Lee Speaks About Music… #155

A Humdrum Star – GoGo Penguin

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Introduction…

Much of the success that rubbed off GoGo Penguin’s third album Man Man Object very much continued and followed them along and the bands 4th album A Humdrum Star certainly showed by now that the band had landed on their feet so to speak. The band had spent around 200 days on the road doing a worldwide tour touring their previous album and further shows in America was attracting more of the attention over there than in their own country here in the UK.

Although they certainly never had any problems selling tickets to their live shows here in the UK and if you can afford to put on a show at the Royal Albert Hall in London then you must be doing well and something right. It’s also worth noting that they were also attracting a lot more attention in both Germany and Belgium than their own country too and their decision to cut a 3-album deal and sign-up to Blue Note Records in France appeared to be working out for both the band and the label.

I am pretty sure that the band were put under quite a bit of pressure to come up with the material to follow and measure up to the material that was written for their 3rd album Man Made Object and further the success it had brought them. It’s a difficult task for all artists to do and I would say that only a minority have successfully pulled it off as well. In the music business you are only as good as your next album when it comes to carrying on that success for most in the business.

However, it’s not always a case of how do you “TOP THAT! so to speak and some artists and bands have made such iconic albums that it would be impossible to do that. Pink Floyd’s 1973 album Dark Side Of The Moon is a perfect example of an iconic album and they were one of the few bands who did successfully manage to follow it up. Although I do not personally think they topped that album but I would say that they measured up to their high standards with the next 3 albums they released after it.

I would not exactly say that Man Made Object is an iconic album but it is nevertheless a very good album that contains a strong body of work and I do personally see it as their best album in terms of energy. I would also see it as something that would present the band with a challenge to come up with something next that would still keep their existing audience and attract even more attention and bring in more followers and fans alike to their music.

The one thing they did have in their favour judging by the bands first 3 albums is that GoGo Penguin were a band that were improving all the time. But before we take a look to see if the band had managed to carry on their success and come up with the goods, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in the same quality gatefold cardboard Digisleeve that was used for their 2nd album v2.0 where both the CD and Booklet are retrieved from the both sides like a vinyl album and it replicates a mini version of a vinyl album very well. It comes with an 8-page booklet that contains the linear and credit productions notes but does not include any informative information or photos of the band.

Unlike their previous album to which the CD format was only released in a standard plastic Jewel Case they did release their 4th album with an option of the jewel case or a digisleeve. I got mine from Amazon UK for £5.99 and it arrived in a jewel case. Having discovered afterwards it was also released in a Digisleeve I went out and brought it from a record store in London who were selling them new and sealed on eBay for £10.

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You could say that the album was that good I brought it twice 🙂 but I myself prefer DigiPaks & DigiSleeves and I think they give a better overall presentation which is why I do not mind paying that bit extra for them. I dare say in the future they will eventually re-release their 3rd album in a DigiPak & DigiSleeve with a few bonus tracks and I will buy that to replace the one I already have.

The album was also released in the form of a Digital Download and also on Black & Red vinyl to which both were pressed onto 2 180-gram LP’s. The coloured vinyl was released as a Limited Edition only.  I have to confess that these days with how they put a single album worth of material onto a double vinyl record sort of takes away the meaning of a double album from all those years ago.

I can see why they are doing it, and it is for quality reasons down to vinyl having restrictions of how much you can fit onto one side before the sound deteriorates. But it’s an expensive game these days and its price tag of £24.99 I personally think is well over the odds and you will never convince me that it sounds any better than a CD.

Artwork.

Once again the artwork was done by Paul Middlewick and I have confess that I have yet to be impressed by any of the artwork that was done for GoGo Penguin’s albums and they all look like the designs you would find in the templates you would get with a CD Labelling Kit 🙂 Here they have used a coloured spectrum of lines to represent the Humdrum Star. Not sure it does that at all and they would have been better off using a photo.

Out of their first 4 albums the only cover that made any sort of sense in the way of it being apt would have to be the design that was done for their previous album Man Made Object. The other notable thing about the album cover is that like their debut album they have included the band name and title.

The Album A Humdrum Star In Review…

GoGo Penguin’s 4th studio album A Humdrum Star was released on the 9th February 2018. The album contains 9 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 50 minutes, 41 seconds. Once again, the album was very well received upon its release and it hit number 5 in the US Top Jazz Albums Billboard Charts. Five places higher than their previous album. Although in the UK it was one place shorter than their previous album and peaked at Number 73 in the UK album charts.

The idea for the albums title was inspired by a quote by the astronomer and scientist Carl Sagan who was talking about the pale blue dot from his book he wrote back in 1994 of the same title which is about a vision of the human future in space. All 3 of the band members have an interest in space and the universe and have even played at the Bluedot Festival on a couple of occasions which has been an annual event since July 2016  It’s very much a music, science and culture event that’s held at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, England which is endorsed by the University of Manchester who are the current owners of the observatory.

The band recorded the album at Low Four Studios in Manchester which used to be the old Granada Studios where The Beatles rehearsed for their first ever TV appearance back in the early 60’s. The studio opened up in 1962 which was the same year the building was completed. It was designed by Ralph Tubbs, an architect renowned for his work on the Dome of Discovery for the Festival of Britain and the studio was used to record many TV Themes and Soundtracks for the Movies.

Dan Parrott launched Low Four Studio at the Old Granada Studios with his partner Brendan Williams in May 2016 and the space is now used to nurture and promote new local acts through live performances complete with studio audience and internet music television video live streaming. Very much the same sort of thing Jools Holland is doing these days. Brendan Williams also happens to be one of GoGo Penguin’s producers and recording engineers so you can see why they decided to use this particular studio.

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Low Four Studios

As with much of the new material the band wrote, the biggest majority of it would have been road tested at their live shows as they wrote them. They took some time out to record the album in June 2017 and the album was mixed and mastered between July and October of the same year. Once again most of the mixing was done at 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams and they used a different mastering engineer and the album was mastered in Germany by Norman Nitzsche.

Throughout 2018 GoGo Penguin spent much of their time on the road promoting their new album and they very much went on a world tour. They kicked off the tour in their own country England on the 8th February 2018 at the Roundhouse in London and also ended it off in Europe at the La Cigale in Paris, France on December the 10th December 2018. They toured most of Europe including Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Turkey and other international countries such as Japan, USA and Canada.

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They took a couple of months off over Christmas and New Year and in February 2019 they went back out on the road again adding countries like Brazil, Poland, Greece and the Ukraine and a few others to their list. GoGo Penguin have always been a hard-working band and spend a lot of their time on the road playing live. It was whilst on tour in America back in 2018 they got to do a mini concert on the 13th September and performed 3 of the tracks from the album “Raven“. “Bardo” and “Window” in Washington at NPR Musics Tiny Desk.

The Tiny Desk was set up by Bob Boilen back in 2008 after he and the editor of NPR Music Stephen Thompson left a bar show frustrated that they couldn’t hear the music over the crowd noise. The artist they were watching at the time was folk singer Laura Gibson and Thompson joked that maybe she should perform at Boilen’s desk.

A month later Boilen arranged for Laura Gibson to just do that and made an impromptu recording and posting it online and it attracted enough attention to make it into a series featuring many new and upcoming artists and more well-known artists such as Sting, Richard Thompson and Cat Stevens to name a few. It’s very popular on YouTube and by the time GoGo Penguin played behind the desk (which now looks like the counter of a book store) more than 800 concerts have been viewed a collective 2 billion times on the Tube. I’ve watched it a good few times and enjoy it.

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This mini concert is well worth watching and I was also quite amazed how the guys managed to set up in such a small space. I am fairly sure that Chris Illingworth does hit a couple of bum notes on “Raven” and to be honest it’s the first time I have ever heard him make any sort of mistake but that is all part and parcel of a live performance and was hardly that noticeable at all. It cannot be easy when you do not have your own instrument either and have to rely on what piano you get for each show.

Speaking of PIANOS! he also has to get permission to put tape over the strings and with an upright piano you will also need to take the front off with a screwdriver. Even though this is something that could be done on a Grand Piano without having to take it apart I often wonder how many would grant permission to put sticky tape on expensive pianos such as a Steinway and those things cost a bomb. The sticky tape does its job though and they knock both “Bardo” and “Window” out of the park on this performance.

The musical trio carried on playing more live shows and writing new material throughout 2019 and also released another EP only this time unlike the Live At Abbey Road EP they put out 3 years earlier this consisted of new recorded material. Oddly enough the EP was titled after the only new track that featured on their live EP from 2016 only this version does sound a bit different and is a minute shorter.

GoGo Penguin’s second EP Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) was released on the 4th October 2019 it contains 5 instrumental tracks spread over an overall time of 22 minutes, 41 seconds. The EP was released in the form of a Digital Download and on 10″ Vinyl in Europe only. It was also released on CD in Japan only and like always you will pay through the nose for it and £23 for an EP that should retail at around £5 – £7 here in the UK is scandalous. To be honest even though the 10″ vinyl is only around £14 here in the UK I still find that a ridiculous price which is why I opted for the Digital Download and paid £2.79 for it on Amazon UK.

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The music that is featured on the 5-track EP Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) was the score they wrote for Godfrey Reggio’s cult 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi and performed at the HOME cinema in Manchester, England back in October 2015. They decided to re-record it and recorded it at 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester between the 25th – 27th January 2019. It was recorded and mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams and mastered by Norman Nitzsche. The cover design was done by Paul Middlewick and the photograph of the circuit board was taken by Alexandre Debiève.

It’s perhaps the most adventurous artwork ever seen on a GoGo Penguin release although the picture of the circuit board I personally think does very little and bares no relation to the EP. I would also say that the music they scored for Godfrey Reggio’s film also bares no relation to the title to which Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word meaning “life out of balance”. I would also say that out of the 5 tracks that make up the EP it is only perhaps the final track “Nessus” that really sounds like Soundtrack material.

Unlike the Live At Abbey Road EP to which I never seen as an essential part of the bands discography the 5-track EP Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) is quite the opposite and very much a must to have. Most of the material that was written for it is more up-tempo and exciting and my personal favourite track and standout track from the EP would be the longest one on it entitled “Control Shift“. But they are all very well written and GREAT! tracks. The track listing is as follows: “Time-Lapse City. 3:55“. “Control Shift. 7:08“. “Four Corners. 4:29“. “Ocean In A Drop. 4:19” and “Nessus. 2:50“.

Overall, Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) is very much up with the material that was written for both Man Made Object and A Humdrum Star and is a very solid body of work. It’s very much worthy of my rating of 10 out of 10 and like I mentioned a must for all GoGo Penguin fans alike. The band also performed the material from it live at a couple of the gigs in the States in the same month of its release.

Musicians & Credits…

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All compositions by GoGo Penguin. Produced by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Recorded at Low Four Studios Manchester, England between 10th – 23rd June 2017. Mixed at 80 HERTZ Studios Manchester, England between 3rd – 21st July 2017 and Low Four Studios Manchester, England between 16th & 17th October 2017. Recorded & Mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Mastered by Norman Nitzsche at Calyx Mastering Berlin, Germany between 18th & 19th October 2017. Assistant Recording Engineer Lee Aston. Additional Engineering by Rob Kelledy. Artwork & Design by Paul Middlewick.

Musicians:
Chris Illingworth: Piano.
Nick Blacka: Double Bass.
Rob Turner: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Like I mentioned earlier GoGo Penguin were a band that appeared to be improving all the time and regarding carrying on that success most bands are only as good as their next album. The band were put under pressure to come up with the goods when they made their previous album Man Made Object, after all they were signed up to a new record label. The fact that they are constantly out on the road playing live also contributes to a lot of the success but it can also put a strain on you when it leaves little time to be at home with your family.

Like any band there is always going to be some arguments or disputes when you are continuously working together all the time, which is why they decided to record their 4th album A Humdrum Star in their own town in Manchester. This allowed them more time to spend in their own homes with their families and helped relieve a lot of the pressure and gave them more liberation. I certainly think it paid off by how well the album came out and there is no doubt that GoGo Penguin had come up with the goods yet again.

I would also say that they stripped back on quite a bit of the elements that went into making their 3rd album Man Made Object to create what we have here. So, lets now take a look at the individual tracks on the album and see how it all worked out.

Track 1. Prayer.

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The album opens with the shortest track on the album to which mostly features Chris Illingworth on the piano whilst the other two work more in the way of adding effects to the piece such as the effective use of the bowed strings on the double bass and the odd bit of knocks and noises in the percussion department. The piano is also working in a percussive way with how it’s hammering out one continuous note on the one hand whilst a darker mournful melody is crafted out of the other.

It’s quite a dramatic piece that reflects a sense or feel of sadness and loss, it would even work as a funeral march in many respects too. You could even visualize it like staring up at the stars and as a prayer of hope perhaps for those astronauts who are about to take off or those who were lost. As prayers go this is perhaps not a blessing but works very well as an introduction.

Track 2, Raven.

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This is very much the first piece I ever heard of GoGo Penguin and it immediately drew me in and led me to further investigate their music. Now here I am with another 5 albums and 2 EP’s added to my collection writing about it. What drew my attention to this piece is very much the electronic side of things that the piano is playing and no doubt Illingworth has worked the melody lines around that genre of music and has even threw the odd classic elements into the pot with some of the octaves in the faster sections of the piece. The melody lines are really GREAT! and it’s a very well-structured piece.

The piece was originally worked around a little sketch that Illingworth wrote using lots of synths and electronic drums and although both Nick Blacka and Rob Turner do contribute towards the writing on certain pieces, it’s quite evident that this particular piece was very much like many other of Go Go Penguin’s compositions and was more structured around the keys. The inspiration and title of the piece also came from one of Illingworth’s strange dreams he had a few years ago about playing chess with a raven.

This video the band put out on their official YouTube channel of the band performing it live at Low Four Studios where they recorded the album is the same video, I seen that drew my attention to the band. The thing that stuck out to me was not only the well-structured melody lines on the piano, but how the lines were structured around electronic music and the fact that they had replaced the synthetic bass lines and drums with real instruments. In all honesty if I was to hear another pathetic Roland TR808 Drum Machine it would of drove me up the wall. Those things really do sound like Plastic and drive me nuts Lol…

Raven” is very much one of the albums stand out tracks and its melodic structure is very catchy and pulls you in and draws you to it straight away. It also has all the right characteristics to work as the single release from the album and is infectious enough to make people want to go out and buy it. I dare say it pulled in many more fans when they released it too and it is one of my personal favourite tracks on the album that merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! for those reasons.

Track 3. Bardo.

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This is a piece that sort of noodles it’s way along a repetitive sequence played on the keys with part of the strings on the piano taped up to give it more of a muted plucky effect. All three musicians do their own bit off noodling to make it what it is and they each play their part in it. It’s a piece that may of very well of been designed to take out on the road to play live and is that more interesting watching it being played live rather than listening to it on the album. Though it is quite a good album track and has been very well worked out.

The word “bardo” is associated with Buddhism and in Tibet in particular it’s also mentioned in their book of the dead. It’s an intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth and used loosely, “bardo” is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth according to Tibetan tradition.

The band put out an official video on their YouTube channel and once again the video production was done by Antony Barkworth-Knight. It is however, on a radio edit and is only half as long as the 7 minute, 14 second track on the album, but nevertheless portrays the transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth quite well.

Overall, “Bardo” is more exciting to watch live and it’s one of those pieces you would want to see them play at a gig and it would perhaps standout more at their live shows. I do actually prefer the longer version on the album than the radio edit they put out in this video and it is like I said a good album track but does not stand out so much on the album sort of thing.

Track 4. A Hundred Moons.

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This particular track on the album reminds me a lot of the German electronic band Tangerine Dream and is more familiar with their latter material when they themselves added the singer and percussionist Iris Camaa to their line-up back in 2003. To be perfectly honest this track even sounds more like Tangerine Dream than GoGo Penguin and if I heard it on the radio first I would of even swore blind it was Tangerine Dream. That is really how close these guys are to replicating electronic music and they have got it down to a tee on this track.

It is more down to Rob Turner’s percussion and the ambience that is reflected from the keys on the piano that does give it more of an electronic feel plus the melody Chris Illingworth is playing on the piano. The double bass would be the only instrument that perhaps does not have any electronic element. Although keyboards can quite easily emulate that sound and Nick Blacka’s bass lines work very well here in giving it a rich texture adding some strength to support it.

The band put out another live video of them playing it live at Low Four Studios on their official YouTube channel and you can plainly see how well the percussion drives this piece along. You can also see how Turner does use some strange objects including what looks to me like a metal platter from a HiFi Turntable and it works effectively very well.

A Hundred Moons” is a really GREAT! track and another of my personal favourites on the album and no doubt there is a heavy Tangerine Dream influence here though it also quite possible that neither of these young chaps have ever heard their music. But it does speak the same language to me has that electronic band and they are doing it with acoustic instruments. It’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 5. Strid.

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This is the longest track on the album weighing in at 8 minutes, 10 seconds and its title is referring to a stretch of the River Wharfe, in Yorkshire, England. Although the Yorkshire dales is a pleasant place to walk even alongside the Wharfe, the Strid might even look innocent to walk along but you do not want to be falling into it. It’s considered to be the world’s most dangerous stretch of water and nobody who has fallen or attempted to swim in it has ever survived. Because of its very fast undercurrent it literally carries rocks along and it will totally pulverise you if you were to go into it.

Both Nick Blacka and Rob Turner work their butt on this track and along with Chris Illingworth’s piano they have captured the danger and the innocence of this stretch of the river with how it travels along with its twists and turns. It’s built up with both pace and calmer sections to portray the drama the river beholds and they do it very well. It’s a very well structured and fine piece of work with some GREAT! progression along its path and another GREAT! album track.

Track 6. Transient State.

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This is one of the more up-tempo pieces on the album with how it runs along at a it’s faster pace, although I must admit with how it opens up with Turner banging away on some tin cans it sounds like dinner is about to be served 🙂 A transient state is when a process of variable or variables have been changed and the system has not yet reached a steady state. The time taken for the circuit to change from one steady state to another steady state is called the transient time.

The idea for the piece came from a time that Chris Illingworth was on tour with the band in Tokyo, Japan and he got a rare day off to do a bit of sightseeing to which was a new experience for him and somewhere totally different to anywhere he’d been before. He packed as much as he could in that one day and it was about those experiences never being in one place very long and always on the move hence the reason for the title.

It’s quite a powerful piece with how it builds up and the piano hammers it’s way along a repeating melody line and goes through some alternating melody lines over the first 3 minutes. There is a more of a progressive change in the section that runs between 3:13 – 3:41 were things speed up on the keys. It plays a repeated sequence of notes and then develops into something a bit more like a jazzy jam and then goes back into its main riff sort of thing to end it all off. All 3 musicians are working their butt off and it’s another GREAT! album track.

Track 7. Return To Text.

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This is a piece that is once again is more up-tempo but has more beauty evolving from the melody lines that Chris Illingworth has crafted out on the piano. There is perhaps a bit more sense of a purpose to this track in relation to the previous track and it’s a very well-crafted piece of work where Nick Blacka’s bass lines once again add some tonality and richness to it all whilst Rob Turner keeps it nicely ticking over. It’s a very pleasing piece to listen to and perhaps reflects its power more in its beauty.

Track 8. Reactor.

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The up-tempo and pace is further fueled and ignited and “Reactor” is a track that has more excitement and a bit more adrenalin thrown in with how it pumps things up and drives them along. Driving it along is very much Nick Blacka’s powerful bass line and it ignites the flame. Musically this piece was most likely structured around his bass line and whilst Rob Turner’s drums provide the right amount of heat Chris Illingworth’s piano provides the right fuel to build it all up and it cooks very well along on gas.

Overall, “Reactor” is quite a powerful track that maintains its high driven energy throughout most of its 6 minutes and 17 seconds only dropping off the pedal on a short couple of occasions. It’s another really GREAT! album track and contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 9. Window.

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The album closes up with a lovely piece entitled “Window” which could be seen as the exit point whatever way you look through it sort of thing. Whatever is in this window has been very well constructed and its musical structure would most definitely have come from the piano and it really is a GORGEOUS! piece of work that once again all 3 musicians have worked their butt off with everything they have thrown into the piece.

They also put out an official video which consists of a shorter radio edit of the track on their YouTube channel. There is some really strange things going on through this window by the looks of the video that was Directed by Antony Barkworth-Knight that was made with the use of CGI by Gelato Visual Effects and captured by Matthew Melbourne.

Window” ends off the album superbly and just like the second track on the album “Raven” it has all the right qualities to make another single release from the album. It’s very much my second favourite track on the album and a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Summary…

To sum up GoGo Penguin’s 4th studio album A Humdrum Star. It’s very much an album that is on par and equal terms with their previous album Man Made Object. The difference between the two albums is really down to how they have stripped back more of the techno, trance, dubstep, and dance that’s more associated with the club scene and worked the material around more of the electronic side of music without all those modern attributes thrown into the pot. All the jazz, classical and hip-hop elements are still present as with all their albums and it is those elements mixed with some minimalistic electronic elements that maintains and gives them their distinctive style and is the driving force behind their music.

You simply cannot tag GoGo Penguin down to one particular genre of music because there are several other genres of music that goes into fusing it all together. I would even add Cinematic to all the ones I have mentioned as well. The fact that they do work within all these different genres and manage to come up with consistent melody lines is what keeps their music fresh and why each album does manage to flow along differently from one to the next.

Personally, I do not see A Humdrum Star an improvement over their previous album Man Made Object because their 3rd album was where they had found their feet and could be seen as quite a step forward in relation to the bands first couple of albums. To be perfectly honest how they have stripped back on many of those modern genres that were fused into their 3rd album should by rights make this album appeal more to my taste. Simply because those genres of techno, trance, dubstep, and dance have never appealed to my taste.

