Fuchsia Fuchsia II: From Psychedelia…To a Different Place Sound Practices 001
Originally formed around the talented songwriter Tony Durant, Fuchsia released one, long-lost legendary album in 1970 and then disappeared. This is the reinvigorated and refreshed sound of Tony Durant returning to his old haunts, with a blend of melodic folk, rock and hints of prog that will enchant anyone who liked Fairport's experimental phase, Comus, or the work of Judy Dyble.
The album contains superb tracks like Melancholy Road, Fuchsia Song, Crossing the Big C and my favourite, the moody album closer Piper At the Gates of Time, with its nod to early Pink Floyd. Durant's impassioned vocals and lyrics are reflective and mature. Here is a songwriter for whom the flame still burns.
Union Jill Respectable Rebellion Union Jill Music CD UJMCD0113
The fantastically-monikered duo of Helen Turner and Sharon Winfield, fresh from an acclaimed live show, put their music down on a new album that is guaranteed to get them even more attention. The thirteen tracks all tell unique stories, and the duo's vocals and guitar-playing work so well together that they are a joy to listen to.
There is excellent accompaniment by a talented cast of guests including Clive Gregson, Andy Seward, Mark Boyce, Kate St John and Ric Sanders, whose unmistakable violin weaves in and out of the angry song Morecambe Bay, about the poor Chinese cockle pickers who perished there. Like all good protest music, the album's material is based on real events --Mad Alice is about a ghost who now haunts the road formerly named after her in York, and Red On the Stair tells the haunting tale of Kitty Genovese, whose murder was witnessed but not reported until too late. This is an album of songs and performances which leave you thinking deeply about the subjects explored. It is a truly great record on all levels.
Dodson and Fogg Derring Do The Moonlight Banquet Sounds of Day and Night Wisdom Twin Records
Following hot on the heels of last year's critically acclaimed debut, Chris Wade on the follow-up Derring Do has expanded and enhanced the sound, with some fantastic trumpet playing from Colin Jones and great flute work from Nik Turner and Amanda Votta. The vocals of Alison O'Donnell (Mellow Candle) harmonise beautifully with Chris's on the beautiful single Leaves They Fall, and Celia Humphries returns. This is also a strong release on the songwriting front, from the opening percussive Introduction to the brilliance of Too Bright and Like It Was Yesterday.
Wade has also recently released The Moonlight Banquet and Sounds of Day and Night. The former's eight instrumental pieces are a complete about-face from the usual Dodson and Fogg folk sound, with a Mike Oldfield echo on the haunting Roaming, while the eclectic Turn Away with its Rick Wright-esque Hammond riff and a distorted guitar solo sounds like an outtake from Hergest Ridge. The highlight for me is the stunning Sea of Smiles, showcasing Chris's intense and intelligent guitar work. This is more than just a diversion, or a collection of music that didn't quite fit the D&F sound, but a powerful and exciting instrumental album in its own right, the electric flipside to the usual acoustic vibe.
Sounds of Day and Night is the third Dodson and Fogg album in less than a year. Wade is a musical machine --the last time a musician released this much material in such a short space of time without losing his touch was when George Harrison unleashed All Things Must Pass on an unsuspecting world. It is an appropriate comparison, since Wade gets his inspiration from that era, and the new album contains his trademark mix of retro and modern sounds. Overall the late sixties comes to mind, with touches of Hammond organ, and a languid English vibe on Hear It In the Morning (Still) that is reminiscent of Floyd releases from that era. Instead of a plethora of special guests, this again is mostly Wade, except for some superb trumpet work from Colin Jones. The theme of day becoming night is most obvious on my favourite track, the Auden-inspired Night Train, with its driving rhythm, counterbalanced nicely by the melodic Free in the Night. Then there is the wonderful Clocking Off and the instrumental title track that opens and closes the album, as well as the psychedelic closer. The evolution from Wade's first album to this is staggering. I tipped Dodson and Fogg to be big last year, and this album confirms my belief that Wade is one of the most exciting songwriters working in England at the moment.
Martin Simpson Vagrant Stanzas Topic Records TSCD589
Martin Simpson has built a mighty reputation as one of the greatest English folk performers around. For fans this is a rare treat: a solo record focused entirely on Simpson's exquisite guitar and world-weary, lived-in vocals. Following a suggestion from neighbour and fellow Sheffield legend Richard Hawley, this is recorded live, capturing the intimate atmosphere of a Martin Simpson gig. As you would expect of an artist who draws his influences from everywhere, there is a wide range of tracks on this album: the Cajun-influenced folk of the fantastic Diamond Joe, the self-penned true story Jackie and Murphy (about Anzac soldier Jack Simpson), Simpson's own interpretation of Chris Wood's Come Down Jehovah, and a brace of instrumentals, including a fantastic rendition of Shepherds Rejoice and the superb Molly As She Swings. There are also excellent versions of Bob Dylan's North Country Blues and the great Come Write Me Down. Simpson's delivery is always sympathetic to the source material, and his interpretive playing is, quite simply, amazing.
Samuel Taylor Some Nobody To Me www.samuel-taylor.co.uk
Sheffield songwriter Samuel Taylor is probably best-known for being part of the band Dead Like Harry, and now releases his debut EP containing five tracks. This is a mature release, showcasing his acoustic guitar, mouth-organ and vocal abilities, with raw and personal lyrics. Particular standouts include the title track, the fantastic Perfect Disguise and Driving to Nowhere.
Ange Hardy Barefoot Folk Story Records
Interviewed below, Ange Hardy is a new name who has been making real waves on the folk scene, and this, her second album, shows why. From the start the listener is pulled into Hardy's world. She is a well-travelled and intelligent storyteller with a beguiling voice and tremendous musical charm. All the tracks are self-penned and at times autobiographical, at others allegorical, but in each case the result is so convincing that any of them could have tumbled out of the trad repertoire. The album is full of beautiful vocal harmonies, moving deftly from the upbeat to ballads like Forlorn Land or the lullaby Stop Your Crying Son, with some tongue-in-cheek word play on the great Crafty Father John. This breathtaking collection of contemporary and personal folk songs can stand alongside anything by Kate Rusby or Kathryn Roberts. It has proved to be an album to which I've returned time and again.
Ange Hardy Interview
Bare Foot Folk is your second album. Talk us through the record: what influenced you whilst you were making it, and what you were hoping the album would sound like. How close to your original idea for the album does the finished record sound?
I wanted Bare Foot Folk to be a true representation of who I am and what you hear on stage live. It's stripped back to just me and my guitar, using only harmonies to create a fuller sound - which I can then recreate on stage using my live looping machine (a Digitech JamMan).
My first album was like an autobiography, it tells my story through songs. As it was my debut studio album I wanted to record not only what I do live but also what I heard in my head for the songs. It ended up being a very full album. If I heard a cello playing in my head, then I played the cello. If I thought a little melody line on the flute would fit nicely, I had a flautist make it happen. As happy as I am with the outcome of that, I could never recreate it on stage (without vast expense!) so it was crucial to me that Bare Foot Folk should be stripped back to my bare roots. As I'd now written most of my story, the slight change of direction into folk, with its storytelling nature, was the natural place for my music to go.
