The illustrated history of prog rock. By Will Romano
This book is a large format full colour size guide to prog rock past and present. Most of the bands featured in the book the diehard aficionado will know and love but there are sections on Kraut rock, the Canterbury scene, Italian prog and prog folk.
The book is well written and has a wealth of information on all bands included. Each bands history and recorded output is discussed and reviewed as well as an interesting piece on the roots and beginnings of each genre.
There is a section on American bands Kansas and Styx which I personally consider to be AOR rather than prog. This being said, both bands have produced some good music. The same applies to a section on rush who I think became a really good all round rock band rather than a prog band.
Genesis, King Crimson and Pink Floyd each have two sections, Gabriel and post Gabriel, Waters and post Waters and the 70s and the 80s/90s Crimson. These I feel could have been discussed in a single section and space been given to other bands.
There are a few errors in the naming of album covers which are shown at the foot of each page. In one section Porcupine Tree’s albums are named but Pink Floyd’s album artwork is shown. In the second article on Genesis, albums are incorrectly named and Voyage Of The Acolyte by Steve Hackett is named Invisible Touch. (Confusing to new comers to prog? Not arf)
These errors aside the book is well worth a read. The qualities of the pictures are good. Articles about IQ, Gentle Giant, and The Alan arsons Project are most welcome but why no Van der Graff Generator?
Paperback: 246 pages, full colour throughout.
Publisher: Backbeat books; original edition (1st December 2010)
Prophets & Sages: An illustrated guide to underground and progressive rock 1967-1975 by Mark Powell.
A petfect reference book for anyone interested in this very productive and musically rich musical ers. Printed in black and white with a colour section featuring the sleeve artwork of most of the albums reviewed within the book. The book is a real pleasure to read. Sectioned yearly and featuring a wealth of press cuttings/advertisements which were first published in the music press at the time. These i feel, add to the books appeal.
Each album featured is reviewed giving its original label and catalogue number accompanied by a black and white picture of the original cover, if it is currently available the current label and number is also given. Band personnel details and histories are given and each review has interesting information relating to the creation of each recording.
Each recording has been lovingly researched and the book covers well known acts such as Yes, King Crimson, Camel and Genesis alongside lesser known acts such as Khan, Rare Bird, Affinity and Beggers Opera. The book has had me browsing youtube to try and grab a listen to acts i have never heard of and revisiting old favorites on several occasions.
Paperback 391 pages
Publisher Cherry Red Books (25 Nov 2010) Language English ISBN-10: 1901447766 ISBN-13: 978-1901447767 Book jacket Phil Smee
A CD sized package arrived from the Netherlands recently at Progmeister Towers. Upon opening it I was presented with the latest album by Nine Stones Close for review. It was accompanied by an extra disc containing acoustic renditions from the main disc. The weather loaned itself nicely to curling up on the settee with hob nobs,tea and an evening in front of the hi-fi.
Nine stone Close to all intense and purpose is Adrian Jones, a guitarist of considerable skill and poise. for this venture the talents of Brendan Eyre on Keyboards, Marc Atkinson/vocals and Neil Quarrell/bass. I reviewed the first NSC album earlier in the year and found it to be on the metal side of prog. This new offering entitled Traces was no exception. However, I found a more wholesome and meaningful nature to this album than the previous.
Pressing the play button and we're off! The first track "Reality check" found Ade Jones taking no prisoners and shook the hob nob crumbs from my coffee table. Reflecting again on the previous release I was amazed at how much bigger the sound was. Indeed production was a fair leap forward and much improved on by this new found musical collective.
With new cohorts on board, Ade Jones opens this ultimately dark yet powerful with a tour de force that could easily be mistaken for later Led Zeppelin. Once the dust had settled from such an aural tirade the darkness continued with the delightful "Threads". A haunting and surreal landscape pinned to the ground by some astounding guitar playing. Joe Bonamassa sprung to mind. Strong lyrics emotionally and meaningfully portrayed by Marc Atkinson. I must say that technology has got to such a sophisticated juncture that it is impossible to believe there was no drummer involved on this project.
"Falling to Pieces" is a very sad song with a contempory message which given the present state of the world will reflect how many people feel. Both acoustic and electric guitars beautifully augmented by pastille keyboard textures. This lament glides nicely into the title song "Traces". There are some great elements to this peaceful and solemn song which culminates in a very powerful ending displaying some of Ade's finest work. More of this interplay can be heard on the accompanying disc should you be one of the first couple of hundred customers to buy a copy.
"Thicker than Water" is a fitting finale. Listeners to this closing epic are treated to a warm sumptuous soundstage. A fabulous framework for story telling and Marc Atkinson once again does an expert job of being the lyrical narrator of all compositions on the album. Ade Jones's blues guitar playing is made to sound Camel-like by Brendan Eyres choice of string accompaniment and wicked synth/organ fills. All in all a treat to listen to.
As a package this is a nice album. Not uplifting in anyway, but that is no criticism. Without knowing about the dark message apparent behind these songs, it would be easy to describe them as morose. This is not the case and the more that you listen the more you get from it. I feel that sometimes it's ok to be a little on the gloomy side and to vent the mood and greyness that you may feel as an artiste or person. Good god, Pink Floyd made quite a healthy living from it. This is an album well worth seeking out. Basquing in some of Ed Unitsky's finest artwork and offering a refreshing alternative to orange coloured girls with boot brushes on their eyes murdering Motown songs on x-factor I would council that you throw caution to the wind and purchase a copy forthwith.
Though not strictly conceptual I was intrigued as to the meaning behind this album. To do so I intend to ask the man himself. Keep an eye out for an interview real soon.
Travelling North from Teesside to Gateshead wasn't a sensible thing to do taking the horrendous weather conditions into consideration, but, it had to be done. For this I must thank Ian Kerr, Progmeister's prolific photographer for driving us there and back in the worst winter snow and ice for many years. Was it worth it? As Churchill the dog would say "Oh Yus". The Sage Gateshead is just a dream of a place to see any gig and Steve Hackett was no exception. Housed in hall two the surroundings were reminiscent of The Thunderdome being circular with many different viewing levels which added to the atmosphere of the whole event.
When Steve and his band took to the stage with "Valley Of the Kings" it was greeted with a very warm reception and was soon followed by "Every Day" which went down just as well. Indeed all of the classic early Hackett pieces that historically stirred loyal devotee's to a frenzy were played. "Ace Of Wands" Spectral Mornings", The list too long to log. Of the pieces played from "Out Of The Tunnels Mouth", Fire On The Moon" and "Tube Head" were without doubt the most memorable. The whole evening was without a high point because the bar had been set high from the outset. If I were asked at gunpoint I would have to site "Shadow Of The Hierophant" as not only my personal favourite all evening but one of the best things that I have ever seen Steve Play live. Amanda Lehmann's delicate vocal making it a magical moment.
Of the Genesis songs that were played I was left wondering if the original band could ever have played them as well as they were by Steve Hackett's typhoon of a rhythm section. Not wishing to insight a riot I will keep my thoughts to myself. Gary O'Toole thundered his way through "Watcher Of The Skies like a demon whilst Nick Beggs proved himself not only a visual accompaniment to the event but to be the Professor Of Low frequency. Nick was as happy playing polite almost acoustic and atmospheric pieces on his Chapman stick as he was stomping on his Roland bass pedals.
Leaving the stage following a magnificent crescendo of "Los Endos" the audience voted with there applause for more. After the usual amount of time the band returned to play "Firth Of Fith" and finished the evening with "Clocks" concluding with Gary O'Toole leaving nobody in any doubt who was in charge of the drum department, staggering! What an evening. Looking at my watch it was hard to conceive just were the time went. Over the passage of time since leaving Genesis, I have like many other people seen Steve Hackett in his bands in their many guises. I honestly feel that the band I witnessed on that very Sunday evening at The Sage Gateshead is the most synergetic.
