He’s got all the best tunes, you know.

It has often been said that the Devil has all the best tunes. There is also supposed to be something diabolic about certain types of music and there is the interval known as diabolus in musica (the Devil in Music) a.k.a the tritone, an interval known for dissonance.

Diabolic and Satanic imagery has long been associated with heavy metal and Goth has always been as much about decaying ruins, vampires and death as it has about music.

Jimmy Page was, at one time, deeply interested in Aleister Crowley, the so-called Wickedest Man Alive and founder of the occult religion of Thelema (motto – Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law) and the late Graham Bond was so obsesed with Crowley that he formed a band called Holy Magick and believed himself to be Crowley’s son.

Earlier still, it was said that Robert Johnson bacame a blues guitar phenomenon because of a pact with the Devil, signed at midnight, down at the crossroads. This idea later spawned a film about the same subject, culminating in a guitar battle between the Devil’s guitar hero, played by Steve Vai and the hero of the film, Eugene (guitar work by Ry Cooder).

So, music has a long tradition of dealing in the Black Arts and this playlist covers all the bases from posession and exorcism, through witchcraft, occult ceremonies and the Undead athrough to Hell and Damnation.

As you can see, we have 11 tracks. The task here is to decide which one will be saved from the Pit and which one will be cast into the Outer Dark forever.

The track listing is:

Charlie Daniels Band – The Devil Went Down To Georgia
Siousxie and the Banshees – Spellbound
David Byrne and Brian Eno – The Jezebel Spirit
Dr John – Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
Black Widow – Come To The Sabbat
Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead
Cassandra Wilson – Hellhound On My Trail
John Martyn – I’d Rather Be The Devil
King Crimson – The Devil’s Triangle
The Clash – Straight To Hell
AC/DC – Highway To Hell

So, it is a case of Farewell, Voyager

It was reported this week that NASA’s venerable Voyager I probe has finally left the Solar System and is heading off out into the cold lonely reaches of interstellar space.

Launched in 1977, Voyager has gone further and faster than any other man-made object and will continue to send data back to Earth until its plutonium energy supply runs out in a few decades time.

So, I decided to put together a playlist that is in the spirit of space, the vast unknown, although not all the tracks are actually directly about space travel.

To keep it fun, the playlist is anonymous and therefore, ‘Spill points are available for those of you who can identify what is what.

The Crimson-Yes Axis

This post was inspired by those Pete Frame “Rock Family Trees” diagrams that I’ve always found so engrossing and which are a great way to waste an afternoon.

The idea for this particular one came from me listening to the first, eponymous album by the band UK, which featured Bill Bruford, John Wetton, Eddie Jobson and Alan Holdsworth, with Bruford and Wetton being the rhythm section that powered the great “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic”, “Starless And Bible Black” and “Red” incarnation of King Crimson. The presence of Eddie Jobson reminded me that he did some violin overdubs for the KC live album from this period, “USA”.

Then I wandered mentally from UK and USA to Asia, another band that featured John Wetton and which also had Steve Howe from Yes, the band where Bill Bruford started out. You can see where this leads, can’t you?

So, I thought I’d put together a playlist that had one rule; the music must feature at least one member of either Yes or King Crimson playing under a different banner.

The musicians I have used are Greg Lake (KC’s original bassist/ELP), Ian McDonald and Michael Giles(also from the original KC line-up/McDonald and Giles), Bill Bruford (Yes and KC/Bruford/AWBH), John Wetton (KC/Asia – also played live with Roxy Music), Robert Fripp (KC – obviously/David Bowie/Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins), Mel Collins (KC/Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins), Steve Howe, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman (all Yes/AWBH), Vangelis (Yes/Aphrodite’s Child), Boz Burrell (KC/Bad Company and Eddie Jobson (KC in the studio/Roxy Music)

So, the track listing is;

Emerson, Lake and Palmer – The Barbarian
McDonald and Giles – Flight Of The Ibis
Asia – Only Time Will Tell
Aphrodite’s Child – The Four Horsemen
Roxy Music – Out Of The Blue
David Bowie – “Heroes”
Bill Bruford – Beelzebub
John Wetton – New Star Rising
Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins – The Other Man
Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe – Order Of The Universe
Bad Company – Bad Company

There are lots of other connections that you can find if you are an obsessive about such things. If you wanted to branch out, you could link Yes to UK to Soft Machine and to Gong via Bill Bruford and Alan Holdsworth (because Holdsworth played with UK, the Softs and Gong). You can also link King Crimson to Gong via Theo Travis, who has played live with Robert Fripp. There are also links via Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn, Tony Levin and Adrian Belew. You can even link King Crimson to Hall and Oates via Fripp and his work on Darryl Hall’s first solo album, “Sacred Songs”. It goes on and on. I am sure that people can find other links.

