Progressive Music in a Time of Pandemic

In the era of Napoleon, the Prussian diplomat Klemens Wenzel Furst von Metternich coined the phrase, “When France sneezes, the whole of Europe catches a cold.”  Like all good clichés, it’s been re-purposed endlessly since the 1800s.  Which leads to today’s question: when the music industry of 2020 catches COVID-19, what does the progressive music scene come down with?

In the last few weeks, the toll of the current pandemic has been steadily mounting, with the postponement or cancellation of tours by Yes, Steve Hackett, Tool and Big Big Train (plus this year’s Cruise to the Edge) at the tip of the iceberg. 

The tale of Leonardo Pavkovic, impresario of MoonJune Records and MoonJune Music (Bookings and Management) is all too grimly typical; since the outbreak of coronavirus, eight MoonJune-booked tours have been cancelled at a loss of about $250,000 to the artists, with many more tours now in jeopardy.  MoonJune artists Stick Men lost 8 of 9 concerts in Asia, plus their US spring tour; touch guitarist Markus Reuter resorted to GoFundMe in order to make up for the loss of six months’ income.

So where’s the good news?

For one thing, the plight of progressive musicians has resonated strongly with their fans. Reuter’s GoFundMe goal was met in just over a day; Pavkovic has had a newly positive response to MoonJune’s digital subscription program and discount offers. (Full disclosure: I’m a digital subscriber and I love it!)  And now Bandcamp is getting into the act:

To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales this Friday, March 20 (from midnight to midnight Pacific Time), and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets.

So (if your situation allows it), who can you support via downloads, CDs, LPs and merch bought on Bandcamp this Friday?  Well, you could start with four fine new albums I’ve reviewed this year:

Then move on to other artists well loved on this blog:

Best of all, the music keeps on giving.  Leonardo Pavkovic is already sharing details about his next MoonJune albums: a live set from Stick Men’s only uncancelled Asian concert, plus an album of improvisational duets by Markus Reuter and pianist Gary Husband recorded during down time in Tokyo.  And jazz-rock master John McLaughlin has made his most recent album (Is That So with vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and tabla player Zakir Hussain) available as a free download.

Whither the music industry in time of pandemic?  As with everything else, it’s way too soon to tell.  But, if all of the above is any indication, progressive music — due to the indefatigable, awe-inspiring musicians who make it — will survive.

— Rick Krueger

Sounding the Bardic Depths

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’ … It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision – it is then that Friendship is born.

— C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

The Bardic Depths is a rare creation; the method of its making embodies what it portrays.  It’s a distinctive take on the concept album, sparked from ongoing collaboration by two devoted lovers of progressive rock, with stellar contributions from some of the music’s current leading lights.   (Oh, and fleeting spoken-word cameos from others, including yours truly — so yeah, objectivity is out the window here.)

Lyricist Brad Birzer and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dave Bandana have been self-releasing enjoyable albums for a few years now,  launching impressionist volleys of lyrical prose (usually in a dystopian sci-fi framework) via arching, chantlike melodies, poised atop appealingly thick ambient pads and amiably chugging pop grooves.  When Birzer pitched the life, times and friendship of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as an album concept, Bandana loved it — but as the music took shape, he realized that contributors who could kick things up a level were needed for the album to take wing.

Enter the Passengers — that astonishingly amiable Facebook group of fans brought together by their love of Big Big Train.  Having seen BBT live (and made numerous musical friends in the process), Bandana modestly reached out for help.  And, as the video below reveals, one thing led to another:

Continue reading “Sounding the Bardic Depths”

Big Big Train Release “Passengers Club” and Announce North America Live Dates

Big Big Train have just announced a new members-only club called the Passengers Club. From the band:

Membership of the Passengers Club will give listeners a chance to get behind the scenes in the world of Big Big Train. Club members will be able to hear early demos from the writing and recording stages of our studio releases and demos of songs that got lost along the way, including some tracks from an abandoned concept album that we were working on a few years ago. There will be films of us backstage, recording in the studio, and during rehearsals and soundchecks. There will also be exclusive photo galleries, blog posts, Facebook Q and As, and other good things.

Membership of the Passengers Club costs £30 for one year, or £50 for two years.

Full details of how to sign up, what is on offer, and our reasons for starting the Passengers Club can be found at https://thepassengersclub.com.

They also announced some live dates for the United States and Canada:

• Saturday 9 May – Rosfest, Opera House, Sarasota, Florida, USA (festival headline show)
• Monday 11 May – Opera House, Toronto, Canada *
• Tuesday 12 May – Corona Theatre, Montreal, Canada *
• Wednesday 13 May – Théâtre de la Cité Universitaire, Quebec City, Canada *
• Sunday 17 May – Brook Arts Center, Bound Brook, New Jersey, USA *
• Saturday 23rd May – Sweetwater Performance Pavilion, Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA **
• Thursday 16 July – Friars, Aylesbury, UK ***
• Saturday 18 July – Ramblin’ Man Festival, Kent, UK (festival headline show)
• Monday 20 July – Stadstheater, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands **
• Tuesday 21 July – Lichtburg, Essen, Germany **
• Thursday 23 July – Konzerthaus, Karlsruhe, Germany **
• Friday 24th July – Phenomenon, Fontaneto D’Agogna, Milan, Italy **

* Supported by IZZ
** Supported by Robert Berry’s 3.2
*** Supported by Lazuli

All shows will feature the full 12-piece BBT live band.