Make no mistake though, Steve Hackett is still the man that everyone present was there to see. Without him there wouldn't be the songs, tunes or indeed the heritage of such an event. In which ever band that Steve Hackett finds himself he is by now a legend and can perform quite happily with brother John and Mr King playing an acoustic set or with his hand picked electric band playing classic prog. With the aid of technology and the skills inherent within the latest incarnation, songs that historically could not be played live can now be given the live Hackett treatment. None more evident in than "The Golden Age Of Steam" which I felt was just terrific. Hats off to Roger King who I'm lead to believe knows a thing or two.
Reflecting on those early performances in Steve's post Genesis years, I catalogue as an onlooker the chameleon like nature of his bands to suit his persona of the day. I have viewed Steve as visually awkward, sometimes stilted and tongue tied to fully charged and up beat. On this occasion I viewed someone at peace with himself and surrounding. Content and happy in his own skin. I watched a band representing the gold standard in musical performance. I would therefore suggest that the next time Steve Hackett roles his train out onto the tracks that you brave the weather how ever good or bad it may be and experience what prog rock is all about.
Braving the snow and icy roads of Friday 26th of November myself and good lady set out for Darlington to catch Retro-Genesis perform at the Darlington art centre. On arrival we were stricken by the similarity of the building to Chaterhouse which as the loyal amongst you will know is where the whole Genesis phenomenon began.
We were glad to get inside out of the cold and find ourselves a decent seat. It always pays to be punctual methinks. Gazing at the myriad of musical instruments and technology, lights, and effects we were bound to be in for a treat. The band took to the stage at around 08:30pm with a breathtaking and somewhat unexpected rendition of the GabrIel classic “Come Talk to me”. Tim Esau's bass playing throughout the whole show though was terrific though it was with the Gabriel pieces that his talent was more apparent.
Pausing for breath front man Tony Patterson announced that the first half of the evening would be their SoGabriel set before launching into a rousing and dramatic outing which was “Steam”. To slow the pace moody and very atmospheric songs like “Snap Shot” “Mother Of Violence and “San Jancinto were put through there paces before playing my favourite of the evening “Red Rain”.
By this time I was expecting many of the sensibly glad fifty something’s like me to be baying for their favourite Genesis piece. Instead they were more than content with the selection of Peter Gabriel’s best composition and the dexterity in which they were being played. I include myself in their numbers.
“Games Without Frontiers” loaned itself very well to audience participation and received gleefully my many of the members of the crowd not least the ladies. A slightly protracted beginning to “Sledgehammer was marred slightly by Tony Patterson’s at that juncture non illuminating jacket. However, boards man Jon Lewis kept up the momentum in true Dunkirk spirit whist Tony returned to the stage and performed all the appropriate movements to this rousing and phallic interpreted song.
The So Gabriel set ended with “Here Comes The Flood” Very apt I thought with recent history still fresh in the minds of the people in Cumbria. As everyone retired to the bar still reeling from the musical bombardment so ably portrayed I listened to the many positive comments being traded not only by the usual clientele of such an event but couples and groups of men alike.
As the band took to the stage for the second half of the evening the excitant of many was too much to contain and I feared that some of the air drummers in the audience may even hurt their hands or damage the furniture. Dogged my a keyboard technicality the intro to” Watcher Of The Skies” had to be halted and started again. This I found ironic because being as I am one of the many people who witnessed a few Genesis gigs from this era I thought it further added the authenticity of the evening. Genesis were known for their gaffs.
All the favourites were played “Hogweed”, “Broadway Melody Of 74” etc. However, “Firth Of Fifth” was nothing short of magnificent. Hats off to jon Lewis who breezed his way through it with aplomb whilst being aided and abetted my the powerhouse that is Franco Zuccaroli. Quite where they found this guy I don’t know. I fear that only kryptonite will stop him. Paul Boydell’s guitar playing was at it’s best during this song and remained smooth and constant throughout the whole performance.
The Knife had the air drummers back out in force and if my memory serves me correctly had a little more vim about it than the last time I watched Genesis play it as an encore. The use of laser throughout this song was terrific. As the band left the stage the crowd had already begun the relentless applause until the bands return. A medley beginning with Solbury hill fusing with I Know What I Like” allowed more audience participation whilst the betrayal of the Gabriel era heralded the concluding section of “Los Endos”.
As the band played their last few notes the entire population of the building was ushered from the building due to the fire alarms going off. Not surprising really as the amount of smoke being emanated from the rear of the stage was at one stage colossal. As we left the building in a blizzard we pondered the difficult journey home whilst asking ourselves was it worth it. And as we looked over our shoulders at the fire brigade arriving my thoughts were that I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
RetroGenesis played an astounding gig which I feel made them transcend the tribute band title. I believe that they are more than that. Indeed the quality of these five excellent musicians put them into a league of their own. The nostalgia element of what they are loved for was catered for but I have to say that the So Gabriel set was far more appreciated than the now antiques road show of Genesis classics that we all know and love. I may be wrong but as Mr Gabriel himself mooted, Are RetroGenesis about to shed their skin? Watch this space.
I must confess to knowing little about Dec Burke and when we received “Destroy All Monsters” for review I was intrigued to say the least. My first impression whilst I was driving with it playing in the car was one of surprise and apprehension. However, once I was armed with a mug of peppermint tea and sat comfortably in front of my hi-fi all the apprehensive thoughts took flight.
The album kicks off with the trail blazer that is “The Last Time”.This massive opening gambit would not be out of place as accompaniment to a CSI type crime drama. Fast moving with just a hint of Prog metal this mean and moody piece sets the pace for a large majority of this well put together and packaged album.
Having pinned me firmly to my chair the gentle introduction to “Winter To Summer” give me pause for breath before regaining the pace of it’s predecessor. The song demonstrates Dec Burkes adept touch with not only guitar and keyboards but as a very competent music technologist. I make no apology for suggesting that this too could very easily be used as a James Bond theme. Dark and powerful it throws itself headlong into the next track “Signs Of Life”.
The thunder and lightning being stirred up by Ark man Tim Churchman on drums project “Signs Of Life” from the confines of the speakers and aims it right at the listener. Clever keyboard and electronica prevent this tsunami of a track from being full blown thrash. This is somewhat contrasted by “Something” which is as close to pop as Dec Burke will allow himself to become, though I suspect Simon Cowell would not allow his acts to sing it on X-Factor. Praise be!
“Open" brings the pace down a tad and finds the ex-Frost man singing an atmospheric almost holographic ballad. The feel and style is maintained throughout the following piece “Promised. Eerie would be the way that I would describe this song and it has a nice synth solo included for good measure beautifully played by Carl Westholm.
“Small Hours” is very easy to like.I found that it is without doubt, the most bright and breezy song on the whole album. I was reminded by the chorus of Carly Simon’s “Let The River Run”.There is also a great guitar solo in the middle played by Hywel Bennett. Not I suspect the famous actor. I felt that on this particular piece that a great deal of dexterity and deftness had been shown which allowed a showcase for a great musical unit.
Moving on to the concluding title track “Destroy All Monsters” brought to an end to a daring and mysterious collection of mainly steel edged songs which I fear may represent the darker side of life. After the second proper listen to this album I found it compulsive and I found myself doing something I hadn’t done for many years, referring to the superb cover for inspiration with regard to images represented by music and lyric.
I am unsure if there is a storyboard to this dark, exciting and intriguing album but I intend to find out. I may even ask Dec Burke himself. Watch this space. In the meantime I suggest you get on line and order yourself a copy.
