Three from Procol Harum: Rick’s Retroarchy

Trailing the superior box set Still There’ll Be MoreEsoteric Recordings has unleashed three further Procol Harum reissues — two underrated classics from the 1970s, plus the first of the group’s periodic reunion albums.

1972’s Live In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and its swaggering single “Conquistador” propelled Procol Harum into the Top 20 for the first time since “A Whiter Shade of Pale;” in response, Chrysalis Records threw money at the follow-up.  When guitarist Dave Ball and the band parted ways in the studio, the new material was re-recorded with successor Mick Grabham; Gary Brooker went all in on orchestral and choral arrangements; producer Chris Thomas got free rein with further bells and whistles; and the group was flown to Manhattan in top hats and tails for the new album’s over the top launch party.

To their credit, Procol Harum didn’t succumb to the excess; on Grand Hotel they harnessed it, examining the pursuit of pleasure from the perspective of the morning after, and counting the cost without flinching.

Continue reading “Three from Procol Harum: Rick’s Retroarchy”

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

Van Der Graaf Generator: Do Not Disturb

Esoteric Antenna EANTCD1062

vdgg

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.

Continue reading “Do Not Disturb – I am listening to Van Der Graaf Generator”

An Esoteric Recordings Review Special

One of the best independent labels currently operating within the progressive and beyond genre Esoteric recordings are not only experts at reissuing and remastering, having been behind the impressive Hawkwind and Man catalogue reissues, but they are also adept at finding new talents like Schnauser, Sanguine Hum & Hi-Fiction Science amongst many others, a couple of which are featured here.

This is review round up of a selection of the fine records that they released or reissued last year.

 Fish on Friday

Fish on Friday: Godspeed
EANTCD1037

Before cracking on with the re-issues I thought I would have a look at one of the new records Esoteric released last year on their Antenna label.
Hope to artists like Matt Stevens, Schnauser, Van der Graaf Generator and Andy Jackson amongst many others, their Antenna label is the home to new prog bands that they discover and promote.
Fish on Friday is one of those new talents, a Belgian band who released their third album Godspeed through the Esoteric Antenna label last autumn.
Featuring the bass & vocal talents of Nick Beggs, the band, William Beckers on keyboards/percussion, Frank Van Bogaert keyboards/vocals/additional guitars, Marty Townsend electric/ acoustic guitars and Marcus Weymaere on drums and percussion are a superb musical unit, very talented and inventive songwriters.
It’s the measure of how good the band is, by the company they keep, and Fish on Friday are very good with guests of the calibre of Theo Travis, who enhances the beautiful Ghost Song, with it’s stunning musical work, and some fantastic bass work from Beggs underpinning the majestic 6 minute epic as Travis goes to work with his sublime sax work, and haunting interludes, as well as Theo’s flute work on the brilliant Calling Planet Home.
The stand out track on the album for me is Radio, with it’s wonderful couplet ‘And the Buggles Killed the Radio Star’ and it’s beautifully evocative lyrics and the driving rock, it would be a shoe in for a single, as it’s got catchy lyrics, a great sound, and it leads almost seamlessly into 8 minutes Sanctuary, with its great female backing vocals and some beautiful guitar work.
In fact the musical interplay between the band is sublime on this album, and the songwriting is superb, as they blend seamless rock into atmospheric prog and back into catchy hooks effortlessly, and with some vocal harmonies and musical moments to die for, this is a fantastic record.
If you love new progressive music, and lets face it who doesn’t? Then this is for you, a superb piece of music, mixing the finest songwriting, the best performances and utilising some superb guest musicians.
Another fantastic find from Esoteric.

The Gasoline Band

The Gasoline Band
Esoteric ECLEC2467

This is a mighty record, the only record from the British based, ten piece blues, jazz rock band The Gasoline Band, formed mostly from American servicemen who had been stationed in Germany and led by keyboard player Fred Schwartz whose vision helped meld the Gasoline Band into the unique outfit that they were.
Originally released back in 1972 on the Cube Records label, it didn’t shift many copies, and whilst the band were popular live, as is often the way, particularly with larger bands, they drifted apart and that was it. Which is an almighty shame, as there is so much power on this record, and when you think of a traditional band with guitar, drums, bass, keyboards and the excellent vocals of Brian Bevan, then you add in two sax players, two trumpet players, a trombone and a conga player. The sound combinations suddenly explode into life.
From the astonishing opening of The Bitch, with it’s guitar soloing, it’s stabbing brass and jazz rock influences, it packs more ideas into it’s punchy 5 minutes than some bands ever manage in a career.
The German influence can be heard in the driving Ein Grosses, and the music is a blend of progressive blues and jazz, creating a unique sound, with such power and a taut groove that you can’t help but get drawn in and tap your feet, as the guitars and brass duel throughout. Tracks like the magnificent Shrapnel and the groove driven World What You Gonna Do, showcase a mighty band at the peak of the powers.
It’s such a shame that they fell apart after this impressive debut, as it would have been fascinating to hear where they took their muse next.
If you love blues and brass driven rock then this is a rare old treat for you.
A sublime record.