But what appeals to me about the music that GoGo Penguin creates is really down to the fact that they are only using minimalistic elements from all of the genres they have managed to fuse into the pot, and they have successfully combined them in a way for them not annoy me and appeal more to me. What makes GoGo Penguin so successful is really their minimalistic approach to everything they do, even down to their album covers. Their music consists mostly of minimalistic motif’s and melody lines that would be completely repetitive if it was not for all the other things that is going on around it.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of A Humdrum Star by GoGo Penguin. I would say that once again the Trio have most certainly come up with goods in making yet another very enjoyable album that is filled with very well written material. It’s an album that has all the makings of pretty much a solid album worth of material with nothing disappointing along its path. My personal highlights from the album are “Raven“. “Window“. “A Hundred Moons” and “Reactor“.

Once again, the album is very well produced and the track placement has been given some careful attention in making the album flow along smoothly. I think all GoGo Penguin’s albums can very much be enjoyed from listening to them from start to finish with how well the tracks have been placed on them, and each one provides the listener with something a bit fresher to listen to and enjoy.

Coming up next for review is the final part of this 5-part uninterrupted series of GoGo Penguin’s discography. Their latest eponymously named album was released a couple of weeks ago and from what I have heard of it so far it does sound very promising and you can find out more has once again Lee SPEAKS! about music…

More Than A Pale Blue Dot Visualized Here…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. Prayer. 2:54.
02. Raven. 4:57.
03. Bardo. 7:14.
04. A Hundred Moons. 4:27.
05. Strid. 8:10.
06. Transient State. 5:59.
07. Return To Text. 5:22.
08. Reactor. 6:17.
09. Window. 5:21.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

 

 

Lee Speaks About Music… #154

Man Made Object – GoGo Penguin

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Introduction…

Go Go Penguin’s 3rd album Man Made Object in some ways is a bit like the beginning of a new era for the 3-piece outfit or Trio. They had also signed up to a new record label and started to make more waves in gaining further popularity with their new modern approach to music. The American market in particular were taking more notice and it could be said that this particular album was the starting point that led them to the much further success they now have today.

Whereas both their debut album Fanfares and v2.0 were perhaps more of a jazzy, cinematic laid-back affair, they were now raising the energy levels and injecting more life into their music and heading in a newer direction with it. Both pianist Chris Illingworth and bassist Nick Blacka had also added some new effects to their instruments which revitalised and refreshed their creative juices. By now they were stepping more into the boundaries of electronic music and effectively giving that particular genre a new lease of life and attracting more attention by doing so.

I have to confess that modern dance music and the music that is found in the disco club scene is not my thing and never has appealed to my particular taste whatsoever. The electronic side of things however, was something I had been into many moons ago back in the 70’s and early 80’s with artists like Tomita, Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Vangelis. But those are the only artists I was ever really into regarding electronic music and I could not stand the likes of techno and rave and I very rarely bother with electronic music at all these days and can only listen to it in small doses.

In many respects what GoGo Penguin have done by fusing electronic music into acoustic instruments could be seen as an ART! in itself and has completely opened up that genre of music once again for my ears. This is also what immediately grabbed my attention and made me go out and buy their music.

These days they have been dubbed as the new Brian Eno and Radiohead and it’s easy to see why although I have to confess that neither of those have attracted my attention to go out and buy their music and from what little I have heard of Eno’s music it totally bored me to death I am afraid and no way would I buy it either. But we all have different tastes and no doubt the music of both those artists would also appeal to many.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a standard plastic Jewel Case which is a common and practical packaging and does a reasonable job of protecting the disc. The booklet that comes with it only has 2-pages and to be honest you do not even need a booklet at all for what little information this band give you. It does provide you with usual linear production and credit notes and on the inside has 5 graphic pictures of what looks like how they assembled the artwork for the front cover.

I do regard the jewel case as old fashioned these days and I do not personally think they give you the best presentation in relation to how cardboard DigiPaks & Digisleeves can be more eye catching and less boring and can present the album to look more like a smaller replica of the vinyl album. I would also say a bit more money as been spent in the making of DigiPaks & Digisleeves and they have more of a quality presentation which is why in general you do pay a bit more money for them and unlike CD’s that come in jewel cases they also tend to hold their price more.

I purchased my new copy from Amazon UK for £6.99 and I would have paid the extra if it was released in a DigiPak or Digisleeve. No doubt if they had of done it still would of held its price instead of dropping down to a lower price and in general most CD’s sold in jewel cases do drop down a lot more after a few years and can even be picked up for half price in most cases too.

As it turns out this is in fact the only album of the bands that was not released in a DigiPak or Digisleeve and it’s quite odd how it got released as well. For example, there is a Deluxe Edition that includes an additional 3 tracks that are remixes. But it was only released in the form of a Digital Download only. They also released the album on a Double Vinyl album to which included one extra bonus track.

Artwork.

Well I was going to say no prizes for guessing who done the artwork design for the album cover? To be honest judging by the minimalistic simplistic design I did immediately think it was done by Daniel Halsall. It’s just as well that I done some research as it looks like being that the band were signed up to a new record label, they got a new cover designer and Paul Middlewick was the chap who got the job.

By the looks of the album cover I think the band must of gave him some coloured Perspex to play with and I have to admit in all honesty GoGo Penguin’s album covers do make me laugh and look like something that came out of a lucky bag Lol… In saying that though at least this one is a bit more colourful and is fitting to the title that was given to the album. But they all look like the designs you would find in the templates you would get with a CD Labelling Kit.

To be honest you cannot really blame Paul Middlewick or Daniel Halsall for the simplistic, minimalistic designs and no doubt a lot of the input that went into the design would have come from the band and not them so to speak. Once again, the name of the band and album title was left off the album cover and GoGo Penguin are perhaps more interested in letting their music being the presentation and attraction rather than the package. I suppose in a way it does make a lot more sense too in that they want you to buy the album for their music more so than being enticed by the artwork.

I also think you can never judge a book by its cover and even I myself in the past have brought an album on the basis of the artwork and that is perhaps even more like buying a lucky bag and you can come unstuck and be disappointed.

The Album Man Made Object In Review…

GoGo Penguin’s 3rd album Man Made Object was released on the 5th February 2016. The album contains 10 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 43 seconds. It was the first of a new three-album deal that the band had signed up to with the jazz label Blue Note Records back in April 2015. According the to the bands pianist Chris Illingworth the title of the album was partly inspired by his fascination with ideas of robotics, transhumanism and human augmentation.

There is no doubt that the new direction and the material that was written for Man Made Object was certainly attracting a lot more attention. It was the first of their albums to break into the UK Album charts and although it only peaked at number 72 it is the bands most successful album here in the UK. With the band touring most of Europe and further afield in many other countries it was in America where they did attract the most attention and the album hit number 10 in the US Top Jazz Albums Billboard Charts.

As with the bands previous album v2.0 they decided to record the album in the same two studios Giant Wafer Studios in Wales and 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester and use the same producers, recording and mixing engineers Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. The only thing that had been changed was in the mastering department and that was done by Mandy Parnell at Black Saloon Studios in London. I found this interesting video of her on Youtube explaining just what goes into the mastering process.

Mandy Parnell has been in the music business for 25 years and has mastered literally thousands of artists music over those years’ way too many for me to mention but the likes of Annie Lennox, Bjork, Brian Eno, Adamski, Chemical Brothers, Glen Campbell, Goldfrapp, John Martyn and Depeche Mode are amongst a few of them. The material for Man Man Object was recorded between May – August in 2015 and mastered in the same year in October.

It was also in October 2015 the band were invited by the arts venue in Manchester called HOME to take part in a film project. The idea of the project was to have a few Manchester musicians write scores for silent movies which they would then perform live along with the film in one of HOME’s cinemas. They were given the opportunity to re-score Godfrey Reggio’s cult 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, which explores the relationship between humans, nature and technology in a blistering dialogue-free montage to which was originally scored by Phillip Glass.

To avoid any influences, they played back the film without the sound and worked on the new material for it and done their own thing to it. They got to perform it live at Manchester’s HOME Cinema but being as they had put a lot of work into it, they also played it at some of their live gigs.

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GoGo Penguin Live At The Manchester HOME Cinema

Towards the end of 2015 the band got invited to do something at Abbey Road Studios in London as part of the TV series Live at Abbey Road that Chanel 4 were running at the time. They were really doing it has a test pilot most likely to extend the series and were going to make a show out of it with various other bands. Rather than waste the live session they decided to release the live material in the following year and put out a 4-track live EP entitled Live At Abbey Road.

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The Live At Abbey Road EP was first released as a Limited Edition on 10″ 45 rpm Vinyl on the 16th April 2016. Later on in the same year it got released as a Digital Download on the 2nd September 2016 and has never been released on CD. The EP contains 4 live instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 17 minutes, 58 seconds and captures the band playing live 3 of the tracks from their 3rd album Man Man Object and a new track they had written.

The recording took place on the 2nd December 2015 and was mixed on the road at Studios De La Grande Armée, Paris between the 3rd – 8th of December 2015. It was produced, recorded and mixed by Joseph Reiser and mastered at 80 HERTZ Studios by George Atkins.

Being as it was only a 4 track EP and was put out in the same year I decided to include it in this review has I did purchase the Digital Download from Amazon UK for £2.09p. I did also notice that the 10″ 45 rpm Vinyl EP was still available to purchase. But as I do not collect vinyl these days it was no use to me, and even if I did there is no way I would pay £17 for a 4 track EP so I am thankful I do not.

The first of the three live tracks on the EP “Branches Break“. “Initiate“. and “GBFISYSIH” all feature on their 3rd album and personally for me I do prefer the recording of the studio versions. The last track on the EP “Ocean In A Drop” did not appear on the album and was one of the newer pieces they had written. However, last year they did record a studio version of it and it was included on a 5-track EP of new studio recordings entitled Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film).

Overall, the Live At Abbey Road EP does not really give you anything that much different from the studio versions of the pieces they present to you live. I myself prefer the studio versions but no doubt the 3 guys can also perform their music very well live and on this occasion were perhaps performing it more of less like they done the studio versions and it was a bit like having the same thing twice sort of thing. There is a difference in the ambience in the recordings but that’s about it.

I do not see the Live At Abbey Road EP as an essential part of the bands discography and it’s certainly not worth paying the £17 or even more for it on vinyl. The price of £2.09p for the digital download I paid for it is really all it’s worth. It has been very well recorded but in terms of a rating I could only really give it 5 out of 10 even if it’s worth more, and that is really down to the fact it offers very little different.

To be perfectly honest I would rather have a live video of the band and that is still something they have never released. Yet there are some really good quality live concerts of them floating around Youtube. They have obviously been filmed and edited properly too and I am not talking about the ones on there that was caught on a smartphone from someone in the audience and a professional camera crew has been used. As to why a live DVD has not been released by the band is beyond me. I have noticed that they are only short concerts of them floating around the Tube but even though I still prefer watching those to listening to this live EP they put out.

With the band being constantly on the road it’s not unusual for them to post the odd live video of one of their pieces from time to time, and they do also put out official videos of much of the new material they write before the release of their albums and they can be well in advance before the album gets released.

Man Made Object is very much an album that could be seen as the bands turning point in relation to their previous albums and its certainly more of an exciting album. There is something quite unique, fresh and invigorating with how they have so successfully managed to incorporate many genres of electronic music into a band that look more like an acoustic jazz trio. There is way more skill involved in bringing electronic music to acoustic instruments and it’s something I doubt that 99.9% of electronic artists could ever do either.

The biggest majority of electronic music and all that retro stuff we seen with artists like the Pet Shop Boys, Madonna and so on in the 80’s is mostly programmed and keyboard orientated music. Technically most of the skill that is involved in electronic music is in the textures and the layering and not the actual performance and the biggest majority of electronic music is easy enough to play. In many ways it’s a bit like colouring and that is where its art form lies.

What I liked about artists such as Tomita, Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Vangelis I mentioned earlier is that they also used a lot of chord progression in their music. But even for them to bring their music to the stage they had to have many more musicians and rely on programming and sequencing. That for me is where the art of live music and performance is lost, whereas with GoGo Penguin you are getting 100% the real deal.

In some ways the music that GoGo Penguin is presenting could be seen as a welcoming return to pop music and I myself detested a lot of pop music in the 80’s down to the fact that is was mostly programmed very much like a lot of pop music is today. I even remember when we got into the 90’s and we started to see newer bands such as Oasis and Blur arrive on the scene and even though they was not my thing that for me was a relief in the way that we had a proper band of musicians making music again instead of all this programmed garbage.

Effectively what GoGo Penguin have done is taken some of the fundamentals from electronic music such as sequencing for example, and instead of letting a machine play it back their pianist Chris Illingworth is very much playing the sequence of notes in real time just like Tony Banks of Genesis would on “Return of the Giant Hogweed” for example. That takes a lot more skill and concentration to perform live especially when you are also playing lead lines at the same time.

Musicians & Credits…

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All compositions by GoGo Penguin. Produced by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Executive Producer Kerstan Mackness. Recorded at Giant Wafer Studios POWYS Wales between May & June 2015. 80 HERTZ Studios Manchester, England between June – August 2015. Recorded & Mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Mastered by Mandy Parnell at Black Saloon Studios October 2015. Artwork & Design by Paul Middlewick.

Musicians:
Chris Illingworth: Piano.
Nick Blacka: Double Bass.
Rob Turner: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

There is no doubt that GoGo Penguin were pushing themselves and their music into newer territory and it’s instantly recognisable when listening to the bands 3rd album Man Man Object. More effect pedals were being used by both Chris Illingworth and Nick Blacka and they were further developing and crafting the sound and scope of their music even to the point of taping things to the piano.

It was also around this time that Chris Illingworth fitted Yamahiko Pickups to his piano which is a pickup developed and manufactured by Sonaresearch which enables the pianist to be able to hear themselves more clearly in particular in a live performance without having to hit the keys harder. They are also useful for cutting down vibration and feedback as well as other instruments bleeding into the mix. Nick Blacka also fitted them to his bass in the same year and they have used them ever since.

Many of the tracks that were written for Man Made Object were developed around Rob Turner’s electronic compositions he had created on Logic and Ableton to which they used as a starting point. The album has way less of a Cinematic approach in relation to their previous two albums and it centres it focus point more around the electronic dance music that is perhaps more associated with the music one would find nightclubs. It’s certainly one of their most adventurous and diverse albums so let’s now take a closer look at it has I go through the individual tracks.

Track 1. All Res.

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The album opens up with quite a dramatic entrance with the piano and strings and effectively Nick Blacka can be quite a cellist on that double bass of his and how he injects and executes them both into that trio which can be like having another musician making it a quartet at times. The way the piano and strings work together on the intro implants a picture in my mind of a castle by the sea which can be a force of resistance. Although the picture I chose here is another form of resistance.

I am pretty sure that is what the title is pertaining to and when the drums come into play it does sound like all 3 musicians have put on their armour and are putting up a defence rather than making a reservation. Although I could also quite easily pertain its title to resonance because there is plenty of that reflecting from the timbre in the music from the acoustic instruments and it does sound GREAT!

Speaking of GREAT! they also played it to perfection in this live video when they played at the Union Chapel in London back in 2015 before the album was released. I’ve been to the venue myself and it’s great for acoustics and ambience and the sound that was captured here is not that far off the studio recording.

All Res” gets the album off to a positive and promising start and it smoothly gets you into the right groove and mood for the rest of the album. It features some GORGEOUS! melody lines on the piano, expressive strings and excellent bass work and you can hear how well all 3 musicians have contributed to the composition. It really is an excellent well-structured piece that sounds like it was very well designed and engineered.

It’s very much one of the tracks that has all the makings of the single from the album with how it instantly grabs you and is my personal favourite track on the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 2. Unspeakable World.

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Quite a playful track on the album and one that is filled with bags of progression over its 4 minutes, 43 seconds and all 3 musicians are working their butt off here. The opening section is quite jumpy and quirky with the repeated motif that Illingworth plays on the keys and I like how the piano lines branch out and further develops itself along. It’s a piece which has the space for all 3 of them to work their way into it and comes down in sections. Blacka’s plucked bass lines and tonality he gets from the bass adds richly to the piece whilst Turner is kept busy throughout.

There is quite a bit of pace and life injected into this track and the repeated motif played on the keys gives me the impression of cars bibbing their horns in busy traffic. The whole piece is quite like travelling through a busy city like New York for example and it really is another superb piece of work very much like the opening track with how they structured the music. It was very hard for me not to give this the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! and it is without doubt a very strong contender.

Track 3. Branches Break.

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The more playful pace and fire from the previous track is settled back down and this is a piece that starts off quite dramatically and builds itself up and injects a bit more pace as it goes along. Once again it features some fine work on the keys from Illingworth and Blacka gets to utilise his bow on the strings although perhaps with less expression in comparison to some of their other dramatic pieces but both he and Turner pretty much have the rhythm and backline well sorted for Illingworth to play along too.

They also put out a video of them playing it live in a studio on their Youtube channel and called it a “Radio Edit” version. Though it’s hardly a radio edit at all and is certainly no shorter than the original track and they do tend to leave more than a 4 second gap between the tracks on all their albums for that matter. The other thing I noticed watching it is that some of the percussion has been overdubbed and is not played live and you can hear it around the 2:12 – 2:38 mark in the video.

Oddly enough Turner’s drums on this track are more profound and tend to make more of a statement than the previous which is busier. The other distinguishable thing is that on the studio version Blacka’s bass lines towards the latter part do stand out a lot more and sound lush and rich with its tonality.  Overall, “Branches Break” is another GREAT! track and it’s very much a piece that works extremely well with its build.

Track 4. Weird Cat.

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This next piece very much weaves itself along quite magically and majestically and both the bass and the drums are doing most of the work whilst the piano revolves itself around a wonderful melody line but is still also extremely busy. Once again, all 3 members are stoking up the fire and cooking on gas and raise up the level of the album by injecting a bit more life into it. Although I would hardly say that GoGo Penguin have not quite got the pace to rock things up but you could perhaps get up and dance to this one to some degree.

The title may have come from another one of Illingworth’s strange dreams, but then again this is an album where many of its tracks are more up-tempo and the music is more focused on rhythm and melody and the title would be less irrelevant. Especially in relation to the more dramatic side of things where the title would have more importance for the music to try and convey and express the given title has in the previous track for example.

Here is another really good example of how well they perform it live taken from their official Youtube channel, and this live performance was also from the same gig they played at the Union Chapel back in 2015 before the album was released and they do a SPECTACULAR! job of it.

It surprises me how this band have still not put any of their live concerts out on DVD or Blu Ray and they must have a rake of them that have been very well filmed. “Weird Cat” is another really GREAT! album track and one I would consider to be another contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 5. Quiet Mind.

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Speaking of titles, I am not sure why they chose this one for this piece and a quiet mind is perhaps more associated with the picture I chose above and is a form of mediation. In general, meditative music is played at a very slow pace and is quite often like floating in space and soothing noises like the sea or that of the whale sort of thing. It’s more of a soundscape that does not involve melody or rhythm like we have here for example. It does however, have a pleasing aspect about the music they are presenting here and I suppose in a way that could reflect why the title was chosen.

It’s a piece that is driven along by a repetitive melody on the keys, a bit like its ticking away the time especially with how the percussion works in the piece. I quite like how the bass also works a bit of a counter melody into the piece. The melody line is quite bright and very catchy and instantly draws you into it. It’s another GREAT! track that you can also hear how all 3 musicians have contributed to it as well.

Track 6. Smarra.

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The title is derived from Hindu mysticism and mythology and is associated with weird dream and sleep paralysis all creepy stuff. This is one of the more adventurous and experimental tracks on the album and one that keeps the drummer Rob Turner on his toes over the first 4 minutes, 45 seconds and is the longest track on the album weighing in at 6 minutes, 31 seconds. It’s a piece that uses a ton of distortion and delayed effects towards the end with how it burns and frizzles its itself out. Mostly from Chris Illingworth although Nick Blacka’s bowed strings on his bass also add to the pot here.

Both Blacka and Turner work their butt off more on this track and the piano plays more of a dramatic role. The distorted effect can be quite intense and I remember in an interview of the band how they mentioned that some people were returning the album thinking there was a fault with the recording. But I cannot remember if it was this album or track, they were talking about. The intensity does burn out and it leaves a more subtle effect to end it all off. It’s a GREAT! piece of work.

Track 7. Initiate.

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This piece almost has an oriental flavour to it especially with its plucky intro to which Illingworth makes the piano sound more like a Koto. The musical side of things is very much constructed around the piano and its quite bright, melodic and glows with a feel of warmth that draws you into it. It runs along at a steady pace too with Turner adding some of his metallic objects into the rhythm section whilst Blacka works his bass into the piece as well as ever and also provides some effects with his bow on the strings on the intro and outro. Overall, it’s another GREAT! album track and has quite an upbeat groove swing to it.

Track 8. GBFISYSIH.

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The title of this piece is perhaps more on the gibberish side and a could be seen as meaningless and GOBBLEDYGOOK! I could not tell what it means either although I did find out through my research that it’s a coded lament for an old friend. It could be that the “FI” in the code are the persons initials and it’s meant to say something along the lines of “Goodbye “FI” see you soon in heaven”. But I was never good at cracking codes.

It’s a very subtle, soothing and GORGEOUS! piece that also has a bit of an oriental and folky vibe and is quite dramatic and expressive. It’s also quite light and airy with the lovely ambience reflecting from the keys it sounds like its calling out to a lost soul. The bass adds a rich texture to support it along with the subtle percussion and this for me is another one of the contenders for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 9. Surrender To Mountain.

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This is another dramatic piece that has quite a purpose-built melodic structure to it and it captures the title very well. It’s very much more structured around the piano and Illingworth plays quite a majestic role on the keys carving it all out as it builds along. Although Turner’s job on the drums and percussion also have played a part in developing the piece and he gets to work them in even more around the half way mark where the piece further develops. Blacka’s role on the bass is perhaps a bit more minimalistic on this piece and it another fine piece work and GREAT! album track.

Track 10. Protest.

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The album closes out with the most powerful track on the album and where as they kicked it off by putting on armour and building up walls in the way of a resistance they are now marching out in force in protest to bring them down so to speak. Well I supposed it could be seen like that and they do have the force here to break through the walls and all 3 musicians are doing the hammering. They are also doing the opposite of the opening track on the album and are really ROCKING IT OUT!

