Author Archives: alisonscolumn
Prog has a curious way of throwing the odd curveball from time to time.
Let me explain. Do you recall earlier this year back – in March to be precise -when there was an announcement online about Jon Anderson getting together with session guitarist/producer Michael Lewis and jazz fusion violinist Jean-Luc Ponty to form a band under the banner of Inventioning?
What a wonderful name, I thought. It speaks of newness, development, forward motion and creativity, all of which are the true essence of prog if you think about it.
Michael and Jon had started collaborating in January 2007, writing and producing songs, the vision being to one day perform them live together.
Explained Michael: “ While producing Some People, a song I had co-written with Jon, I asked Jean-Luc Ponty to cut a violin track on it — which led to an offer from Jean-Luc’s management for Jon and I to do a U.S. and world tour along with Jean-Luc.
“I first raised the concept of the band with Jon while hanging out at his hotel during one of his visits to Seattle in 2012. But he was reluctant to get back into a band situation at that time.”
Again the subject was raised when Yes was nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year. Michael approached Jon again about touring with him and his group of Nashville players who had appeared on the recordings.
This time, Jon said he felt he was ready to tour again with a band, so arranged for him to meet Jean-Luc’s manager. Afterwards, the great man said: “We are a band” and Inventioning was created.
We travel forward in time to 25 July, just a few days after Yes unleash Heaven And Earth, their polarising new album on an unsuspecting world. There is another announcement. It is that Jon and Jean-Luc had formed their own new project launched as a Kickstarter campaign.
However, there was no mention in the statement about pulling out of Inventioning. I caught up online with Michael over the weekend to find out about his reaction to this. He said he knew what the new plans were including next month’s show in Colorado.
Very stoically, he told me: “Regardless of my own personal disappointments, I’ve tried to remain supportive and positive towards them.”
Instead of allowing any resentment to get in the way of his masterplan – which he is financing as well as co-founding, producing and playing on – he has let Inventioning continue to develop. That has included revisiting a number of songs he had co-written with Jon which were still at his studio in varying stages of evolution.
Inventioning is now way on the way to releasing its first album called Affirmation, an interesting twist bearing in mind the past history of his erstwhile collaborator. (Yours truly has occasionally referred to Yes as The Affirmatives). However, he is using the original musicians who worked on the other songs.
“There is a financial burden, but I’ve invested so much time and money; I’m not about to stop now! We’ve got the players in place and we plan to follow up the release with a series of tours next year,” Michael declares.
Two clips from the new project were revealed on 8.14.14. The first song, Walking Talking, will be available as a single on iTunes in the coming weeks: and what a beautiful song it is too.
It’s a throwback to the Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe era of 1989 but with a modern twist. The electronic opening is the perfect vehicle for the arrival of that timeless, angelic voice, sounding a little more fragile now, but the instrumentation including a rumbling bass, driving rhythm and swirling synth is totally simpatico. There are several hairs on the back of the neck moments including the moment the synth comes floating in, a close harmony section and a jazzy guitar solo. Does that all sound familiar? You will not be disappointed, believe me, but it does leave you wondering what might have been.
Michael, a lifelong Yes fan, who has been a session player and performer for more than 25 years, is carrying on with Inventioning playing guitar and keyboards.
With him are vocalist Bridgette Lewis who has performed RnB and Blues covers with Michael under the name One Street Over for a number of years. Bridgette sang the original demos that Michael produced for the project and is featured on background vocals when Jon is singing lead.
On drums , you will find Grammy Award-winning Nashville session pro, Brian Fullen and bass will be covered by acclaimed Nashville jazz-fusion bassist, Adam Nitti.
There has been no formal confirmation about who will be playing keyboard for Inventioning. Michael’s plan is to work with L.A. session keyboardist Alessandro Bertoni on a few tracks to see how they gel. Fortunately Bertoni shares Michael’s passion for Prog Rock, Jazz Fusion and the Hammond B3 so watch this space.
With or without Jon Anderson or Jean-Luc Ponty, it sounds as though Inventioning could be one of the next big Prog happenings, so keep a close eye on the website http://inventioningband.com/.
I certainly will be.
Postcard no 2 from Balham
Well, despite a multiple Tube journey involving three different lines through the Metropolis, we finally made it to balmy Balham in time for the second and third day of the four day Resonance Rock Festival.
The Bedford Arms in which it was being held is an expansive, impressive building, a Victorian pile full of dark carved wood and low slung antique leather sofas which made you feel as though you about to be swallowed up when you alighted upon them.
Its most distinctive feature is the central performance area, known as the Globe after Shakespeare’s famous theatre, because of its elevated minstrel’s gallery around the four sides of the stage, giving it an intimate atmosphere. Two other stages were constructed in the ballroom and on the top floor, where bands and fans were eyeball to eyeball.
The whole purpose of the festival was to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, one of the UK’s leading charities in providing invaluable support to people with cancer and their families to help them through their most difficult of days.
