Moonshot – Worlds of Yesterday: A Moonshot Retrospective 1971 – 1992 album review

31 12 2019

The songs on this Moonshot compilation were lovingly curated by Tim Bowness, whose album Lost In The Ghostlight tells the story of Moonshot through the thoughts and musing of lead singer Jeff Harrison.

* To avoid confusion, some of the songs on this compilation have remarkably similar titles, lyrics and music to tracks released by Tim Bowness on his Moonshot inspired Lost In The Ghostlight album, but Jeff Harrison never ripped anyone off man.

Shortly before his final tour and final death, Moonshot mainman Jeff Harrison took to twitter. His confusion in this new digital playground was plain for all to see, and long-time fans were worried, with good reason. Harrison died in suspicious circumstances in January 2019 and it was his wish that Moonshot continue with John Wilkinson as their singer. John was the singer in Moonshot tribute band Apollo 11, and its his voice that delivers the Moonshot classics on this new Bowness curated compilation.

Listening to Worlds of Yesterday, it’s clear that Big Big Train are heavily indebted to Warrington’s finest sons. And a little progshaped bird once tweeted that rock / prog-pixie Steven Wilson has a whole wing in his Surrey Mansion dedicated to his love of Moonshot, the highlight of which is a room filled with 208 of Jeff Harrison’s moth-ridden stage outfits from the ill-fated Rosewater tour of Germany. If that isn’t an endorsement to the genius of the band and their influence, I don’t know what is.

If any members of Genesis heard Worlds of Yesterday, I have no doubt that they would say that this is the best album that Genesis never made. Or they might sue the band. I’m not sure which route they would take to be honest, but I hear Moonshot have the best lawyers Warrington have ever produced and they are poised to spring into litigious action.

On to the music, dear listeners. Album opener Moonshot Manchild is the tale untold of a rockstar out of time and place, a position the many men of Moonshot were likely familiar with. Musically drawing from early Yes, mid-period Genesis and a hint of late period Martin Lee (Brotherhood of Man).

The flashing lights are blinding, you never felt so old”

Stupid Things That Mean The World draws from the shallow-well of Invisible Touch era Genesis, with spurting and spluttering synths hiding the deep pain clearly felt by our prog protagonists. A veritable ear-worm of a song, with a smorgasbord of vintage keyboards powering the track.

Long-time fans of Moonshot will be familiar with the rare band ballad Worlds of Yesterday. Its the sound of a Moonshot wrestling with the changing times, and was a highlight of their many German and Austrian tours. The song was used in a prominent episode of the 80s German TV hit Helga und die Nordlichter, in case you are wondering where you had heard the tune before. The layers of guitar and keyboards on Worlds of Yesterday highlights the links between the world of progressive music and the 80s new romantic / synth bands.

Lost in the Ghostlight is a close cousin of Peter Gabriel’s The Rhythm of the Heat, but is more satisfying as it is shorter. New vocalist John Wilkinson sneers “is it pure or is it art”, a question we have all asked ourselves at some point. Mike Garson-esque piano lines offer solace from the anger in this perky prog-piece. “Is there moooore?” – yes there is, we are only at the mid-point of this compilation. Well sequenced Mr Bowness.

Fans of Phil Collin’s early solo material will love the Roland CR-78 driven bleak as midwinter Nowhere Good to Go. Apparently the lyrics are an apology to Moonshot fans for the many off-key performances and gigs cut-short during the band’s darkest period, when the album sales slowed to a trickle and Eastern Europe became their new playground. Heartbreaking but long overdue, its one of the album highlights.

Many reviewers, on first hearing The Great Electric Teenage Dream, thought Steve Hackett was the guitarist on the song that lit up Moonshot’s later period. This was never confirmed, denied or mentioned again. Prog magazine wrote a lengthy piece on this pastoral beauty, which was sadly dropped and replaced by news of the reformation of Gandalf’s Hoof in 2016. Out-of-time and out of luck once more, the Moonshot madness continued. Fact fans – the mention of “a faceless tweet” in the lyric does not refer to twitter but to Jeff’s love of Owls.