Incidentally, the only reason I don’t have a UK track here is that for some reason I don’t understand, my PC was unable to open the CD.

Yes at the Colston Hall 16th November 2011

So, when was the last time I saw Yes? Well, it was in 1975 actually, at the Reading Festival when they were one of the biggest acts on the planet.

Since then, they have shed and regained members in a kind of revolving door policy, released a slew of increasingly less proggy and less artistically and commercially successful albums, had acrimonious splits, been Buggled, re-united, split and re-united again and have still managed to retain a hardcore following.

Since 2008, they have a new singer, Benoît David, who has played in a Yes tribute act called Close To The Edge and in a Canadian prog band called Mystery, and are once again playing with Geoff Downes on keyboards. They also have a new album, Fly from Here, which I shall admit to not having heard. Apart from these two, the current Yes line-up includes original bassist Chris Squire and classic period members Steve Howe and Alan White.

Tonight it was really all about the classic songs, plus some stuff from the new album.

I’d bought the tickets for this gig was back in January and it seemed for a while like it would never come around but tonight we were ensconced in our seats before the band appeared to the inevitable classical intro music and went straight into the classic Yours Is No Disgrace.

The band sound good, there are plenty of opportunities for Steve Howe to display his fretboard skills and they are in the groove immediately. They follow this with a track I don’t recognise and work through a set that gets in some things from the new album, which sound fine, seeing as I don’t know them at all, and enough classics to keep the punters happy. Benoît David has the right vocal range for the songs and has enough stage presence to not be overshadowed by Steve Howe and Chris Squire, who are definitely the dominant forces in the band. Geoff Downes has the musical skills but is definitely the hired help and Alan White is marooned behind a kit that seems to have pretty much everything you could imagine hitting with a stick.

For me the highlights are a magisterial And You and I, which leaves me quite moist-eyed and the long-time crowd pleaser Heart Of The Sunrise which is the closest Yes ever got to the menacing off-kilter dynamics of King Crimson. The band close on an absolute high with Starship Trooper, with an almost Spinal Tap jam at the end, with Geoff Downes on a keytar and a really rocking encore of Roundabout. I’d have loved a second encore of America, but the guys are getting on a bit now and probably wanted their cocoa and slippers.

A long time ago Charles Shaar Murray wrote a one word review of Yes. The word was “Maybe”. I think that the answer now is a definite “Yes”.

They have still got what it takes.

Why I’m not buying any of those Pink Floyd box sets

I see there’s a shock-and-awe advertising campaign for the reissues of the classic 70s albums by Pink Floyd. Prominent position in HMV, staff wearing t-shirts bearing Storm Thorgenson’s iconic artwork, the works. And I’m not buying.

Yes, an album like Dark Side of the Moon is all-time classic which has stood the test of time and has finally emerged from the long shadow cast by of Punk to take its rightful place in the British Rock Canon. But let’s face it, if you really cared about the album, you’d already have it on CD, right?

September has been one of the best months for new progressive rock releases I can remember for a long, long time. In the space of two weeks there have been new releases by Dream Theater, Opeth, Anathema, Matt Stevens, Mastodon, Steve Hackett and Steve Wilson. Amazingly two of those releases even got four-star reviews in The Guardian! That’s one hell of a lot of new music, and you can have all of it for the price of just one of the ridiculously overpriced “Immersion editions” that you’ll probably only ever listen to the once.

I realise the target market for these things is the middle-aged bloke who stopped caring about new music when he got married and had kids decades ago, and now in the throes of his mid-life crisis is desperately trying to reconnect with his long lost youth. He’s probably never even heard of Opeth. His loss.

Don’t be that guy. Don’t buy the box sets. Pink Floyd really don’t need your money. And EMI certainly don’t deserve it.

Stolen Earth – Tuscany Sun

Stolen Earth are the band that emerged from the ashes of Breathing Space, they York-based progressive rock band who split at the beginning of the year. With four members of the final lineup of Breathing Space on board, including lead singer Heidi Widdop, it’s inevitable that the new band would have something of the spirit of Breathing Space, and this song, written by bassist Paul Teasdale, has a very strong echo of Breathing Space’s distinctive sound. Though there’s definitely a hint of latter-day Marillion in there somewhere as well.

Stolen Earth will make their live debut at the Cambridge Rock Festival on 6th of August, sharing a bill with Panic Room, Chantel McGregor, Larry Miller and headliners The Quireboys.

Mostly Autumn, Salisbury, 1st April 2011

Photo © Howard Rankin

On Friday, April 1st, York’s finest rock band Mostly Autumn played a special show in aid of the charity Pilgrim Bandits.  The guest of honour was Ben Parkinson, a Mostly Autumn fan critically injured while serving in Afghanistan. The title track of “Go Well Diamond Heart” is dedicated to his story. Whatever your feeling on the rights and wrongs of the war in Afghanistan, you can’t fault his indomitable spirit in coping with something far more traumatic that most of us will ever face.  “A man with a mountain on his back”, as the lyrics say.