As well as a star-studded cast, all the Resonance crew were giving freely of their time, their toughest tasks including lugging cabinets full of equipment up sizeable staircases and ensuring quick turnarounds between bands.
Those two days yielded plenty of surprises and delights, several of which I shall impart here over two blogs. The opening session on the Friday evening saw the mighty John Mitchell, producer, composer, guitarist and singer with It Bites, Frost*, Arena and Kino - to name but a few – in mellow mood with just an acoustic guitar and on keyboards, Liam Holmes, who delivered an eclectic selection of songs including Nat King Cole’s Smile and Floyd’s Comfortably Numb to which the attentive audience duly sang along.
This all felt a bit safe and familiar until a lion haired, wild-looking young rock dude came bustling onto the stage to join them who John Mitchell introduced as Nathan James. You may not have heard of him now but believe me, you will do so very soon.
From nowhere, Nathan launched into the most extraordinarily impromptu reading of Jesus Christ Superstar’s Gethsemene, not a song to be trifled with lightly at the best of times, especially in front of a strongly prog crowd.
Even with a simple acoustic setting, Mitchell, producer of his debut album under the band name of Inglorious and Holmes, Nathan’s musical director, were grinning widely as this 26-year-old unleashed only a fraction of the potential power of his monster voice.
Further research reveals that Nathan was a contestant on two television talent shows, BBC’s The Voice show to find brilliant new singers and also Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar in which he was a finalist.
Since then, he has sung with Scorpions’ legend Uli Jon Roth and is now vocalist with prog theatre specialists Trans Siberian Orchestra. Catch him and them if you can.
It is no secret that Lifesigns was my favourite album of 2013, a heady combination of classical prog with lots of modern twists in its content and style, five individual songs being linked with a theme about life, the Universe and all things in between. For the record, Nick Beggs provided bass and vocal harmonies, while Robin Boult, Steve Hackett and Jakko Jakzszyk offered up some beautiful guitars and Thijs van Leer the intergalactic flute.
With Beggs touring the world with Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett and Kim Wilde, composer John Young went on a recruitment drive to find a bassist and guitarist to join him and drummer Martin “Frosty” Beadle. They found the Cardiacs’ Jon Poole as bass player and Steve Wilson guitarist Niko Tsonev to fill the vacant berths.
I was lucky enough to travel to the Leamington Assembly in March to witness the debut of Lifesigns live which was a revelation. Ten gigs later, Lifesigns in concert continues to grow in stature as a multi-faceted show, full of power and beauty. Poole has a full-on bass style which never tries to imitate Beggs while Tsonev has continued to develop and personalise the guitar parts to fully exploit the considerable range of his prowess.
The final act on Day Two was Also Eden, a band playing on the eyeball to eyeball stage, who have continued to forge a strong reputation through the release of their emblematic Think Of The Children album which they followed up last year with the widely acclaimed [Redacted].
Much of their material is written by their vocalist Rich Harding, who nearly died in a road accident soon after joining the band in 2010, suffering multiple fractures, a ruptured aorta and broken ribs. Hovering between life and death while in an induced coma has coloured his lyrics as he articulates a place where hopefully, none of us will ever venture.
Now with Mr So & So’s keyboard player Andy Rigler in to replace Howard Sinclair, their live show is both melodic and intense, guitarist Simon Rogers adding solid riffs throughout and a gorgeous waterfall effect on Chronologic. They really are a band who are as engrossing live as they are on record.
And so the curtain fell on day two at Resonance. Day three promised even more with one of the most heavenly singers around on show.
* Nathan James performs with the Trans Siberian Orchestra. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Utjo6iJ8A_I
A postcard from Balham
You know what it is like. You wait for something progtastic to happen and then 42 bands and artists come along at practically the same time. Well, that has to be something to celebrate!
This is what is happening this weekend in Old Londontown when a star-studded cast converges on The Bedford, a Victorian former hotel, now a pub in Balham. The venue was made famous when it was used as the courtroom for the unsolved case of Charles Bravo, a lawyer who died a lingering death from poisoning, whose second inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder.
Now, nothing so sinister is likely to happen this weekend, as the venue is now very much the community hub in Balham and for four days Thursday to Sunday, it will be resonating with the sounds of 42 different shades of prog – from the gentle and acoustic, to the wild and the widdly, to the classic and symphonic, through to the downright bonkers.
This is the Resonance Festival, the brainchild of The Gift’s mainman, Mike Morton, who had a eureka moment last year. His vision was to stage a festival where all the proceeds would go to charity, in this case, the wonderful Macmillan Cancer Support, which does so much amazing work to help cancer sufferers and their families through some challenging times.
Scouring all corners of the prog firmament, he has gathered together some of the most happening names in prog. The biggest coups are the two main headliners on Sunday night comprising LA prog metallers Bigelf and Swedish sensations Änglagård who are making their one and only appearance in the UK this year.
