Mark Blake. Pigs might fly. The inside story of Pink Floyd.
I got book for Christmas and i am still reading and re-reading it. Like many floyd fans i own just about everything written about the band and it's history. However, this rather understated little paperback purchased from zavvi just before it's demise is by far the best. I have alway's thought that i know most things there is to know about Pink Floyd until i read this book. It is without doubt the best and most in depth literature yet published about the band that i have read. An absolute steal for £5. From the early days at the UFO club through the Barrett years right up to the turbulence of more recent times. The best Chronicle of the band yet. An essential item for any Pink Floyd fan.
IQ Frequency Special Edition !
I procured the Frequency special edition album on it's release and to be honest on first hearing it i was disappointed to say the least. However, in the fullness of time and many reappraisal's my opinion is shifting. This album may well have been too much for the older, more seasoned IQ fans to adapt to though it has many merits. The title track Frequency and Stronger than friction (Previously entitled crashed and burned) are known to the many and have become standards in the live set. The lesser known songs on the album are of the usual high standard and many of us will make of the lyrics what we will. I think anyone would be forgiven for thinking that the second cut "Life Support" is about recent events and parting of the ways of crucial and original band member. Musically the album is very good though this particular track contains one of the worst synthesizer breaks i have ever heard from the band. I was reminded of the statement that the late Eric Morcombe made to Andre Previn "I'm playing all the right notes, not necessarily in the right order. With that said, a minor quibble, the rest of the album is very musically pleasing. As i have already said, the lyrics are all open to interpration and i am reminded of the movie "Tatal Recall" whils listening to Ryker Skies. For me the track that maintains IQ's prog status is "The Province". Classic Genesis for the 21st century as far as i am concerned. Classic use of organ and Mellotron sounds (No matter who is playing them) and great time signitures.
The concluding piece "Closer", would not be out of place on a Peter Gabriel album and demonstrates a maturity in the band. Dark Matter was always going to be a hard act to follow and the move in direction was a wise one though i fear may have been at the price of losing an important band member. Interestingly Martin Orford wasn't credited on the album and yet he had contributed to the album quite significantly before his departure. An oversight perhaps???
The accompanying DVD with the special edition version of the album is definately worth having. Picture quality is hardly Blue Ray standard though it is a good visual record of the bands live show at the time. Of the tracks on the DVD, The very last song "The darkest hour is absolutely brilliant. It's worth mentioning the artwork and packaging too. It's the best that IQ have produced.Go for it Progster's. Swich cards at the ready!
GENESIS 1970-75 vinyl box set
I must admit to being a little disappointed when my five album box set of the most essential Genesis albums arrived well after their planned release date. I was expecting something a little more elaborate. I was torn as long standing fan of the band which box set to buy, and in some respects may still have made the wrong decision. Given the fact that the SACD/DVD box set contains not only the afore mentioned albums with differing audio options, but rare DVD footage of the band and a book. Some 13 discs in all. In my naivety i thought that despite being a vinyl box set, it would have included the DVD's with the footage and extra tracks on them. A little remiss of the record company i have to say given the difference in price. The retail price of the vinyl set was originally £160 echoing what must be manufacturing costs and the SACD?DVD set £89. However, i made my choice and i will probably end up buying the SACD set too at some point. The albums have all been remixed by Nick Davies and have been half speed mastered. As written elsewhere in other reviews, i was also a little surprised that Genesis live was not included in the new sets. Though it wasn't the best of recordings it was an important document of the bands live sound at the time. After deciding to listen to the albums in chronological order i settled myself with a nice glass of scotch and removed the first of the LP's "Trespass" from it's heavy card sleeve. These beautifully crafted pressings are 200g and benefit significantly from it. I must admit that when the first few bars of "looking for someone" first rang out i was simply smitten. As a 50 years old prog head i was transported back to the most exciting years of my life musically. Having worked my way through Trespass and being totally blown away by the rich textures of organ and Mellotron, i unloaded "Nursery Cryme from the sturdy slip case and give it a spin. Whilst the obvious favorites on this album sounded every bit as incredible as the previous album, it was songs like "Harold the barrel, Harlequin, and for ascent friends" that seem to have been given more impetus and given the same status as the epic pieces on the album. Just one more before bed i thought. Out came "Foxtrot". Simply fantastic! From the first of the massive Mellotron chords of "Watcher of the skies" to shimmering crescendo of "Supper's ready" The whole album was a joy to listen to. It was when i listened to "Foxtrot" that i became even more disappointed that "Genesis Live" hadn't been included. There is something about "Get em out by Friday" on the live album that simply can't be bettered. Bedtime came and went so what the hell, Time for my favorite Genesis album, "Selling England by the pound" (and they certainly have). I must say that despite this album still sounding excellent, it seemed to benefit the least from the half speed mastering and heavier vinyl. A testament to just how good the original product was. "The cinema show" still makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and no other version of it more so than the original. This is now the best version of it and should be heard on a good turntable to be fully appreciated.