Bill Nelson

Bill Nelson: After the Satellite Sings
Esoteric/Cocteau COCD1010

Another classic from the expansive back catalogue of enigmatic musician Bill Nelson makes its welcome reappearance here on CD.
Originally recorded and released in 1995, this sees the ever-restless muse of Bill Nelson taking his unique writing style, and working with the then contemporary sound of drum and bass. The result is an interesting hybrid of an album that mixes nelsons languid vocals, his exemplorary guitar playing and some well performed and well mixed beats and spoken word, almost beat poetry, almost rap to create an explosion of sound.
On tracks like Streamliner with its great keyboard work and vocals about the American dream his semi spoken word raps sound a little like Neil Tennant, whilst there are elements of music concrete throughout the album, with the church bells on Memory Babe, with its driving beat and pounding keyboard work.
With its mixture of sci-fi sounds, and retro artwork it invokes the past and the future, with Nelsons songwriting as sharp as ever, and his guitar work scything through the sounds. According to the sleeve notes this was an influence on David Bowies later foray into Drum and Bass on Earthling, and the two albums have similarities. However Nelson was here first, and this is another exciting release from an artist not content to rest on his laurels, from the work he did with Be Bop Deluxe in the 1970’s to his ambient soundscapes, Bill Nelson is a restless intelligent talent and impossible to pigeonhole.

Panic Room

Panic Room: Satellite
Esoteric Antenna EANTCD21033

Originally released back in 2010 this is a remastered and expanded edition of Prog Award winners Panic Rooms 2nd album, the last to feature their original line up.
Much more song orientated than their debut, Visionary Position.
With the line up being the remnants of live powerhouse Karnataka, and with the sublime vocals of Anne-Marie Helder, this is an amazing album.
From the opening Freedom to Breathe, with its fantastic guitar work from Paul Davies, and the keyboard interplay with Jonathan Edwards is great, particularly as they create the soundscapes for Anne-Maries voice to soar. With tracks like I am a Cat, Muse and the epic title track, this was a definite statement of intent from Panic Room and is strong today as it was when first issued.
The musicianship is top quality on here, whilst the vocals and lyrics are fantastic, there are no weak links in this musical chain, and listening to this you can see why Panic Room are one of the hottest live bands around.

Jack Bruce Monk Jack Bruce Somethin Jack bruce Cities

Jack Bruce: Somethin’ Els
Cities of the Heart
Monkjack

Esoteric Records ECLEC2427
ECLEC22428
ECLEC2429

A trio of remastered albums from one of the most influential blues bassists and rock legends the late great Jack Bruce come from the mid 1990’s, when following a period of personal turbulence he was starting to get his career back on track, and his addictions dealt with.
1993’s Somethin’ Els, sees him reunited with his old Cream sparring partner Eric Clapton on a large number of the tracks, and the old magic is still there throughout, older, and wiser, but they still spark off each other, like great musical partners often do, and age or time hasn’t diminished their impact. Surrounding himself with a band of including Stuart Eliot on drums, Peter Weihe and Clem Clempson on rhythm guitar and with guest appearances from artists like Dick Heckstall-Smith who adds his unique sax sound to the wonderful G.B Dawn Blues, and the wonderful vocals of Maggie Reilly who provides a beautiful foil for Jack on the superb Ships in the Night, and the brilliant Peaces of the East. This album is a tour de force for Jack, his vocals and playing are on top form, and his tight band bounce off each other and there is a real spark here. A fine return to form.
1994’s double live Cities of the Heart album is a musical celebration of Jacks career, and features an absolute whose who of musicians, from a reunion with Ginger Baker, with Gary Moore playing the Clapton role on some fantastic versions of NSU, Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, Chester Burnett’s Sitting on Top of the World and the wonderful Politician (lets not forget that shortly afterwards this trio released the hard to find, but worth hunting BBM album) whilst Maggie Reilly adds her vocals to Ships in the Night, whilst other guests like Dick Heckstall-Smith and Simon Phillips add their magic. As a pause and a celebration of Jacks career so far as he celebrated his 50th birthday, this is a great live album, and a wonderful retrospective covering his career to date, the closing finale of Sunshine of Your Love is as brilliant as you would imagine.
1995’s Monkjack is a different approach to the Blues from the previous albums, instead of being the full on blues/rock attack Bruce is known for, this showcases his piano and vocal performances in partnership with Bernie Worrall on the wonderful sound of the Hammond Organ, and is as exciting as you can imagine.
Sometimes less is more, and here, with piano and organ there is nowhere to hide, and Bruce’s voice is amazing, not just singing the material, but actually living it. Revisiting older material like Folk Song and Weird of Hermiston in radically different arrangements, as well as great interpretation of the Willie Dixon song Third Degree, this features some great new material like Shouldn’t We and Tightrope, and with Bernie Worralls Hammond mixing with Jacks piano, this is the sort of sound you expect to hear in late night blues clubs or jazz bars, and is the forerunner to the sort of thing Hugh Laurie is currently doing. This is a fantastic record and cuts right to the heart and soul of Jack Bruce, and out of the three remastered gems on offer, is definitely my favourite. Sadly Jack died last year not so long after the release of these records, so not only do they stand as a strong part of a great mans musical catalogue, but also as a testament to his brilliance. RIP Jack.