Living as I do in a town that has just hosted the biggest tall ships gathering in Europe, I was very much at home with the nautical theme to the title track of “Charlestown”. Reading the brief synopsis within the CD booklet allowed me understand what the album was all about.
On first listening to the folk overtones of “Charlestown”, it made me wonder if this isn’t the kind of music that Jethro Tull would have made should they have dared commit to a more progressive style.
“Charlestown” really does conjure up a picture of an epic voyage around Land’s End to Bristol aboard a tall ship laden with china clay. Guy Manning’s folk-like lyrical expression add further to the authenticity of such an event. This really is prog as good as it gets.
What sets it apart from many such musical excursions is its upbeat, brisk and open sound, rather than the dark and bleak approach so often portrayed by bands trading atmosphere for musical content. The whole soundstage demonstrated by this piece is wide and full with an engaging clarity.
Following the thirty five minute opening opus “Caliban and Ariel” brings about a more gentile approach with delicate touches of percussion, acoustic guitar and a rich cello. Contrasted by the following “Man In The Mirror”. This song reminded me very much of caravan of yore and was dancing around in my head for days. A fantastic blend of traditional instruments like fiddle and saxophone make this song shear joy.
“Clocks” can only be described as haunting and slips back into the folk theme running through this truly excellent album, which is a credit to the multi-instrumental talents of Guy Manning and his cohorts. It’s a song that seems to represent desolation yet steers clear of becoming dour.
Shifting up a gear or two, the penultimate “TLC” shifts from wholesome prog to blues and beyond. I found this song to have a very high feel good factor and really uplifting. Listening to this track brought a smile to my face in the belief that it demonstrated all the things I love about prog rock music.
I found myself not wanting the album to end, but end it did with “Finale”. Like the rest of the album this piece was packed with exciting and interesting textures. The vintage keyboard sounds and patches like Moog, Mellotron, Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Hammond are of the very best I have heard anywhere and add to the magic.
Did we like this album? You bet you’re ass we did. Guy Manning has recorded his best work yet with Charlestown and with the aid of gold standard musicians created a tour de force. Beautifully packaged and oozing quality, miss this one at your peril.
Every now and again fate plays a hand in a new discovery. Whilst recently embroiled in another matter, Manir Donaghue and I discussed the virtues of many other musicians before he modestly mentioned his own work. Manir has kindly agreed to help me organize an event next year which you can find out more about elsewhere. A week or so after our meeting, I received a copy of Manir’s album reflections.
For the first week it was in my possession I played it relentlessly in the car travelling to and from work. At that stage I knew that it was one of the most relaxing and easy to listen to albums that I had played for some time. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to listen to it properly via my aging yet sonically pleasing hi-fi just how good it was.
Manir is a musician who creates mood and pastoral views with his music which I can only describe as beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an album to nod off to. There are some very strong pieces on the disc which does have a tendency to transport the listener back in time to better days.
From the lilting chime-like guitars of the opening “Yule” to the unashamed electronica of the concluding “Sometimes My Head Feels like This” it is evident that Reflections is an item of quality over which a large degree of care and attention ahs been taken. Witness the church or monastery atmosphere at the beginning of “Frozen” and the way it changes character as if to herald the home coming crusaders.
“Winter Gone Spring” highlights the wonderful production of all the pieces performed on the album and is a credit to both Manir and the very talented Tony Patterson, who also lends a hand with flute and keyboards. The contrast of electric and acoustic guitars, their voicing’s and tones are well thought out and executed. An alternative version of this piece is included later on the album.
“Mayfly Over Pendle Water (Part One)” Reminded me very much of the early days of children’s television, Trumpton, Chigley, and Camberwick Green et al. I was mesmerized by this and the ensuing part two of the piece. The golden days of Hackett sprung to mind. “lazy Summer” too had a good vibe about it. Sumptuous, crisp guitars haunting flute.
“Flame” is without doubt my favourite track on the album. It reminded me just why I love and enjoy this genre of music. I find this piece gentle, soothing and very easy on the ear. The following piece “September follows in a similar vane portraying the pastoral feel which is what I enjoy most about the whole album.
“Angelus” finds Manir yet again in full blown Hackett mode and steers the album in said fashion towards its more avent gard closure. I am reliably informed that the closing minims are made by playing two acoustic guitars through a chorus device and with some nifty noodlings end up sounding like a Tangerine Dream pastiche.
I was pleasantly surprised by this album. Whilst I enjoyed it very much as background music in the car and in the home whilst entertaining guest, I didn’t fully appreciate its depth and breadth of sounds stage until I listened to it properly in isolation via more elaborate media. This I think is down to attention to detail and extremely good production.
Anyone who enjoys the music of Anthony Phillips early work or Willoglass should sound out Manir Donaghue. His music has an essence that has since been lost over the years since such things really mattered. I for one will be keeping a close eye out for further releases.
TRANSATLANTIC...THE WHIRLWIND SPECIAL VINYL EDITION
9/24/2010 1:52:56 AM
To many Transatlantic followers a review of this album is old news. It comes as no surprise to them all just what a feat of brilliance The Whirlwind is. However, the virtues of Transatlantic somehow passed me by and it wasn’t until I witnessed the force and energy of their performance at the recent High Voltage festival that I became smitten.
Before placing the black silk upon the head of the judge and passing sentence on me, allow me to explain. Most TA fans have been enjoying The Whirlwind for over a year now (gawd knows how it slipped through my net) and like them I was awestricken when I eventually got to hear it by it’s majesty and production.
The crux of this review is not to repeat what has already been written about this opera presented to you by four of progs premier league players. It is to inform the faithful that you may have not yet heard it at its best. I have just taken delivery of the special vinyl edition complete with a bonus LP.
It just sounds so right. As good as the CD version is it lacks the organic traits and sonic presentation evident on this wonderful keepsake. Gone are the sometimes off-putting frequency extremes which in some cases prevent you from hearing a lot of the recording. Instead the whole soundstage is much more linear allowing each individual musicians contribution to be heard properly just like a well mixed gig. Or broadcast if you like.
This reaffirms to me that as a genre prog rock is best listened to and appreciated on a good old vinyl record. The bonus LP is a dream containing four new compositions penned by each member of the band. These are to be found on side one and comprise of Spinning, Lenny Johnson, For Such A Time and Lending A Hand. All of which are wonderful. Spinning in particular may well be a homage to YES.
On side two there is a treat in store for lovers of nostalgia starting with the very early Genesis song Return Of The Giant Hogweed. Very faithful to the original and nicely brought up to date. Many people shy away from covering such things preferring instead to listen to the originals and until I attended a Re-Genesis gig thought along the same lines. However, some things in life are worth revisiting and sometimes updating.
I am always of the opinion that artwork such as that on display here is best appreciated the bigger it is and as a package its money well spent. As you can see in the above picture both albums are housed in beautifully presented sleeves which fit tidily into an outer slipcase. Presentation is of the best I have seen.
Should you be fortunate enough to own a turntable I would recommend you obtain a copy of this necessity whilst there are stocks still available? Even if you already own a copy of the CD I would recommend you acquire a copy. I am reliably informed that only a thousand have been pressed worldwide and three hundred special orange ones for which you will pay a premium. The Whirlwind as a concept like most prog ventures is open to interpretation, though from what i can gather it is about the turbulance of life and all within. It also contains a spiritual message as would be expected from Neal Morse. Not a point that is laboured i have to say and via's away from the songs of praise feel that you can sometimes get with Morse music. There are some magic moments though and well worth the outlay. Trust me; it’s an evening’s entertainment in a box.
Big thanks to Craig Marney at EMP online for expediting a copy of The Whirlwind, his valuable help and support, patience and kind words.
Below is a more in depth analysis of The Whirlwind album by Graham White.