NIck Blacka‘s bass on the track is quite breath-taking and it’s a wonder he has not got blisters with how he is picking out and plucking at the strings at this speed. To be honest it’s a wonder they do not all have blisters and they are all doing such a TOP JOB! here. “Protest” is quite often used to end off many of the bands live shows and I guess they like to go out in style and that is precisely how this truly GREAT! album ends off and it’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Summary…

To sum up Man Made Object by GoGo Penguin. It’s very much their ground-breaking album and effectively it’s as if they have taken everything out of the music played by DJ’s in the nightclub scene and incorporated it into their music. It’s strange really because like I mentioned earlier in my introduction that the music found in nightclubs and all that modern electronica, techno, trance, dubstep, dance and so on is not my thing at all. Yet this album is my personal favourite of theirs for its diversity and the one I would recommend has an introduction for those who have never heard their music before.

To be perfectly honest I would not exactly describe the music on this album something you could dance along too and I was quite surprised just how well their collaboration with choreographer Lynne Page’s dancers very much shown that it could be danced along too. Strangely enough they also still occasionally play at clubs and their music is attracting a lot of attention from the younger generation, but because of its other influences it has with classical and jazz music it will also quite easily attract the attention of older folks such as myself.

It’s quite a step forward in relation to their first couple of albums, although you could certainly hear this newer direction, they were heading in on some of the material from their second album v2.0. Especially with the last track from that album “Hopopono“. It’s also a very well-produced album and in terms of sound quality the mix is slightly better than their 2nd album but it’s not up to the reference quality recording of their debut album and it is more of a headphone mix.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of GoGo Penguin’s 3rd album Man Made Object. It’s very much a solid album with the material that was written for it and a strong body of work. I would also say that this is their most exciting album especially in terms of the energy that drives it along and it’s as if each track was designed and engineered to run along like it does and the track placement is pretty much perfect. My personal highlights from the album are “All Res“. “Unspeakable World“. “Weird Cat“. “GBFISYSIH” and “Protest“.

I think by now all 3 musicians had got used to how each other ticks and works and this is what helped in the new direction they had further developed and paved the way for them to further develop their music. It’s plain to see how they have moved forward with every album and they are continuously improving all the time.

Man Made Object is very much an album that put more of a stamp on their particular style and made them stand out and sound even more unique. It’s very much the same style and pattern they have continued to work around and why they are attracting a lot more attention today. It paved the way for their next album A Humdrum Star that followed it and that is up next in my 5-part review in this series of the bands discography.

Electronically Designed & Engineered For Acoustics…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. All Res. 5:15.
02. Unspeakable World. 4:43.
03. Branches Break. 4:22.
04. Weird Cat. 5:39.
05. Quiet Mind. 4:23.
06. Smarra. 6:31.
07. Initiate. 4:47.
08. GBFISYSIH. 3:21.
09. Surrender To Mountain. 3:58.
10. Protest. 4:44.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #153

v2.0 (Special Edition) – GoGo Penguin

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Introduction…

Within the first month of 2013 things were looking up for GoGo Penguin and it was in that first month of January that their debut album Fanfares was nominated for the Jazz Album of The Year by Worldwide Awards. I must admit that some musicians do decide to leave in some pivotal times and that is exactly what the bass player Grant Russell had done at the end of 2012. 

Although one could argue the point that at this moment in time that it may not have been a pivotal time in relation to the success that was about to come to the band much later on. But even at this point the band were making a noise and some headway to a step in the right direction and were more popular than Russell has ever been since he left. But for some musicians it’s not all about being in the limelight and they have to follow their own instincts and do their own thing.  

The double bassist Nick Blacka was no stranger to both Rob Turner and Chris Illingworth and he first met and played with Turner back in 2005. A couple of years later he met and joined up with Illingworth and actually replaced Grant Russell back then and as they had crossed paths with each other and were friends he was a natural fit and they have been together ever since. 

With the Trio now back in place again they spent their time on the road playing many live gigs promoting their debut album and working on new material for their next album. In the following year of 2014 the bands second album v2.0 was released and judging by the title that was given to the album it could very well have a double meaning. The band were also picking up more promising reviews and awards. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual. 

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in very much the same slim Gatefold cardboard DigiSleeve that their debut album came with only it also comes with a 8-page booklet and both the CD and booklet are retrieved from the both sides of the DigiSleeve. Once again there is no useful informative information and the only information to be found is the usual linear production and credit notes which are printed on the back of the booklet. 

It’s fairly obvious that GoGo Penguin do not like to give anything away about themselves and do not give a hoot about how they present themselves by being as minimalistic as you can get. All the pages inside the 8-page booklet display broken down images of the graphic image that is printed the front cover of the album. In all honesty I cannot see for the life of me why they even bothered to give you a booklet in the first place and what little information they have provided could of easily have been printed on the inside of the Gatefold DigiSleeve. 

I purchased my copy from Amazon UK for £11.99 and as a rule I think it’s worth paying the extra one or two quid more and prefer both DigiPaks and DigiSleeves in relation to the plastic Jewel Case because they do give a neater presentation. But when I look at how minimalistic they have been with how it’s presented; it does make me wonder if it was worth paying the extra couple of quid. 

Artwork.

Once again, the artwork design for the album was done by Daniel Halsall and to be perfectly honest a child could of done it. There is no real difference with the designs that Halsall does to the designs you would get if you went out and brought a CD Labelling Kit like Surething for example, which basically comes with a piece of software to print out your own album covers and CD labels. If they are actually paying him money for his designs then they must be seriously crazy and have more money than sense. 

The artist and album title names have been left off although you could always re-use the round sticker the names are printed on that is stuck to the cellophane it comes wrapped in. Looking at the design or the lines on the front cover if you were to put the album on its side the lines would look like those you would find in the midi editor of a DAW such as Cubase for example. I hardly think it would catch anyone’s eye in a record store or pick up any awards for the best album cover. Basically, its simplistic, minimalistic and does not do a Dicky Bird for me I am afraid. 

The Album v2.0 In Review…

GoGo Penguin’s second studio album v2.0 was released on the 14th March 2014. The album contains 10 instrumental tracks and comes with an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 20 seconds. The album was very well received and was nominated for the Mercury Prize in the same year which is an annual music prize awarded for the best album released in the United Kingdom by a British or Irish act. 

The album was also released on vinyl in 2016 and because the CD went out of print and they reissued a Special Edition that was released on the 21st April 2018 which just goes to show that even less impressive album covers can still sell very well. The Special Edition also included 3 extra bonus tracks and it came with an overall playing time of 61 minutes, 7 seconds. 

The bonus material that is included is very good and in total you get an extra 13 minutes, 47 seconds spread over the 3 tracks. Although I am not 100% sure but I would expect that the material would have been written around the same time they made this album or possibly left-over material that was written for their 3rd album Man Made Object. To be perfectly honest if it was written for their 3rd album, I could perhaps see why it was left off the album but the first couple of bonus tracks “Break” and “In Amber” I may well of swapped for a couple of tracks on v2.0. “Wash” is not a bad track either and I like the inclusion of all 3 of the bonus tracks you get here. 

It also interesting to note that they did make an official video release of “Wash” despite it not being included on the original album. I guess it was put out to promote the Special Edition that was put out much later than when they put out the video. As a matter of fact, it was 4 years later so they do not exactly rush things out. Once again, the animation for the video was done by Antony Barkworth-Knight who done the video for “Last Words” that appeared on their debut album Fanfares. 

Personally, I do not think the video is as captivating as the one that was done for “Last Words” and I felt that track from their debut album was a much stronger and positive piece of work. However, there is no doubt that “Wash” would of fitted on their second album because much of the material that was written for v2.0 does have more of a dark density feel to the dramatic side with how album flows along, especially in some of the latter stages of the album. 

The albums title is written like a version of a piece of computer software and it’s fairly obvious that the title is referring to the fact that it is the bands second album. But like I mentioned earlier it could also be seen like a double meaning and it could also relate to it being the second line-up of the band like a MK II so to speak. Personally, I thought more thought went into the title than the albums artwork. 

The band decided to record the album at Giant Wafer Studios which is a residential recording studio in the heart of Mid Wales in the UK. Although not all the album tracks were recorded there but they spent a couple of months with producer Brendan Williams who recorded and mixed the biggest majority of the album tracks there during March & April 2013. 

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Giant Wafer Studios

Many other bands and artists have recorded at the studios including the likes of Everything Everything, Chapters, Neil McSweeney, Dutch Uncles, Miraculous Mule, Pete Molinari, The View, Seth Lakeman, Dizraeli and the Small Gods and many more. To be perfectly honest I have never heard of any of them but then again, it’s very rare I take notice of what is out there these days and I stopped listening to the radio many moons ago now. 

The rest of the album tracks were recorded in August 2013 at 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester, England and were recorded and mixed by producer Joseph Reiser. The album was also mastered at the same studio by George Atkins. 

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80 HERTZ Studios

I think both studios look very clean and very well equipped but out of the two 80 HERTZ Studios does look very impressive and its very well detailed on their website too. Once again, I have not heard of any of the artists and bands that have recorded there and it does seem that fewer have and that might be down to the cost. But the likes of Aquarelle Quartet, Lang Lang, Skeltr & Kin Kail, The Courteeners and Mammal Hands are among the few. 

There is no doubt that GoGo Penguin’s second album v2.0 has been well recorded and produced. However, this album has nowhere near the quality of the bands debut album Fanfares when listening to it on your HiFi through loudspeakers and unlike that album this is not what I myself or many audiophiles would call a reference recording. Which I very much felt that Fanfares had all the makings of a high-quality reference recording that would easily stand out and impress the listener immediately. 

To get the best results out of this album you will need to listen to it with headphones and it is a headphone mix and a very good one at that. So much that even a 320kbps MP3 digital download will sound GREAT! in headphones and will bring out a lot more detail than the physical CD or vinyl album will do in a pair of loudspeakers especially regarding the characteristics of the double bass. 

The thing that is instantly noticeable on this album when listening to it on loudspeakers is that the bass tends to hang back in the mix which does not allow it to breath and come to the forefront to project a lot of the resonant qualities and characteristics the instrument has. When such an instrument has been very well recorded like it was on their debut album you should be hearing not only how the wood and strings resonate but also how it vibrates. 

Even though all those characteristics are present in the mix, it does not project that well out of loudspeakers and it’s more like a near-field mix where you have to get a lot closer to the speakers to get any real benefit out of them. If like myself you sit between 7 – 8 feet away from your speakers this recording will sound a bit harsh and almost like it’s been recorded in mono. You will have to sit right on top of your speakers to get the best out of it and that is perhaps the best way I can describe it. That’s why the mix sounds a lot better in headphones and you will get to hear all of those characteristics with them in a lot more detail. 

Musicians & Credits…

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All compositions by GoGo Penguin. Executive Producer Matthew Halsall. Produced by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Recorded at Giant Wafer Studios Llandrindod Wells, Wales between March & April 2013. 80 HERTZ Studios Manchester, England in August 2013. Recorded & Mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Mastered at 80 HERTZ Studios by George Atkins. Artwork & Design by Daniel Halsall.

Musicians:
Chris Illingworth: Piano.
Nick Blacka: Double Bass.
Rob Turner: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

The material that was written for the bands second album is more or less along the same lines of the material what was written for their debut album, certainly regarding the style of how it somehow fits into jazz with a more modern approach to that genre of music. However, I do feel that the band were making a few steps forward towards how they were now developing the music and had taken away more of the jazzier elements that was on their debut album to incorporate Dance, Dubstep and even Trance into their music and I have to admit it took myself a good few more spins to get into the album. 

When I ordered all 4 of the bands albums from Amazon this was the only one of them that arrived a week later and it was the only album out of the 4 that presented me with an harder task to come to terms with. But there are also some tracks on this album that point to that newer direction they would heading in from 2016 onwards, to which I feel there was perhaps more of an interesting change with how they further developed and crafted their music. 

The band may have been taking small steps at this point of their career but they were notable changes and it is interesting seeing how they progressed along their career to where it is today and there are some really GREAT! stand out tracks on this album so let’s now take a more detailed look at the original 10 tracks that made it up as I go through them individually. 

Track 1. Murmuration.

starling murmuration shaping a giant bird

The album gets off to a very promising start with it’s opening track and it’s quite a soothing piece that has an ambient chillout feel to it with how it opens up with the reverb that’s been applied to Rob Turner’s drum kit on the first few bars of the intro. Chris Illingworth’s notes on the piano also lend an hand to the ambient mood and feel of the piece and Nick Blacka has slotted right into the groove on the bass and with how he also uses it like a cello which adds a GREAT! effect to it all as it builds up to a crescendo before dropping back down for the keys to end it all off very solemnly.

The title refers to the phenomenon that results when hundreds and sometimes thousands, of birds fly in swarms swooping, intricately coordinated patterns through the sky. Here in the UK it’s quite common to see Starlings swarm in from the surrounding countryside between the months of October to March and there can be as many as 100,000 of them in a swarm.

Murmuration” is another excellent piece of work and GREAT! track that demonstrates how all three musicians have contributed to the writing and how very well effectively they all work together as a combined unit and team. It’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 2. Garden Dog Barbecue.

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Quite often the names that are given to the titles of the tracks on the bands albums are the inspiration to work the music around and the picture I chose above is actually from the animal rights group PETA who displayed what looks like a dog being barbecued a couple of years later in London’s Trafalgar Square. It also had a slogan written underneath stating “If You Wouldn’t Eat a Dog, Why Eat a Pig? Go Vegan”. 

In an earlier interview I came across during my research the bands pianist Chris Illingworth explained the story behind the tile that was given to this piece and it came from a reoccurring dream he had where dogs were hosting a barbecue, and the dogs ended up cooking themselves. Very strange and weird I must say and dreams can often be like that and it perhaps reflects the rather bizarre music they have presented here. 

I have to confess when I first heard this piece, I thought they was messing about rather than being constructive and it took me a few spins to get to grips with the bizarre and quirky goings on here. I am used to quirky and strange things and being into Frank Zappa he can quite often have that strange bizarre quirkiness in the music that he writes. It can also can be avant-garde at times too and there is a bit of that to the piece we have here too I feel. 

There is no doubt the piece has been constructed together in fragments and the three guys have worked hard putting it all together. It’s piece that runs through quite a few changes or spasms with various time signatures as it goes along and even though it’s made up of minimalistic sections they are quite intricate you can see how well they have worked on it to be able to bring it to the stage and perform it live. That is perhaps the most impressive part of it all because they have pulled it off to perfection. 

It’s quite a party and exciting piece and the band have performed it live at many of their live shows and in October of 2014 they even appeared on the Jools Holland’s show on the BBC. But this live video I chose is from the bands Youtube channel of them performing the piece on the June 2013 a good 9 months before the album was released. 

There is no doubt all 3 musicians are working their socks off and the interesting thing I observed here is how the bass player uses his fingers on one hand and thumb on the other to make the effect that sounds like he is using the bow on the strings.

It’s quite possible that the same technique was used on many of the tracks on their debut album and to me it sounds like a bow was used on the strings and both Grant Russell and Nick Blacka do also use a bow at times.  There is no doubt that “Garden Dog Barbecue” is one of the albums stand out tracks and is very much another strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 3. Kamaloka.

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Kamaloka is often referred to as a place of desires and is associated with the spirit world or the astral plane and can be seen as a place where one travels to in the afterlife when one passes on sort of thing. The music that is presented here does have a sense and feel of travel about it and is on the move no doubt. It perhaps reflects a scene where one is travelling around the streets in a city rather than the picture I chose of crossing over of life from one world or realm to the other. 

The piece centres and is built up around a repeated sequence of notes on the piano and like the opening track it does have an ambient chillout feel to it. It’s perhaps a bit more laid back in relation to the opening track in that it does not build itself up into a crescendo and ambles itself along at more of a constant and steady pace. All three musicians work wonders into the piece and it is quite a desirable piece to listen to and another really GREAT! album track. 

Track 4. Fort.

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It’s time to put up some defence barriers and I presume that is the thought that went into this “Fort”. It’s a piece where the bass and a drums do some noodling around the piano and the piano itself is also noodling and echoing its way along effectively with the use of some delay in parts. It’s perhaps more of an effective jam rather than a composition even though there is some form of a structure to the melody line on the piano. It’s not exactly gonna set the world on fire but it has some interesting textures and I quite like how Blacka has worked the bass into the piece. 

Track 5. One Percent.

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The Trio give a lot more than 1% to this piece and it is certainly more interesting than the previous track and here you can plainly hear how they are fusing other genres of music into one big melting pot an effectively it works very well. For example, I myself have never been into trance or dubstep and personally detest those genres of music but how they have incorporated it into acoustic instruments does tend to work more in the way of a progression and is certainly more interesting and acceptable for my ears.

The title may very well be pertaining to the 1% of the population who are the richest and have the most money and own the most property, in other words the political power society. It’s quite a busy piece even though it starts off very slowly and builds itself up to unleash its power so to speak. It’s certainly keeping Turner busy on the drums apart from the short section where it does come down and Blacka adds some nice strings to it via the use of his bow on the strings.

The interaction between all 3 players is really good and has it builds its way up into a crescendo towards the end is where Illingworth works a bit of dubstep on the keys which effectively sounds like a CD when it skips and he’s got it down to a tee even to include it in a live performance. It’s another GREAT! piece of work and album track.

Track 6. Home.

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Home” is quite a pleasant piece and perhaps describes the comfort and warmth of home. It’s also got more of the jazz flavour in particular with the GREAT! bass work that Blacka works into the piece and it even kicks off with a very TASTY! solo from him. It was also the first piece that they worked on together when he joined them. There is some lovely chord progression that Illingworth works into it on the keys and Turner keeps it all ticking over in a more subtle laid-back way on his kit.

Track 7. The Letter.

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This is quite a dark atmospheric, dynamic and dramatic piece and strangely enough they decided to record it in the dark. It’s perhaps the most atmospheric piece on the album and cooks on a very slow burner but captures and portrays the drama of the contents that is contained within the letter. Which on this occasion may very well contain sad news about the loss of a loved one and is quite surreal with how it’s delivered sort of thing. Well that is how it speaks to myself and it features Illingworth playing more of a domineering role and it works very well. That’s not to say that both Blacka and Turner do not do their bit but it’s more of an ambient laid-back track and a good one.

Track 8. To Drown in You.

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This is the longest track on the album and more of the darker side of the drama is still present and the title might very well be pertaining to ones dying love for a person in wanting to lose oneself completely and consolidate their affection for that person rather than suffocate themselves by drowning in water so to speak. Although the music that is presented here does give you the feeling of being in water and sailing on the sea. 

It’s a piece that is worked around a short motif or melody line on the piano which is played repeatedly throughout the whole piece from when it comes into play around the 36 second mark. It could even be said that Chris Illingworth is playing the most minimalistic part in the piece in that melody line is repeated throughout. Though he does add some mice touches to it as it builds along and I should imagine it takes quite a lot of concentration to play and pull this off live. 

Even though the melody on the keys is the same throughout I can assure you that over its longer distance there is plenty here to keep interest and alleviate the boredom and this is where this 3-piece outfit really work as a team. Both Nick Blacka’s bass and use of the bow on the strings play a very important role and effectively it’s his contribution that gives it the feel of travelling upon the sea, Rob Turner’s contribution on the drums is outstanding and listening to the bass and drum section between 3:20 – 5:28 reminds me of “The Beds To Big Without You” by The Police. 

Surprisingly there are many pieces of music I have heard from many artists where I could easily accuse a piece like this of not going anywhere. But where this piece does differ is really down to how all 3 musicians have injected their own thing into the composition and that is where it works so well. “To Drown in You” is a really GREAT! piece of work and my personal favourite track on the album and it merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! 

Track 9. Shock and Awe.

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This is another dramatic piece of work that would of most certainly of been written by Chris Illingworth being as the other two are barely in the piece. It’s also the shortest track on the album but only by 1 second. It’s a very solemn piece that is almost like being at a funeral and that would be down to the sadness and feeling of helplessness that is associated with the title of the piece. The piece does express and capture those feelings very well and the little nuisances of the ticking of the clock and other noises are captured very well and work very well in the ambience of it all.

Track 10. Hopopono. 

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It could be said that the opening and closing tracks of the album are bookends and they both evolve around the same theme in a similar way although this closing track does have a bit more life and pace injected into it. I would also say that both of these tracks are the stand out tracks on the album very much how like a single release from an album would stand out and hit you with more of a focus point that would instantly appeal to you and grab your attention.

I guess they seen it quite like that too and is why they decided to put out an official video of it on their Youtube channel. It really is a GREAT! track and has been played at many of their live shows. It’s quite a strange title and a word I have never come across before and the meaning behind it can be translated as “correct a mistake” or “make it right”.

The word itself comes from Hawaii and traditionally is practised by Indigenous Hawaiian healers and can even be used in forms of meditation and can also be used to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you”. 

I have to admit that reviewing instrumental albums is quite difficult specially to try and review each track individually. But what makes it more interesting is the titles that the pieces have been given and quite often I will come across something I have never heard of before such as the title that was given to this piece. In a way it’s a bit of a learning curve for myself with all the research I do and that is part of the pleasure I get out of reviewing the music I buy. 

I would say that even though the opening track “Murmuration” does share some of the same qualities to what we have here, the difference is really down to how “Hopopono” does tend to have more of an association with electronic music with how the sequence of notes are played on the piano and how it’s more driven along with its up-tempo. 

This track in many ways is where the band first made a further step forward to their musical approach that they would be presenting a couple of years later and would even quite comfortably of fitted in line with the material that was written for the bands 3rd album Man Man Objects. This is very much a very strong contender for albums TOP SPOT AWARD! and winds the album off superbly. 

Summary…

To sum up my review of GoGo Penguin’s 2nd album v2.0. It’s very much an album that takes you along with the flow and is a very comfortable album to listen to with how all the tracks have been very well placed throughout the album. There is no doubt that the band are injecting more fusion of other genres such as dance, dubstep, hip-hop and electronic music into the pot and even at this stage and they were perhaps taking away a bit more of the refined jazz elements that was more notable on their debut album. Although the jazz and classical influences are still present. 

