When CDs became widely available roundabout 1986, I quickly switched to these instead of vinyl. Saving lots of storage, although never quite liking the shrunken artwork, my collection grew exponentially when old albums where re-issued on this new favourable format. Trying to keep it all in-hand meant parting ways with my original vinyl-copies once a re-issue was bought. This happened at an incredible speed at first, but soon slowed down as I gathered and replaced the many albums that I had collected over the years.
I even disposed of my record player, a decision not so clever when it comes to listening to the remaining vinyl copies, but I was convinced that these would all be replaced with pristine, officially-released CDs in time. Knowing then what I know now, that was a mistake for there are still several albums awaiting a digitised release, like for instance the Fire In Harmony and Exposure compilations as well as other progressive gems from the past. Nowadays, a new record player makes me able to listen to these 'Golden Oldies' once again.
Which is where Airbridge comes in, for their album Paradise Moves is still carefully preserved within my LP collection, although I don't get to play it that much. A turn of events however made sure I did. Some two years ago I went to see Beltane Fire in concert (and wrote a review). The support was Mellotronanism, a band founded by original Airbridge member Ed Percival. Playing Rounddance and quite possibly other compositions from the era, brought back fond memories. Once back home, the album received an appreciative spin, with me reminiscing on days (years) gone by.
Little did I know that in the meantime, Airbridge had released an EP (Return, 2013) and were working on a fully-fledged follow-up. Once gaining knowledge of this information, my heart skipped a beat and now the moment of truth is finally here as the band present their sophomore effort Memories Of Water.
So now is a fine opportunity to dive into the past and reconstruct history along the way.
Airbridge — Paradise Moves
The origins of Airbridge date from 1980 when the band was founded by Italian-born Lorenzo Bedini (guitars, keyboards, vocals), David Beckett (drums, percussion, synths), Sean Peter Godfrey (bass, vocals), and Edward Percival (guitars, keyboards, vocals).
It was a time in which neo-progressive rock still had to be 'invented' and basically only Pallas (Arrive Alive, 1981) and Twelfth Night (Live At The Target, 1981) had official releases to show for their efforts. An exciting time, with lots of new bands escaping the punk movement and trying their own musical approach inspired by the rural progressive seventies. Within this movement Airbridge stood out, for not following the same musical path as other congenially Genesis-inspired bands like Marillion, IQ and many of those who came after. The minor gem Paradise Moves is a lovely illustration of this.
Generally regarded as being released in 1983, although the album back cover clearly states 1982, the music on Paradise Moves denotes to be electronic in nature, while it harbours a charming melodic Barclay James Harvest appeal, embedded with a dash of pop and new-wave. The electronic element immediately reveals itself in both of the Sic Vita parts that bookend side one of the album (hurrah, it's the vinyl ages) as synths and computerised vocals enter the scene.
The latter's effects are sprinkled throughout the album which gives it a nice cohesion and great recognisability. In between these tracks, it's Rounddance's electronic, poppy catchiness that instantly brings touches of new-wave, and also the up-tempo melodies that sound refreshing and appealing at the same time. The production however leaves something to be desired, sounding thin and slightly uneven, with tinny drums badly dating the recordings.
A fine composition as such, it's followed by the first highlight Paradise Moves (A Bridge In The Air) which delicately embraces BJH influences with refined guitar leads. The varied composition furthermore adds a gracious guitar solo and some tasty Moog flourishes which remind me of Genesis, although I'm more inclined towards referencing Madison Dyke atmospheres (another forgotten Prog gem hailing from Germany).
The subsequent The Turning Of The Centuries shortly turns on the rock-switch with a feisty opening, soon after smoothly sailing away in a lush pop-swirling from synths, catchy melodies and short up-tempo breaks adding uplifting atmospheres.
Better Times' sweetness, with more BJH intricacies, smooth harmonies and a Beatles-que atmosphere, continues in much the same fashion. The lovely keyboards and a beautiful solo oozing the melodic sound of John Lees (BJH), makes this easily-accessible song a very pleasurable experience.
