Author Archives: Russell Clarke

The Unthanks 10th Anniversary

The Unthanks aren’t always prog, but they’re always superb! They’re celebrating their tenth year with some gigging and a new release. If you’re fortunate enough to be in the area, make sure you get to see them.

The Unthanks cap both 10 years and a remarkable year with an intimate Autumn tour of small venues, followed by handful of December shows with their full 10 piece ensemble, including standing and seated London shows, and a homecoming show at Hexham Abbey.

Rather than embarking on some grand celebration, The Unthanks are quietly marking their 10th anniversary this year with a short tour of small intimate spaces, with a pared back line-up, their feeling being that if folk music is a lifelong pursuit, 10 years is just a drop in the ocean.

Small venues means tickets are likely to sell out quick. All show details are below. or on our website here.

And in the same respect, rather than putting out an exploitative ‘best of’, there will be a release of rarities, live recordings, memorabilia and unreleased material will accompany the tour.

The 5 piece intimate tour, featuring material from right across their time, will be following in December by handful of 10 piece anniversary shows to crown the year, including both standing and seated London shows at Scala and Union Chapel respectively, plus a homecoming show in the beautiful surroundings of Hexham Abbey.

The shows mark both 10 years and a remarkable year. In wall-to-wall four and five star reviews, this year’s Mount the Air has been described as “quite simply, a masterpiece”, “music that asks you to consider everything you know and un-think it”, “an epic that Sigur Rós or Elbow would be proud of”, “folk on a different level – airborne, perhaps”, “the first truly jaw-dropping album of 2015”, “both wildly experimental and comfortably familiar”, “gorgeously orchestrated”, “one of the best records I’ve ever reviewed”, “kind of beautiful, kind of blue”, and “beautiful yet stark, orchestral yet intimate, clever yet with simple purity, dark yet kissed with light, ascendant yet earthy and rooted.”

Summer Festival Dates

27.05.15 Hay Festival Hay on Wye

27.06.15 Glastonbury Festival

(Pyramid Stage, The Unthanks with Orchestra, conducted by Charles Hazlewood)