Progarchy’s co-founder and former editor, Brad Birzer, and Progarchist Tad Wert have released an ebook about Big Big Train called Big Big Train: A Dream of the West. Yours truly and Progarchist Alison Reijman contributed chapters. Get it at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Big-Train-Dream-West-ebook/dp/B084QF79GK/ref=zg_bs_156354011_5?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=5NSMTTWKFH5CJZT8NDBV.

The Bardic Depths

From Robin Armstrong’s Gravity Dream Records:

‘The Bardic Depths’ is an all new progressive rock project formed from the writing team of multi-instrumentalist, Dave Bandana with lyrics and concept from Bradley Birzer, plus contributions from Peter Jones (Camel/ Tiger Moth Tales) – Saxophone/ Vocals, Tim Gehrt ( Streets/ Steve Walsh) – Drums, Gareth Cole (Tom Slatter/ Fractal Mirror) – Guitar and Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) – Keyboards/ Guitar/ Bass, amongst a host of other amazing musicians from the progressive rock community around the world.

“The album is about friendship and its ability to get us through anything including war, with the concept centering on the literary friendship formed between J.R.R Tolkien and C. S Lewis between 1931 and 1949. “ says the Lanzarote based band leader Dave Bandana.

Friendship also provided the catalyst to enable such a wide cast of musicians to come together for the record, largely from the community provided by the Big Big Train Group on Facebook. The resulting album is an immersive combination of ethereal soundscape with Floydian undertones, and Talk Talk progressive pop sensibilities.

The Bardic Depths is available to pre-order now from Gravity Dream on CD or in an extremely limited CD/T-shirt bundle.  It’s also available on CD from Burning Shed, who provide the tracklist:

1. The Trenches
2. Biting Coals
3. Depths of TIme
i) The Instant
ii)The Flicker
iii) The Moment
4. Depths of Imagination
5. Depths of Soul
6. The End
7. Legacies

And of course, there’s an album teaser on YouTube:

— Rick Krueger

Bryan’s Best of 2019

Here we are at the end of another year. As you’re probably well aware, 2019 has been the latest in a string of great years for progressive rock and metal. Overall it didn’t blow me away like other years have (a few particular albums did however), but I think that’s more because of how my year has gone. I finished up grad school in the spring, and I spent the entire year job-searching before finally starting a new job at the beginning of this month. A couple of important people in my life died this year as well, so overall it has been a year full of challenges. My ability to properly soak in all the great music that has been released understandably suffered. But nevertheless, I found much to enjoy this year, and the following are some of my favorites. They are in no particular order except for my top three down at the bottom of this list.

Rise Twain – Rise Twain

The first album by Philadelphia-area duo Rise Twain is a stellar example of what popular music should be. Brett Kull and J. D. Beck are excellent songwriters and equally talented musicians. They combine the simplicity of a good song with the more technical aspects of prog. While it may be hard to call this a “prog” album, it certainly has many varied influences that make this a solid showing. Check out my review and interview with Brett Kull here: https://progarchy.com/2019/08/30/a-conversation-with-brett-kull-of-rise-twain/

Soen – Lotus

This is a magnificent album. Beautifully heavy, as any metal album should be, it retains an ability to move int0 peaceful contemplative spaces. When this album rocks, it rocks hard, and it keeps an upbeat tone that so many metal albums often lose. “Lotus” delivers musically, lyrically, and vocally. Check out Time Lord’s review here: https://progarchy.com/2019/01/09/album-preview-soen-lotus-soenmusic/

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2019”

kruekutt’s 2019 Favorites: New Music

Here are the albums of new music from 2019 that grabbed me on first listen, then compelled repeated plays. I’m not gonna rank them except for my Top Favorite status, which I’ll save for the very end. The others are listed alphabetically by artist. (Old school style, that is — last names first where necessary!) Links to previous reviews or purchase sites are embedded in the album titles.  But first, a graphic tease …

Continue reading “kruekutt’s 2019 Favorites: New Music”

Big Big Train News: Live Video & More …

Straight from the horse’s mouth …

We will be releasing our new Blu-ray on 6th December.

The Blu-ray was recorded at our run of sold out shows at Cadogan Hall, London and features the best version of every song performed at the concerts, providing a full set-list from our 2017 shows.

The digipak includes a 20 page booklet.

There are two bonus performances and the Blu-ray features stereo and 5.1 mixes.

Region free.

Reflectors of Light (the Blu-ray companion to BBT’s 2018 Merchants of Light CD/vinyl set) is now available for pre-order from Burning Shed and The Merch Desk.  The Reflectors of Light track list:

Folklore Overture
Folklore
Brave Captain
Last Train
London Plane
Meadowland
A Mead Hall in Winter
Experimental Gentlemen (Part Two)
Swan Hunter
Judas Unrepentant
The Transit of Venus Across the Sun
East Coast Racer
Telling the Bees
Victorian Brickwork
Drums and Brass
Wassail

Bonus tracks:
The Transit of Venus Across the Sun (with reprise)
Summer’s Lease (recorded live at Real World studios)

Nellie Pitts’ Merch Desk also has plenty of swag from Big Big Train’s just-completed UK tour (signed tour posters, programmes, t-shirts, turntable slip mats, beanies and bamboo fans) too!

— Rick Krueger