If anything, the album v2.0 has more of a Cinematic approach to music with most of the material that was written for it but it still works very well as an albums worth of material and is a very enjoyable album with a couple of exciting moments along its path. I would say that both the albums Fanfares and v2.0 are more of a laid-back affair regarding pace and tempo and there is very little on them that injects a lot of pace in relation the next couple of albums that were to follow later. 

However, there is no doubt that their first two albums still have plenty to offer and there is no denying their formidable style is still very much present and they both have stand out tracks too. There is a darker side to quite a bit of the material that was written for their second album and it reflects that very well in the dramatic side of it. My personal highlights from this album are “Hopopono“. “Murmuration“. “Garden Dog Barbecue“. and “To Drown in You“. 

Conclusion…

The bands second album v2.0 is another very strong album and contains a fine body of work with the material that was written for it. It does not contain a bad track on the album and even though I mentioned earlier that I may have swapped a couple of tracks for the bonus tracks that they included on this Special Edition and had written around the same time. That is not to say that there are any bad tracks and was merely to point out how well the bonus material was also written. 

GoGo Penguin’s second album v2.0 was the last album to be released on Godwana Records and in the following year of 2015 they signed up to Blue Note Records (France) which is one of the many other labels that are associated with Decca Records. 

With the inclusion of bassist Nick Blacka there is no doubt the band were making further progress not only with how their music was shaping up and developing but also in gaining further popularity. But the key to their success is really down to all the hard work they have put into it, especially with their busy schedule of playing constantly on the road. With the release of their 3rd album they were without doubt picking up even more followers and fans along the way and were adding more fuel to light the flame so to speak. That will be up next in this 5-part series of my reviews.

A Newer Version Of The Band…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. Murmuration. 4:12.
02. Garden Dog Barbecue. 3:44.
03. Kamaloka. 5:23.
04. Fort. 3:17.
05. One Percent. 5:34.
06. Home. 5:19.
07. The Letter. 6:10.
08. To Drown in You. 6:28.
09. Shock and Awe. 3:16.
10. Hopopono. 3:57.
11. Break #. 4:30.
12. In Amber #. 5:44.
13. Wash #. 3:33.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #152

Fanfares – GoGo Penguin

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Introduction…

About five or six weeks ago I stumbled across what looked like a jazz trio and to be honest jazz is perhaps not really the sort of thing I would buy even though I have a GREAT! deal of respect for it, and my taste in jazz is more along the lines of jazz fusion. However, whatever these three young chaps were doing sounded quite different and in many ways fresh and new to me. It was also another kind of fusion in many respects and since I stumbled across them on Youtube I have more or less watched and listened to a rake of their music and watched live concerts of them. They go by the name of GoGo Penguin and are from Manchester here in the UK. 

I would not say what I heard in their music was entirely new but it was certainly a more newer and fresher approach to a genre of music that I myself over the last few years have got very bored of to the point that I can no longer really listen to it in large doses. That genre of music is electronic or electronica how its perhaps more described these days. It’s certainly not the style of music you would associate with acoustic instruments either, and that is what really drew me into what they were doing immediately and grabbed my attention. 

Today there is very little out there in the world of music that is that much different for it to be really fresh and exciting enough to immediately grab you. I would even consider myself to be very OLDSCHOOL! and still mostly live in the 70’s regarding my preferred musical taste. It’s very rare to find anything new and invigorating enough that is really going to stand out and make a new statement so to speak and the last time I seen anything like that was when I came across the 2 Cellos. 

In many respects with how GoGo Penguin go about their own approach to music I could perhaps liken them to the 2 Cellos in some ways. They both use acoustic instruments and effects and have a unique style and approach to music that appeals to a wider audience and attracts a lot of attention. Although these 3 guys are certainly not as flamboyant like the 2 Cellos and have not quite gathered the masses of popularity like they have accumulated. Though nevertheless their concerts sell out quite quickly and they are continuously on the road playing all over the world and they are without doubt attracting attention everywhere they go. 

Unlike the 2 Cellos who more or less gained their popularity by playing covers of famous rock songs to which was the very thing that had given a certain amount of popularity to the violinist Nigel Kennedy much earlier. GoGo Penguin very much play their own material which is perhaps why they are not quite as popular. The other difference is that their music can also be enjoyed by simply listening to it on record. Where as the 2 Cellos are perhaps more or less a dynamic duo you would get more out of watching them rather than just listening to them. 

Having listened and watched GoGo Penguin over the past six weeks I noticed they have a new album due to be released on the 5th June to which I have pre-ordered on Amazon UK. But whilst I was over their I very much decided to also purchase the rest of their entire studio album discography at the same time. So, I thought I would start this series of reviews from the very beginning of the bands career with their debut album Fanfares. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork. 

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a slim Gatefold cardboard DigiSleeve and the CD is retrieved from the side like a vinyl album. It also comes with the usual linear credits production notes although they do appear to have left out whoever done the artwork and it provides no informative information. Overall, it’s quite neatly presented and I purchased my copy from Amazon UK for £11.99. 

Artwork. 

Having done some research I found out that the artwork was done by Daniel Halsall, the brother of Matthew who runs Gondwana Records. It’s perhaps very minimalistic and looks a bit like they were trying to make the earth a pretty colourful planet. It has very little to do with albums title of Fanfares and the bands pianist described it like looking at the universe, from the outside and that perhaps make a bit more sense. 

GoGo Penguin In Brief History…

The three-piece trio who go by the name of GoGo Penguin all came about when pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Grant Russell and drummer Rob Turner bumped into each other whilst studying at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England. They became good friends and would often jam together and never even gave any thought to them becoming a band or going out and playing live gigs. A friend of theirs was running a night at one of the many live venues in Manchester and one of the bands had pulled out so he asked them if they would fill the vacant spot. The band obliged though not having a name they had to quickly come up with one. 

It’s not clear how the band arrived at the name GoGo Penguin from my research of the interviews of the band I have come across. One example goes along the lines of them seeing a weird, stuffed papier-mâché kind of magpie thing that looked more like a penguin. The other is that a friend of the bass player brought a stuffed penguin for his girlfriend and she would not have it in her house as it freighted her. In the end the penguin had to go and it winded up in the bass players house. 

It was during these jamming sessions and playing live that the band created their own music to which they all contributed their own input to music with their individual lines complementing each other and fitting together to create a coherent whole. The band spent a couple of years working on the material that would eventually find its way on their debut album Fanfares. 

It was also during this period of playing live around Manchester’s music scene where they were spotted by the jazz musician, composer, producer and founder of the independent jazz label Gondwana Records Matthew Halsall and that very much gave the band a good starting point in the right direction. 

However, it was not the direction that the bass player Grant Russell had in mind and in late 2012 he left to continue with his own projects. The bassist Nick Blacka who they knew was recruited and this new line-up has gone on to make many more albums and are still going very strong today. The bands 5th studio album is about to hit the record stores next month so to speak. 

The Album Fanfares In Review…

GoGo Penguin’s debut album Fanfares was released on the 19th November 2012. The album contains 7 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 35 minutes, 12 seconds which is a very comfortable playing time for an album making it much easier to digest. That shorter time slot is also much more suitable for a vinyl release without having any restrictions to which many recordings put on vinyl certainly do have. Although the album was only released in the physical form of a CD and a digital download back in 2012. It did get released on vinyl 4 years later in 2016. 

Having played and reshaped the material that was going to be put on their debut album it did not take them that long to record it. The album was recorded in 5 days in early January of 2012 at The Lodge Recording Studios in Northampton, England. The studio was first established in 1979 and co-owned by Robert John Godfrey and Stephen Stewart and was situated in a large farmhouse in the Suffolk countryside. Famous artists such as Kim Wilde, The Ruts, Katrina and the Waves, New Model Army, Mari Wilson, Marillion and Paradise Lost used it on a regular basis until it closed in 1988. 

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The Lodge Recording Studios

In 1992 The Lodge relocated to Northampton, where it currently operates two studios. It’s co-owned by Jason Ducker of the British prog rock band The Enid and Max Read. Studio 2 was built in 2004 to cope with overflow work from Studio 1. The larger main studio still has the vintage 1976 Cadac analogue desk, which was originally installed in Battery Studios in London. Studio 2 has a digital desk and features a Yamaha G3 Grand Piano. There is also a large live recording area used mostly for recording the drums. 

The bands debut album Fanfares was very well received and picked up many positive and promising reviews. All About Jazz gave them the Band Name of The Year Award at the end of 2012 and in January 2013 it was nominated for the Jazz Album of The Year by Worldwide Awards. BBC Radio 3 invited them to play at the London Jazz Festival and they had a GREAT! turn out for their second gig in London at The Vortex Jazz Club. They really did get off to a very positive start. 

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by GoGo Penguin. All compositions by Chris Illingworth, Grant Russell, Rob Turner. Recorded at The Lodge Recording Studios Northampton, England between the 3rd – 7th January 2012. Recording Engineer Joe Willes. Mixed by Joe Willes & Max Read at The Lodge. Mastered by Max Read at The Lodge. Album Cover & Design by Daniel Halsall.

Musicians:
Chris Illingworth: Piano.
Grant Russell: Double Bass.
Rob Turner: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Having heard some of the bands more later albums Fanfares is perhaps an album that is a lot more refined with how the music is presented to you. For example, the electronica side of things does not stick out or is apparent as much and you do have to open your mind up a bit more to spot it sort of thing even though no doubt it is still eminent in parts but not as much. There are more jazz and classical styles also lending to how some of the music is structured and it’s very clever how all three musicians have a unique ability to synthesis and develop each other’s melodic and harmonic ideas. 

All three musicians are no slouches and have studied their instruments very well and they are all very talented accomplished players and have studied hard. Both the drummer Rob Turner and bassist Grant Russell studied jazz whilst the pianist Chris Illingworth studied classical music and with them all being young and around the same age, they are all into the same modern-day music and they use elements from a wide range of musical styles. 

Combinations of classical performance, jazz improvisation, dance and electronica are all thrown into the pot and that is what gives GoGo Penguin their own unique distinctive style and makes them stand out from the crowd so to speak. Their debut album Fanfares is quite a strong body of work so let’s now take a closer look at it as I go through each track individually. 

Track 1. Seven Sons of Bjorn.

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The album kicks off very well with quite a sprightly piece that runs along at quite a good hurried pace, it’s one of the more up-tempo tracks on the album and gets the album off to a flying start. The title and the music is dedicated and a way of a tribute to the Swedish jazz pianist Esbjörn Svensson who was one of Europe’s most successful jazz musicians at the turn of the 21st century before dying, at the age of 44, in a scuba diving accident back in 2008. I am not sure what the “Seven Sons” in the title is pertaining to, but his 7th studio album is entitled Seven Days of Falling. 

Being a person who likes to have a tinkle on the piano myself. I can tell you now my fingers would be knackered trying to play a piece like this over its 5 minutes, 17 seconds and Chris Illingworth certainly has his work cut out and has a busy time throughout the piece on the keys. That’s not to say the other two have not got their work cut out either and Rob Turner certainly keeps everything tight nit on the drum kit. 

One of the interesting sections is the contribution that the bass player Grant Russell gives to the piece. Not only does he play the bass very well but with his double bass he can also effectively use it like a cello and that is what precisely he does in some parts and the section that runs from 2:20 – 3:18 is the part that breaks it up and the interesting section. I have no idea what the music is trying to describe but the way it runs along is a bit like being on a Formula One racing track and that section is putting across a sense of danger or fear. 

The “Seven Sons of Bjorn” is one of the couple of more exciting pieces on the album and it instantly draws you into the action and these young chaps are executing everything with fine precision. It’s my personal favourite track on the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! 

Track 2. Last Words.

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There is no doubt that some of the musical pieces the band write and play would be suited for film music or a play. 7 years later they did release a 5 track EP entitled Ocean In A Drop which was made for film music. Although oddly enough I feel that this piece is more suited to film than the material they wrote for that film and EP. I quite like the official video that Antony Barkworth-Knight animated for “Last Words” and he’s put quite a sad story which is well apt for the music to run along too.

Listening to this sad yet lovely piece of music you can literally hear how each individual member of the band have contributed to it and play their own role to go along with the story. The story in question portrays the day to day life of a family getting up in the morning and going about their daily routine of going to work, school and so on and how fate can sometimes play a part when one does not return. The last words so to speak are all we have left to remember them by.

Illingworth’s piano tinkles along like it’s ticking out the time, the bow on the strings of Russell’s bass resonate with the sadness (although they cannot be heard in this video and were overdubbed for the final mix that’s on the album) whilst Turner’s drums portray the hustle and bustle of it all. No doubt the story is very sad but the music not only portrays the sad side of things but also has a touch of elegance and beauty about it and it’s a very well good composition and another really GREAT! track.

Track 3. Unconditional.

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This next track changes the mood and tones things down to a darker shade and has more of a solemn or sombre feel to it and this would also easily be suited for a film or play. The title is often associated with the word “Love” and in the case of unconditional love it can have both a down and upside to it. Although “Love” is omitted from the title, it is as if both Russell’s bass and Turner’s drums are providing the downbeat whilst Illingworth is meandering along in a melancholic way lifting things back up to counterbalance things out.

No doubt the piece does have a jazzy flavour but you can also hear the classical side of things that Illingworth lends to it on the keys. It’s also a piece that reminds me of the material that Jon Lord wrote for his wonderful album Pictured Within which is my personal favourite album of his. “Unconditional” is a piece that will not set the world on fire so to speak. However, it does have a cosy and warm presence and feel about it and is also a lovely piece to chillout too.

Track 4. Fanfares.

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The albums self-titled track is very much like the album cover and bares very little or no relation to what the word “Fanfare” is generally associated with. OK! you could say there is like a bit of showmanship going on here but its not exactly as bold as brass to which brass instruments are more of the thing to make a bold statement and stand out for a very important person to which a fanfare is more widely used for. Even Keith Emerson had the common sense to use a bold brass synth sound to make such a statement when he did “Fanfare For The Common Man” with ELP. 

According to an interview it was Illingworth who came up with the title and the inspiration came from him playing one of the 18 piano études that the Hungarian composer György Ligeti had written that just so happened to have had the same title of “Fanfares“. He suggested to the other two members of the band that it would be good title for their own piece they were working on at the same time and they all thought the title was apt to their new piece and for the title of the album. 

However, I feel that they missed out on why Ligeti chose the title for his piece in the first place and the motif which could also be a short musical flourish that repeats itself (and is associated with music that is written for a fanfare) was also actually used in the second movement of Ligeti’s Horn Trio. It appears that even Ligeti himself seen sense to add some brass to the piece. 

I do feel that Illingworth had studied Ligeti’s piece very well though and this is a very complex piece of work he and the other two members of the Trio have come up with. Like the opening track on the album it runs along at a lot faster pace and helps to lift up the album and gives it more weight. This live video that is posted on the bands Youtube channel was performed on the 20th June 2013 a good 6 months after Grant Russell had left and features his replacement Nick Blacka on bass. 

It’s a lot more complex than it looks and all three members appear to play it a lot more comfortably but then again, they are very much all accomplished musicians. “Fanfares” is very much another strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT! 

Track 5. I Am That.

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This is another fine example of how each band member contribute their own individual parts to the writing. It’s got quite a sharp haunting introduction and Illingworth’s opening ambient keys on the piano cut through you like a guillotine. Russell is equally adding to the haunting horror with the effect of his bow on the strings whilst Turner’s drums are weaving out the role of the executioner. I do get the feeling that the title given to the piece describes the role of the executioner and not the poor chap who is hanging on the rope in the picture I chose here. Though I should stress that is my own interpretation of how the music speaks to me. 

Like the second track on the album there is no doubt that “I Am That” does have the dramatics for film music and once again it’s a very well good written piece where you can plainly hear how all 3 members had a hand in the composition. It is without doubt another GREAT! track and works very well with how it’s been placed on the album to bring things down from the previous track. 

Track 6. Akasthesia.

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This next piece is perhaps the least interesting track on the album for me and I certainly do not think the music fits the title we have here either and perhaps does the complete opposite of the disorder the title relates too. Akasthesia is quite a fiddly, twitchy and fidgety movement and disorder that makes it hard for one to keep still. It’s a feeling that creates constant, repetitive movements like pacing, rocking back and forth, or swaying and I do feel that the pace this moves along at is very much too much on the slow side of things for it to fit the title. Personally, I think they could have done something a bit more adventurous and been a bit more meandrous and meandered their way through it at a faster pace.   

That’s not to say it’s by any means it is a bad track and the first 2 minutes, 12 seconds features some GREAT! bass work from Russell and it’s around the 1:46 mark that he brings in the main melody that the other two work around and they help build it up a bit more. But apart from that there is not much more to it and over its 6-minute distance its mostly saying the same thing. You could also say that Russell wrote it as well even though it’s credited to all 3 members. 

Track 7. HF.

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The final track on the album has an abbreviated title and in general it can stand for either high frequency or have fun and as the latter of the two is typically used at the end of a conversation and this is the last track, I expect that is what its referring too. It’s the longest track on the album and although it does not have the energy of the albums opening and self-titled tracks there is more going on, certainly with the creative input that all three members of the band have put in to compose the piece and it does have more progression thrown into the pot too. 

HF” is a piece that starts off quite gracefully with its opening melody line on the keys and it gradually builds its way up into a powerful crescendo before coming back down to its opening melody line to gracefully end it off. Chris Illingworth’s classical influence is more present and he even mutes the piano keys in a short section which is the sort of thing that was very much a part of Jamie Cullum’s act. Although I am pretty sure other well-known pianists were doing it long before him. 

You can individually hear the work of all 3 of them have put into the piece and Rob Turner’s work on the drums and how he works them into it all is outstanding. During the powerful crescendo Grant Russell uses his double bass like a cello and it adds to the dramatics and like a train winding itself up to full speed. It really is another GREAT! track and another contender for the albums TOP SPOT! 

Summary

To sum up GoGo Penguin’s debut album Fanfares. I think it’s quite a strong album and very good body of work. It’s quite different in relation to the style that they do today and have been doing since the release of their 3rd album Man Made Object which came out 4 years later in 2016. There are more jazz and classical influences here although it still does have more of a modern approach and this is strictly not jazz or classical music by any means. I would also say that it’s not a chillout album and there is a lot more to the way the music presents itself to you and it’s a very comfortable album to listen too. 

The album is not only comfortable to listen too but is an absolute pleasure to listen too because it has been extremely very well recorded and mixed and I take my hat off to both Joe Willes & Max Read. This recording is very much what I would call a high-quality reference audio recording and mix and even these days they could be seen as a rarity to come by. I quite often find the biggest majority of stereo mixes are made for headphones and not for loudspeakers and in general with most stereo mixes you will get to hear more of the recording with headphones unless you have spent a good few grand on a pair of speakers. 

That is why I am more of a surround FREAK! these days and also prefer Hi-Res stereo recordings because they can sonically sound better and bring out more detail in your loudspeakers and you do not have to spend a fortune on them to achieve such results. It’s very rare that a CD or vinyl album can get anywhere near that quality and it’s only those that have been recorded so well in the first place that are capable of giving you these results. Every essence of the 3 acoustic instruments used has been well and truly captured in the recording including the resonance and vibration of the timbre. Listening to this recording is even like listening to a surround mix with how the sound projects and reflects across the room. 

No doubt most people would say that they cannot hear the difference between a CD and a 320kbps MP3 Download and even argue the point that Hi-Res recordings recorded at 24-bit 96khz or higher are no different to a recording at 44.1khz. I can assure you there are major differences in the quality and you would be seriously wasting your money buying a 320kbps digital download of this album. 

Conclusion…

Fanfares by GoGo Penguin is an album that mostly lends its style to a fresher and more minimalistic approach to jazz music without the swing sort of thing. It is quite different from the style that they went on to develop from 2016 onwards and to be perfectly honest it was the material that they was doing much later that attracted my attention to them in the first place. But nevertheless, I quite like this album a lot although its perhaps not an album I would recommend as a starting point to the bands music. But then again it might be worth starting from the beginning to see just how they developed and shaped the music to give it even more of a modern approach to jazz.   

Since discovering GoGo Penguin I have recently noticed there are more young musicians forming jazz trios who are doing more or less the same thing they are, and I have also noted that GoGo Penguin’s particular style has also been likened to some jazz trios who were doing it before them. I think it’s very good to see more young musicians who are developing a taste for jazz and doing something a bit more modern in presenting it. I also love the fact that they are playing real instruments and have studied their instruments very well to play them at an accomplished level. 

I have to admit it’s very rare for myself these days to step outside the boundaries of prog rock or even the new neo prog bands that we have today. But I do realise there are quality musicians in all genres of music and I like it when I see something different now and again. I can honestly say I am also enjoying all 4 of the albums I brought in one go and it is interesting seeing how further their music has developed over the years.   

Personally, I cannot fault anything on the bands debut album Fanfares and the recording is purely STUNNING! and is well worth it’s price point. My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Seven Sons of Bjorn“. “Fanfares” and “HF“. 

Jazz In A Newer Form And Without The Swing…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. Seven Sons of Bjorn. 5:17.
02. Last Words. 3:05.
03. Unconditional. 5:15.
04. Fanfares. 4:53.
05. I Am That. 4:05.
06. Akasthesia. 6:01.
07. HF. 6:36.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #151

Guests – Gordon Midgley

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Introduction…

Well it’s been sometime since the last release we seen of Gordon Midgley and because he’s been out of the limelight for a while so to speak, he thought he’d best get a quick EP out there to show everyone he’s still around. By the look of the EP cover it also looks like he has been having some very strange guests over as well, but then again they may not appear to be too strange when you delve into some of his own solo and collaborative work projects he has been involved in the past.

Guests is actually his 6th solo release and having listened to it first on Bandcamp it was obvious to me that Gordon was back to doing what he does best and it immediately appealed to my taste to purchase it on the day of its release. In general, around 90% of the work he puts into his own solo material and his other project of Napier’s Bones does appeal to me a lot and he is a very talented multi-instrumentalist who knows how to knock out some well good written material. The only album that did not appeal to me was the last album he put out Lifetimes Ago.

