Saturday, 6 March 2021

Brave The Storm whilst your Apart.

 John Holden & Friends

The matter we are least prepared for is death. Ours, someone we love how do you unbundle watching someone die and then deal without them. Modern life, state sponsored, is about avoiding death putting it off endlessly ... without considering whether the life we have the 'epilogue age' is of value. 

Some find energy in knowing they are close to death, that life is especially precious that time is limited and when we have that sense of hurtling towards it a special kind of energy is produced.

This CD/project is intended to raise awareness of death from a particular condition but I suspect the personalities involved entire lives are propelled by the fragility of life of looking into the abyss of death and loss and setting it aside and climbing more 'mountains'. That seems to me a good reason why we would skip around our end. 

This CD is a simple thing."I am not beaten I have more to say."

When I put this collection 'on' I expected something like a sampler of one of those prog rock magazines. I was astonished.

This music is full of old fashioned passion, it exudes grace, heart felt sentiment, Tiger Moth Tales offering might be from a musical, "Love Not The Same" from "The Other Joe Payne." is reminiscent of Michael Bubble or George Michaels more sophisticated offerings. Mystery, a Band which holds a special place in my heart, because Benoit David graced them with his presence on a wonderful album ten years ago. Now Jean Pageau does the same on the utterly 'big', "How Do You Feel." Glorious big drum sound and lots of echo on the guitar which seers upwards through the heavens but its still tight and in control.

Mark Atkinson's "Brave The Storm," is one of a million responses to the human experiment, we are living through. He is right we must hold on and come through and when we do there must be CHANGE or the destruction we have wrought will be for nothing. But to weep and feel the pain of millions of children, of men and woman who have lost their livelihoods and business's, of the tens of millions waiting for life to come back normal so they can crawl out of the poverty they have been thrown into; to have a sound track for our emotions to all that, is RIGHT. 

Oliver's (Oliver Day) contribution is charming subtle with those declining picked lines. He shows us life is about a restless search onward imbedded with humour. 

Epilogue : Fly begins with some serious halting phrases from a piano before the voice comes in. One of many voices on thi CD that are a million miles away from that hairy rock tenor thing but controlled expressive thoughtful. "I need the strength to be alone." "to turn the darkness into light." "I will chose Life." The playing and arrangement on this piece are exquisite, the strings entirely right and the brass fits inside the music perfectly. 

But to return to the architect at the centre of this we circle around the next project from John Holden. John really is a wolf in sheeps clothing. Steady, unassuming, northern (whats with Lancashire and Cheshire et al Anderson, Emerson and Holden) and yet his offering here is PERFECTLY judged and oozes musical skill. 

After a big sound thundering around (death calling?) a rotating phrase, a beautiful female voice floats in, there is something vaguely Japanese in that repeating riff before it quietens down and then it returns again. "I am drawing circles in the sand with you." a beautiful image and the voice communicate the moment perfectly as well as a sense of determination to plough on when the  darkness threatens to overwhelm. Then something musically extra ordinary happens a kind of bowed synthesiser or guitar improvises over that haunting Japanese vibe and its utterly BEAUTIFUL.   

The haunting guitar comes back after a section with a nice loose drum accompaniment and then plays out. Utterly charming. 

This is much more than a charity CD its a delightful collection of highly sympathetic music which emphasises grace, charm, beauty and the deft application of original and skilled talent.  

That it begins with "Northern Lights" by "Renaissance" is entirely right and fantastic fun with that high ascending Bass Figure but its the body of this project which I will return to again and again. Buy it anyway its GREAT!   




Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Gryphon - Get Out of My Father's Car.

The Spirit of the Bonzo Dog Do Dah Band Lives On...and others

Get Out of My Father's Car

After a furious intro, we settle into a wild zany piece which puts me in mind of Zappa's 'Mothers of Invention.' It's the wind instruments, in particular, that echo those offbeat sounds and shapes. But every so often the wistful elegance of Brian's Horning or is that Crumming emerge. 

However, its the madcap vocal which takes me back to those Mothers Albums of the late '60s. Great Fun.

A Bit of Music By Me

Is entirely different a beautiful piece of flute playing leads into some very musical acoustic guitar and lovely sympathetic shuffling drums. This is where the Bonzo Dog influence comes in one minute a piece is mad, offbeat with tons of unorthodoxy and the next minute respectful beautiful.  As it moves on there is a little of that furious third album contrapuntal play but it is juxtaposed with humour and more bubbling from Brian. What always strikes me about Gryphon is there is so music in what they do and we finish with a real 'Lark Ascending' feel, exquisitely beautiful dense interesting music.

Percy the Defective Perspective Detective

This is classic Gryphon Riffing, punctuating with gone in the blink of eye aires. That Mother's feel returns with the staccato wind playing. 

Christina's Song    

This could almost be a 'Fairport' intro plaintive flute and violin. When the vocal from Clare comes in it reminds me of Simon Nicols folk voice of 1971 vaguely nasally. Charming 'old sounding.' The piece picks up the pace with a few minutes of piano riffing before falling away with some atypical flute. 

