Stone The Crow(s)

Big Big Train release their first (double!) live album “A Stone’s Throw From The Line” on December 2nd and it’s now available for pre-order here and here. It showcases some of the finest moments from last August’s sold-out-in-the-blink-of-an-eye concerts at King’s Place in London.

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Scott and I were fortunate enough to secure tickets so we travelled to the UK for a bit of a holiday and attended the Saturday gig before we flew back the following day. And I can honestly say it was one of the most remarkable days of my life.

This wasn’t just a chance to see our favourite proggers in concert for the first time in…well, forever – it was also a chance to catch up with friends we had made at 2013’s Big Big Weekend, which (if you missed it) involved much merriment in the beautiful English city of Winchester, a rag-tag group of Passengers (as BBT fans are known) being led around the landmarks (including pubs and a curry house) by Alison Reijman and Greg Spawton, with special guest appearances from Andy, Rachel, Danny, Rob, Robin Armstrong and Steve Thorne, to name but a few. It was a truly extraordinary weekend, and something that will stay with me for a very long time. The opportunity to catch up again for a ‘family reunion’ of sorts and witness some amazing music and extraordinary camaraderie was therefore a pretty significant moment in my life.

As a result this review’s not very objective, as it’s impossible to completely separate the sounds from the experiences we had back then, but I’ll try my best. Caveat lector, as the Roman music reviewers used to say to Internet people back then.

King’s Place is an arts centre just down the road from King’s Cross Station in London. BBT played to a seated audience of just over 400 – it’s quite an intimate venue, the sound is warm and that’s captured well on this album. On rare occasions it feels like there’s a lot of audio happening at once but in general it doesn’t get too claustrophobic or chaotic. To my tin ears the second act sounds a bit more lively and expansive than the first – certainly on my initial listen I thought David’s vocals and some of the harmonies were lost on the early tracks of the first act, but this does quickly improve. I should also note here that the review files we received were lossy so I’ll have to give it the lossless test before I can fully appreciate the sound. Hopefully my own copy arrives on my doormat soon so I can perform this critical benchmark!

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Here’s the track listing…

Act One
Make Some Noise
The First Rebreather
The Underfall Yard
Uncle Jack
Victorian Brickwork

Act Two
Kingmaker
Wassail
Summoned By Bells
Judas Unrepentant
Curator Of Butterflies
East Coast Racer
Hedgerow

Many of you will be familiar with these tunes already so I won’t go into detail, suffice it to say that there’s a lot of music – it’s great to see so many long-form delights, and fantastic to see most of my favourites are included – the sublime TUY (get that brass section!), Victorian Brickwork (not a dry eye in the house), the rip-roaringly powerful East Coast Racer (she flies!) and the marvellously fun Judas Unrepentant (with a gloriously ostentatious NDV drum intro.) Curator of Butterflies isn’t one of my favourites from the English Electric albums, but the version on this release really does bring it to life. I’ll have to give the studio version another spin…

Early-BBT fans may be disappointed that there’s nothing on the track list from before 2009’s excellent The Underfall Yard. Personally I’m not unhappy about this because the majority of pre-TUY work doesn’t float my metaphorical boat, although I am sure I share a certain agog-ness with others at the prospect of hearing re-recorded pre-2009 material in the near future.

Anyway, what else do you get on this double album? Virtuoso performances, some very cool alternative arrangements allowing the guys to stretch their musical legs (Rachel’s violin and Danny’s keys on TUY, and Rikard’s guitar work on Victorian Brickwork being just a few examples), and of course that ‘live’ atmosphere that transports some people to strange places… Some (but not overly much) audience interaction from David, a few in-jokes, and the Passengers are also in excellent form – respectful, enthusiastic, with (joy of joys) minimal whooping at inappropriate moments.

In summary:

  • If you were at the concerts last year you’ll appreciate the memories of a great evening this album rekindles.
  • If you are a completist you have already ordered it. Why are you reading this?
  • If you are neither of the above, this is a solid exploration of BBT’s relatively recent catalogue, with the added joy of hearing them out of the studio – something that happens rarely enough that it’s definitely worth experiencing.

Chris Wade, renaissance Man!

Chris Wade is a multi talented and multi-faceted chap who on the one hand produces his own music magazine, whilst on the other writes highly regarded critical analysis of various artists works spanning all genres from film to music, not to mention being the writer of his own range of comedic novels and the brains behind Dodson and Folk, the acid folk project that has spawned 11 albums, and features a multitude of special guests. Since 2012 he has been ploughing his own musical furrow as Dodson and Fogg, with musical excursions into instrumental prog (The Moonlight banquet) collaboration with his brother (Rexford Bedlo) as well as Rainsmoke (with Nigel Planer and Roger Planer) and the last time I spoke to Chris was just after his Dodson and Fogg début had been released. I decided that as four years is a long time in music, and because I like talking to Chris, I would have a chat with him to find out what’s going on in his world and to chat about his new album, The White House on the Hill.

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I first mentioned his role as a one-man acid folk pioneer, and the release of his new album

‘I prefer to call it Maltloaf folk; it’s a new tag that I’m going to start using. This is album number 11, if you don’t count the outtakes.