Before That Before became the band’s biggest hit single in the Netherlands. A stripped back power-ballad, with a heavy use of tambourine and reverb-drenched piano, it should have propelled Harrison and co into a Stadium sized orbit, but alas alimony soaked up the proceeds of Moonshot’s final tilt at immortality. Tears are guaranteed to flow when you hear the mournful guitar lines that preface the chorus.

At the time of release, the backing vocals on Before That Before‘s outro were rumoured to be performed by Kate Bush, but they were not.

The album skips towards its end with the prog as your elbow village-fete romp that is The Sweetest Bitter Pill. The original video (look for it on Youtube) featured Harrison stuck on a merry-go-round, that spun for eternity and made him very, very sick. Listening to this new version of the Moonshot classic, it’s clear the song has become a template for many bands, all of whom went onto great success. It would be nice if they gave a little love back, but we know who they are, and the invoice will be in the post.

The vinyl album ends on Distant Summers, a new version of one of the band’s best-loved songs. Welcome back my friends, and get out your lighters, it’s the show that never ends. Stripped of the need to sell records (because, who buys records anymore?), this is Moonshot at its purest. Heavy organs propel the love, longing and a lifetime of regret into a 4.59 progressive rock masterpiece. Listen young pretenders and weep. I’m looking at you Mr White Willow, Jacob Holm-Lupo.

Oh, and the CD version of the album (it won’t be available on streaming platforms as Jeff Harrison did not understand streaming – “if you can’t touch it, how can you hear it”) includes two bonus tracks. The World-Music inspiring You’ll Be The Silence and the theme medley Moonshot Shadows. Can anyone else hear the theme tune to Hill Street Blues in the opening? Nope, just me then. Craftily cutting out recognisable hooks from their lengthy back-catalogue, Moonshot are able to pay themselves extra-royalties, as Jeff Harrison is not listed as co-writer of this track. Resourceful.

So for anyone new to Moonshot, this is a very satisfying introduction to the band. Fans of Genesis, Yes, Barclay James Harvest, The Buggles, The Alan Parsons Project, Argent, Baccara, BruteBeard, Big Big Train, Caravan, Cloop, Christopher Cross, Genesis, Earth and Fire (but not Wind), Egg, ELP, Marillion, Damp, Frost*, Gabriel (Peter), Steve Hackett, John Hackett, Henry Hackett, Hackett and the North, I, Genesis, Rodeo and the Trapeze Boy, Flute and many more from the heady progressive era will find much to love in this purposeful masterpiece.

Don’t be surprised if Worlds of Yesterday is crowned Prog album of the year 2020. You have got 12 months to listen, digest and vote! Look into my eyes – vote you will.

Tracklisting:

Moonshot Manchild
Stupid Things That mean The World
World of Yesterday
Lost in the Ghostlight
Nowhere Good to Go
The Great Electric Teenage Dream
Before That Before
The Sweetest Bitter Pill
Distant Summers

Bonus Tracks on CD Album
You’ll Be The Silence
Moonshot Shadows

Buy the album (CD and vinyl) from Burning Shed

* Most of the anecdotes in this review are not true. If you are a fan of classic 70s and 80s progressive rock, I urge you to investigate this album. You know you will love it!





Be-Bop Deluxe Modern Music deluxe box-set review

7 11 2019

Esoteric Recordings are releasing a re-mastered five-disc deluxe box-set limited edition (comprising 4 CDs and a DVD) of Modern Music, the 1976 album by Be-Bop Deluxe.

This expanded reissue has been newly re-mastered from the original master tapes and features an additional 55 bonus tracks including new 5.1 surround sound & stereo mixes from the original multi-track tapes by award winning engineer Stephen W. Tayler, out-takes from the album sessions, a BBC Radio “In Concert” performance from October 1976, along with a bonus CD of a previously unreleased “official bootleg” of a performance at The Riviera Theater in Chicago in 1976 recorded for FM Radio on Be Bop Deluxe’s first US tour.

The set also includes visual material taken from a session for BBC TV’s “Old Grey Whistle Test” show broadcast in November 1976.

The DVD material (including the 5.1 mixes) is not reviewed here, as review copies were not provided.

Modern Music was the first album to be produced by John Leckie (XTC, Simple Minds, The Stone Roses) who continued to work with Bill Nelson on Red Noise, The Love That Whirls and Getting The Holy Ghost Across.

