Reviews in this issue:
- Parallel Or 90 Degrees - Jitters
- Mały Leksykon Wielkich Zespołów – 15th Anniversary 3 CD Compilation Album
- Camel - I Can See Your House From Here
- Camel - Nude
- Camel - Pressure Points
- Barclay James Harvest – Sea Of Tranquility ~ The Polydor Years • 1974-1997
- National Health - National Health
- National Health - Of Queues And Cures
- Soft Heap - Soft Heap
- Gilgamesh - Another Fine Tune You’ve Got Me Into
- Exivious - Exivious
- Matthew Anderson – Merciless Ocean
- Oceansize – Home & Minor [EP]
- Time Will Tell – Visionography
- Colourblind - Spectre
Parallel Or 90 Degrees - Jitters
Tracklist: Interlude (2:47), Standalone (5:48), Threesome (4:32), Entry Level (5:23), Backup (5:27), Jitters (6:23), The Dock Of The Abyss (6:05), On The Death Of Jade (7:06)
Some seven years after their last album, the critically lauded More Exotic Ways To Die, Parallel Or 90 Degrees (PO90 for short) return with a new album, new line-up and a new lease of energy. Main man Andy Tillison has deemed that now is the right time to relaunch the band that the success of The Tangent has unwittingly put on hold for far too long. Tillison is joined on the new release by two survivors of the last line-up, Dan Watts on guitars and electronic treatments and Alex King on drums, and new boy Mark Clark on bass. The release of Jitters almost exactly coincides with that of the new album by The Tangent, Down And Out In Paris And London suggesting that Tillison, the chief songwriter in both groups, has hit a rich compositional vein. Given the historical sales figures of the two groups it is very likely that Jitters will be the poorer seller of the two - I recall reading somewhere that the first Tangent album sold more copies than all of the five previous PO90 albums combined - which is a great shame as progressive music fans are missing out on a treat!
The music itself is very different to that of The Tangent and it is remiss of me to keep mentioning that other band as the two are very different beasts, despite the commonality of the main composer. What Jitters has to offer is an original mix of hard rocking progressive music that skilfully blends in modern musical influences, without ever becoming self-indulgent or self-referential, and yet maintaining the distinct feel of previous PO90 albums. Indeed, one can even detect musical links that extend right back to Tillison's late '80s band Gold, Frankincense & Disk Drive. The opening instrumental cut, Interlude, takes off at a furious pace with a raging riff leaving no doubt that PO90 mean business. The heavier leanings of More Exotic Ways To Die are continued as if the seven years since that album was the briefest of interludes. Standalone starts with a gentle piano intro before more guitars come crashing through, and even though Watts does perform a crushing, shredding solo or two, the melody and integrity of the piece is never lost. No mere posturing of technical ability as laid out by the likes of Dream Theatre here, just an inherent, almost visceral anger being played out over the six strings. Threesome is another high energy song which takes the subject of migraines as it's lyrical source (as did Migraine on the 2000 PO90 album Unbranded). The throbbing beat of the guitar could be considered redolent of a musical migraine attack and the lyrics, some of which are in French, are as incisive and erudite as one comes to expect from Tillison (although I can't quite work out the relevance of "l'aeroglisseur est plein de poissons" which translates to "the hovercraft is full of fish"!!)
And so it continues: Entry Level takes a simpler beat and mixes it with electronica and acoustic guitars; Backup is a startlingly addictive number with a strong chorus and backing vocals that could be the bastard offspring of a three way union of Radiohead, Hawkwind and The Beatles; Jitters, has possibly the strongest lyric of the album, relating to the global financial crisis of the past couple of years, but is one of the less immediate numbers. Which is no comment on quality, as the song has some of the best musical moments with some fine guitar work and interplay with the keyboards, it just takes a lot more concentrated listening to get into. As is the way of things, this will invariably mean that with the passage of time it will become the standout track of the album! At this point I should also mention the artwork in the centre of the booklet which cleverly takes the rainbow hued pulse line from Dark Side Of The Moon and unravels it to form a graph of changing social parameters. Let's just say that PO90 do not necessarily see the future as being particularly bright. The negative mood is continued in The Dock Of The Abyss which takes Otis Redding's Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay and twists it to a grim summation of the political fallout of the past quarter of a century. Again the lyrics are thought provoking, even a warning of what could come again given the current fortunes of the prominent party in UK politics. Final track On The Death Of Jade is about so-called reality television with emphasis on the deplorable Big Brother. Although it is the 'gentlest' track on the album, I find it the most intense, and certainly the most stimulating and moving.
Jitters is a welcome return to one of the most original and truly progressive of prog bands. I hope that the continued success of The Tangent will encourage more people to explore the delights of the other side of Tillison and his alternative band of troubadours, both through this latest album and the excellent A Can Of Worms compilation of tracks from their previous, and still unavailable, albums.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Mały Leksykon Wielkich Zespołów
15th Anniversary 3 CD Compilation Album
CD 1: Pendragon Guardian Of My Soul (12:43), Agents Of Mercy The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight [remix] (7:29), Riverside Dance With The Shadow [live] (10:00), Abel Ganz Sheepish [Mick edit] (7:12), Magic Pie Without Knowing Why (7:55), Final Conflict The Harlequin [MLWZ mix] (9:44), Cannata King Of The Mountain (5:04), RSC Odbity Od Swiatła [MLWZ 2009 mix] (4:50), Dial Green Knees (5:54), Frameshift La Mer (5:55)
CD 2: Roswell Six Here Be Monsters (5:29), Airbag Speed Of Light [unreleased] (6:50), Quidam Moje Zapomnienie [unreleased] (3:50), Red Sand Children Memory [edit 2009] (9:36), Parallel Or 90 Degrees Embalmed In Acid (5:43), Solstice Sacred Run [live edit] (6:32), Kayanis Aurora Abbandonata (9:27), La Tulipe Noire In Blue [unreleased] (5:25), Galahad Hindsight  (5:42), Lunatic Soul Summerland [radio edit] (3:58), High Wheel Hate Hounds [live] (6:09), Gazpacho Chequered Light Buildings  (6:17)
CD 3: Magenta Speechless [extended version] (7:47), The Black Noodle Project She Prefers Her Dreams [live] (8:12), Martigan Much More  (6:47), Wojtek Szadkowski feat. Peter Dreaming [rough demo] (4:28), The Watch Damage Mode (7:13), Millenium I Would Like To Say Something [2009 mix] (5:07), The Reasoning Dark Angel (6:55), Moon Safari Lady Of The Woodlands (3:34), Shadowland Edge Of Night (7:06), Over A Thousand Miles Waisted [demo] (7:28), Damian Wilson Just The Way It Goes (4:30), D I’m Coming Down [I Shall Go Back] (5:32), Bonus content: Audio from Artur (1:58)
If you are unfamiliar with Polish prog radio then you may well ask who or what is Mały Leksykon Wielkich Zespołów? The answer is it’s the title of Radio Alfa Krakow’s progressive rock show broadcast on 102.40 FM every Wednesday between 8:00 and 10:00pm (central European time). In English it translates as ‘A small lexicon of great bands’ and has been in existence since November 1994 (hence the anniversary) hosted by Artur Chachlowski, who is also a contributor to the Polish edition of Metal Hammer magazine. This 3 CD compilation consists of mostly rare and previously unreleased tracks donated by artists from around the globe who have featured on the show since its inception.