Suite For '68

Vaudeville, this really is in Viv Stanshall territory for me. Full of humour and curiosities. I could imagine this as a soundtrack for a silent movie. Once again it shows that special quality of Gryphon the ability to mix the unorthodox with straightforward charm as the melody is played out on an exotic wind before those rapid-fire staccato elements return. Some lovely organ stabs as it winds its way along to a conclusion which still manages to surprise.

The Brief History of A Bassoon

Brian's amusing whimsical vocal style dominates. Constantly making fun of styles, accents. The central message it offers is offbeat humorous.   

Forth Sahara 

Unsurprisingly we move to an entirely different mood elegiac gorgeous violin playing, other forces join in respectful more linear rather than the jumpy juxtaposition of the 'other' style of the project. If some of the work is offbeat zany this is beautiful in a more traditional way and by contrast, it shows up more easily. Toward the end, new accents, musical interruptions but the traditional approach dominates to the end.      

Krum Dancing

Fast-paced contrapuntal work then those classic Elizabethan accents and references (early G). I could imagine this as part of the soundtrack of "Shakespeare In Love." Everyone is playing the tune the wind (delightful). Up next I am reminded of Jethro Tull circa"Benefit" era. The intro is a dark moody bass line and more traditional playing and finally a fanfare some ROCK guitar followed by duelling. 

A Stranger Kiss. 

Another mood change, communicating plaintive regret. Everyone quiet respectful and then Clare enters. I love her vocal on this and it's a beautiful tune. This highlights Gryphon's ability to give a fabulous tune the 'G' treatment in a highly sympathetic way. 

Norman Wisdom from the Swamp

Off we go with a rolling tin pan alley piano introduction but then it begins to surprise in its seriousness as if the arranger has put the humour on a leash always rolling it back in. Lovely soundscapes emerge before the vocal narrative emerges which itself is a revelation a kind of communal call and response across at least three singers and after that, we play out with the musical ideas of the fast-paced intro, a hilarious famous quote and then we are done.

A Parting Shot

A beautiful ending a gorgeous heartfelt vocal with superb accompaniment. The vocal by Dave Oberle reminds me of Peggy in Fairport. The instrumental interludes completely on point. I am sure I heard Dave sing at the Stables in 2019 and somehow this piece has an air of familiarity to it, whatever it is a profoundly moving and satisfying end to a project that continues to see Gryphon growing, changing and evolving. 


Most bands would not dare to move around styles idioms and approaches as much as Gryphon for fear of losing a part of their audience for part of the time. But this project which is more disparate and focused (if that's possible) reminds me if we put humour next to beauty, the linear progression against the staccato, the irreverent with the very serious all win out.  


Monday, 8 February 2021

Downes Braide Association - Halcyon Hymns

 A Paean To A Lost Life

21 years in to the new century, almost fifty years since "Close To The Edge." is it not ridiculous to expect new triumphs, envelopes to be genuinely pushed, great new dawns?

And yet "Skyscraper Souls," Downes Braide Association previous work emerged out of my lap top in amongst the sky scrapers of Abu Dhabi and did just that. The title track offered four beautiful impressions welded together into a glorious whole and took you on a journey and finally  opened out into a beautiful elegiac finale. I really did feel we had some thing greater than the past and principally because it spoke to me then, now. 

So would Christopher and Geoffrey follow their suite length rockophonic with a double CD exploring the mysteries of life?  Breath easy this music is progress but in its soundscapes, its performances and not merely ..longer.

Love Among The Ruins. 

The spoken narrative sets the scene we are going to go backwards and find the myths and heroes that were the back cloth of the memories expressed here and gave those memories their colour, their patination. 

Musically we have an uplifting strumming guitar, then some lesliefied keyboard sounds and someone plucks a string or two on the Bass. Oh Yes. 

Then a nagging arpeggio aiding the statuesque triumphant march we have begun and Mr Braide comes sailing in over the top. This music is in no hurry, it's not edgy frenetic, their is a lovely slowed down section where he is waiting for his lover and she storms in with the most beautiful sky reaching guitar solo full of passion and emotion, one sheds a tear or two. To find love in amongst all this dysfunction what hope!

The nagging riff the crooning guitar and the voice teasing the musical forces around it, beautiful. However as it fades away one realises in one sense it is deceptively simple.

King of the Sunset

A curious percussive entry and then the scene setting of the physical beauty of the location. "Vast open sky, pink clouds hang heavily sun lays low..." Once established it celebrates echoes of the past, asks questions and Mr Braide is joined by what I thought to begin with was Marc Almond but its David Langdon, the latter's Baritone flirting with Chris's Tenor. Geoff's repeating chords here, using something which sounds like a violin, are gorgeous. This is the right side of mawkishness and in comes that man on the banjo great great emotional guitar solo not macho but full of passion. The piece eases back and then a massive surprise it sounds like Jimmy Page brought back from the "Battle of Evermore" a lovely Mandolin interlude and gorgeous strings from G.D. Now this is what I call music which progress's. Some one winds up a Who like smash on the guitar and again and then lots of exquisite screaming on an electric and then stop. Brilliant.