I hadn’t planned the next album but I moved out to the countryside about 4 months ago and found in the second month of living here I’d started writing the next record, but that won’t be out until next year because of the books I am working on’

Ah yes, the books,

‘I’ve just done a Hawkwind book, a recent fiction book and I’m working on books on Dennis Hopper, George A Romero and Woody Allen. I find when I’m doing the books I just get immersed in the world of the subject, I’m watching all the films, tracking people down and reviewing them’

We started talking about how things have changed since the first Dodson and Fogg album was released back in 2012,

‘Progs totally altered since the first release, since then the industry has changed with all releases, back in November 2012 there wasn’t things like Spotify, 4 years seems like a long time ago for me now’

I first contacted Chris back in 2012 using twitter and since then we’ve been friends on Facebook,

‘This is the thing about Facebook, you don’t see some people that often but you can see how peoples lifes have changed over time’

I wondered if Chris was still an avid user of social media,

‘I’ve got a Facebook set up for the books and the albums, and it showcases the latest work, but it doesn’t really generate sales for books or music, and in that respect it isn’t that useful. Someone was complaining on Facebook recently about mailing lists and emails not being read, I don’t thing it’s fair to criticise your audience on Facebook or social media, but it proves that you can’t rely on social media, I only use it a little bit’

Chris is very prolific and I wondered where the inspiration comes from,

‘I do all this because I don’t want a normal job, the more I do then the more income I get, I don’t push a lot of this to be honest, I like to do projects and that’s how I spend my time, on my projects and with my family. A lot of creative people like to think they are different and special, and I love making music and writing books but to me it’s an everyday job with no lucrative income’

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With the books Chris tends to self publish,

‘My first self published book was before I discovered the server I use now, it was a book about Malcolm McDowell, and since then I’ve learnt over time, some of the earlier books are a bit creaky but it proved to me that learning as I go and self publishing is a valid option. I’d rather put it all out myself, as it gives me complete control’.

Dodson and Fogg are well known for the use of guest stars,

‘I have built up a contact list, for the latest record I used Toyah, I was only aware of her 80’s work, and heard some of her later work with Fripp in the Humans. I liked what she was doing and made contact through her website, she was working somewhere in a studio and I sent her the track (Drinking from the Gun), and it ended up being a co-write as she wrote a third verse and did really interesting things with the track.

I’m always after interesting sounds, I’ve always been after a stuffy brass band sound, I really like the old fashioned brass band, (It must be something about being from Yorkshire as I adore that sound as well) It’s the sad sound of the brass, it’s summit in the blood. I enjoyed working with Ricky Romain on the sitar, I loved mixing the sound in but people were saying I was just doing psych acid folk because of the sitar. I can’t do the same thing all the time, I like to swap things around’.

What about your influences?

‘I don’t tend to have lots now, I can find sometimes if I’m writing a book I can pick up the guitar and something will come to me, at the moment I keep listening to a lot of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, it’s stuff I like and will never stop liking it, it’s my music. I listen to a lot of Madonna, although you won’t see me in a conical bra. I used to really like Donovan but I can’t listen to him any more, you find without noticing that your tastes change over time’.

Do you ever have a theme for your albums?

‘On some of the early ones I did, the first two didn’t have themes, but the third one Sounds of Day and Night (2013) the loose thread was that all the songs were about day and night.

The later albums are more like a diary, showing where I am at any moment in time, for people who buy the later albums say the project has gone in different directions.

I do it for fun, and like to structure the albums like a 1960’s album, around 40 minutes long, it doesn’t ramble, you can listen to it in one sitting and pop it on a tape, I record and structure them in the way that I like to listen to albums.

The first album with a real concept was the one I did with Nigel Planer doing the stories (In a Strange Slumber 2014) and When the Light ran Out (2015) was an idea of home and how that works, both my Mum and my Sister moved away, and it made me think of what home meant. The songs are all personal to me and get emotions out there that you wouldn’t normally get out there, it’s a loose diary of my life’

Talking of home you recently moved to the country,

‘I’ve moved near to a farm into the countryside, I’ve taken up gardening and getting into my photography, it’s a nicer life, though there is that cliché about not making good art if you’re too content. I find it more comfortable that there’s next to nothing out here, an old train line, a farm, it’s far better than having too many people in your face.

Doing this interview is like therapy, I’m telling you stuff I haven’t mentioned before!

(I did mention I was much cheaper than any therapist!)

I like doing these projects because I’ve always wanted to do things I wanted to do and make it work for me. I had no interest in serving customers or trying to flog more things to get an extra 10p.

I just feel like when I was a kid I used to make books and liked the idea of putting a book together and playing drums. My brother and I used to make albums, with the sleeves and my Dad would encourage us by popping them on the shelves next to his Beatles or Kinks tape and encourage us to make more.

I’m a haemophiliac and found it hard to get work, it was difficult to get insurance in conventional jobs, I lost jobs because they couldn’t get insurance for me, when I was a child I wasn’t allowed to do contact sports and preferred to write, draw and play guitar. That’s another revelation to me, you sure this isn’t therapy?

Being creative is worthwhile, it’s important because what would the world be like without music, books, arts? It would be a very dull place indeed. We should encourage kids, my little girl Lily is 2, I wonder what she’ll do, she can draw, she loves music and watching films, it’s great watching them grow up.’

So where next for Dodson and Fogg?

‘If your creative you want to move onto the next thing, I don’t like sitting on work, I want to release it and move on, it might be commercial suicide but that doesn’t bother me, it’s not and never has been about the commercial side.

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In 2012 I spotted a tweet from a singer songwriter about a musical project he was launching, the tweeter was Chris Wade and the project was Dodson and Fogg, and I have watched and listened as Chris has taken his DIY ethos through 10 previous diverse albums, with guests like Celia Humphries, Nik Turner, Nigel Planer, Ricky Romain, Alison O’Donnell, Scarlet Riviera, Judy Dyble and Chloe Herington to name but a few, and over the past four years it’s been a delight to hear Chris muse take him down new and exciting avenues.

