Thursday 22 December 2016

Prog Magazine


So, more bad news to end the year with. Prog Magazine and it's sister titles, Classic Rock and Metal Hammer are no more! Not because they have not done well, the owners Team Rock have gone under. Prog Mag is actually doing well and in profit, but Team Rock seem to have stretched themselves by foraging into non-publishing arenas. So the magazines have suffered due to mismanagement. This happens all the time. It's the day-to-day workers who suffer. With only a few days till Christmas, many have lost their jobs. Subsequently a crowdfunding page has been set up to help those out of work and already it has raised over £60,000! That shows the level of feeling that readers of these magazines have.

In terms of Prog, I have seen it go from special issues of Classic Rock, to its own full-blown publication. It now has it's own annual awards ceremony and really has helped bring progressive music back into the mainstream and more importantly provided a platform for new bands and artists to show that prog is relevant as a musical force today. I am sure it will be back in some form soon. For now, go to the link below for the crowdfunding page and show your support by giving what you can.



Friday 9 December 2016

Greg Lake 1947 - 2016

So, we end 2016 as it began and now only a third of my first musical love affair at the age of 12, ELP exists. Greg Lake was the voice of ELP and that first groundbreaking King Crimson album. To many he will also be the bloke who had that hit back in the 70's with that "I Believe in Father Christmas" song. Going by the coverage of his death in the general media, his stature was bigger than Keith Emerson's. He even got mentioned on the ITV main 6 o'clock news! I never thought I would hear the name King Crimson on the news.

Greg had a beautifully pure, choirboy-like voice and not only a wonderful bassist but prodigous on acoustic and electric guitar. Just listen to his classical guitar playing on "The Sage" or his wah-wah guitar on "Still You Turn Me On" which gives this ballad such an unusual edge.

It's still strange to consider that his first major vocal performance was so distorted on 21st Century Schizoid Man", belying his beautiful baritone which would become such a distinctive feature of English progressive rock. But it was clear that Lake's ambitions and abilities could not be contained within King Crimson, which had huge musical personalities like Robert Fripp and Ian McDonald to contend with. Teaming up with Keith Emerson seemed like a natural progression and with Carl Palmer on board, the trio produced an amazing body of work in the remarkably short period between 1970 and 1973. Though they carried on for a number of years after the peak that was "Brain Salad Surgery", the glory days were the early 70's. Like Emerson, Lake couldn't produce a solo career to match the chemistry that the trio realised. But I think Lake looked on those halcyon days with pride and gratitude that he was involved in making such remarkable music. I remember reading an article in the 70's monthly music magazine Music Scene back in the day, where Lake interviewed around the Get Me a Ladder tour hoped that people would still be listening to ELP music in 40 or 50 years time. Well, they are and Greg Lake was such an important part of that exciting time and will be remembered by me and countless others forever!


Thursday 8 December 2016

Best of 2016 Volume 2

The second in my end of year, favourite tracks, mini-disc compilations. This one sees emphasis placed on what prog does best, the long form epic.

1. Anderson/Stolt - Invention of Knowledge. Surely, this was one of the most anticipated releases of the year. In reality it was good, but overall it was quite tentative and hopefully further collaborative work will see the duo let loose and really go for it!

2. Holon - Time to Go. The second from this wonderful album and another featuring Rhys Marsh on vocals.

3. The Breath - This Dance is Over. Ok, not an epic but the extraordinary vocals of Rioghnach Connolly deserve to be featured in anyone's best of.

4. Karmakanic - God the universe and everything else no one really cares about. An epic, significant song about being insignificant! Jonas Reingold's band have produced their best album and this 23 minute track is the centrepiece and doesn't waste a second!

5. Dream Theater - A New Beginning. The longest track on the bands, lengthy concept album with a great solo by John Petrucci.

6. Pineapple Thief - The Final Thing. Another longest album track, allowing the song to go through some beautifully fluid changes.


