Twelfth Night was one of the most influential and respected British neo-prog bands. Though the band’s career was interrupted by various changes in the dramatis personae, many view Fact or Fiction, released in 1982, as their finest album. This was a commentary on the double speak and mind control beginning to permeate society, arriving two years ahead of the year of reckoning as predicted in George Orwell’s 1984.
The album represented the band at their zenith which also saw them playing the Reading Festival for the second time, a tour across the UK and a live album recorded at London’s legendary Marquee Club, at which vocalist Geoff Mann was to make his final appearances with the band.
Part of the main dynamic of the band was the close relationship between Mann and multi-instrumentalist Clive Mitten, who collaborated in bringing this visceral, angry album to life, its sign-off being the beautiful ballad Love Song which, ironically, became the band’s anthem.
Mann left the band, pursued a solo career and was ordinated as a Church of England vicar in 1992 just at the time as he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, which tragically claimed his life the following year.
Fast forward 20 years after his passing and on an emotionally-charged night with a modified team line-up, Twelfth Night, billed as the Cryptic Clues, played their final gig at the Barbican Centre, London.
In 2016, Mitten, who had not composed any new music for more than 30 years, was galvanised into action again when an intensely personal event took on hugely political significance. Mitten’s wife had been vilified on the front page of one of the UK’s more notorious red top national newspapers.
As Mitten says, he learned that day that in the mainstream media, being tried by tabloid was more important than whether there was a scintilla of truth in the headline (there wasn’t). He also learned that social media is a dark place, driven by hate, bigotry and misogyny.
At the same time, popular totalitarianism was awakening in the west as a former game show host was running for President in the USA. As Mitten observes, Nazis were back on Britain’s streets, MP Jo Cox murdered in plain sight in a northern town, the perpetrator having links with the National Front and the English Defence League.
Then there was the infamous red bus which sold a lie to the public who voted accordingly in the British referendum to decide whether the United Kingdom should leave the EU. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Suddenly, the world Geoff and I had foreseen in Fact And Fiction felt very real, ” said Mitten.
So began a very intensive period of activity which has resulted in the release of The Age Of Insanity, Mitten’s very personal unification of Fact And Fiction with the events and observations of the present. Or as the Orwellian quote in the CD digipack so chillingly informs: “He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future.”
With a small team of hand-picked musicians, The Age of Insanity by The C:Live Collective is the first of a series of linked releases due out in 2018.
Coming in at 59:43 and book-ended by new versions of Fact And Fiction’s We Are Sane (Part One) and a new version of This City, this time set in London, the four part The Fifth Estate is a hugely ambitious undertaking, because, apart from Part One, it is totally instrumental.
To bring his composition to life, Mitten’s collective comprises musicians drummer Fudge Smith, formerly of Pendragon and Steve Hackett, and pianist Stephen Bennett who has collaborated with Tim Bowness, Henry Fool, and with Bowness and Steven Wilson in No-Man. Both of them were in LaHost with Mark Spencer, who was the erstwhile Twelfth Night singer who shares the album’s vocal duties with Jamie Mann, son of Geoff Mann. Both singers symbolise the continuity from Twelfth Night to the totally new reworkings of the old songs, reimagined by Mitten.
A wash of synthesisers starts The Fifth Estate Part One with Te Dium, Spencer’s resonant voice begins the narrative on We Are Sane, the highlight of which is a powerful, rhythmic passage picking up the Twelfth Night dynamic in the words, “We are sane, not insane.”
The final passage The Dictator Speaks is a chilling indictment on how the State tries to influence and manipulate, interspersing narrative and verses to hammer home the message. Smith’s huge battery of drums and an angry guitar from Spencer, who is also currently playing bass with Galahad and guitar with Alan Reed and the Daughters of Expediency,also feature, the track playing the sound of surveillance helicopters circling overhead which evokes a general feel of hopelessness. Spencer does a fantastic job both vocally and instrumentally on this song.
The Fifth Estate Part 2 takes us on a beguiling trip through electronica, inspired by Mitten’s love of American minimalist composers such as John Adams and Philip Glass. He mixes deep, mournful cello string sounds with synths. Listen carefully and in that mix is bird song, more helicopters, the sound of a church bell chiming and a plaintive synth motif which develops into a soaring, moving melody line, offering a glimpse of hope among the despair.
Big chords punctuate the melody line which then takes off into Kraftwerk territory, Mitten’s thundering bass underpinning the silky synth sounds. Choppy synth stylings interplay, dancing in and out of the melody. The sound of aeroplanes overhead and a quick burst of The White Cliffs Of Dover lead into a more frenetic, darker sound before there’s a return to the main melody, punctuated by a searing guitar.
The vibe changes with a staccato keyboard sound and a cello like accompaniment leading into one of the main themes, entitled Postscript. In it, a lush string effect is repeated and embellished which sounds incredibly beautiful and haunting before the theme evolves and develops further, a deeper string sound permeating the now skeleton keyboards.
Part Three starts with muted sounds of aircraft and war is hinted at beyond the keyboard sounds. A choir effect leads into Mitten launching one of his bass adventures (remember The Poet Sniffs A Flower) before a church-like organ sound appears intermittently along in the main instrumental line. (Is this a nod to Mann’s influence)?
There’s also a far darker sci-fi type theme, full of brooding and menace and the distant sounds of bombs detonating. The tempo drops again and we are back into a dystopian landscape sound-wise. It then resumes as flowing keyboards and a cinematic passage are added, then morphs into a huge ball of electronic confusion, before Bennett comes to the fore with a gorgeous piano section. A huge, expressive guitar solo then rings out, Bennett’s piano returns and a final electronica-led delicate passage brings this movement to a close.
Part Four starts with a huge orchestral sweep and a palpable air of anticipation which develops into a huge electronica beat, nailed perfectly by Smith. The wash of effects begins to build and expand and that insidious beat returns along with some classical stylings. Postscript returns as a reprisal, this time more triumphant and gorgeous than ever with an enhanced rhythm and bigger guitars.
And finally, as a nod to the past, we return with a huge synth introduction to take the song to the lines, And Did Those Feet from Jerusalem. It is Jamie Mann whose haunting voice takes centre stage for the reworking of This City. His voice has all the grittiness and depth of his much missed father and works brilliantly against a pulsating electro beat. His voice soars on the lines: “We are all this city” then “Kids in food bank lines, take it back – your city”.
This is an album which in many ways is hard to quantify but that’s a good thing because it works on so many different levels. Mitten’s commentary in the digipack goes a long way to providing the back story, but you feel it ventures far beyond the personal and political.
It also goes much much further than being a prog album. Because of the nature of the central musical themes, it has a huge panoramic, cinematic feel which visits electronica and dance along its trajectory. The Fifth Estate will re-appear later this year in its full vocal version.
The C:Live Collective will be making its live debut at the Winter’s End Festival in Chepstow, Wales at the end of next month (April). Something is already telling me that this could be one of the live performances of the year.