Your Heart Will Find The Way 

Typical DBA intro big open voice and then a great piece of funk emerges I dance to this across the Beach, up the Hillside over the mountains of Paradise. "Your heart will find away." Lovely rapid fire chorus's from the ladies. "Over the mountains and over the waves... then onwards great dancing bass and then the Guitarist, give the man a Oscar. "A Person of Guitar Greatness, colour unknown." Some lovely things shoot from one side of the mix to the other, a harpsichord tinkle and then we just get down and party. Someone hits the top of the kit (Tom Toms?) and then we slow down again and the ghost of Anthony Phillips on something which might be a 12 string. Wow DBA do early Genesis.

Holding the Heavens 

Starts where the previous song finished off lovely pastoral sub Genesis intro that Leslie Keyboard and then another switch to anthem mode. "Now we are here holding the heavens," indeed. I love Chris's nuanced performance here anthemic and big but also capable of controlling the upward flourishes. Again propelled by some nice rotating guitar. "So where will you go from here when your holding the heavens?" A good question. Again the return of that Genesis string feel before we ride through the march. Love the narrative as it emerges over the top giving context and then finally a gorgeous worldless chorus. 


Less introspective more fun almost Manhattan Transfer with the block unison vocal and that Bass gets plucked in the grand tradition of random but not random at all. The ideas are repeated and then our guitarist sweeps in and ascends leaving the densely packed harmonies to play out. 

Warm Summer Sun.

Begins full of pathos, On this piece Chris reminds me of Colin Blunstone. Lovely late Beach Boys call and response from his lead vocal. Then Marc comes in. I have never really appreciated how good a singer he is this is a great duet. This is a piece which also emphasis's another of Geoff's great attributes he is a wonderful orchestrator without having to offer any distractions. The consummate team player. 


A simple ballad and when the chorus comes in I am reminded of Reg Dwight. Indeed the guitar inserts are a dead ringer and then a narrative coda before a nice traditional guitar solo pushed by vocal flourishes. The ending giving it that extra gravitas and sense of band width and takes it away from being someone else song.   

Hymn To Darkness 

This piece is invested in so much emotion and even as I write I know its the perfect narrative for what the world is living through. "We'll sing a hymn to darkness and put the past to sleep." Beautiful Man Tran chorus which Chris works over. This is sophisticated late night music which very quickly fades, the message to me is this is unfinished business which indeed it is. 

She'll be Riding Horses.

After the tentative questioning of the previous piece this is much more certain, up beat, celebratory lovely echoing vocal. Great repetition with all kinds of forces used to give it extra layers finishing with a tiny acoustic guitar cadenza.

Late Summer

"The sun descends with such cruel ease." "Why can't it last oh what a day don't let it end, promise you won't forget." A paean to love of place, of person, of experiences. Enchanting.      


It opens with a summarising account of blessed summer and then musically shuffles, acoustic guitar playful spreading itself over the beat. Chris evoking the memory of all and wanting more, more than three score year and ten. Is that wise?

With the narrator constantly returning in one sense this is a Pop Tone Poem. The music languid drifting through time as the narrators, both spoken and sung, tell the story. The grown man sings about childhood distant lost. "We love we love, we love this dirty old ground and our hearts were racing." Musically the strummed string instrument begins to sound like a Balalaika/Bouzouki (ED apparently the Guitarist has played an Irish  Bouzouki in the past). The piece becomes hypnotic almost a raga. The narration now digs deep, articulating and observing the quintessential English Summer and all it yields but one senses that within this is the remembrance of something more personal of someone who made these memories possible and will not be forgotten. I like "Remembrance" because this is not an attempt to offer a big prog rock track to end but more a dreamlike tone poem which mines a more subtle but equally powerful experience. 

For me though the central musical/vocal message of this wonderful work is "Hymn to Darkness." It begins with a plaintive cry to banish the past heads into a highly sophisticated late night feel which epitomises/celebrates all the wonderful qualities of civilisation of society. its sophisticated, exciting and aspirational but it withers, fades like so much sand passing through our fingers a distant memory of a past.  





Monday, 3 August 2020

Fragile - Purveyors of a Golden Age

Golden States - Fragile 

Fragile is a Band in the tradition of Yes. They know the language, how to form the words, construct the sentences, organise the paragraphs tell the story. What happens if you start with a blank sheet of paper do you create something new or merely a facsimile, a copy?                       

When Are Wars Won

It begins with a brief swift acoustic unison run from guitar and piano, great production, lots of energy and excitement. There is a light playfulness to the music, in the blink of an eye it switches to electric and the drums swing propelling the music. Then a switch back to a wonderful acoustic guitar shuffle vaguely Spanish and the keys hint at the next melody and bring it right down, contemplative. 

I recognise the language, the methodology the construction so is it a neat copy? No, and for several reasons. 