10.07.15 Earagail Arts Festival Ireland

11.07.15 Folk at the Hall Trelawnyd, N Wales (Headliners)

19.07.15 Folk by the Oak Hatfield, Herts.

24.07.15 Folkfest Killarney Kerry, Ireland

26.07.15 Deer Shed Festival Topcliffe, N Yorks (Headliners)

01.08.15 Cambridge Folk Festival

02.08.15 Port Eliot Festival (Headliners)

14.08.15 Stockholm Culture Festival

22.08.15 Home Gathering Newcastle (Headlined and curated by The Unthanks)

23.08.15 FolkEast Glemham, Suffolk (Headliners)

29.08.15 Solfest, Silloth, Lake District (Headliners)

30.08.15 Greenbelt, Kettering (Headliners)

05.09.15 End of the Road Dorset

06.09.15 Moseley Folk Festival West Mids

25.09.15 Gaiety Theatre Douglas, Isle of Man (on sale v soon)

27.09.15 Queens Cross Church Aberdeen (on sale end of May)

17.10.15 Homegrown Bury, Castle Armoury Drill Hall (Headliners)

10th Anniversary Intimate 5-Piece Tour

22.10.15 The Customs House South Shields 0191 454 1234

23.10.15 The Witham Barnard Castle 01833 631 107

24.10.15 The Dukes Lancaster 01524 598500

25.10.15 Wem Town Hall 01939 238 279

26.10.15 The Atrix Bromsgrove 01527 577330

27.10.15 SJE Oxford 0845 413 4444

28.10.15 Holy Trinity Church Guildford 01483 566007

29.10.15 Theatre Royal Margate 01843 292795

30.10.15 St Mary’s in the Castle Hastings 01323 841414

31.10.15 The Stables Milton Keynes 01908 280800

01.11.15 Drill Hall Lincoln 01522 873894

06.11.15 Middlewich Town Hall 01606 833434

07.11.15 Trades Club Hebden Bridge (Standing Saturday Night Show) 01422 845 265

08.11.15 Trades Club Hebden Bridge (Seated Matinee Show) 01422 845 265

08.11.15 Trades Club Hebden Bridge (Seated Evening Show) 01422 845 265

13.11.15 Theatre by the Lake Keswick 017687 74411

14.11.15 Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough 01723 370541

15.11.15 All Saints Church Pocklington 01759 301547

10th Anniversary 10-Piece Shows

04.12.15 Hexham Abbey (10th Anniversary Homecoming Show) 01434 652477

05.12.15 The Great British Folk Festival Skegness 0300 1006648

09.12.15 Scala London (Standing 10th Anniversary 10 piece show) 0845 4134444

10.12.15 Union Chapel London (Seated 10th Anniversary 10 piece show) 0845 4134444

Tiger Moth Tales’ Pete Jones – YouTube Interview #2

The second mini-interview with uber-talent Pete Jones of Tiger Moth Tales is now available on YouTube. In this one, he talks about the instruments he plays. Once again, the interview is tinged with his delightlful sense of humour.

Watch it here.

Tiger Moth Tales’ Pete Jones Interview Series on YouTube

The hugely talented Pete Jones, the man behind Tiger Moth Tales, and its superb debut album ‘Cocoon’, has just started publishing a series of short interviews on YouTube, which will no doubt be of interest to all Mothingtons (as he has whimsically named his fans.)

You can find the first video here, in which Pete talks about his earliest musical memories. What a bloody nice chap!

Big Big Train – 1st June 2015

A recent Facebook post from Big Big Train’s own Greg Spawton – “1st June” with this rather marvellous illustration of The Green Man suggests that something amazing’s on its way…

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Johnny Unicorn – Autumn Electric Kickstarter Campain

As well as working with Phideaux, and doing his own thing, Johnny Unicorn also plays bass in a Seattle-based prog outfit called Autumn Electric. In his own words from a recent email…

As you may know, I play bass in the Seattle-based progressive rock band Autumn Electric. We’re putting together a sci-fi rock opera and a tour this March and April, and in order to improve the fan experience, we are performing the entire album live, with lights and effects and costume changes, and wherever possible, sharing the bill with like-minded bands in venues that don’t expect us to be background music. Since this is a costlier endeavor than we’ve done in the past, we’re raising money ahead of time via Kickstarter:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/autumnelectric/autumn-electric-star-being-earth-child-album-and-u

If you want to see this prog rock space opera made, please think about pledging. Even the smallest pledge will get you something physical in the mail. If you’re in the West, Southwest, South, Southeast, East, or Midwest, you may be on our tour route this Spring. I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

So if you’re keen, go and pledge!

Johnny’s latest album, Angels in the Oort Cloud, is bloody brilliant, by the way.

Tiger Moth Tales’ “Cocoon” – Synth-Driven Prog At Its Absolute Best

The Big Big Train Facebook group is a seething hotbed of excellent music tips, so when I saw a post about an album called “Cocoon” by Tiger Moth Tales (aka Nottinghamshire-based musician Peter Jones – read all about him here) I knew it was probably worth spending some time investigating.

The link to a song called “A Visit to Chigwick” immediately intrigued me (as I am sure it would for certain UK people who enjoyed children’s television back in the 60s and 70s…) so I clicked on it.

As the track played a broad grin developed, as well as, I must admit, a slightly moist eye. Something very special was happening here, so off I went to make a purchase, and it landed on my metaphorical New Zealand door mat yesterday afternoon.

Here’s what Peter himself has to say about the birth of this album (from the liner notes:)

It all happened by accident really. One day I sat down to try and write a song, and ended up with a prog song about Trumpton. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but as I tried to focus more on conventional music, I kept getting more and more ideas about songs on childhood subjects and in my head it was all prog. It seemed there was nothing for it but to see the thing through and see what happened…

For those of you who didn’t have the childhood pleasure of watching stop-motion films about a bygone age such as Trumpton (or its prequels, Chigley and Camberwick Green) – here’s some background, and here’s a clip.