I had a gut feeling this was going to be a very special event, and the band did not let us down.

The band chose a very interesting way to open the show. Instead of rolling an intro tape they began with keyboard player Iain Jennings alone on stage kicking off the looping rhythm track that heralds the instrumental “Distant Train”. The rest of the band came on stage one by one, first Anne-Marie on flute, then Bryan on guitar, until Olivia Sparnenn made her dramatic entrance as the band segued into “Answer the Question”.

What we witnessed over the next two and a half hours was a band absolutely on fire. Olivia Sparnenn has grown in self-confidence over the past year, and has now stamped her own personality on things. She’s taken older songs such as “Evergreen” or “Fading Colours” and made them hers, and really shines on the newer material written for her voice. Bryan Josh was on equally superb form on guitar, his solos alternately soaring and shredding with a style that transcends his obvious influences. It’s a very different Mostly Autumn to the band of a year ago, but on the strengths of performances like this, they’ve every bit as good as they were when fronted by Heather Findlay. All seven members make a significant contribution to Mostly Autumn’s multi-layered and hugely melodic sound. Iain Jennings’ cinematic washes of keyboards and Anne-Marie’s flute, keys and vocal harmonies add a great richness, as does Liam Davison’s often understated guitar; melodic runs and atmospheric fills rather than traditional rhythm playing much of the time. And the whole thing benefited from a mix in which you could hear every voice and instrument clearly. And like all the best gigs, it was clear the band were enjoying every minute their time on stage.

The setlist was a near-perfect mix of old and new. Naturally the new album “Go Well Diamond Heart” featured very heavily, the band playing all but one song from the first disk plus the two obvious standouts from the bonus disk. “Forever Young” and the emotionally powerful “And When The War Is Over” are well on their way to becoming live favourites. It’s nice to hear “Violet Skies” played live at last, even if the shimmering pop number didn’t quite work as well live as I’d hoped.  Given the amount of new material most of the older songs were the obvious standards, but the band still threw in a surprise in “First Thought”, a seldom-played song from “Passengers”. But yet again, one of the real high spots was the former Breathing Space epic “Questioning Eyes”.

Given the nature of the gig as a charity event rather than a stop on a regular tour, in a city the band have never played before, it was a different sort of audience, with a great many unfamiliar faces in the crowd. The band deserve to have picked up plenty of new fans.

The band will be touring in May and June, culminating in some festival appearances in July and August. On this sort of form, they’re a band not to be missed.

It is grey, damp, melancholy, let’s think of better times ahead

There isn’t really a theme to this particular playlist, except perhaps that all the tracks I’ve chosen have a certain quality that reflects my state of mind at the moment.

There is a kind of otherworldliness about many of these, tinged with maybe a dash of melancholy, distance or maybe detachment from the day-to-day dullness of grey, dismal February.

I’ve tried to make the playlist a kind of voyage, starting out with a dash of experimentation that flows into Jerry Garcia’s achingly beautiful “The Wheel”, via some old and new psychedelia, a dash of a Fripp and Travis soundscape, a leavening of classically lovely female singing and finally coming home again, via post-rock, to a place of aching beauty again.

The photograph that heads up this playlist is one of my own. It is the Château de Sercy in the southern part of Burgundy, just north of Cluny. I have no particular reason to post it, except that it is a lovely place and the sky is blue in the picture.

We all need a bit of blue in our skies at this time of year. I think that February is the worst month of the year, but hopefully this playlist ends on an fairly uplifting and optimistic note and leads the way to a happy 2011 for all of us ‘Spillers and our loved ones.

Anyway, now for the music;

1. Jerry Garcia – The Wheel
2. Moby Grape – Looper
3. Mazzy Star – Look Down From The Bridge
4. Warpaint – Warpaint
5. Robert Fripp and Theo Travis – Moonchild
6. It’s A Beautiful Day – Bombay Calling
7. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Black Mountain
8. Sandy Denny – I’m A Dreamer
9. Mogwai – Like Herod
10. Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun

Panic Room up north.

So the two gig-free months come to an end, and the gigging season begins again. Yet again, I’ve been putting in serious amounts of rail miles to see two gigs by Panic Room, the first at Fibbers in York, the second the following night at The Factory in Manchester. Are they really worth spending so many hours on board Arriva Cross-Country Voyagers to see? I think so, or I wouldn’t keep doing it. Not that I managed to persuade GordonImmel or DarceysDad to attend either…

Friday night was was the second time I’ve been to the recently refurbished Fibbers. It’s now more of a nightclub than a rock club, no draft beers any more, and decor that seems to lack character, and focuses on the dancefloor rather than the stage. Still, unlike in December where what turned out to have been Breathing Space’s final gig was spoiled by very poor sound, this time the venue seems to have got it’s act together in that respect, and the sound was excellent, good separation with every instrument clear.