Modern Music was released just prior to the arrival of punk and new wave, a sound and attitude that would inform Nelson’s releases for the next few albums. The music on this album is a mixture of classic and progressive rock, with wonderful harmonies, nods to early David Bowie (particularly the Ziggy Stardust era) and a covers a variety of genres.

Twilight Capers is a delight – revelling in the genre-switching that was prevalent in this period – moving from ballad, via jazz-rock to reggae – all in the one track! The Doors like end section, with its powerful production touches hits the sweet spot every time.

The light and breezy Kiss Of Light reminds me of the City Boy debut album (a wonderful classic rock band that seems to have been written out of history) that was also released in 1976. Modern Music was written on the road, and seems to be Bill Nelson’s reflections on America at the time.

Nelson writes in the box-set booklet:

“…many of the songs on Modern Music were written in hotel rooms whilst touring America and some of them directly relate to the growing disillusion I was feeling with life on the road.”

The Gold At The End Of My Rainbow is a charming song, written by Nelson at a sound-check, lamenting his faraway love.

The Modern Music suite is the highlight for many fans of this or any Be-Bop Deluxe album. You can hear a snippet of the late John Peel in the suite’s intro to the title track, which radiates West-Coast sunshine.

Down On Terminal Street is overflowing with wonderful lyrical imagery, and I love the way the church-bells chime amongst the heavy guitars and synths in the songs intro and end section.

“The street cafe was closed to all but ghosts
Who glide the alleys searching for their lair”

Make The Music Magic returns to the more commercial sound of the early songs, but in a stripped back acoustic setting.

Disc two of this box-set is a new stereo mix of the album. The mix feels much wider, and individual instruments are noticeably clearer. As are the vocals – you can hear the reverb on Nelson’s vocals on Down On Terminal Street with such clarity, its like hearing the album for the first time. I defy you to not crank up the volume on this new mix.

This disc also includes the stunning 8 minutes long Shine (New Stereo Mix), which reminds me a little of Bowie’s Stay from Station To Station.

Disc three is a BBC Radio One “In Concert” taken from the band’s headlining show from 2 October 1976 London’s Hammersmith Odeon. The highlights of this disc for me are the live takes of Ships In The Night and the 12 minute plus Modern Music. It’s a good quality recording, given its age.

Disc four is a recording from the Riviera Theater in Chicago on 21 March 1976, where Be-Bop Deluxe opened for Thin Lizzy. The band’s set was mixed and broadcast live by the local radio station WXRT-FM. The concert included in the band’s set Bill’s Blues, which was never developed further on record. Sadly this “official” bootleg is for completists only, as at times its not as good quality as the sound of disc 3, and you can see why Bill’s Blues was left unreleased – it’s just a standard blues jam. There is audible distortion / clipping and hiss, so not a disc I will be returning to.

Nevertheless, this is a lovingly curated box-set, topped off with an entertaining 68 page book, that gives context to the band and the individual tracks, along with many previously unpublished images. If you are a fan of Bill Nelson’s work in Be-Bop Deluxe, or are a fan of 70s rock, there is much to enjoy in this box-set.

Pre-order Be-Bop Deluxe Modern Music 4 cd / 1 DVD box-set on Amazon

Disc One: Cd
Modern Music
The Original Stereo Mix:

  1. Orphans Of Babylon
  2. Twilight Capers
  3. Kiss Of Light
  4. The Bird Charmers Destiny
  5. The Gold At The End Of My Rainbow
  6. Bring Back The Spark
  7. Modern Music
  8. Dancing In The Moonlight (All Alone)
  9. Honeymoon On Mars
  10. Lost In The Neon World
  11. Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids
  12. Modern Music (Reprise)
  13. Forbidden Lovers
  14. Down On Terminal Street
  15. Make The Music Magic
    Bonus Track
  16. Shine (B-Side Of Single)

Disc Two: Cd
Modern Music
The New Stereo Mix:

  1. Orphans Of Babylon (New Stereo Mix)
  2. Twilight Capers (New Stereo Mix)
  3. Kiss Of Light (New Stereo Mix)
  4. The Bird Charmers Destiny (New Stereo Mix)
  5. The Gold At The End Of My Rainbow (New Stereo Mix)
  6. Bring Back The Spark (New Stereo Mix)
  7. Modern Music (New Stereo Mix)
  8. Dancing In The Moonlight (All Alone) (New Stereo Mix)
  9. Honeymoon On Mars (New Stereo Mix)
  10. Lost In The Neon World (New Stereo Mix)
  11. Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids (New Stereo Mix)
  12. Modern Music (Reprise) (New Stereo Mix)
  13. Forbidden Lovers (New Stereo Mix)
  14. Down On Terminal Street (New Stereo Mix)
  15. Make The Music Magic (New Stereo Mix)
    Bonus Tracks
  16. Shine (New Stereo Mix)
  17. Forbidden Lovers (First Version)
  18. The Bird Charmer’s Destiny (First Version)

Disc Three: Cd
BBC Radio One “In Concert”
Recorded 2nd October 1976 At Hammersmith Odeon, London

  1. Maid In Heaven
  2. Bring Back The Spark
  3. Kiss Of Light
  4. Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape
  5. Fair Exchange
  6. Ships In The Night
  7. Twilight Capers
  8. Modern Music
    I. Modern Music
    Ii. Dancing In The Moonlight (All Alone)
    Iii. Honeymoon On Mars
    Iv. Lost In The Neon World
    V. Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids
    Vi. Modern Music (Reprise)
  9. Blazing Apostles

Disc Four: Cd
Live At The Riviera Theatre, Chicago 21st March 1976 –
The Official Bootleg

  1. Fair Exchange
  2. Stage Whispers
  3. Life In The Air Age
  4. Sister Seagull
  5. Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape
  6. Maid In Heaven
  7. Ships In The Night
  8. Bill’s Blues
  9. Blazing Apostles

Disc Five: Dvd
Modern Music
The 5.1 Surround Sound Mix / New Stereo Mix (96 Khz / 24-Bit) / Original Stereo Mix (96 Khz / 24-Bit)

  1. Orphans Of Babylon (5.1 Mix)
  2. Twilight Capers (5.1 Mix)
  3. Kiss Of Light (5.1 Mix)
  4. The Bird Charmers Destiny (5.1 Mix)
  5. The Gold At The End Of My Rainbow (5.1 Mix)
  6. Bring Back The Spark (5.1 Mix)
  7. Modern Music (5.1 Mix)
  8. Dancing In The Moonlight (All Alone) (5.1 Mix)
  9. Honeymoon On Mars (5.1 Mix)
  10. Lost In The Neon World (5.1 Mix)
  11. Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids (5.1 Mix)
  12. Modern Music (Reprise) (5.1 Mix)
  13. Forbidden Lovers (5.1 Mix)
  14. Down On Terminal Street (5.1 Mix)
  15. Make The Music Magic (5.1 Mix)
    Bonus Tracks
  16. Shine (5.1 Mix)
  17. Forbidden Lovers (First Version) (5.1 Mix)
  18. The Bird Charmer’s Destiny (First Version) (5.1 Mix)
    Visual Content
  19. Forbidden Lovers (BBC Old Grey Whistle Test 1976)
  20. Down On Terminal Street (BBC Old Grey Whistle Test 1976)

Pre-order Be-Bop Deluxe Modern Music 4 cd / 1 DVD box-set on Amazon





Bruce Soord – All This Will Be Yours track-by-track album review

11 10 2019

Bruce Soord, the songwriter and frontman for The Pineapple Thief, has released his second solo album, All This Will Be Yours via Kscope.

An interesting mix of the personal (family life and birth) and the bigger picture (austerity and Brexit) makes for a slightly different take on recent releases from The Pineapple Thief.

Electronic textures and acoustic guitars drive the majority of the songs. The Secrets I Know works well as an opening track, with its sparse arrangement, mainly piano, guitar and layered vocals.

“Move forward at all costs
Protection at all costs
I’m already mourning your loss”

Our Gravest Threat Apart dials up the electronics, and has a naggingly addictive mantra-like outro.

All This Will Be Yours works as a complete album, with songs flowing in to one another, as two distinct pieces (replicating the vinyl experience), so you find yourself adhering to the vision of the album as a thoughtfully curated art-form, not a source of playlists to dip in and out of.

The Solitary Path Of A Convicted Man has some interesting production touches, and a memorable rhythm track, and contains the album’s first Soord guitar solo. The vocals and harmonies are especially strong on this slowly building key album track.