As well as some of my favourite kiddies’ TV programmes, Tiger Moth Tales also cites influences such as Frost, Big Big Train, Haken, Steve Hackett and Roine Stolt. These are excellent reference points that certainly raised my expectations – and thankfully Mr. Jones delivers with aplomb. I’d give some additional nods to Martin Orford, Andy Tillison and a certain Mr. R. Wakeman.

This is a synth-driven concept album that’s ostensibly about kids’ stuff but there are darker themes being explored as it’s also about growing up (and we all know how depressing that is, folks.)

The album is, by turns, uplifting, depressing, thought-provoking, amusing – and very robust so play it loud! There is a ton of absolutely superb music on this album – there’s not a single weak track, and the musicianship and vocals are excellent throughout.

This album easily gets added to my list of favourite 2014 albums. Shame I hadn’t heard it sooner!

You can buy it on CD or via Bandcamp.

Here’s a quick track-by-track walk through. If you want to hear about the tracks in Peter’s own words I recommend that you go here, where you’ll get his insights first-hand, plus some very droll humour on display, which always gets a big thumbs-up from me.

Overture

Everyone loves an overture, and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint. Plenty of suitably bombastic stuff going on, and all of it proggingly good!

Spring

We all love Spring, mainly because it isn’t Winter. The tweet of birds and the bleating of lambs (yum!) This is the first short interlude of (surprisingly) four, spread throughout the album. I won’t labour the meaning too much…

Isle of Witches

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

The ‘cautionary tale’ of three witches living on an island, and the wizards that covet their coven (so to speak.)

This is a big slab of proggy goodness describing the epic (and very, very loud) battle between the incumbents and the interlopers. Heavy in places and somewhat delicate in others, this track is interesting to say the least, and heavily drawn from a version written when Peter was a mere 13-year-old stripling.

Stylistically it’s a significant departure from the rest of the album, but as Peter comments, what better track to have on an album about childhood?

I love it!

Summer

Just one Cornetto…

Finally Summer is here! Swallows, ice cream vans, seagulls and pebbly beaches.

Tigers In The Butter

A slow, somewhat eerie start, gradually building towards a driving epic about the power and vulnerability of the childhood imagination. This is my joint-favourite track on the album, for reasons that may become apparent when you listen to it. A stonkingly-good track!

It was our time, it was our world, our imagination, yes we had it all. We never thought we’d see the end, we’d last forever.

The First Lament

Childhood innocence is eventually brought down to Earth with a bump.

Bump.

See?

With a haunting intro, this instrumental track slows the pace down somewhat but delivers plenty of power with some epic, soaring guitar work. Superb!

Autumn

When the only decent thing to be said about a season is that you like the colour of the dead and withering leaves, you know it should be abolished. Fireworks, brass bands and geese are some consolation, but they can’t override the cloying sense of existential…dampness.

The Merry Vicar

With a title like that, the presence of the opening church organ is almost compulsory.

This is a fun and rollicking piece about an unconventional vicar. Based loosely on a real person from Peter’s childhood, he’s clearly got the gossip-mongers talking in this track!

With a quirky, music hall-eqsue vocal approach, this puts a big smile on my face every time I hear it.

Doing a lot of good for God – He’s giving the church a bit of a prod… Three cheers for the Merry Vicar!

And just when you think it’s a routine romp, the song surprises you by presenting one of the coolest keyboard-fests I’ve heard for a very long time!

A Visit To Chigwick

This has become my other joint-favourite track. Having a sense of nostalgia for places that never existed may seem a bit odd, but I’m sure we’ve all done it.

This is a wonderful song about that feeling.

Why does it make me sad? How can you miss what you never had? Is there a way we can go back in time to the quiet little town in my mind?

Opening with a very familiar-sounding music box, the vocals and guitar build until…the train pulls into the station…at which point we are treated to another superb instrumental break, returning to the original theme for a warm, optimistic conclusion.

Winter

The true end of our childhood. Bummer.

