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!
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.
Everyone loves an overture, and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint. Plenty of suitably bombastic stuff going on, and all of it proggingly good!
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!
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.
With a haunting intro, this instrumental track slows the pace down somewhat but delivers plenty of power with some epic, soaring guitar work. Superb!
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.
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.