In arguably the biggest surprise of 2009, Transatlantic announced that they were re-forming earlier this year and have re-united after a 7 year sabbatical from their last release, 'Bridge Across Forever', to record also arguably the finest prog release of the year; a CD consisting of one epic 78 minute track of a segue of songs. (Is it one song divided into segments, or a segue of songs? - I expect the arguments will carry on a long time on this subject matter, but I firmly favour the latter argument.) After all, if Porcupine Tree can do it, why can't Transatlantic? The truth is that this one puts PT's partly disappointing effort into the shade and far surpasses it in virtually all respects, not just length. After a few listens I concluded that this album is, I would say, even superior to their own previous two efforts (and they were both fantastic albums anyway) and it certainly is more grandiose in scale.
Neal Morse is still the main songwriter and seems to be still the main protagonist of the band, but this time it feels like more of a group effort, in particular Roine Stolt's guitar playing is given more prominence than before and has never sounded better than here.
Before reviewing in more detail, there are some small negatives aspects re this new recording. In particular, and perhaps inevitably in a complex segue of sophisticated songs, some of the transitions between the segments seem to work better than others, some even sounding forced just to carry on the continuity of the music.
Now let's review The Whirlwind in more detail;
1a) (As in any self respecting prog epic) The Whirlwind announces itself with an Overture that after a slow build up introduces various motifs that will appear again later in the CD. A slow start with sound effects (Is that a hint of Pink Floyd's 'Breathe' we can hear?) and then horns and strings lead to the 'The Whirlwind Theme' and then some bright interplay with several changes of tempo between all the instruments, excellently driven by Portnoy who's percussions are, as always, superb throughout the whole recording. Eventually, there's a reprise of the theme and the first vocals come in with.....
1b) Whirlwind. Surprisingly it is Roine who leads into the verses, while Neal sings the choruses. The Whirlwind is not an epic but is a good song with a very catchy chorus and which (slowing) leads effectively into...
2) The Wind Blew Them All Away. A slower song but also one of the most powerful on the CD. Some great vocals and lyrics by Neal and a killer Roine guitar solo leading into a heavier passage that was previewed in the Overture, which fades and allows a bass riff to emerge with a faster beat to introduce...
3) On the Prowl. One of the up tempo segments; a great rock beat (Pete's bass riff is the star here) guaranteed to be impossible to listen to without getting your feet tapping and/or fingers clicking. Surprisingly the bright instrumental opening leads eventually to some heavy guitars and menacing and threatening lyrics delivered aggressively by Neal.
4) A Man Can Feel. Clearly a Roine song that has Flower Kings all over it and is sung by the man itself. Not a bad piece that continues in the same menacing vein as the previous song and features some very good keyboard and guitar work and becomes quite heavy in the latter stages. All of a sudden the tone lightens with....
5) Out of the Night. A very 'poppy song' that has a familiar 'Beatles Tribute' feel about it, reminiscent of parts of 'Bridge'. A light song and Pete is trusted with some of the vocals. (Surprisingly, in the middle of this light song, Neal is allowed to use a passage from the closing song as a bridge; and it works very well). A repeat of the Whirlwind Theme and some brilliant Roine guitars lead into Neal's acoustic guitar and naturally forms one of the best transitions into...
6) Rose Coloured Glasses (actually it's the American 'Colored' here). An excellent acoustic song with a great melody by Neal. It's a classic Morse song delivered with some impassioned vocals, (a viewing of the 'Making of' DVD reveals it is actually a penned tribute to his recently deceased father and one of the highlights of the DVD is Neal's recital of this song to the rest of the band) and there's also a great guitar solo by Roine. The song ends with a blasting of the 'Whirlwind Theme' and fades and one might be excused for thinking this epic is ending but (after only 40 minutes) we're only half way through (!) as Neal's swirling keyboards gradually emerge introducing...
7) Evermore. An up tempo eclectic piece delivered by Roine with another Flower Kings sound, there are some truly amazing guitar and (to a lesser extent) keyboard effects. It's a piece that grows on you and features some excellent driving riffs and guitar work. A brief reprise of one of the themes of the overture provides a seam into...
8) Set us Free. One of the lighter songs with a jazzy feel and a very catchy chorus, with which Pete is trusted again and he does a good job. The end features a repeat rendition of one of the riffs that appeared earlier in the Overture. Neal's keyboards emerge and introduce a menacing riff leading to...
9) Lay Down Your Life. A complicated Neal song with some complex, heavy driving riffs and a heavy guitar solo. The song to me highlights Neal's latter Beatles influences and also showcases Neal's vastly improved vocal talents as the song is delivered a la an angry John Lennon. Almost imperceptibly the tension lightens...
10) Pieces of Heaven. The first instrumental piece since The Overture with a superb marching but slightly comedic rhythm which dies and leads to some effects and to...
11) Is It Really Happening? A strange chanting piece that has the slight feel of the 'The Wall' (Is There Anybody Out There?) about it. It also has a slight 'filler' feel about it - did 'Is it Really Happening? have to be repeated quite so many times? But then you realise it was merely the introductory forerunner to something very much greater as the vocals concede and allow a beat and the music to develop into a quite incredible passage that starts with a blinding piece of guitar work and spirals dervish-like faster and faster until it feels that the band can't possibly control the frenetic pace for any longer. One of the most extraordinary instrumental passages in the history of prog. All of a sudden it ceases and Neal's grand piano enters to introduce what seems to be the most hotly debated song...
12a) Dancing with Eternal Glory. Definitely a song from one of Neal's recent solo projects, and therein lies the controversy in the clearly religious lyrics. However you feel about this piece as a fitting conclusion to this project this is unarguably a beautiful song with a haunting chorus and is flawlessly delivered by Neal and the band (including yet another classic Roine solo). Does it really fit in with the rest of this project? Hmmm...not completely sure, but it certainly contains the necessary gravitas for the occasion in my opinion.
12b) Whirlwind (reprise) (Actually the whole band's rendition of the chorus of 'A Man Can Feel' briefly intercedes before the reprise starts.) And this immense piece of work finally ends with a reprise of the title track theme with the lyrics continuing in the same religious context of the previous song. Finally concluding with 'And from the whirlwind comes the breath of life.'
Well, how do you summarise an album on this scale which has attracted so many diverse reviews and opinions? In my opinion, it's certainly a truly excellent album and there's enough greatness in it to be rated as a 5 star 'masterpiece'.
I would recommend getting the deluxe edition with the 'Making of...' DVD which illustrates how the band works together and leaves you flabbergasted as the short timescale of the composition and recording of this incredible piece of music is revealed and helps you to appreciate this band's outstanding achievement even more.
Yes folks, it’s here. The new Spock’s Beard album, X. I am afraid to have to admit to you all that the nerd in me could not be prevented from acquiringit on vinyl. So this may for all I know differ slightly from the CD version.
Holding this double LP in my hands all of my seventies values returned and I handled it with reverence, courtesy and respect. I am unaware if the vinyl is 180g though it feels quite heavy and a joy to behold. Artwork and the quality of the packaging is nothing short of fantastic. For an optically challenged fifty something such as me it is just magnificent.
Judging by the cover (which I know that you aren’t supposed to) I would guess that a message about climate change is held within. The four seasons are depicted on all aspects of the cover and reflected in some of the lyrics. Placing the first of the meaty records onto the turntable and kicking back my potpourri began to dance as “Edge Of The In-between” started as the rest of the album meant to go on. With raging musical athleticism at it’s very best. I was under no illusion that I would be best in shorts and running shoes whilst listening to the whole of this album.