The title track is one of two longer songs on the album. The piano line reminds me a little of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies when in isolation, but is soon sent to the back of the mix, as powerful psychedelic guitars and a shuffling drum pattern accompany the sirens and mood of an austerity ravaged urban landscape.

The more optimistic Time Does Not Exist reflects on the beauty of new life and new hope triumphing over the world outside, and is Soord at his most personal. The track contains a warm and evocative vocal performance that will be an album highlight for many listeners. I love the evolution in the arrangement and slightly out-of-character drum pattern that takes the song to it’s conclusion.

One Misstep is the nearest to a more traditional Pineapple Thief sound, with the ever-present sirens of modern life seeping through the mix. I love how found-sounds are almost used as instruments at times in All This Will Be Yours.

“This new darkened future, Is this who we are?”

You Hear The Voices is the longest track on the album, coming in at just under 7 minutes. Whether a lament to climate-change, or a breakdown of a relationship (physical or economic) makes no difference. Loss is painful and reverberates forever.

My favourite track on the album, You Hear The Voices builds layer by layer, with a gentle nod towards the soundscapes of the earlier collaboration with Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse on the Wisdom of Crowds.

“You can’t re-write your dreams
Or re-negotiate your terms
This is our ocean now”

Images by Steve Brown

A bleak, neglected cemetery is the location for Cut The Flowers, with its brutal tale of time moving on, leaving love and memories to decay and eventually disappear. A heavily distorted bass-line duels with synths and drum machines, reminding me of Mariusz Duda’s Lunatic Soul albums.

The theme of loss continues with final track One Day I Will Leave You.

“So don’t mourn my passing
I was always passing through
And I’ll always be with you”

All This Will Be Yours is book-ended by songs referencing our short time on Earth, whilst touching on the effect we have whilst we are here – either through introducing new life, or damaging what we are leaving behind for others (through our political choices or through our trashing of the planet’s resources).

The mix of the personal and the political is a brave decision, and whilst Soord makes clear his anger at the state of our world, there is optimism to be found within the songs. And like many of us, I feel maybe he sees the younger generation as the ones who can drive us away from the cliff-edge.

“This new darkened future, Isn’t who you are”

Buy Bruce Soord – All This Will Be Yours Deluxe Edition BoxSet from Amazon
Buy Bruce Soord – All This Will Be Yours on CD from Amazon
Bruce Soord – All This Will Be Yours on 180gm vinyl from Amazon

The Secrets I Know [02:24]
Our Gravest Threat Apart [04:14]
The Solitary Path Of A Convicted Man [03:44]
All This Will Be Yours [06:04]
Time Does Not Exist [03:33]
One Misstep [04:00]
You Hear The Voices [06:54]
Cut The Flowers [04:35]
One Day I Will Leave You [05:17]





Big Big Train – Grand Tour album review

28 04 2019

Big Big Train release their new studio album Grand Tour on May 17th 2019. As with all Big Big Train albums, the songs tell stories that steer clear of the usual topics touched upon in modern rock music. The new album is inspired by the 17th and 18th century custom of the ‘Grand Tour’, where young men and women travelled to broaden the mind.

The band state that the Grand Tour takes you on an “epic journey over land and sea and through time and space…” with songs “…inspired by the legacy of the Italian Renaissance genius, Leonardo da Vinci; songs telling the story of the rise and fall of Rome…and of the shipwreck of a great poet, lost in a tempest off the coast of Italy.”

It’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone into the sequencing of Grand Tour, with clear ebbs and flows as the album progresses. Although there are three lengthy epics as part of Grand Tour, album opener Novum Organum is short, sweet and succinct. A percussive synth bell backing slowly builds as piano and voice enter the soundscape.

“For science and for art”

The albums lead single Alive is an uplifting track that showcases the quality production and intelligent arrangements that filter through on every track. The backing vocals and vocal interplay is a noticeable highlight on Alive and many of Grand Tour‘s tracks. I love the bass and drums duel around the three-quarter mark.

The Florentine features some of the most intricate performances on the album. Around 3 minutes into the track, a naggingly addictive guitar line teases in and out of the strings and Nick D’Virgilio’s intricate drum parts. The outro seemingly has lyrical nods to the Elvis Costello / Clive Langer song (also recorded by Robert Wyatt), Shipbuilding. Or maybe Close Your Eyes by no-man?