Kongos

John Kongos: Kongos

Esoteric ECLEC2466

If all you know of John Kongos is his hit single Togoloshe Man being used in Life on Mars, or his other hit He’s Gonna Step on You Again being borrowed and sampled by popular beat combo The Happy Mondays for their big hit Step On, then you really need to get yourself a copy of this fantastic reissue of his second album, originally released on the Fly records label in 1971.
Born in Johannesburg, John Kongos moved to the UK in the mid sixties, and was on the periphery of something big until he was signed to the Fly label, with label mates like Marc Bolan. Mixing in rhythms from his native South Africa, and produced by Gus Dudgeon and engineered by Roy Thomas Baker (who later helped shape Queens unique sound) and utilising session musicians like Ray Cooper and Caleb Quaye who had worked so successfully with Elton John, and Mike Moran on keys and piano, they crafted a perfect album, which seems to have slipped behind the sofa of popular culture.
From the opening driving beat of Togoloshe Man to the beautifully elegiac Tomorrow I’ll go, via the wonderful Jubilee Cloud, Johns vocals are superb, his songwriting exemplorary, and his musical accompaniment is spot on every time. He can mix and match moods from ballads to driving pieces like Try to touch Just one, with nods to his native South African beats and rhythms throughout (over 20 years before Paul Simon). With songs that seem spiritual like Come on Down Jesus, or the bonus Higher than Gods Hat, there is a deep intellectual spirituality at work here, along with a songwriter on top of his game, and rounding the original album off with the rousing He’s Gonna Step on You Again (which is far better than the Happy Mondays version) is a touch of genius.
Fleshing out this immaculate package are 8 single a and b-sides, plus the single edit of Togoloshe Man, which is enough to create another album, and tracks like Ride the Lightening and Great White Lady are superb, and it’s a mystery to me after listening to this album why it isn’t held in as high a regard as other early 70’s singer/songwriter albums like Elton’s Madman Across the Water, George Harrison’s Living in the Material World or Richard Thompson’s Henry the Human Fly, as it has great emotion, real power and some of the finest tracks you’ll hear this side of a George Harrison album.
I hope this reissue reminds the world of what a fantastic record Kongos is.

Quantum Jump Barracuda

Quantum Jump: Quantum Jump
Barracuda
Esoteric ECLEC2472
Esoteric ECLEC22477

Formed in Farmyard Studios in 1974, Quantum Jump coalesced around Rupert Hine (vocals and keyboards) former Caravan bassist and vocalist John G Perry, guitarist Mark Warner and drummer Trevor Morais.
This debut album newly remastered and repackaged to the usual high standards by Esoteric Records is a fine blend of jazz, rock and hints of prog sneaking in their as well.
Underpinned by the fine songwriting sensibilities of the band, and their innate musical dexterity, Quantum Jump is an overlooked classic, with some fantastic pieces on here, the great opening Captain Boogaloo, the brilliant No American Starship, and the closing 7 minutes plus of Something at the Bottom of the Sea, which showcases all of the bands versatility, from Warners fluid guitar, Perry’s subtle and intense bass playing, the dextrous drumming from Morais (reminiscent of Billy Cobham at points) and Hines superb keyboard style all brought together to create a magnificent album.
The bands most famous song The Lone Ranger is here as well, in its original album form, and the 1979 remix which hit the top 5. Originally released in 1976 it was named Tony Blackburns record of the week, and was starting to sneak into the top 30, when the BBC banned it due to its drug references and homoerotic lyrical content. Then due to Kenny Everett using its distinctive opening on his various radio and TV shows, the song was remixed and released where it achieved its full potential. Also included are the single b side Drift, and several remixes from 1979’s compilation album Mixing, which subtly updated the jazz fusion sound of Quantum Jump with some more sophisticated synthesisers.
Come 1977 and Quantum Jump reconvened for the follow up to their debut, the brilliant Barracuda, beautifully reissued here in a double disc set including a complete BBC Radio One in concert from 1977, previously unreleased on CD and the mopping up of the tracks from the Mixing compilation.
Down to a core trio of Hine, Perry & Morais, this picks up where the debut left off, with a similar vibe on the record, and of interest to Caravan fans Geoffrey Richardson adding viola, guitar and flute amongst others, whilst Elkie Brooks adds her familiar vocals to the record.
The air of sophistication surrounds Barracuda, and it’s an incongruous record for the time (1976) it was recorded in, of course punks impact is often overstated (after all Disco was bigger than punk, and one of the biggest selling bands of the period were the immaculately produced ELO) however it undoubtedly had an impact on Quantum Jump who weren’t big enough to not be caught up in punks year zero approach.
However the loss at the time is our gain, as what we have here is an immaculately produced, intelligently written album, with some fantastic use of brass and strings, as well as fantastic lyrics from Martin Hall & Jeanette Obstoj, which by dint of having a huge element of care over the production means it sounds timeless and hasn’t dated anywhere near as much as some of the original punk sounds.
The vocal harmonies, particularly on the opener Don’t Look Now, with it’s smooth blend of funk and rock are superb, whilst the strings on The Séance (too Spooky) are hauntingly perfect and the fine blend of funk and rock that is the Quantum Jump trademark is sublime.
The title track features some great keyboard work from Hine, whilst throughout the record the drums and bass from Morais and Perry is superb as they bounce off each other and work as the lynch pins to the record.
Bonus tracks include a sublime single version of Summer in the City, which is a fantastic cover.
Disc 2 is taken up by the BBC Radio One live in concert, where Roye Albrighton from Nektar joins the Quantum Jump trio on guitar and Geoffrey Richardson renewing his working relationship with John G Perry.
The concert is a fantastic testament to Quantum Jumps live prowess and features a great mix of material from both albums, with Barracuda well featured by a blistering version of the title track, Don’t Look Now, Starbright Park and a great version of The Séance (Too Spooky) whilst their signature track The Lone Ranger gets a great live workout and tracks like No American Starship (Looking for the Next World) and Over Rio show their versatility and great songwriting skills.
These two albums beautifully remastered and with some great liner notes tell the complete Quantum Jump history, and are a fantastic couple of records with a real groove and some stunning musicianship.
If you’ve never heard of Quantum Jump then now is the time you discovered them.