The drummer is his own man I am reminded more of Mike Hough of Flash than either Bill or Alan. Lots of rolls, marching, top kit but no attempt to self consciously drop beats or play the melody. When the battle sequence starts deep into the piece you can here some Gates riffs but it's more self-disciplined and those marching drums suit it perfectly. 

There is no Bass Guitarist the Keyboard player Max Hunt wisely plays the Bass more in a Mike Rutherford style. The odd forward phrase, the support to the battle sequence but the base of the music is more often taken by the Keys. This decision avoids pastiche with a vengeance. 

What of the top line. Oliver for me like Billy is actually playing better than his hero. He has a great sound, the projection of the guitar in the music is firm concise but has a real attack. But like Steve, he has something else a broad palette and when he plays acoustic or pedal steel it's for the piece not "equipment utilisation." The Guitar is mixed a la Eddie on Fragile. 

Keyboards are the poisoned chalice of the genre. Fripp never used them and whenever bands wanted to deny their past they were barely present. Musicians must feel they are wedded to not only a genre but a time. However, there is a timeless non-generic element in all of this which was criminally underused by all of them in the seventies the Grand Piano. Oliver Wakeman has proved with John Holden that rhapsodic Piano playing of the themes within a well-disciplined format has ageless charm and Max applies the same approach. As for the electric work, the sound isn't spell bounding unique but as Chris used to say about Geoff Max listens to the music and plays for the piece. But there is also audacity and cheek in the playing he throws in curved balls and draws you in you cannot guess where he goes next unlike a certain other Wakeman who has been offering stock responses for years. 

The other big plus which Max has real skill with is in defining the emotional fabric of the music. The soundscapes and atmospherics are superb creating moments of wonder and magic in a way that no other genre ever has. 

The real terror for an arrogant and opinionated Yes fan like myself is the Vocals. Jon and Chris took the 5th Dimension and Association and layered it into the most demanding arrangements imaginable and no one came close to it. They were the perfect foil for each other and had a unique British Sound. Unless you simply want to pay tribute to that and end up in the shadow of the past you have to do something different particularly with new music, that was my real fear with this project. 

The answer is they knock it out of the park. The trump card of this project is to give the Lead Vocals to Claire Hamill. The moment she enters you know you have a unique and singular voice speaking for the music which is absolutely a thing of its own bravo! 

As regards the lyrics once again Flash rather than Yes come to mind. Uplifting positive but the voice is another instrument and the precise meaning of the lyrics is less important than the mood they create. The lyrics ask questions, invoke exotic images and just occasionally offer down to earth humanistic concerns metaphorically. 

So what of the other six pieces?

Blessed By The Sun

It begins with great atmospherics from Max, before Claire offers a gorgeous hypnotic contralto and then moves into one of those complicated chorus structures where all the forces join in. A little more Bass on this piece even some wah wah but nothing derivative. Nice changes of pace and slightly phased vocals and throughout the drummer sticks to his plan, rolls, keeping the beat for Oliver and one or two statements to lift it through an ascending section a little like Wurm but not wurm. The synthesiser gets a ride out not to short not too long and then a sprint a nice surprise to end with.

Five Senses

Bursts into life with a lovely melodious musical male voice, some lovely dancing synthesiser and Claire flirting around it. Wow, it's Clive Bailey great vocals and as the piece goes nuclear he glides over the top. There is so much music he could have sung on, Patricks "I" for one. Then we move onto the language of Yes Claire and Clive chant "Starlight' and "Universe." One element I really enjoy is that the vocals are inside the music and often leave the instrumentalists to do their thing. That is reminiscent of the methodology of "The Yes Album."  
Heavens Care

An echo of a 90125 intro "It Can Happen" then some great in the tradition of Association Unison/Multi tracked vocals from Clive with counterpoint from Claire. Max thwacks the Bass for an ascending run a la late period "alright squire." Then a lovely acoustic piano over a shuffle. This is light airy uplifting music and reminds one of Yes, TAAW and Magnification. Very musical but far better execution and stronger more sophisticated musical ideas than the aforementioned and the vocals are so self-disciplined, nothing wearing or fatiguing. Clive and Claire are mustard on this and of course, it all sounds like something else about the seventies Yes...English. This is a lovely slow burner with repeated listens and like the best Progressive Rock, it gets better and better.   

Open Space

The Acoustic Piece. Say no more lyrical full of pathos grace and beauty. The man from Devon would approve. I have always loved these miniatures on those seventies L.P.'s. There is one at the beginning of Side 2 of Foxtrot. Every album should have had one short.

Time to Dream

"Reaching a beauty deep inside" isn't that what we all did with the third movement of Close To The Edge. This is a wonderful inversion. If all of the project was this close it would have not worked for me. But this is exquisite and of course, what follows is quite different actually the super-fast quote puts me in mind of "That That Is" but fully realised. Then a wonderful lopping beat some solid organ sounds and great robust spindly guitar but the stamp of authority comes with Clive's "Time to Dream." He, they own this, it's them not them being someone else, and to finish.