This latest release which came out back in August is his first release since moving out to the countryside, but don’t expect him to have gone all back to the country, no sir, what we have hear is another clear progression of the Dodson and Fogg sound, and every time Chris releases another record I worry about whether he’s stretched himself too thin this time, but no every time he comes up trumps.

It’s not cheap being a Dodson and Fogg fan, but when the music is this good, then does it matter how often the records are released?

With a smaller cast list, the focus is primarily on Chris soft vocals, and his superb guitar playing, with guests Georgia Cooke on Flute and John Garners violin adding their soft touches throughout the album to enhance the D&F sound. As Chris mentioned in his interview this time around he got Toyah to guest on this record, and the duet, Drinking from the Gun, where as ever the artist she is Toyah contributed an extra verse, is a superb jazzy duet, where their vocals blend perfectly, whilst the title track that opens the album is a joyously bucolic folk rocker with some fantastically sympathetic violin work throughout. Meanwhile the powerful instrumental Bitten has a real funky groove to it, in fact the album is pretty funky throughout, as Chris gets his funky troubadour hat on Tell Me When Your Ready to Leave, with its Ric Sanders esque jazzy violin, in fact with Chris vocals, this sounds like the current incarnation of Fairport Convention could cover it, and it would slot right into their repertoire.

In fact this is pretty funky album, as Chris growls his way through the heavy funk of The Giant. Whilst the instrumental Bitten has powerful rocking riff that runs through the record like Scarborough through a stick of rock.

The closing 7 minuter Lily and The Moonlight, a wonderfully languid mellow rocker inspired by Chris daughter, is a slow builder, giving time for the song to build and grow and Chris fantastically cool vocals and a wonderfully eloquent guitar led coda closes this fine album in style.

For those worried that Chris is running out of ideas, don’t. This is another eloquent musical statement from one of the most prolific artists around who enriches the musical scene that he sits in.

Ladies and Gentleman, Dodson and Fogg, England’s premier Maltloaf folk band.

 

All photos by Linzi Napier

Thanks to Chris for his time.

Dodson and Fogg albums and Chris’ books are all available from

http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com/

 

 

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!

napiers

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.

Threeviews

Afternoon Progarchists, as someone who writes for a variety of different sites I find myself getting sent diverse and eclectic albums to listen to, all of which roughly fall into the margins of the progressive genre, and today I have three radically different releases, all of which have been bouncing round my brain as I ride the mean streets of Bristol on the bus to and from work. Two are freshly minted (one so fresh it’s not even officially released yet – but it’s one hell of a pre-order!) and one EP which has been out for a while, so without further ado, lets introduce today’s picks.

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Verity Smith – Parenthesis

http://www.veritysmith.net

I first encountered Verity at the Classic Rock Society Awards back in 2014 where she was performing as part of Clive Nolan’s Alchemy musical, where she played the parts of Jane Muncey and Jessamine and was truck by her vocal prowess and stage presence.

Continue reading “Threeviews”

Bad Elephant keep on surprising…..

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It seems no sooner have I cleared the  (self-created) backlog than bad Elephant add more interesting releases to this years schedule, which means there will be a couple more to add to this site in due course, it also means of my journey to work on the bus is enlivened by interesting new music, and odd toe tapping and finger drumming, which must be a delight to all the other passengers. Still at least I don’t play this loud through a tinny speaker in my mobile phone…maybe I should. Have you ever noticed that the worse the music, the louder it is likely to be, and the most likely it’s going to be coming from a smart phone?  Anyway, I digress, I shouldn’t let my mind wander as it’s not old enough to be out by itself.

I may have mentioned before that the earlier part of this year has involved moving, and so from March to the middle of May we were living out of boxes and struggling with finding what we needed, never mind anything else, I don’t think my stereo system was set up until the end of May, luckily I could still get to my laptop where the releases from Bad Elephant kept coming through thick and fast, and blimey what a diverse and eclectic release schedule they have had so far this year.

A well-known outspoken progressive rock ‘character’ has been quite forthright (again) this week on Facebook about how modern prog is dull and boring, or to quite his words ‘Prog is Bog’and how there’s no truly progressive bands out there. I think that Robert John Godfrey could do with joining the BEM fan page on Facebook, and then he’ll be able to see which bands are doing the creating and where the new voices in prog are coming from. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but to slate an entire contemporary genre, which some could argue is leaving him behind, without putting in the hard yards and listening to large chunks of what’s out there does him, and the genre he’s supposed to be part of and has been a champion for in the past, a great disservice. God there’s a whole chunk of music out there I haven’t heard yet, but as any good reviewer knows, your mind is like a parachute, it works best when it is opened. Anyway I’ll put away my little book of reviewing clichés now and crack on with another batch of music from those Elephant boys. I hope once you’ve had a read you take the time to investigate some of this music, which is at the cutting edge of contemporary prog.

Pardigm Shift

Paradigm Shift – Becoming Aware

 

Released back in June, this début album from North London 4 piece mix the best of contemporary prog, with nods towards prog metal and electronica, taking a broad musical palette that brings to mind so many different bands that is hard to know where to start.

Paradigm Shift aren’t shy about covering heavy topics and Becoming Aware is chock full of them, drawing inspiration I imagine from the darker world that we are currently living in. However if you’re expecting the album to depress you and bring you down then you’re wrong, the topics may be heavy but the mood set here isn’t.

A lot of that is down to the musical prowess of the band, the taut musical ability of this four piece who were founded back in 2007 by Ben Revens (vocals & keyboards) and Reuben Krendal (guitars) joined by Bryson Demath (drums) and Leon Itzler

(Bass). Moving through styles and moods with dexterity and grace, and with some fantastic piano pieces from Revens.

