Harken to the Night Siren

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Steve Hackett The Night Siren

 

Now I’ll be honest the latest Steve Hackett album I have heard is 1994’s Blues With a Feeling, which is not your typical Hackett record, and whilst I have the premonitions set, with the lush 5.1 remastering of his early solo works, despite having heard him guest on other albums, and seen him live several times, cost and life getting in the way have stopped me getting some of his more contemporary work.

Still, he is the only former member of Genesis who is putting out new material on a regular basis, advancing and expanding his sound, and he is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarist in prog, and this album, as it should be is a mighty impressive contemporary prog record.

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Section 43 Turns 50

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The past is the push of you, me, all, precisely the same,
And what is yet untried and afterward is for you, me, all, precisely the same.
I do not know what is untried and afterward,
But I know it will in its turn prove sufficient, and cannot fail.
~ Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself, Section 43.

 

Unlike bluegrass, where one can point to Bill Monroe’s “Mule Skinner Blues” (1940) as the discrete start of a new musical genre, progressive rock’s emergence was gradual. With Revolver and “Eight Miles High” the boundaries of pop music were expanded; 1967 would see the arrival of free-form or fusionist jam tracks likes Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” Buffalo Springield’s “Bluebird” (the hard to find long version), and Jefferson Airplane’s 24 minute epic “Spare Chaynge” (pared down to its last 9-1/2 minutes for After Bathing at Baxter’s). 

Fifty years ago this month Country Joe & The Fish entered the studio in San Francisco to record their first LP. The last track of side one may be the most proto-prog recording of the ’60s. “Section 43” reminds us that prog rock got its biggest push from the counter-culture’s psychedelia and acid rock. Whereas the aforementioned jam pieces are largely improvisational, this multi-part mini-epic displays as much attention to form as freak out.

Now, I have a confession to make. I had never heard “Section 43” until a few weeks ago. In 1967 I was a first-grader, and the greatest rock band in the world was The Monkees. When I later watched the Woodstock documentary I associated Country Joe with the Vietnam war gallows humor of “I Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die Rag.” I didn’t look into the band further. It wasn’t until I watched Jack O’Donnell’s documentary on the Summer of Love,  Revolution, that I caught the music on the soundtrack and went on a quest to know who performed it. Thankfully, the person who posted a print of the film on YouTube was ready with the answer.

Watching the film I thought I might be hearing some previously uncovered Floyd track. The Farfisa organ and bass line put me in mind of Rick Wright and Roger Waters. Upon learning it was Country Joe & The Fish my mind was blown — and impressed.

The piece follows a verse-chorus-verse-verse-chorus structure. The choruses build tension waltzing slowly through minor and dissonant chords. The first and third verses showcase interplay between Barry “The Fish” Melton’s Gibson SG and David Bennett Cohen’s keyboard. The middle verses are bisected by what Richie Unterberger calls “an unexpected, almost circus-like atonal passage.” Up to that jarring break our ears are treated to a bracing harmonica solo from bassist Bruce Barthol, as salient on that instrument as with the heavy strings, while Gary “Chicken” Hirsh’s cymbals crash and tom-tom’s dance all around.

But it’s Melton’s note-bending, Near Eastern inflection on the second guitar solo that’s the highlight of this track. Country Joe McDonald? Why, he wrote the thing, and his ringing hollow-bodied Gibson keeps the whole contraption aloft.

The band opened with “Section 43” on the final morning of the 1967 Monterey Pop festival, an event memorable for Pete Townshend smashing his guitar and Jimi Hendrix setting fire to his. But Rolling Stone rated “Section 43” among the 15 greatest musical moments captured on film. Not so much for the shots of the band themselves (though Melton’s army jacket and blue jean combo would be a look emulated on school buses for years to come). It was the yawning, scratching youth summoned from slumber by Country Joe’s yell, and stumbling to the stage front that were the real stars of the clip.

Barthol’s harmonica solo isn’t present in this version. Country Joe blows the last dying notes on the harp as the camera cuts to the tapping feet of a sleepy and spacey young woman, too tired or too high or perhaps too deeply moved to clap, but whose bleary-eyed, Mona Lisa smile tells us that we have might have just passed a key signpost on the road to Proghalla.

 

 

Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost Light

Years ago, when I was 16 I found an organization that helped with my curiosity about progressive rock, it was called the Classic Rock Society, they were based in Rotherham (a short bus ride away from the small village I lived in at the time) and they met on a Wednesday night in a pub. Beer and prog, all within a short distance from my front door, what was not to like?

