathes new life into the original recordings with added weight and crispness, although given the suspect quality of much of the material you have to question if the DVD 5.1 surround sound mix was warranted. On said DVD you do at least get to see plenty of Banks in the otherwise unexceptional promo video for This Is Love. The mostly white, hardback, book-style packaging on the other hand is very tasteful. The inclusion of the Mad Hatter from the Charisma Records logo on the disc labels is a nice touch.

The remixes aside, The Fugitive is ultimately a disappointing album abandoning the instrumental dexterity and panache that we had come to expect from Banks in favour of what is mostly a European synth-pop meets bland transatlantic AOR mishmash. Also, in my opinion, lyrics were never Banks' strongest trait (something he shares with his contemporary Rick Wakeman) which is especially evident here.

Tony Banks followed The Fugitive with another disappointing stab at mainstream pop-rock, namely Bankstatement (1989). His 90's albums Still (1991) and Strictly Inc (1995) were at least a partial return to form. However, with the relative commercial and critical failure of both albums and the mixed reception that greeted Genesis' final outing Calling All Stations (1997), Banks has to date all but abandoned the recording studio, his two classical albums from 2004 and 2012 notwithstanding.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 6 out of 10

Fuchsia - Fuchsia
Fuchsia - Fuchsia
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 1971/2015
Time: 40:56
Links:
Track List:
Come With the Mouse (5:03), A Tiny Book (8:05), Another Nail (6:59), Shoes and Ships (6:14), The Nothing Song (8:24), Me and My Kite (2:35), Just Anyone (3:34)
Following on from the somewhat surprising re-emergence of the progressive folk group Fuchsia with the late 2013 release of Fuchsia II: From Psychedelia...To A Distant Place, the band's debut album from 1971 finally gets a remastering and the reissue treatment courtesy of Esoteric recordings. A long sought-after and highly regarded album, its original release in 1971 was somewhat short-lived. It appeared on Pegasus Records, the progressive imprint of B&C Records, which only managed to release 17 albums in its short existence, three of which were compilations. Although some of the 14 original releases were reissued on the Mooncrest label, several, including the Fuchsia release, faded into obscurity. As is the way of things, rare-record collectors raised awareness of the release and it soon became a cult classic. The six-piece group had a very unusual line-up consisting of singer and main songwriter Tony Durant on guitar and lead vocals, bassist Michael Day, drummer Michael Gregory and a three piece string section of Janet Rogers on violin and backing vocals, Vanessa Hall-Smith on viola and backing vocals, and Madeleine Bland on cello and backing vocals. Bland also played some piano and harmonium although neither are very prominent.

What is quite remarkable is that all of the players were students at Exeter University and, with the exception of Durant who had spent some time in the psychedelic band Louise, Fuchsia was their first musical venture. It was undoubtedly Durant's dabbling in sixties psychedelia that influenced his writing for the new project which deviated from the normal formula for writing pop songs, making the string contributions integral elements of the compositions rather than embellishments tacked on to the main song. After recording just two demo songs and playing a handful of concerts at the University, the band came to the attention of Pegasus Records who promptly financed the recording of a full album. Produced by David Hitchcock, notable for his production credits with Caravan, Camel and, of course, Genesis, the LP was recorded during the summer break from academic studies with the idea that the album would be released and supported by a promotional tour during the next university holidays. However, the album received very little promotion from the label, the tour failed to materialise and shortly after the label folded banishing the album to obscurity. Although the group did record a further couple of demos they couldn't attract the attention of another label and silently broke up.

Often obscure albums have remained obscure for the perfectly good reason that they were not very good. However, that is not the case with Fuchsia who do have a distinct baroque rock style that employs a rather idiosyncratic approach. The string sections are rather glorious and, as was the intent, form an integral part of the composition. Stylistically, the approach is more progressive than folk with some lovely instrumental passages that feature some quirky rhythms, variations in time signatures and some classical, in both senses of the word, prog touches. This is particularly evident of the longer compositions, such as A Tiny Book and The Nothing Song, both of which are truly excellent songs. Durant's vocals are not the strongest, sounding rather twee at times, but are not an obstruction to enjoyment and when the members of the string section add their backing vocals things escalate into the near heavenly!

