37 years after the band's wish and plans to release an LP the time has finally come. Tamarisk released only two demo tapes in the 1980s but managed to gather quite a following and become a highly-regarded name in that small world of prog rock. Those demos tapes and a few live recordings also made them a known name outside the UK, as you will read in the following reviews by two Dutch members of the team. But first, Jan Buddenberg also got answers to some questions, from Andy Grant, Steve Leigh, and Dave Wagstaffe.
Hi Andy, Steve and Dave!
First, congratulations on the release of Suspended Animation and thanks for your time to answer these questions. I have to say that since your announcement a while ago on Facebook I can hardly wait to get my hands on a vinyl copy. Hopefully Brexit will be kind upon its arrival. Before we go shortly into the new album first things first though.
The last life sign from Tamarisk dates back to 2018 with the release of Breaking The Chains, an album which somehow managed to pass DPRP by at the time. Promotion for the album involved two concerts of which the first appears partly on Bandcamp, while I was one of the very lucky few to have witnessed the second concert in London during those days. What's been going on between these events and the recent release of Suspended Animation?
Steve: We were all busy gigging with other bands until Lockdown happened and then all gigs stopped. It seemed a good idea to spend that time to look at the old Tamarisk material that had never been released and attempt to recreate it but with a slightly more modern edge. Andy wanted to leave something lasting in vinyl form as we had never got to record on vinyl previously and so Suspended Animation was born.
Andy: After BTC it was pretty much business as usual working with my regular bands. Once lockdown started and Steve came up with the idea of a proper Tamarisk album it seemed like the perfect time to revisit these songs. It also felt right to push this as a mainly-vinyl project. Just to give it even more of a 1980s feel.
Carrying the torch for Tamarisk are the both of you (Andy Grant, Steve Leigh) with several contributing musicians. Regular DPRP readers will this time delightfully recognise a very familiar name in person of Dave Wagstaffe who played with Steve in Landmarq several decades ago. What's it like to collaborate (again) after an hiatus of approximately 17 years and can you take us through some of the recording challenges? To which extent did each musician actually have their own influence on the overall outcome?
Steve: I've known Dave Wag almost as long as I've known Andy. I worked with him in Quasar and when Landmarq formed, and when he became available it was great that he came to join the band. In regard to my songwriting, Dave always connected with the music and did a great job. So when Andy first raised the idea of Suspended Animation, I had great faith in him to do an equally good job for Tamarisk. The arrangements and music side of the songwriting mainly came from me, but vocally and lyrically Andy has always produced that side of things. In effect, we create the template together but the individual musicians have a free role in interpreting that template. In addition, Andy has always been involved with the production side and the input from everyone else.
Andy: Tom Yetton was the first choice for guitar, he had played with us live and got it. I was delighted when Dave came on board. Luke Morley was also available and once we added Ed Rome I felt we had a really good group. Tom recorded all his parts in my kitchen over a few weeks. There were a few Zoom meetings to make sure certain riffs and parts that Steve wanted where there. But everyone was left to express themselves. Luke did his part in his studio with just a few notes from me. By the time we got to the point that Dave was ready to record, lockdown restrictions meant that only Ed and Dave could be in the studio. Maybe it was better for them to be left to it because they did a fantastic job.
Dave: I was very pleased to get a call from Steve regarding the recording, and as he mentioned we've known each other since Quasar (87ish?) and I've always loved his writing. Landmarq's music was never the same after he left! Due to Covid we had some initial Zoom calls to say hello and run-through some logistics, then the guys sent me the backing tracks with some basic drum ideas. I set to work doing some demos and sending the over the net, adjusting and revising over the next months till we got parts that worked. As Andy said, for the recording of the drums, we had to keep it to just me and Ed the engineer for Covid rules. It would have been nice to have someone else there who could say "a bit more of this, less of that" kind of thing but Ed had good ears and could say if something could be done better! He was excellent.
A subscription to the album reads "Tales from our times in the Nineteen Eighties" which obviously refers to the era when the songs where initially composed and performed. How did you approach these songs?
Steve: Most of the material came from memory and listening back to old live recordings. I also had old notes of passages that we introduced during rehearsals back in those days but never got to do live and some of that appears on this recording. As for the "Iron Lady" topics, I believe it is as relevant today as it was back then, possibly even more so.