The list of must-sees is endless but some of the highlights are going to be The Enid on Saturday who continue to wow audiences throughout the land with their pastoral, theatrical brand of prog. Also on the bill for Saturday is Tim Bowness and Henry Fool who will be joined by the legendary Theo Travis.
The redoubtable and weekend birthday boy Matt Stevens will be multi-tasking with an acoustic set before he then cranks up the volume with The Fierce and the Dead.
Elsewhere, you can see the much loved Mostly Autumn on Thursday evening and Friday’s line-up heralds another show from Lifesigns whose live reputation grows ever stronger, their creator John Young one of the most passionate of all the prog maestros.
There is a rare appearance on the Sunday from the quintessentially English composer/guitarist/lutist Francis Lickerish and the Secret Garden, and that other great exponent of olde Englande, Guy Manning, will be gracing the acoustic stage on Saturday.
If ever proof was needed that the future is so bright, prog now has to wear shades, then look no further than the Sunday when Synaesthesia, Maschine and HeKz, all comprising some prodigiously talented Twentysomethings, will show why they are regarded as among the vanguard of the next wave.
Last but by no means least, there will be a performance by Mike Morton’s band The Gift who have just released Land of Shadows, an album which has garnered some rave reviews from a number of prog scribes.
It’s a very laudable thing that Mike and his dedicated team are doing to bring together so many spectacular names under one roof and spread them across three stages. So let’s party on down to Balham to charge our glasses and raise a toast to our beloved prog; and to celebrate a couple of birthdays which may also may be happening around this time.
Wish you were here. http://www.resonance-festival.com/
Love and light,
One of the most challenging parts about being a prog reviewer is trying to ascertain how many times you need to listen to a particular album before you feel confident enough to deliver a balanced, fair appraisal of what it is all about.
I have never reviewed an album on the strength of one listen, no matter how discordant or lacking it may be. A lot of work goes into every release so I feel a sense of responsibility and respect for the artiste(s) in giving their work a thorough listening before committing my thoughts to type.
On the other hand, some of the most interesting albums are the ones where you feel no matter how many times you play them, there will be something more for you to discover the next time you give it a run-out. One example came in the post in the spring all the way from South America. It was the new album 4.45am by a Chilean band called Aisles and I am always up for hearing the work of a band I might not have encountered before in my prog travels and travails.
Aisles have been in existence for 11 years and this is their third album following The Yearning in 2005 and In Sudden Walks in 2009. The band line-up currently comprises brothers Sebastián Vergara (Vocals) and Germán Vergara (Guitars), Rodrigo Sepúlveda (guitars), Alejandro Melendez (Keyboards), Daniel Baird-Kerr (Bass) and Felipe Candia (Drums).
Now regarded as one of the best prog bands in South America, Aisles are deeply influenced by bands such as Marillion, Genesis, Pink Floyd and if you listen carefully to 4.45am, you might even hear echoes of Queen, a touch of 80s electronic pop and shades of Radiohead, another of their favourite bands. However there is no mistaking the strong Latin American vibe, especially from some beautiful acoustic guitar work and subtle rhythms, that run seamlessly through their music.
There is another paradox in that I was going to recommend this as essential summer listening because it is an ideal album to which to soak up a sunny afternoon with its sultry Latin American atmospherics (which it is).
However, the actual concept of the collection is very much on the dark side, the worst day of your life in fact. The songs centre on exploring and challenging what motivates people to get through the day, starting with the title track 4.45am, the time perceived as being on the cusp of night and day.
The clues as to who is the central character in the song can be found in the album’s stunning artwork by Omar Galindo with Gallarda Yarura a beautifully pitched instrumental which starts with a scolding mother, the piece focusing on her small but rather menacing-looking son.
There are some clever touches in the infectiously catchy Shallow and Daft about a popular radio DJ which questions his motives in return for the love his listeners send him. There’s personal fear and loathing in Back My Strength in which Germán Vergara turns up the vocal intensity to great effect.
Delicate acoustic guitar and ethereal vocals are the hallmarks of The Sacrifice, again another cry for help gazing out to sea, the lyrics show. No surprises then that the next track is the brief crashing waves of The Ship which blasts straight into the mesmeric instrumental Intermission, its insistent riff overlaid with artistic sonic effects.
At this point, Aisles take a slight fork in the road, with three slightly longer compositions, Constanza Maulen joining Sebastián on vocals for the heart-rending Sorrow, full of despair and lost hope over a gentle Latin rhythm.
Instrumental Hero shows how they have mastered the art of atmospherics, building gently, shifting through a few gears with the help some subtle synths and deft guitar work.
The ten minute long Melancholia brings the album to an end, again the piece being a closely woven but haunting piece with plaintive harmonies which is dedicated “To my mother.”
This is not an album I could have reviewed properly after just a few plays. It was worth going the extra mile for Aisles as it needed a lot of careful listening and understanding, but in the end, it passes muster as a real “dark horse” album. Give it a go below and see what you think.