A week or so went by before i revisited the 1970-75 vinyl box set to complete my journey down memory lane by listening to "The lamb lies down on Broadway". Having listened to the album in it's entirety i compared the new version to my trusty old somewhat well traveled copy. Sonically the 200g copy has an extra octave of bass and much more information to be heard. The whole album was a dream to listen to. From the delicate, crisp piano intro to the pacey climax of "it", the recording has been injected with life and energy. Notable tracks being "Fly on a windshield", "In the cage", "Hairless heart", "The chamber of 32 doors" and "Lillywhite Lilith".
Having heard the SACD recordings of the above and all their modern worth, they don't have the sheer musicality of this beautifully presented and sonically superior offering. Apart from the nostalgic interaction of hearing, handling, and enjoying the use of this product, the ability to see the images and graphics are a boom for people of a certain age who are optically challenged. This is an item of kudos for those who are a little more serious about the musical nature of the sound rather than the more mechanical and less organic sounding alternative.
In my view, most of Genesis's best work is contained herein and brought the end to an era of great importance to the whole genre of music. With the exception of "Trick of the tale" and "Wind and Wuthering", These albums are the culmination of an interesting, theatrical and ground breaking music that dissipated in order to give way to a larger audience. To enable Genesis to outlive the punk era and survive market forces they thrived on mediocrity and will never regain the originality of these first five pioneering albums.
Not for the faint hearted then? It's expensive and doesn't include all the bonus material of the SACD/DVD set. However, For those more serious about music than gimmick, i would heartily recommend this exquisite box set.
The Progmiester says Yes. yes, yes!!!!
Combination Head revisited
For those of us whom enjoyed the Hammond and fat Moog sounds of ELP in days of yore, a modern alternative is currently available. And having lived through the golden era of Emerson Lake and Palmer and other bands of a similar ilk, i can confirm that Combination head are a very pleasant update of the old vanguards. To date "The Heads" have recorded two excellent albums and play a wicked live set. Their first album simply entitled "Combination Head" is a music only event and a tonic to listen to. It contains eight beautifully crafted pieces of which it is very difficult to to form a preference. If pushed i would site "Fourteen" and the title track "Combination Head" as stand out tracks though the rest are as appealing and all very memorable tunes. The driving force behind the band is keyboard man and writer Paul Birchall. Paul get's about as close to the Emerson sound as you are going to get without actually being the man himself. Paul's compositions are quite simply refreshing in todays diet of benarl prog impressions and does not suffer from the digital home studio sound as extolled by so many up and coming Eastern block artists trying to get themselves heard on a limited budget. None of that evident here. Excellent production, seamless playing and the benefit of real drums courtesy of Phil Knight and Paul Burgess (Ex 10cc/Camel). Ranging from the simplistic piano of "Blue Waters" to the erratic organ chops of "The Bonk" The album represents all that is good about this type of music without lending itself to the pomposity of it's inspirations.
Their second album simply entitled "Progress" is a diamond. In contrast to the first offering this is a really up market item. Excellent art work and slip case c/w business card. The inclusion of some rather wonderful songs on this album prevent The Heads" from sounding stayed as so many bands do when attempting to create their own sound and image. It really is a breath of fresh air. The opening track "New City" could well have been included on a follow up to ELP's "Brain Salad Surgery" such is the pace and similarity of their "3rd impression". "Glass and Steel is probably my favorite song on the album and beautifully sung by Gareth Moulton. Of the ten tracks on this disc not one lets the side down. Once again just like the first album i struggled to find a piece that stood out amongst the others. If like me, you are a fan of the late Pete Bardens, then you will adore "liquid". Reminiscent of early Camel it is a perfect example of the CH sound. Interestingly Paul Burgess (Ex Camel) plays drums on it. It is when you listen to the rousing "Anthem" that you hear Paul Birchill's influences as a previous member of M-People and the anthemic nature of Heather Smalls vocal style. In this case it is Neil Fairclough and he does a brilliant job. The album concludes with "Cloud Cover", and a very fitting conclusion it is too. It would be very easy to compare Combination Head with so many bands of the seventies era though i have to say that the bands take on things are fresh and original. Check them out on the net. I don't think that you will be disappointed.
