Author Archives: bradbirzer

Big Big Train News Update

This, fresh off this morning’s pony. . . .

*****

Hi

Here’s a quick round-up of news ahead of the BBT London shows next month:

* Wassail (the song) has been nominated in the Anthem category of the 2015 Progressive Music Awards. Listeners can vote for their favourites here: http://awards.prog.teamrock.com/

* Wassail (the EP) has been flying high in Amazon’s folk(!) charts for over a month. The CD version of the EP is available at Burning Shed: http://www.burningshed.com/store/progressive/collection/506/ and the download and streaming versions are available from the usual sources.

* Wassail t-shirts are available from The Merch Desk: http://themerchdesk.com/shop/index.php?route=product/product&path=87_115&product_id=504

* An interview with David and Greg appears in the July issue of Prog magazine which is on sale now.

* David performed Spectral Mornings with Magenta at two gigs in June.

* For those coming to the BBT gigs at Kings Place, London, next month, please be aware of the gig timings:

Fri 14th & Sat 15th Aug:
Band on stage: 7.30pm
Finish: 10.25pm

Sun 16th Aug:
Band on stage: 2.00pm
Finish: 5.00pm

* The “Stone & Steel” DVD, featuring “live in the the studio” performances recorded last year at Real World Studios, is due for release in time for Christmas this year.

* After the gigs in August, we will be returning to the studio to finish work on the next album which will be called “Folklore” and is due for release early in 2016.

Best wishes

Andy, Danny, Dave, David, Greg, Nick, Rachel and Rikard

Evergrey – Interview – “It’s a completely different band now”

Originally posted on The Blog of Much Metal:

Pic: Patric Ullaeus Pic: Patric Ullaeus

Seeing as the very excellent Evergrey were making the effort to travel to the UK in support of the magnificent new album, ‘Hymns For The Broken’, I felt it would be rude not to make an appearance to support my favourite band and hopefully say ‘hi’ to my Swedish buddies.

I arrive in Camden and, within a few minutes, I’m spotted by vocalist/guitarist Tom Englund and greeted with hugs from the big man as well as keyboardist Rikard Zander and bassist Johan Niemann. ‘What are you doing here?’ Tom smirks, ‘come with us, we’re going to soundcheck’. Almost immediately, my decision to make the 150 mile round trip is thoroughly vindicated.

A little later, once the band are happy with their sound in the underground den of iniquity that’s The Underworld, I’m running through the pouring rain towards the tour bus upon which I sit with Johan…

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Steve Hogarth on Brilliance and Success

Promo for Vol II of THE INVISIBLE MAN DIARIES.

Promo for Vol II of THE INVISIBLE MAN DIARIES.

“I’m reminded once again that it’s not enough to be brilliant.  You need that lucky break that crosses you over to the mainstream punters.  And a shed load of marketing money. . . It happened to Marillion before I met them and we’ve managed to maintain a hard-core big enough to make it possible for us to function at a certain level.  It’s like getting an enormous rock to roll.  Once it’s rolling you can keep it going easier than the effort it took to get it started.  So rockn’rolls’s not such a bad name for it.  But it could have been called ‘momentum’ instead.  Doesn’t have the same ring about it though. . . (and anything derived from Latin is very unrock n’roll.)”

–Steve Hogarth, THE INVISIBLE MAN DIARIES, vol. II, pg. 129

Heaven’s Gain: Chris Squire (1948-2015)

I am terribly sad to see that Chris Squire (1948-2015) has passed away.

Drama Yes: 1980.

Drama Yes: 1980.

And, yet, it’s hard not to think: what an incredible life.  The man brought so much art and humor and personality to every single thing he did.  Certainly one of the greatest bassists of our time, Squire also possessed a beautiful voice.  And, though often overshadowed by the song writing due of Anderson/Howe, Squire’s compositions within and for Yes were just heavenly.

Back in the era of mix tapes, I made a mix tape for the ages—all of the Yes songs by Chris Squire, with On the Silent Wings of Freedom being my absolute favorite.

His one solo album, 1975’s FISH OUT OF WATER is a prog classic.  Some have called it a missing Yes album, and yet it highlights just how much Squire did contribute to Yes.  His distinctive bass, his distinctive vocal lines, and his distinctive personality make FISH OUT OF WATER a wonder to behold.

Squire's only solo album: FISH OUT OF WATER (1975).

Squire’s only solo album: FISH OUT OF WATER (1975).

Squire has been the heart of Yes from its founding, even as countless numbers of others have swirled around him.

No more.  Our loss, but Heaven’s gain.  Godspeed, Chris Squire.  As a man and as an artist, you changed the world.  What more could we ask of anyone?  We have all benefitted from you and your life’s witness to beauty.

I would guess he has already had some good chats with Hendrix, Davis, Coltrane, Wagner, Beethoven. . .