There are not many occasions for which I would happily strap the Progmobile to my derrière and take a four hour drive north for an overnight stop in Rotherham. However, this was the must-attend Classic Rock Society Awards held at the rather modest Montgomery Hall, Wath-upon-Dearne, close to the bright lights of Barnsley, Rotherham, Sheffield and Doncaster.
As prog’s pride of Yorkshire Andy Tillison told me last year, the Montgomery Hall was at the forefront of activities back in the early 80s as it was there that Arthur Scargill, firebrand leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, started rallying the troops against widespread pit closures and more pointedly, his nemesis, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
So, this was a hall with a volatile history, a million miles from the peaceable, gentle gathering of loons, musicians and fanatics who make the annual pilgrimage to the awards that always seem to throw up a few surprises during the course of the evening.
Part of its appeal is in the way fans and the band members, many of them up for a prestigious award, all mingle and interact, affirming once again what a big lovely cuddly happy family prog now is.
Because it was an awards ceremony, Martin and I took it upon ourselves to “dress up” for the occasion, his steampunk jacket catching the eye of one of the night’s major players and my black velvet cape apparently coveted by one of the award presenters.
One of the thrills was meeting people there for the first time and I was so looking forward to finally making the acquaintance of David Longdon, whose leg I had been pulling on FB about winning the Male Vocalist Award. Like all those other awfully nice Big Big Train chaps, his modesty was disarming and charming.
It would not be a proper gig if Maestro Tillison did not encounter some form of technical hitch. Sure enough, his trusty keyboard conked out 15 minutes before he was due to go live, so he had to borrow Mike Varty’s stack. Proving yet again how intimate prog can be, he delivered compelling renditions of GPS Culture and Perdu Dans Paris enhanced with some Floydian flourishes and a drum solo. I did not and could not move throughout the show. It had me riveted to my seat.
Out in the corridor after Mr Tillison’s spellbinding work-out and observing Big Big Train’s Messrs Longdon, Dave Gregory and Danny Manners, I heard myself saying to anyone who would listen “I wish Brad Birzer was here tonight”.
We then bumped into Steve and Jo Hackett – as you do, exchanging pleasantries with them about the Genesis Revisited gig at Southampton Guildhall in October to which we are going, but this time with the addition of Nick Beggs back as bassman. The great man pointed out that he was now surrounded by huge long haired, blond Viking types, the other being the show’s rather splendid chanteur, Nad Sylvan.
And so it was on to the business end of the evening, the awards themselves. Fellow Progarchist John Simms has eloquently documented the winners elsewhere in these columns. The Classic Rock Society’s Stephen Lambe and Steve Pilkington kept the tone light, frothy and occasionally chaotic, handing over to the imposing Fish, the Master of Ceremonies, to “open the envelopes” and announce the winners.
Well, there was no disputing any of the winners this year. The Big Big Train camp scooping best song and band was reason enough, but according to sources close to the CRS, it was neck and neck between David Longdon and Damian Wilson for Male Vocalist. And no, I did not know the result beforehand but wishful thinking is a very underrated force.
The most emotional moment was seeing the gorgeous Christina Booth join her Magenta band-mates Chris Fry and Rob Reed to pick up Album of the Year for The Twenty Seven Club. Christina has been very public and positive about the recent treatment she has been receiving for breast cancer. Now sporting a short punky, elfin haircut, Christina got the loudest cheer when she was practically enveloped by gentle giant Fish when he presented her with the Female Vocalist award.
There were other moments of personal satisfaction, Moon Safari picking up the CRS live gig award and them pipping Lazuli among others for the Best Overseas Band of the Year. Their submitted speeches were wonderful – articulate in their precise and perfect English, Stephen Lambe reading them out like schoolday English essays. How this bodes well for the joint Moon Safari/Lazuli tour for which I am acting as chief cheerleader later this year. You will all be there, won’t you?
And there was joy for my lovely fellow lady of the prog, Jill Lerner, as her band HeKz picked up the Best Newcomers Award. Steve Hackett received the bass player award on behalf of Lee Pomeroy, his erstwhile band member who has also been seen in concert outside Buckingham Palace, supporting Grace Jones, and with some boy band called Take That. His acceptance speech gave thanks to all for granting him the John Jowitt Award – the IQ/Arena /Frost* bassman now exempt from being voted for having won it almost every year since inception.
Magenta’s Rob Reed won the best keyboards award and the young, dapper and hirsute Henry Rogers of Touchstone, Alan Reed and DeeExpus picking up the drumming honours. Even our esteemed MC got himself an award for his lyrics from sponsor Mr Tillison.
The highlight was an on-going missing guitarist situation when best guitarist Steve Hackett was declared officially absent, presumed getting something from out of his car. It must have been a very dark night out there because Fish had to tell a few tall tales while a search party was sent out to retrieve him, but in the end, the hunt was called off.