This album is more than I ever thought it would be. It was crowd-funded, and unlike my last album, which took me six months to record, I recorded Bare Foot Folk in four days flat! It was a marathon and I never expected it to come out as polished as it did. It really is what I set out for it to be... a true representation of who I am and what you hear at my live shows.
What are your favourite tracks on the album, and which ones do you think take on a life of their own when you perform them live?
Mother Willow Tree is my own personal jewel on this album, I love the story it tells and the harmony layering. And even after singing it for what seems like a lifetime, Crafty Father John still never fails to tickle me.
The Ghost on the Moors definitely has a life of its own. When I wrote it, it was like an out of body experience. I sat down to write and looked up what felt like just a few minutes later, almost shaking and unsure what had just happened--totally lost in the moment. This is something that still happens for me every time I sing it live.
It's been getting fantastic reviews everywhere. Are you pleased that people are connecting with the music in such a positive way?
If I'm honest, I'm a little taken aback by the wonderful reception it has been getting. I am new to the folk scene and have only been a folk artist for about six months!
I didn't expect to be so well-received so quickly. As most artists will tell you, it's a hilly journey of self-doubt, and we are always our own worst critics. This affirmation has definitely smoothed out the road for me and given me the drive and confidence I really needed to climb the hills when they do creep up.
You did the 50/90 challenge last year, which was to write 50 songs in 90 days. How did you approach that challenge, and what impact has it had on your performances and your songwriting?
Well, the first thing it did was make me question where I was going to take my writing next. As I said, I'd written my life story, and all my songs until then had drawn from my own experiences, so this challenged me to jump into the minds of others, to dream up mystical fairytales, to draw inspiration form artwork, news stories, an emotion or feeling, and so on. Quite naturally I found myself writing folk tales, and my new path started to emerge. It really was a very significant part of my journey into the land of folk.
As a performer on the traditional scene, who have been your influences, and where do you see yourself fitting in?
Caroline Herring, Kathryn Roberts and Kate Rusby are my most-played artists in iTunes, and I think that speaks volumes. There are definitely specific songs that have shaped me as a writer too, like She Moves Through the Fair and Blooming Heather. In my earlier years I drew from the writing of Tracy Chapman. I dream of fitting into future projects that echo the likes of The Cecil Sharp Project and I very much intend to sit alongside those who have influenced and driven me as an artist.
As a lot of the folk scene is built around smaller intimate gigs and festivals, and spending time out on the road to reach the audience, would you say your live performances are important to you as an artist, and a useful way of promoting your recordings?
To sit in a candlelit room with a glass of red, close your eyes and lose yourself in the depth of warm harmonies, to hear every word clearly cut through the air and deliver a tale that makes your soul smile. It's the way my music feels like it should be heard.
Intimate venues are the best platform for my kind of music and are a wonderful way to promote my recordings, especially now that I can confidently say that Bare Foot Folk is one such intimate performance.
How did you get into performing and writing?
When I was fourteen I ran away from a children's home, and hitchhiked to Ireland where I slept rough on the streets for over four months. Whilst I was exploring Galway a young chap gave me a guitar (in hindsight, I believe it may have been stolen) and told me to use it to busk. I had never played one before and at fourteen had little musical interest and no repertoire, so I simply made it up as I went along and wrote about the things I was going through. If you've not heard Refuse Sack from my last album, go and have a listen. The words take on a whole new meaning when you know the backstory. Music soon became a much-needed counsellor and outlet for me as I struggled though my teenage years, and later as I worked my way through the deeper demons I needed to deal with. Writing became a physical part of me. Without it I am useless. I have to write. Performing is a byproduct of this, I guess you could say it is my calling.
How much of a progression from your debut CD is Bare Foot Folk, and where do you see yourself going next?
It is a huge progression for my musical direction, and also for my own benefit. I have worked through my life and am now in a place where I can allow my writing to come from my feet rather than the footsteps behind me. That is huge. I may look one day at forming a band to share some of the load and open more possibilities. I'd like to record some of my more indie nu-folk writing at some point, and definitely take part in more writing challenges. Most importantly, now that I have stripped everything away and found what is at my core, I intend to stay rooted.
What gigs have you got lined up to promote the album?
I am doing a bit of a Bare Foot Folk tour in and around Somerset with a view to doing a bigger tour next year. I have a two-year-old son and a ten-year-old daughter-- gigging can be quite hard and they have to come first.
How difficult is it to get recognised as a unique voice on the folk scene?
It's tricky. I think some of the 'traditional' folk lovers are a bit sceptical of the younger generation, and there's a lot of great musicians out there, but I think folk music has always been about the songs more than the performers, so I'm hoping that my writing is what's going to really set me apart on the scene.
Many thanks to Ange Hardy for her time. The interview was conducted by James Turner.
Gizmo Gizmo Canterbury Records CANTER4CD
From the legendary Canterbury scene that spawned bands like Soft Machine and Caravan comes legendary prog rock band Gizmo's fifth album, and one that has taken a few years to make. Both of the guitarists/vocalists, Dave Radford and Martin Reed, suffered serious illnesses before and during the making and release of this record, and Reed tragically succumbed to his brain tumour earlier on this year. The Gizmo sound coalesces around the songwriting team of Radford and Reed, ably accompanied by Grant Matcham on keyboards, Alex Powley on bass and Ian Harris on percussion, rounding out the guitar-heavy prog sound.
From the contemplative piano opener The Promise to the full rock onslaught of ICU Juicy Me, the album is a nice blend of musical interludes like the ambient Almost Starlight and the beautifully catchy acoustic-led Sailing On A Dream, with its contemplative lyrics and almost-folk sound, neatly reprised at the end of the album proper. With a bonus track (House With No Door) featuring Canterbury legend Hugh Hopper of Van Der Graaf Generator, this is a fantastic album that is also a wonderful tribute to Martin Reed.
Interview with Dave Radford
How did Gizmo form originally?
Gizmo originally formed from a bunch of school kids playing together under various band names. The name Gizmo was first used in 1974. In the late sixties I watched probably all of the gigs that Caravan played in the area, and also Soft Machine. In the early seventies some friends and myself began to put on gigs in Canterbury. We called ourselves 'Haxmady Promotions.' There was lots of prog: Barclay James Harvest, Arthur Brown, Audience, Matching Mole, Egg, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Status Quo, Soft Machine, etc. I've still got all the signed posters from the concerts!
Being from the Canterbury area, were you influenced by the 'Canterbury Scene,' or did you have wider influences?
Obviously this had an influence on us, but no more than The Who, The Stones, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Kinks, etc.
As an independent band with no major label support, did you find it hard to keep going at times in your career, and what was more important in the early days--the records or the live gigs?