Cale

John Cale & Terry Riley: Church of Anthrax
Esoteric ECLEC2448

Fresh from the Velvet Underground CBS Masterworks signed John Cale to a two-album deal, one was his debut solo album, the rather wonderful Vintage Violence, and the other was this, his collaboration with underground minimalist composing genius Terry Riley (whose A Rainbow in Curved Air & In C were both highly acclaimed)
Taking Cales compositional style and mixing it with Rileys was an inspired idea, as the two men both worked in similar vein, and their styles are complimentary. Despite Riley leaving the project at mixing stage, there is still a lot of Terry Riley within this record.
It makes it’s overdue reappearance here on CD, newly remastered and with incisive notes from Sid Smith, and at points throughout the record it sounds so far ahead of it’s time it is unbelievable.
The opening title track with it’s pulsating and clashing keyboards and insinuating metronomic riffs is an opening statement of intent, and takes Cales musicality out of the Velvet underground, and into a new playground, and with both men operating in a similar vein it is hard to tell where Cale ends and Riley begins as it’s 9 minutes plus musical power sounds like a proto-krautrock epic.
The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, like most of the tracks, are all built round improvisations, and its wonderful to hear them pushing each other out there, as Cale and Riley trade riffs and piano sounds.
The Soul of Patrick Lee, the only track on here with vocals provided by Adam Miller, is the only song provided by John Cale, it foreshadows Cales solo career, with its superb lyrics and great musical performance, and could have easily fallen onto Cales albums like Vintage Violence or Paris, 1919.
Ides of March is another superb musical collaboration, with the stereo phasing being put to good use, and the insistent piano and percussion counterpoint working wonderfully together.
Closing with the short guitar driven The Protégé, which of all the compositions on here sounds closet to Cales work with the Velvet Underground than any of the more minimalist stylings of Riley, the piano is still to the fore and the sound here is taut and powerful, finishing off an immense record in style.
This is a fantastic collaboration between two intelligent and visionary musicians and composers and it is fantastic that it is now available again, providing the missing link between John Cales Velvet Underground work and his impressive and inventive solo career.

Mantwang Manmoon

Man: The Twang Dynasty
Call Down the Moon
Esoteric ECLEC32455
Esoteric ECLEC2456

Continuing their remastering and definitive edition reissue of the Man catalogue, and to prepare us for the new Man album later on in the year, Esoteric have reissued two of Mans late period studio albums, 1992’s Twang Dynasty & 1995’s Call Down the Moon.
The Twang Dynasty was their first studio album in 16 years, and is expanded here with the addition of the complete Live at Glastonbury show they did in 1994 over two extra discs.
The band, at this point Martin Ace, Micky Jones, Deke Leonard and John Weathers had been touring constantly since a 1983 reformation, and ended up as the Manbands longest serving incarnation, and in terms of getting down to recording a new album, a 9 year wait is par for the course for the Manband.
However the twang Dynasty was well worth the wait, and mixing their twin guitar sound and vocals, the album is a fantastic piece of rock, opening with a powerful trio of songs A feather on the Scales of Justice, Mad on Her and Jumpin’ Like a Kangaroo, all of which remained as staples in their live set (listening to the versions of Mad on Her and A Feather on the Scales of Justice on Disc 2 & 3 of this set respectively shows why)
The songwriting and performance here is top notch, with the band on top form, but then as they had been touring together for so longer they were on fine form.
Tracks like The Chinese Cut, the rather splendid Out of the Darkness and the closing rocker The Wings of Mercury (which again made it into the live set) are sublime, and show that despite the gap since the last record Man hadn’t lost their Mojo or power.
Discs 2 & 3 come from surprisingly enough their first performance at Glastonbury, and alongside the Twang tracks, it features some blinding performances of tracks from their 70’s heyday, versions of Many are called but few get/the Strom, Bananas and Romain prove that they still cut it as an almighty live band, and provide a fantastic companion to one of the great comeback albums of all time.
1995’s Call Down the Moon was the second album in a row from the same line-up, and the confidence from The Twang Dynasty is obvious to hear, as this album follows on from where that left off, with some sublime musical moments, building on their past the ten minute title track developed from an improvised riff used during their classic song C’mon, which was so good they built on it, and the title track was born seamlessly blending the old and the new, and creating a contemporary Man classic as they went along, yet this was still a departure from the classic sound as Deke Leonard focused more on keyboards than guitar, and so some of the twin guitar sound that was classic Man had snuck away. The improvisational way of writing worked on here, as this is an incredibly great album, with some fantastic tracks on here, like the wonderful piano driven Blackout, the funky Heaven & Hell with some classic Deke Leonard lyrics, and has some fantastic musical interplay between the whole band.
With some classic Man tracks like The Girl is trouble and the original album closer Burn my Workin’ Clothes which gives John Weathers a chance to sing and has some fab slide guitar all over it. The two bonus tracks are the original version of Dream Away and an unfinished piece known as Micky Buys a Round, which show the genesis of the work on the album.
These two remasters are a fine return to musical form for the Manband, and make a welcome return to CD, sounding as great as Man ever did, and are worth getting hold of.

Sanciousforest Sancioustrans

David Sancious: Forest of Feelings
David Sancious & Tone: Transformation (The speed of Love)