Stephen Lambe also found himself in a tricky situation, having to receive the Unsung Hero award for his fellow Summers End co-conspirator Huw Lloyd-Jones, no nepotism or altruism intended of course!
So, those are your winners for another year, and again, if proof was needed of what another stunning year had been for prog, take a close look at those winners and some of the other nominees such as Lifesigns, Steven Wilson, Nick Beggs, the Flower Kings and Spocks Beard who all left empty-handed.
But that was not all. Here is a recommendation for you all. Go out and get yourself a DVD of Alchemy, the rather wonderful musical, composed by Clive Nolan, keyboards supremo of Pendragon and Arena, available from Metal Mind. If ever you wanted to see what a prog rock West End musical would look and sound like, it is all here, performed by the Caamora Theatre Company.
It is a Victorian steampunk melodrama, steeped in the supernatural as good conquers evil in the pursuit of finding a way to make lead into gold through alchemy. With Nolan playing the good guy, Professor Samuel King, he has his work cut out against baddie and arch-enemy Lord Henry Jagman, a role that Andy Sears (Twelfth Night) was born to play.
“The Ends Justify The Means” is one of the funniest and nastiest songs you will ever hear and in Sears’ grateful hands, it was one of the highlights of the show. There is also romance, betrayal, pathos, passion and revenge in there too and one of the other barnstorming performances comes from Paul Manzi (Arena/Oliver Wakeman Band) looking like an exotic gypsy king as mercenary Milosh. Among the backing musicians are Pendragon’s drummer Scott Higham and keyboards player Mike Varty (Credo, DeeExpus and Landmarq).
Well, you can see what you missed and not surprisingly, a standing ovation was in order for this cracking show. Let’s hope there are further live shows planned as again, this demonstrates the diversity of prog in all its colourful splendour.
One other thing I feel I ought to point out about the evening was the number of lady proggers present for this great, great evening. The tide really has turned and most were there because they wanted to be and not under sufferance to appease their partners.
Back at the hotel afterwards, it was death by distorted disco in the bar immediately downstairs where some birthday celebrations were taking place. Somehow, I sensed we had been in the right place!
Photograph of Fish by Martin Reijman.
By definition, synaesthesia is a condition better known as “union of the senses”, a fusion of two more of senses working overtime. If you have ever tasted colour or heard a painting, you could be well on your way to becoming a synaesthete.
For my part, it is a name I have been hearing for several months, ever since a chance meeting at the hallowed Aubitt Studios, when I made the acquaintance of a handsome and very self-confident young musician called Adam Warne. During the visit, I heard about 30 seconds of one of his compositions being produced and engineered to perfection by IQ’s Mike Holmes and of course, our old friend Rob Aubrey.
This was in the summer of last year and a fortnight ago, the fruits of their collective labours, which also involved several other musicians but more about them soon, were unleashed through the release of this, the debut Synaesthesia album.
All I can say is I blame the parents. Rather like the parents of Maschine’s young guitar maestro Luke Machin bringing him up on It Bites and later, solo Francis Dunnery, without Adam’s prog loving Dad, Synaesthesia could have ended up sounding a great deal different and probably would not merit a mention here.
However, with Dad raising him on a healthy diet of IQ, Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, Frost* and Muse – to name but a few, 20 year old Adam has honed his musical chops on some prime prog cuts. Their influence and inspiration is there for all to see on the album.
And like Machin and his band-mates, Daniel Mash and Georgia Lewis, Adam is a musical student, studying at the BRIT School of Performing Arts and Technology where he began his adventure in prog composition. He is now in his final year as a music undergraduate at Middlesex University.
Augmenting the Synaesthesia line-up alongside Adam on synths, keyboards and vocals are guitarists/backing vocalists Ollie Hannifan and Sam Higgins, drummer Robin Johnson and bassist/backing vocalist Peter Episcopo. Already, they have supported IQ at their Christmas party in Holland’s legendary De Boerderji.
Here we have another of the new generation of Prog supported by some big names including record company Giant Electric Pea. That’s not all though because the band also enlist another progeny of a prog legend. This happens to be Freyja, daughter of Yes’s visionary artist Roger Dean, who has created the striking cover art.
Oh, and they also pick up the Tip for 2014 category in Classic Rock Presents Prog’s readers’ poll, voted for ahead of more mature luminaries like Cosmograf and Lifesigns.
As for the music, well, it does exactly what it says on the tin, because it does have the effect of blurring the senses. Even after numerous plays, I am still trying to uncover its essence. It is in there somewhere but there is still some way to go, which is what you want and you need with a cracking prog album.
Also, you cannot argue with a debut album whose first track Time, Tension & Intervention has six “movements” and comes in at 22 minutes and eight seconds, longer than any of IQ’s epic openers. Precocious, ambitious, courageous? You bet!
It’s mean, moody and magnificent, with countless twists and turns as synths morph into acoustic guitars and tempos constantly change. You can also see the lights fade and dawns break, as Adam sings about lost love and past times.