The Factory in Manchester the following night didn’t have quite as good sound as the night before, a little bit too loud. But we did have one of the most enthusiastic audiences I’ve seen at a Panic Room gig to date. The Magnum-style arm-waving during “Satellite” was a new one on me. There was one downside, though, which I’ll come to later.

A few words on the support acts. Friday’s support was a solo acoustic singer-songwriter who’s name I forget. I find these sorts of performers rather hit-and-miss. Marc Atkinson, Chris Johnson, or for that matter Anne-Marie herself, can win over audiences with strong performances and good songs. But this guy wasn’t really in the same league. To give him some credit, he did write his own songs rather than take the easy route and play covers, but his act really needs a bit more work. Saturday’s support was David R Black, fronting an indie/metal trio who brought along a lot of their own fans and helped sell tickets for the gig. They didn’t do an awful lot for me, I’m afraid. They were musically competent, and pretty tight too, but their songs rather generic to my ears. But they weren’t really my kind of music, so I might not be the best person to judge.

As for Panic Room themselves, they more or less picked up where they left off last year. As I know I’ve said before, Yatim Halimi’s arrival as their new bass player seems to be the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle that has turned them from being a good live band to having all the makings of a great one. They’re now got the magical combination of tightness and onstage energy, all five members giving it absolutely everything and making an equally important contribution. Gavin and Yatim make a powerful rhythm section, Jon and Paul on keys and guitar perfect foils for each other, especially with a set that alternates between guitar-led and keyboard-led numbers. And of course Anne-Marie demonstrating just why she was voted Female Vocalist of the Year by readers of Classic Rock Presents Prog. And while their music has plenty of depth and complexity to satisfy progressive rock audiences, many of their songs are direct enough to give them crossover appeal.

Much as on their tour last autumn, the bulk of the set came from “Satellite”, with just two or three songs from their debut album. They’re still playing their as-yet unreleased swamp-blues cover of ELP’s “Bitches Crystal”, which I find far superior to the original. Since several songs from “Satellite” had become live favourites long before the band went into the studio to record them, there was the feeling that it was about time some new material started appearing in the set. And we got two brand-new songs, of which one, a twin-guitar prog-metal epic with a working title of “Song for Tomorrow” has all the makings of a future classic. My only regret is they’ve retired the lengthy epics from the first album. I’m not suggesting they exhume “The Dreaming”, which never really worked that well live, but “Endgame” used to be a live highlight, and it’s a song that means a lot to me personally.

One annoying thing about both venues was the way they turned into nightclubs after the gig, and the DJs started up at a volume at least twice as loud as the band had been the second the band finished playing. In this respect The Factory was far worse than Fibbers in that they started letting clubbers into the venue while the band were still on stage, which meant fans had to fight their way through the crowd to reach the exit at the end. And this was after a truncated set due to of a very strict curfew. I’ve since been told they started letting them in a good half-hour before the band finished, and their chatter was drowning out the band for those towards the back. Some were even making juvenile attempts to take the piss out of band and audience. The atmosphere as I was leaving the venue felt vaguely threatening; it certainly wasn’t the sort of place I wanted to hang around for any time. I would recommend that Panic Room, and other bands in the same scene, give venues like this a wide berth in future. No band should be playing in a venue where their own fans do not feel safe.

Panic Room have one more gig on this leg of the tour, at The Peel in Kingston on Saturday 26th. I know the place is a bit of dive, but at least it won’t be full of lagered-up yoof at the end. Be there and see a band who I believe are now on the edge of something bigger.

Time for some Sax-driven Black Metal?

Ihsahn (no, I don’t know how you’re supposed to pronounce it either) are the band I discovered too late in the year for their excellent album “After” to make my Best of 2010 list. You’d never have thought adding jazz sax to metal would work, but it does. Some definite hints of “Red”-era King Crimson in the mix somewhere, I think. Too many people (not necessarily RR-ets) love to sneer at metal as dumb music for Beavis and Butthead types, but I feel music like this is a lot more creative and challenging than many other more fashionable genres.

And I downloaded the album (legally!) from mFlow for £1.60! – costs a bit more now since mFlow’s sale has ended.

Bringing Back The Sun

So, Christmas is over, the weather is cold and wet, what do we have to look forward to now?

Oh yes! Of course, we can look forward to the return of the Sun and hot days and long balmy Summer evenings.

Anyway, to banish those Winter blues, here is some Sun-themed music to cheer everyone up.