The successive To Absent Friends, hampered by its poor production (especially drums), returns to the Lees flavour with melodies flown straight from the late seventies BJH with nice synths and a solid guitar solo, closely followed by the playful Wavelength where synth-pop and new-wave slowly weave into a composition mildly smiling with Geoff Mann/Twelfth Night appeal. Equally appealing, although slightly limited by the vocal performances, is Night And Silence which displays a slighter rock attitude with intricate melodic twists, alternating with BJH enchantments and slight psychedelics.
Despite its relative shortcomings, this song perfectly demonstrates the band's talent of writing well-balanced and rounded songs with a clear beginning and end.
With flute adding a nice Camel touch, More Than Just To Win is another fine example of this skill and by the time Visitation frequents a spacious Pink Floyd-ian atmosphere with electronic synths reminiscent of P'Cock over some delightful bass play. Thus, a delightful album comes to a satisfying close.
With Stephen Bennett joining the live-band on keyboards, Airbridge toured and played in support of various progressive acts to promote the album, visiting many illustrious venues like The Marquee along the way. After the album's release, this line-up even managed to record a stand-alone single Words And Pictures/Zero Minus One, included within this review for completeness' sake.
This highly sought after item shows a band delving deeper into the new-wave side of prog with conviction and power, surrounded by a gentle punk-like attitude to which Godfrey adds fuel with upfront bass play, an aspect gaining popularity in pop music during that time period. Despite this slight evolution of sound, the smoothly-rocking Words And Pictures still holds that vibrant, characteristic Airbridge feel, while the bass reflections in Zero Minus One alongside synths and lush Moog sounds adds a nice Twelfth Night touch, although the vocals are weak.
Not long after this release, Bedini and Stephen Bennett left the band, with Bedini saying his goodbyes on a farewell gig in Norwich on the 21st of May 1983. His place was filled by Geoff Chamberlain (guitar) with whom Airbridge started recording a new, yet unreleased album Beyond The Veil. For various reasons full fruition was never achieved and the band silently dissolved near the end of 1983, with two members continuing their career in La Host, and others appearing in a variety of projects later on.
Revisiting the album after so many years I find that it still holds that charming, disarming appeal. Admittedly from a production point of view it's an underwhelming experience, but once accustomed to this, the album shows delightful ideas, feels nostalgically fresh and contains a couple of entertaining songs that showed potential. Overall a lesser known gem from an era that precedes the blossoming neo-progressive rock scene and an item I still cherish within my collection.
The album is currently unobtainable but the band aim to have a re-mastered digital version available on their Bandcamp site in the near future. My vinyl copy is showing sign of wear and tear and other miscellaneous camp fires, so this is highly anticipated by yours truly.
Airbridge — Return
For years-on-end it seemed to me that Airbridge would remain only a sparkle on the progressive map, with one fine album (Paradise Moves) and a 7-inch to their legacy. As it now turns out, both Lorenzo Bedini (guitars, guitar-synth, keyboards, vocals) and Sean Godfrey (bass, backing vocals) stayed in contact over the years, and around 2009 started composing new music for an Airbridge-album-to-be: Quiet Sky. Temporary recruitment of vocalist Pavla Kristkova and Mark Spencer (ex-La Host, Twelfth Night) subsequently yielded another unreleased album (Mythica).
Once Spencer and Kristkova had left, the remaining Bedini and Godfrey decided to call upon their old live-sound technician Dave Dowdeswell-Allaway to play drums and acoustic guitar. This umpteenth incarnation of Airbridge made their live debut in 2012 and released the very aptly titled EP Return in 2013, welcoming back previous member Stephen Bennett as producer.
Of these four compositions, three from Bedini and one by Dowdeswell-Allaway, the first thing one notices is a production upgrade making it sound warmer, rounder and more powerful in comparison to their debut. The second thing is that musically there are some differences, like the fading of the pop/new-wave elements, but overall it feels perfectly in sync with their past, and expresses a delightful Airbridge familiarity.