Esoteric ECLEC2457
Esoteric ECLEC2458

Take the prodigious keyboard talent David Sancious, who had been a lynchpin up til 1974 in Bruce Springsteens E Street Band, add his old sparring partner drummer Ernest Carter from the E-Street band and Gerald Carboy on bass, add the production skills of one of the greatest drummers around Billy Cobham, who also contributes to Suite Cassandra, The Forest of Feelings & Further into the Forest of Feelings, and let them loose into the studio, and what do you get?
You get Forest of Feelings, originally unleashed on an unsuspecting world back in 1975, bear in mind when you listen to this, that the immensely talented Sancious was only 21 when this was made, and it blows your mind that a record this assured, this well performed, and this damn fantastic was his debut solo release.
Cobham’s production was a masterstroke, as it allows each performer to breathe, each note to resonate, and this falls somewhere between the prog work of keyboard players like Dave Greenslade, and the more full on jazz of Cobham, and is a million light years away from the working man rock of Springsteen.
From the opening Suite Cassandra, with its mix of classical, jazz, and progressive themes all building and flitting from one mood to the other. With Cobham producing of course there’s going to be comparisons with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which is inevitable, but Sancious is very much his own composer. One of the stand out pieces on here is Sancious obvious reworking of Dixie, into a far more contemporary piece with nods towards the race relations movement, and turning it into a darker piece.
With some superb performances throughout from Carter & Carboy, this is a true power trio at work, particularly on some of the moments within title track as Carters drumming is relentless, and ably complimenting Sancious stunning playing.
Nicely rounded out with the bonus track Promise of Light, which offers a melodic contrast to what, has gone before, this is a stunning debut from Sancious, laying down a marker as to what will follow.
What did follow was 1976’s Transformation (The Speed of Love) where the band was now called Tone, and Sancious was keen to progress his sound from the debut album, also the band had been working together as tight unit, so there is a lot of confidence and power about the band on this ambitious second album.
Produced by another musical alumni Bruce Botnik, who also worked with the Doors, the progressive influence is also shown here, on the title track, which takes up the whole of what would have been side two, but more on that later.
Coming to the fore on this album alongside his keyboard skills is Sancious ferocious guitar playing, particularly on the tremendous opener Piktors Metamorphosis, whilst the 8 minute plus majesty of Sky Church Hymn #9 is inspired by Jimi Hendrix, and features some astonishing slide guitar, and the work of Carter & Carboy cannot be praised enough, their style and tone works so well with Sancious, and live I can imagine they would have blown anyone away.
The fourth track on the album, the 18 minute epic Transformation (The speed of love) manages to distil all the disparate influences and styles that Sancious and Tone were so adept in into one long piece of music, that is effortless in its beauty and majesty and the intensity of the piece, with the trio all bouncing off each other, is an art form in itself. The way that Sancious works the keyboards and drives the piece along is wonderful to hear whilst the drumming of Carter and the subtle insinuating bass of Carboy is a joy to hear.
When the power trio works well it is indisputably the finest combination in music, and here we have a jazz/prog/rock power trio at the peak of their game, giving us some phenomenal music.
These two albums are an absolute must own for any fan of early to mid 70’s keyboard work.

All these releases can be found at http://www.esotericrecordings.com

A Pretty Decent Racket: An Interview with Mark Kilminster of Tin Spirits

The Tin Spirits.
The Tin Spirits.

As far as I know, I have the very proud distinction of being the very first North American to review “Wired to Earth,” the first release from the Tin Spirits.  Greg Spawton had recommended it as a unique form of guitar prog, and I ordered it immediately.  That Dave Gregory played on it didn’t hurt my decision, either.  I had just written something about Alex Lifeson, Matt Stevens, and Dave Gregory being among my all-time favorite guitarists, and I was certainly elated to have more proof of the truth of this.  So, yeah, I’m proud to have reviewed Wired to Earth immediately upon its release.  It grabbed me from the moment I first heard it.  And, as my wife can verify, I pretty much listen to it all of the time, especially when The Birzers are on the road.  Which is quite often.  And, because of some very personal family history, the fourth track on the album, “Broken,” means as much to me as any song.  If you’re not religious, forgive me–but I can’t help but thank God for the health of Penny.  You’ll see why in the interview.

When I heard that “Scorch” (forthcoming, September 15, from Esoteric Records) would be the second release from the Tin Spirits, I put away my very shy nature [for those of you who know me, you’re laughing] and ask Mark Kilminster about the album.  Not surprisingly–after all, he’s an incredibly nice guy–he responded with enthusiasm.  So, wonderful, say I!  Thank you, Mark.

 

*****

 

Progarchy: Mark, thank you so much for taking time to talk with us. We know you have to be incredibly busy, and we’re honored [honoured for our English readers!] you’d spend some time with us. About half of our readership is North American, and, despite my best efforts, Tin Spirits is still not as well known on this side of the Atlantic as it should be. For our benefit, would you mind giving a bit of history of the band? How it came together? How you knew and recruited Dave Gregory? Where the name comes from?

Mark: No problem Brad, the honour is all mine. I’ll attempt the short version! Dan, Doug and I had been in a functioning band together since 2006, playing standard rock covers. Dan was already friends with Dave through Dan’s GigRig company (amazing guitar pedal switching systems) and through a bit of superfan stalking (sorry Dan!).

Our first meeting with the four of us came about when Dan wanted to create an “Amp Shootout” video to demonstrate the different tonal capabilities of different amps. He asked Doug and me to play drums and bass respectively in the video and as a long shot, he asked Dave if he’d like to take part, too. Much to our surprise and excitement, Dave happily agreed, and we spent the day jamming in a studio. It was clear to all that the four of us made a pretty decent racket so Dan suggested asking Dave if he would be interested in joining us to create a new band, initially playing covers we would normally not be able or allowed to play. Dave happily agreed, and Tin Spirits was born.

With regards to the name, it’s actually one of the hardest things to come up with. That and album titles. We spent weeks bouncing name ideas backwards and forwards via email. If no-one replies, you know it’s a duffer! Then, all of a sudden, Dave just turned up at rehearsal one day and said “What about Tin Spirits?” and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Incidentally, exactly the same thing happened with the album titles, “Wired To Earth” and “Scorch.”

Progarchy: Youtube is full of videos of the Tin Spirits covering great rock and prog songs. You cover XTC (naturally), Rush, Steely Dan, Yes. Can you tell us a little bit about this? Why these, and how much did they influence the style of original Tin Spirits music?