From the opening power of A Revolutionary cure, with its sampled speeches about freedom and slavery, topics that recur throughout the album, as the band are interested in the ideas of politicians telling the people what to do and the counterargument that these ideas fail, and it is this that drives A Revolutionary Cure, this and the powerful guitar and keyboard combination of Revens and Krendal, whose versatility taking in what some would describe as classic prog tendencies, mixed with metal, and running the whole gamut to some finely textured jazz piano means they are covering all bases musically, and to do so with such aplomb and self-assured confidence is great to hear.

The fact that these guys are so young gets forgotten, as this album builds and builds, with some amazing guitar work throughout. The album flows organically each track leading into the other, and it shows a lot of care and thought has been put into the programming and running order, which is wonderful to hear, an album designed as such.

There are certain traditional prog sensibilities on display here, from the epic 14 plus opener, to the two beautifully performed instrumentals, The Void, segueing nicely into the Shift, here Revens piano playing is to the fore, and it’s an instrument that helps define their sound, as integral to the album as the drum and bass combo of Demath and Itzler who provide real power and momentum on tracks like the closing two epics of Masquerade and Reunification.

With 4 tracks all clocking in at over 8 minutes, they give the songs room to breath, room to expand and grow, and yet nothing seems or feels superfluous, the tracks are this length because that’s how they are, no padding or waffle throughout.

This is an assured and confident début from another strong young prog band with plenty to say, and believe me it’s well worth you listening.

Nine stones close

Nine Stones Close – Leaves

 

Founded by guitarist Adrian Jones, five piece Anglo Dutch proggers Nine Stones Close released this, their fourth album in May, and see’s the band build on their legacy and a few line up changes, as the band has coalesced round Adrian Jones, drummer Pieter Van Hoorn, Aio O’Shaughnessy on impressive vocals, Peter Groen on bass and stick and Christiaan Bruin on keyboards. With the new line up comes a change of direction as well, although as this is the first album of theirs I’ve heard I can’t really comment, although I do know that Aio’s vocals are of a very different style to previous vocalist Marc Atkinson.

There is a lot of power here, and it’s hard to imagine on tracks like Lie that there’s only 5 men performing, as the intensity and groove they build is fantastic, as the instrumental precision and power here builds and builds as Adrian’s guitar work matched with Peters bass climbs and climbs in intensity and power and pulls you in.

The only short song on the album is the 5 minute opener Complicated, which eases you in gently before the power of the album kicks in, and what power, with some amazing musical work throughout the album it’s difficult to say which one of the 5 songs is my favourite, although I am edging towards the 16 minutes plus epic Spoils, where the symphonic textures and guitar create a tension that simmers throughout the track, with Aio’s fantastic vocals shining throughout this track, he has impressive range and a subtle skill in moving through light to dark, reminiscent of great singers like Dio or Bruce Dickinson, whilst the musical symphony that the band creates is fantastic, and the acoustic interludes and musical riffing throughout are superb.

This is a rather amazing record, which ends with the title track, Leaves, when you consider the power and darkness that has been on display throughout the album the title track is almost a counterpoint to what has gone on before, with an ambient undertow and almost minimalist playing until it builds to a hauntingly beautifully climax.

There is a lot going on with this album, and a complex sound that echoes long after the record has finished, this is definitely a left field album that is pleasantly surprising.

Konchordat

Konchordat – Rise to the Order

 

Third album from South East based prog 4 piece Stuart Martin (vocals and guitars), Neil Hayman (drums), Steve Cork (bass) and Neil Watts (keyboards) unleash, after much delay, their third album on an unsuspecting public through the Bad Elephants, and after having started out as a studio project, the current line up has evolved into a popular live band, and the power of a live band is reflected in this album.

Moving to a heavier sound, with the opening Like a Heart Attack kicking straight in and grabbing you by the throat with its heavy sound and driving keyboard work, you know you’re in for a treat. Operating firmly in the more traditional end of neo-prog, and adding symphonic touches to the sound, reminiscent of Threshold the sound they make is mighty and on Nowhere left to Go there is a wonderful driving Hammond influenced vibe. With the shortest song clocking in at just over 6 minutes, the rest of this material has room to grow, and plenty of opportunity to show off their power and skills. The bass and drums of Steve and Neil (Hayman) anchor the sound and allow Stuart and Neil (watts) to go nuts in guitar and keyboards, giving us a rich and warm sound that is a delight to listen to.

Konchordat are purveyors of prog that sits on the heavier side, but unlike other bands who throw the baby out with the bathwater and focus on the technicality of the metal and lose the soul, Konchordat have the songs to pull it off without it ever drifting into a technical bore fest, they have remembered the key part of any album is starting with the songs, and as a consequence have created a well crafted album that packs both a musical and emotional punch which rewards listen after listen.

Heliopolis

Heliopolis – Epic at the Majestic – Live at Rosfest

 

American prog band Heliopolis mark their new relationship with BEM by releasing their set at last years American prog landmark festival Rosfest.

The 5-piece band, Jerry Beller (drums and backing vocals) Matt Brown (keyboards, lead & backing vocals) Kerry Chicoine (bass and backing vocals) Scott Jones (lead vocals) and Mike Matier (guitars and backing vocals) perform their 2014 album, City of the Sun in its entirety.

