AN INTERVIEW WITH AUSTRALIAN PROG ARTIST, BEN CRAVEN ON HIS NEW ALBUM “THE SINGLE EDITS”

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I’m used to getting referrals to up-and-coming albums from mainly artists or even the rare heads-up from labels (remember those?), and even among my peers here at Progarchy, but it’s a special occasion when a fellow Prog fan, Robert Silverstein asks me if I’d like to give a mention to Ben Craven’s new album, “The Single Edits.” To be honest Ben had never shown up on my radar, or not that I can recall, so it was interesting to hear his album  with no preconceptions whatsoever. I purposely didn’t google any information about this Australian artist other than receive a one sheet digital blurb Robert sent me. He organized a contact between Ben and myself not long after that and I received in the mail his new CD album which I instantly loved the artwork by Freyja Dean with Ben’s logo courtesy of her father. More on that later. But I also really enjoyed hearing the whole CD for the first time which is always a good sign. I’ll go into that in our interview, but what I know about Ben I’m happy to share here with a few lines.

cover_3240113042017_rHailing from Brisbane, Australia Ben self taught himself guitar and keys, and played in a number of local bands. 2005 he went solo and recorded an album titled “Two False Idolsunder the name of Tunisia, inspired by The Beach Boys and Pink Floyd. A live acoustic EP Under Deconstruction was released free nest. It was in response to how the Labels were really making a mess of the new mediums for listening and playing music. Roger Dean’s artwork graced Ben’s next album, “Great & Terrible Potions.”  Then in 2016 he released Last Chance To Hear, where instrumentals played a larger part in the tracks provided. “Spy In The Sky Part 3” also featured William Shatner. We’ll go into this a little more in the interview below. suffice to say Ben has collated a number of tracks from his back catalogue and released them as a digital download last year. Encouraged by the response he has edited them further and released a CD/digital download under the album heading, “The Singles Edit.” You’re in for a treat. Ben is a very talented artist who shows his Pink Floyd colours on certain numbers with that David Gilmour soaring guitar down pat, but with an added taste uniquely all his. All found on his latest album and have to say I’m really impressed with the overall packaging of it. I can’t think of a better way of getting to know Ben Craven’s music . Enjoy.

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How did you initially get involved in Progressive Rock?

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I’ve listened to progressive rock all my life without even realising it. When I was three years old I had a cassette tape of “Days Of Future Passed” by the Moody Blues, which I played endlessly. I remember it particularly because it always used to jam and get tangled in the tape player. Later I discovered Pink Floyd and ELP in my parents’ record collection. I had no idea there was a particular label or a genre for any of this music. I just knew it stood out from the other things I heard on the radio and seemed much more exciting and rewarding to me as a listener.

When I did eventually record my first album, “Two False Idols”, it was a lot closer to Floyd than, say, Yes. I used the term “cinematic rock” to describe it. It wasn’t until later that events conspired to change that to “progressive rock”.

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To some extent this is a compilation album containing tracks from your various releases (which I’ve yet to discover and listen to). What was your process of cherry picking these tracks specifically for this album?

logoThis compilation started out as my attempt to address the music streaming problem. Most artists out there seem to be happy enough making their entire catalogues freely available on Spotify. I don’t perform live very often, so physical CD and download sales are still important to me. I didn’t want to abandon that concept just to become “discoverable” and gain “exposure”, so my music wasn’t being represented on the major streaming services.

However, making a compilation of single edits available seemed like an ideal solution. That way, bite-sized chunks of my music could be found on Spotify, and perhaps that would encourage people to track down the longer versions from the original albums on Bandcamp. So I tried to represent each of my three albums equally, and picked the most accessible tracks from each. Some of them already existed as single edits for airplay or video clips, and others were reimagined and remixed as singles.

Aquamarine” and “Great Divide” has a kind of David Gilmour vibe to it in my opinion. Were there any bands that inspired you, either internationally or local?

logoClearly, Pink Floyd and David Gilmour in particular are a huge influence. Gilmour was the first player, for me, who combined melodic taste with the ear candy of his incredible tone, and inspired me to actually pick up a guitar rather than admiring it from a distance.