Mark: Well, the initial idea was “let’s play the songs we love and have always wanted to play but couldn’t.” Mainly because if you play Roundabout at a wedding, you won’t get paid! [The interviewer is laughing very, very hard at this—ed.] So we each went away and created a “dream setlist,” and it became clear very quickly that we were all big prog fans. So once we’d gone through everyone’s list and picked the ones we all agreed on, that’s what we ended up with.

We also covered Radiohead, Frank Zappa, Free, and Jellyfish to name a few. After we’d done a few local gigs we decided to have a go at writing our own stuff and see how far it went. That’s basically what “Wired To Earth” became, an experiment to see if we could write songs as a band. There was no agenda as far as whether it should be prog or rock or whatever, but I guess because we all have a penchant for that genre, “Wired to Earth” naturally leans towards it (without keyboards).

Progarchy: In the end, you chose to cover a Genesis song for “Wired to Earth.” Was this a hard pick?

Mark: In hindsight, perhaps we shouldn’t have included a cover but as we’d spent such a long time rehearsing the songs, we thought it would be worthwhile sticking one in. I think we chose “Back in NYC” as it was the one we could knock out fairly quickly.

One of my all-time favorite albums.  Wired to Earth.  A must own.
One of my all-time favorite albums. Wired to Earth. A must own.

Progarchy: Mark, as you know, my favorite [again, favourite for our English readers!] song on the first album is “Broken.” The lyrics are much more than lyrics. They really reach toward poetry. Can you give us the background to that song?

Mark: Thank you very much Brad.

It was the last song written for “Wired To Earth” and nearly didn’t make it, to be honest.

We had a deadline of early March 2011 to finish the album and were still working on it up to the Christmas 2010 break. We recorded a rough demo without vocals so I could work on the lyrics over the holidays.

My wife was pregnant at the time so the lyrics were initially about my second chance in life, essentially going from being single at 32 to having a family at 35. She was due in May 2011, so the album would be all done by then. However, on 6th Feb our daughter was born 14 weeks premature, weighing just 785 grams [1.73lbs.] and everything turned upside down.

As I remember it, the lyrics were written around the end of February and convey what we were going through at the time. It was a 50-mile round trip to the hospital each day, hoping our little girl was doing ok. So the song was recorded right up to the wire and, in fact, Dan and Dave recorded the twin guitar parts in a freezing, converted church hall one night until 3AM in order to meet the deadline.

Penny is now 3, by the way, and you’d never know to look at her what a tough start to life she had.

 

Poor Icarus.  Looks like the sun got him again.  Scorched.  Forthcoming, September 15, 2014, from Esoteric.
Poor Icarus. Looks like the sun got him again. Scorched. Forthcoming, September 15, 2014, from Esoteric.

Progarchy: We’re in the middle of a glorious moment for prog and for rock—despite what the doomsayers claim. How do you see the Tin Spirits? That is, when someone is looking back at 2014, twenty years from now, how do you want the Tin Spirits to be placed and remembered?

Mark: You know what? It would just be nice to be remembered. There is so much new music out there these days that it’s very difficult to hold anyone’s attention before they move on. I’m as guilty as anyone of that. Ooh, great album. Next! It would be great to think that in 20 years, someone will see a Tin Spirits album in their collection and think “Ah, I think I’ll listen to that today.”

****

The Tin Spirits are: Mark Kilminster (vocals; bass); Dave Gregory (guitar); Daniel Steinhardt (guitar; vocals); and Doug Mussard (drums; vocals).  “Scorch” is produced by Tin Spirits and Mitch Keen; mixed by Paul Stacey (Oasis).

The tracks for “Scorch”: Carnivore; Summer Now; Old Hands; Binary Man; Little Eyes; Wrapped And Tied; She Moves Among Us; Garden State.

Progarchy will let you know as soon as it’s available for preorder.  Or, of course, go straight to the official website: http://tinspirits.co.uk

You can order “Wired to Earth” from amazon.com and other outlets, including directly from the record company: http://www.cherryred.co.uk/esoteric-exd.asp?id=3598.  Please do.  Not only do I give the Tin Spirits my highest recommendation in 2014, but I think I’ll still be promoting them in 2034, should I still be wired to this earth.

 ***

My Review of 2013

2013, what a superb year for prog music, there have been dozens of fantastic albums released across the whole gamut, from classic English prog, to experimental rock music, and returns of several prog legends with fantastic new albums and new bands making waves and moving the genre on.
This is what I consider to be the albums that have been the strongest this year, and ones which I have kept coming back to over and over again, the musicality, the performances, the songwriting, the production, the sound is different from album to album, the topics wide ranging and when you listen to these albums back to back, they are all fresh, vibrant and new.
This is my sound of 2013, and these are albums that will stay with me, long after 2013 is but a memory.

Kingbathmat: Overcoming the Monster

Following on from last years superb Truth Button, Kingbathmat returned in triumph, on their most assured album to date, Overcoming the Monster is all about dealing with psychological obstacles, which is reflected in the brilliantly observant lyrics, and the superb cover art as well.
Masters of making an album, rather than just one track, the full force of Kingbathmats impressive musical arsenal is unleashed and untamed over these 6 fantastic tracks, with luscious harmonies reminiscent of Yes in their heyday, with tracks like the driving Parasomnia and the musical finale, the epic riff driven full on space rock masterpiece that is Kubrick Moon, with its superb guitar and keyboard work, and the interplay between all 4 members of the band is a joy to listen to as the track reaches its epic conclusion after 11 plus minutes of sheer musical abandon.