Again this is my first introduction to the band, and from playing it I like what I hear, there’s plenty of old school prog tricks throughout the album, with some of the wonderful harmony vocals shining throughout, particularly on the uplifting and elegiac New Frontier, listening to the audience’s reaction to the band’s performance it’s clear that they are loving the bands performance, and it is a confident and strong performance, as the band take the audience with them and treat them to some barnstorming performances, Scott Jones vocals are excellent throughout and he reminds me in part of Steve Hogarth crossed with Geddy Lee, whilst musically Heliopolis are a traditionally old school prog band, with plenty of epic keyboard pieces like the soloing in Take a Moment, and with some fantastically powerful drumming. There’s even a hint of Yes in Mr Wishbone/Optical Delusion, whilst Elegy has a gentler piano driven vibe to it that nicely counterparts the more complicated songs with a simpler sound. Live albums are always a different beast to their studio counterparts as they show the evolution of the songs and how the music has grown to fill a live venue, and I am sure that if I sat down and listened to City of the Sun I would be able to play spot the difference, as a live experience is something to be treasured and for those lucky enough to be at Rosfest would have enjoyed this performance, and this is an excellent souvenir of a one-off gig, and for those who couldn’t be there, this is a fantastic document of a band playing to their strengths and an incredibly supportive audience.

Under a Banner

Under a Banner – The Wild Places

 

Lets not forget that Bad Elephant don’t just operate in the prog world, they are home to such songwriters as Tom Slatter, jh, and Mothertongue, all of whom are operating in totally different genres. As anyone whose spoken to David Elliott knows, he loves his prog but he also loves his folk rock music, and Under a Banner from the midlands are definitely operating in the rock end of the folk scene.

Following on a long line of political bands from this scene, like Billy Bragg, The Oysterband, The Levellers amongst others, Under a Banner have been plying their trade for around three years.

The band Adam Broadhurst (vocals/guitars) Jake Brooks (guitars and backing vocals) Simon Hill (bass guitar) Tim Wilson (drums,percussion, backing vocals) and Kat Davis (keyboards) are a powerfully tight folk influenced rock band with a mighty mighty sound.

From the opening In the End, you are drawn into the story telling that Adam weaves around the superb music from the band, his distinctive vocals draw you in, and the power of songs like Birdsong hit you from the speakers, the big choruses and elegiac quality to tracks like Sunburst leave you blown away.

I confess to having a loving of folk rock and the whole political movement behind the bands, with folk songs literally being the music of the people, the oppressed, the dispossessed, the downtrodden, the ones who want to see a change, and lord knows the way the world is at the moment we need a change, and it is refreshing and pleasing to know that there are bands like Under a Banner out there documenting today’s struggles, with some passionately played and relentlessly driving folk rock, the guitar solos on Snow Song, complete with it’s harmonic vocals and instrumental piece building until the guitar sears through the sound is particularly amazing.

I have had this album in my lug holes as I ride the bus to work, and each time I listen reveals new and intricate sounds and the sheer power behind the songs is superb. No overtly complicated arrangements, and certainly no 20 minute epics, instead the whole ‘less is more’ ethos works here in spades, and as new folk rock crusaders go, these guys are one of the best of the bunch. It’s an album that leaves you wanting more, and I cannot wait to see this brand of fiery anthemic folk rock performed live, with the connection that you would undoubtedly get between the band and the audience.

I cannot recommend this release enough, buy it, put it in your ears and let it live!

All albums are available as always through the Bad Elephant website www.badelephant.co.uk

What Lies Beneath – Bad Elephant Special part 2, an interview with Mike Kershaw.

Hello Progarchists, welcome back to the second part of my look at the current releases from our friends over at the naughty pachyderm, today I have a review and an interview with Mike Kershaw.

Self taught singer songwriter Mike Kershaw has been working solo for several years now putting out releases that have got better and better, and more acclaim with each release, and his latest album What Lies Beneath (the follow up to 2014s critically acclaimed Ice Age) is Mikes first full length album since signing to Bad Elephant, and Mike was kind enough to chat to me about the album, before we hear from the man himself, lets see what I thought of What Lies Beneath.

Mike Kershaw4

This is the second release that Mike has made using guest musicians, and like the previous EP (Departure) signposts a new direction of Mikes working, instead of being fully solo, he has opened the doors and invited in a list of talented musical collaborators and label mates, including the inimitable Tom Slatter, who adds his unique sound to Wounds, whilst Leopold Blu-Sky of Unto Us adds his bass,guitars,keys and drum programming to the mix as well as producing the record, Gareth Cole plays guitar on the album whilst Fractal Mirrors Frank L Urbaniak drums on a few tracks and Leo Koperdraat co-wrote and guests on Two Eyes.

Continue reading “What Lies Beneath – Bad Elephant Special part 2, an interview with Mike Kershaw.”

Bad Elephant – Good records

Hello Progarchists, how are we all?

You may have noticed I’ve been a little quiet recently, due to a house move from hell and all the real life stuff that gets in between the music and the reviewing, so apologies to anyone who has sent me albums to review and the delay I’ve had in reviewing them, as John Lennon once said ‘Life is what happens to you whilst you’re busy making other plans’, he also said ‘James, don’t use a friend of a friend as a decorator’ but I ignored him on that one, to my cost. He knew what he was on about old Johnny L.

One of the most consistent record labels releasing new music that spans the gamut of the contemporary prog genre is of course our friends over at Bad Elephant Music, who have artists like We Are Kin, The Fierce and the Dead, Simon Godfrey and Tom Slatter on their books, not to mention many other great bands, and that is exactly what I’ll be doing today, in the first part of a series of articles focusing my attention on a round up of their releases for the first half of this year, and hopefully causing you to spend some more money to keep David Elliott in curries….

 

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N.y.X The News

 

This release escaped into the world, kicking and screaming back in February (yes I know it’s August, have you ever had one of those years??) and I use that term advisedly, as I haven’t heard anything like this album in a very long time. In fact part of the delay in reviewing it was because it’s taken me a while to marshal my thoughts about it to be confident enough to put them out there.