Gizmo had a short time (1975-76) with President Records when the single Just Like Velvet was released. After that the band members changed. A crucial line-up evolved that would put out the first and second albums, Just Like Master Bates and Victims. This was Brian Gould on keyboards, Maurice Memmott on violin and keyboards, Steve Wyse on drums, and Dave Radford on vocals and guitar. We rehearsed and played a lot, and were probably one of the tightest live bands in Kent, as anyone who remembers the seventies gigs would testify.
What led to the new incarnation of the band and the new record?
The new album and incarnation of the band came about after a phone call from Nick Milton (drummer). We did a few gigs and began recording the album Gizmo at the end of March 2012. It was completed in fourteen days over the next few months. Sadly, no sooner had we finished the recording than guitarist Martin Reed was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
The album was released at the end of November 2012, but we were unable to promote it as Martin was going through an emotional time with chemo and radiotherapy. [Tragically, Martin Reed died just after this interview was conducted.] Steve Wyse heard it and loved it, and this year organised a gig for the 29th of June 2013 at Churchill's, Ramsgate, formally the Van Gogh, which we used to pack out in the seventies.
The new line-up consisted of myself on vocals and guitar, Brian Gould on keyboards, and Steve Wyse on drums --all original seventies members-- with the addition of Alex Powley on bass and Grant Mathcham on keyboards, both from the latest album. Although not well, Martin Reed joined us on stage, which went down a storm! The performance was recorded live and hopefully will be out on CD soon.
How did you end up working with Hugh Hopper and what experience did he bring to the band?
Hugh Hopper was a good friend of mine. He would sometimes help me out in the shop. [A second-hand record shop in Canterbury.] I asked Hugh to join us on bass. He obliged on the recording and later joined us for a one-off gig at the Leas Cliff Hall in Folkestone with Ozric Tentacles. Hugh was a very talented musician and one of the loveliest people you could ever meet.
You've worked on the live circuit and made your own style of music through eras like punk, Britpop, etc. How did you find audiences responded to your style of music, and how have you maintained a career whilst other bands have dropped off the radar?
It's true that we have come through different eras, but I honestly think our music is original and appeals to a wide range of audiences whatever their taste.
Record Collector Magazine commented that although it was a prog album in the punk era, on reflection our music was heading towards new wave, which hadn't happened yet.
What influences your song-writing and performances?
My song-writing is influenced by the emotions of everyday life, which I hope everyone can relate to in their own way.
How did you end up covering the Van Der Graaf Generator song House With No Door?
In 1995 we were approached by an Italian record company, Mellow Records, and asked to choose a Van der Graaf Generator track for a tribute album they were releasing. We chose House With No Door. It was internationally distributed and sold well.
Are there more gigs and albums planned?
There will be more gigs, but sadly without Martin. Albums - yes, definitely! I have an idea for two, to be done simultaneously: one hopefully bringing together all ex-members on different tracks, and the other with a story-line entitled Marlowe's Children.
How would you describe Gizmo?
'Original and with a distinctive sound.'
I see the new album is available on vinyl: do you prefer a physical release (either vinyl or CD) rather than a digital download?
I do prefer vinyl. CD is OK, but I suppose we should put the four albums out for digital download at some stage.
Your album is also available in smaller independent record stores. Do you think that the way of releasing music has changed, and that the balance has shifted back to the independents?
I think there will always be a need for independent record shops and those that can survive these times will benefit. Long live vinyl!
What do you enjoy more now as a band: creating in the studio, or playing live?
It's good fun playing live, but put us in the studio any day.
Many thanks to Dave Radford for his time. The interview was conducted by James Turner.
Juicy Lucy Get a Whiff a This Esoteric Records ECLEC2389
One of the many British Blues bands formed around the turn of the late sixties/early seventies, Juicy Lucy came to prominence with a vibrant cover of the classic track Who Do You Love? This is their third album, from 1971, with an inauspicious album title and housed in what I can only describe as one of the worst album sleeves I've ever had the misfortune to gaze upon. However, the nine bluesy rock tracks in here are great, featuring such talent as the brilliant guitarist Micky Moody, future Strawbs drummer Rod Coombes, the steady bass of Jim Leverton, the steel guitar of Glenn Campbell (no, not that one), former Bluesbreaker Chris Mercer (sax and organ), and the soulful vocals of Paul Williams. It's a shame that the market at the time was over-saturated with British blues bands who had better promotion and album artwork, since this is a great example of hard rock/blues fusion, with brilliant musical interplay between all the members and some damn fine riffs and vocals on tracks like Midnight Rider and Future Days. Supposing that you can ignore the awful cover art, this is well worth a listen if British blues is your bag.
The Climax Blues Band Tightly Knit Rich Man FM/Live Esoteric Records ECLEC2385/2386/2387
Here is a brace of remasters from the classic British group the Climax Blues Band. By the time they recorded their fourth album Tightly Knit in 1971, they had coalesced around a core of Colin Cooper (vocals/sax/harmonica), Pete Haycock (guitar/vocals), Arthur Wood (keyboards), Derek Holt (bass/vocals) and George Newsome (drums). Showing a maturity and confidence born of working hard together, the group's Anglicised blues-rock is versatile and entertaining, housed in a surreal sleeve that could only be the work of legendary design studio Hipgnosis. Tightly Knit is a record that shows a band comfortable with each other, and ready to make the next leap forward.
1972's Rich Man is that leap. The group had now become a tightly-knit four-piece of Cooper, Haycock, Holt, and John Cuffley on drums. They had started to play in a much slicker vein, sharpening their commercial appeal with the intention of moving into the big league. This certainly shows on the title track and All the Time In the World, with excellent collaboration between Haycock and Cooper, and Cuffley and Holt's performances anchoring the sound.
1973's FM Live is, as the name suggests, a concert capturing the quartet's phenomenal musical power as a live band. As is the case with most great groups, their concerts were not just run-throughs of the albums, which could never represent the band quite as well as a live performance. This magnificent set recorded in New York showcases some phenomenal improvisation and solo work on the lengthy instrumental Flight. It is astonishing to think that Pete Haycock's amazing guitar is not accorded the same level of respect as that of Clapton or Page, whilst Colin Cooper (who sadly died in 2008) was as great a British blues vocalist as Rod Stewart or Steve Marriott, but never received the acclaim he deserved. This marvellous live album captures phenomenal music talent.
Alan Hull Squire Esoteric Records ECLEC2392
Here is a 1975 solo excursion from the Lindisfarne songwriter and frontman. Squire was influenced by the 1974 BBC TV play of the same name, in which Hull had starred. With a guest array of musicians like Lindisfarne's Ray Laidlaw and Kenny Craddock, and electric guitar legends Micky Moody and Albert Lee, the album's theme is unemployment and changes to the old community ways of the North East, particularly in Hull's native Newcastle. It is the sort of social commentary and musical concept that Ray Davies had been perfecting down South. This, however, is far grittier than Davies' work, and seems to emphasise the North/South divide, with touches of classic Hull on tracks like the Lindisfarne-esque Picture a Little Girl, the rocky Dan the Plan, and the title track. It captures Hull's skill with a melody, his eye for a lyric, and his ability to flit between genres and styles and still create a coherent whole. There are some standout vocal tour de forces across the record. It is a testament to Hull's ability that Squire, One More Bottle Of Wine, and Mr Inbetween would all become part of the re-formed Lindisfarne's sets. Squire is an album that is ripe for rediscovery--a true gem.