Roman Stone is a movement in five pieces, and became one of my favourite tracks on the album after the first few listens. The mood and pace shifts from melancholy progressive textures, to dark jazz interludes, then to a more pastoral (a term you will read in a lot of Big Big Train reviews) and gentle pace. Greg Spawton delivers a masterclass in powerful, and at times restrained, bass playing to underpin a complex, shifting arrangement.

“Trade new gods for old gods”

Pantheon is a haunting instrumental track, and the most progressive performance on the album, with some delicious time-signature twists and turns. Theodora in Green and Gold features soaring Fripp-like guitar lines and David Longdon is joined by Nick D’Virgilio on lead vocals for the middle eight.

Ariel is the longest track, and contains the albums most powerful vocals from David Longdon. The various vocal parts throughout the eight different sections are simply stunning – with warm, multi-part harmonies slipping in and out of the evolving arrangement. By the end of the 14 minute plus track you will be left breathless.

“Laudanum plays the poet’s soul like
Orpheus’ lyre, Prometheus’ fire”

Except there is no respite, with another 14 minute track, in the shape of the gentler Voyager carrying on the story of exploration, this time far away from our planet, lifting off into space.

The changes between the sections on Voyager are more subtle, so it has more of a feel of one continual piece. The orchestration on this track, and indeed the whole album, elevates the bands music to new heights. The feeling of elation as Voyager returns will stay with you long after the song has ended.

As I mentioned earlier, the sequencing is top class. Ariel and Voyager are two long tracks that would not normally be placed side by side on an album, but in this instance placing them together feels right. Fans of Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd are likely to fall madly in love with Voyager, a modern progressive masterpiece.

The theme of a return continues as the album wraps up with Homesong. Feet firmly back on the ground, the song lifts your mood with familiar imagery, and an appreciation of the places and the landscapes that we love.

“We are home now
We have found a way back home”

Grand Tour is an album that rewards you with repeated listens, which is the sign of an album that will stay with you over the long haul. The album has so many strong lyrical, vocal and musical highlights, that picking out a favourite is difficult, but the final three songs are such a powerful statement, and it’s rare for an album to have so many emotional highs in swift succession.

The more I play Grand Tour, the more I become convinced that this will turn into my favourite Big Big Train album so far.

Novum Organum (2:33)
Alive (4:31)
The Florentine (8:14)
Roman Stone (13:33)
Pantheon (6:08)
Theodora in Green and Gold (5:38)
Ariel (14:28)
Voyager (14:03)
Homesong (5:12)

Buy Big Big Train’s Grand Tour on CD from Amazon

Buy Big Big Train’s Grand Tour on vinyl from Amazon

Buy Big Big Train’s Grand Tour on CD from Burning Shed

Buy Big Big Train’s Grand Tour on vinyl from Burning Shed

Visit the Big Big Train website.





Big Big Train – Merchants of Light

24 07 2018

PrintMerchants of Light is the new live album from three times Progressive Music Award winning band Big Big Train. The album features the best performance of each song played at the band’s three sold out shows at Cadogan Hall, London, in the autumn of 2017.

The title track from their 2016 album Folklore ushers in the 16 track live album. The brass / strings and Shaft like rhythm guitar lines snuggle up together better than they should on this powerful opening track. Brave Captain from Folklore‘s companion album Grimspound works equally well in its live setting. As I mentioned in my original review, from the half way section of the song, there are shades of Dire Straits Private Investigations in the piano lines and the breakdown.

Last Train was originally on the 6th Big Big Train album The Underfall Yard from 2009. The song tells the story of a station masters last day at work. One of the more progressive songs on this live album, the harmonies are a pure joy to hear.

London Plane is built on a solid foundation of an intricate vocal arrangement, and serves up an adventurous mixture of jazz and prog flowing through the instrumental sections.

Meadowland is a gentle pastoral sounding track, with subtle brush drums, violin and restrained piano. A Mead Hall in Winter is one of this live album’s highlights. Synths and strings jostle with jaunty organ, throwing musical nods to 70s giants Genesis and Yes, with a sprinkle of early Steely Dan thrown in for good measure.