Old Worlds and Kingdoms

By this stage, they are a Band with their own personality. A dancing rhythm lot of syncopation everyone is playing the melody and everyone is harmonising. The bass pops up, then the guitar, a drum roll and then Claire. This is entirely different from Siberian Khatrue but works in the same way. The instruments rush on chasing each other down. A fantastic never before heard guitar sound from Oliver, drums prodding, then a lovely out of time support from the keys before a brief solo and then quiet thoughtfulness a gorgeous mandoline sound, I am almost in tears its so beautiful and moving and then a surging church organ sound this is so good full of emotion, mystery, its provocative, searching and then Claire returns a roll on the drums and the music recapitulates but there is more. It twists it turns high energy runs but all this convolution never undermines or confuses. It always enlarges the singular coordinated experience of the piece.

Then one final hectic run as the music beckons us to change before its too late. Somehow that desperate rush to the end of the piece with questions abounding feels so appropriate particular these last counterpoint lines. "I can hear the wind of change blowing at my window pane." The CD was completed in February how prophetic. 

So we know the language but this lives in its own space and has its own thrilling separate unique voice. 


Friday, 21 February 2020

Rise and Fall - Making Deeper Connections

John Holden 

"Capture Light" was one of those projects which were so complete so perfectly executed that like "Close To The Edge" when you played it, it deserved unadulterated attention. Each listen was an event I felt as if I needed to "dress up" to experience it. It was a summit moment.

So how do you follow the perfectly executed, bring in an orchestra, jam more and write longer pieces? Fans of what was called progressive music in 1972 have experienced those choices from their bands down the years. 

John has the advantage of not being a precocious mid-twenties artist under pressure; instead, he can call on a lifetime of reflection and experience for the answer.

"Leap of Faith" begins with a nagging repeating piano figure evoking, mystery, questing all underpinned with a yearning emotionalism. You are drawn in immediately but to where? After this insistent beginning, there is no prog-rock transition instead there is beautiful maneuvering and mature musical repositioning and we receive our answer. The lyrical narrative reveals all, it is a quest of the spirit. 

As the piece evolves and develops I am put in mind of Ken Follett's Kingsbridge saga a tale of religiosity spanning centuries into which Noblemen Monks, Abbotts, and ordinary folk are woven but the central metaphor like this piece is the Cathedral and the Monks. I am not listening to clever arrangements, a tasteful production, guest artists I am taking an emotional journey through revelation, hitting the highs before ending where such a journey has to end. “We can all fly until we hit the ground" The music is exquisitely judged always supporting the lyrical narrative solo's add color and take it higher and higher but they are never "breaks". Everything serves the journey.

"Rise and Fall" John and Libby's lyrics are so well realized you cannot avoid having a view about them. So I understand the sentiment of this piece perfectly but do not agree with the third person! But that only goes to show how much is being communicated here. The vocal from Jean Pageau is "heartfelt" and a special mention for the wonderful sound capture of the guitar solo toward the end, a million miles from those L.A. guitar solos with their hackneyed balls to the wall attitude bravo!

"The Golden Thread" is the lyrical anthesis of "Rise and Fall." Every time I hear this song I well up. It's a beautiful tune, the piano-vocal entry is delicate and a charming dance. This is about love as graciousness as timelessness as everlasting. The string arrangements are gorgeous the performances perfectly judged, it's not maudlin or overwrought because it retains its dance and lightness of touch and the trick of bringing the two voices together works an absolute treat. As Chris Squire sang. "It's a perfect love song." or is it a song reflecting perfect love? So this is prog rock?

"Dark Arts" When I realized Nick D"Virgilio was to drum on this piece I was intrigued would this be Mystery Nick or BBT Nick. The former is energized open and inside the music the latter because the drums are often recorded "last" can sound as if it has rather self consciously been added into an existing musical narrative. So what would we get?  

Dark Arts is a departure for John. It is much more Mystery, robust ballsy and vaguely gothic and Nick knocks it out of the park.  Musically it works perfectly the programming reminds me of "Kashmir" with its exotic eastern figures, the bass from B. Sherwood has that "playing the other notes" feel. The guitar is hard-hitting but given just the right amount of space. It's a more musical less hysterical "Machine Messiah." or "Achilles Last Stand." This hard-hitting ballsy music plays out against a vocal narrative that reflects the anger and disconnection felt by many that they are being 'taken' by the political establishment and those that support it. The music and the lyrics are entirely Sympatico. The perception that self-serving forces drive the world in which we live is perfectly communicated. 

It shows John moving out of the comfort zone of "Capture Light' and adding to his repertoire of communication one should not underestimate such an achievement my bands from the seventies created some howlers trying to do the same thing.  