01 Yes – Heart of the sunrise
02 Its A Beautiful Day – Hot summer day
03 David Gilmour – Fat old sun
04 Primal Scream – Higher than the sun
05 Bob Weir – Walk in the sunshine
06 The Flaming Lips – It’s summertime
07 Cocteau Twins – Frou-frou foxes in midsummer fires
08 Bjork – Sun in my mouth
09 Love – Bummer in the summer
10 Kate Bush – Sunset
11 Dead Can Dance – Black sun
12 Jimi Hendrix – Long hot summer night

Tim’s Year of Live Music

My musical year has been defined more by live music than by albums, with something like 40 gigs this year. It’s almost impossible to chose the best of these, but here are a dozen of the most memorable, in chronological order.

Mostly Autumn at Leamington Assembly

This gig on Good Friday was Heather Findlay’s farewell performance with the progressive rock band she’d fronted for twelve years, the whole thing superbly captured on the DVD “That Night In Leamington”. It was an extremely emotional night for those of us who were there, but also one of the best performances I’ve seen by the band to date; certainly a fitting close for an era of the band.

Breathing Space at Bilston Robin 2

Two days later, on Easter Sunday, Olivia Sparnenn played her last gig with her old band Breathing Space before leaving to replace Heather in Mostly Autumn. The Robin is always a great gig for any band and this one was no exception; Olivia certainly ended her time with the band on a high. The whole thing had a great vibe and I can remember how positive everyone was after the gig.

Protect the Beat at the Mumbles Jazz Festival

When a gig is billed as jazz-fusion played by top rock and pop session musicians, one could be excused for fearing the worst. But the energy and enthusiasm of the five musicians made this instrumental set one of the gigs of the year. The key factor was that it was abundantly clear that they were enjoying every minute on stage, and that enthusiasm was infectious. This is what live music is all about.

Transatlantic at Manchester Academy 1

The prog-rock supergroup featuring members of Marillion, Spock’s Beard and Dream Theater proved every bit as enthusiastic about being on stage as had Protect The Beat a couple of weeks earlier. The three and a half hour set comprised just seven songs of grandiose swirling epic prog, including their 70-minute “The Whirlwind”. The word “progtastic” is the only way to describe an evening like this, even if the song to set length ratio was enough to give Alexis Petridis the vapours.

Mostly Autumn and Panic Room at Shepherds Bush Empire, London

Just a week after those two farewell gigs Mostly Autumn took to the stage with Olivia Sparnenn fronting the band. I saw them a number of times on that tour; the best of the lot was when they and Panic Room supported Wishbone Ash in London in mid-May. Panic Room played a short and sweet opening set, then Mostly Autumn went absolutely full-tilt for a special guest spot of just under an hour. The headline act just could not follow that; the consensus was that they ended up the third-best band of the night.

Fish at The Band on the Wall, Manchester

After taking the best part of a year out, the former Marillion frontman has been touring with a stripped-down acoustic show in small intimate venues backed by just Frank Usher on guitar and Foss Patterson on keys. Despite having suffered from throat problems in recent years, Fish proved that he’s very much still got it as a live performer both as a singer and a charismatic frontman. Most memorable moment was when he looked me in the eye when he mentioned an earlier gig in York, and didn’t make any mention of his ex.

High Voltage festival at Victoria Park, London

While this big commercial festival had it’s downsides of long queues to get in, overpriced beer, and a yawn-inducing Saturday headliner, the upsides were some superb bands, of whom Touchstone, The Reasoning, Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash, BigElf, Zappa Plays Zappa, Opeth and Transatlantic stood out. The whole thing ended with a gloriously ridiculous show by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which was probably the only way to end such a festival.

Cambridge Rock Festival

This small friendly festival was a complete contrast to the commercialism of High Voltage. No big name headliners, but the vibe of the festival was such that it didn’t really need it. The best day was undoubtedly the Sunday, headlined by Mostly Autumn (them again!) and also featured great sets from Panic Room and Breathing Space, the latter being the début for their new singer Heidi Widdop. But it was the special guest, prog veterans The Enid who stole the show with an utterly mesmerising set.

Therion at Shepherds Bush Empire, London

I went to this gig having heard a couple of their albums, not really knowing what to expect. Seeing a band whose lyricist apparently heads a magickal order on Halloween night makes you wonder if they would attempt to summon Great Cthulhu at some point in the show, but what we got was epic symphonic metal with elaborate but hugely melodic multi-part vocal arrangements from four classically-trained singers. An amazing gig, quite unlike anything else I’ve heard all year

Steve Hackett at Shepherds Bush Empire, London

The Godfather of prog guitar gave us one of the most prog gigs of the year, mixing material from his excellent recent album with 70s Genesis classics like “Watcher of the Skies” and “Firth of Fifth”. Nick Beggs (of Kajagoogoo fame) on bass and Chapman stick managed to make himself the centre of attention as a cross-dressing steampunk Gandalf, but it was Hackett’s distinctive liquid guitar playing that reminded us just how influential his guitar sound has been in the progressive rock world.

