This, fresh off this morning’s pony. . . .
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
Sun 16th Aug:
Band on stage: 2.00pm
* 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.
Andy, Danny, Dave, David, Greg, Nick, Rachel and Rikard
“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
I am terribly sad to see that Chris Squire (1948-2015) has passed away.
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 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. . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Nothing to make a June day even better. Very excited about this. To order the first album, Cantus Firmus, please click here.
I’m really happy to announce (ok, show off) the cover of my Neil Peart biography, NEIL PEART: CULTURAL REPERCUSSIONS (WordFire Press). It will be available this August in tangible and e-book formats.
Hope you love it!
Last night, my wife and I—just about to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary—treated ourselves to a concert by Tears for Fears.
For those of you who read progarchy.com regularly, you know that not only do we as a website love the work of TFF, but I, Brad, have been rather obsessed with Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith since 1985.
Yes, 30 years—just four more years than I’ve been in love with Rush. And, of course, what a comparison. Can you imagine Peart and Orzabal writing lyrics together? Tom Sawyer meets Admiral Halsey!
I came to TFF in the same way almost every American my age did, from hearing “Everybody wants to rule the world” on MTV. What a glorious song. Here was New Wave, but New Wave-pop-prog. Here were intelligent lyrics. Here, to my mind, was music done properly. Having grown up on Yes and Genesis and Kansas, I wanted my New Wave to be just a bit edgier than, say, that of the B-52s. I wanted my New Wave artists to take themselves as seriously as Yes had done on “Close to the Edge.”
Well, as I’ve written elsewhere at progarchy, Songs from the Big Chair has remained in my top 10 albums of all time—ever since I first purchased it in 1985. Of course, I worked backwards after discovering TTF, finding The Hurting to be a brilliantly angsty and claustrophobic look at the world. I think I’m just about six years younger than Curt and Roland, and I could easily imagine them as schoolmates.
Since 1985, I have purchased every single thing TFF has released—every TFF studio album, every live album, every cover, every b-side (TFF’s b-sides are every bit as good as the Cure’s; the b-sides for each matter, a great deal), every remaster, every deluxe edition, and every solo album. No matter the cost, I’ve happily paid the price. When I switched to CDs in the 1990s, the first two I bought were The Hurting and U2’s October. I also have Orzabal’s novel. Yeah, I’m definitely a bit obsessed.
Have I revealed enough of my TFF street cred to move on?
So, despite loving TFF as one of my three favorite bands for thirty years (Rush, Talk Talk, and TFF), I owe the two Englishmen a rather large apology. For thirty years, I’ve dismissed their live performances as much as I have lauded their studio work. Not that I really knew much about them live. I’d never seen them actually in the flesh. Everything I knew of them live had been recorded, and it always felt a bit “uninspired” to me, with their vocals especially sounding weak.
Well, let me be blunt. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Last night, TFF played their hearts out. I mean: Played. Their. Hearts. Out. Holy Moses. Not only were they amazing live, they were even better live than on their studio albums. I thought it must be just my excitement at the moment as I listened to them last night. My very American enthusiasm—the kind that makes the Brits think me “over the top”—can sometimes get the best of me. But, no. Right after the concert, I listened to the brand new remastered (Steven Wilson) version of Songs from the Big Chair just to check myself and my impressions. I wasn’t wrong. They did sound better live than on Songs from the Big Chair. But, for thirty years, I’ve been wrong! So, my apologies.
From the first explosion of sound to Roland and Curt waving their final goodbyes to the audience, they performed flawlessly, with deep emotion, and with a complete (equaled only by Rush fans at a Rush concert) connection to the audience.
And, Roland and Curt loved every moment of the concert. No English reserve here. Just pure love of the art.
The show began with what I assume was a taped recording of a number of voices singing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” In hindsight, I’m questioning whether this was taped or not, as the voices might very well have been Roland’s, Curt’s, and the guest female vocalist’s (I apologize—but I didn’t catch her name). However it was done, it was done well. From complete darkness and the disembodied voices floating around the venue, an explosion of light and sound revealed the full band, and they immediately played the opening song of “Everybody. . . .”
From that very first explosion and revelation, TFF held the entire crowd (about 18,000—there were no empty chairs or spots in the entire venue) in rapt attention. I mean, that audience belonged to TFF: lock, stock, and barrel.
Though the band never took a break—expect for a minute or so before the encore—it would be fair to divide the show into two sets, broken by a cover version of Radiohead’s “Creep.”
The first set ran for 10 songs without a single pause in the music—with the exception of some very sincere and humorous banter from Roland, Curt, and the audience—Everybody; Secret World; Sowing the Seeds of Love; Pale Shelter; Break it Down Again; Everybody Loves a Happy Ending; Change; Mad World; Memories Fade; and Closest Thing to Heaven.
Set Two, coming after Creep, consisted of: Advice for the Young at Heart; Badman’s Song; Head over Heals; Woman in Chains; and Shout.
So, TFF played at least one song from every studio album except Raoul. The first set emphasized The Hurting and Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, while the second set featured The Seeds of Love.
As a three-decade long TFF fan(antic), let me make a few observations—all of which were revelations to me last night, whether minor or major ones.
First, as noted above, Roland and Curt were in top form. Not only did they sound simply perfect (Roland’s voice only gets better with age), but they were obviously happy and confident. Indeed, I think they were fairly overwhelmed by the loving response of the audience. At one point, Roland talked about a recent conversation with Curt. Roland, remembering their performance at Red Rock’s in 1985, asked Curt when the “best days” were? Curt responded: “now.”