Thus begins the journey which also takes in the rockier Sacrifice, majestically melodic instrumental Noumerion, Epiphany, the other rousing instrumental Technology Killed The Kids and oh, Good Riddance. This fits into the theme of finding love, losing love on acrimonious terms and then through the stunning closer Life’s What You Make It which begins with characteristic Aubrey-engineered turbo-charged drums, new love is found again so it all ends on a high note.
The prog influences keep on leaping out with snatches of Mike Oldfield guitar here and Camel synths there. But let’s make no mistake: this is fresh modern prog made by new torchbearers, who want to keep the flame burning and who have set the bar very high for their contemporaries to follow.
If there is one criticism and I am not the only commentator to have highlighted this, it is Adam’s vocals which tend to stay pretty much in one comfort zone with with several added effects to mix it up at certain junctures. A more distinctive voice would add greater emotion and venom to the occasionally cutting lyrics.
However, it is a mighty curtain-raiser on the new prog year and nipping in before Transatlantic unleashed their new magnum opus Kaleidoscope was a bit of a masterstroke, albeit a happy co-incidence rather than intentional.
If this is what they can do on their debut release, the ever tricky second album is going to be another huge treat for the senses. I cannot wait to hear what colour it is going to be!
PS Thank you Mr Warne Snr!
Well, the new year is barely a week old and almost immediately, the Dream Team double bill is announced for a mini-tour of England and Wales in November.
There cannot be two more exciting and contrasting bands that Lazuli and Moon Safari who are confirmed for five dates in November with possibly extra dates to follow.
Well, that’s the annual holiday sorted!
So we come to Pt 2 of DPRP’s overview of Yes’s works up until Keys to Ascension which features guest contributors Theo Travis, Adam Holzman, Rob Reed and Luca Scherani.
It is that time of the year to recall and reflect on what has been another extraordinary year for this crazy little thing called prog.
Again, as the fans and consumers of huge quantities of prog, our expectations were high and once more, the bands continued to deliver in the most spectacular fashion.
A question I have asked myself on many occasions this year is where on earth is this music coming from? It appeared there was a whole new seam of invention and creation being mined in the most spectacular fashion by the current torch-bearers of the musical genre.
There have been so many highlights both on record and indeed live this year. Watching bands, especially The Enid, Haken and Maschine overcome the extreme cold at HRH Prog; seeing Benoit David and Michel St Pere dazzle with Mystery at Celebr8.2; encountering Steven Wilson at the Royal Festival Hall in the same week as the Flower Kings, Neal Morse, Transatlantic and Steve Hackett were at Camden’s Electric Ballroom (plus three other gigs we attended), and of course, celebrating the return of Lazuli to Summers End, all brought immeasurable joy to this humble observer.
The “wow” moments have come thick and fast, the personal high being The Big Big Weekend, when a simple idea took on a life of its own and became a celebration of the warmth and camaraderie between one very special band and its fans. Here’s hoping there will be a chance to repeat the occasion next year.
Central to all of these activities of course is the music, that has been extraordinary, exhilarating, life-affirming, game-changing and frankly brilliant.
There were ten particular albums which stood out for me and here they are in order of preference:
1) Lifesigns – Lifesigns
A beautifully balanced album composed by John Young containing all the classic prog elements and some stunning performances from a “who’s who” of players. Shining out in particular are JY’s superb expressive voice and virtuoso keys, Nick Beggs’ sonorous bass and frenetic Chapman stick, Frosty Beedle’s energetic drumming, together with dreamy guitars from both Robin Boult and Steve Hackett, and classic flute flourishes from Thijs van Leer.
What made it stand out for me was the very deep spiritual chord it struck especially through the lyrics which reflected on some of my own personal life experiences and hopefully, lessons learned as a result. It will be wonderful to see it all performed live next March.
2) English Electric Pt 2 – Big Big Train
Well, how do you follow English Electric Pt 1 which was my 2012 album of the year. Pt 2 came oh so close to repeating this feat in 2013 and East Coast Racer is without doubt the stand-out long track of the year. Nobody can get through this remarkable composition without marvelling at the innate splendour of the legendary locomotive so lovingly built and still a centrepiece of British industrial heritage. The whole album is a musical meditation on times past and all that we have lost in order to gain in the name of “progress”.
3) The Raven That Refused To Sing – Steven Wilson
As a long-time SW naysayer, I locked myself away in a darkened room to listen to Raven with a view to writing a negative review. How nice to be proved wrong once in a while. Finally, I felt him reaching out and grabbing those of us sitting on the fence. Everything about it oozes total power and artistry, the playing and production an exercise in consummate prog excellence.
4) The Mountain – Haken
Having finally caught up twice live with one of prog’s emergent stars this year, they deliver the killer blow with an album bursting full of pomp and swagger. It fuses prog metal with some deft touches including the Marmite track The Cockroach King which channels Gentle Giant and Queen, plus the mighty Atlas Stone, a cinematic masterpiece of epic proportions.