A fresh and breezy start soon leads us to “Kamikaze”. Ryo Okumoto at his wildest extreme. I think the clue is in the title. This is not something to play whist mum is making dinner. There are some fantastic organ and synth sounds to be heard and I honestly believe Nick De Vigilio gives Mr Portnoy a run for his money here. “The Emperors New Clothes” fools you into thinking it could be a slow one judging by the subtle acoustic guitar intro. Not so, this is The Beatles go prog. There is some fine guitar/keyboard interplay in this song with some fabulous piano and mellotron sounds in the middle but I can’t help thinking “Sergeant Pepper.
Turning to side B heralds the first of two pieces that occupy the whole of one side of the album. “From The Darkness” is fast and at times sinister with some atmospheric breaks. As with some of the other songs here, there are some great harmonies to be heard and the whole piece leaves you windswept. Placing the second record into position brings you to “The Quiet house” and guess what? It isn’t! This is Kiss with keyboards. Prog varnish totally worn away to reveal bare metal. Putting on the breaks only slowed the band down marginally for “The Man Behind The Curtain”. I was reminded of Marillion’s “Uninvited Guest” with much more American grandiose presentation played with aplomb.
Arriving at side D brings the listener to “Jaws Of Heaven” which I have to admit is without doubt my favourite. Quite a somber start to yet another otherwise power tune. Caustic and gritty with some great keyboard sounds emanating from the barrage of guitar. For the second time on the album real strings, French horn and trombone make a welcome augmentation amongst the electronica. This menacing opus concludes with great style and panache a wonderful album. Spock’s Beard skirt around the fringes of prog metal though pin their colour’s firmly to the mast reminding us all that by it’s very name and nature that prog must progress.
I often wonder if Spock’s Beard are a parody of prog, though listening to their tenth album I confirm that they are the real deal. It occurred to me that most of X has been played by musicians with ten fingers on each hand. As such, they have the enthusiasm of a college band yet the skill of finely honed and seasoned players. X is a must have item whether you buy it on CD or as I have on vinyl. The vinyl version is something very special and well worth seeking out. All that is needed to fully appreciate it is the time.
Lehto & Wright are cohorts also found playing with The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra featured recently here at Progmeister. Children’s songs album is a beautifully packaged two disc set comprising of a CD and a DVD which includes live footage in the studio and an interview. Art work and layout I thought intriguing and like the music gives little to make the listener and observer think for one moment that bands origins are American. Indeed listening to the traditional English arrangements you would be forgiven for thinking that the band weren’t a major player in the British folk/rock scene.
Well, what’s folk/rock got to do with progressive music I hear you say? I would have you say that Lehto & Wright escape the perimeters of folk despite the inclusion on the album of Dave Swarbrick and Martin Carthy versions of one song and an excerpt from Led Zeppelin’s The Rain Song, These two extraordinary musicians plow headlong into some compositions by Chick Corea. This sets the album apart from most things a have ever heard and whilst not being able to pigeon hole the band into any one genre suspect it is what makes them progressive.
I found this album to be a breath of fresh air. Steve Lehto along with John Wright really do cross a lot of boundaries on this superb musical adventure. Lovers of free form music will simply lap it up. There seems to be little to no constraint in technique or direction.
Very little is written about King Crimson at Progmeister, yet I can’t stress enough how important they were in the whole ethos of prog rock music. I bring this to your attention because I can’t stop thinking that this is what they would have sounded like had they added a folk element to their music. Steve Lehto bares all the hallmarks of the lamented Robert Fripp who could also reach from 0 to 60 miles per hour in three seconds on his guitar.
In addition to Steve Lehto on all manner of guitars/vocals and John Wright on all manner of all things bass/vocals including pedals, there is Matt Jacobs who’s kick drum really does lend a dimension all of it’s own to the proceedings. Matt’s drumming really adds to the pace of many pieces on this album and really does provide a solid platform for the two key players.
Children’s songs comprises of four quality pieces “Wasn’t That A Time”, “The Broomfield Hill”, “Children’s Songs” and “Betsy Bell and Mary Gray”
The title track “Children’s Songs” is without doubt an opus crafted by esoteric musical craftsman and can loosely be described as a medley. Containing twenty elements it incorporates many traditional songs from both sides of the Atlantic as well Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This may be folk/ rock, though, by this tracks very format it can be described as having traces of prog. So too does the story telling opener “Wasn’t That a Time” which is as tight as a drum and demonstrating the musical cohesion present throughout the whole performance. Not bad for the shortest song on the album. The sumptuous beginning of “The Broomfield Hill” demonstrates fully the deft of hand given to the Fender bass by John Wright and from its delicate intro soon explodes into a powerful folk tirade. The coup de gras of the album is “Betsy Bell And Mary Gray”. It showcased the band as a whole, playing with seamless synergy. Vocal harmonies and delightful acoustic guitars make this song very special, though it’s not long before the spirit of Robert Fripp takes over and folk gives way to a Crimson tide.
By the clock on my aging digitalia I make this album out to be one hour and twelve minutes of barnstorming folk/rock at its very best. Lovers of Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention, Et al look no further. With a drought of new output from such bands, this wonderful take on some traditional folk songs and some astounding musical excursions should not be overlooked. Is it prog? I don’t know! But I like it.
I have to admit to writing this my concluding Camel review with a bit of a lump in my throat. A Nod and A Wink takes us into the millennium years and with many of us showing the signs of aging. Unbeknown to the majority I dare say, A Nod and a Wink take us into a fourth decade of Camel’s rich tapestry. As we ponder the universe I am unsure as to whether this is Camel’s swan song in much the way as all the rest of us.
If so, a more fitting a revelation there will ever be. This is very much an album for the devout Camel fan and for those who know of their heritage and meaning. I count myself as being one of the fortunate. Time has been spent on making this crafted presentation a very special message. The key is in the title!
A Nod and a Wink is just that…A nod and a wink to all the musical forms and influences so enjoyed by the composer of these finely penned tunes and ditties. I hear them all. Genesis, Caravan, Jethro Tull. It really does reward the listener if time is spent becoming familiar with each composition and lyric on this album.
Unlike many Camel albums A Nod and A wink can be listened to piecemeal. Individual adventures for you all to savour. Looking at the cover of this album it says everything. The silhouette of the composers faces the glance backwards at his childhood, the steam train moving forward through life and of course the sky.
On first hearing this album it give me a feeling of terminal inevitability. Dedicated to the world from someone who wanted to demonstrate their passion for their influence’s, loves and concerns to the need of composure and realization.
Loading this CD into your preferred method of delivery you will notice a more delicate feel about it. Every note on this album is played with conviction and meaning. It lays bare the soul of it’s creator and the intent to persuade the listener of its representation.
My personal view is that of an Enid Blyton children’s novel. Lashings of ginger beer and the famous five etc, of course, it’s all open to individual interpretation. What this album does have in spades is magic.
Most unlike any other Camel album A Nod and A Wink Demonstrates a cheeky view of the world and not least the musical influences it alludes to. Beginning and ending with the sound of a steam engine drawing near and then in its conclusion moving away into silence.
Glockenspiel and slide guitar, not the usual ingredients for a Camel album but very enjoyable none the less. Tearing a way through ZZ Top like slide guitar to reveal some timid synthesizer sounds from French Canadian boards man Guy Le Blanc the title track blazes it’s way to “Simple Pleasures” which is probably the most exhilarating song on the album.
“Simple Pleasures” demonstrates the benefit of HDCD encoding and is beautifully recorded. The weaving guitar in this song is bolstered by Colin Bass on fretless bass and the powerhouse drumming of Terry Carleton. It is with Terry Carleton’s huge tom toms that the track begins and thunders to a conclusion. It really is a treat.
“A Boy’s Life” begins in a very solemn mood though soon becomes a little more interesting with a little Roger Waters time sound effects and again some pyrotechnics from the drums. Finishing in rousing fashion this song possesses a huge sound stage. There is some nice acoustic guitar to be heard on this song too. I must admit to being unable to understand what this song is all about, though I would suspect it’s about childhood and how we take everything for granted at the age of fifteen yet there is always the boy in us until we die.