Robert Calvert Lucky Leif and the Longships Atomhenge ATOMCD1038
Hawkwind vocalist, anarchist poet, singer, songwriter and performer, the late Robert Calvert was always an artist who could never be ignored. This, his second solo album, recorded during a break in his career with Hawkwind, was co-produced by Brian Eno, who helped hone the concept and whose unique recording techniques and styles are all over the record. The concept is an answer to the question: what if the Vikings had discovered and colonised America first? There are some fantastic musical moments and sharp social commentary, and the excellent selection of collaborators includes Eno, Hawkwind stalwarts Paul Rudolph on bass and Nik Turner on saxophone, Simon House on violin, and Michael Moorcock on banjo. This is a broad musical canvas, mixing and matching styles. There is the Beach Boys-mimicking The Lay of the Surfers, with its fantastic 'Barbarians' refrain, English folk on the subtle and melodic Voyaging to Vinland, and the driving repetitive Storm Chant of the Skraelings, which could have snuck off an Eno album, while Ragna Rock lives up to its name. This eclectic and epic collection is informed by Calvert's unique vision and ear for a tune, and given focus by Eno. It is arguably more interesting and musically diverse than what Hawkwind were doing in 1975, and when you consider that they also released their masterpiece Warrior On the Edge of Time in that year, it highlights this album's brilliance.
Gordon Giltrap Visionary Perilous Journey Fear of the Dark Live at Oxford Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2400/2401/2402/2409
Lovingly remastered and restored, with sleevenotes from the man himself, the first three studio albums reviewed here cover a significant period in Gordon Giltrap's career, when he moved from folk troubadour to progessive folk-rock guitarist.
Visionary (1976) is where it all started. At the time of its gestation Giltrap was at a crossroads and reading a lot of William Blake (who later inspired Tangerine Dream, but that's another story...) Here he is accompanied by a cracking band including Simon Phillips on drums, John G Perry on bass and Rod Edwards on piano. The musical dexterity on Visionary impressed critics and the public alike, and it's not hard to see why. Distancing itself completely from the folk sound, the album is a beautifully complex piece of work. Giltrap's guitar work is sublime, and the magical mixture of rock, folk and classical influences turn this album into something special. The tracks Tyger and London really stand out, whilst the previously unreleased Concerto gives pointers to ideas with which Giltrap was playing at the time.
Using the same team as Visionary, 1977's Perilous Journey was a logical progression, with a more widescreen, symphonic sound involving brass and orchestral instruments. Tracks like Quest and Reflections and Despair are particularly excellent. Of course, there is also the hit single Heartsong, which became familiar to millions as the theme tune to the BBC programme Holiday. Perilous Journey is a triumph, and of course the guitar work is exemplary.
To round off the loose trilogy, 1978's Fear of the Dark is the pinnacle of this period of Giltrap's career, with the same 'house band' and production team. They reached their peak on this album, with some fantastic compositions including the great, percussively-driven Roots 1 & 2, the haunting title track, and the sublime Visitation. This marriage of rock guitar and classical sounds foreshadowed what Sky were to do later on, although Giltrap's ideas and compositions are that much sharper. This is even more obvious on the bonus tracks, including his jaw-dropping reinterpretation of Jerusalem, nestling eccentrically with a beautiful rendition of the theme from The Waltons (yes, it is that good!)
Live at Oxford, recorded in 1979, features his touring band of Rod Edwards and Eddy Spence on keyboards, the great John Gustafson on bass, Shirlie Roden on vocals, keyboards and percussion, and the legendary Ian Mosley on drums. It cherry-picks a set list from the previous three albums. Since it was recorded on the Fear of the Dark tour, the set is obviously biased towards that album, but with a band this good and music this well-written and performed it doesn't matter. The receptive audience sound like they are enjoying themselves, and the symphonic progressive rock comes across very well live, the band playing so tightly that they allow Giltrap's guitar work to shine. Quest, Inner Dream, Nightrider, and Fear of the Dark come alive in these performers' dextrous hands, whilst Roden's vocals add that magic touch to the tracks. This is an essential addition to the trilogy of studio recordings, a fascinating document of a true guitar genius spearheading a great band on the road.
Sphincter Ensemble Harrodian Event #1 Esoteric Records ECLEC2398
In January 1972, seven progressive and experimental musicians recorded a session of extensive jamming and free-form prog rock jazz, which, until now, has never been released. Remastered and with fully annotated liner notes by J Peter Robinson (keyboards), this exciting and innovative ensemble piece can be heard for the first time. The project featured John Gustafson (bass), Paul Buckmaster, Anode L, Martyn Ford, Trevor Morais and Tony Walmsley. The group had never performed together as this ensemble before, and with no notes, they just went where the music took them. They show their calibre throughout the entire performance, as the beats and sounds weave in and out--no one artist dominates, but they all take turns following each other. This is the freeform jazz sound inspired by artists like Miles Davies, but given a full English prog rock twist. With no missteps and no forced sounds, this is an intense, intelligent, soulful release.
Ginhouse Ginhouse Esoteric Records ECLEC2394
Newcastle power trio Ginhouse (Geoff Sharkey, guitar/vocals; Stewart Burlinson, bass/vocals; and Dave Whittaker, drums) released their only album in 1971, and this marks its first appearance on CD. A highly inventive and versatile three-piece, Ginhouse's sound takes its inspiration from the hard-rock scene of the time, with driving guitar and bass interplay, particularly on Tyne God. The wonderful vocal harmonies take the sound above that of an ordinary trio. The band mixes it up with pure hard rock, elements of jazz, and some softer sounds on tracks like The Journey, while turning the Beatles' And I Love Her into an epic rock workout, augmented by producer Anders Henriksson's keyboards. As was the fate of so many bands in the early seventies, the cards did not fall right for Ginhouse, and we are left with the what-if question. Luckily they left this memento for us to revisit again and again.
Cochise Velvet Mountain: An Anthology 1970-1972 Esoteric Records ECLEC22388
This double disc set is a remastered comprehensive anthology of British rock band Cochise, containing all three albums: Cochise (1970), Swallow Tales (1971), and So Far (1972). Cochise were a musical melting-pot, but were not fully appreciated at the time. This release also rounds up a couple of non-album singles to present the complete recorded output of this legendary lost band, which consisted of pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole, guitarist Mick Grabham, the rhythm section of Rick Wills (bass) and Willie Wilson (drums) (formerly of Jokers Wild, which had recently lost its lead guitarist David Gilmour to Pink Floyd), and lead vocalist Stewart Brown, ex-frontman of Bluesology (led by Reg Dwight before he became Elton John). The band were a force to be reckoned with, and with songwriters Grabham, Cole and Stewart, their debut album was a masterpiece of Anglicised country rock, with Cole's steel guitar in prominence and Brown's powerful voice leading the charge. It features a rocked-up cover of Paul Simon's 59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin' Groovy) as well as a reinterpretation of the traditional Black is the Colour, while the band go wild on their version of Buddy Holly's Love's Made a Fool of You. Folk-like passages are intermingled with rock-outs, while Grabham and Cole's guitar work soars and blends.
