Our esteemed Progarchy editor has invited me to offer some thoughts and insights about how music has shaped my life; so hang on to your hats as there will be much to impart – but not all at once!
Where did it all begin? That’s an interesting question as my first memories are of bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, circa 1964. Even then, the Beatles were the good guys and their single “She Loves You” was the first record I ever owned when I was six. The Rolling Stones were cast as the bad guys and quite honestly, I never really took to them until much, much later when I finally came to understand the more darkly adult themes within their music.
I was brought up on hip new television programmes such as “Ready Steady Go”, “Juke Box Jury” and of course, the iconic “Top of the Pops”, which was then a cutting edge programme very much in its infancy.
However, it was my parents who gave me the first taster of some of what was to come. My Dad, who has always been a huge jazz/big band fan, had a sizeable collection of 78s by artistes such as Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman with “The Woodchopper’s Ball”, Stan Kenton, Tommy Dorsey and Nelson Riddle. Although I did not have the same deep affection for his big band passions, Dad certainly did teach me how to appreciate and enjoy music- as he found out later to his cost when I became a teenager!
There were two bands that he particularly loved, who went on to influence me and indeed, many of our contemporary heroes.
One was The Four Freshmen, an American four piece vocal harmony band, very much in the jazz tradition, who also played their own instruments. Some of their renditions of standards like “Tuxedo Junction”, “Baltimore Oriele” and “Poinciana” were simply breath-taking in their harmonic complexity and beauty. It is no surprise then that they were a major influence on Brian Wilson, and their vocal style provided the foundations for all that is best in the Beach Boys. Both The Manhattan Transfer and Donald Fagin have also acknowledged the Freshmen as a major inspiration.
Perhaps this is why I have a great love of bands which specialise in close vocal harmonies. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Zombies, Yes, Queen and Simon & Garfunkel come immediately to mind along with the brilliant Fleet Foxes, and latterly, the great Moon Safari with their vocalist/keyboard player Simon Åkesson’s amazing a capella side project, Accent.
My father’s other great musical love was the Jacques Loussier Trio, an outfit which puts an amazing jazzy spin on European classical music, led by the charismatic, celebral French piano maestro Jacques Loussier, who is also a pilot and wine producer.
I loved the way these three musicians could so effortlessly fuse two distinct musical styles to create a brand new modern-sounding idiom. They were, in fact, probably the first musicians I ever saw in concert at the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth and I must thank my parents for taking me along that night.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would hear of them again much further down the line. But it comes as absolutely no surprise that they are one of Andy Tillison’s major influences and you can detect that inspiration in The Tangent’s music, especially when the Maestro cuts loose his jazzier mojo.
To a lesser extent, the other group who I remember hearing very early one via my parents was The Swingle Singers. There are links with the Freshmen and Loussier yet again as this group were French-based and weave their close harmony vocal magic on European classics in very much a jazz style, with double bass and drums accompaniment, their most famous interpretation being Bach’s “Air On A G String”. And if you listen to the instrumental passage in ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”, you will find them right in there too!
There were early classical influences too, such as Antonín Dvořák’s extraordinary Symphony No 9, better known as “The New World Symphony”, which was influenced by his experiences of America and its native music. The other piece which really rang true was “Vltava”, more popularly known as “The Moldau”, by his fellow Czech composer Bedrich Smetlana. This was the first time I ever heard nature pervading music with that incredible “river” effect achieved in the composition.
I have never had a chance to reflect on these beginnings but, writing it down now, it makes perfect sense and gives me a much greater understanding on why I now love the music of so many artistes, who use so much of what is best in classical and jazz, to give us this all- encompassing style we know and love as prog.