 

Then I discovered Yes. Wow. I had never heard anything like it. After being immersed in glacial Floyd, the keyboards and guitar playing were beyond my league of comprehension at first. But that amazing, punchy lead bass guitar, I understood immediately. Chris Squire’s deliberate choice of basslines blew me away. It was like Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney on steroids. And Bill Bruford’s drums were utterly gorgeous, both sonically and melodically.

It’s worth pointing out as well that as an 8-year old, before I had any awareness of the existence of progressive rock, I was hooked on John Williams movie scores, particularly the Lucasfilm ones. Williams was at his height around that time and everything he touched turned to gold. I suspect in the back of my mind I’m always trying to achieve the musical equivalent in a rock context.

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The first thing I noticed with the first minute of hearing “The Single Edits” and recurring throughout the album is how embedded the sound was cinematically in the 60’s particularly to my ears such as the track on here, “Critical Mass Part 2“, any spy movie that comes to mind. Thematically was that an intention at all by you?

logoI don’t doubt it, but it’s probably not as contrived as you expect. I am a huge fan of John Barry and Henry Mancini movie soundtracks, especially from the 1960s, along with The Ventures, The Shadows, The Beach Boys and so on. In another life I could quite happily play in a surf instrumental band, and may yet even do so if I retire to the beach one day and start collecting Hawaiian shirts.

My work has increasingly been moving more into instrumental territory as I’ve become more confident in my writing and arranging abilities and the music itself becomes more over-the-top. I suppose I have naturally gravitated towards twangy guitar as one alternative “voice” for the melodies.

It probably comes as no surprise that producing a theme for a James Bond movie was something I aspired to, a big traditional Barry-like theme. Given how the film franchise has moved on and the business operates, it’s difficult to think of something more unlikely now. So instead I just make them for my own amusement.

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There is quite a strong Yes presence in that you had Roger Dean (for your logo and of course for the artwork for your “Great & Terrible Potions” album) and his daughter Freyja Dean to do the album cover and beautiful bird illustrations for this one, not to mention Billy Sherwood engineering and producing one of the vocal tracks with William Shatner? That’s some serious namedropping there. How did each of these artists get involved?

logoIt all started with “Great & Terrible Potions”, which was my second album. I had been uncomfortable about embracing the label of “progressive rock” up to that point because I thought it was a little presumptuous and also carried with it certain expectations for the music, lyrics and my own instrumental ability. However a friend who was working for a record label at the time heard the works-in-progress and not only convinced me that it was indeed progressive rock but also that it needed a Roger Dean cover! Something I would have never had the temerity to consider myself, but I could certainly see the merit in his idea. I tracked down Roger and the “Great & Terrible Potions” cover was the result. It was really a most incredibly exciting and surreal event.

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It was through Roger that I met his daughter, Freyja Dean who is just as ridiculously and unfairly talented. Freyja has a particular style all of her own, yet you can still recognise her heritage in her work. She painted the cover for the subsequent album “Last Chance To Hear” – in fact she painted six covers and we used them all – and also the cover for this new single collection. His name is Archie, he’s a starling, and according to Freyja, he’s a bit of a lad.

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Last Chance To Hear” included quite a long track called “Spy In The Sky” which featured fairly esoteric lyrics and climaxed with a guitar and minimoog solo duel. I sang it originally but could never get past the aural image I had in my mind of a spoken voice. A grand voice. A Captain of the Enterprise. William Shatner, perhaps. I’m a huge fan of Star Trek, loved his work on Boston Legal, and I’m yet to hear anything quite like his album “The Transformed Man”. A sensible person would have dismissed this idea as impossible, so naturally I was obliged to pursue it. My secret weapon and fulfiller of dreams was Billy Sherwood, who had worked with Shatner on his excellent album “Ponder The Mystery”. Somehow they found the time and opportunity to record the vocals for “Spy In The Sky” at the Shatner residence in LA!  Looking back now, it seems miraculous how all the stars aligned to make it happen.

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Is there anything new that you’re working on?

logoAlways! I’m trying to finish off a piece of music for the next United Progressive Fraternity album and have been recording guitar parts for prog artist Joost Maglev from the Netherlands. Also recording songs with a local Brisbane band called Frankenfido, remixing my previous albums in 5.1 surround, and all the time trying to sneak in work on my next album proper. I’ve just about finished the opening 10-minute track.