Sleigh bells, Silent Night and the crunch of snow remind us of how benighted this season is.

Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright

Another music box opens this final track, but it’s playing a more plaintive tune. This is another slow burner, which builds to the epic proportions that the other tracks achieve.

What happens when finally we have to grow up? How do we reconcile who we were with who we have become?

And so we come to the crossroads of truth – do we hide in our own cocoon, or do we join this cruel world? Our childhood logic lies with us still shaping who we become…

And so the track closes on a positive note. Don’t deny your childhood – it made you who you are.

Looking at the pieces of my life, it feels alright, feels alright.

This album is a lot more than alright, of course. Kudos to Tiger Moth Tales for creating one of the finest albums of 2014.

Sitting at the prog bus stop – 2014 in review

Here we are again.

Actually it seems like just a year ago when I was thinking ‘here we are again.’ And you’re probably thinking the same thing at this point.

‘Best of’ posts seem to be a tradition at this point in time, when we also celebrate our planet returning to the same point (galactic orbit notwithstanding, naturally…) as it was 365-and-a-bit days ago. Hurrah! We’re back! Now, where did we leave our keys?

Johannes Kepler – the only man this year to publish a positive review of ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Of course if Johannes Kepler (pictured to the left, apparently pre-empting a delicious Chinese main course by snaffling a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer) was to try to build a predictive model of the prog releases even a year into the future he would probably end up a bit stumped, and would look stupid for even trying. So that’s why we don’t try to model prog – most of us look stupid enough without the ignominy of a failed ‘Theory Of Everything™’ on our CVs too.

Anyway, I digress, as is my wont.

Musically 2014 has been an interesting year. Mostly because it has been quite different from 2013.

“Well, colour me surprised, Mr. Clarke, that’s generally how the space-time continuum works!” I hear you shriek. But please set your Interweb keyboard warrior fury aside for a moment or two, and let me finish my epistle before you judge me too harshly.

My 2014 has felt pretty lacking when it comes to stand-out, arse-kicking, blindingly-brilliant music. Maybe we peaked in 2013. I mean, 2013 was pretty amazing for a number of reasons, not least:

  • Big Big Train released their insta-classic ‘English Electric:Full Power’ double album, making me homesick once again.
  • Haken’s ‘The Mountain’ rocked my world.
  • Thieves’ Kitchen’s ‘Of Sparks and Spires’ didn’t help with the homesickness thing, thanks very much indeed.
  • Spock’s Beard finally returned to form with the absolutely stonking ‘Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep.’
  • Scott and I  made a trip back to the mother country (that’s England – keep up, everyone) for The Big Big Weekend (Saturday and Sunday are here in glorious TechniPanaColourVision,) where we forged new friendships, ate curry and drank beer.

Now the above may be a small list, numerically-speaking, but each of those items was a Very Very Big Deal to me. In comparison 2014 really hasn’t lived up to the standards of 2013. How could it possibly?

There have been a few albums by artists whose back catalogues I have a lot of time for, but that this year have failed to set me on fire:

  • Gazacho’s “Demon” didn’t have the longevity I thought it would, which is a shame – it’s a nice enough album, but not something to draw me back time and again. If I am honest, I think my trajectory and theirs have diverging somewhat since Night.
  • Cosmograf’s “Capacitor” worked well for the first few spins in rapid succession, but then I think I over-listened to it. It takes (me at least) a lot of work to get the most out of it so I have to ration my exposure now. I go back once a month for a fix, but because of that, it hasn’t been entwined with my life this year. Perhaps that’s for the best – caviar gets boring when you eat it for every meal.
  • North Atlantic Oscillation’s “The Third Day” left me pretty cold. I loved 2012’s “Fog Electric”, and Sam Healy’s 2013 “Sand” was a damn fine album too. But TTD now sound like they have been re-treading the same ground over, and over, and over again. And again. And over again.
  • Anathema’s Distant Satellites started well but then fell apart. For my ears, the music certainly lived up to the band’s name.
  • I chose to completely bypass Yes’ “Heaven and Earth” for a number of reasons, not least of which is my refusal to continue to be serially disappointed by a band’s output for three entire decades. So I have finally given up watching that particular slow motion car crash.