Unsurprisingly this set features the well know to the not so well known but the vast majority of the acts will be familiar to DPRP readers, if in name only. No problems with the opening band on Disc 1 of course, this is Pendragon in all their formative glory and the 1996 neo-prog epic Guardian Of My Soul. The Roine Stolt fronted Agents Of Mercy bring things firmly up to date with a remix of the title song from The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight although to my ears it differs hardly a jot from the album version. Riverside’s offering is a gutsy live version of Dance With The Shadow which originally featured on their 2005 studio album Second Life Syndrome. Abel Ganz contribute an abbreviated ‘Mick edit’ of Sheepish, so called because it features Mick MacFarlane on lead vocals as opposed to Hugh Carter who sang on 2008’s Shooting Albatross album version.
Magic Pie’s Without Knowing Why is a deft combination of hard rock and vintage prog as featured on their 2005 album Motions Of Desire whilst Final Conflict’s muscular The Harlequin is an original MLWZ mix. King Of The Mountain, a catchy song from Cannata’s 2006 Mysterium Magnum album is followed by the equally tuneful Odbity Od Swiatła from RSC and another recent MLWZ mix. Dial’s melancholic Green Knees is taken from their 2007 debut album Synchronized whilst Frameshift’s 2003 Unweaving The Rainbow album should be familiar to DT fans thanks to James LaBrie on lead vocals represented here by the majestic La Mer to close Disc 1.
Roswell Six kick start Disc 2 with their anthemic Here Be Monsters from the recent Terra Incognita: Beyond The Horizon album followed by Airbag’s previously unreleased and Porcupine Tree influenced Speed Of Light. Also making its debut here is the memorable Moje Zapomnienie by the prolific Quidam whilst Red Sand’s recent epic arrangement of Children Memory is clearly indebted to early Genesis Parallel Or 90 Degrees’ moody Embalmed In Acid is a highlight off their 2008 compilation A Can Of Worms contrasting with a recent live version of the joyful Sacred Run which originally appeared on the stunning Solstice album Circles.
Kayanis’ Aurora Abbandonata from the 2007 album Where Abandoned Pelicans Die is an unexpected orchestral highlight whilst the multi-textured In Blue by La Tulipe Noire receives its first airing here. Galahad’s beautiful Hindsight is part 2 of the piece that graced their 2002 album Year Zero and also edited is Summerland which originally featured on the 2008 self titled debut project by Lunatic Soul. High Wheel’s stomping rocker Hate Hounds closed their 2006 live outing Live Before The Storm but here Gazpacho have the final word on Disc 2 with the Marillion flavoured Chequered Light Buildings from 2007’s Night album.
Magenta open Disc 3, represented by the less than typical Speechless (albeit the superb extended version) before stepping aside for The Black Noodle Project and a 2009 live performance of the Floyd tinged She Prefers Her Dreams. Martigan contribute Much More from their latest album Vision, a pure slice of prog bombast where the melodramatic vocalist has clearly been listening to Gabriel and Fish. Wojtek Szadkowski feat. Peter provide a change of mood with the mellow and appropriately titled Dreaming whereas The Watch return to the land of Gabriel era Genesis with the multi faceted Damage Mode lifted from 2004’s Vacuum album. Millenium’s strident, synth led I Would Like To Say Something is a new version of the song that originally appeared on Vocanda in 2001 whilst The Reasoning contribute the metallic title track from their highly rated 2008 album Dark Angel.
Moon Safari’s folk-meets-Yes Lady Of The Woodlands is a short but welcome addition from 2008’s curiously titled [blomljud] album and also from the same year is Shadowland’s gothic neo-prog Edge Of Night, written by Clive Nolan to celebrate the band's reformation. The song is featured on the band's A Matter Of Perspective compilation whereas the delightful and Beatles-esque Waisted by Over A Thousand Miles has yet to find a home but deserves one. We enter the home straight with Damian Wilson’s lush and romantic Just The Way It Goes which added a touch of class to his 2001 Disciple (Grow Old With Me) album. Bringing up the rear in fine style is the memorable I’m Coming Down (I Shall Go Back) from The D Project (and 2008’s The Sagarmatha Dilemma album) whose singer has more than a hint of Roger Waters in his vocal chords. Having the final word however is Artur Chachlowski who (in Polish and English) thanks everyone that has supported his cause over the past 15 years.