I have had a bootleg version of the album for many years but always found it quite difficult to get into. This new release, with remastering form the original multitrack tapes has really lifted the sound and rebalanced the musical elements giving a greater clarity to the string section and bringing out nuances that I had never been aware of before. Consequently, I have gained a greater insight and appreciation of the album which has really lifted my rating of the album. Unusually, Esoteric have missed a trick in not including any extra tracks as all four of the demos recorded before and after the band's time with Pegasus are still in existence with only one of the four tracks, Shoes and Ships, having been included on the album. Would have been nice to have had the complete history of this rather unique English band available and in one place.

Still, this is a worthy release and will find favour with those with an appreciation of the more folk side of rock. Fuchsia, the album, certainly deserves to be up there with other such releases by the likes of Mellow Candle and Trader Horne.
Conclusion:
Mark Hughes: 7 out of 10

Goblin Rebirth - Alive
Goblin Rebirth - Alive
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2011/2016
Time: 48:03, 59:38
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Killer on the Train (6:35), Buio omega (4:33), Aquaman (6:02), Mad Puppet (including bass solo) (4:20), Death Dies (3:15), Roller (5:03), Doctor Frankenstein (6:03), La chiesa (7:03), Tenebre (5:06)
CD 2: Goblin (12:15), L'alba dei morti viventi (5:54), Magic Thriller (5:12), Le cascate di Viridiana (6:07), Connexion (4:45), Witch (2:36), Suspiria (6:51), Zombi (5:28), Profondo rosso (10:27)
Goblin are almost unique in progressive circles in that they have achieved their success and fame exclusively through providing soundtracks to Italian horror films produced from the mid 1970s until the end of the 1980s, when they fragmented. An almost entirely studio band, touring was not an option mainly because they were permanently busy in the studio (16 albums in 14 years) and the fact that an entire concert of latest music from a soundtrack would not necessarily make the best concert when devoid of the accompanying cinematographic visuals. However, at a distance of several years, the rich catalogue of instrumental music is ripe for exploitation and a very enticing set list can be constructed from pieces composed across the years that are the most conducive to live presentation. This is undoubtedly why the Goblin story in the 21st century is so confusing with numerous bands containing one or more members from the classic years doing the rounds. This CD by Goblin Rebirth is a case in point, recorded live in Rome in 2011 it is a totally different recording from that called Live in Roma also recorded in 2011 by a band calling themselves New Goblin, despite both albums duplicating eleven tracks. Most confusing! Basically the two groups were a schism of the original Goblin quartet with Goblin Rebirth featuring the original drummer and bassist and New Goblin containing the original keyboard player and guitarist.

As far as Goblin Rebirth go, supporting drummer Agostino Marangolo and bassist Fabio Pignatelli in this live performance are Aidan Zammit and Danilo Cherni on keyboards and Giacomo Anselmi on guitars and bouzouki. Although it may seem that a band containing the original rhythm section is a less enticing proposal than one containing the original lead instruments, this is not necessarily the case as Goblin Rebirth were a smokingly hot live band. The two keyboard players enabled the full atmospherics of the soundtrack music to be presented and Anselmi is a fine guitarist. Plus the Goblin sound owed a lot to the prominent and fluid bass runs of Pignatelli, a fact celebrated on this recording by the inclusion of a bass solo, albeit one that owes a lot more to Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells than is credited! Marangolo also gets to perform a drum solo in the midst of Goblin which is both impressive and listenable!