5) The Twenty Seven Club – Magenta
This is arguably the finest album so far by the Welsh quartet, a breath-taking collection of carefully crafted songs, each depicting a particular musical legend whose life was cut short at that tragic number. It could have been mawkish or contrived; instead, it hit new heights through both the instrumentation and the gorgeous voice of Christina Booth. Here’s hoping her current treatment for cancer will enable her to return to the stage very soon to perform those glorious songs live.
6) Le Sacre Du Travail – The Tangent
One of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the year did not disappoint as Maestro Tillison and his all-star cast rewrote the prog script harking back to Stravinsky and indeed Bernstein with its extraordinary musical scoring and individual take on the world of work. As someone who now listens to Steve Wright in the Afternoon by design rather than choice, its meaning has taken on a whole new dimension!
7) The Man Left In Space – Cosmograf
There are many great storytellers in prog but Robin Armstrong is one of the best. He draws on his own personal influences such as David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Neil Armstrong to recount the ultimate double-edged tale of how success can lead to the ultimate sacrifice. The claustrophobia and loneliness are palpable throughout.
8) [REDACTED] – Also Eden
After a near-fatal motorcycle smash and two changes of personnel, Also Eden up their personal ante with an album of such dense atmospherics, it is akin to taking a walk down by the water on a warm misty evening and entering into a parallel universe. Rich Harding’s penetrating voice and Simon Rogers’ soaring guitar are your pathfinders into this rather ghostly new world which also draws on influences such as Rush, Marillion, Francis Dunnery and Steve Hackett.
9) Rise Up Forgotten, Returned Destroyed – Shineback
Always expect the unexpected with Tinyfish’s mainman Simon Godfrey whose songwriting is right up there with some of the best. Breathing fresh life into electronica, RUFRD is a deceptively clever album which uses samples from Bulgarian singer Danny Claire to build a story drawing on his vivid imagination during his childhood experiences of insomnia.
10) Fanfare & Fantasy – Comedy of Errors
After their excellent debut album Disobey, this album affirms Comedy of Errors as a growing force in prog, their brand of melodic prog echoing Marillion and Mystery but with a few surprises along the way such as Time’s Motet and Galliard.
Few bands out there in Progland have a unique power and magic to completely rip up the rule book and make music which messes with your mind, touches your soul and fills you with a joie de vivre, that leaves you ever gasping for more.
As regular readers of my occasional blogs may now be more than aware, I have forged a very close connection with prog’s most original and certainly most exciting live band, Lazuli. Who? Well, if you live in the USA, you may not have encountered them yet but, hopefully, that will change soon.
Having performed in mainland Europe and also Canada, Lazuli’s one US appearance was at Rosfest in 2009 and their first live UK gig was at the Summers End Festival two years ago. They were Friday night headliners, unknown to all – including yours truly – but a handful of the more savvy festival goers.
We were conscious there were some guys resembling the cousins of Legolas, Boromir and Aragorn mingling with the audience but, having noted how striking they looked, thought nothing more of it – until they arrived on stage as the headliners. The rest, as they say, is history.
As well as looking like the good guys in Lord of the Rings down to their goth Masonic attire and elaborate hair styling, including a plaited beard, their inventory of instruments is extraordinary, comprising French horn, mandolin, marimba (more of which later), beat box, assorted guitars, an elegantly angled keyboard,a single hand drum and the Leode (more of that later too). Their other USP (unique selling point) is that they do not sing a single word in English.
Now imagine how all that could look and sound when delivered live on stage. I tell you in all sincerity – it is mind-melting. Central to the sound is the aforementioned Leode, an instrument invented by the band’s original guitarist Claude Leonetti after he lost the use of his left arm in a motorcycle accident back in the 90s. According to the band’s website, Claude had a dream about creating an instrument, literally a sonic box of tricks which he could operate with one hand. This extraordinary electronic device, resembling a Chapman stick can conjure up all manner of sounds, ranging from Middle Eastern mysticism to out and out prog metal.
Their UK debut at Summer’s End was without exaggeration the greatest live performance I have ever seen. Never mind none of us being able to understand a word they were singing, such was the sheer brilliance of their show, it was as if you were being transported away to a parallel musical universe, indeed to Lazuli Land.
It was not just the originality of their music, which owes much to the influence of the Beatles, to whom they listened when they were young Lazulis, but the way they delivered the songs – with a passion, a love, a belief, an intensity and also with great joy and humor.
Frontman Dominique (Domi) Leonetti, brother of Claude, is quite bewitching with his clear, powerful pitch perfect voice and his almost waist length hair secured in a long ponytail which takes on a life of its own when at his most animate. He also plays rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar and mandolin.