Artur Chachlowski is a man I clearly have an affinity with. Similar to myself he is by trade a mechanical engineer and like myself he isn’t a professional DJ or journalist, the promotion of prog is something he devotes his spare time to, a testimony to his passion for the music. Whilst several of the bands featured here have obviously been around for sometime and made a name for themselves (Pendragon, Galahad, Magenta etc.) there are no ‘heavyweights’ like Yes, ELP, King Crimson etc. Clearly the intention wasn’t to compile a ‘who’s who’ of prog but rather to provide an effective sampler of the rich diversity to be found in the current and vibrant prog-rock scene. With that in mind Artur has been wholly successful and with several countries represented it’s also a tribute to the global impact of the music. From the DPRP’s prospective it’s pleasing to note that the majority of the acts have been favourably covered on our pages as the album links within my review will testify.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Camel - I Can See Your House From Here
Tracklist: Wait (5:02), Your Love Is Stranger Than Mine (3:23), Eye Of The Storm (3:51), Who We Are (7:49), Survival (1:13), Hymn To Her (5:36), Neon Magic (4:38), Remote Romance (4:03), Ice (10:15) Bonus Tracks: Remote Romance [single version] (4:02), Ice [live] (7:19)
Camel - Nude
Tracklist: City Life (4:40), Nude (0:22), Drafted (4:22), Docks (3:51), Beached (3:34), Landscapes (2:42), Changing Places (4:08), Pomp And Circumstance (2:05), Please Come Home (1:12), Reflections (2:39), Captured (3:11), The Homecoming (2:50), Lies (5:00), The Birthday Cake (0:30), Nude's Return (3:44) Bonus Tracks [Live 1981]: City Life (4:59), Nude - Drafted (4:22), Docks (4:06), Beached (3:34), Landscapes (3:22), Changing Places (3:28), Reflections (2:25), Captured (3:20), The Birthday Cake (0:45), Nude's Return (3:14)
Camel - Pressure Points
CD1 [44:12]: Pressure Points (7:17), Drafted (3:50), Captured (3:02), Lies (5:10), Refugee (3:48), Vopos (5:49), Stationary Traveller (5:16), West Berlin (5:18), Fingertips (4:40)
CD2 [40:52]: Sasquatch (4:05), Wait (4:20), Cloak and Dagger Man (4:03), Long Goodbyes (6:44), Rhayader (2:28), Rhayader Goes To Town (6:27), Lady Fantasy (12:40)
Esoteric Recordings conclude their reissue of the mid-period releases by Camel with I Can See Your House From Here (1979), Nude (1981) and Pressure Points (1984), the latter being the band's second official live album which was recorded on the Stationary Traveller tour. Following the release of 1978's Breathless, Camel had embarked on an ambitious tour taking in the UK, Europe, Japan and the West Coast of the USA, following which the Sinclair cousins David (keyboards) and Richard (bass) flew the coop. Down to a trio of original members Andy Latimer (guitar and vocals) and Andy Ward (drums) plus keyboardist Jan Schelhaas, the search was on for replacements. The success of Breathless meant that it was not hard to find suitable musicians in the form of bass guitarist Colin Bass (previously a member of the Steve Hillage Band) and American keyboardist Kit Watkins (ex-Happy The Man). Accompanied by producer Rupert Hine, the band retired to Farmyard Studios in Buckinghamshire to set about recording a new album. The band gelled instantly and by all accounts the recording sessions for I Can See Your House From Here were not only productive but fun.
Opener Wait is a lively beginning with Watkins and Schelhaas trading Moog solos in a jaunty number that successfully mixed the progressive aspects of the band with a more commercial approach. This style was continued on You Love Is Stranger Than Mine which with its layers of harmony vocals and saxophone solo (by guest and ex-Camel member Mel Collins) would have made a decent single. Instead, the only single lifted from the album was a remixed version of Remote Romance (included as a bonus track on this re-issue), something of a stylistically abnormality being quite a quirky number featuring lots of electronic and keyboard sounds and a sequencer. Written by Latimer and Watkins, it is hardly the best number that Camel ever recorded but I suppose fitted in with the bludgeoning New Romantic musical scene although failed miserably in the charts and stands out as being the weakest song by a mile on the album. Watkins' other compositional contribution to the album was the much more Camelesque Eye Of The Storm, a rather sublime instrumental number that has plenty of the bands hallmarks: a nice flute line (played by Watkins and not Latimer), some solid drumming, a haunting melody and a great fretless bass from Bass. Neon Magic is somewhat of a hybrid number that exposes the weaknesses inherent in trying to merge old and new musical styles, although the guitar cadenza from Latimer saves the song and the 'fairground organ' rendition of the main theme from The Snow Goose is an amusing touch.
The album does feature three absolute classic Camel songs that garners it a status above that of the previous Breathless album. Who We Are is a fabulous number orchestrated by Simon Jeffes with Schelhaas contributing grand piano backed by Watkins on a mini Moog. Jeffes also arranged and conducted the orchestra on the brief Survival which despite not featuring any of the band is a fine introduction to the wonderful Hymn To Her, an essential inclusion in any Camel collection that displays the band's abilities perfectly. The standout number of the album though, is the closing instrumental Ice. Ten minutes of nigh on perfection with Latimer in excellent form. A beautifully balanced number, it builds slowly with a selection of keyboard and guitar solos before ending with a great acoustic guitar section bringing the album to a wonderful conclusion. A live version of this excellent number is included as the second bonus track, although in a somewhat shorter version as it lacks the acoustic ending.
The tour supporting I Can See Your House From Here was a great success and included a series of sell out concerts in Japan. Creativity was running high and several new compositions were written and previewed in mid 1980 when the band played a series of low key concerts in Holland under the pseudonym Desert Song. Latimer had been writing music to accompany a concept devised by his partner Susan Hoover which told the tale of a Japanese soldier from World War Two left on a Pacific island unaware that the war had ended. Loosely based on the story of Lt. Hiroo Onoda who survived on the Philippines island of Lubang until 1974 when he was finally persuaded that the war was over after his former commanding officer was flown over from Japan to talk him into surrendering, the tale of Nude, penned by Hoover, is told in the booklet accompanying this remastered version of the album. The album was recorded at Abbey Road studios starting in September 1980. However, the full complement of Camel members were not available as Kit Watkins had returned to the US after the previous year-long tour had ended and Jan Schelhaas was otherwise engaged for most of the recording, although he did play piano on one track. So Andy Latimer, Andy Ward and Colin Bass were joined by guests Mel Collins (flute, piccolo and saxophones) and Herbie Flowers (tuba) with Duncan Mackay providing keyboards in addition to Latimer.