Italian art/prog/who knows what outfit N.y.X (Walter F Nyx on vocals, bass guitar, electronica, Danilo A Pannico on drums, percussion, piano organ, marimba, electronica and Klod on guitar and vocals) have put together a 46 minute audio experience, blending elements of the more out there sounds of King Crimson (with Adrian Belew and Trey Gunn adding their distinctive sounds into the disparate mix) early Tangerine Dream and psych Floyd N.y.X is truly uncategorizable.

From the opening tumult that is Restless Slumber (At the break of dawn) you can rest assured this isn’t an easy listening album, there is disjointed electronica, jarring sound effects and it takes a few listens to get into the album.

That, to my mind is always the strength of a record, if it’s one you have to persevere with, and play a few times to get into then the work is worthwhile, prog is supposed to be the first music in space, and lets face it, if musicians aren’t pushing musical boundaries and challenging themselves and their audience, then you might as well go to watch Coldplay behind the screen of your iPhone in a big old metal barn along with a million other people in their identical SUVs.

This isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and whilst this album is full of hardcore psychedelic moments, mixing the best of early Kraut Rock with the more esoteric end of English prog, like Crimson or Henry Cow, you then have the wonderful Discord (Domestic Policies) blindsiding you with it’s direct acoustic driven number, with some sublime guitar solo, almost the calm before the percussive The Paper (Titles & Subtitles) which keeps the whole News theme going throughout the album, and with it’s haunting guitar work, and the way the track builds and builds it sounds like a soundtrack to a dark film that no-one dare make yet.

The whole ethos of the album is encapsulated in the closing track, 13 minutes of The Daily Dark Delirium, if nothing else the titles on this album are cracking, with some fantastic vocals and the musical meld that N.y.X do so well, it’s a cracker of a journey with elements of techno, metal guitar (courtesy of Trey Gunn) and many other genres that shouldn’t work on the same record, never mind the same song, and the fact it does with its bewildering dark beauty is a testament to the band.

This album is not for the faint hearted, and probably has the potential to be the most polarising album I’ve ever reviewed, in fact to be honest I have been listening to it since January and still can’t decide whether I like it, or whether it’s one to be admired for it’s skill.

It’s a musically complex album, with lots going on and it’s always great to hear a band that aren’t concerned with sounding like anyone else and making the music they want to hear, it’s not a record that can be pigeonholed, mainly because it’s not a pigeon and because it transcends anything as banal as genre.

Fair play to N.y.X for their confidence in their ability, and in Bad Elephant for taking a punt on this real one off record.

Rube Goldberg

The Rube Goldberg Machine – Fragile Times

 

Nothing sums up the world we currently live in, for better or for worse than the album title on the debut album from London based prog trio Elliot Coombs (guitar, keyboards, lead vocals) Dan Bowles (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) & Jordan Brown (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) and the album cover, whilst sparse is very striking and if, as I often do, you buy an album based purely on the sleeve, then you would pick this up, take it home and pop it in your CD player.

Your money wouldn’t have been wasted at all, as BEM have found another amazingly talented band to add to their roster as TRGM as no one ever calls them specialise in that melodic brand of prog that bands like The Pineapple Thief have perfected.

They are no copyists however, as the band have a warm sound that is all their own, despite channelling the spirit of Steven Wilson on the title track, with it’s warnings of bad times to come, and it’s wonderfully sparse guitar solo and atmospheric sounds.

In fact the less is more ethos is spread across the whole album, with the wonderful Little Funerals drawing the listener in with its warmth.

The music is superb, and is full of little quirks, In Symmetry being a case in point, whilst the lyrics and the music match up perfectly, being more questioning and reflective about the state of the world, rather than bringing you down.

Elliot’s voice is superb, and its his vocal warmth that draws you into the album, whilst the musical skills at work from the trio should not be underestimated, throwing elements of folk rock (your contemporary folk sound of bands like The Levellers or the Oysterband) into play on the delicate Man of Glass, the slide between styles and themes is part of this albums strengths, as it seems more like a well constructed concept than a mere collection of songs.

Meanwhile The Captains Blackjack is wonderful character piece with a great catchy chorus, and reminds me very much of Badly Drawn Boy.

With it’s great music, its superb lyrics and production, Fragile Times is one of those wonderful contemporary prog records that appears from nowhere, and with it’s hooks pulls you in, until you find yourself humming parts of the title track so you have to dig it out and put it on.

Like N.y.X its one that rewards repeat listening, unlike N.y.X it’s not going to alienate 50% of the readership, indeed this album is probably the best musical commentary on 2016 that we’ve got so far, and if we are living in Fragile Times, we might as well relax and enjoy the music.

Mothertongue

Mothertongue – Unsongs

 

It’s been a year of contrasts for BEM, from Jack Arthurs to N.y.X David Elliot hasn’t let the grass grow under the labels feet, and for sheer joie de vivre you don’t get much better than Mothertongue.

Mixing the joy of Ska, the anthemic quality of folk rock and some odd prog bits, Mothertongue throw everything (including the kitchen sink) into the musical mix to create a sound that puts a big daft grin on your face, and some toe tapping music.

Manchester based 6 piece band Phil Dixon (guitar, backing vocals) Will Holden (bass, backing vocals, saxophone) Andy Malbon (trumpet, cornet, backing vocals) John Simm (drums, percussion, programming, synths, backing vocals) Louis Smith (vocals, guitar, synths, ukulele) and Mark Wall (guitar, mandolin, violin, synths, backing vocals) combine their sheer musical skill and powerful energy into one noisy fantastic euphoric sound.