The tracks performed are culled from nine different soundtracks with the original band's seemingly only non-soundtrack related album, 1975's excellent Roller, being prominently featured with four of that album's six tracks being performed and only the two shortest tracks being omitted. The only newer number is the excellent Magic Thriller taken from the 2005 reunion album Back to the Goblin. Despite being culled from such a diverse selection of albums, the set hold together very well and provides a balanced and fairly diverse selection of music. The prog credentials of Goblin are indisputable and are evident throughout this performance. If you have never heard of the band or have shied away from dipping your toes into the soundtrack arena then this live album is an excellent introduction to the band. Just be aware that you will inevitably then spend many an hour trying to sort out the history and current status of the band and its various incarnations!
Conclusion:
Mark Hughes: 7 out of 10

The Grand Astoria - The Mighty Few
The Grand Astoria - The Mighty Few
Country of Origin: Russia
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 49:37
Links:
Track List:
The Curse of the Ninth (28:19), The Siege (21:18)
The Grand Astoria are a Russian band comprising of 9 members, plus a 3 member choir who describe themselves as "Tripped out psychedelic fuzz rock having sex with heavy metal". And they are correct. Having released 6 full length albums and 2 Eps since their formation in 2009, they have certainly been a busy lot. Their latest release, The Mighty Few came out in 2015 and is a two-track album. However, the tracks are what would be considered "long", with The Curse of the Ninth being a whopping 28 minutes long, and The Siege being 21 minutes in length. Through these, they weave through many genres and styles to create an altogether interesting journey. Traversing through jazz, to blues, to oriental, to metal - this band does it all.

Track one, The Curse of the Ninth, starts off in a very 70s prog way, with discordant notes, with almost chilled out drums and bass creating a dark and unsettling, but relaxed vibe that draw you into a false sense of security. A few minutes later the riff transforms into an altogether different beast. While still being the same riff, it's heavier, louder and more riddled with doom overtones. Showcasing their talent for changing the style up, they cut into an oriental sounding break before allowing the bass to come rumbling back in. From here it is almost like a typical 70s progressive rock track, with keyboards and solos all intertwining and taking you on a musical journey through the decades. For nearly 10 minutes this carries on before a modern progressive metal style riff comes charging in and whips the music into a driving pace to finish the track of with a (head) bang before the final reprise of the intro. This track itself feels like a modern tribute to old school doom metal, like Black Sabbath and Pentagram

All in all, a massive undertaking to join so many styles and changing shifts in tone, tempo and feel into a single track, especially one this long, and still have it sound interesting, without leaving the listener lost and confused at any point.

The other number, The Siege, is different from the first track, kicking off with a similar sound to Dream Theater, with a typical progressive metal riff and some lead keys over the top. This then goes on to an almost reggae/blues/jazz section. It is here that the Pink Floyd influence shines out. This goes on for a while, yet never manages to become boring or repetitive. From this it flows into more discordant tones to create another dark and brooding atmosphere. The last few minutes take the song from a kind of prog metal tribute to the 70s and brings in a healthy dose of modern prog, epic vocals, and other instruments to round off the album nicely. This track, almost in response to the first and the desire to showcase their influences, feels like a tribute to early progressive rock and Pink Floyd, albeit a heavier rendition of those styles.

To understand what the album is like, imagine Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd had a child, which was then raised by Steven Wilson and Opeth, and you get a good idea of what it is like. A nice mix of styles, repeating riffs that don't become boring, good sounding vocals, all in all a good combination if done right, which The Grand Astoria have done.
Conclusion:
Calum Gibson: 7.5 out of 10

I Am the Manic Whale - Everything Beautiful In Time
I Am the Manic Whale - Everything Beautiful In Time
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 74:14
Links:
Track List:
Open Your Eyes (6:37), Pages (9:04), Princess Strange (5:05), Circles (Show Love) (16:28), Clock Of The Long Now (9:16), The Mess (6:12), Derelict (21:28)
Formed in 2015, the bizarrely named I Am the Manic Whale hail from Reading in the south of England. There is nothing faintly bizarre (or manic) about the music on this debut album however which is crossover prog at its most melodic and accessible. The four men responsible are Michael Whiteman (vocals, bass, additional keyboards and guitar), John Murphy (keyboards, vocals), David Addis (guitars, backing vocals) and Ben Hartley (drums, backing vocals). Ella Lloyd adds flute to several tracks.