Andy: I had lyrics for everything apart from Who's On Top.... But once I started working the guide vocals I felt I needed major rewrites. Four songs ended up being totally changed, one was completely new, with Total Coverage being the one which is closest to the original lyric. I think 50-year-old me's ideas are more interesting than 20-year-old me. I'll let the listeners decide, but I put it this way. It's a look back at the past with its feet firmly in the here and now.
The album is released in digital form on Bandcamp, including three bonus tracks from Breaking The Chains, while a limited vinyl completes the various format possibilities, which started out with the two demo cassettes Tamarisk and Lost Properties almost 40 years ago. No regular CD this time around. A deliberate choice or is this, what I consider, a worrying sign of the times?
Steve: More recently downloads have seen the demise of CD's given that it is a cheaper equivalent of that digital recording but many music lovers out there want something more organic and so vinyl has definitely become more desirable.
Andy: For CD's, although still fairly inexpensive to make, the minimum runs are high. We didn't want to be left with CD's we just couldn't sell. Also, as this is totally self financed we felt vinyl was the best option for us.
Last time we spoke, some three years ago, you mentioned that the new formation of Tamarisk was simply down to something that just happened, maybe partly instigated by the renewed interest in the original demo tapes gathered on Frozen In Time, now made available in correct running order on Bandcamp. With Dave joining in, Chris Davies presumably on bass and the presence of Tom Yetton, also guitar player with Andy's Ian Dury tribute band What A Waste, is it safe to say Tamarisk has now fully blossomed into a "new" band?
Steve: It was something that just happened as part of a renewed interest in the band. As for blossoming into a new band, if Tamarisk were to go on to do anything else then the current participating musicians would, I hope and like to be part of that.
Andy: I can't add to that.
Has the well of early recordings run dry or are there still songs floating for consideration towards a future release? Or perhaps thoughts towards newly composed ones, seeing Steve's ongoing compositional streak with Pre-Med and his soon-to-be expected solo project Optimum Wave? Today's challenges shouldn't pose too much of a lyrical problem I guess. Any plans for gigs?
Steve: There are some early live recordings that have never been recorded in the studio and there is some newer material that got to rehearsals but we never got to play live. The early live stuff is old quirky Tamarisk and the newer stuff is more on the lines of Suspended Animation. Whether there will be a future release? That would be nice, but it could well depend on the response to our latest release.
Andy: It's hard to imagine what "new" Tamarisk material might sound like, but if we can keep everyone on board I'm sure we could put something decent together. I would like to think that we are not finished yet.
Thanks for all your answers guys. Hopefully we'll catch each other down the road again. I wish you lots of success with the album which I personally think is a triumph!
Tamarisk — Suspended Animation
Memories of my first encounter to Tamarisk date back many years, approximately 1983 or early 1984; a time I sometimes refer to as the Golden Age of Discovery. Bitten by the prog bug after initial exposure to bands like Pallas, Twelfth Night, and Marillion, it wasn't before long that me and Jerry van Kooten found our inner prog-archaeologist and started to examine the New Wave Of British Progressive Rock (NWOBPR/Neo-prog) from every angle possible. We closely mapped all that we could unearth, which wasn't easy during those days.
Although after 40 odd years the exact point of discovery is vague, a small example of our working method was exploring keyboard player Mark Kelly who used to play in Chemical Alice before joining Marillion. Seeing that Chemical Alice released a demo tape, our radar started blipping but tracking down an actual original copy was something of an impossibility at the time (and still is), which meant that only a low-grade, copied tape befell upon us with hardly any other info as to who were playing. Liking it, and with rumours that Mark Kelly had been replaced by Steve Leigh, who subsequently had co-founded Tamarisk with Chemical Alice vocalist Andy Grant, another tape hunt saw us secure recordings of their two demo tapes Tamarisk (1982) and Lost Properties (1983).
Needless to say, this never-ending system brought us plenty of new music, but it was Tamarisk that left a huge impression. In hindsight one can attribute this to the various prog elements that where growing during those years, which gave Marillion their fortune and fame. Yet there were distinct differences which set Tamarisk aside for me: their captured attitude and dedication, rawness, exciting interplay of guitars and magnificent virtuoso keys, while their charismatic vocalist Andy Grant expressed a refreshing punk/rock directness in his vocal approach which set them aside.