Thursday 24 November 2016

Best of the Year 2016 Volume 1


I am getting a bit ahead of myself. It's only November, but lots going on in December so I thought I would get this out of the way now while I have the chance. Like last year I have compiled my favourite tracks onto two 80 minute mini-discs. So here is volume 1.

1. Big Big Train - Folklore. The catchy-as-hell title track from the bands latest. After the mighty English Electric double album, could they top that? They did indeed! More folky, but they are on such a peak of songwriting and arranging, the whole album is top notch.

2. Holon - The Times they are A-Taming. My album of the year. The whole album is so strong, but this features the voice of Rhys Marsh who I admire very much.

3. Grumbling Fur - Strange the Friends. The first track from Furfour. I do love Daniel O'Sullivan's work and this and many others on this great album imbody the spirit of early Eno so much.

4. Pineapple Thief - In Exile. From the fantastic Your Wilderness album. Pineapple Thief have always been a great band, but after Bruce Soords superb solo album of last year, the momentum continues here. Also boasts the best album cover of the year. Carl Glover's found photos are so haunting and fit the mood of the album to a tee!

5. Steven Wilson - Don't Hate Me. All the touring has meant that SW only managed a mini album this year. This re-working of the Porcupine Tree track was a particular highlight with fantastic sax by Theo Travis.

6. Contact - Sensorium. Superb synth rock from Zombi's A E Paterra, very much in the style of Vangelis, circa the Blade Runner end credits.

7. Black Mountain - Space to Bakersfield. The Canadian psychedelic rock band's fourth album ends with this beautifully serene slice of floating, elegiac wistfulness. Driven by languid guitar, which owes as much to Vini Reilly as Dave Gilmour. It feels as if it should go on forever!

8. Grumbling Fur - Milky Light. Doing Eno better than Eno and featuring John Cale like viola, just to add to the Enoness!

9. Opeth - Will O The Wisp. One of the more laid back numbers from their Sorceress album. Very Tull like indeed!

10. Glass Hammer - Eucastrophe. This US band have always produced very fine retro prog, but this years Valkyrie is especially good. The coupling of this track and the following Rapturo, produces the same big, emotional impact which Afterglow achieved on Genesis's Wind and Wuthering.

11. Glass Hammer - Rapturo. See above.

12. Big Big Train - Salisbury Giant. Another prime example of Big Big Train's evocation of pastoral England.

13. Syd Arthur - Coal Mine. So-called Canterbury type band's third album, sees them producing an assured collection of succinct, catchy songs.

Next, volume 2 which includes the epics of the year!


Tuesday 8 November 2016

Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans, Steven Wilson Remix


Well, here we are at last! This nearly never happened. After the last Yes Steven Wilson remix, the news was that was to be the last. SW had been working on a remix of TFTO, but the decision was made to put it on ice for now. That left a big gap in the Yes remix series which upset fans so much as they really wanted to hear what SW could do with this album. But after much lobbying by fans in various forums, the project was completed and here we have it.

Word is the surround is pretty good, but I can personally say I love the stereo mix very much indeed. I always felt the original mix lacked dynamics and buried Squire's bass way too much. Wilson's remix has really opened up the instrumental detail and highlights the intricacies, dexterity and punch in Squire's bass playing at last. You can really hear all the metal bashing going on in The Ancient and I am particularly pleased that Howe's guitar figure at the end of The Revealing Science of God is brought to the fore, adding real impact to the end of the piece.

As usual there are lots of extras spread over the 3 CD's and Blu-ray Disc. All packaged in the customery min-vinyl sleeves. However, I feel for this release something extra special should have been done, as the CD format does not do Roger Deans spectacular artwork any favours at all. For one thing you cannot read the original album notes and lyrics at all! Maybe a super deluxe box set could have been produced, including the vinyl edition with the discs and a large format booklet. I really feel with TFTO especially, that only the 12 x 12 format does justice to the artwork which is such an integral part of this album. However, I am griping as the work that has gone into the sonics is quite spectacular and I am just glad this has been released at all!