It started out as a solo project by Whiteman but grew into something quite ambitious where the optimistic message behind each song is "finding the beauty in things that are often not considered beautiful". Water also seems to be a recurring motif, as in the cover artwork, the band's name, the sound of children splashing that links the songs The Mess and Derelict, the latter of which is an elegy to an abandoned swimming pool. The lyrics are also refreshingly grounded in reality and tackle down to earth topics like cyber bullying (Princess Strange). However, Whiteman (who is responsible for all compositions) is not adverse to the occasional Jon Anderson style idealism as in Circles which concludes with the line "Show love, love, love to everyone in creation".

The band cite the usual prog references as inspiration although I was also curiously reminded of Steely Dan. That may have something to do with Whiteman's singing which is vaguely reminiscent of Donald Fagen at times. They take a leaf out of Transatlantic's book with a playing time of nearly 75 minutes and two epic length pieces, although it's evident that a great deal of care has gone into the creation of every track. The end result is as mature and polished as you could reasonably expect from a debut album.

Open Your Eyes is a suitably uplifting opener with the chorus "Open your eyes, this is the view, it was put here for you" encapsulating the album's core theme. The guitar melody is very Andy Latimer-ish whilst the hyperactive guitar and keys solos nod towards Neal Morse.

The syncopated rhythm of Pages boasts some nimble drumming and bass playing, contrasting with a serene acoustic guitar and flute interlude which brings early Genesis to mind. The sardonic Princess Strange on the other hand benefits from clever counterpoint harmonies before culminating with a rousing guitar coda.

The first of the two long songs, Circles seamlessly merges a tranquil acoustic guitar and piano intro with a staccato rhythm and organ section. The melodious choral hook is very Yes like, with a hint of Moon Safari in the harmonies. The guitar solo is more blues rock than prog but the harmonious twin guitar sound that leads to the stately finale is pure Wishbone Ash.

Lush a-cappella harmonies announce Clock Of The Long Now featuring a jazzy organ section that harks back to the Canterbury bands of old. The majestic choral hook is just one of many the album has to offer and on this occasion brings The Flower Kings to the table.

The Mess is anything but. It's a lyrical celebration of childhood with acoustic guitars, piano, glockenspiel and impeccable harmonies, evocative of Spock's Beard's June.

Clocking in at over 21 minutes, the concluding Derelict is in fact four songs in one. The graphic lyrical style is especially reminiscent of Big Big Train as are some of the musical sequences. A beautiful piano intro brings Tony Banks to mind as does the proggy synth break around the five minute mark. A heavy guitar drive section rubs shoulders with a pastoral acoustic part and is that a hint of mellotron strings I hear shimmering in the background? The track and the album close with a suitably grandiose finale.

It's a pity that I didn't pick up on Everything Beautiful In Time when it was first released last December because it would have certainly made my top 10 of 2015. Debut albums rarely display such a keen sense of melody and timing or come as meticulously crafted as this.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 9 out of 10

Tony Patterson - Equation of Meaning
Tony Patterson - Equation of Meaning
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 51:04
Links:
Track List:
Ghosts (4:01), The Magdalene Fields (5:30), Each Day a Colour (4:47), Cast Away (2:35), The Angel & The Dreamer (7:02), Beneath a Perfect Sky (5:08), Sycophant (5:23), And When the Sky Was Opened (2:07), Pilgrim (05:23), As the Lights Go Out (2:44), The Kindest Eyes (6:30)
TB Syndrome is a relatively modern phenomenon, it's very contagious and spreads like wildfire in nearly every town that has a venue. I am, of course, talking about "tribute bands" and I love them. Genesis probably started a lot of people's love of what went on to be called prog rock but they are no longer with us, but fantastic copycat outfits supply that much needed medicine. One of the best is ReGenesis and their "Peter Gabriel" is Tony Patterson.