Where can listeners hear tracks from your album, Ben, and purchase the CD/digital?

logoThe best place to go is my Bandcamp page where everything is available:

https://bencraven.bandcamp.com/

You can also contact Ben through his Facebook page:

Ben Craven on Facebook

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“CAPTURE LIGHT” REDUX

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Before we start….

You know, and I can’t speak for everyone here, we Prog scribblers strive to find our own voice, to make our mark among the many others who receive the same albums to review or even write columns about, and to, hopefully, make it interesting to read. So we’re a bit reluctant to go over the same ground that’s already been covered, and in my case, fellow Progarchy columnist and good friend, Alison has already  written a wonderful and informative piece for Progarchy on this album by JOHN HOLDEN titled, “CAPTURE LIGHT” to be released on the 23 MARCH 2018. Alison’s review hits the spot so if you haven’t already I suggest and encourage you to click on this link first before reading any further to get a rundown of each track and the artists involved

‘An enlightened musical journey: John Holden’ from Alison’s Column

See what I mean? A really good and informative review. Not sure how well I’ll do myself but in my own way to capture the light (did you see what I did there?) I spoke to John about his album via social media and asked him a few questions to which he kindly replied. Before I start I will say that John strongly suggested I listen to his new album through my headphones. More an insistence really. And rightly so. This album just adds new dimensions between the ears with its careful layering and placement of sounds thanks to the superb mixing on this album. Treat yourself.

Oh, and while we’re at it… before we start [part two] I also highly recommend you check out the always informative YES MUSIC PODCAST show this week where Kevin interviews John about his new album.

Interview Special – John Holden’s New Album, Capture Light – 326

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Continue reading ““CAPTURE LIGHT” REDUX”

ENDEAVOURING CONCEPTS: FREDERICK MCKINNON’S AND TIM HUNTER’S TRILOGY ALBUMS ON THE LIFE AND WAYFARINGS OF CAPTAIN JAMES COOK

   

“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.JAMES COOK

 

This adventurer and explorer certainly lived up to his words back in the 18th century when he set out on three voyages to the uncharted Pacific regions of the planet to initially record the 1769 transit of Venus across the Sun for scientific research onboard the HMS Bark Endeavour. The sheer excitement of his voyages across thousands of miles around this region captured our imagination in school classes at a young age, as we recalled the man and his crew, not forgetting his wonderful sailing ship that literally, put us on the map down here in New Zealand. It is a name very familiar to all of us, and yet is but a sheer glimpse to the life of a man who even outlived all of his six children to Elizabeth Cook.
But that is his greatness and his doom that we mostly measure and recall. The sum total of who he was and what he did beyond the decks of the Endeavour show us more of the man and those arouncookd him, and to that mind, both Frederick McKinnon and Tim Hunter have created and produced a three volume recording around a play they’ve written on this amazing explorer titled: “JOURNEYS: CAPTAIN JAMES COOK.” 2018 is an auspicious time to release these as they mark the 250th year of Cook setting out to the Pacific realms and of course the 239th anniversary of his fatal demise in Hawaii, 14th February, 1779 over a stolen cutter.
But we’re ahead of ourselves. This is a mammoth task both Frederick and Tim have set for themselves, and make good use of the 3 volumed digital release to start off with Cook at 17 standing on a cliff overlooking Whitby Harbour in North Yorkshire contemplating a life at sea. The first volume covers the highlights of the arc of his life, including service in Canada with the British Navy and his relationship with his wife, Elizabeth, and following sojourns to the South Pacific.  The other two volumes go deeper into some of his seaward adventures and also a change in perspective of those in Cook’s orbit who share their own feelings about him.
As said, it is a full length musical play with music composed by Tim Hunter, and lyrics tim cook 5and dialogue penned by New York playwright Frederick McKinnon. At the time of writing Tim reported, “I’ve been interested for a while of working on a musical project about James Cook, I was particularly fascinated in Cook’s connections with East London, where I lived for a while.” He went on to add, “I joined forces with Fred, who was a fellow Cook enthusiast, and we’ve been working on the project for about a year now.”
tim cook 4Prog artist and fan, Tim not only plays the part of Captain James Cook he also provides guitar and keyboards throughout. Cook is a subject dear to his heart.  “We’re very proud, in North Yorkshire, of James Cook, who spent the early years of his life here. Cook rose from humble origins to become one of the world’s greatest explorers. On his three great Pacific voyages, he re-drew the map of the world and paved the way for the peoples of Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, French Polynesia and British Columbia to no longer live in global isolation.” The albums were released under his label Northern Soundscapes. Tim is also a member of Anglo-French group, ‘Silver Hunter’ who play Marillion-style Prog. He also aired the popular ‘ProgYes’ Radio show on Phoenix FM for two and a half years.
One of the interesting and memorable tracks from these albums is “Let Peace Prevail (In New Zealand)” which Tim sings as a relieved Captain Cook who has found a viable connection with the indigenous Maori and hopefully building a continued relationship between the two countries of Britain and New Zealand. Cook would be please to see this bonding has lasted all these centuries.