Swallow Tales saw a line-up change when vocalist Brown left and was replaced by John Gilbert. Self-produced, the album featured such guests as Steve Marriott, who adds his unique vocals to the superb That's Why I Sing the Blues, Caleb Quaye, and Nigel Ollson. The styles vary from the country rock of Grabham's Jed Collder and the funky hoedown of Down Country Girls, dominated by Cole's steel guitar, to the more esoteric, Cole-written epic Axiom of Maria. There is also his unique interpretation of O Come All Ye Faithful, which sounds an odd choice, but fits perfectly with the style and mood of Swallow Tales. The album manages the difficult task of integrating a new vocalist into an established sound whilst being stronger and more diverse than its well-received precursor.
By the closing chapter of Cochise's career, 1972's So Far, Willie Wilson had decamped to Quiver, with his place at the drum stool taken by talented drummer Roy Otemro, who brought a funky groove to opener Cajun Girl. Dave Elliott (sometime associate of Tim Hardin) contributed Blind Love, Rick Wills made his songwriting debut with So Many Times, and the only contribution by Cole was the lavishly orchestrated (by Robert Kirby) Thunder in the Crib. With a new approach to songwriting and a wider, broader sound, this represents the evolution of the Cochise sound, and is a fantastic third album. However, as is so often the case, management issues got in the way, and the band collapsed. The former members' careers were eventually more successful than their parent band ever was.
Henry Lowther Band Child Song Esoteric ECLEC2393
Released in 1970 on the Deram label, this is an album from trumpeter Henry Lowther, who had already worked with John Dankworth, Manfred Mann, Jack Bruce and John Mayall, and performed at Woodstock with the Keef Hartley Band. The album gathers together the cream of British jazz at the time, with Lowther joined by Tony Roberts on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Mike McNaught providing the electric piano vibe, Daryl Runswick on bass guitar and double bass, and Mike Travis on percussion and drums. They give Lowther the space to let his trumpet do the talking.
This is very much an English jazz album, moving away from the American sound, though undoubtedly influenced by Miles Davis (who wasn't?) Lowther takes Davis' improvisational approach but does something different with it, while the sympathetic and understated accompaniment adds to the album's original and organic feel. On Plaything he is joined by Jimmy Jewel on tenor sax and Neil Slavin on percussion, which fills out the sound, with some impressive percussion breaks between the musical interplay of the brass. This is an example of English jazz at its finest.
John Lees' Barclay James Harvest North Esoteric Antenna EANTCD1023
The first new studio album from John Lees' BJH since 1999's Nexus, this is a superb continuation of the BJH sound, and a triumphant musical return for one of the most underrated bands on the progressive scene. Drawing on the group's strong history, and featuring an ensemble of Craig Fletcher (bass, vocals), Jez Smith (keys, vocals), and Kevin Whitehead (drums, vocals) supporting the unique voice and guitar work of John Lees, the nine tracks here are superb. From the wonderful opening If You Were Here Now via the funky driving rocker The Real Deal to the superbly atmospheric Ancient Waves, inspired by the Iraq war (showcasing emotive guitar work from Lees and direct lyrics), this is BJH at its finest. However, the true highlight of the album, the title track, draws (as the name suggests) on the band's Northern roots. It brings the landscape back to anyone from the North, particularly if you are far away from home. It is accompanied by the finale At the End of the Day, with words from a poem by Northern poet Ammon Wrigley. These two tracks close a magnificent album with grace, beauty and pathos. This is superb musical work from the band, and John Lees is sounding as great as ever.
Jump The Black Pilgrim www.jumprock.co.uk
In a twenty-three year career Jump have become well-known for their electric live shows, with no two gigs alike. Their observant, politically-charged lyrics pick apart the hypocrisies and struggles of modern life. On this, their twelfth album, following on from the excellent Beachcomber, they showcase a new pared-back style. Instead of their twin electric guitar assault there are mandolins, and accordions rather than the usual keyboard arsenal, with Alice Atkinson's brilliant violin playing on Your Madness and The Ballad of the Queen of the Morning. Don't mistake this acoustic instrumentation for mellowing, however. The music-making is as intense as ever, with stunning interplay between Steve Hayes' and 'Ronnie' Rundle's guitars, whilst John Dexter Jones has never sounded better, the intimate setting serving to highlight his lyrical wit and sharpness. If the traditional description of folk music is the songs of the people, then with Jones' insightful lyrics at their most prescient, this truly is folk music, and (as someone once said) we're all in this together.
Karda Estra Mondo Profondo/New Worlds Believers Roast BR011
The new album from Richard Wileman's Karda Estra, Mondo Profondo, is joined on CD by 2011's New Worlds, only ever available before as a download.
Influenced by soundtracks, Mondo Profondo can best be described as little musical snapshots for films that haven't yet been made. The jazzy I Am Legend-inspired On Those Cloudy Days, with superb collaboration between Wileman, the violin of guest Helen Dearnley and Zoe Josey's superb sax, leads nicely into Part 1 of the Mondo Profondo Suite. Here Richard is joined by the wonderful keyboardist Matt Baber from Sanguine Hum, Amy Hedges on clarinet and Mike Ostime on trumpet. The second part of the suite features Phil Mercy, Kavus Torabi and Stu Rowe giving it some on guitar, whilst Hedge's clarinet expands on the musical themes. The ensemble's improvisation throughout is taut.
New Worlds from 2011 is, as the title hints, based around smaller tracks in an almost magazine-style format. These are imaginary soundtracks to science fiction stories, again featuring Kavus Torabi, Bridget Wishart on synths, and many others. Chronoclasm 1 sounds as if it could accompany an old Hammer or Amicus horror, and Fifty Below Zero is like something from a seventies sci-fi film.
Wileman is skilled in painting pictures with music. Along with his collaborators, he has created tracks of otherworldly beauty and intrigue, from films which are playing in some alternative universe.
Manning The Root, the Leaf & The Bone Festival Music 201310
Fourteenth album in, and Guy Manning (interviewed below) is showing no signs of slowing down. Based on the idea of a village changing over time and losing its identity, this album has a very wide scope. The Forge has a fantastic pounding, percussive beat and highly acute lyrics, while Decon (struction) Blues deplores the folly of getting rid of things just because they are old. Manning's folkier side comes to the fore on the closing trio of The Huntsman and The Poacher, the sinister Mists of Morning Calling to the Day and the reflectively beautiful Amongst the Sleepers. The core Manning line-up includes Kris Hudson-Lee, whose bass is sometimes funky, sometimes understated, providing the bedrock of every track, Julie King on vocals, harmonising nicely with Manning, the great guitar-playing of David Million and Rick Henry's percussion. The group are joined by special guests Marek Arnold, whose sax work really comes across on The Forge, whilst Chloe Herrington from Knifeworld adds her bassoon to the elegiac Autumn Song. This is a far more folk rock-tinged album than some of Manning's earlier work. The album is a joy from start to finish, while the mini-suite that is the title track is particularly beautiful. Guy Manning is a fantastic songwriter and instrumentalist. On this album he has surrounded himself with some of the best musicians around, who all contribute to making the record indispensable. Not only do you hear something new each time you listen, the lyrics also make you think about the recent pace of change.