However, he has also made his own music. Not surprisingly what he produces is very (for want of another word) "Genesisy", which is good news, but the front page story is that his fifth solo album called Equation of Meaning has been released. So turn to the centre spread for this exclusive report...

Previously, his collaboration with Brendan Eyre titled Northlands had contributions from Steve Hackett and the great Nick Magnus. So combine that with his guest appearance on John Hackett's Checking out of London and his passbook really has been stamped allowing his own entry into the pantheon and not just as a salute to others.

Mr. Magnus returns on this new release providing keyboards, programming, and some lovely guitar playing especially on Each Day a Colour and that last song.

Ghosts starts the show with its bass flute with Trespass plucking and the ground is set. There's no getting away from the Genesis comparisons, The Magdalene Fields (with added Floydian sax) and Cast Away are the Unquiet Slumber for the Sleepers closet cousins and this is not a criticism.

He may be the singer, but The Angel & The Dreamer is a seven-minute instrumental with Siobhan Magnus using her voice as an alluring Siren before some guitar synth sounding Pat Metheny jazz prog really gets the foot tapping.

I guess if he's used to remembering all that complicated Gabriel prose then something simpler and to the point works with his own material. For example, this is from Beneath a Perfect Sky:

"I saw your picture on your wall
Sent you a message, did you read it at all?
Just let me tell you, I like your style
Give me your attention, let me
stay for a while..."

It is typical of the rhyming couplets that fill the lyric sheet.

Sycophant gets electronic in a Tears for Fears kind of way and has John Barry depicting "Bond" skiing over a cliff with menacing Spectre baddies in pursuit, highlighted by those lush (synth) strings. Lolling chill beats on Pilgrim head into the short piano and flute piece called As the Lights Go Out, inviting mythical creatures to leave their caves before the sweetest of songs and a love letter to his wife, The Kindest Eyes. This is as soft as an affectionate smile in fading light, eBow styled guitar behind simple many noted chords wash over the listener until you're humming the tune to yourself and air playing the last embers of acoustic guitar.

Equation of Meaning is as quintessential prog as it gets. An update of a much appreciated sound that should be gracing the devices of anyone who enjoys how music used to sound.
Conclusion:
Andrew Halley: 9 out of 10

Anthony Phillips - Wise After the Event [CD/DVD]
Anthony Phillips - Wise After the Event
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 60:07, 64:16, 60:12, DVD 60:05
Links:
Track List:
CD 1 new stereo mix): We're All as We Lie (4:37), Birdsong and Reprise (6:44), Moonshooter (5:58), Wise After the Event (10:28), Pulling Faces (4:36), Regrets (6:04), Greenhouse (3:03), Paperchase (5:33), Now What (Are They Doing to My Little Friends) (8:28), Squirrel (4:30)
CD 2 (demos, out-takes and extras): We're All As We Lie Link (1:25), Sleeping On An Interstellar Plane (Greenhouse demo) (3:07), Paperchase (Instrumental demo) (5:31), Birdsong (Instrumental demo) (5:33), Moonshooter (Cottage Tapes demo) (5:36), We're All As We Lie (Cottage Tapes demo) (3:55), Pulling Faces (Cottage Tapes demo) (4:33), Squirrel (Instrumental mix) (4:31), Wise After the Event (Instrumental mix) (8:58), Magic Garden (Solo Piano Mix) (1:56), We're All As We Lie (7" single mix) (3:52), Regrets (Piano mix) (6:03), Chinaman (Basic guitar mix) (0:48), Now What (Are They Doing to My Little Friends) (Instrumental mix) (8:14)
CD 3 (the original stereo mix re-mastered): We're All as We Lie (4:36), Birdsong and Reprise (6:47), Moonshooter (5:58), Wise After the Event (10:32), Pulling Faces (4:37), Regrets (6:04), Greenhouse (3:03), Paperchase (5:34), Now What (Are They Doing to My Little Friends) (8:27), Squirrel (4:30)
DVD (the 2016 5.1 surround sound mix): We're All as We Lie (4:37), Birdsong and Reprise (6:44), Moonshooter (5:58), Wise After the Event (10:28), Pulling Faces (4:36), Regrets (6:04), Greenhouse (3:03), Paperchase (5:33), Now What (Are They Doing to My Little Friends) (8:28), Squirrel (4:30)
A founding member since the band's formation at Charterhouse school in 1967, Anthony Phillips parted company with Genesis in 1970 following the release of their second album Trespass. His departure was prompted by a combination of stage nerves, disillusionment with the band collective and personality clashes. He enrolled in musical theory and composition at the Guildford School of Music where he received a teaching degree and the self-confidence to expand on his guitar playing abilities to encompass keyboards, bass, drums, and vocals. Despite the seven year gap between Genesis and the release of his remarkable debut album The Geese & The Ghost, Ant proved that the time and meticulous preparation had not been in vain.