The great lyrics to The Devil Can Steer sets the album off at one hell of a pace, and the Ska sound runs through this track like the word Scarborough does through rock, whilst the brilliant titled A Poem that the Sky Wrote with its jagged guitar and vocals sounds like a Polyphonic Spree track recorded by Young Americans era Bowie, in fact the impact of the brass section on this album of prog/pop does for the genre what pioneering folk rockers the Home Service did to that genre with their sound.

Coming from t’North Brass runs through my blood like Sam Smiths best bitter runs from my glass, and so when the brass section kicks in on the album it’s a joy to hear.

The way this six piece manage to make a sound that makes you think there’s at least a dozen of them is wonderful, and the way they flip between prog, pure pop, psych and brass, like the wonderful Perfect Zero is nothing short of genius.

Whilst Nautilus manages to mix disco, samba and funk into one catchy tune before an amazing rock interlude kicks in and the chorus blasts out.

Whilst the ensemble vocals and brass on Shango with its percussive power is superb.

The musical dexterity and power that this band bring to their music is astonishing, and the way they mix and hop from rock, to prog to Ska and back has to be heard to be believed, and if you want a joyous album to put a smile on your face, and revel in the music then this is a fantastic summer record.

Perfect to put a smile on your face as you walk in the English rain!

We Are Kin

We Are Kin <and_I_know>

 

I’ve been waiting for this album, since We Are Kins debut Pandora was released, al album that appeared as if by magic in my in box one day, and was so powerful that I had to buy the physical CD. For me it was one of the albums of last year, a finely realised debut concept about the Pandora project, and this, their second album is also set in that world, and (spoiler alert features the return of wonderful voice of Alex Dunedin as Isaac…. but I will say no more!) having coalesced around the four piece quartet of Dan Zambas (guitars/keyboards/vocals) Gary Boast (drums/production) Lee Braddock (bass) and new vocalist Emma Brewin-Caddy this is a confident and bold album.

Having received the download a while before it’s release (but after I pre-ordered the album, with the limited edition live album!) I decided that I would listen to both Pandora and then flow straight into <and_I_know> and boy does it work.

It’s the aural equivalent of binge watching boxed sets as the story just picks up where it’s left off, but with much stronger musical statements on here, and far more diverse sounds, the opener …that one day… starts with some fantastic guitar work and a brilliantly powerful percussive sound, then the bands new ace kicks in, when you have a vocalist as powerful and with such a range as Emma, then you use her as much as possible, and the way hers and Dans vocals fit together are superb, a wonderful contrast.

Throughout the album there are recurring motifs, and the eagle eyed among you will spot the way the album has been titled, and the name of the tracks that form the start, the middle, and the end of the album give what I suspect is the albums full title, and a phrase that is repeated several times on the album, one which has significance to Isaacs story.

The band have got a wider musical palette to play with on this album, and with them performing live shows and the reception Pandora got, I sense they are growing as a band with the concept.

Take the wonderfully late night jazz club vibe of No Evil, with some wonderful piano work, or Emma’s free form vocal improvisation over the starker elements of radio, where the band pare things down to a sparser darker less is more approach. Meanwhile one of the musical motifs from Pandora is revisited with some wonderful flute playing by Ramsey Janini accompanied by more of Dans fantastic piano on the haunting …we’ll have to say… Meanwhile reaper, with it’s fantastic guitar work, and more of Emma’s sublime vocals, has a very Floydian air about it, particularly Dans guitar solo, however that is the only real musical touch point to any other band. As We Are Kin sound like no-one else out there, from the distinctive vocals of Dan and Emma, to the musically rich tapestry that the band weave, and the tight narrative that allows the band to dictate there sound and not vice versa.

exhale, with more of Dans piano playing and Emmas vocals, echoes the way the album has been constructed, there are very few elements of bombast and the way the music has been composed is as much about the space between the performances, as the performances themselves, with a powerful finish.

…goodbye starts with the repetition of a lyrical phrase that has repeated across the album, and it’s a 12 minute epic that ties the whole album together, with some amazing musical performances from the band, fantastic guitar work and an amazing ensemble work to bring this part of the story to a close, and like all the best dramatic works or films in the cinema where you need to stay to the end, play close attention to the end of the album.

This is an assured and intelligent follow up to what is one of the strongest debut albums I have ever heard, and it moves the story on in new and musically interesting ways, and is a strong contender already for an album of the year.

I also need to mention the artwork for the album by Leon Arts and We Are Kin, which again flow from the debut albums work and is a superbly realised concept with shades of Hipgnosis about it.

If you were one of the lucky 500 who pre-ordered the album you also got a cracking limited edition live show from Manchester, where the Pandora material is brought to life in fine form.

I am hoping that they are going to do more shows, where they can tell the story so far to what will definitely be appreciative audiences.

I cannot state enough what a great album this is, and if you liked Pandora then this album will delight you as it takes the story to the next level.

The band have made massive leaps forward across both these albums, so I cannot wait to see where they take their sound next.

 

All albums are available from www.badelephant.co.uk

The Enid, Dust to Glory.

The Enid, one of the most iconoclastic progressive bands have ploughed their own furrow over the last 40 years guided by the individual (some might say bloody minded) vision of Robert John Godfrey, a unique musical visionary who polarises opinion with his outspoken critiques, yet he has driven The Enid forward for the last 40 years and with the current tour being his last hurrah with the band as he steps back and lets the young blood in the current revitalised incarnation take over, I was lucky to catch up with Robert, and Enid vocalist Joe Payne last month before they flew of to Japan, to talk about their latest opus Dust.