Mostly Autumn at The Fleece and Firkin, Bristol

I got to see Mostly Autumn several times on their Autumn tour, when they laid to rest many of their old standards to play a set drawing very heavily from their superb new album “Go Well Diamond Heart”. Of the shows I saw, their return to Bristol after an absence of several years was the best; good sound, spirited and enthusiastic performance, and a lengthy set ending with some Christmas standards. I do love their rockier take of Greg Lake’s “I believe in Father Christmas” in particular. Also great to see CaroleBristol at this gig.

Panic Room and Touchstone at Bilston Robin 2

Some people don’t like the idea of double headliners where both bands play 70-80 minute sets instead of a full-length headline set, but this female-fronted prog double bill pulled a vastly bigger crowd than I’ve ever seen either band draw on their own. And they got their money’s worth; both bands pulled out all the stops and gave as good a performance as I’ve ever seen them play. High spot, if there was any single one, was Anne-Marie Helder’s spine-tingling rendition of “O Holy Night”.

Tim’s Albums of the Year

2010 doesn’t seem to have been quite as strong a year as 2009, when I did a top 15 on my own blog – this year I struggled to name ten, with some albums getting a lot of hype in my musical circles doing nothing much for me at all.- Iron Maiden and Pineapple Thief being two of them. There is utterly zero overlap with The Guardian’s own top 40, or even the top 10s of any of The Guardian’s writers. Somehow I don’t think any of the RR crew will be surprised by that…

10: Rhapsody of Fire – The Frozen Tears of Angels

More Dungeons and Dragons operatic pomp-metal from the Italian quintet, again featuring narration from Sir Christopher Lee and a corny plot featuring a Dark Lord called “Necron”. All good fun in a cheesy sort of way, even if it doesn’t really break any new ground for the band. Twenty-sided dice are not included.

9: Parade – The Fabric

Parade is the brainchild of Fish guitarist and former Mostly Autumn keyboard player Chris Johnson, with the collaboration of Anne-Marie Helder, Gavin Griffiths, Patrick Berry and Simon Snaize. It took me a few listens for this one to click; on the surface it’s an indie-sounding album with it’s sparse chiming guitars and clattering drums; but listen more closely and there’s some real musical depth there.

8: Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here

The former doom-metallers return after a lengthy absence and drop just about all traces of metal from their sound in favour of atmospheric soundscapes. It’s a musical journey that works far far better as one continuous listen than as a collection of individual songs.

7: The Reasoning – Adverse Camber

The Cardiff band’s third album continues in a similar prog-metal vein as 2008’s “Dark Angel”, albeit with Rachel Cohen handling the majority of the lead vocals. A solid piece of work with some great songs, even if it doesn’t (for me at least) quite reach the heights of their first two albums.

6: Pure Reason Revolution – Hammer and Anvil

PRR describe their third album as “Disco-prog”, meaning they’ve put electronic dance, prog and metal into a blender. At times atmospheric, at times sounding like The Prodigy at their most mental, it puts the progressive back into prog.

5: Therion – Sitra Ahra

Not quite as bonkers as their last album “Gothic Kabballah”, this one is the slightly more accessible side of Therion’s choral metal. It’s still filled with complex multi-part vocal arrangements using multiple classically-trained singers, which when combined with twin lead guitars makes for a very rich sound indeed.

4: Black Country Communion

The combination of Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian is in danger of giving supergroups a good name with this album of classic 70s-style hard rock. Hughes, despite his age is on fine form vocally, Bonamassa shows he can do hard rock as well as blues, and Jason Bonham is in the same league as his famous father. Sherinian really only has a supporting role given that cast, but still delivers some great Hammond playing. The best album Led Zeppelin never recorded in the 70s? Maybe.

3: Karnataka – The Gathering Light

Five years in the making, the second incarnation of Karnataka finally deliver an album of old-school symphonic prog on a truly epic scale. Features heartfelt female vocals from the now-departed Lisa Fury and some fantastic guitar playing from Enrico Pinna, as well as guest appearances from Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes, and Hugh McDowell, formerly of ELO, on cello.

2: Panic Room – Satellite

Compared with it’s complex, multilayered predecessor, Panic Room’s second album is made up simpler, more direct songs. The very different musical backgrounds of the five members combine in an alchemical mix which results in far more than the sum of the parts. Elements of hard rock, prog, pop, folk and jazz contribute to a sound that defies easy pigeonholing, with some very thought provoking lyrics from Anne-Marie Helder.