Mostly instrumental, there are only four songs on the album, City Life, Drafted and Lies have lyrical contributions from Hoover whilst Please Come Home was written by Latimer. In fact, this is very much an Andy Latimer album as he composed all of the music with the exception of Docks and Captured which were co-written by Kit Watkins and Jan Schelhaas, respectively. Nude proved to be another successful album for Camel and, understandably, gained comparisons with The Snow Goose. There are many highlights on the album; City Life and Drafted are both excellent songs, whilst Docks, Beached and Captured are the standout instrumental numbers. Changing Places is a more rhythmic number taking on a flavour of a Japanese style and Reflections, as the title suggests, being a more 'reflective' number that although not a standout piece on its own fits in well with the overall tone of the album. The album is completed by the fine Nude's Return which is a perfect summation to the album.
The reissue CD is completed by a contemporaneous live rendition of the album which according to the sleeve notes was recorded for the BBC at the Hammersmith Odeon on 22 February 1981, a month after the album was released (the live version of Ice included on the I Can See Your House From Here reissue was apparently recorded at the same concert). Interestingly, an Official Live Bootleg (On The Road 1981) was released by Camel Productions of a BBC in-concert performance recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon on 2 April 1981 which has the same performance of Nude but doesn't include Ice! The band did play the Hammersmith Odeon in February (but on the 27th but not the 22nd) so it is somewhat confusing as to which concert this recording is taken from, or if indeed the April date is correct. Anyway, on this live recording, and the whole Nude tour, Latimer, Ward and Bass were rejoined by keyboard players Watkins and Schelhaas. Unfortunately, the track Lies has been omitted due to lack of space, but nevertheless, it is a great performance with some subtle differences between the live and studio versions.
We now jump forward a few years to the last Camel album released by Decca records, the live Pressure Points album. Recorded at where else but the Hammersmith Odeon in May 1984 on the Stationary Traveller tour, the original album was released that November. Having seen a couple of dates on the tour I was somewhat disappointed by the tracks selected for the original album which excluded the majority of the Stationary Traveller numbers. However, the reissue extends the album to two CDs and includes six extra tracks that have previously been unissued on CD. The line-up for the live concerts was as per the studio album but with the addition of Richie Close on additional keyboards. Opening with the extended version of Pressure Points three tracks from Nude follow, including two of the four songs from that album and the instrumental Captured. The rest of the first disc comprises excerpts from Stationary Traveller with the stunning rendition of the title track defying all logic as to why it was not included originally. The other two previously unreleased tracks on this disc, Refugee and Vopos are also worthy of their belated inclusion.
Disc Two starts with the energetic Sasquatch, one of the highlights of The Single Factor, and Wait with nice backing vocals from Chris Rainbow. Two more selections from Stationary Traveller redress the balance of the tour dynamic with a sprightly Cloak And Dagger Man preceding the more reflective and very apt closing number Long Goodbyes with Rainbow again giving a fine vocal performance and an extended guitar coda from Latimer rounding things off nicely. Encore time saw the group being joined by Peter Bardens on organ and Mel Collins on sax for a very quick run through of Rhayader and Rhayader Goes To Town prior to the closing, and again previously unreleased, Lady Fantasy, welcomingly reinstated into the live set after an eight-year gap.
With Decca Records being taken over by Polygram who declined to offer the band a new contract, Camel went into hibernation for seven years with Latimer and Hoover relocating to the US after successfully winning their legal battle against their old manager. Pressure Points drew a line under the mid period of Camel and also saw the last time that Latimer and Bardens would perform together on stage. This remastered reissue is a fine conclusion to this period and in its extended form is a fine accompaniment to the first official concert recording, A Live Record
I Can See Your House From Here: 8 out of 10
Nude: 7 out of 10
Pressure Points: 8.5 out of 10
Barclay James Harvest – Sea Of Tranquility ~ The Polydor Years • 1974-1997
Disc 1: Child Of The Universe [US Single Version] (3:37), Crazy City (4:08), For No One (5:09), The Great 1974 Mining Disaster [Original Mix] (4:48), Negative Earth [Original Mix] (5:35), She Said [Live] (8:46), Galadriel [Live] (3:07), Mockingbird [Live] (7:31), In My Life (4:42), Sweet Jesus (3:32), Hymn For The Children (3:41), Song For You (5:22), Titles (3:50), Ra (7:22), May Day (8:00)
Disc 2: The World Goes On (6:28), Rock 'n' Roll Star [TV Playback Version] (3:17), Hymn (5:10), Sea Of Tranquillity (4:05), Poor Man’s Moody Blues (6:58), Suicide? [Live] (6:27), Medicine Man [Live] (11:51), Jonathan [Live] (5:39), Berlin (4:55), Fact: The Closed Shop (3:50), In Search Of England (4:17), Sperratus (5:02), The Song [They Love To Sing] (6:07), Capricorn [Single Version] (3:40)
Disc 3: : Nova Lepidoptera [Live In Berlin 1980] (6:19), Life Is For Living [Live In Berlin 1980] (4:06), In Memory Of The Martyrs (7:56), Fifties Child (4:21), Ring Of Changes [Single Version] (4:40), African (5:53), Alone In The Night (5:07), On The Wings Of Love (5:33), Lady Macbeth (4:37), Cheap The Bullet (4:31), John Lennon’s Guitar (5:43), The Ballad Of Denshaw Mill (9:01), Mr. E (6:20), Children Of The Disappeared (5:03)
The back catalogue of Barclay James Harvest has been the subject of a great deal of attention from Esoteric Recordings in recent years as my reviews for the DPRP will testify. This latest offering, a 3 CD compilation is neatly summarised by the subtitle The Polydor Years ∙ 1974-1997. It’s not to be confused with 2005’s excellent and now deleted 5 CD set from Esoteric (then Eclectic) which went out under the title All Is Safely Gathered In. That particular release spanned the bands entire career and had almost identical artwork including the same band photo on the cover. A similar image can be found on Everybody Is Everybody Else, their first album for Polydor Records who signed the band in January 1974 following the collapse of their deal with EMI’s Harvest label where they had been for the proceeding 5 years and 4 albums.