On a more equestrian theme the fabulous “Foxhill” is a right old romp and brings about a light hearted feel to the proceedings. A song about the joy of foxhunting! Could there be such a thing? Worry not young activists, because it’s a tale with a happy ending as the fox gets clean away. Genesis meets Jethro Tull here. Wonderful English feel to it this piece. It makes you want to take up riding. There is some fantastic guitar/keyboard interplay on display which is only to be expected. It is something at which Camel in their many forms excel at.
“A Millers Tale” and the following piece “Squigely Fair” seem to fit nicely side by side as if the latter was a continuation. “A Millers Tale” begins with some full bodied acoustic guitar and appears very dark and moody. This is further enforced by the rasping cello and oboe samples and invoking a Lord Of The Rings type atmosphere. “Squigely Fair does much the same, though in a happier more breezy type of way. All the fun of a fair is here in spades. And all thee rides and attractions are represented by the multitude of talent playing guitars, flute and some great percussion. A fitting high on which to end and allow the Ice like tones of the concluding and thought provoking “For Today” begin.
To me this beautiful piece of music is almost hymn–like. When you consider it’s subject matter which I believe to be the tragedy that befell the world in September 11th 2001, you realize that it is probably the post powerful and emotional song that Camel have ever recorded. Should this album indeed be the bands swan song it is a fitting one. With an eerie message the song climbs from its subtle piano intro into to burning guitar crescendo backed with a chorus “never give a day away, always live for today”. Stirring stuff. A fitting conclusion to what may as yet me the last Camel album. The guitar sound on this song could easily be mistaken for Pink Floyd should you be unaware of whom you were listening to.
I was also very pleased to see that a dedication had been given to the late and very great Peter Bardens on the CD booklet.
Well, there you have it. Four decades of Camel’s music represented by Moonmadness, Stationary Traveller, and Harbour Of Tears and last but certainly nowhere near least A Nod and a Wink. This then is the conclusion of my look at Camel and their influence on me, my friends and colleagues. I can only hope that there is more to come and this dear friend’s is a hope of which I will never let go.
The third album under scrutiny as part of the Progmeister Camel feature is Harbour Of Tears. It’s not until you reflect upon the huge body of work that Camel have recorded since 1972 until 2002 that you realize the diversity of their whole output. From their raunchier beginnings to the sophistication of the latter HDCD recordings, everything from blues to light hearted pop songs cross the range. For such things you only need to listen to Breathless and I Can See Your House From Here.
Many of Camel’s albums however were to be taken a little more seriously, None more so than
Harbour Of Tears. Of all the albums recorded under the Camel guise this is perhaps one of the most passionate, emotional and personal projects that Andrew Latimer ever recorded. Apart from being ambitious, the bleak story expressed in at times Gilbert and Sullivan fashion is quite simply astounding.
A brief synopsis of the tale portrayed is to be found on the back CD cover. It tells of a deep water port in
county Cork, Ireland, from where many fractured families left to seek fortune or fate in far off places. The album is dedicated to Pan, who ever she may be (answers on a post card please) and leaves the listener to put their own interpretation on the tale.
From the opening traditional Gaelic lament of “Irish Air” to the haunting conclusion of rolling waves at it’s conclusion,
Harbour Of Tears is one of the most beautiful and compelling albums that Camel recorded. “Irish Air” is delicately sung by Mae McKenna and the song is reprised immediately following it’s conclusion by the most bleeding and heartfelt flute and guitar intro’s I have ever heard on any album. In true operatic and of course progressive style there is only one pause between tracks throughout the whole of the performance.
Following such a wonderful opening the story is told in very concise terms in the title song. Singing in descant messrs Latimer and Bass describe the sorrow of a passenger setting sale and his father on the quayside bidding them farewell, very eloquently done.
Moving into the next piece “Cobh”, Mickey Simmonds with his talent for timbre and motive brings about the first of a few symphonic elements to this fabulous opus and leads in quirky fashion to the jaunty and almost shanty-like “Send Home the Slates”, sung with aplomb by David Paton and Andrew Latimer which sets the nautical feel for the remainder of the album.
“Watching The Bobbins” is very much in blues tempo which gives way for some of Andy’s most soulful guitar playing and stirring keyboard orchestration. “Last Eyes Of Ireland is the beginning of perhaps the most powerful and emotional segments of the album and at one stage gets eerily close to sounding like Genesis.
Last of the songs on this what I now consider to be a masterpiece is “End Of The Day”. It is a tranquil lament, this time with the more masculine tones of Andy Latimer himself. Coming of age is Camel at their best with the distinctive signature that gives the essence of what they are all about. Drama, poise and excitement are all contained herein.
Which brings me to the concluding piece, “The Hour Candle”? Something tells me that although this blistering guitar tells not only the tale of heartache and sorrow for the people portrayed in the story, but of the grieving of a musician who at the time had lost his father Stan to whom the song is dedicated. This beguiling suite is further augmented by the inclusion of the afore mentioned sounds of the ocean lapping at the shore. A fitting end methinks.
I have mentioned not a jot about the supporting musicians on this album of which there were many. The two people that by now had become the nucleus of Camel, Andrew Latimer and Colin Bass who were ably joined by the extremely talented Mickey Simmonds on keyboards, David Paton/bass (Pilot/Alan Parsons Project) and John Xepoleas on drums. As well as some snappy dudes on Violins, Cello, Oboe, Sax, French horn and Harmonium, I think you get the picture? For further information buy the album and read it for yourself!
When in 1996 this album hit the shops it was being closely compared to its predecessor “Dust And Dreams” which too was grossly symphonic. At the time I suspect that many Camel fans were craving a return to the individual song format that would not return until Rajaz. As a result I believe that “Harbour of Tears” didn’t get the appreciation it so rightly deserved.
I would describe Harbour f Tears as Camel’s most organic album, and you really must get within its skin to enjoy it. It’s about mood, atmosphere and passion unlike any other Camel record. It represents the struggle and suffering of the many people in the story and to a huge degree the feelings at that time of its author.
Over the years I have heard so many Camel fans list this excellent album so far down their list of favourites it leaves me baffled. I am always loathed to express a favourite Camel album and I have to say that Harbour of Tears hold its own in the company of the rest. With the benefit of maturity and a healthy appreciation of life, health and a broader understanding, I would consider this a must have Camel album. But then again, aren’t they all
LOOKING FOR A LITTLE STRANGE - The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra. 2009
New Folk Records. NFR7022. 10 tracks, total playing time 48:58. Star Rating * * * *
Personel - Dan Neale - guitars, electric and acoustic.
John Wright - bass guitar and bass pedals.
Elisa Wright - fiddle.
Mark O'Day - drums and percussion.
Looking for a little different ? this album could be just what your looking for. ''The Intergalactic Cowboy Orchestra'' are (on this album) a four piece instrumental band who play an eclectic blend of music ranging from folk to progressive, esoteric to grunge and country to raga.
As the band were unknown to me before I received the album to review, I played the album a few times to get the feel of what the band were about. At first, I struggled with the album but after the third listen I began hearing a plethora of nuances in the music. I have to add here that the musicianship on the album is of a very high standard and is not overplayed or pretentious in any way shape or form. I can honestly say that every track on this album is unlike the next. The range of musical styles is vast, this has the listener wanting to know where the band are taking them next.
I'm not wanting to write a blow by blow sort of review but the highlights of this album are ''Minor Scrape'', ''Slow Pour'', ''Raga Piloo'', ''The Biscuit Breakdown'', Odd Men Out'' and the very out there ''Dark Matter''.