"Heretic" Of all the pieces on the project none communicate their subject matter better. The introduction communicates the alien, forbidding, uncomfortable, unknown terror of Jihadi's and extremism which is beyond the West's comprehension. But before we run for the hills a song of hope emerges that we (mankind) can regain our love of all that is righteous and worthy of retaining. The vocal is achingly prayerfully sombre and then switches to the chorus of hope utterly gorgeous. Back and forth the angst and release play out. "But there was a time when we lived here and loved here we sang our song" such hope!!!  The playing here is perfectly apposite the strings, guitar, piano runs all entirely on point supporting the narrative. At 5.43 the song evokes its subject with perfect stylistic ingenuity your out there in the sand-colored desert towns and villages with the unforgiving sun beating down on you. By 7.41 the instrumental narrative is the theme of hope everyone chimes in some acoustic guitar and then the final vocal a delicate statement of the hope theme. Outstanding everything I could want in a piece of music as I move through my sixties but with my desire for challenges to make journeys intact! 

In a sense, because John Holden is framed within the prog-rock universe it would seem entirely natural for me to wonder how it works compared to other prog-rock rather than Miles Davis, Sibelius or Holly Cole. I went back to some prog rock to see why John's music is such a joy and in one sense for me, it's not prog rock at all. It has none of that ersatz, ponderous mid-paced repetition that I listened to. Choruses and motifs don't beat you to death, there is none of that oh well we all have to be playing, one of the advantages of not being a band. Most importantly the music breathes and dances it communicates joy, grace, and charm. Oddly enough considering there is no "band" there is no wall of noise where instruments stream alongside each other without any real contrapuntal activity or connection instead it sounds like the players are really listening to each other working off each other. This witness's John's great skill as the director and pilot of the elements he is using. He has organized all the forces so that they are more than the sum of their parts and there is no fatigue whatsoever no sub Iron Butterfly intros with endless repeating staccato riffs. So this is prog rock?       

"After the Storm" is this projects "No Mans Land" slightly atypical in style, more relaxed a gentle folk feel to it and lovely guitar strumming this reminds me of some of Mark Knopfler's work, it's not a million miles from some of Chris Leslie's modern compositions with Fairport. Lovely dribbling guitar figures contribute to an intelligent organic arrangement. It flows beautifully propelled naturally by unfussy momentum from the 'batterie' who is this guy? He is showing the most empathy I have ever heard. His swing is more relaxed and he doesn't sound like he is hitting the skins as self-consciously hard as with one of his other projects. When the keyboard solo comes in its highly complementary and like so much of the lead work fresh-sounding neither too short nor too long exactly the right length. It's the kind of song that could go on forever the perfect car song. 

"Ancestors and Satellites" begins with Koto like sound reverberating 'out there.' Before a lovely questing vocal which moves into a 'coming home' chorus. It stops for some exquisite string sounds. I really love the accompaniment of the shuffling drums to this piece, which effortlessly propels a wonderful keyboard solo. It’s official I love Nick as much with John as Mystery.  But we keep coming back to that chorus. "Light the fire words are spoken incantations stories..." and then step higher through superb vocals and 'important' piano accompaniment. What really strikes me over and over again as this piece crescendo is how perfectly judged the arrangements are. They are not histrionic, fatiguing they offer EXACTLY what is needed. From 5.08 the music steps down and the vocal reflects before the final assault. Nick gives us a brief calling to arms at 6.28, elegant long notes on the guitar and then we climb urged on by perfectly judged propulsion from the drums but the musical expansion doesn't come from the pace it's from the width, we have arrived all is before us. The perfect ending.

So John has found a way to ascend beyond perfection to fly higher, by being more emotionally communicative. Each piece tells us more takes us further and opens us to journeys that are more profound, sadder, joyous well more everything. Thank you, John and Libby thank you, everybody and a special mention to Nick D'virgilio who for whatever reason offers as satisfying performance as I have heard of his recorded performances.


Saturday, 28 September 2019

New Frontier - Three of a Perfect Pair.

The Steve Howe Trio

When the Trio toured in the UK in September 2013 it was clear the band were on the move. Their performance of Heart of Sunrise showed the band playing with more focus and attack and not afraid to pick up the more strident vibe of Steve's parent band rather than the shuffle employed previously. But what was most exciting is they played three new pieces which reflected a greater determination to move in on a more Progressive Rock feel and they showed the Trio coming into its own, developing its own musical personality. The titles of the pieces they played do not appear on this CD but I recognise the musical ideas and how they have blossomed. 


A nagging insistent organ phrase opens proceedings and the first thing I noted was the superb way Dylan has captured Ross. Its a warm and full "old fashioned" organ sound rather than the thinner modern electronic facsimile that is now de rigour. The piece relies on the repeating nagging phrase, Dylan keeps time in that beautiful understated way which is his trademark and Steve weaves in and out improvising the melody with a Gibson Acoustic but also switches to electric to achieve some beautiful dream like "backward" statements, which remind me of Jan Ackerman and therefore Peter. Overall though the piece is the perfect opener building excitement in a very tight musical framework, a great atmospheric start. 

Left To Chance.