The first disc takes in tracks from Everybody Is Everybody Else (1974), Live (1974), Time Honoured Ghosts (1975) and Octoberon (1976), a classic period for BJH. Fittingly Child Of The Universe opens the set, a signature tune for the band and one of their most enduring. This however is the substantially edited version planned for a US single release. Unfortunately, despite the bands success in Europe, and in Germany in particular, throughout their career they failed to make any kind of impression in the States. This song like For No One is typical of guitarist and vocalist John Lees’ style at the time, stately and anthemic protests against global issues including war, intolerance and injustice underpinned with his own soaring guitar and keyboardist Woolly Wolstenholme’s gothic Mellotron. Also included here are the original mixes of The Great 1974 Mining Disaster and Negative Earth which first saw the light of day as bonus tracks on Polydor’s 2003 remastered reissue of Everybody Is Everybody Else.
The three songs included from Live (the bands first live album) provide a neat opportunity to supplement this collection with material from the pre-Polydor era. Collectively they demonstrate a more proggy, leftfield BJH particularly the mini-epic She Said whilst a stunning version of Mockingbird is the best ever committed to tape IMHO. For the recording of Time Honoured Ghosts the band spent the summer of ’75 in San Francisco, a perfect location for bassist and vocalist Les Holroyd whose compositional and vocal style in Sweet Jesus and Song For You would have made him a perfect candidate for CSN&Y, The Eagles or America. The West Coast sound also seemed to infiltrate Lees’ contributions In My Life, Hymn For The Children and Titles with their mostly laidback style and rich harmonies. Despite the band being regularly panned by the UK music press the lyrics for the latter song, cleverly constructed from Beatles song titles, drew a certain amount of praise at the time.
Disc 1 ends with two songs from the ambitious Octoberon album, the subject of which is carried through to the second disc. Wolstenholme’s Ra is typical of his grandiose, sometimes overblown style and a throwback to early BJH. In a similar vein Lees enlists the services of a full choir for May Day with references to Land Of Hope Of Glory, Abide With Me and It’s A Long Way To Tipperary. Not to be outdone Holroyd utilises an orchestra for the otherwise lightweight The World Goes On whilst Rock 'N' Roll Star is his answer to The Byrds' So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star (lyrically) and The Eagles’ One Of These Nights (musically). 1977’s Gone To Earth album remains a favourite amongst BJH fans mainly due to two classic Lees songs Hymn and Poor Man’s Moody Blues which to this day remain cornerstones of the bands set. In addition to providing the title for this particular compilation, Sea Of Tranquillity is another slice of Wolstenholme’s symphonic grandeur and a precursor of his future work outside the band.
Three songs from 1978’s excellent Live Tapes (the bands second live album) include the equally excellent Suicide? a personal favourite. A vastly underrated drummer, Mel Pritchard really comes into his own during the extended Medicine Man. Also from 1978 was XII, for me the last of the great BJH albums and coincidentally the last to feature Woolly Wolstenholme who departed the following year. Berlin is Holroyd’s poignant piano tribute to the city whilst Fact: The Closed Shop demonstrates Lees’ willingness to tackle controversial subjects. For its part In Search Of England, the final Wolstenholme song to be recorded by BJH, is a fitting testimony to his 12 year tenure with the band. Disc 2 is rounded off with a trio of songs from 1979’s Eyes Of The Universe which for me marked a turning point in the bands creativity. It proved to be hugely popular in Germany reaching number 3 in the album chart and with a more traditional, pop-rock format it signposted the bands future output. That being said the songs selected here are three of the best the album has to offer.
Disc 3 opens with two offerings from another live album A Concert For The People [Berlin] (1982) recorded in the country that had now become their second home. This particular concert is regarded by the band and fans alike as a pinnacle in their career where on 30th August 1980 they performed in front of 250,000 people. With the final crop of albums from the 80’s and 90’s Mark Powell (the man responsible for putting this compilation together) has been pretty shrewd in his choices picking the best on offer and in several cases only the one song has been included to represent each album. A telling indicator that whilst production wise they all sound top notch, artistically they pale in comparison with the bands creative 70’s output. Both In Memory Of The Martyrs and Fifties Child, taken from Turn Of The Tide (1981), Ring Of Changes (1983) respectively, are examples of Lees’ slow burning anthems that each try a little too hard to emulate Hymn.
The bands next two albums Face To Face (1987) and Welcome To The Show (1990) I’ve previously covered in depth and here they are represented by three songs apiece. It’s interesting to note that whilst Holroyd’s song writing credits were equal to Lees’ throughout the bands career, On The Wings Of Love an AOR inflected ballad which closed Face To Face is the last of his songs to be included on this collection. The pair had always written individually and by the time they had reached their penultimate album Caught In The Light (1993) Lees acknowledged that as a band they were no longer making creative contributions to each others songs. Of the final tracks the atmospheric The Ballad Of Denshaw Mill and the multi-textured Children Of The Disappeared are two of Lees’ best latter day BJH tunes. Less than a year after the release of the final album River Of Dreams (1997) the band parted company.
Holroyd and Pritchard continued under the name Barclay James Harvest Featuring Les Holroyd whilst Lees would eventually reunite with his old friend Wolstenholme and are currently touring as John Lees' Barclay James Harvest. Appropriately this collection is dedicated to the memory of Mel Pritchard who tragically died from a heart attack in January 2004. It has been thoughtfully and chronologically compiled and the superb packaging includes a 32 page booklet with archive pics and candid observations on every stage of the bands career from the members themselves. This is another excellent addition to the Esoteric catalogue and an entertaining insight into one of the most underrated and genuine classic progressive rock bands of all time.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
National Health - National Health
Tracklist: Tenemos Roads (14:35) Brujo (10:17) Borogroves (Excerpt from Part Two) (4:11) Borogroves (Part One) (6:34) Elephants (14:23)
National Health - Of Queues And Cures
Tracklist: The Bryden 2-Step (For Amphibians) (Part One) (8:55) The Collapso (6:19) Squarer For Maud (11:52) Dreams Wide Awake (8:51) Binoculars (11:46) Phlakaton (0:08) The Bryden 2-Step (For Amphibians) (Part Two) (5:29)
Soft Heap - Soft Heap
Tracklist: Circle Line (6:55) A.W.O.L. (9:34) Petit 3’s (6:18) Terra Nova (10:03) Fara (6:42) Short Hand (3:12)
Gilgamesh – Another Fine Tune You’ve Got Me Into
Tracklist: Darker Brighter (5:40), Bobberty / Theme From Something Else (10:41), Waiting (2:24) Playtime (7:16), Underwater Song (7:04), Foel’d Again (1:50), T.N.T.F.X. (2:56)
Here are another four discs from the marvellous reissue specialists Esoteric Recordings. These four sit nicely together for review purposes, as not only are they all squarely in the Canterbury Scene mould, but also share musicians in common. Drummer Pip Pyle can be found on the Soft Heap and National Health discs, Hugh Hopper is on the Soft Heap and Gilgamesh CD’s, and Alan Gowen appears on all of the discs except Of Queues And Cures.