London-based actress and singer, Sarah Lipman was cast as Elizabeth Cook and provides cook 3through her vocals a pivotal insight into her relationship with James. Two of the tracks from the first album focus on her coping without her husband and raising their family.

So Long Gone: While James Cook is still away at sea, Elizabeth returns home after burying their baby daughter and reveals her emotions concerning her husband, who has been gone for two years and eight months.

I Am the Man I Have to Be“: Despite Elizabeth’s misgivings, James is about to leave on what would be his last great adventure. He and his wife sing a duet sharing their intimate, but sometime conflicting, feelings. 

Phil Smith as Lt. James Burney, and Phil Dean as William Hartwig complete the cast. Tim also included in these production a whole raft of sound effects to capture the times and environment of a sea-going voyage and ambience of a play setting for your enjoyment.
‘Journeys: Captain James Cook is not only a historical labour of love for both Tim and Frederick towards the legacy of one of our most treasured explorers, it’s also their homage to the ever so humble concept album merging both play and Prog for your enjoyment. Cook once said, “The man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd…” so here’s your chance to ride the waves of the Pacific Ocean with Cook and his crew who did turn his back to the crowd and sailed into eternity.
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HM Endeavour
MORE INFO:
Check out a video of the first act: scene 1

 

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You can contact Tim for more information on his Facebook page at:

 

Here’s to 2018 and a year of more PROG!

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As one of the contributing writers here at Progarchy I look forward to what this year brings with new and exciting Prog. We have the 50th Anniversary celebrations of Yes and their music which us Yesfans are excited about. This will be Prog’s year to celebrate and enjoy all the music expected. Look forward to your comments on each article.

And let your Prog friends know about us! Happy New Year!

“Behold Isildur’s Bane!”

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Of course Elrond was talking about the one ring, but equally so, he could have been recommending the band with almost the same name’s (give or take an apostrophe) new album titled, “Off the Radar.” If you’re not familiar with this Swedish group then you’re in for a very pleasant surprise. Pigeon-hole Isildurs Bane at your peril.

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There are so many layers to this to ponder on and encompass; so many ‘Colours Not Found In Nature’ as was aptly titled from their previous album with Steve Hogarth onboard.  Each track deserved of your attention with so many talented musicians finding their place within to infuse a delicious pattern of sound joined or blended, but never dulled or confusing, even though sometimes you feel there is madness to their avant garde method, no borders left unturned, they have created an orchestral fusion of shifting melody which works wonderfully.

It all depends which direction you follow, and you’d be hard pressed finding a chorus on any of the six listings including a live bonus classically inspired track titled ‘Uvertyr / Open (Live 2016)’ at the end, but that is the beauty and charm of this band who are now well into their 41st year of “changes in personnel, straying far from their symphonic rock origins to become a rock-based chamber ensemble.” Or so they represent themselves claiming their very own niche in Prog along paths the likes of Frank Zappa or perhaps a jazz-inspired Gong have walked. It’s a sound they’ve reinforced over the years, and I have to admit I’ve only heard a couple of their albums in the past including the ever haunting ‘The Voyage – A Trip to Elsewhere’ released in 1992. just listen to the oh so brief ninth track ‘Picassiette – Third Walk’ and you’ll know where I’m coming from.