Lifetimes Ago

Lifetimes Ago is an album that came off the back of what I would consider his strongest output of his solo works The Fall of the House of Usher and was released around 3 months after its release at the end of 2017. It’s a very different breed and is more of an ambient experimental body of works where the music is created by the use of Guitar FX to create atmospheric soundscapes more than having a great deal of structure to the written material. It’s perhaps not too far away from his first 3 works Vanished Age, Out of Doors and The Darkness of Error. However, those I do feel have a lot more structured composition about them even if they do run along the same ambient atmospheric route to a certain degree.

I would also say to a degree I can understand why Gordon decided to go down a different route and his other hobby of mountain climbing would of give him more of an inspiration to go down this road and this is perhaps an album that was made for the mountains and for those who are more into the experiential soundscape side of things more than myself. It’s nothing unusual for any artist to try something different and having heard it on Bandcamp a few times back then it did not entice me to purchase it.

The only thing on the album that did appeal to me were the last 3 tracks and after 3 years I decided to give the album another listen. It was still only the last 3 tracks that spoke to me but as the album was cheap enough and priced at a couple of quid, I decided to purchase it for a quid more because those last 3 tracks were very good. The couple of acoustic tracks in particular are really what I would call the GEMS! on that album and they have some really GREAT! melodic structure to them.

His latest offering Guests has plenty of well good structure to the material some of which I felt was strong enough to even work into a new album rather than an EP. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The 4 track EP is available in the form of a digital download only, which is a format and good platform for many unknown artists to get their music out there. It also saves on the expense it costs to put it out in a physical format especially if you are not going to be selling them by the bucket load so to speak. It’s also worth noting that on places like Bandcamp you do have the choice of audio formats to choose from so you still can match the same quality of the physical product and even Hi-Res stereo in some cases where they have made the album available in 24-bit.

Artwork.

The artwork was done by Gordon himself and he does quite often get out and about a lot and get many ideas on his travels. Not just for album covers but also his music with some of the things he spots along the way. Though that’s not to say that many of his ideas for his music can also come from the books and literature he reads. I quite like how he has noodled around with the pictures he took on this journey he had out in the countryside on his bike. You can also see from one the photos he took of the strange looking iron statues he came across in a field below where the idea came from.

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It now looks like a prehistoric rocking horse with a dinosaur or dragons head on it and looks very good with all the detail you can now see in it. No doubt these guests are very strange indeed and it’s very well suited for the title of the EP. I think the only thing I would have personally changed would have been the placement of the fonts, in particular the size of the word “Guests” to which is on the big side. I would have made that smaller and positioned it to the top right and centred the artist name. But overall, I quite like it.

The EP Guests In Review…

The 4 track EP Guests by Gordon Midgley was released on 22nd May and comes with an overall playing time of 24 minutes, 48 seconds which is not far off a mini album. I am pretty sure that most of the material would have been written this year and he also stated that he worked on it quickly and tried to maintain a degree of spontaneity in producing the EP. He also said it might be a little rough around the edges, though if it is I am not noticing it and has a rule Gordon’s production work over the past three years has improved in leaps and bounds.

Like most musicians these days they record everything at home and Gordon calls his own studio Scanulf Studios which is no doubt very well equipped and these are just a few of his many instruments and tools he uses on the tracks on the EP. It was only just recently that he added a 7 string PRS guitar to his heavy artillery of instruments.

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For the past couple of years or so he has also been learning and playing the drums and that was perhaps eminent on the collaborative album Subjects he did with Joan Silentio back in 2018 and he’s also utilised them very well again here. Although the material on Guests is certainly more in line with the work, he did for both The Fall of the House of Usher and the Napier’s Bones album Monuments and is more of a PROGMATIC! affair.

Musicians & Credits…

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All songs written and produced by Gordon Midgley. Recorded by Gordon Midgley sometime in 2020 at Scanulf Studios Bradford, England. Mixed & Mastered by Gordon Midgley. Album Cover Design by Gordon Midgley.

Musicians:
Gordon Midgley: Vocals – Electric & Acoustic Guitars -Bass – Analogue synths – Drums – Tambourine.

The EP Tracks In Review…

Listening to some of the material that was written for Guests it does give me the impression that Gordon may have been working on a new album at the time and let it go to get something out there. There are a couple of lengthy tracks along the way and to my ears the written material is quite strong and no doubt this is very much a welcoming return to form. So, let’s now take you through the 4 tracks of the EP.

Track 1. Perchance.

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The opening track is a bit like being in a dream-state mind or could even be seen as an awakening of coming out of a dream. It could even be seen as coming out of some of dreams he had on the mountains from his previous album Lifetimes Ago and although this is a soundscape I do feel there is more structure and much more going on to make me more aware of what has actually been put into it. I do feel it’s perhaps different in relation to the other 3 tracks you get here, but it’s quite an interesting piece that keeps you alert and attentive in many ways.

Besides the effective use of the guitars the cymbals in particular have been put to very good use. I can also hear little nuisances that have crept in most likely by accident and a good example of that comes at 1 minute, 42 seconds into the track where you hear like a bird chirping. It also gives it the feel that an environmental field recording may of been used but the sound is actually coming from his plectrum screeching across the strings.

There is such a thing in written music known as “Accidentals” and basically, it’s a symbol (♮) and natural that cancels out any of the sharps and flats that are written along the staff. I quite often refer to some of these little nuisances that creep in by accident as “Accidentals”. Although they are far from natural so to speak and was never intended in the first place. But I can quite often be amused and even amazed of how some of these little accidents work so well and have often been glad they happened.

The other thing that works extremely well are the vocal harmonies that Gordon has done and they are a bit on the Yes side of things and have been very well blended into the mix. It’s a piece that takes its time to build up and unveils some splendours with the guitars and voicing harmonies between the 3:12 – 4:02 mark before it comes back down and slowly winds its way out very well. It also includes some hand percussion and it even sounds like a choral sitar was used at some point.

The word “Perchance” means by chance and is often associated with sleep, dreams and even death and like I mentioned earlier Gordon does like reading and gets much of his ideas from books and literature. I am not entirely sure if he has read Hamlet by William Shakespeare and if he was inspired by him at all but I did come across these words from that play that old Shaky wrote.

“To die, to sleep – to sleep – perchance to dream:
ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.

Track 2. Signs.

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Signs” is one of the two lengthier tracks and the title put me in mind of Napier’s Bones 4th album Alpha – Omega Man. I would also say that what we have here would have perhaps been fitting with that project of his and it makes me wonder if he was working on a new Napier’s Bones album and he had a new concept in mind for it. The lyrical content behind both “Sign’s” and the final track on the EP “What Remains?” do appear to fit in with some sort of concept and although I am not 100% sure (not having asked Gordon himself) but the signs he is referring to here do tend to relate to judgement day.

To be perfectly honest I am not entirely sure if this whole EP is based around a concept. But I do get the feeling that a much larger picture was needed for them to run along that way and it needed an albums worth of material for it take more shape and not a 4 track EP. In some way I would even go to the point of saying that such a GREAT! song may have even of been wasted or rather too good to be putting on an EP.

It’s a song that is very well structured and has some GREAT! progression and transitional changes along its path. It has quite a melodic opening that sort of washes, glides and slides its way in and has a sort of trippy FLOYD ESC! feel to it. It’s a bit like a cross between “Breathe” and “One of These Days” or even earlier material that Pink Floyd done with how it also utilises slide guitar. Both the bass and drums are also very utilised throughout the song and provided a very strong backbone.

The first transitional change comes in around the 1:35 mark and a heavy guitar riff is brought in to thicken it up and take away more of the ambient trippy feel. It builds itself up very well into a powerful crescendo and is very neatly and tidily rounded off to bring in the next section around the 2:26 mark which is the acoustic guitar section that provides the backdrop for the vocals to come into play. Gordon’s voice works very well at delivering the lyrics in this section and the synth is brought into play for the next traditional change around that comes into play around the 3:40 mark.

This next section is even more powerful and the solo on the synth and some of the heavier power chords and bass give it more of a Rush feel and from here on until the end it’s a bit like a combination between Rush and the band Mountain crossing paths with one another and it really is an excellent piece of work. It’s also my personal favourite track on the EP and merits the TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 3. There Shall Be No More Night.

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This is a lovely melodic acoustic piece that utilises 6 and 12 string acoustic guitars along with some phased swells from his Gibson Les Paul that give it that Steve Hackett touch. Two 12 strings guitars are used and it gives it a sort of harpsichord effect or even an early Genesis touch. There is another little accidental that pops out of the woods here too at the 1:33 mark, and it sounds like a Cuckoo sneaked its way in to say hello. Once again, it’s caused by the fingers sliding on the strings and I often find these small things to be little GEMS.

The video demonstration that Gordon made above shows how he played the main melody on the 6 string and he pinpoints were the other guitars come into play. “There Shall Be No More Night” is the shortest track on the EP and is just under a couple of minutes. It could easily for me be another favourite track of mine and I love these little acoustic ditties.

Track 4. What Remains.

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We now go from the shortest track to the longest and final track on the EP and like I mentioned earlier the lyrical content is tied to the 2nd track and there is some form of concept going on around the dance of death or some other ritual or battle. This is another well written song and piece of work that has all the progression and changes that we got with the 2nd track “Signs” only this one does have a bit more power. I suspect his new 7 string PRS was utilised for the heavy opening and Gordon does ROCK! this one out a bit.

Once again Gordon is in fine voice to deliver the very well written lyrical content and I am hearing the likes of Rush again with the synths and even parts that put me in mind of Marillion’s self-titled album track “Fugazi“. There are also many other influences I am hearing along its 10-minute journey. Most of the track is very much power driven but it also has some well interesting comes down sections and even a couple of very TASTY! guitar solos along the way.

What Remains” is a song that has bags of really GREAT! progression and transitional changes along its path and perhaps too many for me to point out in detail. To be honest it was very hard for me not to give this the EP’s top spot award and I could of easily of give it to tracks 2, 3 & 4 and those are the tracks on the EP that I certainly feel will speak the most to many. It winds off the EP very well and it leaves you wanting a lot more.

Summary & Conclusion…

To sum up the 4 track EP Guests by Gordon Midgley. There can be no doubt that this could very well be seen as a very welcoming return, not to form but to doing what he does best and that is prog rock. Overall, the material on the EP is quite a solid body of work, however the opening track might sound a little out of place with the other 3 tracks because it is different and perhaps more fitting to the material that was written for his previous album Lifetimes Ago.

I think he was right to put something out being that he had not for quite a while now but on the other hand I cannot stop thinking that “Signs“. “There Shall Be No More Night” and “What Remains?” could have been put to better use on an album rather than an EP. Those 3 tracks are also my personal highlights and are the PROGMATIC! core of the EP.

I do also feel that all 4 tracks on the EP Guests are somehow tied to a concept and he may have very well been working on an album project here rather than an EP. As to what the concept and where the idea for the concept came from, I have not got a clue. Apart from that it may be tied to some sort of judgement day like I mentioned earlier. Whatever it is it rocks my boat and I cannot really fault anything here.

To conclude my review of the latest EP Guests. I would say that this is a must to add to your collection and 3 of the 4 tracks I personally think are the same level of par of what we seen on both The Fall of the House of Usher and Monuments and both of those are excellent albums. It’s another little chapter of many of the GREAT! pieces of work Gordon Midgley as skilfully crafted and is very well produced and I highly recommend it for all PROGSTERS! alike.

You can listen for free or even purchase GUESTS! for free has it does come at a buy it now name your price. However, I do feel its worthy of giving something after all the hard work that has been put into it. It’s available in the form of a digital download @ Bandcamp and can be found here:  https://gordonmidgley.bandcamp.com/album/guests

The Dance Draws Near…

The EP track listing is as follows:

01. Perchance. 5:38.
02. Signs. 7:06.
03. There Shall Be No More Night. 1:52.
04. What Remains?. 10:12.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #150

Script For A Jesters Tear (Deluxe Edition) – Marillion

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Introduction…

Another of the re-issued box sets by Marillion is upon us and this is fifth one of their albums from their back catalogue to be re-released in what they call the Deluxe Edition. I think the band could have been a bit more adventurous like Ian Anderson with how he has titled the re-issues of the Jethro Tull back catalogue by giving each edition an associated name to go with each album, rather than just call it a “Deluxe Edition”. It’s rather confusing especially being that just over a decade ago many artists were re-releasing their back catalogue of albums as double CD or LP that included extra bonus material on the second disc just like the album pictured below.

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Marillion have also copied Ian Anderson with the packaging they chose to put out these new re-issues by putting all the discs in a hardback book. I very much favour this type of packaging in that they have a feel of real genuine quality and presentation about them and they can also be easily stored along with your DVD’s. The other thing the band are doing regarding these new re-issues, is that they are not re-releasing them in any particular order or to mark the anniversary of when they were originally released. They also stick to same format by including 5 discs.

The bands debut album Script For A Jesters Tear is the third album they have re-issued in these rather tasty packages that comes from the Fish era of the band. To be perfectly honest this is the only era of the band I am interested in which is why I purchased both the new re-issues of Misplaced Childhood and Clutching At Straws in this series and never bothered with the other two albums that got released Brave and Afraid Of Sunlight. The bands debut album has always been my personal favourite album of theirs and the only other album I am waiting for them to get around to is Fugazi and that will most likely get re-issued next year.

My main interest and reason for buying these types of albums all over again is really for the 5.1 surround mix of the album more than anything, but you do also get quite an array of bonus material thrown in along the way. Some of which has never been released before, so there is good value here plus you get a book to read all about the time when the album was made. They also come with a documentary with all the original band members speaking about when the album was made and oddly enough, they have titled it “Sackcloth and Greasepaint”. That would have been an appropriate name for this edition rather than just call it a “Deluxe Edition”.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Personally, I do not think you can go wrong with these book editions and they really are genuine quality and the 5 discs store very neatly into the hardback book that’s made with thick quality cardboard and sturdy plastic trays to hold the 4 CD’s. The Blu Ray is stored in its own slip pocket and is gloss coated inside to prevent the disc from getting scratched. It also comes with a 60-page book that provides a brief look into the history of when the band started and their debut album and it also includes all the linear notes, credits, lyrics and a lot of photos and artwork.

The Artwork.

The artwork and design layout were done by the English illustrator Mark Wilkinson who done all the artwork for the band back in the days when Fish was in the band. He also went on to do most of the artwork for Fish’s solo albums as well as album covers for bands such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The artwork he done for this album is my personal favourite album cover of all Marillion albums, although it was the artwork, he did for the bands second album Fugazi that was chosen by Gigwise in 2012 that got rated the 29th best album cover of all time.

I have nothing but praise for Wilkinson’s artwork and I suppose Fish himself deserves some praise with the ideas he presented to him. I shall also touch on the artwork a bit later on in the bonus material that is included on the Blu Ray. The bands logo name was done by Joe Mirowski.

Script For A Jester’s Tear Deluxe Release Editions…

As far as I can make out unlike the previous Marillion Deluxe Editions there is no Digital Download for this release and it was only released in the form of two box sets. The 4 CD + 1 Blu Ray is the cheaper of the two and retails at around £30. It also gives you more bonus content with the addition of the Blu Ray.

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For vinyl lovers it has also been released as a 4 LP box set and is accompanied by 24-page booklet containing rare photos, new artwork and memorabilia. Plus, an extended essay from Prog Magazine editor Jerry Ewing. It does come at a higher price and retails at around £60.

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I cannot find out any information regarding the quality of the vinyl as to if it’s been pressed onto 180- or 140-gram vinyl but no doubt 3 of the LP’s in this box set will have restrictions regarding sound quality due to them being around the 46 – 48-minute mark. This is personally where I have always seen this format being inferior in relation to the CD and why I chose to relegate my turntable to the attic 20 odd years ago.

Marillion In Brief History…

The band was originally formed in Aylesbury which is in the county of Buckinghamshire in England by drummer Mick Pointer and bassist Doug Irvine at the end of 1978 after they both decided to leave the band Electric Gypsy and form a new band of their own. It was also Pointer who chose the name of Silmarillion, after J.R.R. Tolkien’s book. In 1979 they played one gig in London as an instrumental band with Neal Cockle on keys and Martin Jenner on guitar who were later replaced in the same year by guitarist Steve Rothery and the keyboard player Brian Jelliman. It was not until around March 1980 that this new line-up got to play their first gig.

At this point the band certainly was not going anywhere and it was not until the name was shortened to Marillion and Doug Irvine left in 1981 and they brought in a new bass player Diz Minnitt who only joined on the account that they also took in his pal Fish that things started to develop more. It was this newer line-up of the band that started to write and develop much of the bands earlier material and in this same year that they had also had written the demos of “He Knows You Know” and “Garden Party” that were to appear on the bands debut album.

Between 1981 & 1982 most of the material was written by the same line-up which is why 4 of 6 tracks on the bands debut album are also credited in the writing to Brian Jelliman and Diz Minnitt. However, it was not until Mark Kelly replaced Jelliman at the end of 1981 and Pete Trewavas replaced Minnitt in the beginning of 1982 that the material started to take more shape and the band were actually going places. Though even before Minnitt left the band had played over 100 gigs including Friars in Aylesbury where they built up a bit of a following.

It was Fish who was the one that got them out playing live more by getting the gigs. He also took on a more demanding role and control over the band, but he knew it was going to take a lot more than himself to get the band on the road to success. He decided they needed a press officer if things were going to progress and by chance, he landed on a good one who had a lot of connections in the music business. Keith Goodwin had worked with the likes of Yes, Black Sabbath and Argent who was the key to getting the bands foot in the door so to speak.

Not only did Goodwin get the band noticed in music magazines such as the Melody Maker, NME and Record Mirror, but also got them a prestigious session with the BBC’s Friday Rock Show which enabled them to get their foot in the door of London’s famous Marquee Club which led to further bolster their success. It was also at the Marquee Club that they were spotted by the Genesis manager and founder of Charisma Records Tony Stratton-Smith who later sent out a couple of chaps over in a flash roller to try and sign them up for a record deal. Although it was only a singles deal that was on the table at the time to which the band turned down.

In the end the band decided to sign up to EMI Records and sign over the publishing rights to Charisma and the deal was done at the Reading festival they played in August 1982. There was another Genesis connection when the band went into Park Gate Studios in Sussex to record their first single “Market Square Heroes” along with “Three Boats Down From The Candy” on the 25th October 1982. It was produced by David Hitchcock who was the same guy who produced Genesis 1972 album Foxtrot.

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They also released a 12″ single so they could include their epic 17-minute track “Grendel” on the B-Side. The reason they did was because it never fitted in with the tracks, they had planned for their debut album. “Market Square Heroes” did not exactly give the band instant Stardom and failed to break into the UK’s Top 40 and peaked outside it at number 53.

However, success was not too far away and neither was actually charting the single with their second single release on the 31st January 1983, that got released to co-inside with their debut album that would get released in the following month. “He Knows You Know” did manage to break into the UK’s Top 40 and peaked at number 35. To save wasting a track they used “Charting The Single” for the B-Side.

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The bands debut album Script For A Jester’s Tear did even better and broke into the Top 10 of the UK albums charts and by now they was on the road to Stardom though it would take at least another couple of years before they were lining their pockets with Gold so to speak and the rest is really history and a fascinating one at that.

Script For A Jester’s Tear (Deluxe Edition) In Review…

The original album Script For A Jester’s Tear was released back on the 14th March 1983. The album contained 6 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 46 minutes, 56 seconds. The album received commercial success in the UK on its release and peaked at number 7 in the UK album charts. Part of the albums success may of also came from the late Tommy Vance plugging some of the tracks from the album on the Friday Rock Show that was one of the popular rock shows on BBC Radio 1 back then.

The bands debut Script For A Jester’s Tear is the only album to feature the drummer Mick Pointer the very man who formed the band and gave it the name. It was down to both he and Fish not getting along that well in the end that led to his dismissal even though the bands guitarist Steve Rothery fought in his defence to try and keep him on. The dismissal hit Pointer hard forcing him to pack it all in and set up his own kitchen designer business to which did for the next ten years. Though like a phoenix from the flames he returned to the music business to prove his critics wrong and has had a successful music career with the neo-prog rock band Arena for the past 25 years.

The new Deluxe Edition of the album was officially released on the 3rd April 2020. Though due to distribution problems many outlets including Amazon put a hold on it for a couple of weeks and were not releasing it until the 17th. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon on the 31st January and due to the Coronavirus also having an effect on the postal service it did not arrive until the 21st. Though I cannot complain and I got it much cheaper than the retail price of £29.99 and ended up paying £23.99 for it.

One of the advantages of having a residency at the Marquee Club was that it had its own in-house studio around the back of it which was mainly used for residents of the Marquee Club only. It was the band who chose to record the album there. It was also the perfect location for Fish and it was his watering hole. Although David Hitchcock had produced the bands single “Market Square Heroes” he had been injured in a car crash and Nick Tauber was brought in to produce the album.

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Tauber had produced Thin Lizzy’s early records, though he’d recently had success with the new-wave banshee Toyah Wilcox. He very much helped flesh out some of the superfluous bits and got the right layering to get them the right sound. The album was recorded onto a 16-track mixing console and the band were on a tight budget to record the album. The Marquee Studio closed in 1988 coinciding with the demolition of the Marquee Club. Many artists had recorded live and studio albums there such as the likes of Elton John, Vangelis, Toyah Wilcox, The Clash, Groundhogs, Ralph McTell and many more.

The album comes with an array of bonus material with this new Deluxe Edition that reflects that period of when the band first started out. So, let’s now take a closer look at what you get for your money here.

The Package Contents.

As with the other couple of Deluxe Editions I have of Marillion the book that comes with them provides very little informative information and is mostly filled with glossary pictures and artwork. Regarding the very little informative information they contain you can read it within a couple of minutes whilst sitting on the toilet taking a dump :)))) and they are nowhere near as informative in relation to how well written the new Jethro Tull Editions have been so well compiled and put together.

I would also say that this particular release certainly packs in a lot more extra bonus content in relation to the other couple of Deluxe Editions, though it’s not all good and there are a few things here that could have been done better. But on the whole, I still feel you are getting good value for the money here regardless. So, let’s now dig deeper into the contents of the 4 CD’s and Blu Ray that come with it.

CD 1.