Swan Hunter from English Electric Part Two and its tale of a long-lost shipping industry has become one of the band’s standards. The use of brass always evokes a feeling of the early 1970s to me, and this fine version of Swan Hunter is no exceptionDavid Longdon’s vocals are in fine form here and throughout the album.

Big Big Train live by Simon Hogg

My favourite Big Big Train song is The Transit of Venus Across the Sun. It’s the brass again! The arrangement is so light and gentle, with no bombast used in getting the emotion across. There is real beauty in both the arrangement and performances from all the musicians.

East Coast Racer gets a fantastic reception from the crowd, and is the longest track on the album. The song charts the history of Mallard, the worlds fasted locomotive.  East Coast Racer is the band at their most progressive and highlights some of their finest melodies and harmonies.

A great version of  the mid 70s pop / rock influenced Telling The Bees is followed by one of the oldest songs on this album in Victorian Brickwork. This track is one that will appeal to fans of the first progressive era of the early 70s. The twists, turns and swells will lift the darkest of moods, and is modern progressive music at its finest.

Drums and Brass is an instrumental interlude that leads into the albums final track, Wassail.

It is easy to get lost in the music of Big Big Train – from the fascinating stories told through the lyrics, to the varied musical styles. If you have not heard the band before, Merchants of Light would be a great starting point, and it is highly likely that you will set off on a voyage of discovery to take in all of the bands recent albums.

Tracklist:

Folklore Overture
Folklore
Brave Captain
Last Train
London Plane
Meadowland
A Mead Hall in Winter
Experimental Gentlemen part two
Swan Hunter
Judas Unrepentant
The Transit of Venus Across the Sun
East Coast Racer
Telling the Bees
Victorian Brickwork
Drums and Brass
Wassail


Buy the Merchants of Light double CD from Amazon

 

Also available now is the Swan Hunter EP, that includes 3 versions of Swan Hunter (a radio edit, a 2018 remix of the album version and a live version), plus a new recording of English Electric: Full Power‘s Seen Better Days (an emotional duet with no-man’s Tim Bowness) and a 2017 live at Real World Studio version of Summer’s Lease (originally on 2007’s The Difference Machine album).





Yes – Fly From Here – Return Trip album review

1 04 2018

Fly From Here – Return Trip is a new version of the 2011 Yes album, with the addition of the previously unreleased track Don’t Take No For An Answer and a full-length version of Hour Of Need, which was only previously available in Japan. The biggest change is that producer (and co-writer of many of the tracks) Trevor Horn has re-recorded the lead vocals, effectively making this the final Drama line-up Yes album. Drama is my favourite Yes album, and I am a huge fan of The Buggles, so this was a must-buy release from me.

fly from here return trip

From the opening instrumental that ushers in the Fly From Here suite, the influence of Trevor Horn and keyboard player Geoff Downes (aka The Buggles) looms large, and has many parallels to the second Buggles album, Adventures In Modern Recording.  The 2010 reissue of Adventures in Modern Recording contains a couple of early versions of songs from the Fly From Here suite, and two versions of the stunning track I Am A Camera (recorded by Yes on Drama as Into The Lens).

Fly From Here Pt 1 – We Can Fly is the first track to feature Trevor Horn’s re-recorded lead vocals. I never had a problem with the vocals of Benoît David on the 2011 version of the album, but hearing Horn on lead vocals is such a joy. As a side note, I loved The Producers Made in Basing Street album in 2012 but I was disappointed that Horn did not contribute more vocally to the album, so you can imagine how happy I am with Fly From Here – Return Trip.

The new version has some differences in arrangement and lengths of tracks – which includes a shortening of Fly From Here Pt 1 – We Can Fly, and some added production touches to the end section of the track.

My favourite song on the album is Fly From Here Pt 2 – Sad Night At The Airfield. A haunting, melancholic piece that sounds so much better on the revised version of the album.

“I want to be the one who always gives you shelter
Finds a way to keep you warm”

Some of the albums finest keyboard / synth lines from Geoff Downes add bright colours, and a simple, but powerful Chris Squire bass-line drives the song. This is one of the most moving pieces in the vast Yes catalogue.

