Progarchy Radio Episode 7

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Episode 7

Hey everyone, my apologies for taking so long to get episode 7 recorded.  Still, I hope you enjoy it–over two hours of prog and New Wave.  This episode features new songs from Big Big Train, Frost*, Mike Kershaw, Airbag, and Ayreon.

In addition, songs from Neal Morse, The Tangent, Salander, The Reasoning, New Model Army, New Order, Foo Fighters, Catherine Wheel, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Cure.

“My Old Friend” — @DaveKerzner on Kevin Gilbert

Dave Kerzner tells the story behind “My Old Friend,” a song on one of the best albums of the year:

Here’s a song I wrote and dedicated to Kevin Gilbert. It’s called “My Old Friend”.

https://sonicelements.bandcamp.com/track/my-old-friend

The song features the first reunion of my fellow “Thud” bandmates Nick D’Virgilio and Russ Parrish since we last played together with Kevin in the mid 90s. On the Deluxe Edition of “New World” there is a trippy intro piece called “Theta” that also features Durga McBroom (of Pink Floyd fame who knew Kevin back in the Toy Matinee days and he produced her first demo… btw Guy Pratt, also from Pink Floyd, played on that Toy Matinee album as well) and Satnam Ramgotra on tabla who played with Thud on the Kashmir single as well as on songs like “Joytown” and “Waiting” which can be heard/seen on the “Kevin Gilbert – Live At The Troubadour” DVD. Also joining us on the track are Fernando Perdomo on bass + backwards guitar and Maryem Tollar with an exotic Egyptian vocal solo. I sing, play keys and acoustic guitar on this one.

The story of the song is about the main character of “New World” meeting up with a mysterious Shamen-like apparition in the desert where a grand perspective and vital wisdom is shared. I purposely wrote the words a bit more toward Kevin’s style. The music has hints of our old “Thud” live band sound, particularly with the creative contributions of Nick, Russ and Satnam. However, the Doors, Nick Drake and Peter Gabriel are as much of an influence in this piece. Hope you like it. Here’s the Standard album version to listen to off of my Sonic Elements bandcamp page.

The lyrics:

“My Old Friend”

Hello, my old friend
From the other side of the end
You’ve come to visit me again
Poetic license to pretend

Hello, to the shape unknown
Waiting dauntless on my own
Bare and fragile flesh and bone
I am eager to be shown

Give me reason, give me art
Unearthly wisdom you impart
Crossing over, shaking hands
With someone who understands

Hello, my old friend
From the other side of the end
We both took that drive
To an unexpected curve
With hollow people
Who’ve got a lot of nerve
Restrained what we deserve
In a cloud you observe

Give me reason, give me art
Unearthly wisdom you impart
Crossing over, shaking hands
With someone who understands

Give me courage, give me grace
Spin the dogma that I face
I am tuning to the signs
Etching truth in cosmic lines

So long, my old friend
One day we shall meet again

I also can’t help thinking of Pink Floyd when Dave sings, “Hello…”!

Dave adds:

I’ll tell you something I like about this song (and especially the version on the Deluxe Edition that has the intro piece I mentioned). Because it reunites me with Nick, Russ and Satnam and we’ve only improved as musicians over the years since (not that these guys weren’t ALWAYS amazing but they certainly haven’t lost it that’s for sure) it has the feel of something NEW with that band. It’s impossible to do any new songs with Kevin unfortunately (I wonder what music he’d be making if he were still around today). But, the other players in that band have a distinct character and artistry to their playing and it’s nice for that chemistry we have to shine again, even if just for this moment. It’s deep. I’m very honored they came on board for this. It means so much to me.

Using Available Light: The Skaldic Musings of Greg Spawton  

The cast.
The cast.

A review of “The Underfall Yard” from The Underfall Yard by Big Big Train (English Electric, 2009).  Song and words by Greg Spawton.  Additionally: David Longdon, vocals and vocal arrangements; Dave Gregory, guitars; Nick D’Virgilio, drums; Andy Poole, bass and keyboards; and [see image on right for a full list]

*****

As much I love albums, I’m always looking for that perfect song. The song that longs to linger in our souls after we’ve heard its last notes. The song that cries to the heavens in triumph, praise, and rage. The song that hovers over that second away from eternity, rooted in the human condition, but reaching for timelessness.

In my first two pieces of this series, I looked at Rush’s “Natural Science” (1980) and The Tangent’s “Where Are They Now” (2009)? In this article, I turn to none other than a well-recognized masterpiece, a (perhaps, THE) cornerstone of third-wave prog, “The Underfall Yard” (2009) by Big Big Train. It originally appeared at the final track of Big Big Train’s 2009 album of the same name, the first to feature the vocals of the incomparable David Longdon.

Six seconds short of twenty-three minutes in length, “The Underfall Yard” is epic in every sense of the meaning of the word. I once gave it to a non-prog friend of mine as an introduction to the genre. He liked it (really, who couldn’t?), but he also joked, “Brad, when I started the song, I didn’t realize I’d have to miss dinner to finish it.”

The lyrics of the song reveal its scope best:

Using available light

He could still see far skies,

Deep time

Beyond, above, and yet below the far skies rests (not contentedly) deep time. Indeed, given the song, one must imagine deep time as equal parts restless but also confident in its restlessness, sure of itself even in its transitions.