Combine all of the above with a very busy and sometimes fraught year at work and home, and it adds up to make me feel that things just aren’t what they used to be.

But like Climate Change there are peaks and troughs. Are we in a trough in 2014? Was I just looking the other way while all the cool stuff happened? Maybe I was at the shops.

Looking forward my personal highlights for 2015 will be Big Big Train releasing the Real World DVD and playing live at King’s Place in August (and yep, we will be there!)

We have new material from Phideaux, Spock’s Beard and Haken among others, which I am also very excited about. The list is not endless, but it’s promising. Fingers crossed…

Anyway, back to the year in question. 2014. What has floated my boat?

IQ – The Road Of Bones

This album is absolutely the best thing to come out of 2014.

It’s still as fresh as it was when I first heard it, and it’s still a firm favourite on my car media player. In fact, it’s rarely not being played. I have played it to death, and yet it still lives! It is absolutely the pinnacle of IQ’s output. You may recall I quite liked it and said as much a while back. If you haven’t heard it, you should really, really hear it. And of course, buy the bonus CD.

Uphill Work – Missing Opportunities

This album was a real surprise find for me. A very late arrival to my ears, once again the Progstreaming site came up trumps while I was browsing during a quiet moment earlier this month.

Uphill Work are a Moscow-based group formed in 2002. I’d never heard of them – it’s discoveries like this that make me very happy The Interwebs, and sites like Progstreaming, exist.

This album’s an absolute bloody gem – quirky, interesting, humourous, very droll lyrically, and a great vocal approach.

Listen to it (and buy it!) on Uphill Work’s Bandcamp page.

Dave Kerzner – New World

Another December find, this is a musical feast. I don’t identify as a Pink Floyd fan at all, and a lot of parallels have been drawn between this release and the Pink Floyd sound, and yes, they’re definitely there. The big difference for me is that I like this album and I haven’t liked any PF albums. So I guess I win!

This album keeps pumping from start to finish – every track delivers something different, and it’s all good, every last bit of it. Recommended!

Listen to it, and get it, here!

In Summary – It’s Me, Not You…

Three keepers in a year, the first of which was released in May, and the other two which I was introduced to in December. That’s a big gap! I would have despaired if IQ had been the only transcendent release in the year. So for that number to treble in the space of a week or two, well I consider that excellent luck! Thanks goodness for happy accidents.

All that aside I actually don’t really believe in the good musical year/bad musical year thing.

You make your own good year/bad year.

What floats your boat sinks others’, and vice versa.

You get out what you put into it.

OK, I will stop sounding like your grandmother now.

I’m sure I missed a bunch of other good musical stuff while I was doing other non-musical stuff. Such is life, and I’m also sure that if it’s that good I’ll discover it next year.

Anyways, it’s Boxing Day here in New Zealand.

12:02 pm.

That’s Beer O’Clock.

Cheers and Happy 2015!

 

My nano-review of Tin Spirits: Scorch

Completely brilliant.

Buy it.

Now.

That is all.

 

EDIT: No doubt my erudite co-progarchists will wax lyrical on this release in the near future. I rate it ‘splendid’.

 

 

Big Big Train: Banging the Drum for Real World

Oh my!

It was just the other day that Greg Spawton posted the latest fly-on-the-wall snippets of Big Big Train’s vocal rehearsals for their upcoming and eagerly-anticipated (slight understatement there) DVD recording in Peter Gabriel’s Real Worls Studios on the band’s Facebook page.

I’d just got over the excitement when – lo and behold, there’s another update, this time from the massively-talented multi-instrumentalist and BBT drummer – Nick D’Virgilio.

Enjoy the booms and crashes. I certainly did!

 

 

Big Big Train: Voices for Real World

Greg Spawton has posted another video snippet on the Big Big Train Facebook page of the band’s preparations for their upcoming live recording at Real World Studios. If you’re a Passenger, it’ll be compulsive viewing!

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