Interview with Guy Manning
We started our chat by talking about last year's Akoustik project.
It was a half album. It was done for a number of reasons: I was tired and didn't want to do a full studio album, then Kev [Currie, occasional Manning collaborator] suggested we record the songs in the Akoustik format. I thought it'd be simple but it took longer to do. The Akoustik idea is to revisit the back catalogue and play things that the full electric band don't play. It's nice to play things a different way and reduce them down to simple songs.
As Manning have an Elektrik and Akoustik line-up, was it a case of purely recording the Akoustik set?
Well, we looked at doing that. We also looked at the current (Elektrik) set, found a few we'd never done in that format, and breathed some new life into older songs. The Root is the fourteenth album, and there's a lot of music in my back catalogue. Even I go back to some of the older stuff and forget I've written it! The (Akoustik) album was a nice thing to do in a lazy year. We were playing live a lot, so it gave us something to promote, gave me a challenge to revisit older songs, and also gave us a well earned break from writing a whole new set of songs.
Listening to the Akoustik album, it sounds like it was recorded live.
Not quite. I put restrictions on it, such as no overdubs, the only overdubbing was when I didn't get the parts in time so I had to do some backing vocals. So it wasn't quite unplugged, but it was a very simple set up. People like the Akoustik shows, there's less pressure, less equipment and the band can have more of a laugh.
The Root, the Leaf & The Bone came out in October and has been receiving some excellent reviews. Guy talked me through the album and the process.
I started the writing last December and demoed it over Christmas, played it to the band in January, and we recorded it in May/June, finishing in July ready for the Autumn release. With the final mixing, I struggle-- it's like crawling though the desert until you collapse in a heap. After a while you lose objectivity. I'm relying on the rest of the band to tell me how it sounds.
What is the album's overall concept?
When I started writing in November, I wanted to look at the way things have changed over the years and focus on a fictitious village, starting around the fifteenth century and on into the twentieth century.
I asked him to comment on some of the album tracks.
The Forge is a romantic vision of craftsmanship from the blacksmith to the air conditioned factory, looking at the loss of the craftsman's skills over the years. Old School borrows heavily from the film If..., a fantasy of one kid wanting to take over. Palace of Delights: if you go into the Dales and visit little village shops, it's like a time machine, with coronation mugs and other things from the 1950s. You shut the door and go back to your youth. Amongst the Sleepers is about contemplating people you've known whilst walking through the graveyard. It brings the album to a close and gives it flow.
Are you influenced by your location?
You write what you feel comfortable with-- there's a northern grit and romanticism in the lyrics. I can't imagine working in London. It's a long way to go, and if we play in London it's like a day out. I write about things that interest me and I empathise with the characters. I like living where I am but I tend to write what I want to write, rather than by location.
Many thanks to Guy Manning for his time. The interview was conducted by James Turner.
The Tangent Le Sacre Du Travail L'Etagere Du Travail www.thetangent.org
Multi-instrumentalist Andy Tillison, interviewed below, has reconfigured the Tangent line-up as a studio project for this duo of releases.
The main treat is the new studio album proper Le Sacre Du Travail, which translates as 'The Rite of Work.' Influenced strongly by Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, this is a progressive symphony for modern times, with Tillison thinking big about a subject that doesn't necessarily fascinate other songwriters: the life of the working man or woman, with the commute, the traffic jams, and the regular pattern. There are contributions from Theo Travis on flute, sax and clarinet, while Jonas Reingold returns to the Tangent fold on bass, his interplay with special guest drummer Gavin Harrison one of the many musical highpoints on the album. Jakko Jakszyk adds his unique guitar-playing and vocals, David Longden supports Tillison on vocals, and Guy Manning's unique guitar sound enlivens a couple of tracks. The music itself is written as a complete symphony: the opening Coming Up On The Hour (Overture) with its alarm clock and narration from Rikard Sjoblom leads into the longest track, the twenty-two minute Morning Journey and Arrival. Its musical dexterity and wryly observant, sympathetic lyrics pull you in, and its counterpart, the nineteen-minute Afternoon Malaise, includes the brilliant Steve Wright in the Afternoon—the irony being, of course, that an album of this depth, complexity and emotional resonance would never be played on the show. Then there is the dazzling keyboard work on A Voyage Through the Rush Hour, leading to the conclusion of the symphony, Evening TV, with its cyclical ending. This is one of the finest examples of a rock sinfonia that I have ever heard.
The release also has a companion album, L'Etagere Du Travail ('The Shelf of Work'), a ten-track supplementary disc of outtakes and alternate mixes available only from the Tangent's website. This contains the demo version of Steve Wright in the Afternoon, a jazz-influenced piano duet interpretation of A Voyage Through the Rush Hour, and a blinding live performance of fan favourite The Canterbury Sequence. The remixed version of Dansant Dans Paris is superb, with its fantastic sax. Then there is the aggressive funk of Monsanto, a protest song in the truest sense, while Lost in Ledston is quieter and more reflective, pondering the conflicting tributes that attended the death of Thatcher. It captures a North/South divide which has never gone away. The Iron Crows, based on an excerpt from Debussy's La Mer, features excellent guitar work from Luke Machin, and was almost a test piece for the work on the main album: it was inspired by the film of the same name, about the lives of Bangladeshi ship breakers. Finally, another stand-out is Supper's Off, a where-did-it-all-go-wrong lament by a representative of the generation who hoped they could change the world for the better, taking aim at corporate greed and creative stagnation, among other targets.
Interview with Andy Tillison
So, the new album's being well received!
What I've read is encouraging--we've had good reviews across the board. I've got no sales figures for the new album yet, as the record label we're on (Inside Out) is no longer a cottage industry and is now part of Universal, so we have to go through the accounts department. But I do know that we've been shifting more from the house than we have for any previous release.
How did you find the time to complete Le Sacre whilst working full time as a lecturer?
I had to juggle time, and use weekends and evenings. The timing of the release was critical as well: the album came out over the summer, so I could do interviews and promote it whilst I was off college.
What about L'Étagère, the companion piece?
It didn't take shape till we'd experienced how the main album was sounding. The material (on L'Étagère) is the same stuff, part of the same writing sessions. It had to be separate because it's not as finished, and it doesn't include the same musicians. It's basically a set of high quality demos. I'd rather release it as is than have it as the next album. There may be some live shows planned for next year for the album.
There's lots of talented collaborators on this album, how did that come about?