The 1st CD contains the new re-mix of the albums 6 tracks done by Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh and these were the same guys who did the new mixes for the Deluxe Edition of Clutching At Straws that was released in 2018. I personally thought the new stereo mixes they done for that album were pretty good, but the new stereo mixes they have done for this album is quite outstanding and they certainly breathe a very welcoming breath of fresh air to the album.

They have brought out much more clarity and dynamics with this mix and I am hearing things I have never heard before. It’s quite a BIG! improvement over the original mix and the album sounds way better for it. Avril Mackintosh is the one who specialises in vocal production and you can hear every single word as clear as a bell in this mix. It does not suffer with the lack of bass either and every instrument is very well refined and detailed and it’s certainly up their with the best new stereo remixes.

CD 2.

The 2nd CD contains or supposedly contains a new remix of the 3 track 12″ version of the Market Square Heroes EP that originally was released back in 1982. It also contains a remastered version of “Charting The Single” which was the B-Side of “He Knows You Know” that was released back in 1983. However, I have noticed in many reviews that quite a few people are kicking up a fuss regarding the version of “Market Square Heroes” they have actually remixed here and included as part of the EP.

To be perfectly honest I do not know what all the fuss is about simply because if you were a purist I hardly think you would be buying something that has been newly remixed in the first place, unless you buy these things to kick up a fuss that is :)))).

But I myself have noticed that this is not the original version that was on the 12″ EP that Bradfield & Mackintosh have actually remixed, and instead they have remixed the alternative (Battle Priest Version) that was included as one of the bonus tracks on the 1997 remastered album. It might have been that they were not able to lay their hands on the multi-track tape of the original version. There have been many alternative versions of this song that got released over the years.

The other couple of tracks “Three Boats Down From The Candy” and the epic 17 and quarter minute long “Grendel” are remixed versions of the original studio tracks that were included on the original EP. Overall, another GRAND! job has been done with these new mixes and they have more punch with the bass but still define very good well detailed clarity and I am certainly not complaining and they sound GREAT!

CD’s 3 & 4.

The final couple of discs contain a previously unreleased concert of the band playing live at the Marquee Club in London on the 29th December 1982. This a really superb live concert that captures the band playing all 6 songs from their debut album before it was released in the following year plus a few others including “Market Square Heroes“, “Three Boats Down From The Candy“. “Margaret” and “Grendel“.

No doubt this concert has been bootlegged over the years and most likely is floating around on Youtube. But the sound quality on this release is to die for and this is well and truly a GREAT! bonus to have included. So now let’s take a look at the Blu Ray.

The Blu Ray.

The Blu Ray contains all of the material that is on the 4 CD’s only there are some differences and good and bad points about some of them. It also contains a few more extras besides and they really have packed in quite a lot onto the disc. The one thing that they have not included with this release is the original mix of the album.

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The blu ray’s main menu displays Mark Wilkinson’s artwork that was done for the album cover and I must say it looks even better on my 50-inch TV. Speaking of the little TV in the picture on the far left, it has some concert footage on a loop of Fish singing along to “Grendel” and they have done a GREAT! job on the menu.

The menu gives you 6 choices to choose from, the first of which is the main feature which contains the 5.1 surround mix of the Script For A Jester’s Tear album. You will also notice there is no “Audio Options” on this menu and it is only the main feature that comes with a surround mix and the rest of the bonus material is in stereo only. The audio and track selection options are hidden away and a pop-up window (as seen below) displays the other options if they have any when you click on any of the 6 bonus features.

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The main featured album gives you 3 audio choices to choose from all of which are 24-bit 96K high resolution quality. By default, its set to the LPCM Stereo mix. The other 2 are surround mixes and you have the choice of either the 5.1 DTS HD Master or the 5.1 LPCM mixes. There is certainly no lack of high-end audio options here but I shall go into further detail later on in the 5.1 mix section of my review.

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Once you’ve made your audio choice for the album and hit the “Play Album” it displays another one of Mark Wilkinson’s SUPERB! pieces of art. This is the only picture you do get whilst listening to the album and the only thing that does change is the highlighted colour of each album track as it goes along.

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They have also included the new mix of the Market Square Heroes EP on the blu ray. I must admit I would have expected a 5.1 surround mix for the 4 track EP especially how other engineers have done so in the past for other bands and artists. However, I am certainly not complaining and the fact that we also have a 24-bit 96K LPCM Stereo mix sonically and fidelity wise makes all the difference.

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The same as also been done for the SUPERB! live concert they played at the Marquee Club and once again this concert is in audio only and includes a 24-bit 96K LPCM Stereo mix and it sounds FANTASTIC! The concert comes with a running time of 92 minutes, 49 seconds.

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They have also included the Recital of The Script DVD on the blu ray and this live concert captures the band at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on the 18th April 1983. It was originally released on VHS back in October 1983 and later released on DVD in July 2003 to which they included the extra video footage and only bit of video footage from the concert they played at the Marquee Club in 1982.

No doubt you will find this concert on Youtube and the fact that it was captured with video cameras back in those days and not 35mm film does unfortunately mean that there is no way of improving the picture quality. Today’s modern technology of flat screen HD TV’s and Blu Ray is not gonna exactly do it any favours either and will in fact make it look worse than what it was back in those days.

But for nostalgic purposes this is still good to have and no doubt the band gave another truly remarkable outstanding performance. However, this concert was not captured as well on video as the open-air concert Live At Loreley that caught the band 4 years later in 1987, and the Hammersmith Odeon is quite a dark and dismal place and the lighting was not the best in relation how well it has improved today. But one of its downfalls is that it was either badly edited or they never used enough cameras to capture the band properly, and for most of the concert you can only really see Fish more than anyone else.

But you do get to see Fish in combat and destroy house plants :)))) and I had to laugh even more when it came to Steve Rothery’s guitar solo on the opening track “Script For A Jester’s Tear” to which I was expecting the camera to point at him. Instead all you could see was the camera jerking around showing you Fish and Pete Trewavas and it was only at the very end of the guitar solo that you got see Steve Rothery from a distance standing in a spotlight LOL. Honestly some of these camera men have no idea and I do rather think this was more than likely only filmed with a couple of video cameras.

The concert has a running time of 81 minutes, 39 seconds and comes with a 4:3 TV aspect ratio and the picture has black borders on both sides of the video which is to be expected. It also comes with a LPCM 16-bit audio soundtrack which does sound very good. To be honest this concert I never had unlike Live At Loreley which I did buy on both VHS and DVD. I had seen in on Youtube and I am glad they included it here.

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The “Extras” bonus material is once again more nostalgic than any real quality and it does contain the extra 11-minute video footage of the Marquee Club that was on the Recital of The Script DVD. You also get the 3 videos that were made for the single versions “Market Square Heroes“. “He Knows You Know” and “Garden Party“. In total you get an extra 23 minutes here.

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The final extra bonus content you get on the blu ray is the documentary they have entitled “Sackcloth and Greasepaint” and this is longer than the documentaries they done on the previous Deluxe Editions and has a running time of 93 minutes, 29 seconds. They have also gone about things differently by interviewing all 5 members of the band individually rather than all in the same room at the same time.

Personally, I think this documentary is better than the previous documentaries and I quite like how they have also included a chapter index that details the various points about the album they are discussing as you can see below.

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The documentary goes into quite a lot more detail than what the 60-page book you get with the package and that is very brief. Besides the 5 original members of the band they have also included the bands ex-bass player Diz Minnitt in the interview who along with the bands drummer at the time Mick Pointer shed more light on how the band originally started. Another important person they brought along to interview is the artist Mark Wilkinson and this is interesting how he goes into more detail about the artwork he done for the debut album and singles.

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The artwork that Mark Wilkinson done for the bands debut contained quite a few references to the bands and even others music such as the posters on the wall and the records on the floor of the singles that got released. There is also a couple of albums on the floor Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful Of Secrets and Bill Nelson’s Do You Dream In Colour?

It also contained a couple of references to a couple of the songs that would later appear on their second album Fugazi. Such as the figure of Punch on the TV screen and the inclusion of a Chameleon and these would have been some of things Fish had asked to be included, simply because he had not heard a note of the bands music when he worked on the album cover.

The Jester was Fish’s idea and it was something he had in mind long before he had joined Marillion. He wanted to portray a struggling writer in his surroundings and Wilkinson took it on from there and decided to put him in his own surroundings of the bedsit he was living in at the time. He even painted his own fireplace and wanted to create the real sense of a seedy environment and included copies of Kerrang! Sounds and the Daily Mirror which featured the story of the Yorkshire Ripper on the front page.

Wilkinson was put under a lot of pressure to get the artwork for the album done in time for the albums release. Things would of been fine if he did not have to replace and make alterations to some of the things that he had put in at the last-minute sort of thing, and he was given a hard time by EMI. Some of the things he had to change were for branding reasons for example the Coca Cola can, the Fairy Liquid bottle and even the name on the ashtray which had a Fuller’s Brewery logo on it had to be changed.

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Originally the painting above the fireplace was a painting of John Lennon floating in water but he was asked to remove it by EMI due to not having enough time to get permission granted from Yoko Ono. A painting of Ophelia, who is mentioned in “Chelsea Monday” was used to replace it has seen above. One of the things that were left in was the words to Paul McCartney’sYesterday” that were in the empty violin case because permission was granted for them. McCartney was said to be impressed although he never got any work from him to do his album covers.

Overall, the documentary is very good and is another of the good things about the extra bonus content you do get with the blu ray. The one thing I did however notice regarding both the documentary and the book, is that it never gave one mention to the engineers who done the new stereo and surround mixes.

The 5.1 Surround Mix.

The surround mix was left once again to the same engineers Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh who done the previous 5.1 mix for the Clutching At Straws album. I did mention in the review of the Deluxe Edition of that album that they never had the right head on their shoulders to do a 5.1 mix and it’s even more evident with this surround mix. The 5.1 mix they done for the Straws album was nothing to write home about and did nothing to bring out the clarity, and dynamics to give you the immersive experience that you will get from an engineer who knows what they are doing and has a lot more experience and imagination to do the job in the first place.

Like I have mentioned in the past doing a 5.1 surround mix is a totally different ball game and it really is all about placement and knowing what to take away from the front channels to place in the rear. It requires a hell of a lot more thought, immigration and attention than any stereo mix and just because an engineer can do an excellent stereo mix does not mean he can do the same for a 5.1 mix. In this world there is only around 1% of producers and mixing engineers who are capable of doing an excellent 5.1 mix and getting the right man for the job is a lot more difficult task.

But I suppose everybody has to start somewhere, but in all honesty these pair are not learning anything and are taking a step backwards rather than forwards. Where I do give them praise though is with the stereo mix and they have really gone to town and knocked it out of the park and that is the real winner and it was a shame they never included that remix on the blu ray in a Hi-Res audio format.

A completely new mix was done for surround mix and once again more reflections have been used for the rear channels instead of actually using any of the instruments. What instruments they have used to place in the rear are too low in the mix quite often and even though they have made the vocals clearer, there are certain parts where they are too low to hear and they could have perhaps utilised the rears for those parts.

Overall, the surround mix is very disappointing and its quite clear that they lack the vision and attention to detail to be even given the job of doing the surround mix in the first place. I honestly get ZILCH! from this mix and would not even bother to play it again. It’s a complete shambles in relation to how well they done the stereo mix on the CD and I would even go as far as saying that it was not even worth sticking it on the Blu Ray. I think even my rating of 3 out of 10 is on the generous side.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Nick Tauber. All music written and arranged by Fish, Steve Rothery, Pete Trewavas, Mark Kelly, Mick Pointer, Diz Minnit, Brian Jelliman (Except tracks 1 & 5 by Fish, Steve Rothery, Pete Trewavas, Mark Kelly, Mick Pointer and track 3 by Fish, Steve Rothery, Pete Trewavas, Mark Kelly, Mick Pointer, Brian Jelliman. All lyrics written by Fish.

Recorded & Mixed by Simon Hanhart between December 1982 – February 1983 at the Marquee Studios London, England. Assistant Engineers Mark. Andy. Mike Martin. Illustrations & Design Layout by Mark Wilkinson. Art Direction & Logo by Jo Mirowski. Photography by Steve Rothery, Fish, Andy Phillips, Stuart James, Stef Jeffery, Simon Fowler, Alan King, Robert Ellis, Mike Eldon & Peter Sims. Remixed by Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh. DVD Authorising by Ray Shulman. Linear Notes by Jerry Ewing.

Musicians:

Fish: Voice.
Steve Rothery: Yamaha SG 2000/Yamaha Acoustic/Squire 57 & Fender Strat Guitars/Marshal & Mesa Boogie Amps.
Pete Trewavas: Rickenbacker 4000 Bass/Fender Precision Fretless Bass/Peavey Amps.
Mark Kelly: Steinway Grand Piano/Harpsichord/Mini Moog/Roland JP8/PPG Wave 2.2 Emulator/Pro One/Yamaha CS15/Korg CX3 Organ.
Mick Pointer: Tama Kit/Paste Cymbals/Percussion.

Additional Musicians:

Marquee Clubs Parents Association Children’s Choir (Appear on “Forgotten Sons”).
Peter Cockburn (Newsreader on “Forgotten Sons”).

The Album Tracks In Review…

Marillion could be seen perhaps as the godfathers of neo-prog rock and they were certainly one of the more notable new bands to hit the scene that were venturing back down the road of prog rock after a wave of punk rock, new romantic, new wave and all the other so called retro electronic garbage many bands and other artists churned out in the 80’s. I quite often visualised and likened the band to early Genesis when they had Peter Gabriel and often thought this is what Genesis might have sounded like had Gabriel not left the band.

You could say that in the 80’s Marillion were my Genesis and in my opinion, they certainly wrote better material than they ever did in that decade. They also had a singer who like Gabriel had that bit more edge and aggression, and certainly churned out a way better debut album than they ever did as well. So. let’s now take a closer look at the albums individual tracks.

Track 1. Script For A Jester’s Tear.

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The albums self-titled track was one of the last to be written for the album and like many of the songs on this album it’s an absolute classic well written song that has a really GREAT! musical structure and well-thought-out lyrics. Fish wrote all the lyrics to the songs on the album and to be honest these are more like songwriters lyrics that you would associate with some of the GREAT! singer songwriters in this world, and not so much the fantasy and mythical stories that are commonly associated with many prog rock bands including early Genesis. These have far more purpose and meaning to them even more so than the lyrics that he wrote for “Grendel” which are more or less along the lines of that band.

The lyrics to this particular song pertain to the breaking down of a relationship and it could be said that this is “Kayleigh (Part One)” because they were inspired by the very same woman he had broken up with before he quit a secure life in the forestry commission to join the band. In my personal opinion this song is way better than that hit song that winded up on the bands 3rd album a couple years later, and this is the real playground of the broken hearts.

Musically there is some GREAT! progression along it’s path that allows the room for all the instrumentalists in the band to play their role besides the singer, and even though the song starts on the keys and the first section of the song is more developed by Mark Kelly’s keyboards it is very much more structured around the guitar. In the interview Steve Rothery stated that he had not quite developed his guitar sound at this stage and he did not really develop it till the bands second album Fugazi.

That may have been the case regarding the actual sound but his guitar work on this song and many of the other songs on this album outshine anything he went on to do when Fish had left the band. The guitar solos in this song are very strong and provide the main themes to drive it along. It’s a very powerful song that has a GREAT! come down section and features a nice blend of acoustic guitar, some dominant bass lines, well-crafted harpsichord and synth work and it all builds up to its powerful ending and allows Fish to use his voice with GREAT! expression and aggression.

The albums self-titled track a “Script For A Jester’s Tear” gets the album off to a very positive start and is one of the 4 songs on the album that merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! This is very much an album that is so hard to choose a personal favourite track and I could of easily chose 5 out the 6 songs on it.

Track 2. He Knows You Know.

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A song about the problematic problems that are associated with drugs to which in some circumstances will no doubt lead one to an early grave. The song is perhaps written more in the way of an anti-drug song to show the effects that drugs can have with drug abuse. The inspiration for the lyrics came from his own experience of suffering from stomach cramps brought on from bad speed. I know the feeling myself and have been there in my youth especially with blues more so than sulphate.

Luckily for me I soon seen sense to get off them and music has always been my own personal drug apart from a bad nicotine habit of smoking cigarettes. Fish is very much right when he stated “there are no different types, they’re all just drugs and anyone who takes them is weak-willed and has no part in society”.

The problem with any drug including weed is that those who take them are not living in the world of reality and can often be reckless minded and have an “I don’t give a FUCK!” attitude and inflict harm on others. I’ve literally seen a kid stab his best to death over a £20 bag of weed. So, for anyone who thinks weed is harmless, they are literally off their head. I know plenty of people who take them including some of my friends, and I call them all life wasting “CUNTS! who do not belong in society! But alcohol can be just as harmful when abused and mixed with weed it can be lethal as in that case.

This is very much another of my favourite tracks on the album and a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! It’s the shortest track on the album and is perhaps the only song on the album that was really suitable for a single release. I love the aggression in Fish’s voice on this song and the words “Problems. problems and don’t give me your problems” have seeped into my brain that every time I am in conversation with somebody and they have a problem I will quite often jokingly burst out singing this song :)))).

Track 3. The Web.

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The longest track on the album and this particular song just like “Grendel” is more like early Genesis and has more of a GABRIEL-ESC feel about it. Even lyrically this is stepping on Genesis territory and we have heroes and characters from Greek Mythology such as Ulysses and Penelope. But it also has been mingled in with words that pertain to some of the other tracks on the album perhaps to make it work like more of a concept idea to some degree, and this web is spinning quite a yarn and perhaps even too much of one for me to even try and decipher the lyrics we have here.

There is no doubt that all the band are doing quite a STELLAR! job on the song and it features some GREAT! guitar and keyboard solos and once again there is some really good progression along its path. I think it’s quite a good song, but personally for me it is the lyrics that let it down and the fact they are trying to sound too much like early Genesis but they are not on the same level or par sort of thing.

Track 4. Garden Party.

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Another of the many classics on the album and this is very much another one of my personal favourites that merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! The lyrics are based around a cynical outlook of the upper class who like to  entertain their guests by hiring bands to play at their garden parties and the reason for them having cucumber sarnies and other vegetable varieties is so they can throw them at the band if they are not all that good they can have a bit of snotty nosed fun. But it also gives the band a chance to intermingle and have a good piss up and have a proper party so they say :)))).

Musically the song was written and structured around Mark Kelly’s riff on the synth and this is a song that would have been written around the keys very much like how “Market Square Heroes” was structured. He also gets to fly out a really GREAT! synth solo too. and solo section is supported by some excellent bass work from Trewavas. Rothery also joins in on part of the solo playing along the same lines as Kelly, although his guitar is utilised more in the chorus sections which are more subtle to which he blends in some nice rhythm guitar and phasing FX.

The verse sections are where more of the power lies and Fish gets to express his vocals very well in the song and also gets to change its texture and give it another accent with the speaking parts. Something that Peter Gabriel used to also do with Genesis and they both are very good at doing.

I can perhaps see why “Garden Party” was released as a single because it is quite infectious with the riff on the keys that drives it along in much the same way that “Market Square Heroes” did. However, I prefer the full version rather than an edited down version and that is why is perhaps does not work for me as a single.

The video they made for it was a bit like something along the lines of the stories Enid Blyton wrote about the Famous Five. Only they were perhaps trying to do it in the same way that the likes of Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French and others did in the comedy series The Comic Strip Presents with Five Go Mad In Dorset. That incidentally was shown on Channel 4 in the previous year and it would not surprise me if the idea for the video came from that TV series.

Track 5. Chelsea Monday.

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If you like guitar solos then you should like this classic song and personally, I do not think that Steve Rothery did a better one that what is on this song. No doubt he got to play many GREAT! solos back in the early days when Fish was in the band, but this one as the cream on top of them all. His guitar work on “Chelsea Monday” is pure bliss and it charms me with its smile and its totally GORGEOUS!

If I had to make the choice to only pick one of the songs from this album to be my personal favourite, it would be this one down to the guitar work on it. Musically the song was even constructed around the guitar, only it was Pete Trewavas’s bass line that was at the core and was the basis of its structure. Everything worked around it including it and it’s a master-stroke piece of work and I could play this song till the cows come home.

The lyrics and the way Fish delivers them are SUPERB! and they pertain to a young girl’s dreams of becoming an actress and making it to the silver screen so to speak. However, rather than face the prospect of failure she decides that she’s going to commit suicide and go out in a blaze of fame, but she still managed to charm them with her smile. This is very much another song that merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 6. Forgotten Sons.

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The album ends off with yet another Marillion classic and although “Forgotten Sons” can be seen as a political song and has perhaps certainly become more of one, the lyrics that Fish penned for it were based around the chaos the IRA inflicted in England and their own country. The original idea came to him when he was working at the employment office seeing all these people wanting to sign up to the army because they could not get a job to which he thought they were crazy.

This is a song that goes through some really GREAT! progression and transitional changes, the songs versus are structured around the keyboards, bass and drums and the chorus is more guitar structured. There is also a couple of bridge sections that were developed for the spoken parts. They originally wanted the ITN Newsreader Trevor Mcdonald to do the spoken parts but he wanted something like 2 grand and has the band were on a tight budget and Peter Cockburn ended up doing them. It also features the Marquee Clubs Parents Association Children’s Choir.

I like how they have adapted and incorporated the Lord’s Prayer with different lyrics and “Ring-a-ring-a Roses” into the song and no doubt the whole band are firing on all cylinders. Pete Trewavas’s bass work is outstanding and once again we get some GREAT! guitar solo work from Steve Rothery and they are all out in full force to deliver the goods and put the album to bed in tremendous style. “Forgotten Sons” is the 4th track on the album to merit the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Summary…

To sum up the new Deluxe Edition of Marillion’s debut album a Script For A Jester’s Tear. I personally think for those like myself whose incentive to buy these albums all over again for the 5.1 surround mix will be hugely disappointed. However, the new stereo mix of the album on the CD is way better than the original mix and really brings the album back to life in many respects. Both the Market Square Heroes EP and the live concert at the Marquee Club are also superbly mixed and the fact that both of these have also been included on the Blu Ray in Hi-Res Audio makes this package even more worthwhile.