Yes 2018

Fly from Here Pt III – Madman at the Screens is also shortened on The Return Trip. The Steve Howe composition Fly From Here Pt 4 – Bumpy Ride has always been my least favourite track on the album, but the Yes guitarist redeems himself with the much stronger The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be, one of Fly From Here‘s key tracks. There is a real fluidity and harmony to all the band members performances on this song.

Life On A Film Set (recorded as Riding A Tide on The Buggles second album) is another of my Fly From Here favourites. Horn’s vocals are so clear and strong, and he really is underrated as a vocalist. I love the acoustic and lead guitar interplay during the tracks mid-section, and Life On A Film Set is a song that I would imagine appeals to fans of the bands earlier work.

I’m glad I have finally got to hear the full-length version of Howe’s Hour of Need, which is so much more fully realised here.

I enjoyed the album on it’s 2011 release, but Fly From Here – Return Trip is the definitive version and has turned what was originally a very good album into a truly great album.

“Armies of angels are leading me on
Take me away from the heart of the storm”

Fly From Here – Overture
Fly From Here Pt 1 – We Can Fly
Fly From Here Pt 2 – Sad Night At The Airfield
Fly From Here Pt 3 – Madman At The Screens
Fly From Here Pt 4 – Bumpy Ride
Fly From Here Pt 5 – We Can Fly (Reprise)
The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be
Life On A Film Set
Hour Of Need (full length version)
Solitaire
Don’t Take No For An Answer
Into The Storm

Buy Fly From Here – Return Trip (CD)

Buy Fly From Here – Return Trip (Gatefold Vinyl)

Read my review of The Producers – Made in Basing Street





Big Big Train – Merry Christmas

2 12 2017

As my favourite time of the year approaches, I always add my Christmas playlist to my phone. Since the late 80s I’ve not had many new tracks to add to the playlist that includes Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime, Jona Lewie’s timeless Stop The Cavalry, December Will Be Magic Again by Kate Bush, Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses and my favourite festive song of them all, Greg Lakes I Believe In Father Christmas.

front cover by Sarah Louise Ewing

Finally, I have two new songs for my most wonderful time of the year playlist courtesy of Big Big Train. The lead song from the single is Merry Christmas and it follows in the tradition of the aforementioned I Believe In Father Christmas and Stop The Cavalry by being a story with a social conscience.

“When did the ringing of tills drown the pealing of bells?
Who cares as long as the products sell?”

David Longdon’s lyrics are a call to arms – reminding us to forget for a short while our commercialism, our faces stuck staring at our phones and asking us to try to remember the innocence and beauty of our memories of Christmas from the past.

“What wouldn’t you give to believe again, like you believed back then?”

Naturally, the music of Merry Christmas has all that you would expect from a future Christmas classic – a choir, brass band and sleigh bells adorn this gem of a song. Watch the heart-warming video, starring Big Big Train fan Mark Benton, below.

Merry Christmas will become a permanent fixture in my seasonal playlist, right before Greg Lake’s Chrimbo classic. They sound great together, by the way.

The vinyl and CD versions contain another new song, the six minute plus Snowfalls. A hymn to winter, its a wonderful companion piece, and really captures the spirit of the season.

“Tread lightly while snow falls from the clouds carried on the cold winds, from far away.”

Its definitely worth buying the physical version to hear Snowfalls, which could easily have graced any of the bands recent albums.

Pic Simon Hogg

Whilst Merry Christmas is limited to a particular time of the year, the Greg Spawton penned Snowfalls has more longevity. Building slowly, the instrumental layers are added as the song builds. The keyboards give the effect of snow falling throughout the track.

Snowfalls is a recording that highlights the bands effective use of dynamics, from the lightest of touches to the powerful crescendo’s that drive many Big Big Train performances.

In the spirit of charity at Christmas, a donation to the Night Stop homelessness charity will be made for every copy of the vinyl, CD, and download sold. So what are you waiting for – the links are below.

The single tops off a very good year for Big Big Train – with the Grimspound and The Second Brightest Star albums, and a short run of successful live shows.

Let me raise a virtual glass to the band – and here’s to some more new music soon…..

Buy the single (CD / vinyl) from:

Burning Shed
The Merchdesk

CD single from Amazon

Vinyl single from Amazon

Buy the digital version of Merry Christma

https://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/








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