Robert John Godfrey

RJG

Robert is one of the most erudite musicians I have ever interviewed, an intelligent and passionate individual he has so many ideas that we would veer off topic at a regular occurrence including several off the record chats that sadly I cannot reproduce here, witty, self deprecating and very down to earth I think when he steps aside from the stage work he should do a few ‘Evening with…’ theatre shows.

We started our chat by talking about their mighty fine new album Dust and Robert explained the albums concept and themes,

‘Basically there is stardust round and round us, and it’s the culmination of a trilogy, Dust is a prophetic look at where we’ve got to.

It’s about 7 things represented by a seven-point star, there are six things that are on a collision course with massive consequences, the environment vs consumerism, the sacred and the secular and wealth and poverty.

The seventh is something that might have been implicit at the Big Bang, when you got a Terry Pratchett disc world and the 6 points are all fighting each other and this enormous problem us something the next generation has to sort out is the legacy of the mess my generation have made. In this pretty devastated place at the end of it all you’ve got Love, which you must have had in place at the start.

Love, it’s what you’re left with at the end and the stuff of creation, the message that was behind (classic Enid album) Something Wicked this Way comes.

Is this the end? A punishment or a great forest fire, a reset. The trilogy is about the relationship between the one and the many.

It’s about being interested in ideas of mortality and what it means to be a believer, I honestly don’t know and don’t pretend to know.

I’ve spent my life half rationalising against the idea of God and the other half talking to him’ Continue reading “The Enid, Dust to Glory.”

All our Yesterdays

All our Yesterdays

Released today on the small but mighty Bad Elephant Music label, All our Yesterdays is Discipline front man and songwriter Matthew Parmenters third solo release, following up 2008’s Horror Express.
Parmenter is a unique talent, and I will put it out there straight away that this album will be a Marmite album to many, there will be people out there who love this work, and people who will find it too idiosyncratic and left field for their tastes.
This however is not a bad thing, it’s wonderful as a reviewer to receive an album that grabs you by the back of the neck from the get go, and if you’re wondering where my tastes fall, I am firmly in the former camp. Basically I love this record.
I will admit now that whilst I’ve heard of Discipline and of Matthew Parmenter, this is the first time I have ever heard any of his music, and when my bank manager hangs their head in despair as I investigate his intensive back catalogue I can only blame David Elliott and BEM for introducing me to this music.
The album itself is performed entirely by Parmenter (with only Discipline drummer Paul Dzendzel playing on 4 tracks) so to all intents and purposes it is a truly solo work, and yet Parmenters virtuoso playing and complex arrangements make it sound like he’s backed by a full band.
There are shades of Peter Hammill/Van Der Graaf Generator on this album, (another artist/band who are uncompromising in their musical vision as Parmenter) particularly on the keyboard and piano driven Digital with some fantastic vocal work which brings mid-seventies Hammill to mind, again not a criticism as Matthew Parmenter is as creative and original musical visionary as Hammill is.
The impressive title track, showcases Parmenters musical talents, with a blistering guitar solo, and his fantastic vocal range is entirely taken from the works of Shakespeare, and I can just visualize him performing this on stage, pouring his heart out into the ether.
The BEM website encourages you to listen in full as this musical work is ‘best experienced as a single, all-encompassing musical odyssey’, normally as I’m a contrary Yorkshireman I ignore all listening instructions and get into the record in my own way, but BEM are right, this is an immersive experience, and whilst it sounds good booming through the stereo, it sounds even better on headphones, sat by a swimming pool in Fuerteventure drinking a cool beer (guess what I listened to on my holidays?)
In all seriousness, the musical dynamics are designed for an intimate listening experience, and the arrangements fall somewhere between the epic sound of early Queen (particularly on dramatic opener Scheherazade, and the powerful I am a Shadow) and the classical music meets rock of Jon Lords 1970’s solo work. Whilst the keyboard and piano driven work on the brooding and sinister All for Nothing acts as a backdrop for Parmenters impassioned and powerful vocals, whilst the sax that kicks in brings Van Der Graaf Generator back to mind.
Meanwhile the piano driven pop of Stuff in the Bag showcases another side to Matthews talent, as he goes from dark to light with a quick mood change that should jar, but fits seamlessly into the record as a whole. Whilst the closing epic Hey for the Dance brings the record to a fantastic close, with Parmenters vocals and the folk influenced closing coda culminating in a genuinely uplifting piece of music, that launches into an extended rock fade.
Listening to the arrangements, the depth and power that is present throughout this epic work, its hard to imagine that there isn’t a full band in the studio and an orchestra hiding out somewhere as well, it’s a testament to Parmenters skill and vision that his concept works throughout from start to finish.
I hesitate to refer to the works on this album as songs, as they are more like movements in a musical symphony, harking back to the days when progressive rock meant moving forward and pushing the recorded form to se how far you could get away with and how creative you could be with the medium,
A lot of contemporary bands on the scene have certainly forgotten the true meaning of progressive rock, Matthew Parmenter hasn’t.
He has released a contemporary concept album, as fresh and original as anything I’ve heard so far this year, and yet clocking in at around the 40 minute mark it never overstays it’s welcome, and would easily fit on one side of a C90 tape to pop in your walkman.
Like I said earlier this Matthew Parmenter is a unique talent, and this album isn’t going to be everybody’s pint of bitter, however I would rather hear a record that is striking, original and polarises opinion than a record that just sits there and you think ‘Well, it’s alright innit?’
This is an astonishing piece of work, and to all of you who’ve pre-ordered it and are waiting for the thump at the letterbox, you are in for a real treat my friends.