Progmiester says "Credit cards at the ready" Form an orderly Que. *****
IQ at the Bury Met
How Pete Nicholls must have been feeling post event one can only imagine. His determination, courage and sense of humour pulled him through what must have been one of the most torturous IQ gigs that he has ever played. Plagued with a flu virus and obviously battling with the symptoms, Pete rallied right to the bitter end with JJ's healthy lungs giving more than a helping hand. Starting with the now familiar "Frequency"from the forthcoming album of the same name it became apparent that Mark Westworth has now settled more readily into a very difficult void to fill by Mr Orford. I suspect that Widges's keyboard settings are something he likes to keep to himself as Mark's boards don't have the same deep rounded textures as the Orford years. However, it is with the new material that Mark gets into his stride.The song which i think made the gig for me was "The Darkest Hour". Played with fantastic vigor it simply re-enforced IQ to be the force to be reckoned with amongst todays prog bands. All in all a fabulous gig. hats offto the whole band, though especially to Pete Nicholls for being such a stalwart.
Year of the Heads
Well, What a year pop pickers. There has been some highlights i have to say that i find difficult to place as the best. Some of you may recognise my writings in the CRS blog et al and other forums. Therefore i will make no secret of my enthusiasm for Combination Head. Having seen them thrice this year and fully promote their virtuosity, i fear larger mortals should bow with grace to their expertise with regard to pitching two amazing albums right between the older listener and the new. If ever there was an ambassador for prog rock it is "The Heads". In a much maligned genre of music to purport, Combination Head represent a new order and i appeal to you good folk out there to take heed.
I last witnessed the awesome sonic barrage of CH at Stokesley town Hall( North Yorkshire) a few months ago and they ripped the place apart.
With two diamond albums behind them i have to wonder what's coming next. I strongly urge you to sound them out. www.combinationhead.com or www.combinationheaduk Very strong Hammond organ and Moog type synth sounds prevail over he majority of the Combination Head sound.
Following strongly in the footsteps of ELP, Gentle Giant and Camel etc, The Heads make it easy for younger people to access an area of music that is fast becoming taboo to all but the steadfast. i won't bore you with details here with regard to who is who. However, Paul Birchill ( ex Heather Small, M People etc) is the main man. Paul plays keyboards and sings backing vocals on their two extraordinary albums and till of late in a live performance, demonstrated just how good his lead vocal prowess is. I have reviewed both the Combination Head albums for other sites/forums etc, though i intend to revisit them for my own blog here.
Despite there being one month left of 2008, three things stick out in my mind this year. In chronological order, Asia at The Carling Academy Newcastle Upon Tyne, Combination Head on all three occasions that i managed to attend and the release of the new Martin Orford CD "The Old Road". Stay chooooooooned for a review of both CH albums coming soon. The Progmiester say's " Watch this band, they're hot".
Willowglass. Book of Hours
Anyone who hasn't heard Willowglass yet are in for a treat. Willowglass is multi instrumentalist Andrew Marshall ably supported by Dave Brightman on drums. Based in Homefirth, Yorkshire, Willowglass can be safely described as sounding like Genesis from Trespass to Selling England by the pound. Book Of Hours is the second Willowglass album the first being simply entitled Willowglass. I have to say that for a small independent production the package is surprisingly good. A very elaborate 16 page booklet explains the concept of the album and is beautifully illustrated by Lee Gaskins. Lee's website is well worth checking out too. I would consider Willowglass to be chillout for prog heads and would make excellent company on you MP3 player whilst on holiday.
It is very refreshing to hear such beautiful pieces augmented with real drums. So many artists with limited recording facility opt for the e-drum route. Not Willowglass. And this is what makes this album something special. Right from the opening track Argamasilla to the heavily segmented Labyrinth, Strangely enough track 2 is simply called Willowglass, a title which i thought would have been used on the first offering. That is what i love about this genre of music, it is always steeped in mystery. The album is layered with sumptuous keyboard textures contrasted with crisp acoustic and electric guitar. None more so than the excellent "The Maythorne Cross"At first it is very easy to think that the pudding has been over egged with regard to the Mellotron sounds but after a while you are reminded that is everything you adored about early prog. The album is based upon Don Quixote and his servant Sancho Panza. A story which alas i am not familiar. Like other concept albums ( Gaudi etc) it has inspired me to want to learn more. The title track "Book Of Hours" continues the highly enriched quality every other chord and note on the album. It would be easy to say that all the tracks sound the same but when they are of this standard the listener simply can't get enough.