The opening song Return To The Light is instantly recognisable, with its soothing melodies and seventies inspired Barclay James Harvest feel, while its middle segment twinkling with oriental influences and like-minded percussion adds a nice twist. The familiarity embedded within Bedini's gracious guitar sound is as enchanting as ever and the slight Pink Floyd touch makes it a strong, diverse opener.
Who Pays The Ferryman?, a thoughtful song about responsibility, life and what you make of it, is sung and written by Dowdeswell-Allaway and starts in an acoustic, folky feel. Floating onwards, the touching composition bathes in melancholy. The melodies increasingly add layer upon layer, with lovely harmonies and refined arrangements. With Mellotron bringing a lush Canterbury feel, it is held together tightly by sensitive bass and and an uplifting mood from synths, all elevated by a delicious, albeit short, solo by Bedini.
Next up is To Absent Friends, a revisit to a track found on Paradise Moves, this time injected with steroids. Sounding so much more convincing and tight, its entrance embraces a mysterious Pink Floyd-ian atmosphere and even adds some elegant bombast, before it turns into a rockier rendition of this catchy song that bursts with BJH feel and dynamic passages. This version is far superior to its original and a wondrous upgrade.
Finally Quiet Sky rounds off Airbridge's welcome return with brooding atmospheres that transport the listener outside into the warming dark. It initially touches upon twilights of Dire Straits and then slowly progresses into mesmerising walls of Pink Floyd. Radiating a tangible warmth and subtle blues as it spatially glides through beautiful depth of weeping guitars, comforting bass and intricate synths, it is a grand finish to the EP, breathing occasionally delightful similarities to Glorious Wolf.
Overall Airbridge's Return is a confident return to the scene with four diverse and well-written compositions that show both the old and the new. With steps taken on the production side, as well as in arrangements, it's a fine achievement that entertains from beginning to end.
Airbridge — Memories Of Water
Every so often the cherished lyrics 'If I could turn back time..., If I could find a way...' pop up in my head, as wonderful music slowly projects images of the past into my memory. Wouldn't it be nice to travel back in time and re-experience many of the events you've participated in or (even better) missed out on? An impossible daydream obviously, but be prepared to take a trip back in time, for dreams do partially come true with Airbridge's wondrously transporting Memories Of Water.
With a gap of 39 years (time-line discussions now opened), which surely ensures an entry into the 'Guinness Book Of Prog Records', Airbridge still sees Lorenzo Bedini (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards and harmonica) firmly at the helm, accompanied once again by Dave Dowdeswell-Allway on drums, acoustic guitars, prayer bowl and sound effects. Since 2013's Return, Sean Godfrey has had to step-down due to health problems. And although Matt Gamble briefly took over his duties around 2014, the band is now essentially a duo.
With Bedini setting afoot again in his native Italy around 2015, and with further separation enforced by the Covid-pandemic, it is safe to say that the recording situation was far from optimal. However, determined to release the album, the individual parts were switched back and forth and slowly the album progressed to its final stages. Through the support of Maddalena Pastorelli (flute) and Jason Crompton (keyboards, trumpet) Memories Of Water finally sees the light of day.
The first strike, although some might consider it a flaw, is the authentic sound and production of the album. It oozes nostalgia and the 70s, and anyone familiar with Airbridge's first album will instantly have a smile on their face. Sometimes it sounds hollow and echoing, while finer details are occasionally buried in the mix, but for me that's part of the band's charm and appeal. Thankfully the use of headphones works wonders in experiencing the music's intricate arrangements and some delightful underlying instrumental executions.
Out of the eleven compositions, eight are composed by Bedini, three have been written by Dowdeswell-Allway and Fanfare To The Uncommon Worm sees them join forces. As before, the focus lies in carefully-crafted songs with attention to detail, while Bedini's writing style instantly stands out with that lovely 'retro' Barclay James Harvest feel. Pop and new-wave elements are foremost absent and have now been replaced by a lovely Canterbury atmosphere and acoustic refinement which is largely due to Dowdeswell-Allway's compositions, having previously shown a similar approach on Return's Who Pays The Ferryman?.