Lifesigns by Lifesigns

Keyboard player John Young, bassist Nick Beggs and Martin ‘Frosty’ Beedle have combined their not inconsiderable talents, and present 5 amazing tracks as the Lifesigns project.
With guests of the calibre of Steve Hackett, Thijs Van Leer, Robin Boult and Jakko Jakszyk Lifesigns fits nicely in the English progressive tradition, with inventive performances, quality musicianship, (the interplay between Beggs fluid bass playing and Youngs superb keyboard playing is a particular delight, while Beedle builds on and adds to a tradition of inventive percussion started by Bill Bruford and others) and instead of imitating or following a pre-ordained idea of what progressive rock should be, this is showing what it is.
Intelligent mature well crafted songs, atmospheric and ambient soundscapes created by the band, where Youngs emotive vocals weave over, and the beauty of the album from the superb Lighthouse to the closing 11 minutes worth of Carousel, Lifesigns is the sound of three talented musicians having the time of their life, not compromising, and delivering the album they were born to make.

Thieves Kitchen-One for Sorrow Two for Joy

The trio of Amy Darby, Phil Mercy and Thomas Johnson have moved from being a live band to a studio project, and in the process have moved organically away from Thieves Kitchens original prog roots, into something more prog folk, with some fantastic vocals from Amy, whilst Phil’s versatility as a guitarist shows all over this album from the brilliant The Weaver, the two epics in which the album hangs, Germander Speedwell and the closing Of Sparks and Spires, whilst Thomas is as inventive a keyboard player as any on the current scene. This is a well-performed, well-produced album, which is made to be listened as a whole. There’s no dipping in or out of songs here and this is a superb musical meeting point of songs and lyrics and performance, and a high point in Thieves Kitchens story so far.

Ravens & Lullabies: Gordon Giltrap & Oliver Wakeman

Two musical powerhouses in their respective fields, guitar maestro Giltrap and keyboard supreme Oliver Wakeman combine their considerable talents on this magnificent concept album on Esoteric.
With Giltraps effortlessly beautiful playing and Wakemans beautifully fluid keyboards, any album with one of them on is a joy; with them both together you’re getting a masterclass in collaborative performances.
With Olivers vocalist of choice the incomparable Paul Manzi on board (seeing Oliver and Paul perform together sends shivers down your spine) and with Wakeman and Giltrap trading licks, exchanging riffs and building things of beauty around each others talents, has to be heard to be believed.
This album is a thing of great power and great beauty and is one which you’ll find you keep returning to again and again, and each time you’ll discover something new, one of the best albums either man has put their name to, and this is one of those collaborations you hope continues.

John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest: North

The first new studio album from John Lees BJH since 1999’s Nexus, this is a superb continuation of the BJH sound, and a triumphant musical return for one of the most underrated bands of the progressive scene, this is classic BJH at its finest.
However in an album full of strong tracks like the digital single Unreservedly Yours, The highlights of this superb album, which as the name suggests draws on the Northern roots of the band, reflecting beautifully and evocatively on where they came from, is the epic and beautiful title track, which brings the landscape and area home to anyone from the North, especially if they are so far from home, that and its beautiful finale At the End of the Day, a wonderful musical end with words from a poem by Northern poet Ammon Wrigley, these two tracks close a magnificent and wonderful album, with grace, beauty and pathos
This deserves to be acclaimed as a great album from John Lees Barclay James Harvest, building on the fine musical tradition and heritage that BJH have, whilst giving their sound a contemporary feel.

Manning: The Root, the Leaf & The Bone

This is Guys 14th album, and he shows no sign of slowing up, with a magnificent concept all about change and time passing, brilliantly executed and realised, with superb pieces like the opening title track, the dramatic Forge with its fantastic percussive sound, and the lyrical themes running through the album about what has been lost to progress.
The core Manning band are a stunningly tight group, and guest musicians like Chloe Hetherington and Marek Arnold enhance the magic of Guys music.
This is a brilliant folk tinged work that shows Guys songwriting to be top notch and is another triumph for Manning.

The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail
L’Etagere Du Travail

After a break of 2 yrs Andy Tillison and the Tangent return with not one, but two stunning new albums.
The main treat is the new studio album proper Le Sacre Du Travail, which translates as the Rite of Work. Influenced strongly by Stravinskys Rite of Spring, this is a contemporary progressive symphony for modern times, with Andy thinking big about things that don’t necessarily fascinate other songwriters, the music itself is written and should be listened to as a complete symphony, like Andy says, progressive music should take you on a journey, and Le Sacre does that, from the opening of Coming up on the Hour (overture) the 22 minute epic Morning Journey and Arrival, its musical dexterity, with wryly observant and sympathetic lyrics, pulling you into the piece, and its counterpart the leading to the conclusion of the symphony, Evening TV, with its cyclical ending of ‘it all starts again’. This is one of the finest examples of a rock sinfonia I have ever heard.
The companion piece of an album as well L’Etagere Du Travail, the Shelf of Work, a 10 track supplementary disc of outtakes and alternate mixes available only from the Tangents website, from the older material the remix Dansant Du Paris is the Tangent go pop, with a fantastic sax break and clever remix, and a different version of the brilliant Ethernet. There are also 5 extra tracks on here, the brilliant Monsanto, the contemplative lost in Ledston, however the stand out track here is the fantastic Suppers Off, an amazing piece of work, from the free festivals of the 70’s to the corporate greed of today via questions about why people have stopped making things and only want to make money, this is a musical angry young man statement, with big questions about musical recycling, and how come big bands remaster stuff all the time, and people lap it up.
To create a masterpiece like Le Sacre is achievement enough, but to then follow it up with a companion album including Suppers Off which would be a significant track by anyone’s standards is an astonishing record by any musician, but to do it in one year as a simultaneous release reminds us why Andy Tillison is one of the most important voices on the prog scene.