The rest of of the bonus material is also very good and although the 60-page book is not as informative as the documentary they have included on the blu ray, it still all comes very neatly packaged in a quality hardback book that will store nice and easy along with your DVD’s on the shelf and is a very well presented package well worth its price point.

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Now all I need is the new Deluxe Edition of Fugazi to complete my personal Marillion collection and I have heard that is scheduled to be released next year. I shall also be keeping my eyes peeled so I can pre-order it well in advance to get it at the best price.

Conclusion…

Marillion’s debut album Script For A Jester’s Tear is quite a force to be reckoned with and is a very strong body of work. Debut albums do not come much better than this and even though Led Zeppelin made quite a good debut album, it was the bands second album that spilled out all the guts and energy and in terms of how well this debut album of Marillion’s really is, it’s more on par with that album and not many bands have done that with their first album.

Out of the 6 songs on the album 4 of them are absolute CLASSICS! and “Script For A Jesters Tear“. “Garden Party“. “Chelsea Monday” and “Forgotten Sons” are very much my personal highlights from the album. But I certainly do not have any “Problems” playing the whole album that’s for sure.

The new Deluxe Book Edition of the album represents quite an expansive and broader look and way to showcase the bands debut album and all they were doing around this time period. My only real gripe would be with the surround mix and their unfortunate insight of them not including a Hi-Res audio version of the newly mixed debut album on the Blu Ray. But overall, with all you get here, it still holds a lot of GREAT! value for the buck and is well worth getting.

The Playground Of The Broken Hearts…

The CD track listing is as follows:

Disc One: Script For A Jester’s Tear (2020 Stereo Re-mix)
01. Script For A Jesters Tear. 8:43.
02. He Knows You Know. 5:23
03. The Web. 8:50.
04. Garden Party. 7:20.
05. Chelsea Monday. 8:17.
06. Forgotten Sons. 8:25.
Disc Two: Market Square Heroes EP (2020 Stereo Re-mix)
01. Market Square Heroes. 4:18.
02. Three Boats Down From The Candy. 4:30.
03. Grendel. 17:17.
04. Charting The Single (2020 Remaster). 4:47.
Disc Three: Live at the Marquee Club, London (29/12/82)
01. Garden Party. 8:47.
02. Three Boats Down from the Candy. 5:24.
03. Grendel. 19:24.
04. Chelsea Monday. 9:14.
05. He Knows You Know. 5:33.
Disc Four: Live at the Marquee Club, London (29/12/82)
01. The Web. 11:24.
02. “Script For A Jester’s Tear. 9:35.
03. Forgotten Sons. 11:25.
04. Market Square Heroes. 5:27.
05. Margaret. 6:45.

Lee’s overall Complete Package Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 10/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Bonus Material Rating Score. 10/10

The Stereo Re-Mix Rating Score. 10/10

The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 3/10

The Original Album Rating Score. 10/10

Lee Speaks About Music… #149

A Visit To Zoetermeer Live – Tiger Moth Tales

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Introduction…

Pete Jones and his Tiger Moth Tales project have been busy more recently releasing quite a few live albums in the form of a digital download on Bandcamp, and if you were to look at the Tiger Moth Tales discography on Bandcamp you would in fact see that he has twice as many live albums in relation to the 4 studio albums that have so far been released. However, A Visit to Zoetermeer could be seen has his first ever official live album release simply because it is the only live album that has been released in the form of a physical product and released by his record label White Knight Records.

The other “First” factor about this particular release, is that it also comes accompanied with a DVD so that you can actually see the live concert besides just listen to it in audio only on the CD. To be perfectly honest a live DVD of Pete Jones is something I have been waiting to see get released for a while now and I myself would sooner watch a live concert than just listen to it on a CD or any format for that matter.

To be perfectly honest I have never been to see Pete Jones play live and it is without doubt something I want to do eventually as well. I have seen many live videos of him on YouTube but never a full concert like we have here, so this really was a must for my collection. Although what I would also say that even just listening to the many other self-live releases, he has put out on Bandcamp in the form of a digital download only. I can honestly say I enjoy those as well and this is really down to how he interacts with his audience and will quite often speak to them in between the songs he plays.

Pete Jones is not only quite an amazing talented musician, but he very much comes with a good sense and dose of humour that will also reflect in a lot of his own written material. The DVD that comes in this package also gives you a bit more, but before I go any further let’s take a look at how it has been presented.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The both discs come very well presented in a 2-panel cardboard DigiSleeve and I myself prefer this type of packaging in relation to the standard plastic Jewel Case. The one thing it does not come with is a booklet, so its perhaps a bit limited regarding having any additional informative information though it does have the usual linear and production notes printed on the inside as you can see in the photo below.

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The both discs slot neatly into the slit pockets and the fact that the cardboard has also been printed gives it a smoother surface to protect the discs from being scratched. The discs also hide a couple of nice photos that was snapped at the concert and the back of the cover contains the set list for both the CD and DVD.

Overall, it’s a very neat and well-presented package and both DigiSleeves and Digipaks do in general cost one or two pound more than the price of a single CD in a Jewel Case. I do not mind paying that bit extra for this sort of packaging either. I purchased my copy from White Knight Records for £12 plus £1.75 for the postage & packing making a total cost of £13.75 which is very much a bargain considering you are getting a CD & DVD.

I also think it is cheaper than purchasing it from Bandcamp because you do tend to pay extra tax on that site and this may of cost between £15 – £18 knowing them from the past when I have ordered CD’s from there. The artist might also get to keep more of the money too with the 15% that Bandcamp charge for each sale.

The Artwork.

Like most live albums the artwork generally consists of a photograph taken from the live concert and that is the case here. The Dutch photographer Ard Van Der Heuvel took the photos and no doubt done a super job. I have no idea if the same person did the cover design and layout because the linear notes are missing that information. It may have been done by Pete’s brother Chris Jones but whoever done the design and layout done another super job.

A Visit To Zoetermeer Live In Review…

A Visit To Zoetermeer Live by Tiger Moth Tales was released on the 21st February 2020. The CD of the album comes with a running time of 70 minutes, 10 seconds which is like a double album of material. No doubt this time slot might be considered too long for a single studio album but a live concert can go on much longer and the 70 minutes here might even be considered as quite short. Though I certainly am not complaining and I am glad to see the release of a live DVD at last.

Tiger Moth Tales is very much the work of one-man Pete Jones and quite often he does go out and perform live on his own, though on occasions he also performs with the band he is also part of who go by the name of Red Bazar. It’s the musicians from this particular band that often lend him a hand to be able to perform his own material live and bring it to the stage with a fuller sound like you will find on his studio albums where he himself plays all the instruments.

For this concert all the members of the band were there apart from the keyboard player Gary Marsh, and I have to say they are all capable musicians of doing a GREAT! job and along with Jones himself they have well and truly brought the music of Tiger Moth Tales to the stage and put on an excellent performance and show. But before I go on to the show let’s first take a look at the DVD that comes in this package.

The DVD. 

The DVD that comes in this package has some very basic features and things about it and to be perfectly honest I was not expecting it to be anything more when I ordered it. For example, it’s hardly likely that Pete Jones and his project name of Tiger Moth Tales could hire somewhere like the Royal Albert Hall or even the Genting Arena here in my own town of Birmingham to put on a live show with all the trimmings. That’s not to say he has not played at such venues with the prog rock band Camel he toured with a couple of years ago, but he’s hardly likely to fill those type of venues under his own name so he has to play at more smaller venues.

So, it perhaps does not really need to have something that looks a bit more professional regarding the DVD menu. But surprisingly there is a couple of quality things about this DVD and it’s not all as basic as it may appear. It also comes with some of the promotional videos that were made for some of the songs which make for some good bonus content.

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The DVD’s main menu is about as basic as you can get and it does only have the one screen as you can see above. This is basically down to the software they used to authorise the DVD and to be honest whatever software they used was quite basic especially regarding the lack of menus and how the only way you can play the videos is by using the select button on your remote control. For example, not even the “Play Button” on your remote will play the videos.

To play a video you will have to use the navigation dial on your remote to navigate over one of the arrow pointers till it is highlighted to a green colour as you can see how I have highlighted the first track “Toad of Toad Hall” in the picture above. Once it is highlighted you simply hit the select button in the middle of the navigation circle (on most remotes) rather than the “Play Button”.

The other basic feature is that it only comes with one audio track which is Dolby Digital 2.0/48K and I also was not expecting it to come with a 5.1 surround mix. But the stereo track is quite good and well acceptable. Overall, with both the main feature of the concert and the bonus content all being put together onto one single menu it perhaps does not look like that much in the way of a more professional presentation. But least everything is all in one place and can be easily accessed.

To be perfectly honest it does not cost that much to get some decent software that can do a much more professional and respectable job regarding the menus. Having dabbled in video editing and putting together a couple of DVD’s for my holidays a decade or more ago now, I came across an excellent piece of software for DVD Authoring and making professional DVD menus made by DVDFab. I cannot remember the version I had but I am pretty sure it cost me less than £80 and having just checked out the latest version of the software it still can be had for less than £100.

This short video demonstration gives you an example of how well you can build your own DVD menus with DVDFab and how it does look more professional. Though I will say that some of the icons I used in the DVD I made for my family holiday I used for the purpose of the kids and so too was some of the extra features I put in. But the software gives you an array of buttons to choose from and you can even make your own customised buttons and menus. It also includes 3D and animation and it’s nowhere near as complicated to use like some of the reviews of the software make it out to be.

These days DVDFab is more up to date and even caters for 4K and no doubt will pack in a lot more features. I am not saying it’s the best software out there but I have also used video editors that cost four to five times as much and they are not capable of doing menus like this and for its price point I certainly do not think it can be beaten. It will also do a much better job than whatever they used to make the DVD menu for this concert DVD which really is basic.

But regarding making this video demonstration. I did so not do it to promote DVDFab in anyway but to show that there is better software like this out there and hopefully this might provide some useful incite in how to go about making DVD & Blu Ray menus. I am no expert by any means and do not claim to be, you may have also noticed in some of my earlier reviews of DVD’s and Blu Ray’s that have basic menus how I have stated that I could have done a better job myself. In all honesty I could have done regarding the menus by using this software. But I am not employing that I would want the job and I certainly am no expert when it comes to video editing.

The Bonus Features.

The bonus feature consists of 5 promotional videos that were done to promote the last couple of Tiger Moth Tales studio albums The Depths Of Winter and Story Tellers Part Two. I have seen them before and some are even longer than the ones that were put out on YouTube on Rob Reed and Chris Fry’s tube channels. It’s really GREAT! to have included them here and this is one of the two quality things you get with this DVD.

Speaking of Rob Reed it was he who directed and done the video editing on all 5 promo videos and Andrew Lawson was the guy behind the camera doing the filming. They have both done a super quality job of them and the footage as been shot very well and captured in HD. In total the 5 videos give you an extra 22 minutes, 14 seconds of GREAT! bonus content.

The Picture & Editing Quality.

The Dutch film maker John Vis was the man behind shooting the film footage for the live show. To be honest there is very little I can find out about him and the linear and credit notes that come with the CD do not really provide you with any informative information and it simply states “Filmed by Jon Vis” and does not even mention how many cameras and operators were used. However, I can see he is no stranger to filming many of the live shows for the newer neo-prog bands and see he has filmed bands like Riverside, Mystery, Big Train and many others in the past.

Both the filming and editing is the other quality thing about this DVD. John Vis done an outstanding job in the way he has captured the live concert very well in full HD. To be honest by putting the DVD in my Sony Blu Ray player the picture quality in all honesty looks immaculate and as sharp and just as pristine as a Blu Ray and you would think it was a Blu Ray disc and not a DVD. I am fairly sure that around 3 cameras at least were used to film the concert and you can see they captured all the angles very well.

Geert Jan Schoonbeek was the guy who done the editing and pretty much a bang on job was done here to as well. Peter Jones is very much one of those artists you need to capture well especially when he’s playing the guitar and keyboards at the same time. I have seen countless live videos of him on YouTube and not one of them that have captured him so precisely like they have done here. This is by far the best live video footage I have seen of him and it displays this man’s talent and the other musicians on the stage 100%.

The Sound Quality.

The sound quality on the DVD is a very basic format they have used and it would have been better if they included a lossless format such as LPCM for example rather than a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack. It’s quite good like I mentioned earlier but the sound quality on the CD is better. It’s a shame that more thought was not put into the DVD especially in relation to the stunning quality job that was done for both the picture and editing.

Musicians & Credits…

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All songs written by Peter Jones. Recorded live at the Cultuurpodium Boerderij, Zoetermeer in the Netherlands on the 26th January 2019. Filmed by John Vis. Edited by Geert Jan Schoonbeek. Photos by Ard Van Der Heuvel. All Promo Videos Directed & Edited by Robert Reed and Filmed by Andrew Lawson.

Musicians.

Peter Jones: Vocals – Keyboards – Guitar.
Andy Wilson: Guitar.
Mick Wilson: Bass – Melodica – Vocoder & Backing Vocals.
Paul Comerie: Drums

On To The Show…

The music venue Cultuurpodium Boerderij is situated in the south Holland city Zoetermeer and was originally a farmhouse and part of an old vacant farm and back in the 70’s. It was converted into a large hall and manly used for discos and was used as a youth centre. Over the years it developed from an open youth centre into a cultural stage and more and more concerts were planned. As the population began to grow in Zoetermeer it created a need for a larger hall for pop music and the like.

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In 1998 the Boerderij moved to a newly built building (as seen above) and has since become a culture stage with a program offering consisting of concerts, dance nights, cabaret and theatre. It’s a much smaller venue than the 013 in Tilburg but like that venue it does have a couple of rooms you can hire to put on a live show.

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The biggest of the two rooms is the large hall and this holds a capacity for around 750 people and is where this particular concert was performed and the many other prog rock, blues and rock bands who have played at the venue which includes the likes of Steve Hackett, Alan Parsons, Fish, Paul Carrack, Deep Purple, Saxon, Uriah Heep and many others. The other room is a lot smaller and more like a bar to which they call the stage cafe’ and holds a capacity of around 100 people.

On With The Show…

When Pete Jones and his project of Tiger Moth Tales took the stage on the 26th January 2019 at the Cultuurpodium Boerderij it was the second time he had played the venue. He first played there exactly a year earlier on the 26th January 2018 when he was promoting his 3rd studio album The Depths Of Winter. On this occasion he is promoting his 4th studio album Story Tellers Part Two and I also noticed that on December 14th 2019 he played the same venue for the third time.

The live concert on the DVD has a running time of 74 minutes, 5 seconds and is near enough 4 minutes longer than what you get on the CD. Though for the life of me I could not tell you, or have not spotted what extra content you get with the 4 minutes and they both contain the same set-list. Both the CD and DVD also contain Pete Jones speaking to the audience as well and it’s not as if the concert on the CD has been edited down like many concerts of other artists have been by cutting out the talk in between the songs.

I can only presume that part of the talking in between the songs may have been cut out from the CD. The reason I have not spotted what parts is really down to me only playing the CD once. I do prefer to watch a live concert than just listen to it and for me personally any concert on DVD or Blu Ray is my preferred choice and it’s very rare I will even play the CD’s that come in most of these packages.

The 9-track set-list features material from 3 of the Tiger Moth Tales albums and the only album he does not play anything from is his 2nd album Story Tellers. The band enter the stage and Pete Jones greets the audience as he done so with the opening song off his latest album Story Tellers Part 2 entitled “Toad Of Toad Hall” to which he kicks off the show with. This is very much a song that features quite a lot of lead synth work and is structured around a dominant bass line and is a really GREAT! song.

Throughout most of the concert Jones is only on vocals and keyboards and he is using his trusty Technics KN6000 keyboard rather than a moog to which was used for the studio version. No doubt he uses it because he knows his way around it and to be honest it still puzzles me how he is able to change all the patches so quickly even for when he uses the split function to layer many more sounds. The bass player Mick Wilson also controls a lot of the extra sound and vocal effects such as the motorbike sound in this opening song via the use of an iPad or some similar device he has on a stand.

The other thing I noticed that was on a stand is a Stick Bass or Chapman Stick that was not used throughout the entire concert, it could have been that they played a Red Bazar set either before or after and why this set was so short in the first place.

However, Jones wastes no time rolling out the next number which is the 2nd part of the final track from his debut album “Feels Alright“. He tones things down another notch with another of his songs from his latest album “Match Girl” to which features mostly Jones on his own on the piano with Mick Wilson contributing a nice touch of Melodica to accompany him. It’s also during these last couple of numbers that Jones starts to have more of a conversation with the audience and reminds them he has CD’s for sale and needs to clear up more space in his garage :)))).

The first of two tracks from his 3rd studio album is up next and “Hygge” is not exactly the type of song to raise the tempo up and only slightly lifts it up a notch in the second half of it. I have to admit that The Depths Of Winter is my least favourite album and that is down many of the tracks being a bit too BALLAD ESC! and the fact that many of the tracks on it do tend to drag on longer than they really need to. But in saying that this is one of the albums better tracks and this live version is quite welcoming.

It also gives Andy Wilson a chance to play a lead solo on the guitar and the blend of the keyboards and guitar over its melodic parts give it that Genesis feel. Jones was no doubt influenced by that band when he wrote “Hygge” and part of its melodic structure does sound like it’s been lifted from “Ripples” although it’s not quite a classic like that particular song of theirs and it sort of crosses boundaries and sounds like some of the material that came off the couple of albums that followed it and his own input of course.

A couple of my favourite tracks from the last couple of albums are up next and the first of them is “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and I was so pleased to see that he had included this in the set-list and this does help to pick the pace of show up more and Jones and the band more or less knock it out of the park. Another cracking job by all is done with “The Ballad of Longshanks John” and I quite enjoy watching how Jones can play different melody lines at the same time with his hands on the keys and he really can sound like an orchestra at times. I see they also brought along the voice of Jamie Ambler to which is triggered on the device Mick Wilson operates on many of the songs, he also uses it for some vocoder effect on this song and another.

The last part of the show is where things really start to cook on gas and they are certainly cooking up some excitement with this 3-course meal of songs that is on the menu to which all are from his debut album Cocoon. Playing different melody lines at the same time with both hands is perhaps even more evident when playing two instruments and this as always been part of the showcase and highlight of seeing Pete Jones or Tiger Moth Tales live.

I would also say he does need a band behind him to pull off “Tigers In The Butter” over its entirety like he did here and can be seen in this video that is taken from the live concert to which Rob Reed uploaded on his YouTube channel.

This is quite an outstanding performance of the song and captures much of the essence that was contained in the studio recording. It also gives Andy Wilson a chance to fly out a blistering solo on the guitar at the end and even Paul Comerie on the drums gets to really bash his kit out a lot more.

You can also see how well this show has been captured on film by John Vis and his camera crew and how it’s been skilfully edited by Geert Jan Schoonbeek not only to capture Jones but also the other members of the band. But the show is not quite over and the next couple of songs are also classics from the Cocoon album and “The Merry Vicar” is very much another of the songs that works very well with having a band behind him.

I quite like how Pete Jones and Andy Wilson have a bit of fun on the guitars on the introduction by playing little snippets of songs like “Day Trip To Blackpool“. “Smoke On The Water” and the theme tune to “Match of The Day” and this is a GREAT! fun song all the way and they pull it off extremely well. The band do not leave the stage to go off and come back for an encore and finish off the show in SUPERB! style with the classic “A Visit To Chigwick” and once again having two guitarists works very well with the fine melodies that are along this superb song. This really is quite a GEM! and the perfect way to end off quite a magical evening and very enjoyable show.

Summary…

To sum up A Visit To Zoetermeer Live by Tiger Moth Tales. The fact the concert comes with a DVD besides a CD gives you the opportunity to see the amazing talent Pete Jones possesses and he is without doubt an artist you really need to see. The fact that I myself have not got around to seeing him live makes this package even more worthwhile and very much gives you much more of a picture than you would most likely get to see at a live show. I truly take my hat off to both John Vis and Geert Jan Schoonbeek who between them have captured everything about this live performance and have presented it to you with sheer quality.

Sure, I could argue the point that the DVD comes with a no thrills basic menu. I could also argue that the sound quality could of marginally have been improved if a bit more attention had of been applied to compiling the DVD. But these are only minor little niggles and take nothing away from the enjoyment and experience you will get from watching this live concert.

No doubt that Pete Jones is like an orchestra by himself but the well capable musicians he has with him on the stage do help bring the music of Tiger Moth Tales out to their full potential near enough and they all do very much a TOP JOB! I quite like the set-list of songs he chose to do and it does showcase some of the best material from 3 of the 4 studio albums and my personal highlights from the show are as follows: “Toad Of Toad Hall“. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf“. “Tigers In The Butter“. “The Merry Vicar” and “A Visit To Chigwick“.

Conclusion…

In conclusion I would say that if you have not seen Pete Jones this package will well and truly give you the opportunity to do so and I am well and truly grateful that finally at last we have a DVD release and hopefully in the near future we will get to see more DVD releases especially if they come as good as this. The bonus material of the promo videos are also quality and I am glad to see that were included. But I still want to see him live in concert and still enjoy the many audio live concerts he has put out simply because he is very entertaining.

The very fact that this package comes with a CD & DVD for £12 means that they are giving you the DVD for practically nothing and both the picture quality and editing is truly STUNNING! Its price point represents amazing value for the buck and you simply cannot go wrong here and I highly recommend the physical product over the Digital Download.

You can purchase live album in the form of a Digital Download for £7 or the physical CD/DVD from for £12 from Bandcamp here: https://tigermothtales.bandcamp.com/album/a-visit-to-zoetermeer-3

It’s also available from other outlets such as Amazon and the CD/DVD can also be purchased from White Knight records here: https://www.whiteknightshop2.co.uk/store/Tiger-Moth-Tales-A-Visit-To-Zoetemeer-LIVE-DVD-CD-p173130588

There will be more to come from Pete Jones and Tiger Moth Tales soon, but coming up next for review is the latest Deluxe Edition of Marillion’s debut album Script For A Jester’s Tear which I recently added to my collection. But meanwhile “Stay Safe” well and keep your distance during this Coronavirus lockdown. But don’t isolate yourself away from the music. During these unfortunate circumstances A Visit To Zoetermeer Live by Tiger Moth Tales is very much a concert you can still see and is just the ticket to add yo your collection right now.