After the dissolution of Canterbury legends Hatfield And The North, Dave Stewart teamed up with Alan Gowen of Gilgamesh to form National Health. With the addition of Phil Miller (guitar), Pip Pyle (drums) and Neil Murray (bass), N H was a formidable unit, deserving far greater success and acclaim than they ever achieved. Their music was very much a continuation of the style pursued by the Hatfields, though by the time the first album was recorded, Alan Gowen had left the band; he does appear on all the album’s tracks as a guest musician. By the time of the second album, Murray had quit to join Whitesnake, but his replacement, John Greaves of Henry Cow was more than capable of filling his shoes.
Both of National Health’s albums are classics of the Canterbury genre and anyone who likes Caravan, Hatfield & The North or Egg should immediately check these out. The playing is superb throughout, and the compositions display meticulous arrangements, torturously tricky time signatures, and yet have gorgeous melodies as well. The sound is keyboard heavy, with fantastic organ, electric piano and synths dominating, but Miller’s guitar contributions are intricate, exciting and enthralling. The rhythm section (on both discs) is absolutely astounding. With guest musicians including Amanda Parsons on vocals (on the first album) and Canterbury stalwart Jimmy Hastings on flute (on both albums), the stage is set for some of the most interesting, exciting and listenable progressive music to come out of the U.K.
Highlights of the first album include the anthemic Tenemos Roads (unfortunately misspelt on the reissue as Thermos Roads – a rare error on Esoteric’s part), and the epic closer Elephants. Of Queues and Cures boasts the inclusion of the fabulous The Collapso (where steel drums help conjure up a twisted fusion take on a calypso), John Greaves’ intricately composed, sublime Squarer For Maude and the two part Bryden 2-Step For Amphibians. Neither album has any weak tracks, so these individual track recommendations are slightly superfluous. I should imagine that you would love them all.
After quitting National Health, Gowen teamed up with Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper and Pip Pyle in the post - Soft Machine combo Soft Heap (The Heap part of the name being composed of the initials of the members’ first names). Before Soft Heap had recorded an album, Gowen reformed Gilgamesh, bringing Hopper along for the ride, and recorded their second album Another Fine Tune You’ve Got Me Into.
Like the first, self-titled Gilgamesh album, ...Tune… is a relaxed and jazzy twist on the Canterbury sound, less frantic than National Health, but a very pleasant listen, nevertheless. Ex Softs Bassist Hugh Hopper is, as usual, on excellent form, and Gowen’s keyboard work (particularly on electric piano) is a delight. Phil Lee’s jazz sensibility, filtered through his nimble guitar lines, is a perfect fit for Gowen’s stylish compositions. Whilst not an album that will blow your socks off, …Tune… slowly but surely works its way into your consciousness, and as the soundtrack for a relaxing evening, is nigh on perfect. For highlights, check out Playtime (later reworked by a reformed National Health on their Gowen tribute album D.S. Al Coda, following Gowen’s tragic early death aged 33), or the sprawling coupling Bobberty/Theme For Something Else.
After this, Gowen and Hopper then returned to the studio with Soft Heap. Their self-titled album follows the lead of Soft Machine’s fourth and fifth albums, with a modern jazz sound, chiefly lead and coloured by Elton Dean’s playing style and free-jazz leanings. However, Gowen’s presence ensures that things do not stray too far from the melodic and tuneful. Hopper’s opening composition is a grower, it’s mournful cadences slowly charming the listener, despite some squawky sax form Dean. I do also quite like Gowen’s shuffling Petit 3’s, and his closing, mind scrambling Short Hand is terrific.
Overall, though, Soft Heap is much more of a jazz album than the other CDs reviewed here, and is less to my personal taste. I imagine most prog fans will agree. By all means check it out if you want more of the music offered on Soft Machine’s Fourth and Fifth.
To sum up, all Canterbury Scene fans need both of the National Health discs – an essential part of any decent Canterbury collection. The Gilgamesh is a worthwhile purchase, if not in the same league as the National Health discs, and Soft Heap is a nice listen but perhaps only of real interest to Soft Machine completists or those with a strong penchant for jazz.
National Health : 9 out of 10
Of Queues And Cures : 9 out of 10
Soft Heap : 6 out of 10
Gilgamesh : 7.5 out of 10
Exivious - Exivious
Tracklist: Ripple Of A Tear (7:30), Time And Its Changes (4:38), Asurim (5:31), All That Surrounds Pt1 (3:38), Waves Of Thought (6:24), The Path (5:45), All That Surrounds Pt2 (3:39), Embrace The Unknown (4:44), An Elusive Need (4:38)
Exivious originally formed back in 1997. Their only previous release, a demo back in 2001, was apparently hugely influenced by legendary (but long-dormant) technical prog-metallers Cynic. Fast-forward a few years, and for their 2008 re-union, Cynic recruited Exivious members Tymon (guitar) and Robin Zielhorst (bass). The hype that surrounded the re-union has surely provided a catalyst for Exivious, who have finally finished their first full-length studio release. If nothing else, the Cynic connection can’t hurt in the publicity department, although it should be said that this is a decent release in its own right.