Canterbury Kate (wink, wink) is the perfect illustration and even touches upon Caravan's iconic In The Land Of Grey And Pink, both lyrically and musically. Peacefully gliding in homely acoustics and vintage keys reminiscent to Greenslade, the song comes into its own with gracious guitar melodies gliding over lovely atmospheric keys and synth elegance. The sad story of three lost lives, depicted in Memory Of 3, follows the same pattern, with sensitive bass and fragility, alternating with spirited celebrations from lush guitars, strings and melancholic strength.
The final song by Dowdeswell-Allway is the eastern-designed The Buddha Song ("I've Got One On My Head!") whose smooth and calming melodies, surrounded by effective sound effects, perfectly creates a Buddist Zen environment. It is a reflective resting point on the album, showcasing Dowdeswell-Alley's fascination for Japanese poems that get cited as the song ends in chants and vocals joining for prayers.
As much as these songs are fun and entertaining, it's Bedini's compositions that make a bigger impression on me. This instantly starts with the opening song Fanfare To The Uncommon Worm/What Was (And What Will Come) which after chiming bells, comforts with a delightful BJH cheerfulness and uplifting melodies from synths and guitar. Admittedly the production shows its shortcomings, but once accustomed, it materialises into that cherished sound of electronic vocals, uncomplicated prog, tinny percussion and embracing melodies that struck a chord all those years ago.
Bedini's songs, as mentioned before, are never far from the BJH influence, and Black Skies, Where Shadows, Piggy With A Pen and New England are prime examples of this, each of them harbouring a distinct For No One feel in atmosphere and compositional build up. The latter brings excellent guitar parts that would meet approval from John Lees himself, while the added symphonic elements and flute dimensions of Quidam and Camel give it assuring depth and enchantment.
Black Skies adds a sound determined by sweetness of harmonies, and thus receives a poppy vocal happiness mindful to BJH's XII era. This is a nice contrast to Where Shadows's lightly-expressed, mysterious gloominess and some brooding melodies. Equally fine is the bluesy Piggy With A Pen, protesting against individual journalistic capitalism, that brings to mind Roger Waters, while a marvellous BJH twist sees it firmly rock away on great guitar leads and pleasurable keys. All of these well-composed songs belong to the album's finer moments.
Lighter in nature is Utter Nonsense which brings multi-tracked vocals, nice variations and a quirky bridge, while Under The Same Moon shares this lightness with some lovely, refined lessons on guitar. The album's well-constructed flow finally comes full circle in Middle East where worldly percussion, sensitive bass and seductive harmonica melodies insert flavour amidst conversant electronic vocal streams.
Embracing similar disarming pleasantries as encountered on Airbridge's neo-progressive birth all those decades ago, Memories Of Water brings a lovely reminder of their music and charm. The songs are instantly likeable and comforting. Without compromising their sound, despite the implemented acoustic touches and Canterbury influences, it is a fine example of their present and hopefully their future.
If their next venture shows the same devotion towards production as is now the case with the gorgeously illustrated artwork, then we should be in for a treat. Welcome back gentlemen (and lady)!
So what will Airbridge's future hold? Well, the band have a scheduled gig on the 26th of June 2022 in Southampton and recently, after a two-year separation due to Covid, Bedini and Dowdeswell-Allaway have met up again and drafted out a new album. Whether this will feature a rumoured 21-minute, epic composition remains to be seen, but the fact that there will be an eventual follow-up is positive news to me.
The delightful return that has been accomplished with Memories Of Water (and the unnoticed Return ) has been a very pleasant one, and I, for one, will keep an eye out for future developments.
Hopefully in the meantime some (if not all) of their unreleased albums will be included on their Bandcamp page. Prediction of the future is out of my hands, but small miracles do happen!