One night at the pub talking about prog music in 1995 a friend lent me an album by a band I’d never heard of called No-Man, the album was Flowermouth, and it’s mix of shifting sounds and emotive vocals was my first introduction to the works of Mr Steven Wilson and Mr Tim Bowness, and I was hooked.

Luckily I got to see Porcupine Tree not so longer afterwards, but despite following No-Man and Tim Bowness solo work, it took me slightly longer (nearly 20 years in fact) to see Tim live, with Henry Fool at Eppyfest in 2014, followed quickly by seeing him at the Louisiana in Bristol in 2015.

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Two more from the Elephant


Finally I have unpacked the trunk of album reviews that backed up last year, and this reviews catches up on two albums Bad Elephant released back in October last year, and which are worth having a listen to, before they unleash the new Tom Slatter album on the unsuspecting world.

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The Far Meadow: Given the Impossible

 

Formed back in 2014 this is the first album on Bad Elephant from London based 5 piece, The Far Meadow and was released back in October last year.

As is common with so many of the wonderful artists signed to Bad Elephant, the band defy categorisation, veering from traditional progressive sounds to folk and back with a dazzling array of performances and sounds that make this an excellent album to listen to.

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Patchwork Cacophony Five of Cups

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Patchwork Cacophony is the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Ben Bell, (keyboard player with Fusion Orchestra 2, and now keyboard player with Gandalfs Fist) in fact it was Stefan Hepe (Fist drummer) who passed my details onto Ben who dropped a nice little note asking if I’d be kind enough to listen to this, his second ‘solo’ excursion under the Patchwork Cacophony name.

I duly downloaded the album, and was blown away by what I heard.

Bit of background first, Ben, as a multi-instrumental plays pretty much everything on here, apart from a couple of guest guitarists (more about them later) and in a small genre like ours, it’s easier for albums like this to slip out unnoticed and slowly build up their reputation by word of mouth, particularly if bigger bands have new releases out there.

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Do Not Disturb – I am listening to Van Der Graaf Generator

Van Der Graaf Generator: Do Not Disturb

Esoteric Antenna EANTCD1062

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1 Aloft

2 Alfa Berlina

3 Room 2010

4 Forever Falling

5 Shikita Ga Nai

6 (Oh no! I must have said) Yes

7 Brought to Book

8 Almost the Words

9 Go

 

Revitalised as a trio of Hugh Banton, Guy Evans & Peter Hammill since 2008’s Trisector, this is the latest (and maybe last) album from one of the most innovative, exciting and original bands from progs first wave.

This was released back in September and it has taken me a while to get round to writing this review, due to as previously mentioned life getting in the way, and of course I needed time to live with and digest this album.

With the added shadow of this potentially being their last album, the mood of regret, or closure and a sense of finality hang over the record, which for my money is one of the finest they have produced in this latter period of their mighty career.

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Two different continents, two different styles

2016 has been a random and rather crazy year for me, I started the year ostensibly living on my own in a one bed rented flat in Bedminster, and now find myself at the end of the year living with the love of my life, and three cats in a flat that I now own on the edge of Bristol with wonderful views over the countryside and hills to Dundry, however the move (which I may have alluded to previously) has been the most stressful move I have ever done, and as a result I have received albums from bands over the year that I may have been lax in getting finally reviewed and updated here.

Again I apologise for this, and to paraphrase John Lennon, ‘Life is what happens whilst your busy making other plans’

I don’t do these reviews professionally, like the hugely talented Progarchy team of which I am but a small cog in a mighty wheel, we all do this for the love of the music, and if just one person buys a record and loves it based on my words then I feel like I’ve done a good job. But enough about me!

Here then is a round up of two releases from the opposite sides of the world that have made it past my door and which I feel you guys should really get into your ears!

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Napiers Bones: Hell and High Water

https://napiersbones.bandcamp.com/

 

Released back in March, and building on their two previous cracking albums 2014’s The Wistman Tales and 2015’s Tregeagles Choice, this talented duo of Nathan Jon Tillet and Gordon Midgely focus squarely on storytelling and the classic big prog sound.

Their latest opus Hell and High Water is split into two distinct concepts, the first three tracks focuses on s paranormal investigator and is based around the ruined Holy Trinity Church of Buckfastleigh (the Napiers Bones boys love building on existing mythology and weaving it into their wider storytelling, this really roots the music and gives them something to build on), whilst the final 4 tracks are all based around the flood legends that have cropped up throughout history and takes us to Yorkshire and Lake Semerwater.