Shineback: Rise up Forgotten Return Destroyed

This debut release by Tinyfish frontman Simon Godfrey with lyrics from Robert Ramsay, this is a step away from the Tinyfish sound.
Drawing on a diverse range of genres and sounds, this tells the story of Dora who videos her dreams and is drawn into a dark journey into her own past uncovering dark secrets.
Danny Claires vocals work so well on the album in the musical blog interludes, telling part of Dora’s story, whilst musically the genres flip from the driving electro rock of Is this the Dream? The synth driven Bedlam days that mixes techno and garage sounds, with some great keyboard work.
Godfrey has pulled together an amazing story and the electro emphasised music taking his muse in a totally different direction from anything he’s done before.
His own insomnia is drawn on throughout the album adding to the story, particularly on the mood changing piano driven Faultlines, his vocals being sublime throughout the album, whilst the title track is 10 minutes plus of musical brilliance.
This is a superb debut for a talented musician stepping out from the music he’s known for, into a left field musical future. The fact that this succeeds so well is testament to Godfreys talent and vision, and his choice of collaborators (including Matt Stevens, Dec Burke, Henry Rogers). This is fantastic.

The Fierce and the Dead: Spooky Action

The Fierce and the Dead is this intense, powerful, exciting groove monster.
The 11 new tracks that make up this mighty album all take you different places, and into unexpected territories, from the opening groove of Part 4, the driving intensity of the single Ark underpinned by a monster bass riff, and powerful percussion sound, whilst the twin guitars trade riffs and licks of an almost industrial nature, it’s a mighty blend of light and shade.
There are hints of jazz, of rock, of prog, of allsorts running through this album, and plenty of sounds coming through that you wouldn’t expect a guitar to be able to make, the fantastic Lets start a Cult with its stabs of brass and epic finish, the funk stomp of I like it, I’m into it, with its great drum beats and dirty bass and guitar sound, and a that killer riff, this is the sound of a band operating at full capacity.
Kev Feazey plays his bass like a third guitar, whilst the guitar sparring of Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton is exemplorary, both being mighty guitarists, whilst the drums of Stuart Marshall underpin everything and build to the mighty sound of the Fierce and the Dead.
This is experimental, this is exciting, this is everything that is good about instrumental rock, new, fresh and an album you will keep returning to, time and time again as there is so much depth to these tracks that you pick something new up every time you listen.

Sanguine Hum: The Weight of the World

Oxfords Sanguine Hum took their debut, Diving Bell as their starting point, and pushed their music even further creatively and musically, creating as they do so, one of the most interesting, exciting and unpredictable albums I have heard all year.
From the musical tour de force that is the epic title track, clocking in at well over 15 minutes, and not one minute of which is wasted, there are hints of electronica running throughout the album, pulsing through the fantastic Cognoscenti, providing an exciting counterpoint to the beautifully melodic guitars and the driving percussion, whilst Day of Release provides one of the many musical highpoints, with hints of early OMD and Joffs vocal melody providing a sublime contrast.
From the start not a moment is wasted, not a foot is put wrong, and there is beauty throughout the album, in the music, the lyrics, the spaces between the notes.
This is an album like albums are supposed to be made, running almost seamlessly from start to finish.
I would argue that they are one of the few truly progressive bands out there, not copying, but creating, not imitating, but innovating.

Conundrum in Deed – Gentlemen

This is London based quartet Conundrum In Deeds debut album and is classic jazz prog rock, with their sound being enhanced by the fact that instead of different keyboard sounds, its just Sadlers piano adding to the rock, sound, and from the opening Falling leaves, right through to the closing title track, the music entrances you, draws you in and takes you on a journey.
With the lyrics as important (if not more so) than the music, songs like the beautifully mellow Strangers in Sympathy, the driving funk bass driven Love in the Age of Technology, the brilliant Holy Flowers, and the majestic Rise/Church Bells with its stunning bass/piano interplay.
Conundrum in Deed are the finished article, a superb band with something new to say, echoing the sounds of yesterday, reminiscent of bands like Caravan and others of that ilk from the Canterbury Scene.

Big Big Train – English Electric Full Power

A monumental collection by anyone standards, this is strange as it may seem, my first introduction to Big Big Train, and what an introduction.
This is English Electric parts One and Two, and the EP Make some Noise, in a lavish hardback book with some beautiful new pictures, stories behind the songs, and is a weighty package suitable for one of the greatest musical projects its been my pleasure to listen to.
From the opener of Make some Noise, and into the albums proper, the expansive sound, the powerful musicianship, the intelligent and well observed lyrics, this is a complete musical package.
Tracks like Uncle Jack, the haunting and poignant A boy in darkness, the English sound of Hedgerow and Keeper of Abbeys, and the frankly brilliant East Coast Racer make this a double album to get lost in, you don’t listen to one or two songs, you clear the decks, turn off the phone or internet, put the album on and sit down, let it wash over you, as you absorb its beauty, its strength, its power.
This is a magical work and one, which in 20 years time will be looked on as a significant musical achievement.

There are loads more albums that could have made this list, and some honourable mentions must go out to Chris Wade, whose been so prolific this year (three Dodson & Fogg albums, and one prog instrumental one) that it has been hard to choose between them, the musical maturity and progression from Derring Do, to The Call, via the Sounds of Day and Night have been exciting to listen to, and fascinating to see where Chris is going to take his musical talent next, I predict even bigger things for him in 2014.
Haze’s fantastic Last Battle saw their triumphant return, and what was nearly a goodbye has become a new beginning for them.
Jump just get better and better, and like a fine wine keep on maturing, and their stunning Black Pilgrim takes familiar themes and weaves their musical magic round them.
If I’ve missed out some other big releases like the Steven Wilson album, or the new Magenta album then it’s because sadly I’ve not heard them yet!
2013 will go down in Prog history as a superb year, and I am already excited about the prospect of 2014, so I shall end by wishing you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.