I can’t comment on that first demo, but the Cynic influence, whilst there, is certainly not all-pervasive on this album. The music is more in line with the sort of heavy jazz fusion with a prog metal edge being produced by the likes of Spaced Out and Karcius. Certainly the opening Ripple Of A Tear is definitely in the fusion vein; Zielhorst’s roving, elastic bass lines lead the song, whilst Tymon and fellow guitarist Michel Nienhuis adopt a playing style that, away from the metal riffage, boasts a direct lineage to Allan Holdsworth, something that is especially evident in the fluid soloing.
Elsewhere, the likes of Time And Its Changes and Embrace The Unknown channel more of a prog-metal influence, sounding like a mix of early Dream Theater and Cynic; the latter song actually boasts a solo from that band’s Paul Masvidal. Asurim and The Path are darker pieces (the latter has some nice keyboard work that touches on John Carpenter’s theme from the film Halloween) that perhaps see the soloing go a little over the top, whilst the mellower side of Exivious is evident on the two parts of All That Surrounds, which are fairly chilled and have a pastoral, seventies feel to them.
The playing is technically very adept as you’d imagine, with Zielhorst’s inventive bass work being particularly worthy of praise. Sometimes the segues between gentle, contemplative parts and heavier, more complex ones seem a bit stilted (such as on Waves Of Thought), but the sections themselves work more often than not, so it’s not too big a problem. Drummer Stef Broks’ main gig is with post-metallers Textures, and it shows at times, as his drum playing, whilst good, isn’t perhaps as sleek and varied as I might have liked – some of the fills are a little mundane and heavy-handed, where some invention and a lighter touch would have been preferable.
Overall though this is a solidly enjoyable slab of heavy instrumental jazz fusion with prog metal elements, and it should appeal both to Cynic fans and those fusion aficionados who aren’t put off by the relatively heavy nature of the material.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Matthew Anderson – Merciless Ocean
Tracklist: Echoing Underneath [Part 1] (5:24), Windows (5:33), Echoing Underneath [Part 2] (5:58), Retribution (11:06), Flooded (6:23), Merciless Ocean (3:51), Autumnsurf (8:41), Surrounded By Songs Of Deliverance (6:16)
Back in my early nineties days as a hipster-about-town checking out shows from various local bands, many of the bands I saw were made up of young college students. Most of the bands played a few different styles of music including song-oriented pop/punk, and some more far-out thrashier type of stuff. I credit the occasional experimental band that would play music farther off the beaten path of the mainstream. And credit is due now to Matthew Anderson, a young Kent, Ohio-based multi-instrumentalist and college student who has the testicular fortitude with his debut proper solo full-length Merciless Ocean to resist conformity, commercialism, and lame contests like “American Idol”.
Although Anderson is young, he is nonetheless a seasoned and versatile musician with over thirty demos under his belt, as well as The Distance, an unreleased 9-track full length, and Fragments, an experimental EP.
Merciless Ocean, released independently as a physical CD by Anderson and as a download by Mrs Vee Recordings, was written, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered by Anderson, with the drum tracks recorded and produced by Anderson along with Alex Earnhardt, Anderson’s friend and partner in the band Albatross.
The CD takes you on a sojourn between the realms of acoustic-based mid-tempo rocking and some harder portions evoking Porcupine Tree and Riverside, with some ambient excursions as well. The dark ambient intro to epic Retribution leans to Mrs Vee Recordings label mate The Resonance Association and gives way to a guitar tapestry reminiscent of Yes. Anderson goes for the Hammond-style keys in this song as well as some Fender Rhodes elements.
The track Flooded points to The Wall-era Pink Floyd as a commonality. Autumnsurf features some moody ocean field recordings from Anderson, acoustic guitar, and jarring electric guitar scorches that sound out of place.
Ambient elements serve as postscripts to many of the CD’s tracks.
The recording in general sounds modestly demo-ish in quality, but nonetheless the music is composed and performed well. It should appeal mostly to prog fans in general and may in particular strike the fancy of those into Porcupine Tree. If you’re looking for prefabricated mainstream club music, this ain’t the place to shake your booty.
The packaging of the physical CD I received for this review features a colorful design in an ocean motif.
Merciless Ocean is available as a free download here. For those old-fashioned types who prefer a physical CD, head on over to CD Baby.
The only suggestion I have for Anderson with regards to room for improvement is to upgrade the studio quality of the guitar and drum tracks in his recording to create a more polished sound.
So all in all an acceptable effort from Anderson. A cursory glance at his Myspace page indicates that he has more planned musical projects coming down the pike. A promising career is imminent.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Oceansize – Home & Minor [EP]
Tracklist: Legal Teens (4:28), Getting Where Water Cannot (5:24), Monodrones (2:34), Home & Minor (8:10), Didnealand (3:22), The Strand (8:03)
Following hot on the heels of the 3 DVD, 4 CD live ear-bashing that was Oceansize’s Feed To Feed package is this far more sedate mini-album (or EP, if you take the official line). Whilst its described as ‘a short collection of the band’s more sedate numbers’, Oceansize are quick to point out that this is no ‘MTV unplugged’ style release, and that there aren’t even any acoustic guitars on here. Be that as it may, the electric guitars are far more gently strummed and in the background than normal, keyboards take more of a leading role, drummer Mark Heron uses his brushes far more than his sticks, and Mike Vennart’s vocals are not exactly at their most intense.
The songs can be divided into three types. The first type are gentle, easy on the ear yet slightly skewed pop rock, and are characterised by the first two tracks. Legal Teens has an almost orchestral style intro that suggests grandiose things to come, but is instead an almost bouncy, light track with perky synth work and a pleasingly melancholy chorus. The song does rather fizzle out, but there’s some interesting electonica at the end. Getting Where Water Cannot is more uptempo, with some slightly oft-kilter vocals in the verse section, whilst the whimsical chorus is similar in style to early Prefab Sprout (an inventive UK pop band of the eighties, for those not in the know). The latter part of the song has a slight Elbow feel, perhaps helped by the (subdued) use of trumpet and orchestration.