Where as the first album could draw on many early progressive rock influences, Book Of Hours sounds very much like Jethro Tull meets Greenslade. It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking this album is starved of lyrical content or narration. I am a firm believer that each piece on this album is strongly represented by the music and would simply become another attempt to be Genesis should it be included. A recommendation then? Definitely. I would suggest the spouses and partners are well out of the way whilst playing this album though. It will give you the freedom to play your air synth in peace. In conclusion i would have to say that Messrs Marshall and Brightman achieve what is quintessentially a very English sound because they are British and whilst American bands like Glasshammer are superb, they fall short of an element that is quintessentially British, being British. Both Willowglass are essential purchases in my opinion. If you liked Voyage of The Acolyte (Steve Hackett) Book of Hours will blow your socks off.
If you haven't heard of Riversea i would urge you to check them out pop pickers. I have just been listening to a demo ep given to me by their keys man Brendan Eyre. There are some wonderful moments on this disc and it's left me wondering what the forthcoming album has in store. `The first song on the ep is a piece called "all around the world". A very haunting song about the worlds decay and misery. Should you click the appropriate places on the Riversea myspace you can see the accompanying video. I defy you not to have a lump in the throat after watching it. The next song is a lilting song called "Lift your soul". Mark Atkinson's voice seems to coast through this polite and inoffensive little number and his acoustic guitar is sumptuous. Prog for the ladies methinks. If there is one particular track that steals this little demo aperitif it's track 3, Eden. An absolute stunner. Made all the better by Paul Cusick's hard edged electric guitar which steered the band away from the sedate nature of these beautifully crafted songs. The Great Divide puts the band into the slower mid years Genesis type pieces. Last but not least "out of an ancient world" would not be out of place on a Tony Banks album. Delicate, soothing, haunting with a feeling that there is a lot in reserve. These were my findings with the five beautifully sculptured tracks included on this taster of an up an coming band teetering on the edge of prog. Songs that get into your head and stay there with strong lyrical content supported by some fine guitar and nicely textured keyboard and piano. have a listen for yourself, i don't think you will be disappointed.
Richard Wright R.I.P
As a fan of progressive rock i have been shocked by the recent passing of Richard Wright. As most fans of the genre will know Richard formed the basis of the original Pink Floyd sound. As a loyal and devoted Floyd fan i can only participate in what will surely be a mass homage by Pink Floyd fans all over the globe. having read tributes on many of his peers websites not least Mr Emerson himself, it is evident that Richard's contribution to one of the most important bands and albums went largely unappreciated outside of there staunch fan base. The world and the music industry have lost a diamond, a gentleman and an unassuming innovator. His legacy remains for us all to enjoy and remember him by.
Martin Orford. The Old Road
I have been listening to this wonderful album for a couple of weeks now. And to be honest it has blown me away the more and more i listen to it. Having spoken to Widge on more than one occasion about his feelings on modern day England and all who sale in her, i was in tune with a lot of the sentiment included in most of the tracks. For those who bought Martin's first album, brace yourself. It's a step away from what he did before and though he stipulates in the the booklet that "This is not a progressive rock album" I would leave it to the listener to make up their own mind. Opening with the opus "Grand Designs" we're off at a gallop. And along with the next piece "Power and Speed" (Instrumental) John Mitchell's guitar is blinding. There are so many brilliant flavours to this album that some boarder on the west coast GRP sound whilst a passing comparison to Steve Hackett will be made by some. However, an original and full body of work it is and getting into the next song "Ray Of Hope" David Longdon's voice via eerily towards that of Mr Collins in a time when the said drummer singer sung about things that mattered. Totally exquisite! Mr Wetton Makes his entrance on the next two pieces "Take it to the sun"and "The old road" which are abridged by "Prelude" featuring Martin's able fingers on piano. John Wetton's voice on this album is the best it has been for a while. I am glad that Mr Orford performed the vocals on the title track himself as i feel that it was his message to give. The remainder of the songs are as strong as the rest though i have to admit that whilst the album came to it's conclusion i had a little lump in my throat as i listened to "Endgame". Perhaps it's because i am 50 years old and lived in better times when Genesis, Jethro Tull, Camel etc ruled our minds and souls that this album holds something a little more special for me.
With musician's like John Mitchell, John Wetton, Gary Chandler, The rhythm section of Spocks Beard and not forgetting Martin Orford himself you can't afford to miss this one. Five stars and a gold medal for the man that in my opinion has made one of the best albums of the year.