Opens up the mood, there are still intense moments of close unison work, playing off each  other but then the music becomes more expansive with Steve playing more colourful solo's. At the five minute mark the music stops and restarts and for some reason the jaunty playfulness takes me back to 1971 and Traffic's excursions into Jazz on their greatest achievement Barcleycorn. Its Ross's funky playing and Steve big thick guitar phrases that provide the echo. 

Fair Weather Friend 

This feels more sophisticated, the playing more nuanced and the tune more involved as they grove against each other. The Co writer Mr William Bruford ! That explains it. Some wonderful drumming from Dylan shuffling the rolls forward without getting over excited or distracting. The main melody is lovely and Mr Howe obliges on the Fender bass. These little additions give the music more bandwidth. Then a signature rotation on guitar and we are finished. 


Sounds like a piece that Kenny Burrell might have written and would have fitted in perfectly with the vibe of their first CD. It comes across as a musical statement about influences. 

Gilded Splinter 

Is Back to the Future the wonderful intense opening unison playing which echoes in my mind as something they played live in 2013. After the intro it opens out and Steve begins playing some very elegant guitar work, then gone in the blink of an eye unison playing before more adventures. This again highlights how well integrated the Band have become offering a new sense of musical purpose and focus. With its "Classical Gas" construction is one of the highlights. 


Echoes of Traffic again, shuffling Capaldi, nice sweet guitar licks and warm and punching Hammond Organ.This piece like the first reminds me of the excellent capture of Ross's instrument. Its particularly noticeable when there is a brief point when Ross is exposed before Dylan comes in and Steve has a lovely monologue. 

Missing Link

Returns to that intensity I remember from the live shows. Steve plays an insistent rotating figure before the piece becomes more open. Indeed my sense when listening all of the music is it is very closely mic'd and the instruments sound "in the room"(that may not be the case as I am not a technician but thats how it feels, intimate). By the time we reach the seventh offering the band have built a very clear musical identity with their own signature sound. This I am sure is in part due to them writing all the material, to coin a phrase, they own it. 

Outer Terrain

Feels entirely Steve Howe Trio and yet some of the guitar work might suggest this could transfer to Yes and given Steve's dominate role here that shows how compartmentalised this music is. In reality, if it fits anywhere within the Lexicon of Yes it would be very early, the Unison Uplifting Rotating Riffs and Keys Studio with the clever and constantly evolving solo offerings. It is frankly the only time I am reminded of the association.  

Western Sun. 

In terms of colour with Fender Bass and Gibson Acoustic Western Sun is the most atmospheric and colourful track and Dylan is very sophisticated and on the money as he rides out the quiet parts and propels others. Ross on Organ and Steve on the Gibson Acoustic works really well as a combination. Nice change of pace on this piece which enables Ross to feature and build the music. A false ending gives the chance for the build to be repeated this is great music making, they are digging in and so am I. Voila!

The Changing Same. 

The final number written with Bill has a blues feel to it, lovely lyrical guitar playing, a sort of latter day take on the area they mined with "He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother." As the music progress's you can hear more and more of Bill's tune which is very stately and grown up. Great atmospheric way to end the programme. 

After the excitement of 2013 I am pleased to say my patience has been rewarded and I can see this CD being a regular play in the years to come, part of my core listening experience. 

Thanks to Steve, Ross and Dylan for what I am sure is for them a labour of love. Nice appropriate cover based on Dylan's photos.   




Friday, 11 January 2019

Chris Squire Tribute - A conspiracy of love.

I was sat directly in front of Billy Sherwood on the opening night of their UK in 2016. I remember vividly his reaction to his first public performance of "The Fish." It was a clear demonstration of his love for the big man.

This collection though is not overwhelmed by sentiment it is a very interesting insight into Squire's contribution to Yes outside of the famous "pieces" which have been their staple 'go to' selection for the majority of the years since 1972. As Billy is intimately acquainted with the music he also has chosen to offer a fresh narrative almost a musical commentary on the pieces in question. For me the project divides between :-

1) The first seven pieces concluding with Parallels.

2) The final five which are a mixture of extras and obligations with a further piece which fits the mould of the first seven. Track by Track then.

On the Silent Wings of Freedom  

The performance is built around Billy's Bass Guitar which storms, caress's and then drives the music to a conclusion. Billy repositions the Bass firmly in the era of 71/72. High grinding churning sounds but 'clean' a strong presence full of power but never bloated something which Chris was concerned about when they were recording the piece in 1978. There is nothing stogy about Billy's playing it flies. Jay offers a powerful orthodoxy on the drums supporting the Lead Bass work and the guitar is also highly sympathetic seemingly finding more of the top line melody. This evokes more accurately the energised spirituality of the piece which brings me to the most interesting additions, Jon Davison and Patrick Moraz. Jon like the guitar work captures the mystical energised pulse of the piece and in the middle syncopated section and wordless vocal, retains gravitas better than the original recording. Pat shows precisely why no other keyboard player is better at Yes doing Jazz. His insertions early on add enormously to the atmosphere of the music and his solo at the play out is unsurprisingly far more serious than the original and surprisingly in no way trade mark Moraz. Its not a screeching bending solo much more naturally rhythmic. A great start. 