Come 1985, the band had disbanded and our research came to a halt. Or so it seemed for Steve Leigh, after having joined Quasar for a period of time, co-founded Landmarq, and on a memorable night at 'De Boerderij', Uden in 1993 he happily shared any info he remembered.
Fast-forward to 2012 and out-of-the-blue both demo tapes get released on Frozen In Time with a slight rearrangement of tracks. Even more surprising, 2018 saw the band make a return to true form with Breaking The Chains, which next to another incorrect running order of the demo tapes, contained four newly recorded old tracks from their illustrious past. The announcement of two live gigs in support of the album, made my heart skip a beat with joy, and long-forgotten dreams finally took place on the 9th of June 2018 in The Iron Horse, Sidcup (London), where I witnessed the band give a captivating and highly energetic performance.
Which brings us to the present and Tamarisk's new album Suspended Animation, a collection of tales from their time in the 80s. Six newly-recorded songs captured on limited vinyl, out of which two have appeared in a different take on the now-deleted Breaking The Chains, while its digital Bandcamp version provides the remaining songs from these sessions as a bonus.
Joining Leigh (keyboards) and Grant (vocals) are Tom Yetton (guitars), Luke Morley (guitar), Ed Rome (bass), and Dave Wagstaffe on drums, the latter joining forces again with Leigh after having partaken in Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash and several projects of Davy O'List (ex-The Nice).
Opening with Suspended Animation, the band instantly plays a trump card as restrained play and elegantly flowing synths glide into a bluesy guitar solo, guided onwards by refined piano and epic melodies. Grant's vocals have lost none of their intonation and expressiveness. Initially the composition creates a lovely Comedy Of Errors atmosphere, changing to Tamarisk's uniqueness when excellent rocking guitar drives the melodies forward, safely guarded by a frivolous bass and intricate drumming. Subsequent key parts grab hold of the melodies, as Wagstaffe's fills and lightness-of-approach breathes further life into the composition. It turns slightly dark for a moment courtesy of Grant's vocal performance. The melodic conjunction of keys and guitars creates an uplifting feel and a strong finish, which is filled with nice vocal harmonies.
Plus! opens in a rousing manner with lots of synths and rhythmic outburst and welcomes back the sound of Tamarisk's yesteryear; somewhat raw and punk-inspired. Passionately sung by Grant, it showcases a delightful variety of atmospheric changes while guitars add delightful layers, and majestic key insertions create grand atmospheres.
Albeit short, it's a most excellent example of NWOBPR/Neo-prog, which can equally be stated for It Was Never There, whose carefully crafted interplay and excellent opening nicely demonstrates what these talented musicians are capable of. With a bridge that seems to have inspired Marillion's sound on Fugazi, its colour changes to sunny freshness as it slowly returns to a short reprisal of the song's opening statement.
What follows is, to put it mildly, different. Or to quote Andy Grant: "It is a bit of a strange one".
With highly dynamic melodies, driven onward by excellently virtuous synth and strong guitars, the composition is spiced up by sudden quirkiness and soars through various exciting melodies and moods which reveal a multitude of ideas that are not easy to pinpoint towards one direction. An anomaly of sorts, the simplest way of describing it is probably referring to it as the musical equivalent of a random 'The Young Ones' episode. A brilliantly fun and truly progressive song.
The two bonus tracks illustrate Tamarisk's early progressive nature splendidly. Taxis For Janet sees some delightful interplay and lush key parts while reggae-flirtations add a successful twist. Bandana In Chains attracts in similar up-tempo fashion with excellent key flourishes, as the band change their proggy outfit into baggy trousers with a wondrous ska vibe.
Surprisingly, some light Landmarq sparks ignite in Bandana In Chains, which turn to beautiful rays of light in the album's closer Who's On Top..., thanks to its swirling waltz structure, gentle gracious flow and uplifting cheerfulness. The song is pretty straightforward, and the uplifting lightness captured within its embracing melodies is just wonderful.