The second type of song is the ambient, atmospheric instrumental. Of these, Monodrones is perhaps the more successful, having an echo of David Sylvian’s more experimental pieces, or even Brian Eno. Didnealand, with its almost random piano notes and sparse guitar work, is initially less accessible, before a tune begins to emerge on the jazzier second half – in fact, it sounds not dissimilar to the David Bowie track Bring Me The Disco King, from his most recent album Reality.
The third type of track is the sprawling would-be epic, illustrated by the title track and the closing The Strand. I say ‘would-be epic’ as, although these songs are quite lengthy, the structures and musical rules that Oceansize have confined themselves to on this release mean that while there’s plenty of build-up, the big pay-off that you’d find on their regular releases is lacking. That’s not to say there’s not stuff that’s of interest – the title track has some great harmony vocals, a warm sound and some unusual instrumental touches (including pedal steel), whilst The Strand sees the sonics ratcheted up just a little bit (Heron actually uses his sticks on this one!) and has an interesting, stuttering rhythm – but ultimately you feel the tape could have stopped rolling a lot sooner than it did.
Ultimately, this is an interesting experimental release by Oceansize, which confirmed fans will want to own. On its own merits, however, I feel it’s one of the lesser (or even ‘minor’ – ho ho) releases in their impressive canon, as in my opinion the intensity and power found in copious quantities on their ‘regular’ albums is one of the band’s strongest suits, and it is badly missed here.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Time Will Tell – Visionography
Tracklist: Prelude (1:30), Different Drum (3:41), Darkest Before The Dawn (9:18), Striving Edge (6:30), Among Friends (3:11), The Silent Man (8:16), Visionography (2:38), Bara Ktisis (13:12), Distant Drum (3:28)
When it comes to judging music, if the band’s music is lyrical and the vocalist has a lousy singing voice, chances are I will not like the band’s material in general. So my optimism for giving UK progressive Christian-based act Time Will Tell a favourable review for their latest release Visionography went downhill after hearing the regrettably flat voice of singer Kevin Smee.
Smee is joined in the band by Steve Liberty on guitars and vocals, Barry Goddard on bass guitars and vocals, Steve Cooper on drums, percussion and vocals; and Tony Machon on keyboards, programming and vocals.
Goddard, Machon, and Liberty have played together in various configurations since the late seventies. In the mid nineties, an earlier line-up of the band was hosting small youth events under the Catalyst name around the South East Essex scene. Smee joined the band in 1998, with Cooper coming on board in 2003.
In addition to Smee’s weak vocals, the uninspired musical arrangements on Visionography make it less than memorable. Backup vocals from the other band members come to Smee’s rescue on Darkest Before The Dawn, which features some melodic guitar from Liberty and some early Marillion pointers. The Marillion references also get in to the picture on Striving Edge, a track which admittedly sees Smee hitting his stride along with the benefit of some dutiful harmony vocals from his bandmates. The song also features a synth line from Machon, bouncy as the breasts on a supermodel.
Machon’s synths become clichéd on The Silent Man, a militant number evoking Relayer-era Yes, which also offers up a bit of acoustic guitar from Liberty. The band on some of these tracks tries to serve up prog in songs that change structure, but as a whole the songs are lacking compositional originality. The synth-heavy title track tends to lean to Abacab-era Genesis, which is not a bad thing.
The CD booklet and cover are colourfully and professionally designed. The original artwork comes courtesy of the band themselves.
If you are as critical of vocalists and addicted to technical virtuosity as I am, you will probably pass on this CD. Otherwise, it could grow on you after repeated listens.
As far as room for improvement goes, I recommend the band continue to rely on harmony vocals to augment Smee’s singing voice. And for their next release I would suggest the band take it easy in the recording studio, one day at a time, to focus on some more complex arrangements.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Colourblind - Spectre
Tracklist: Miles (4:06), Spectre (4:03), Masquerade (5:03), Stranded (3:34), Run For The Dark (4:03), Beyond Control (6:28), Days [Part 1] (4:10)
A classic beginning of a band, two brothers and a friend start to make music and along the way people join in. One of them happens to rent a rehearsal room very close by and Colourblind is a fact. This all happened in 1998 and in all that time the band has only one change in the line up when the bass player was replaced. The band released their debut album Forever Lost in 2001. The back of their second CD shows six people but their website only provides five names as musicians. After some searching I found that the lovely lady on the picture is the back ground vocalist on three songs, maybe not a band member but she sure makes the picture look a lot better. The music of Colourblind is progressive metal but not with the purpose of playing too technical pieces, all is there but not at the expense of the groove or melody of a song.
The start is very beautiful with acoustic guitar and ambient noises, although I am a bit unsatisfied with the sudden alteration to the heavy part as it feels like an easy way out. One by one more interesting elements are added but the straightforward heavy parts are not very interesting and keep returning from time to time. Spectre has less of those easy metal parts, whilst the voice of JoZi gives the sound of Colourblind an extra dimension. They should have used her voice more often on this album and make her an official band member is my advice. The song Masquerade brings also fast, but messy solos. In these first three songs Colourblind impressed me but at times they miss a trick. On the fourth song Stranded however, they do not miss a trick at all. Without a doubt the best song on the album. The second time that JoZi proves to be a good addition and above all on this song they do not use the standard prog metal escapes.
Run For The Dark is a heavy song that starts out with only the use progressive metal elements, but later on in the song it has more beautiful mellow parts and even some funky stuff. Beyond Control also alternates from heavy and fast to slow and mellow. The most complex song on the album but not long enough to be called an epic piece. Days [Part 1] is very like Stranded, a very beautiful song but with a sudden transition to a heavy part, just like in the first song. This is something they should blend in more nicely. The guitar solos on this song are beautiful, too bad that during the solo the sound fades and the disc is done, just over half an hour.
Colourblind is a band that can play some good tunes and try to keep their progressive metal interesting by not turning to technical stuff. At times they also seem not to know what to turn to instead, some very sudden changes to standard metal parts would have been better of with a new twist instead of falling back to standard solutions. The three songs with background vocalist JoZi performing are the better ones on this album, especially Stranded is a very beautiful song. The playing time is not very long, just over thirty minutes. I hope they will find the inspiration to write more songs like Stranded and fill a complete CD with good tunes. Spectre is a very nice album but more than a few spins with mild satisfaction is what this CD offers.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10