His main compadre is the ever-smiling guitarist Gederic (Ged) Byar, a fellow possessor of an extravagant head of braided hair and sculpted beard, but blessed with a fluid, vibrant smooth style which runs in perfect parallel with the cutting edge sounds of the Leode. He even occasionally runs a screwdriver up and down the fretboard,
They don’t have a bass player either. I thought I ought to mention that. The lower registers are left to the laser eyed Romain Thorel and his keyboard, again another instrument which seems to have an endless repertoire of sounds ranging from piano to drums. Oh, and he is the one who also trebles up on French horn and the drums, freeing up regular drummer Vincent Barnavol to play marimba, a hand drum resembling a djembe and beat box.
So, there’s the lowdown on what they do and how they do it.
French prog tends to either veer towards the avant-garde and experimental or the more Celtic. So, in many respects, Lazuli really have broken the mould, their songs centering on subjects important to them such as L’Arbre (The Tree) that is all about nature and man’s evolution (or lack of it).
Their most recent album 4603 battements, released in 2011, had time as its central theme. Many would argue that their adventures in recording are a far different and less exciting proposition than their live shows but I defy anyone to hear the incredible 15H40 (more about this later too) and its depiction of time ticking without a sense of wonderment. The album title translates as 4603 beats because that is how many there are on all 11 songs on the album.
And so to the present. Lazuli have been more than aware that I have been their UK cheerleader in chief since that epic performance two years ago. Last year, they performed at Germany’s Night of the Prog at Loreley, which clashed unfortunately with the first Celebr8 festival here in the UK.
So it was a masterstroke when the Summers End organisers announced they would be back for this year’s festival, along with German band Sylvan who had been the main crowd pleasers the year before in 2010. When Prog magazine asked me to write a preview of this year’s Summers End, it was a chance to touch base with Lazuli again to get their reaction about coming back to the UK to play.
Thanks to Google’s translation facilities, Domi provided some charming responses to my questions, saying how they grew up on British music so to cross the Channel to play here was very symbolic. Of their 2011 show, he said it was “beautiful and terrifying at the same time.” However, the welcome they received was so warm, they soon forgot their anxiety and enjoyed “this precious moment”. They were very excited and honored to be back at the festival.
Fast forward to Saturday October 5, the night they were appearing at Summers End, following the main headliners Gordon Giltrap and Oliver Wakeman performing the stunning Ravens & Lullabies.
Well, Lazuli rocked up halfway through the afternoon. It was great to catch up with them again and I gave them a copy of Prog magazine with my preview, ending up using my very rusty French to translate back to them the quotes they had given to me!
Cutting to the chase, they finally came on half an hour late and I must admit the ensuing one hour and forty minutes were a bit of a blur, because all that Gallic sorcery and charm was still there. Again, it is that connection they make with the audience which is so special as they give every part of their being to making their performances as dynamic as possible.
One song Film D’Aurore saw Domi with a tiny light on his hand that he shone onto his expressive face, but it is the extraordinary Le Miroir Aux Alouettes which hopefully you can see at the end of this paean, which is them at the height of the powers for many reasons, mainly its immense tempo change halfway through when Romain takes over drums from Vincent, then the whole mood goes from folk to Arabic scales.
Romain is such an accomplished musician, he gets his own solo spot to show off his incredible versatility on the keyboards, all improvised with a bit of jazz and funk thrown in this time. Even Domi and Ged crouch down by the side of the stage to watch him in full flight.
Then when they played 15H40, Domi decided to spin out the tension and to my utter surprise, decided to include yours truly in the song when trying to convince everyone it was “twenty to four” instead of around midnight so he jumped down from the stage and sought my counsel on the time.
Well, the time was ticking away and fast approaching 12.30 when they were called to order because of the lateness of the hour. So, instead of playing the brilliant 12 minute long Naif where audience participation is key to its success, they pushed the marimba to the front of the stage. And this is where the true genius of this band really showed with their Nine Hands Around The Marimba as all five band members simultaneously played chords and melodies, while taking the occasional potshot at each other. And was that a few bars of Solsbury Hill in there somewhere too?
If it was not for some of the throng having to rush out to get the bus back to their weekend lodgings, the band would probably still be playing as no-one wanted them to go.
How can I explain it succinctly? This band has such a positive, humble and uplifting vibe about them that they seem to reach inside and illuminate every corner of your inner being. Even over a week after the show, I am still buzzing about them like a hyperactive queen bee!
If you want further proof then catch their new DVD, Live @ l’Abeille Rode, the first part of which is them performing their live show without an audience but which is so beautifully shot, you feel you are part of the invisible crowd watching – and probably cheering them!
Well, what more can I say about this French connection except that Martin Reijman, who loves photographing them, and I are doing a crash course in French with a view to meeting up with them again next year in France. My aim is to interview them in French which hopefully will further help us all to understand the essence of this truly remarkable, unique band.
If you want to learn more about them, go to: http://www.lazuli-music.com/ and you can tell them Alison sent you.
Otherwise, please enjoy the Summers End encore (courtesy of Pete “Pedro” Waite) or Le Miroir Aux Alouettes shot at the Night of the Prog last year.
Je vous remercie.