So here is a run down of the ensemble for this new album: Continue reading ““Behold Isildur’s Bane!””

‘EY UP! WINTER’S COMING! Fair Starved and champion.

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Apart from the blatantly stereotypical header above, ‘Game Of Thrones’ isn’t the only strong namedropping connection to Yorkshire at the moment. Hailing from what was once dubbed the County of York, a new Prog band calling themselves THIS WINTER MACHINE has emerged in an area starved of such bands. When asked what the Prog scene was like locally, vocalist, AL WYNTER replied, “The short answer is that there isn’t really one. There are a couple of bands, and an organisation that puts on gigs but there is no scene to speak of. No dedicated venues or prog nights anywhere and its hard to get decent gigs playing original material.” That hasn’t at all deterred the band from playing and recording what was their debut album now with F2 Records titled ‘THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS.’

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Track listings

1. The Man Who Never Was (16:05) :
– a) Asleep
– b) Dreaming
– c) Snow
– d) Awake
2. The Wheel (9:28)
3. Lullaby (Interrupted) (4:53)
4. After Tomorrow Comes (7:58)
5. Fractured (10:26)

Total Time 48:50

There were a couple of lineup changes but for the sake of this album released in January 2017 we’ll go with Al Wynter (Vocals), Marcus Murray (drums), Mark Numan (keyboards and backing vocals), Gary Jevon (guitars), and Peter Priestley (Bass). I asked Al how the band got together.  “Well I put an ad out,” he explains, “and Marcus and Mark, and a different bassist came and jammed and we got on okay. After a couple of rehearsals it was clear the bassist wouldn’t be able to commit and put in the required time so Pete, who I’ve known for many years, offered to step in. Then Jevo came on board and the album was written and recorded in a matter of weeks. We started writing from the first rehearsal. When Jevo left we advertised and Graham was a friend of Marks (keys player) and joined. Then Pete had the idea of having 2 guitarists so Scott came through the auditions and joined. And now here we are.

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When asked about the origins of the band’s name, the vocalist acknowledges, “My surname is a play on the band name. The idea of a Winter Machine came from a daydream I had where an old style horse and plough pulled a Victorian kinda machine through a field changing the land from Autumn to Winter.” He went further into some of the song selections on this album and I asked him how personal the lyrics were on such tracks as, ‘After Tomorrow Comes’ and Fractured’ and especially ‘The Man Who Never Was’ (“Watching the seasons unfold from a safe place I know. A design never ending. Covering all of my thoughts in a blanket of snow That is gone by the morning“). Was it at all biographical in any way?  “I’m usually telling a story in character,” Al added.  “The songs are partly autobiographical to a degree I suppose, but its not really about me. I observe things then write about it. But I don’t like to explain my lyrics in detail, I think its better that people take from them what they want. All I will say is that it all means something, at least to me. I try not to use too many throwaway lines.”  Al followed this up with: ” This Winter Machine existed before my stage name, Al Winter, and all tracks are group written to varying degrees. For instance ‘After Tomorrow Comes’ was almost complete and brought to the band by Mark. ‘The Man Who Never Was’ is a song I’d had for almost 10 years, but we all put our own stamp on them. They’re definitely group efforts. But on the new album we’re writing now pretty much everything is co written from the ground up. ”

The artwork on the album sleeve is very interesting to. Not sure if anyone else has noticed but the British have this deep fascination with telephone boxes! “The telephone box for me represents a vanishing British tradition,” Al explains. “It’s an iconic image that many associate with the UK but actually red telephone boxes are very rare and more likely to be seen in country villages. Also I liked the juxtaposition of the old and the 20th century. Those were my reason for including it in the art.”  Every picture tells a story, and there is definitely one in there with the fox and hooded person, and the owl and the gears…

On a sadder note, Al advised me the artist for this album, Sandor Kwiatkowski passed away last month in Switzerland. If you listen to Clepsydra you’ll know his work on their album covers. Sandor also did the amazing art posters for the Night of the Prog Festival recently.