His second album Wise After the Event followed one year later and whilst it was more song orientated with Ant providing all the lead vocals, it was not short of instrumental dexterity. In fact it was one of the better releases of the late 70s and whilst its qualities are often overlooked in favour of its predecessor, for me it was not only a natural progression but also a more mature work. If several pieces on The Geese & The Ghost (like Henry; Portraits From Tudor Times) would have benefitted from a fuller, more expansive sound then Ant and producer Rupert Hine duly obliged with Wise After the Event.

The wistful We're All as We Lie is a near perfect opener whilst the achingly beautiful Birdsong and Reprise benefits from Ant's reflective vocal and soaring electric guitar coda which tellingly exhibits the similarity between his and Steve Hackett's technique at the time. Other highlights include the title track with its majestic guitar sound, the orchestral and bittersweet Regrets (my personal favourite) and the melancholic grandeur of Now What (Are They Doing to My Little Friends). Providing sympathetic support throughout is the excellent rhythm partnership of drummer Michael Giles (King Crimson) and bassist John G. Perry (Caravan).

This set includes two CD stereo mixes of the album and to be honest is hard to split them apart although disc one probably just has the edge. Either way, they are both a step up from my original vinyl copy purchased way back in May 1978 for my 22nd birthday. The improvements are clearly discernable from the very start where the opening chords of We're All as We Lie reveal greater separation between the sitar and acoustic guitars. The DVD includes yet another stereo mix (if one were needed) plus of course the 5.1 surround sound mix which I'm sure will be a significant selling point for this 'deluxe' edition.

For me however the main attraction is disc two, the 'Demos, Out-takes and Extras' even though this dates back to 2008 when it was released as one half of a 2CD package. As you would expect, acoustic 6 string and 12 string guitars figure quite prominently as does solo piano but even in their stripped down format and minus the vocals these recordings still retain the spirit and feel of the final tracks such is the quality and sensitivity of Ant's playing. Unsurprisingly given my love of the song Regrets, it's the beautiful solo piano version that stands out for me although the gorgeous instrumental version of Now What complete with Mellotron choir runs it a very close second. Also worthy of mention is Giles and Perry performance on the 'Cottage Tapes' demos.

Whilst it would be extremely churlish to find fault with this release, hard to please fans like myself I'm sure would welcome a day when Wise After the Event was restored to Ant's original conception. When the plan for a vinyl LP and EP combination was abandoned three months before the May 1978 release, the original running order had to be revised and the instrumental tracks intended to link each song jettisoned. Several of these appeared on Private Parts & Pieces II - Back To The Pavilion (1980) and more recently others surfaced on the 'Private Parts & Extra Pieces' disc that formed part of the Private Parts & Pieces I – IV anthology (2015).