1: Mostly Autumn – Go Well Diamond Heart

OK, so you all know I’m a huge fan of this band. But this is the first time since I’ve been blogging that they’ve come up with my album of the year. It’s an immensely varied album containing atmospheric celtic moments, belting hard rockers, shimmering four-minute pop songs, and soaring ballads. They’ve managed to take the spirit of 70s classic rock and made it sound relevant for the 21st century with great songwriting, singing and musicianship. And they’ve done it straight after the departure of a much-loved lead singer too.

RIP Woolly Wolstenholme

Sad news for prog fans a couple of days ago.

I saw The John Lees Barclay James Harvest a couple of weeks ago, without keyboard player Woolly Wolstenholme, who had to miss the tour on doctors orders. While I realised he was ill, this announcement still came as a shock

It is with great sadness that John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest announces the passing of Woolly Wolstenholme. In recent weeks Woolly’s mental health had taken a turn for the worse and sadly he took his own life on Monday 13th December 2010. As you can imagine, John, Craig, Jez and Kevin and everyone associated with the band are stunned that a shining light of Barclay James Harvest is no longer with us. In this difficult time our thoughts are with Woolly’s partner, Sue. We would ask all of Woolly’s fans to remember his incredible contribution to popular music and his unique presence on stage.

This comes from the one and only time I saw Woolly perform live, at last year’s Cambridge Rock Festival. I remember this song being one of the highlights of the set. Woolly’s playing swirling Mellotron on the right-hand side of the stage.

Top Ten Albums Of 2010 – Part One

2010 hasn’t been my biggest year for listening to music or for seeking out new bands (pesky wee baby wrote off a good few months) but there has been some damn fine music released, so let’s kick off with my 10-8!

10. “Side Show” – The Burns Unit

2010 lacked a proper King Creosote release, but he appeared as part of Scottish-Canadian folk super-group The Burns Unit, alongside Karine Polwart, Emma “Delgados” Pollock, and Future Pilot AKA (BMX Bandits, Soup Dragons), amongst others. There’s some primo KC tunes on here (like “Since We’ve Fallen Out” (above)) , and some bonkers psuedo-bollywood rapping from a mad Canadian MC – just for (un)balance.

9. “All Creatures Will Make Merry” – Meursault

I wrote extensively about this LP of epic Scots lo-fi here

8. “The Wants” – Phantom Band

The Scots proto-robofolk sextet have gone and released a follow up to their amazing debut that’s every bit as baffling, beguiling, and bizarre. Listening to some of their music makes me think of pagan villagers emerging from a field of corn 10 feet high, holding aloft a machine they’ve made in the woods somewhere. A machine emitting hypnotic noises that drive men insane.


For once (not being away at prog gigs this weekend), I’m actually able to participate in RR for once.

This is “Wintercoast” by up-and-coming prog band Touchstone, recorded at The Borderline in London back in August. Doesn’t have the Jeremy Irons spoken word intro (they used that as the intro tape), but the audio quality is decent.

I was at the gig, fortunately (for me), just out of shot.

AOTW – Love Live Life + 1 – “Love Will Make A Better You”

What do you get if you take a little more than a pinch of free jazz saxophone, a whole bucketload of experimental early 70’s free rock, and erm…dark-brown-eyed soul, chuck in some Jethro Tull style prog flute; and to top it all off, rope in a cheesy crooning lounge singer to wail over the top?

“Love Will Make A Better You” by one-off session group Love Live Life + 1. Made and released in 1971, the band was put together by super-producer Orita Ikuzo mainly in order to feature guitarist extraordinaire Mizutani Kimio and featuring Japan’s answer to Tom Jones, Fuse Akira (one time husband of English actress Olivia Hussey trivia fans!) on vocals. With so many disparate elements the album could have been either a triumph or a disaster, and for me too the jury was out for the first couple of listens, but I soon came to dig not only the audacity of kicking off with a side-long meltdown of experimental-free-jazz-saxophone-guitar-rock that walks the line somewhere between Ornette Coleman,70’s rock and (according to Julian Cope) Sly Stone, before moving on to shorter and sweeter chaotic-soul-jazz-rock stompers, but also the quality of the playing and the fact that it still sounds fresh and relevant today despite some obvious dated reference points.

See what you think by listening below or ripping from Dropbox if it sounds like a keeper!

The Climber – AKA, give a man enough rope and he’ll write a Songstory.

All photographs copyright Sean Kelly/Inge Tillere by permission.

Bergen Moi?

Those with long Spill memories may remember a post about a trip to Norway for the world premiere of Judge Smith’s Songstory ‘The Climber’. Well the choir involved were recorded during that trip and and the piece came back to Judge Smith’s studio where fairy dust was added in liberal quantities … leading to a release of the finished article just last month.