Hold Out your Hand 

The two pieces which start Chris's solo album are great lost Yes performances. So offering something meaningful was a real challenge but in Steve Hogarth's vocal delivery and Larry Fasts Keys one has the answer. Steve makes you listen carefully to the piece again because of that curious way in which he intones a lyric and Larry's Key's are not only special in themselves but are mixed much higher giving the music a broader feel. Oddly the Cathedral Organ intro is not missed. Billy offers a huge dose of love at the end with the Close to The Edge quote that finished Safe and became part of the Close To The Edge played on the three albums tour. 

As someone who thoroughly enjoys classical and easy listening music I cannot relate to the angst in Prog Rock circles when non originals play or sing. Onward is a standard and it is perfectly suited to any good singer taking the piece and making it their own and Annie does just that. She reminds us this isn't a good piece of prog rock its a hugely communicative piece of music period and very moving. In the years ahead I can see all sorts of artists covering this and I am sure it would bring a smile to his face. 

South Side of the Sky  

When I noted the inclusion of this piece from the "Big Three" I was initially disappointed this has gone from being much neglected to much played live. Most of the live performances in the cold light of day don't match the revival from 2004. However I was pleasantly surprised because after a very precise rendition of the opening rock section David Sancious steps in and gives an object lesson in how to grab a piece of music by the scruff of the neck and own it. You could argue he saves it from being 'by the numbers' but that doesn't matter its great and reminds us of how Yes could sound when they mix the orthodox with the off the wall without going off into orbit and losing the plot. Nice rock vocal from Mr Sherwood. 

The Fish

This is an endlessly fascinating piece of music which his Bassness played around with for years so its entirely right that Billy should do the same. I love Sonya Christina's opening  vocal quote before Billy gets down to the Bass Guitar played a la 71/72 before a wonderful return of the vocal section. Billy has less three dimensional majesty in his playing than Chris but he has more playfulness in the shapes and figures. He sounds a little like the naughty boy playing with his favourite toy and bending it into odd but really clever shapes. 

The More We Live - Let Go 

This was a great left field choice. It is a kind of new yes old yes that they could have become but wisely Billy avoided given their anchored tribal fan base but its great to hear Steve Porcaro move the Yes field just a little toward the centre with a really nice guitar contribution from Steve Hackett. This is a great addition and far better than yet more revivals from 71/72. 


Unlike 'Hold Out Your Hand' the organ intro sounds trivial compared to the magnificent intro played by Rick in Vevey but once thats out the way we get the characteristic Bass Sounds of 71/72 applied to this '77 piece, great simpatico playing from the Guitar leaving more space and less toppy than the original but there is also another interesting narrative here. We get to listen to Davison/Sherwood in a controlled setting on a Yes  Song.

Billy's warmer voice shadows Jon's sweeter but narrow voice perfectly. I would not spill my coffee on the floor or have palpitations if these guys sang on new Yes music with this outcome. Technically the Unison Singing has a richer broader feel than the original. Please note that is not a comment about performance but production. 

Summary to date.

For me this piece ends the interesting part of the CD before we move into obligations and extras. 

Owner and Roundabout 

This could have had me heading for the move on button but for two things.

1) The completely bonkers mad cap performances from Nikki and Dweezil on Owner which remind us rock and roll should be fun. I just love Nikki's rasping energised delivery and Mr Zappa is as madly fluid and inventive as his father would have been.

2) Roundabout is a studio recording of the live arrangement with the middle section in, so its a romp and Ricks trade mark rolling keyboard inserts are wisely....just left out. Listening to I can see Chris curling his finger in the air in that curious way he developed and fans mimicked during the acapella section.

The Technical Divide and Comfortably Numb

A couple of extras from Billy's library showcasing the late sometimes very late Chris Squire. 

Don't Kill the Whale 

To be honest I hate this song and I have never understood any formation of the band playing it. However with Candice Night and Brian Auger involved its a nice exercise in a vaguely R & B feel but that Cetacei chant doesn't get any better for me.  

Billy and the players take the music entirely seriously and offer many new insights so one can form a new relationship with the familiar and also one or two surprises. 

The project also reminds us that after Relayer Chris, as he talked in interviews in 1976, wanted Yes to progress but not necessarily by making longer and longer pieces of music. Parallels, Freedom, Onward were potentially the beginning of a new kind of Yes more direct more rock and you could argue they did lead naturally to Drama and 90125 however odd that might sound.

So Billy has displayed his great affection for his mentor, the players have offered us fresh insights and in some cases improved on the originals, what more could one ask for? The fun of Owner took me by surprise but sends out an important message into the angst ridden community of Yes relax laugh a little more, we only come this way once as Chris and Peter would observe.

In listening terms if you are past Christmas and have put Swiss Choir away break out Fish Out of Water, A Day in the Life and this CD and remind yourself of an important part of Chris's legacy beyond Yes's most well known work.