Second, Roland is hilarious. He loves adding weird voices on a number of his songs. This, I knew. I just assumed it was all studio fun. What I’d never realized before—not yet having seen them live—is that Roland is very clearly channeling Peter Gabriel from his Genesis days. No, Roland wasn’t wearing strange outfits, but he was definitely playing different characters throughout the songs, especially in the first set. During “Break It Down” (featuring a very enthusiastic Curt, even though this song came from one of the two albums Roland wrote without him), Roland pretended to be Paul McCartney’s Admiral Halsey. It was hilarious and quite true to the art.
Third, set one could’ve been none more prog. It was just so artfully woven together. Every song flowed into every other so beautifully. Really, so TERRIBLY beautifully. I was riveted. Whether the songs were in the XTC vein of “Everybody Loves a Happy Ending” or the Steve Reichian vein of “Pale Shelter,” everything flowed together so perfectly. Obviously, Roland and Curt had created, essentially, a whole new album with their choice of individual tracks. What a tapestry of sound and texture.
Sadly, I never caught the names of the supporting band members, but they performed perfectly as well. In particular, I was struck by how the band as a whole rearranged songs from The Hurting, changing out the brass for fascinating drum or guitar fills. Again, it could get NONE MORE PROG! The transition between “Memories Fade” and “Mad World” was especially powerful, with the guitarist capturing the attention of the audience with a really weird but compelling solo. It could’ve been a 1972 Yes concert.
Fourth, the real friendship—whatever their past—between Roland and Curt was palpable. Simply put, these two men belong together. In a full-bodied Aristotelian/Thomist kind of way, nature meant these two to walk the earth together at the same time. One of the most moving (of many moving) moments came when Curt sang “Change.” As he sang the lyric, “What has happened to the friend I once knew,” Roland just looked at him with a knowing and satisfied smile. All spontaneous, all beautiful.
Fifth. This wasn’t a nostalgia tour. This was real. A real concert with real artists who have made art so well that it breathes freely and readily even after three decades.
What more to say? 13 hours after Roland and Curt waved goodbye to us, I’m still in a satisfied state of mind and soul. That my wife and I got to share that evening—an evening of art, friendship, meaning, and creativity with one of my three favorite bands over 2/3 of my life—means everything. I’m just basking in the afterglow.
If you have the chance, do not under any circumstances miss this tour. I’m already planning on seeing Tears for Fears again in Detroit in September. When I asked my wife if she’d want to go to see them again, she responded, “Of course.”
Most proggers regard side two of Hounds of Love as Kate Bush’s greatest work. I love it as well, and I have since I first heard it thirty years ago this coming autumn. Who wouldn’t be moved by the invocation of Tennyson’s Ninth Wave, by Kate as an ice witch, and by the observation of it all from orbit? The entire album, but especially side two, is a thing of beauty.
Equally gorgeous to me, though, is Bush’s 2005 album, Aerial, and, in particular, side two, “An Endless Sky of Honey.”
No one, no one is here
No one, no one is here
We stand in the Atlantic
We become panoramic
The stars are caught in our hair
The stars are on our fingers
A veil of diamond dust
Just reach up and touch it
The sky’s above our heads
The sea’s around our legs
In milky, silky water
We swim further and further
–Kate Bush, “Nocturn”
Indeed, let me blunt, it’s not only my favorite Bush song, it’s probably one of my top ten songs of all time. All 42 minutes of it—an examination of the beauties and creativities in one twenty-four hour period.
The song is without a flaw, to be sure, and it’s the interplay of Bush’s ethereal vocals, the adventuresome grand piano, and the tasteful upright bass that makes this song such a gem even with nothing more than a superficial listen. The drumming, too, does much for the music. It’s not varied, it’s consistent in a Lee Harris fashion. In it’s consistency, it allows every other instrument to swirl in a varied menagerie.
But, even more than this, it’s Bush’s use of birdsong that makes this song nothing less than precious in the history of music. If music at its highest reflects the turning of the spheres, as Plato believed, then Bush has mimicked nature with perfection. It’s as though Bush embraced the Natural Law in all of its mysterious rhythms and held the entire delicate thing in a shaft of sunlight, that moment when the twilight sun peers into stained glass revealing not just the spectrum and the mote of light, but the unpredictable oceanic dance of freed dust particles.
Not atypical for prog epics, Bush broke the song in multiple parts: Prelude; Prologue; An Architect’s Dream; The Painter’s Link; Sunset; Aerial Tal; Somewhere in Between; Nocturn; and Aerial. Again, not atypically, there exist no moments of silence between the parts, each part lushly flowing into what follows.
Whose shadow, long and low
Is slipping out of wet clothes?
And changes into the most beautiful iridescent blue
Who knows who wrote that song of Summer
That blackbirds sing at dusk
This is a song of color
Where sands sing in crimson, red and rust
Then climb into bed and turn to dust
Every sleepy light must say goodbye
To the day before it dies
In a sea of honey, a sky of honey
Keep us close to your heart
So if the skies turn dark
We may live on in comets and stars
Who knows who wrote that song of Summer
That blackbirds sing at dusk
This is a song of color
Where sands sing in crimson, red and rust
Then climb into bed and turn to dust
–Kate Bush, “Sunset”
If side two of Hounds of Love, “The Ninth Wave,” reached deeply into Celtic myth, disk two of Aerial, an “Endless Sky of Honey,” reifies the thoughts of Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas More, calling upon the rigorous reflection of creation itself.
Nature makes nothing in vain, but only grace perfects nature.
In 2005, Kate Bush was that agent of Grace.