Weirdly, friend of a friend, I got the call to fanboy heaven and together with my mate Sean am gearing up to chat to Judge about this and other projects on London’s fabulous Resonance FM this very night. The show is Johny Brown and Inge Tillere’s ‘Mining For Gold’ , between 11.30 and 00.30 BST.

Judge and John Ellis (Vibrators/Gabriel/Hammill/Stranglers) are doing some live numbers and if anyone is interested in hearing me talk nonsense in dulcet tones just follow this link.

I should do a whole post on Resonance FM at some point, I was thinking about it whilst reading the ‘Outsider Music’ discussion this week.  It’s kind of ‘Outsider Radio’, broadcasting in London but available everywhere on the web. In the meantime, bookmark and bung it on in the background, see what you think.

Micky Jones 7 June 1946 – 10 March 2010

For those of you who don’t know who Micky Jones was, well he was the ever-present guitarist and singer with the Welsh band Man.

From Merthyr Tydfil, Micky started out in local band The Bystanders who morphed into Man at the end of the 1960s.

The band were incredibly popular on the gigging circuit throughout the 1970s, especially with the underground fans who loved that American West Coast jamming groove of the Dead and Quicksilver. They went through many changes of personnel with Micky remaining there through it all.

They never really translated their live popularity into chart success although they did get albums into the Top 40 occasionally.

They used to love stretching things out on stage and Micky’s guitar and voice were trademarks of the band’s sound. They were a hard band to quantify; a bit proggy, rocky, country flourishes, long jams, a bit psychedelic and altogether special.

I loved them and used to try and get along to their London gigs whenever possible and I was lucky enough to be at the Roundhouse when they recorded the live record of their Back Into The Future double album in June 1973. Happy days!

I am not going to write a history of the band, there is plenty of info about them here and here but I just want to leave a small mark of respect for Micky, who had been suffering from brain tumours since 2005.

So, thanks Micky, for all the lovely music. You are going to be missed.

Too late for this week’s earworms but …………….

….I’ve had Pilgrimage in the car for the last few days and this one had lodged itself deep in my head.

I love the fact that this is about the most raucous crowd-pleasing stomper that Wishbone Ash ever recorded.

By the way, can we have some more Categories? I’d like to see Live Music, 1970s, 1990s, 1950s, Psychedelia and Flower Power for starters ………………………


While I couldn’t possibly imagine them ever getting on British TV, Mostly Autumn recorded an acoustic version of “Evergreen” a few days ago for Dutch TV.  It may lack the power of the full seven-piece band, but it does showcase Olivia Sparnenn’s voice.   Anyone going to see them in Manchester on Friday?


Tin asked me to have a listen to These New Puritans and kindly dropped a load of their stuff into the Box for me.

Anyway, I downloaded them and sorted them into the two albums that they have released to date, Beat Pyramid and Hidden.

I listened to both twice at work today, in between other things. I find that listening to new stuff this way is quite helpful. The first time, you don’t think that anything will stick but the second time around I find I remember bits.

I will admit to knowing nothing about the band at all, I had to look on Wikipedia for information. So, they come from Southend-on-Sea. That always reminds me of 70s pub rock, the Kursaal Flyers in particular. Apparently, the Kursaal , which was an amusement park and funfair, isn’t there anymore.

Anyway, let’s move on to These New Puritans. Described as “art rock” and “prog”, I was actually quite surprised by their earlier album, Beat Pyramid, which is a mix of post punk spiky rhythms, loops and drum and bass beats and not at all proggish or art rocky. The first time, I will admit to not liking it but it grew on me a bit. The thing that lets it down, I think, is that it all sounds very derivative and not particularly focused. It has highs and lows, In places it reminds me strongly of the Gang Of Four, the Au Pairs and The Raincoats, with a few bits of PiL and Joy Division thrown into the blend, with the afore-mentioned loops and beats from drum and bass. The one thing it does sound, I think, is young, as in a bit unformed and juvenile, not grown up and properly developed.

The second album, Hidden, is a very different beast. It is a far more mature piece of work and one that probably does deserve the art rock label. It is quite pretentious in places, pretentious as in meaning that it has pretensions to be taken seriously compared to their first album, I think. It has orchestration, woodwind instruments and a choir. It still has the beats and loops but it seems to live in a place where Animal Collective has been hanging out. The writing is a lot smarter, more coherent and the music seems to be a lot more focused. The album is a lot less like a sampler of styles. It sounds like a conceived artefact, which makes it much more listenable, I think.

Not sure anything has yet wormed its way into my ear yet, but I shall carry on listening to them, because I think that they are worth getting to know.

Anyway, as a taster, here’s a track from their second album;

“We Want War by These New Puritans”