Always a superb lyricist, Spawton reveals his most intimate and poetic sense in this song overall. The words are at once hopeful and melancholic, the piece as a whole trapped in a slowly shifting twilight. The loss is of England’s entrepreneurial and industrial moments of the interwar era, the parents Edwardian, but the children Georgian.

As one stands with Spawton, watching this scene fade in golden and royal hues, he might just as readily be standing with King Alfred hopeful against heathen men as hairy as sin; with Harold of Hastings, tilting against a bastard’s armies; or with Winston Churchill, toiling and sweating against those would rend idyllic places such Coventry with insidious and inhumane progress.

Spawton’s words endlessly capture that which is always true but never quite obvious to all at all times.

The opening moments of the song move from an earnest guitar into a driving and equally earnest interplay of bass and drums, Gregory, D’Virgilio, Poole, and Spawton weaving something both tribal and civilized. More guitars appear, jutting and jetting. Strings emerge as if from the land itself. At 1:45, David Longdon’s voice enters into the art itself with the necessary pitch, the perfect lilt and quaver, and a resonant meaning. If Spawton is coming from sacred soil, Longdon is coming from the heavens, thus allowing the horizon and sky to meet in an infinite moment.

Almost uniquely among singers, Longdon possesses both assuredness and humility in all of his vocal arrangements, but none more so than in this song. While his voice is the voice of a man, it also is the voice of a chorus of men, a plea for generations.

Chasing a dream of the west

Made with iron and stone

Man, in Spawton’s vision, if armed with genius and integrity, reshapes the land, not in man’s image, but in the sacramental, Adamic way had things in Eden not soured.

These are old hills that stand in the way

breaking the line.

It came out of the storm,

out of the sea

to the permanent way

Using just available light,

he could still see far.

Even in his broken state, some men–seers, prophets, bards, skalds, poets and prog rockers–can see beyond the immediate, toward that which is far and that which is deep. Of all creatures, they alone can imagine the heights and the depths of existence.

In Spawton’s vision, England becomes not just another place on this earth, but a place sacred, sacred because man has recreated nature, not through domination, but through creative understanding, the soul and the intellect of each in harmony, not tension.

One is reminded of Spawton’s counterpart in the world of poetry, T.S. Eliot.

A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

–T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

IMG_0001 - Version 3Even the timeless moment, though, can not be seen or understood forever. Timeless moments—the light falling on a secluded chapel—lasts only as long as man knows to look for it. As with all things of beauty, truth, and goodness, it is fleeing, at least through our abilities to perceive, incorporate, and understand.

Roofless engine houses

distant hills like bookends

frame electrical storms

moving out to sea

away from England.

Spawton’s words and Longdon’s voice combine to make the above lyrics not only the most moving parts of the song, but combine to make one of the most moving parts of any song in the rock era.

I could never even count how many times I’ve listened to this song over the last five years. Every time, my stomach drops and my heart and soul swell when I hear this. Every single time.

And, yet, despite the loss of the thing itself, the moment in all of the revelation of its glory, Spawton knows—with the greatest thinkers of the western tradition—that memory can comfort us. Perhaps memory alone.

Parting the land

with the mark of man,

the permanent way,

Using just available light,

he could still see far.

The imprint is true. It always exists. We, however, must choose to remember. When we do, the world becomes just a little brighter. Using just available light.

And, thus, Big Big Train reveals its ultimate contribution to the world of art. Somethings are worth remembering, whatever the cost, and memory itself is a precious and delicate thing beyond any cost.

Far skies, deep time.

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Three Major Awards for Big Big Train

This photo was rather unceremoniously stolen from Steve Llewellyn's Facebook page.  Let's hope he doesn't mind!
This photo was rather unceremoniously stolen from Steve Llewellyn’s Facebook page. Let’s hope he doesn’t mind!

If you’ve not noticed before, we progarchists kind of, sort of, really, really like Big Big Train.  So. . . it’s with much excitement that we report this.

The Classic Rock Society of the U.K. has just awarded BBT with three well-deserved awards: 1) David Longdon for best vocals; 2) “East Coast Racer” as the best track of the year; and 3) Big Big Train as Great Britain’s best band.

The progarchists of progarchy hq in central Hillsdale County of Michigan are doing a little victory dance for our friends across the Atlantic.

Congratulations to Greg Spawton, David Longdon, Nick D’Virgilio, Dave Gregory, Danny Manners, Andy Poole, and Rob Aubrey.  And, of course, to Jim Trainer as well.  Amazing and brilliant and wonderful.

Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep (Best of 2013 — Part 8)

Coming in the #8 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list is this year’s perfect slice of prog from:

Spock’s Beard

This one completely caught me by surprise. I was not prepared for how awesome it is!

I was not expecting “Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep” to be soooooo good. I was not expecting to like it so much!

No Neal? No Nick? Wow, I was not expecting this to be one of the year’s best.

But holy smokes! I feel like this is the Beard’s best album ever!!

(Time will tell if I persist in that judgment. But so far my enthusiasm has not waned!)

I really love this disc a lot. Everything works here! All the tracks are amazing.

(And I have seen this album on a lot of Top Ten lists, so I know I am not alone in the republic of Progarchy with my enjoyment of this fantastic album.)

Congratulations, gentlemen! You have gone above and beyond, showing us all what true excellence in prog is.