For now however, this is undoubtedly the definitive version of Wise After the Event thus far and is likely to remain so. After all, expanding what was originally a 52 minute album (not bad for a vinyl disc) into a set clocking in at over 4 hours is no mean achievement. Esoteric should be applauded for exceeding even their customary high standards. The icing on the cake is Peter Cross' evocative artwork which provides a perfect visual accompaniment to Ant's music and lyrics. Particularly noteworthy is the individual disc sleeves which each feature a different and highly detailed section of what was the inner painting on the original gatefold cover.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 10 out of 10

The Syn - Trustworks
The Syn - Trustworks
Country of Origin: UK / Sweden
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 49:24
Links:
Track List:
What If (0:45), Trustworks (5:54), Revolution Now (3:49), This World of Ours (5:07), Something That I Said (5:10), Never Too Late (4:07), The Wheel (4:16), Lucifer Hesitating (5:23), Seventh Day of Seven (14:50)
The Syn were a 1960's psychedelic kind of beat group that was famous for being regarded as the precursor to Yes as both Chris Squire and Peter Banks were members. Their lead vocalist was and is Steve Nardelli and after a couple of albums during the interim, Trustworks is their latest long player albeit with only the one original member left in tow.

However, and this is the really good bit, the "band" are none other than Skellefteå's finest close harmony pastoral progsters Moon Safari Hoorah! I am a huge fan and still play Heartland to anyone who asks me "just what is this prog thing anyway?".

So a real surprise. A further Swedish connection is that the album has been co-produced by The Flower Kings' Jonas Reingold. Happy days so far, now let's take a listen...

The album begins with two sound bites from two Men of Peace: Olaf Palme (a Swedish Social Democratic politician) and India's Mahatma Gandhi, both of whom were assassinated, probably due to their beliefs. That basically tells you that lyrically the album is quite political in its approach.

Themes of religion, trust, and revolution are peppered throughout: "Self-delusion the grand illusion / Same old story, history turning" says part of track eight, the only song that bass pin-up Johan Westerlund doesn't play on. Throughout this CD, Pontus Åkesson's symphonic lead guitar shines like the sun reflecting off the Stuorrajekna glacier, and outgoing drummer Tobias Lindgren will be sorely missed by the fans - his contribution to quite heavy sounding Trustworks (the track) is just great. We also get an uncharacteristic sitar here that embellishes the Indian theme.

Elsewhere the vibe can be Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young complete with jangly Rickenbackers on Revolution Now, summer of '68 This World of Ours to almost country and western with the yeehah sound of Never Too Late.

Moon Safari stops becoming a backing band on Lucifer Hesitating where the unique and distinctive happy sound that emanates from Simon Åkesson's little red keyboard combined with those simply gorgeous harmony backing vocals spontaneously force my mouth into a huge grin.

The Wheel, which I think is an allegory for life or the world, is organ driven rock imbued with the spirit of Jon Lord and then we get the reason to purchase Seventh Day of Seven.

14:50 of top drawer prog loveliness plus another chance to mention the lead guitar player, augmented by Petter Sandström's acoustic. The music is as good as anything Moon Safari have done - try not smiling at the 2:59 point when everything that makes this band work explodes from the speakers. The guitar solo in the middle section is a treat as is the "Once around the World" virtuosity towards the end... and this track suddenly correctly mixes the lead singing in with the rest of the instrumentation. What?

Which is probably where small hints of dissent will creep into this appraisal. Steve Nardelli's timbre is quite monotonous and for most of the album it feels like it's been glued on top of the backing, a sort of dry, less angry Roger Waters. However, it is the voice of narration and probably works as a whole but (and I apologise) I really hope there will be a version of this album by the band and all that their vocal prowess can muster.

Rightly or wrongly for me this is a Moon Safari Album with a guest singer. I know it's by The Syn, but I kept looking behind the wall to find the music in the next room, which is where the party is. The votes are in and it is still a recommended piece of music, thanks to the great choice of using one of my favourite beat combos as the pit orchestra. Trust me.
Conclusion:
Andrew Halley: 8 out of 10

Previous Issue Next Issue

Published Wednesday 1 June 2016

SEND FEEDBACK



© 1995 - 2017 : Dutch Progressive Rock Page