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Early days yet but I did ask the Yorkshire vocalist how he felt things were tracking for the band. “We have a good and supportive label,” he reflected. “… not to mention building a solid and dedicated fan base. It would be nice to be moving faster but things are going in all the right directions so its hard to complain. What I think we need is a dedicated manager. A modern day Peter Grant to get us to that next level! But I think we have done okay for a band only together a year or so. Any ideas would be appreciated!

 

 

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  Al started his vocal career at a very young age sing in bands when he was just 15. “It was standard heavy rock of the day, kind of in the vein of Ozzy or Ratt or Van Halen. Very 80s haha..!” He went on to say into his relation with Prog, “I was at a friend’s house in my early teens and we were looking through his brothers albums and I liked the look of the sleeve for Rush – ‘Permanent Waves.’ So I looked at the lyrics and decided ‘Jacobs Ladder’ looked like a short song (only a couple of verses, what did I know!) and put it on the turntable and it blew me away. I’d never heard anything even remotely like that. From then on I was a fan, and to this day they’re still my favourite band.

This included bands bands like Marillion and I asked him if it was it mainly listening to Geddy Lee and Fish that drew him into wanting to sing vocals?

Not so much, no, although they have been an influence (especially Fish and Peart) on my lyrics,” Al points out. “I sang from an early age, and got involved with musical theatre. I’ve always listened to a wide range of singers. Ozzy was great for a while, and the great rock singers like Gillan and Rodgers and Dio definitely made me sit up and listen. But I’d say people like Hogarth or Gabriel have also inspired me, along with a lot of soul singers from the 60’s and 70’s and even some folk vocalists. If its good, I will try to take something from it. However, I think its important to try to sound like yourself. Too many desperate copyists about, in Rock and Prog in general.” And that’s one of the reasons I’m not going to take the liberty and compare this band to any other. I listened to the album a couple of time today through the speakers, up loud, and it rocks! The title four-part song ”The Man Who Never Was‘ has a good lead in with a piano playing in a room filled with folk that segues into a short instrumental, building with ominous tones, and opens up into an epic long track filled with vocals and a story worth listening to. Al’s got a voice made for Metal or Melodic Rock if he wishes to, but he’s doing just fine in Prog. I like his tones. Not hard, but not soft either.  The second track, ‘The Wheel‘ opens up some mice bass work and with the drumming heralds some cruisey lead guitar which then moves into top gear with more melodic licks. it’s a track that builds on itself. ‘Lullaby‘ showcases more standout guitar rips. A favourite track of mine is ‘After Tomorrow Comes‘ which has radio play written all over it. The weaving of piano with vocal and interplay of guitar and other keys with drum bass emphasizes a beautiful power ballad type song with a touch of Yorkshire muscle behind it.  The song also has a memorable chorus that hangs around long after the track has finished. The last track bookends a song longer than 10 minutes which starts off with a staccato melody on guitar and then a quick burst of synth that would even have Rick Wakeman tapping his toes to. This is ‘Fractured‘ and it’s a good song to end with. It starts quickly then softens but doesn’t take long to pick up speed and take you to the end. A song of many colours. I was expecting a somewhat bleak and darkened collection of tracks but nothing could be further from the truth. If the movie ‘Labyrinth’  needed a heavier soundtrack then this one would fit the bill perfectly. Hearing this makes you want to see the band perform these songs live. Al promises they ae looking into a video following a live performance. As to what’s next… “Our next concert is in Wakefield on 16th of September. After that we have gigs with bands like German proggers Crystal Palace in October and with rock legends Magnum in November. Then next year we have some dates with Martin Barre from Jethro Tull. We also have some great things to announce in the near future.”   

    This Winter Machine isn’t letting the dust settle though. “We are working on the follow up album,” Al reflects. “Which has the title of ‘A Tower Of Clocks.’ It’s a full blown concept album and much more dense and diverse than the debut. That’s coming on well and we are optimistic we can release it this year. I know our label would approve of that ha,ha…!”

    Al advises you can buy their album at the usual online places such as Google Play, Amazon, iTunes etc

Or buy a hardcopy CD from http://www.progrock.co.uk/this-winter-machine-the-man-who-never-was-c2x23489539

Join Team Machine at www.facebook.com/thiswintermachine

Their website is www.thiswintermachine.com and check out their YouTube channel. Just search the band name.