Submission Address Change

If you’re submitting a physical CD, DVD, Blu-ray, book, etc. for review at progarchy.com, please make sure you address it to:

Brad Birzer/Progarchy

6 West Montgomery ST

Hillsdale MI 49242

USA

We’ve been in Colorado for this academic year, but we return to Michigan in just a few days.  Thank you!

A Better Way of Living: Marillion

Who is Afraid of Marillion?

Yesterday, prog queen Gianna Englert (and liberal arts demi-goddess) reminded us that today is the twentieth anniversary of Marillion’s album, AFRAID OF SUNLIGHT.  For what it’s worth, it’s my favorite Marillion album, rivaled only by MARBLES.

Every time I bring the band up, someone tells me they love Fish or Hogarth more.  I have no problem with either Fish-era Marillion or Hogarth-era Marillion.  I love both.  Marillion is Marillion.  I actually buy into their own understanding that they represent a better way of a life.  Perhaps I’ve just been taken in by great PR and marketing.  The band seems the true inheritors of those who once cried for peace, love, and happiness.

What convinces me?  Marillion understands better than almost any one in the musical world that it’s ok to promote what is beautiful and not do it tongue-in-check or with irony or with cynicism or with a wink.  They actually mean it.  When I listen to Marillion, I feel as though I’m with Sam, somewhere in Mordor, seeing a white star beyond the reach of all evil.

Another important—well, perhaps, critical—point.  It’s arguable that AFRAID OF SUNLIGHT is the very first album of third-wave prog.  But. . . .

Let me get personal for the rest of this post.  If you’re not interested in reading, I totally understand. . . this is NOT a proper review or a retrospective.  Merely a reflection and an appreciation.

Day-Glo Jesus

Day-Glo Jesus

***

Here’s the hard part.  On August 8, 2007, my wife and I lost a daughter.  My wife had come full term in her pregnancy, and Cecilia Rose was due on August 6.  Rather than induce labor on that day, we decided to go all natural and wait for the baby to arrive when she was ready.

Sometime early on the morning of August 8, Cecilia Rose became entangled in her own umbilical cord.  She suffocated on the very thing that had given her life.  We didn’t know until later that day that Cecilia had passed away.  Just before midnight, my wife (the strongest person I’ve ever met) gave “birth” to our deceased daughter.  Long story, short—the following week was the absolute worst of my life.  Every minute seemed like a month, and every hour a year.  It was horrible.

The first week was the worst, but nothing really improved over the next year.  In fact, life was pretty miserable.  I was on sabbatical and working on my biography of American founding father Charles Carroll of Carrollton.  Thank God.  I needed something.

As it turns out, we live across the street from the main cemetery in Hillsdale, and we buried Cecilia Rose across the street.  I visited her grave every day, miserable and confused.  Frankly, I felt like an absolute failure as a father—after all, I have one real duty in this world: to protect my children.  I realize how irrational I was—but the feelings were sincere, nonetheless.

A lot of things got me through that year—my wife, my kids, my friends, my writing.  I would sit at Cecilia’s grave, wondering why her death had to happen?  Almost daily, I listened to AFRAID OF SUNLIGHT.  It brought me immense comfort.

I know the album is actually about surviving fame. . . but for me it was just about surviving.

Day-Glo Jesus on the dash

Scorch marks on the road ahead

Friendly fire in hostile waters

Keep the faith, don’t lose your head

Don’t lose your head

The power of music.  The power of Marillion.

P.S.  If you made it this far, thank you.

Links to More about Hugh Syme and THE ART OF RUSH

Darren Michaloski kindly sent this, this morning:

Hello Brad – thank you for the review on ‘The Art of Rush, Hugh Syme: Serving a Life Sentence’ book.

http://progarchy.com/2015/06/23/the-art-of-rush-hugh-syme-serving-a-life-sentence/

Here’s something of interest to read.

http://www.dailytribune.com/arts-and-entertainment/20150612/sound-check-rush-art-designer-happy-with-his-life-sentence

Here’s some photos of Hugh in The Ian Thomas Band back in the day.

http://rockinhouston.com/performers/ian-thomas-band/977/

Regards

Darren

The Art of Rush, Hugh Syme: Serving a Life Sentence

Review of ART OF RUSH, HUGH SYME: SERVING A LIFE SENTENCE, written by Stephen Humphries (2112 Books, 2015), with a brief essay by Neil Peart.

The first book by Stephen Humphries.

The first book by Stephen Humphries.

In a week, my family and I move back to Michigan.  It’s been an incredible year in Colorado, and we’ll be very sad to leave this rather textured slice of heaven.  The year went by all too quickly.  As you can imagine, the house is in chaos, and, at many levels, so is my life.  Books here, cds there, my brain across the street, six kids and one cat feeling the “unsettlement” of the moment.

This is a long and convoluted way of writing. . . .