I got a phone call from Jakko (Jakszyk) offering to help out, and he said "let's get Gavin (Harrison) in as a session drummer." He's a world-famous drummer and not a permanent member of the Tangent. We've never attempted to become a commercial band--this is all about the music.
Listening to the album, it is clear that there are more influences than just prog.
I'm a huge prog fan, but my embrace is a lot wider --certain acts like Yes/ELP/Genesis didn't go far enough out, but from the lighter end of Renaissance to VDGG and Henry Cow, I like the whole lot. My preference lay at the heavier end, like Yes's Relayer or Tales from Topographic Oceans, but I drew the line at Sky. My Mum played a lot of classical music when I was between four and twelve, and I worked my way through Stravinsky, Beethoven, and Bach, and then jazz--Glen Miller, and so on. In terms of the music that was around when I was ten, the Beatles etc. weren't switching me on. Then I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 and was bamboozled by it. The music was amazing--Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, and the Blue Danube Waltz. Then I heard Yes when I was 12, and thought "This is it-- this is someone making the music I want to hear."
Lots of people judge prog by records heard in the 1970's.
The continued rise of old bands has created a bit of a problem for the bands who re-opened the door and all the mags who came into being on the rebirth of prog. People get obsessed with its history, and the argument goes round. Progressive never did mean a manifesto--it changed, it did progress, and then we had punk, back to the three-and-half-minute songs, then evolution like Blondie, Television, and Japan. Change is the nature of all music. Like Radiohead's 2+2=5 or Paranoid Android, true progressive music takes you from one point to another. I was once asked, who is the most important person in prog rock? It's Neil Armstrong. Up to that point the only music about outer space was Telstar. Landing on the moon in 1969 needed better music --King Crimson's Court of the Crimson King, Bowie's Space Oddity--all this amazing stuff.
And would you make a piece about the moon landings?
It may well happen…
Many thanks to Andy Tillison for his time. The interview was conducted by James Turner. More information can be found at www.thetangent.org
Shineback Rise up Forgotten Bad Elephant Music BEM001
This debut release on Bad Elephant Music is the first project from Tinyfish frontman Simon Godfrey (interviewed below) since his diagnosis with tinnitus, which temporarily halted the band's career.
With lyrics from Robert Ramsay, this is a step away from the musical sound that Tinyfish were previously known for. It includes musical contributions from Matt Stevens (Fierce and the Dead), Dec Burke, Henry Rogers (Touchstone) and vocalist Danny Claire. Drawing on a diverse range of genres and sounds, this album tells the story of Dora, who videos her dreams and is taken on a journey into her own past, uncovering dark secrets.
Musically, the genres flip from the driving electro rock of Is This The Dream? to the synth-driven Bedlam Days, which mixes techno with garage and some excellent keyboard sounds. Godfrey draws on his own insomnia throughout the album, particularly on the moody, piano-driven Faultlines. The title track is ten minutes-plus of musical brilliance, and brings the final part of the album to an epic close as the crescendo builds and builds in intensity.
This is a superb debut for a talented musician stepping out from the comfort zone of Tinyfish and the music he is known for, on a new record label to boot. The fact that Godfrey succeeds so well is testament to his ability, vision, and choice of collaborators.
Interview with Simon Godfrey
This is your first solo project. How did the record come about as a Shineback release rather than a Tinyfish project, and how long had you been working on it?
The project first came together as the result of two events. The first was in the form of an observation made by Tinyfish drummer Leon Camfield. He and I had been recording demos over at my studio and I'd mentioned to him that I'd been writing some tunes for the next Tinyfish album. When I played them to him, he said that although he liked them, they reminded him very strongly of our previous album The Big Red Spark. That set off warning bells in my head, and so I decided that I would make my next project an attempt at turning the creative page, and try something different.
The second event was being diagnosed with tinnitus. I thought that if there was a chance that my hearing could deteriorate to the point where I could no longer effectively make music, I wanted to draw upon every influence I had absorbed over the years and produce something totally honest. Happily Shineback is the result of those two events.
You've got a lot of talented guest musicians joining you on the album as well. Did you always intend it to be a big project?
Not really. Matt Stevens (The Fierce And The Dead), Dec Burke (Brave New Sky, Dec Burke Band, Darwin's Radio, Frost), Hen Rogers (Touchstone, DeeExpus, Final Conflict, Nerve Toy Trio), Hywell Bennet (Dec Burke Band), and Andy Ditchfield (DeeExpus) are all mates whom I also love as musicians. The only exception to this was vocalist Danny Claire (Ion Blue, Michael Angelo) whom I've never met in person--I just fell deeply in love with the sound of her voice and had to have her on the album.
Up until this record, I've always been a bit of a coward when it comes to collaborating, as it can be a creative gamble. I think there still would have been a Shineback album without their input but after hearing the finished product, I thank my lucky stars it didn't turn out that way.
It's the first release on Bad Elephant Music. How did that relationship come about, and how do you feel about your album being the first release on a new record label?
My relationship with Bad Elephant Music and particularly with its boss David Elliott is an incredibly important one. David wanted to form a new label to (in his words) give something back for all the fun and joy he's had over the years listening to great bands. I was looking for a way to make an album free from the constrains of genre or commercial pressure. David's credo at BEM is that after all the costs of production have been paid off, the label and the artist split the profits 50/50. Apart from Daniel Miller at Mute records, I don't know of another label that's ever done anything remotely like that before.
As a result of this, I'm incredibly proud that the Shineback record carries the code BEM001. My hope and belief is that it will be the first of many.
What's the album about, and how did you develop the themes throughout the record?
Trying to explain what albums are about is incredibly hard because out of context, they all sound utterly bonkers. The basic story centres around a woman called Dora who takes a video camera into her dreams. She encounters some pretty strange people and places while there, and in the process, the walls between the sleeping and the waking world begin to break down.
Many of the characters in the story are from my childhood. I have suffered most of my life from insomnia and as a boy I used to invent people, places and worlds to keep my mind amused before finally falling asleep. The song Here Come The Envoys is a good example of that. When I was young, I always believed that dreams were organised much like the real world, and so I invented these creatures called the Envoys who effectively 'ran' the dreams you experienced. Another idea was the Memory House, where I believed all the people you had forgotten about had to go and stay until you remembered them again. In the song Crush Culture Dora visits a huge warehouse full of all those she has forgotten, who are forced to dance constantly in this hellish club until they are set free by the simple act of her remembering them.
There's a variety of musical styles and sounds on the album. Was there always the intention to mix shorter songs, musical interludes and an epic finale?
You know, as much as I love big, sprawling songs like Television's Marquee Moon or Tull's Thick As A Brick, I've never been much good at writing them myself. It could be that I'm part of the ADD generation and thanks to a lifetime of computer games and TV, I now possess the attention span of a goldfish, but sometimes I think that simply focusing upon one style is bad for the soul. I've always loved Brian Eno's Music For Films as it is both soothing and strangely restless. You can enjoy the detail contained in each track, but if you step back, you can see the thing as an entire piece. I don't know if he intended it to be that way, but that influenced me a great deal and I kind of took that as a blueprint for how the Shineback album could be structured.