It may be the last in the series of SW remixes, but from The Yes Album up to Relayer, we have a wonderful set of remixes, which give us such a complete insight into how original and inspired these recordings are.



Wednesday 19 October 2016

ELP - Brain Salad Surgery BMG Vinyl Edition

I have been buying a lot of vinyl recently! Why? Is this a retrograde step back in time? Has the compact disc failed? Non of the above. For some the resurgence of vinyl is a fashion thing. The latest item to have around your pad. Not to listen to, but to admire. The hipsters may have boosted the popularity for all things vinyl, but not for me. The current vogue for vinyl has piqued my interest in my ignored boxes of vinyl pushed into the garage and attic. The result of resurrecting my collection of vinyl has been threefold: a great emotional rush at re-engaging with records from my youth, at how good some of it sounds and how much I have lost over the years and having not got a clue where it all is! I suppose, just be glad I have what I have!

We can have debates about the merits of CD versus vinyl (hello Mr CBQ) but there is something about the tactile and emotional connection to a vinyl record that to be truthful CD has never really achieved. I know this is a pure nostalgia thing going back to my youth, but when I put on a record that I may not have touched or even heard in maybe 20 years, wow does that send an emotional jolt that takes me right back to memories when I first had these records.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand and Brain Salad Surgery by ELP. My, how many times has this been released over the years! Now the catalogue is with BMG and they have released CD as well as vinyl editions. So I have taken the opportunity to own this on vinyl for the first time. It is my favourite ELP album and did buy it when it was released. But, back in 1973 we were a household that did not have a record player. That was not introduced till 1975. I just had a crappy little plastic cassette player. So my listening was purely tape and mono at that! It's a pleasure to have this now on vinyl in all it's die-cut, gatefold glory. This was ELP at the height of their popularity, even the NME celebrated them by releasing excerpts of the album in a free flexi single. How things would change in a few years.

This new issue is taken from the latest remasters by Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham and sounds the best I have heard it. But it's the overall experience of the great package design, which can only be done justice in the vinyl format that makes Brain Salad Surgery one of progs golden greats.


Wednesday 21 September 2016

John Foxx - The Complete Cathedral Oceans Vinyl Box Set

The re-establishment of vinyl as a viable recording medium continues unabated. The whole analogue versus digital debate is not for here, but you cannot deny that to look at and hold something as beautiful as this 5 disc set of John Foxx's ambient series of recordings in large format is the best way to appreciate the artwork. Foxx's sumptuous photographs really come alive within the pages of this book styled package, with each of the records slipped into their own sleeves, all held within the spine of the book. It is a thing of beauty indeed, but practically it's not the easiest thing to handle. Getting the records in and out of their sleeves without touching the vinyl surface is a bit tricky. I found the best solution was to transfer each record into an anti-static sleeve, which can then be placed back into the book sections. Then to remove the record, it's just a matter of pulling out the anti-static sleeve with disc. See below for outcome!

The next point is, does ambient based music belong on vinyl? By it's very nature, ambient music is quiet and hence all the potential crackles and pops inherent in vinyl are more discernible. To an extent I agree, but the reproduction here of John Foxx's multilayered choral vocals and sweeping, mournful synths is expansive, deep and warm as I suppose only analogue can realise. Unlike Foxx's other music such as "Metamatic" which is urban, industrial, cold and artificial, the music here is pastoral, human and very English; the soundtrack to overgrown gardens on a summers evening, musically statuesque and refined and not really ambient at all. It deserves to be heard at volume, in order to completely fill the room with the washes of almost hymn like joy.

So, this set is indeed a thing of visual and aural beauty without a doubt. The packaging may be a bit impractical, but it's heartening to see art take precedence over the practicalities.