I should’ve reviewed THE ART OF RUSH a month ago.  It’s written by a truly gifted music journalist and critic, Stephen Humphries (a graduate of Hillsdale College in Michigan).  I have nothing but respect for Humphries, and the more I read him, the more I like him.  He’s opened my eyes to my own biases against certain artists, and he’s more than once made me rethink some dogma I’d already decided and locked away, presumably (at least at the moment of decision) forever.  THE ART OF RUSH, amazingly enough, is his first book, though he’s been publishing articles and reviews for almost two decades.

And, of course, it’s designed and illustrated by one of the most gifts men in the visual arts today, Hugh Syme.

I certainly don’t want to get into an us vs. them situation, but let’s say that where Roger Dean is beautiful, Syme is diverse and eclectic.  Dean has spent a lifetime exploring consistency in his art, while Syme has worked with and in every artistic endeavor and genre imaginable.  Dean is classic, and Syme is romantic.  Dean is a perfectionist, and Syme is an explorer.

Everyone recognizes a Roger Dean painting anywhere–whether it’s residing on a Yes album or stolen by a major Hollywood producer.  Probably only James Marsh (Talk Talk) is as distinctive as Dean, though Dean is better known.

THE ART OF RUSH shows exactly why Syme is not as distinctive as a Dean or a Marsh.  He’s too (damn!) interesting to be distinctive.  Whether it’s a font, an image, or an idea, Syme tries anything.  And, crazily enough, it always works!

As is well known, Syme’s first cover for Rush was 1975’s CARESS OF STEEL.  Peart liked and appreciated Syme so much, Syme has designed very album (inside and out) since.  This means he’s been a part of Rush only a year less than Peart himself.  And, the two men get along famously.  Syme possesses the wonderful and uncanny ability to make the ideas of Peart–a radical individualist, perfectionist, and explorer in his own right–visual and successfully so.

The book, produced by 2112 Books, comes in three versions: tall, grande, and venti.  Just joking–with apologies to Starbucks.  No, it did come in three versions when released in May, but the Rush Backstage website only lists the cheapest one now.  A $99/272 page hardback, coffee table style.  Believe me, it’s well worth the $99.

I could be wrong, but I think it’s ONLY available at the Rush Backstage website.  Amazon.com comes up with nothing when I searched for it there.

THE ART OF RUSH is as beautifully crafted (and as heavy!) as you’d expect from Syme.  The binding, the pages, the design. . . all perfect.  Peart provides a short but kind introduction, and Humphries provides all the words thereafter.

My version also came with an LP size card-stock poster celebrating forty years of Rush.  Whether this is normal or not, I’m not sure.  But, I am sure that the ART OF RUSH is a glorious thing to own and to linger over.  It is a piece of perfection, in and of itself.

Me, struggling to lift this thing.  It must weigh the same as at least 4 MacBooks.

Me, struggling to lift this thing. It must weigh the same as at least 4 MacBooks.

Abnormal Thought Patterns – Interview – ‘This was probably the most challenging album I’ve had to do’

Originally posted on The Blog of Much Metal:

ATP Band 1

The Tipton brothers are big names within progressive metal circles. The hugely talented twins were responsible for the technical progressive metal behemoth that was Zero Hour and, since then, have created Cynthesis and Abnormal Thought Patterns, both quite different from Zero Hour and from each other but both delivering music of the very highest calibre. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of the sophomore Abnormal Thought Patterns album, ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’, which comes out at the end of June 2015 via Lifeforce Records.

Suffice to say that the content has blown me away. Ostensibly an instrumental technical progressive metal band, this new record has seen the introduction of guest vocals as well as a number of guest musicians of real note. But it’s the overall final product that is so impressive, treading that fine line between technicality and atmosphere, melody and overt aggression. So impressed have…

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Advent News: August 2015 Release

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***

For those of you who love Chestertonian Prog as much as I do, we don’t have to wait much longer.   I just received a very kind and interesting email from Mark Ptak of the prog band, Advent.

I just wanted to make you aware that (after what seems like an eternity, I know – especially for us, with all the various unavoidable delays) we’ll finally be finishing mixing this weekend (woo-hoo!) and entering the mastering stages of Advent’s new release, “Silent Sentinel,” hopefully starting next week, I believe, with Bob Katz over at Digital Domain in Florida. (http://www.digido.com/) Bob is one of the most sought after mastering engineers out there, and we’re very pleased to have the fruits of our laborious efforts in his capable hands again. Cover artwork will be done once more by the extremely talented artist, Michael Phipps, who previously did “Cantus Firmus” for us. We’re looking to have the album ready for purchase by August, so please feel free pass the word around that the album will soon be made available. I’ll have more details in the not too distant future, but for now, thanks, and be prepared for one helluva musical ride when this thing is released – as there’s almost a double album’s worth of material coming at ya! Talk again soon…

Best,
Mark

Nothing to make a June day even better.  Very excited about this.  To order the first album, Cantus Firmus, please click here.

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