Now here’s an interesting thought to ponder. Out there in the home studios – namely the studies, spare rooms and sheds of the Western world and beyond, a legion of creatively inclined souls are currently working hard, writing, playing and developing compositions and songs, which, they hope, will be subsequently released to a wider audience.
Because of the miracles of modern technology and the close camaraderie that exists in the greater prog community, this initial concept can be taken a step further so that as well as making your own music, you can invite other artistes to provide their own contributions. I have seen countless examples of this taking place where the global village concept of music is now a reality rather than prophetic line from Marshall McLuhan in the early 60s.
This ease of connection has been key to John Holden, a multi-instrumentalist and composer from the north of England, following his star and capturing light for a musical project, which, in terms of dramatis personae, is right up there with any line-up Alan Parsons ever assembled.
Always drawn to the limitless potential prog has to offer, John explains on his website: ‘I wanted to see if I could make music that would meet my expectations and earn its place in the genre.’
So having composed an album’s worth of songs, he laid them down in demo form and decided to start asking a few musicians to participate and sought guidance from some top sound wizards.
Two years later, John is about to release the finished result – Capture Light which will be released on 23 March.
Well, where to start on describing what’s in store on Capture Light? The most immediate facet of it is the attention, thought and care which has gone into presenting the music, something of particular importance if you are a relative unknown in prog circles and want to demonstrate your credentials to an established knowledgeable and discerning fan base.
Headline-grabbing guest musicians are also a draw especially before listening to the album and anticipating what their individual contributions might comprise.
John has certainly done his due diligence in both cases on Capture Light and here’s how. First of all, the eight songs featured are all quite distinct vignettes, all with different themes both historical and mystical which has enabled John to widen his musical palette.
The opener, Tears From The Sun, gives glimpses on those inspirations on which he draws throughout. There’s a hint of Mike Oldfield, a tincture of Yes and a smattering of Pink Floyd in the ethereal instrumental passages before Joe Payne lets fly that heaven-bound voice on a prayer and chorus, based on the myth of the Seven Cities of Gold. The song takes the part of a Catholic priest on one of the numerous expeditions which robbed the Incas of their cultural heritage and turned adventurers from pious men into greedy, corrupt individuals. Oliver Wakeman is on hand to provide the delightful piano and keyboards sections of the song right up until the fade-out.
Crimson Sky is based on a quote from the book Rockwood by prolific English historical novelist William Harrison Ainsworth. Much of its appeal comes from the edgier tone of the song and the voice of Julie Gater which evokes the velvety tones of Karen Carpenter. Alongside this is pitched some very distinctive, original guitar work from Billy Sherwood, now currently out on the road with Yes.
The title track harks back to some artistic courtly rivalries in Renaissance Italy. That courtly stateliness is beautifully captured by Oliver Day’s guitar, mandolin and lute while Payne returns to tell the story of Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto, and the latter’s masterpiece, Il Paradiso.
Probably the most commercial of all Holden’s songs is Ancient of Days which has a touch of the West End about it through its huge theatrical sound. Mystery’s Jean Pageau leads the vocal line, accompanied by Marc Atkinson and Lee-Anne Beecher but it’s the tribal drumming of Emily Dolan Davies that takes it to another level.
Taking off on another interesting tangent in his story themes, Holden recalls in One Race the triumphs of Jesse Owens, the legendary black US sprinter who won four gold medals, including the blue riband 100 metres, at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in full gaze of Adolf Hitler. However, as the poignant lyrics reveal, afterwards he was not invited to the White House to shake hands with the President. Payne again gives a thoughtful vocal performance accompanied by Max Read on vocal harmoniser.
It’s the influence of Native Americans that inspires Dreamcatching, a sparser instrumental, on which Sherwood appears on bass. Here, a simple drum pattern is used to expound the symbolism behind these beliefs together with a spoken narration.
The music shifts again to the gentle swing and movement of No Man’s Land, a gorgeous song which is there simply to be enjoyed through Gater’s mellifluous voice. Gary O’Toole from Steve Hackett’s band offers additional vocals and drums to the track.
Closing the album is the wistful, nostalgic feel of Seaglass Hearts, Gater paired vocally this time by Tiger Moth Tales’ Peter Jones, who also contributes a saxophone solo. The final coda and sign-off is a a short vaudeville piano burst of the classic Swinging On A Star to complement the moonbeams and jar on the album cover.
Even with this all star cast, Holden is responsible for 70 per cent of the music, namely guitars, bass, keyboards and programming. He also co-wrote all the lyrics with Elizabeth Buckley, then recorded and produced it all. But in keeping with the stellar cast, the mastering was carried out by Robin (Cosmograf) Armstrong, while Holden sought sound advice from go-to engineer, Rob Aubrey.
All in all, this is an album of innate melodic loveliness and feeling with the odd glimpse what might have happened if The Carpenters and Mike Oldfield ever got together!
The love and effort put into Capture Light is apparent from start to finish. And in lieu of the album’s release, all you need to know for now is on John’s website.