As a progressive rock fan who clearly remembers the classic seventies progressive scene, listening to the music on this album reminded me of how many bands from that era who I love that have violins, violas or fiddles in their line-ups. I don't know if the band are influenced by any of the bands of this era but in this album I have heard similarities to Caravan, King Crimson, Jerry Goodman and Jean luc Ponty all pioneers or progressive, jazz fusion and experimental music. This is why I feel the album may be of interest to fans of progressive music. I feel that this band would be a great live act.
Mmmmmm! Being as i am a lover of most things prog i was inrigued to receive this album which pins it's colours firmly to the metal prog mast. Listening to the album for the first time makes you wonder if this is what Gentle Giant would have turned into had they survived the triles and tribulations of the music industry. Be under no illusion that this album slows down much at all in the course of it's playing time. Very much a buckle up and enjoy the ride type of album. I was instantly reminded of Dream Theatre when i first listened to the album. Not surprising then that ex Dream Theatre keys man Derek Sherinian is providing the textured landscapes for the other musicians on the album, albeit in a special guest capacity. Hailing from Germany this is the bands first album and frequently exceeds the boundaries of what we have come to know as prog. Relocator bare little or no resemblance to other bands skirting around this genre. As well as the afore mentioned Mr Sherinian the line up consists of Stefan Artwin (Guitars & programming), Michael Pruchniki (Bass), Frank Tinge (Drims & Percussion) and Bartek Strycharski (Electric Violin).
No doubt about it these guys rock. From the opening few bars of "Red Vibes" the race is on. Huge power chords and a beat to rival any heavy metal band it propells along in a very dramatic fashion. Though Stefan Artwin's guitar is the main instrument here it is carried along beautifully by Sherinian's nightmare orchestration. "Biosphere" is a keyboard lead assault which from time to time slips into the East coast sound and becomes very ecclectic drawing in many styles. It does include some extremely good interplay and gives your hi-fi a thorough workout. The title track "Relocator" is in my opinion the best track on the album and despite the heavy guitar presence it showcases Michael Pruchniki's sublime bass playing whilst giving a little more air to the talent of Frank Tinge who's drum technique shone through throughout the whole piece.
The next piece entitled "Proxima" maintains the pace of things quite nicely and could very easily lend itself to film score. This track opens with some sinister sounding keyboard voicing which reminded me of an early Alan Parsons piece. Not for long though, as things swiftly move up a gear and regains the high octane speed and performance. Indeed this is an album meant to be played in a performance car whilst driving at break neck spead through the desert. "Aavishkar" is perhaps one of the most interesting tracks on the album and invokes a very Arabian feel about it as it begins. There are some wonderful textures on this piece and i think as with some of the other tracks the subtle use of Bartok Strycharski's electric violin sound sets the whole album apart from being simply "Prog Metal". As a package it is very difficult to catagorise. I think lovers of both traditional progressive music and those preferring a little more of an edge to their music will get something out of this album. The electric violin leads the way into the next supercharged foray "13 Reasons" and makes for some intersesting and and differing textures throughout. The remaining tracks "Urban Blue" and "The Alchemist" keep the pedal to the metal all the way through to the albums conclusion.
Beautifully packaged with some striking artwork, i would recommend this album to those who like their prog with a bit of zest. I think this album may drawer music lovers of two camps from differing directions. Those looking for something a little different and those who simply enjoy a raunchier aspect. Either way Relocator is a worthy addition to your collection and fails to disappoint. Devoid of any lyrical content this is very much an album for music lovers. Sound them out and don't be surprised if you find yourself reaching for your credid card.
The second album review as part of the Camel feature takes us from 1976 into the 80's with 1984's Stationary Traveller. As with my previous review i will for the reasons of nostalgia be refering to the vinyl copy of this album and not the remastered and extended CD et al.
However, i do feel it a great shame that "In The Arms Of Waltzing Fraulines" did not appear on the record or indeed until much later on an afore mentioned format. On first listening to this album i did feel that the subject matter was a little stuffy and to a degree insular. As i became a little more enlightened and more interested in modern history i became hooked on both it's sentiment and values. The cover itself invokes a very desolate, desporate and despondent post war Germany. A solitary young woman amidst the aging architecture of a city scarred by war and it's numerous effects.
"Pressure Points" is a fabulous way to open such a theme. Full of technique and technology of the day like the Fairlight sampler etc, which Camel borrowed from Kate Bush. Though many new and interesting people appeared on the album Andy latimer's blistering guitar style shone through like a diamond cutting through glass. And this opening barrage of highly strung guitar and emulated clavinet/Mandolin sounds soon gives way to a warm and seductive Wal fretless bass played by the genius that is Andy Latimer himself. "Refugee" moves on a pace with the first of the songs on the album that Andy Latimer's voice slips into a Bob Dylanesque type slurr. I think it became one of the first albums on which he sung in such a way. It did give the song a very protesting feel about it. The song itself is very much a protest and is conveyed as such. The song includes a guitar break in which Andy uses the volume knob on his Fender Strat to swell the tones in the same way as some others used to use pedals of varios designs. This would late become a signiture sound in Andy's style.
The next track takes a sinister turn. "Vopos" is about the unforgiving border type German police which to a degree carried on the mantel of the Gestapo and contains some of Andy's best guitar licks. "Cloak And Dagger Man is the first time you get to hear Chris Rainbow's voice on the album and i think he's absolutely great. I don't know why but Scotsman always seem to make the best singers. This shamelessly synth driven song is catapaulted skywards by Ton Scherpenzeel's twent five finger exploits on the Roland Juno synth. The very first time i have heard such an E.L.P. type keyboard sound on a Camel album and it was quite refreshing.
Finishing the first side of the album is the title track. It is one of the most haunting that Camel ever recorded. As well as one of the bost beautiful guitar pieces the band recorded Andy plays Pan Pipes which add to the Europeam mood of the album and plays out with a rousing guitar cressendo. Turning the record over and listening to the B side, "West Berlin maintaines the Michael Caine espianage feel of 50's and 60's poat war Europe. Made so by the many keyboard textures and imaginative voicings there of. "Fingertips" is one of my very favourite Camel songs and brings back happy memories of me dancing with my daughter who then but a baby. Mel Collins superlative saxophone augmented by a clutch of the best musicians in the business.
"Missing" and "After Word" are two instrumental tracks again utilising sounds and textures befitting the history portrayed. "After Words in particular being a very haunting, piano lead slowing the album down sufficiently for the opening of the final song "Long Goodbyes". Only Chris Rainbow could have performed this song with such aplomb. The shear beauty of this song is carried along by the innocence of the acoustic guitar in comparison to the many items of electronica used on the album. A fitting cressendo to a brilliant album and a fair one for camel to represent their limited output in the 80's. I urge you all to revusit this album. It's quite simply a treat.
Larsen who i hear you say? Exactly! I have never heard of them either. I happened across these guys whilst attending a China Crisis gig in Newcastle recently and they were terrific. You will be correct in thinking that China Crisis and most associates of do not a prog band make and you would be correct. However, so good were Larsen B i felt compelled to write down my thoughts. As they finished there spot as support band i managed to get to chat with them and pay them a few compliments and by doing so i ended up buying their album Musketeer, music from which i had just heard them play. My impression of the band is that they seem somewhere between The Divine Comedy and Keen. Indeed the second song on the album "Marilyn" has all the hall marks from the intro of "Something For The Weekend" by the said Divine Comedy. I played the whole album twice on the way home in the car. The following few days had most of the songs swimming around in my head and humming quite enthusiastically. My favorite song on the whole album however is without doubt "Robots Learn To Love" which is so simple and interesting. Mmmm, I could maybe get away with including this wonderfully simple clutch of songs on a prog site by promoting the fact that they are all short stories and have some kind of concept to them. This album has a certain retro feel about it that i find very comforting. Had it been in film i think it would have been black and white. Indeed somewhere on the cover is written old radio tunes. It is a joy to listen to. Eleven well played quality songs in a beatifully presented card sleeve. Well worth investigating. Sound out Larsen B on facebook. Progmeister
As promised, the first of Camel's incredible albums to be reviewed is Moonmadness. Please don't read anything into that because as i said in my recent article i cannot possibly nominate a favorite. Such notions would ignite personal mental anguish, turmoil and indeed, guilt.