This embrace is surmounted by the preceding epic Total Coverage which, besides being ultimately skip-proof, it is worth getting the album for this song alone. Especially since you get two versions, the newly recorded "The Battle Of Bean Field" lyrics version and the original "US" version as presented on Breaking The Chains (see video below). Without selling the previous version short, where a sound fragment referring to Ronald Reagan ties the US link, it's the sublime new version that impresses the most. There is beautiful, subdued play from all involved, with highlights to be found in Leigh's elegance on piano and Grant's perfectly sensitive vocals.
Over the years I have always considered Tamarisk to be one of those bands that got away from the exciting times of prog during the 80s, and I am glad to welcome their return to the stage. For fans of neo-progressive rock the 2018 release of Breaking The Chains already proved to be a delight and a solid example of their essence. The excellent Suspended Animation magically underlines this. It has all the trademarks that made me appreciate and love them all those years ago.
Admittedly I'm somewhat biased, so don't take my word for it and check out the album for yourself. While you are at it, you might want to pick up their 332018 live recording as well, which is a great overview of their repertoire at a 'Name Your Price' offer. A win-win situation and a great opportunity to explore some great music.
I learnt about Tamarisk from a couple of demo and live tapes, of an unknown generation-of-copies before they crossed the English channel (and probably even more tape generations before they arrived in my cassette player in Holland). Not the best sound quality, but from the moment I heard them, I thought they were kind of special. The compositions were a bit different, while still being firmly in that NWONPR/neo-prog style that I had recently started to love.
But it was already 1984 when I heard those tapes, and the band had all but broken up at that time, so the output was very limited. Of course, we got to know the bands that would follow with the former members of Tamarisk, most notably Landmarq, co-founded by keyboard player Steve Leigh.
In the last decade, Tamarisk have been listening to people wanting the original tapes to have a proper release. And after that, people were bugging them for new music; enough for them to actually go and record new music!
Well, we have the new recordings at least, based on several of their old compositions. This was no lazy exercise as the compositions and arrangements have been updated and most of the lyrics completely rewritten. Like Comedy Of Errors have done on the albums they have released in the past couple of years, it's showing that some bands' compositions have really stood the test of time.
I also think Tamarisk have an overlap with Twelfth Night in compositional style and in the sense that the guitar has a bigger role than the keyboards when compared to quite a lot of the 1980s bands in this genre. I believe that both (there were others, of course) were outside the mainstream of the progressive movement at the time. "Jet nosers", anyone?
Andy Grant is not a typical prog rock singer, which is a compliment. Aged with experience but no change in range, unlike some others in the genre of the same age range. His voice and intonation sometimes remind me of Spanish Galadriel singer Jesus Filardi. Good to see that Steve Leigh's former Landmarq colleague Dave Wagstaffe has joined Tamarisk. He is a drummer who knows about dynamics and the silence between the notes, whose musical sense I appreciate a lot.
And there is Steve Leigh himself, of course. Co-writer of all the songs with Andy Grant, his musicality speaks in the balance between the subtle and the outspoken. No solo sounds the same, it's never about showing off, always in service of the song's atmosphere. I have a feeling many of the songs' arrangements are his.
Guitar and bass duties are taken care of by Tom Yetton, Luke Morley, Ed Rome, and Chris Davies, but it's unclear who is playing what. The guitar-play especially appeals to my melodic taste. But it's the arrangements and mix of everything that makes this album a great one.
A special mention has to go to the instrumental section of Total Coverage, where a long, emotional guitar solo segues into a keyboard section, to be joined by the guitar again later. But one should also note the opening track, having a guitar solo even before the first verse.
It Was Never There has the most typical intro for the original musical style. But giving the guitar a bigger role in the mix, this sounds not dated at all. The rest of the song is more based on blues-rock than you'd expect from the sub-genre, but it's something I like a lot. This brings the music closer to the heart; more vivid than some typical prog.
Tamarisk's lyrics have never been about monsters and space travels but deal with real-life topics, the some as in the 1980s. Andy Grant rewrote a lot of the lyrics, without changing the topics, as he felt many years of life experience has made him you look differently at things.
I would love to see Tamarisk on the same stage as the aforementioned Comedy Of Errors. They are different bands but have an overlap in style, and I am sure in audience.
To me, Tamarisk were relevant in the 1980s, and they are relevant now. Let's hope they get a longer time to prove that to other people as well.