Will there be any more Tinyfish projects, or do you see Shineback as your main musical identity in future?
Ah, Tinyfish. I love the guys in the band to bits and feel very comfortable around them, both as musicians and mates. The issue here is that both I and Tinyfish drummer Leon Camfield do this music lark for a living, and so we need to work to put food on the table. Tinyfish have always been open about the fact that we are a band of friends, not a professional outfit. As such, all our profits go into a central fund to pay for future projects and not into our own pockets. This means that I don't earn a penny from the group, so I have to find work that pays elsewhere. I certainly hope that there will be another Tinyfish album in the future, because I'd hate to think we would never play together again.
You've played within the progressive rock genre for a long time, and prog seems to be coming back into fashion again. What are your thoughts on the current wave of contemporary prog, and where do you see yourself fitting in?
The first thing you have to remember about a genre you love is to ignore fashion. However cool prog is right now, it will be uncool again at some point in the future. I figure it's best just to enjoy the music for what it is.
As for the current scene, I love it, but then again I never stopped loving it from the moment I bought Three Sides Live as a spotty teenager. As to where I fit in, my tinnitus could rob me of my means to work at any moment, so I'm making damn sure there is nowhere in the sonic garden I can't go. Genres started out as really useful signposts to help you navigate your way through that garden, but over the years people have endeavoured to turn them into fences to stop others getting in, and, worse still, to keep the more adventurous among us from getting out.
Musically, and lyrically, who have been your biggest influences?
Musically, well, XTC, Boards Of Canada and Genesis spring immediately to mind, as they all play what my bother Jem and I refer to as 'Godfrey' chords, i.e. unusual and inventive harmonic structures. You could also say the same for Stevie Wonder, but no-one ever thinks of him being prog, do they? Lyrically, I have to say that my writing partner Robert Ramsay is a huge influence. He was the one who really brought home to me the fact that a good lyric can add a whole new level of emotional meaning to a song. After all, would Wish You Were Here be as powerful without that amazing opening verse? A lyric like that can bring complete strangers together in a way few other things can.
Where would you like to go next with Shineback?
I would like to take Shineback on a tour of the world's greatest curry houses.
As you suffer from tinnitus, will you be playing Rise Up Forgotten live, or are you now firmly a studio-based musician?
I doubt if Shineback will play live. I still enjoy playing in front of an audience and I miss playing with Tinyfish terribly, as that was a fun band to be a part of on stage.
As a smaller artist on a new independent label, how important is social media to you to get your music across to a new audience?
Incredibly important. I live my life and music daily through social media and since I don't play live, such avenues of communication between myself and the people who listen to what I do take on added meaning. Being a musician in the twenty-first century is no longer about handing down a record every so often from your ivory tower in the hope that it will be a hit. A modern musician needs to reach out and make a connection with everybody they encounter. In this day and age, most individuals can smell hype a mile away, so why not just be honest instead?
The prog scene in the UK is quite a small one and quite friendly, with bands guesting on each other's records and tours, and a small circuit of venues and magazines. Has the intimacy of the scene helped you make contacts and attract guest musicians, and to what extent do you think the scene would be damaged if it expanded beyond its current size?
I think to some extent we are very lucky, as this island is a pretty small and self-contained place. As such it promotes communication and collaboration because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. We as prog musicians and fans have greatly benefited from this arrangement. It is something unique to the UK.
As for whether the scene would be damaged if it expanded beyond its current size: let me attempt an answer by telling you about an experience I once had while visiting my father. My dad is a keen cricketer and so I agreed to meet him at his local club. We were in the club bar having a drink and I noticed through the window that the adjacent bowls club had closed. I asked him what had happened and he said that they had all grown old and died. So I asked why there hadn't been any new members to carry it on. He said the bowls club didn't want to let any new members in, since they liked it as it was. Any genre needs change and new blood. I'd hate for the day to come when someone says "Ooh, do you remember prog, what happened to it?" only to have the reply come back, "They wouldn't let anything new in, so it died."
Many thanks to Simon Godfrey for his time. The interview was conducted by James Turner.
Chris T-T Good Songs in Small Rooms: Live 2005-2011
Contemporary Brighton-based troubador Chris T-T is a talented, intelligent and observant songwriter who first appeared on my radar with the release of his brilliant Capital album in 2008. Although he has not hit the mainstream (yet), he has a big following.
This self-released collection of twenty live tracks comes from a variety of performances, and mixes solo material with some band shows. His career to date is represented here, with tracks like the brilliant Old Men (from Capital), while his protest album 9 Red Songs is featured heavily, with M1 Song, Preaching to the Converted, and The Huntsman Comes A-Marchin' (scathing about the Countryside Alliance), as well as the new protest song Bored of the War. Chris never gives less than his all in these performances, channeling his beliefs, anger and cynicism into his music, and the audience hangs on his every word.
The Fierce and the Dead Spooky Action Bad Elephant Music
The second full-length album from instrumental rock quartet the Fierce and the Dead (following up last year's excellent On VHS EP) is the second major release this year from Bad Elephant Music, and is about as different from label mates Shineback as can be imagined. Matt Stevens (one of the best looping guitarists around), Steve Cleaton (guitars), Kev Feazey on bass, and drummer Stuart Marshall are individually talented and creative musicians, and when they combine into the Fierce and the Dead they form a groove monster.
The eleven new tracks that make up this album all lead to unexpected places: there is the opening funk of Part 4, and the intensity of the single Ark, underpinned by a huge bass riff and powerful percussion, whilst the twin guitars trade riffs of an almost industrial nature. The fantastic Let's Start a Cult has stabs of brass and an epic finish, while Intermission 3 is more thoughtful, almost ambient, but with an undercurrent of tension. Kev Feazey plays his bass like a third guitar, whilst the guitar sparring of Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton is exemplary. Stuart Marshall's drums tie everything together excellently. This is experimental, this is exciting, this is everything that is good about instrumental rock. An absolute triumph.
Becky Mills Dandelion Splid Records
Out in November, this is the first post-Waking the Witch album from the fantastic Becky Mills. Having seen Waking the Witch several times, I was sad when the girls split up. However, Mills has since worked with Ashley Hutchings (who guests on this album) and Ken Nicol, and also supported Fairport Convention. Now she releases this new record.
Her voice is as beautifully clear and distinctive as ever, her guitar playing is wonderful, and her self-penned tracks are superbly engaging. There is the opening banjo stomp of Amy Sharpe, the poetic lyrics of I Saw the Sun Today, and the hauntingly sad Pretty Young Things, inspired by the prostitutes whom Mills used to see on the streets of Huddersfield. Her vocals really shine on the beautifully evocative Leeds Lullaby. Live favourite The Princess and the Pea gets a reworking, whilst Family is a gorgeous song with an amazing brass section that tugs at Northern heartstrings. Mills is a sublime performer with a unique voice and has crafted an album of poignancy and brilliance. --James R. Turner