Their albums with tales rooted in geographical and local mythology are ripe for a guidebook!

The first song cycle focuses on a Paranormal investigator and the mysterious Squire Cabell and Buckfastleigh Holy trinity, and weaving in the contemporary obsession with reality TV, the constant search for something else beyond the pale and human scepticism and the need to answer every question, creates an intense and dynamic story.

The opening track An Air of Mystery is powerful classic rocker with some great vocals from Nathan, whilst Broadcasting live has some fantastic instrumental sections and great guitar and keyboard work, considering this is the work of a duo, and is totally home produced this doesn’t sound like it, and their musical skills are fully up to their ambition to realise the concept.

Like it’s predecessor Tregeagles Bones, the first song cycle is performed as much as a drama as a song, and Nathan’s performance and Gordon’s music is perfectly judged and brilliant executed. The finale, the 10 minute epic No Return is reminiscent of the powerful story cycle albums by Ayreon, and wraps the story up in true style, with some beautifully performed atmospheric keyboard parts.

Onto the second part of the album, this is an album of contrasts and the two different concepts on display here, show two sides to Napiers Bones, and are a subtle blend of both the dark and the light.

The 4 part song cycle that makes up the second half of the record with it’s mythology reflects the best of folk rock, and the multilayered and musically complex No Room at the Inn is another one of their beautifully executed story songs, pulling together some fantastically haunting keyboard sounds and Nathan’s passionate vocals.

The wonderful Rain Down with it’s fantastic lyrics and great musical moments leads into the closing A Wake in Yoredale which rounds off the second part of this majestic album.

Napiers Bones are in their nature story tellers and they use their music to facilitate and take us with them on their tales, years ago you could imagine them sat in low roofed pubs trading tales for tipples, now you can take them with you and engage in their immersive songwriting.

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UVTraveler: Stormchaser

www.uvtraveler21stc.com

 

American heavy progressive rock duo Randy Sepe and Wade Greenwood recently released this, their second album (following up 2014’s debut UVTraveler) and it takes their blend of progressive and classic rock into another dimension.

I know fellow Progarchist Brad Birzer refers to me as the English progmaster, and I will admit that is where my interest in the genre was originally piqued and where my first love lies, but there is lots of exciting new prog coming from all over the globe, and to my mind UVTraveler are one of the best the states has to offer.

Producing a fine blend of classic prog whilst sitting on the harder and heavier side of the fence, they mange to pull the two influences together to create a musical union, and with the title and cover art, is there a homage going on here to Deep Purple/rainbow guitarist Ritchie Blackmore?

In fact these influences run through the music as well, with the powerful and brooding Waiting for an Answer having some fantastic vocals from Wade that are reminiscent of Ronnie James Dios work with Black Sabbath in the early 80’s.

This doesn’t mean they are mere copyists however, after all most musicians are influenced by someone else, and it’s how you use that influence and weave it into your art that shows your mastery of your craft.

Sepe and Wade are talented enough to build elements of the heavier end of metal into prog and retaining their own musical identity that was forged on their debut album (which is also well worth a listen)

They are also masters of the blend of light and dark with If (based on the Rudyard Kipling poem) providing a contrast to the opening power of the first two tracks, with a more classily acoustic led piece that showcases Sepes versatility and again acts as a springboard for Wades impressive vocals, proving that like all the best singers he can turn his hand to the softer side of music without compromising his sound.

With guest musicians on the album fleshing out the sound, with the power of Michael Schiavo on bass and Greg Annunziata on drums, the opening rocking Deaths Call is a calling card for the album, and the rest of the tracks more than deliver on the opening promise.

The 70’s vibe runs through this record like a groove in vinyl, and tracks like a reworked version of their own When the Sun gets in your Eyes has a power and swagger of its own, whilst the closing duo of Calm before the…. provides an technically complex melodic instrumental introduction to the closing title track Stormchaser (with a nice play on words there as well, who says modern albums aren’t structured in a well thought out manner) which with it’s big riffs and fantastically catchy chorus brings the big heavy prog bands of the seventies to mind again, however this is no copy, more an honest homage blending the best of UVTraveler with some fantastic nods to bands like Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple.

There is no curse of the second record here for Randy Sepe and Wade Greenwood, indeed they have taken all the elements that made their first album so good, and built on them, progressing their sound, and refining their style into another cracking slice of heavy prog.