Available in many forms with extra tracks and remastered options for CD, let's stick with the one that i bought from a record shop in 1976 shall we? Having already attended the promotional gig only nights before at Newcastle City Hall before, i had a rough idea of what to expect. What i didn't expect was such a quality item from such a relatively unknown band. From the quality of the sleeve to that of the production. I found myself quickly addicted to this album, literally tearing me away from the hot new releases of Genesis and other such bands.
From the burgeoning march of opening piece "Aristillus" lasting just over a minute and a half to the closing emulation of aircraft terminating the seat of the trousers ride ofLunar Sea, I was smitten. What was this music i was listening to? Rock, space rock, prog, blues? Label it what you will, at this stage in life i didn't much care. What ever it was i was listening to, i was simply blown away.
Having the benefit of information that we all now have, i am now aware that differenttracks on the album represent their owners, but in 1976 i cared not a jot. Listening to The opening bars of Aristillus lifts you into a higher plain of wanting more and that's just what you get. The first half of "Song Within A song is a lilting flute driven melody giving way to a very early incarnation of a string synthesiser being played through some kind of device giving the whole impression of space. The whole piece culminating in Pete Bardens Mini Moog/String synth cressendo. Fabulous.
Next through the crackles and pops is Chord Change. Three if i'm not mistaken? Furious jazz beginnings mellowing out at it's mid point to a gorgeous blues down tempo middle section only to be mesmerised by the guitar,organ, drums and bass synergy at the end. Spirit Of The Water is an airy Pete Bardens tune that i didn't fully appreciate until i got older. It's a haunting melody that i think was a fitting conclusion the the first side of the LP. Up off me bum and turn the record over.
Side two. "Another Night" Apart from representing the character of Doug Ferguson the first Camel bass player, it's a bit of a rocker. Probably the only one on the record. Leading into what i think is the most beautiful track on the album, "Air Born". At a guess i would say that this is about Andy Latimer. This is the track that swayed the album away from full blown prog and placed it on the fringes of space rock. If you take the time to listen to the swathe's of string synthersiser and bleeding guitar notes eminating from the flute and piano intro, you will know where i am coming from.
Just when you thought you were astounded, you are greeted with the mighty "Lunar Sea". Little can be said of this track other than "Pheeeeewwwww". Difficult to pick out the star of the show in this amazing tour de force. It's very easy to site Latimer's olympic standard guitar and Pete Bardens extraordinary keyboardtextures but for me too much praise can't be given to the rythmn section. Without doubt holding the whole piece together was Andy Ward on drums and Doug Ferguson on a big old Fender bass of whom praise cannot be offered high enough. With all the oodlings of people blowing down tubes and making bubbling noises and a bit of jiggery pokery, this album is nothing other than special. In many ways i think it is Camel's most intimate of their early albums.
In many ways it is a trip to Ronny Scott's via the Sea Of Tranqulity and should be treated with reverence. Whether you listen to Moonmadness on a big all valve hifi system or a superfast all solid state bobslay hi-f, it just sounds fantastic. The newer CD options are all well worth the money and contain lots of bonus material. Any which way you get to listen to this album it still sounds amazing. Diamond status.
Karfagan is to all intents and purposes Antony Karlugin who also goes under the guises of Sunchild and Hoggwash.
On this latest Karfagan album Antony has brought together many fabulous musicians from The Ukraine. I was first smitten by Karfagan after listening to the album Continium which i would whole heartedly recommend. The first thing that i noticed about this album when i recieved it through the post is the wonderful presentation. Like all Karfagan albums the artwork is fabulous. When you handle an album like this you can understand why fans of the humble LP prefer them. To imagine the Karfagan albums on a 12"X12" LP cover would be a site to behold. Musically the album has all the complexity of Gentle Giant through the wonderful guitar of Camel to the Elizabethan pomposity of Focus.
Indeed on track 3 Silent Anger part 2 i had the overwhelming want to shout a hay nolly nolly and find a Maypole to dance around. I am surprised at just how English the album sounds considering that the personnel are mostly if not all from Ukraine. It is only when the gorgeous Marina Zakharova begins to sing that the game is up. I didn't find the tracks on which Antony sung quite as appealing. Although the final track Mystery on which he is supported by Marina was a little better.
The final track in true prog tradition is a little over 22 minutes long and split into 5 parts. I hear a lot of Snowgoose in this track. All in all the album is 75 minutes long so you get a lot for your 9 quid. On first listening i didn't think that the recording qualitly was as good as Continium which i still prefer. That's not to say that this album isn't as good. It's all down to personal preference. I fully intend to obtain all of Antony's albums as i think they have a lot of bang for the buck. There are so many brilliant elements to this album, not only some great keyboard sounds but guitar, drums ,bass as well as the myriad of other musicians playing flute,bassoon,cello,viola and accordian,oboe,sax, the list goes on. If you like constant musical reprisals and continuing themes Karfagan might not appeal.
If you enjoy a more freeform feel about your music you will simply adore this album. Background music this aint. It demands to be listened to. It may not smack you in the face on first listening but i think it's a cracking piece of work. Buy with confidence.
Solitary Sandpiper Journey and other Karfagen related albums are available from www.caerllysimusic.co.uk
Gothenbourg's finest have put together a fabulous excursion of high octane prog on this their third album. Openimg with the 14:45 minute scene setting extraviganzor "Suddenly The Rain" it is obvious from the outset that band have fused all known prog entities and taken them to the wire. Early amphetamine driven Genesis meets Yes. ELP and King Crimson. This track is laden with extremely grungy sounding Hammond and fabulous Emersonesque synth swathes. Fabulous stuff! Tardigrade the second track is more in the Gentle Giant ilk and with the exception of the albums concluding flourish is one of the shorter tracks on the album. The the third song "The Chosen One" begins a little more lilting replete with beutiful Mellotron strings and acoustic guitars. It isn't long before the roller coaster starts up though and it's every prog heads dream. I can't think of anything negative to say about this album though i suspect it would be unacceptable to those who believe that true prog stayed within the perimeters of the 70's and all else is just fake. Moon Mountain is a beautiful acoustic and electric neo classical piece which really lends a touch of class to the whole album. As The River Runs finds the band in full bloen opus mode again and has you listening to some classic analogue synth sounds. I am unsure if the majority af keyboards are soft synths or the real thing. What ever they are they had me fooled. I can only think that the incusion in the band of Magnus Paulsson in 2002 was an extremely good idea. All such responsibilities fell on the shoulders of founder member Stefan Renstrom before Magnus arrived. All would be forgiven for thinking that the seventh offering on the album "Strawbwrry Jam" has been an omissin from Yes's Relayer album,wow! Keep your hands inside the ride at all times. My favourite track however is "The Cicles End" which leads into the mighty 26:29 minute epic "Brother Where You Bound" which with the inclusion of "Beautiful New Day" conludes the story of Tardigrade. And if you fancy a Lamb Lies Down On Broadway Moment click on the Simon Says website www.paradisesquare.net and read the story in full. Art work/packaging, content and entertainment factor make this album shine. Shear unadulerated prog at it's most pompous best. An enjoyment factor off the scale. Go for it Progsters.