The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-Eight): Jan Dukes de Grey

Combine the following ingredients in a vintage mixing bowl: the Gothic atmosphere of Van der Graaf Generator, the versatility and dexterity of the members of Gentle Giant, the guitar of Jimi Hendrix, the flute of Peter Gabriel, and include dash of Jethro Tull for taste. The result? Perhaps the most polished of obscure gems I have reviewed thus far. Jan Dukes de Grey’s Mice and Rats in the Loft is a psychedelic, folk-inspired acid trip that will leave the listener both mildly disturbed (listen closely to the lyrics) and suitably impressed.

After Sorcerer‘s (their debut album) cool reception from both fans and critics, British duo Jan Dukes de Grey (multi-instrumentalists Derek Noy and Michael Bairstow) brought on drummer Denis Conlan to give their follow up effort some “umph.” Although Mice and Rats in the Loft received little attention upon its initial release, it has since acquired a dedicated cult following; the album is now an in-demand collector’s item. Like many prog albums of yore, Mice and Rats in the Loft includes only three songs, but they are heavy hitters:

The opening number, “Sun Symphonica,” begins like a Jethro Tull song: your ears are greeted by the lovely, pastoral sound of a lilting flute. But soon the madness begins: Conlan pounds the drums, and Bairstow and Noy sound like two madmen enjoying themselves through music. The latter two gentlemen display their talents on just about everything: keys, guitar, flute, sax, clarinet, etc. Noy’s theatrical vocals combine with some rather ominous lyrics to weave a tale that is sure to leave you rattled by the end.

“Call of the Wild” skips the pleasant opening notes of the first song and gets straight to the madness. Noy’s work on twelve-string guitar on this album is superb – comparable to Hackett or Howe, in fact – and he shreds (yes, shreds) on this song. There are several moments – one about eight minutes in, another at the end of the piece – where Noy’s distorted guitar transports the listener into a Gothic-folk setting. This song is downright Lovecraftian in atmosphere.

The title track leaves the listener feeling no less worried about his mental or emotional state: we are greeted with the sound of a wailing siren before Noy’s electric guitar (sounding like Hendrix here) is unleashed on our ears. Like the previous two songs, the lyrics are meant to unsettle (“The blood trickled down between his…fingers”). It’s not long before we begin to wonder what exactly those mice and rats are doing upstairs….

This album is a marvelous maelstrom – a chilling cacophony – a sinister symphony – of sound. The (slightly) twisted minds of Bairstow, Noy, and Conlan offer the best elements of prog: fantastical lyrics, theatrical vocals, unbelievable versatility, and an overall unsettling atmosphere that will satisfy even the most persnickety of proggers. Do yourself a favor and give this one a listen.

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