Step Inside The World Of Your Dreams…

The Live Set-List is as follows:

01. Toad Of Toad Hall. 4:27.
02. Feels Alright. 5:01.
03. Match Girl. 4:25.
04. Hygge. 8:38.
05. The Boy Who Cried Wolf. 7:00.
06. The Ballad Of Longshanks John. 7:22.
07. Tigers In The Butter. 14:07.
08. The Merry Vicar. 9:49.
09. A Visit To Chigwick. 9:47.

Lee’s overall Complete Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 9/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Picture & Editing Quality Rating Score. 10/10

The Sound Quality Rating Score. 8/10

The Bonus Features Rating Score. 10/10

The Concert Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #148

On The Byways – Pravinand Maharaj

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Introduction…

Well it’s time for something quite different again from me especially in relation to many of the prog rock albums I have purchased and reviewed in the past. In some respects, I would even say that this is a bit different to the artist in question that I have come to know since I stumbled across him a good 8 years ago now on Soundcloud. But there is a reason for that and it really boils down to the fact that this album was made a good decade before he even joined Soundcloud. 

The artist in question is none other than Pravinand Maharaj and most people on the cloud would perhaps be more familiar with his stage name persona of Johnny Minstrel that he goes under. Like many artists who upload music to Soundcloud in relation to the world outside it of mainstream artists, they are virtually unknown. But I am pretty sure that Pravinand has made a name for himself on the cloud and many of those on the cloud like myself who would have stumbled across him would have instantly recognised the gifted talent he has to write such GREAT! songs.  

The true art of being a GREAT! songwriter is having quality lyrical content to fit to the music. I would even say that when it comes to songwriters’ songs the lyrics certainly play more of an important role in relation to the musical content. Though it is good if you also have a good balance between them both, and having recently just listened to the latest song that Bob Dylan put out after 8 years on the 27th March entitled “Murder Most Foul“. I can honestly say that musically it SUCKED! big style. 

I must admit when I saw Dylan’s latest song was some 17 minutes long I thought he had ventured into the realms of prog rock :))))). But in reality, it’s nothing unusual for him and even in the past he has dragged many of his songs out in exactly the same way where the music goes absolutely nowhere. A good example would be “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” he wrote many moons ago, and although it was only 5 minutes long, it seems to go on for an eternity. 

This is basically because the music has been structured from verses only and there is no chorus to change anything and a lot of his songs are typically written that way too. The rock band Nazareth actually done a 9-minute version of that song back in the 70’s and managed to make it sound way less monotonous. But I would say that many of the artists who have covered his songs have managed to bring them more to life and done better with them in reality. 

I cannot deny that Bob Dylan is a GREAT! songwriter and that really boils down to the fact that guy is a pure lyricist. That is an art in itself and is one of the qualities I instantly picked up on when I bumped into Johnny Minstrel on Soundcloud. Although his debut album On The Byways might not reflect some of those finer qualities on some of the songs. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork. 

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Well as you can see by the both the packaging and artwork there is nothing much to look at here at all. No doubt with any digital download it does not come with all the trimmings the physical product will give you, but for the many unknown artists out there it’s still by far the best way to get your music out there and the sensible way to go unless you have bags of money to throw down the drain and have the space to store a pile of unsold CD’s. Although it may not look much to look at, it does have a plus side to it and that is that it comes at a much cheaper price that will fit most people’s pockets.

Artwork.

As I mentioned the artwork or picture never gave us much to look at either, and that was perhaps my funny side of things in seeing that Pravinand had perhaps turned his back on us sort of thing. However, when this album was originally released it never had the picture it has now and it had a photo that was taken of him when he was only 2 years old as seen on the original album cover.

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The new photo was taken by one of his daughters Zai many years later whilst they were on a hike and was snapped at Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape town. It was the leaf that fell on his head at the time that inspired her to take the photo and both his girls loved the photo and Pravinand did mention to them that maybe he should use it for an album cover hence the reason for it now being used instead.

To be perfectly honest I am not sure how any of the two photo’s tie in with the albums title of “On The Byways” but he certainly is not turning his back on the byways and over the years you could say that his music has been on a journey through them.

Pravinand Maharaj In Brief History…

Pravinand Maharaj was born and raised in Durban, South Africa and currently resides in the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. Durban, is a coastal city in eastern South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, and is known for its African, Indian and colonial influences. KwaZulu-Natal is also referred to as KZN and known as “the garden province” so I guess you could say that there is a sense of beauty about the place in relation to how it was back in the 1800’s when part of it was occupied by the Zulu Kingdom.

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He was also raised in a church which gave him an advantage with having a readymade audience, and it was their kindness, patience and encouragement that gave him the confidence to improve his song writing and to take it more seriously. By the time he had reached his mid-teens he was heavily influenced by the American hippy gospel songwriter Larry Norman which perhaps explains why today he still has long hair. Norman was considered to be one of the pioneers of Christian rock music and released more than 100 albums during his lifetime before he died back in 2008. 

Much of Christianity does reflect still in the songs that Pravinand writes today and it was the fact that much of the lyrics in songs had a touch of controversy and people never seen them as scandalous that further encouraged him to write songs about social issues besides love songs and songs with just a story to them. The songs he writes musically can also border across many genres that include folk, blues, rock, country and gospel. But foremost he is a singer songwriter and one hell of a good one too. 

Many people have covered his songs on Soundcloud including myself, though I have to confess that I could hardly give them the justice they deserve in relation to himself and the many others that have done so. To be perfectly honest in all the years I spent on Soundcloud I do not think I have ever come across anybody who has his ability to write such GREAT! songs the way he does. He writes songs that good that you wish you could of wrote them yourself. I would even stick my neck out and say that even if Bob Dylan was to listen to his songs, I bet he would have wished he had written some of them too. 

This song is just one of the many GREAT! songs he has written over the years and I could showcase many of his songs that would also give an account of just how well and truly this guy is when it comes to song writing. It’s understandable why many have covered his songs too and this one has also been covered. But this is him on his own with his guitar and harmonica as Johnny Minstrel. 

I chose this particular song “World Gone Bad” because it does reflect some of the social issues that came from the controversy around the world, he seen that inspired him to write songs in this way. I also chose it to prove that he is not just a songwriter who writes songs about Christianity that most people would find dumped into a religious bin sort of thing. There is a lot more to his song writing and a lot of truth reflects in the words that he writes as you can see with the lyrics I have also included here. 

I was born downtown on a bed of rats
From a dirty faced kid to a mean ol’ cat
Mama said son you look just like your dad
It’s hard being good in a world gone bad

Don’t wanna go where I don’t want to be
Don’t want to say what I don’t really mean
What a lowdown rotten life I had
It’s hard being good in a world gone bad

Gonna pull up my boots
Pick up my cane
Put on my hat
Get on the road again
Hit that trail before the break of dawn
You can wait all you want but baby I’ll be gone

Some get their kicks in the back of a hearse
Some drink blood just to quench their thirst
Me I’m on the edge going mad
It’s hard being good in a world gone bad

It’s also interesting how Pravinand came up with the persona name of Johnny Minstrel and I did fire a few questions at him to help out with this review. He told me that he was going through a rebellion against his surname of “Maharaj” basically because in some circles it was seen an exclusive high-class title. I did check it out for myself and seen that it is a Sanskrit title for a “great ruler”, “great king” or “high king”.  

He mentioned it to a group of friends he was with having a few drinks at the time and told them that he wanted to change his surname, and when asked what too? He immediately answered “Minstrel” without giving it any prior thought. He also felt that subconsciously it may have come from his paternal grandmother’s maiden name “Mistry” and he always loved the idea of a wandering singer.  

Pravinand Maharaj may not be the minstrel in the gallery that Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull may have proclaimed to be back in 1975. He may not have been Johnny Minstrel when he wrote the collection of songs that are found on the album On The Byways. He also may not have written as many albums as Larry Norman the very man who influenced him.  

But no doubt his songs would be fit and good enough to entertain the many kings and queens of this world and he has certainly written an array of quality songs under his persona name of Johnny Minstrel. Today he still writes GREAT! songs and feels blessed with his tolerant family and friends he has around him. He also loves what he does and long may it continue too. 

The Album In Review…

The album On The Byways by Pravinand Maharaj was originally released on the 1st November 2001. Although the original album did contain 14 tracks but he was never happy with how the album flowed and it was only more recently whilst being on the lockdown due to the Coronavirus that inspired him to trim the album down to lesser tracks, and by doing so it was the first time he enjoyed the flow of the album more. 

The new trimmed down version of the album would have been released around the 28th March 2020 and it contains 8 tracks that span over an overall playing time of 37 minutes, 36 seconds which is a very reasonable and comfortable time slot for an album. It’s also a time slot I very much prefer in that it’s easy enough to give the album several spins for me to be able to review it. 

I have to confess that I myself listened to the original 14 track album on Bandcamp a good few year back now and it did not entice me to buy it. It may have been that I felt the album never really flowed along properly, although one of my major reasons for not buying it was really down to the production side of how it sounded more than anything else, I remember at the time. Having listened to the new stripped-down version of the album on Bandcamp, it spoke to me enough to add it to my collection. 

The album was recorded somewhere between 2000 – 2001 making it more or less it’s 20th Anniversary now, so you could say it was due time for a remaster and a newer presentation. It was recorded on his trusty Tascam 34 4 track reel-to-reel Tape Recorder (which is the same as the one pictured below) presumably at his home in Asherville, Durban at the time. He still very much has the reel-to-reel today and uses it to record the biggest majority of his songs. 

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Although when he recorded this album, he also had some other musicians that lent him a hand and he does have more or less have a band behind him. He also had an engineer in Michael Jacob’s who mixed and mastered the album and I have to admit that many of the things I saw about this album when I originally heard it with it’s 14 tracks appear to have vanished. 

Musicians & Credits…

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All songs written and Produced by Pravinand Maharaj. Recorded in Asherville, Durban. South Africa between 2000 & 2001. Mixed & Mastered by Michael Jacob. Album Cover Photo by Zai Maharaj.

Musicians.

Pravinand Maharaj: Vocals – Guitar – Harmonica.
Sykes Maheeph: Lead Guitar.
Ryan Joshua: Keyboards.
Alistair Peters: Bass – Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

On The Byways is an album of songs that were written before Pravinand Maharaj became Johnny Minstrel sort of thing, and even though they are very much the same person there is something a bit different I personally can hear. Especially in comparison to how when I first stumbled across him much later on the cloud when he was known as Johnny Minstrel. One of the first observations I certainly noticed about Pravinand’s songs and how he delivered them with his approach in 2012 when I first came across him, that it was like hearing a cross between Bob Dylan and Bob Marley and that still resonates with me today. 

Though on this album there is certainly a lot more Dylan about it more than anything else, and there is only a couple of songs towards the end of the album that come across to me in the same light in relation to the way he wrote songs later on when he became Johnny Minstrel. However, the bit of difference I am hearing and the only way I can really pin it down is perhaps to the lyrical content more than anything else. 

As a rule, Pravinand’s lyrics can run deep in that they have a sense of a more meaningful purpose, they can also be spiritual and sometimes you have to dig deeper into them to to reveal what is really on the surface. I would also say that the couple of songs that are on this album where you do have to dig deeper and delve more into them might also reflect the “Byways” we have in the albums title we are going down. 

For example, a byway can often be an unsurfaced route or track and is not always visibly easy to see in relation to a road. They can also be described as green lanes where the grass has covered part of its path making it harder to see. Although to be perfectly honest I have no idea why he chose the albums title and my own observations might very well be running along too deep. 

The one thing that certainly has not changed is Pravinand’s voice and in many respects, I very much prefer it in relation to either Dylan’s or Marley’s for that matter. I do however, think there is a certain tonal aspect in his voice in the way he expresses certain words that does come across to me like Marley, and that in reality is what personally gives me that Bob Marley vibe besides just the lyrical side of things I see in both Dylan’s and Marley’s writing. 

Pravinand very much has a clear distinctive voice that delivers his songs in almost a speaking mannerism, it’s this characteristic in his voice and the way he expresses his words that really makes the words more coherent and easy to understand unlike Dylan for example who at times can mumble his words out through his nose.

But I would also say that the album On The Byways contains a certain amount of variety which does work very well in making it an enjoyable album to listen too so let’s now take a closer look at it as I go through the albums individual tracks.

Track 1. Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind.

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The album kicks off with a song that has that 70’s country blues feel about it that is perhaps familiar with artists like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, The Band and many others were doing back then. Lyrically the words have more of a popular music familiarity about them in that this is a love song, but that is also something those artists I mentioned were also doing themselves back then as well. I would also say that the lyrics are pretty much straight forward, short and to the point which is all you need for a song like this. 

What makes a song like this work well is how it’s delivered and no doubt Pravinand’s voice does that with ease and it comfortably sits with it. Musically the song has a certain swing to it and is very much sounds bright and that might reflect on how the song itself has been structured more or less around a chorus structure rather than a verse. The musical interludes in between each chorus does help deviate your attention from how the song has been structured. 

The instrumentation works extremely well in particular with how the honky tonk piano and harmonica feed off one another. This is also the type of song where instruments such as a banjo and mandolin would fit in comfortably and amongst the acoustics it’s almost like I am hearing those instruments as well even though they are not present. 

Overall, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” is a song that works very well as the albums opening track in that its brightness warms and welcomes you to it and pulls you in. The song has been very well recorded and its only really the addition of the scratched vinyl effect that was used that hampers the recording right at the end more than anything.

The idea to include it came from the keyboard player Ryan Joshua and I do think it works very well. But it is a bit too loud in the mix and I really think the extra bit at the end that comes back into play after the record as faded out should have really been removed. 

Track 2. Wasting Time.

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There is no doubt you can see that Bob Dylan’s influence does reflect heavily in the way that Pravinand has structured the music for his songs and this particular song has been structured in the opposite way from the opening track in that it uses verses only. Most of Dylan’s songs are structured this way and they work well just like this one when they are kept over a shorter distance unlike some of Dylan’s songs that can tend to drag on and on as if they are wasting time so to speak.

This song has more of a country folk feel about it and once again the musical interludes in between some of the verses help it along and the acoustic and electric guitars are very well blended together to give it more of an acoustic feel. Alistair Peters drums are quite subtle on most of the album and effectively work like a ticking clock to help each song tick over and flow very well and there is a nice cohesion with the vocals and instrumentation throughout.

The lyrics and the first word of the songs title are tied into the word “Waiting” and they relate the time it takes for something to happen or arrive. It’s a bit like waiting for a bus and the time that is wasted waiting for it and the time wasted could even perhaps be seen as flogging a dead horse sort of thing.

Track 3. Damn. 

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Once again, the Bob Dylan influence is present and this song even flows along like a Dylan classic, in many respects it’s like a fine wine with its rich blend of acoustic guitars and the harmonica is perhaps what contributes to making it sound DYLAN ESC! Musically the song is quite uplifting, joyful and instantly latches itself onto you. The drums are more up front with the vocals and have more of a dominant role. The song also has verse and chorus structures and there is a lot more going on for it especially in the lyrical department where a lot more thought has been applied. 

There is also a touch of BRILLIANCE! with how the songs title pertains in some way to a love song. Although this is far from any normal love song and I have to confess that at first when I tried to decipher the words we have here, I went off down the wrong garden path so to speak. 

The very thing that led me down the wrong path or road had a lot to do with the songs title. For example, the word “Damn” can quite often be associated with an “I don’t care” attitude sort of thing. Trying to associate the word “Love” with the songs title that came at the end of the first verse in particular (as seen below) is really what led me down the wrong path regarding the lyrics that Pravinand wrote. 

This is the movement/ this is the moment
This is the minute I did not plan
You came from some place/ walked into my face
Now I’m still displaced
I love you damn

For example, how this opening verse came across to me at first resembled something along the lines of how Rod Stewart described the words “Maggie, I wished I’d never seen your face” in his song “Maggie May” which pertain to that he wished that he had not been hooked in a way that he could not walk away from the situation. That one sentence alone at the end of that song really sums up that song in a nutshell and says it all. 

But as I went through the other verses and chorus in the song it was only then that I knew there was something more spiritual about the words he wrote here. Many of the songs Pravinand writes are not quite that simple that you can sum them up from one single sentence and the lyrics can run much deeper and have a much deeper meaning to them which is not always easy to see. 

I have to confess I was tearing my hair out trying to decipher these lyrics and even started to look up Narcissism because some of the words do have a narcissist way about them as well. But it was the word “Hereafter” in the second verse and the way many of the verses were written that led me to believe there was more of a Godlike thing going on here.  

Most of the confusion I had with the lyrics was really down to me associating the word “Damn” with the “I don’t care” attitude and it was not until I actually looked up the word “Damn” that I see in Christian beliefs it means to be condemned by God and that is more along the lines of what these lyrics are pertaining too. It’s quite interesting, unique and BRILLIANT! how he has managed to portray them in the same light as a love song. “Damn” is very much like a Dylan classic and its very much one of my two personal favourite songs on the album and it jointly merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! 

Track 4. Cuisine Of Madness.

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Well there might be a lot more cooking up than just food in this next song and love is also on the menu along with the bountiful palate of food that might be a lot more than what you would find in paradise or even in the palace of a king so to speak. This song has quite a Mexican vibe about it and it fits in well with the scene at the table in the restaurant that the story of the song puts across and portrays. The trumpet played on the keyboards by Ryan Joshua lend well to give it that Mexican vibe too.

Overall, “Cuisine Of Madness” is a song that provides a bit more spice and flavour, it also works very well in giving the album more variety. Alistair Peters bass stands out more on this track and Sykes Maheeph’s lead guitar is featured very well throughout giving it that extra touch to spice things up. Pravinand’s voice works as well as ever and cuts through the mix like a knife and they have all served up some good food here.

Track 5. Looking For You.

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This is another song that features Sykes Maheeph on lead guitar and they rock things up a bit more here, the opening riff on the guitar even has a slight touch of The Beatles song “Daytripper” although they are not quite taking the easy way out and are on the lookout for love. Ryan Joshua’s piano also features well and even a bridge has been thrown into the musical structure that works very well. It’s certainly different from most of the songs Pravinand writes and this is more of a pop song but once again lends very well to give the album more variety.

Track 6. Cathedral.

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The last 3 songs on the album all have in one way or another a musical resemblance to Dire Straits certainly this song and the next more so than anything. The way this song runs along is a bit along the lines of “Sultans Of Swing” and it has that swing to its rhythm. The subject matter behind the lyrics however, is quite a different kettle of fish and I quite like the subject matter behind the lyrics we have here because they have a stab at religion. 

Pravinand was brought up and raised as a Christian and obviously his Christian beliefs are very strong. But you can see that he is not blind to what really lies beneath and behind many of the religions that were set up in this world. The chorus of the song does sum up the songs title and portray a lot of the truth about most religions. 

I’m leaving the cathedral of the fellowship of saints
I’m going where the windows are not stained glass panes
Maybe in Palestine
I will find
Something of the good man
Time left behind

The “Cathedral” is another excellent song on the album and it features some GREAT! guitar work from Sykes Maheeph on lead guitar and is a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 7. The Only One.

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It’s time for some blues and they do not come much better than this CRACKING! song. Once again, I am hearing the Dire Straits resemblance only the influence is heavier on this particular song and it’s more to the style that was found on the bands final studio album On Every Street with songs like “You and Your Friend” and “Fade To Black“. I think the amount of reverb used on this song is more or less spot on to the amount used on those particular tracks on that album and why it resembles them so close. 

The songs title relates to Jesus Christ and the words convey how he tends to get the blame for everything and once again this is a very well written song and all have done a TOP JOB! here. This is the other personal favourite track on the album of mine and it may very well be down to the Dire Straits influence that made me choose this particular song to jointly merit the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! 

Track 8. The Ghost In Your Reflection.

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The final song on the album is the longest and weighs in at just over 7 minutes. It’s a song about the spirit crossing over to the other side and the ghost in your reflection could be seen as the spirit that is waiting for you to cross over in the afterlife sort of thing. Well that’s how I see it, but there might be a lot more to it and it is without doubt quite captivating, gripping and convincing with how Pravinand delivers the fine words he’s penned to this well fascinating story. 

This is a song that does come across like a cross between Bob Dylan and Bob Marley and has more of what I hear in Pravinand’s much later songs under his persona name of Johnny Minstrel. There is also a slight Dire Straits presence here too, although that is perhaps only in some of the touches that Sykes gives to it with the electric guitar which work very well. But the other thing this song reminds me of and it always has me thinking of it, and that is “Madison Avenue” by Bachman Turner Overdrive. 

To be honest that particular song by BTO most people might not have heard of and it comes from one of their later albums they made in 1978 entitled Street Action. It’s a song where the rhythm for the verses is driven along by the bass line and it’s the melody on the bass line that resembles this particular song of Pravinand’s. I made this short demonstration to give you more of an idea of where I see some similarities between the both songs but on the whole both songs are very much poles apart. 

Overall, “The Ghost In Your Reflection” is very much another of the truly GREAT! songs and what I personally see as another very strong contenders for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! It’s the perfect song to wind up the album and put an end to a very enjoyable album.

Summary…

To sum up On The Byways by Pravinand Maharaj. It’s very much an album that will take you down a few byways with the variety it provides to the listener and runs along the borders of country, folk, blues, pop and even rock with its styles. There is quite a Bob Dylan influence along the lines of the songs on this album, but there is many other influences too. If you’re into the likes of others such as Eric Clapton, The Band, Crosby Stills & Nash, Dire Straits, Bob Marley, Otis Taylor and many more, then this is an album that I feel will appeal to your particular taste. 

Besides all the influences I mentioned there is no doubt that Pravinand Maharaj has his own way of delivering his own songs with his voice that very much gives him his own distinctive style that in many ways sets him apart. He is very much a lyricist who carves and sculptures out fine songs like a skilled craftsman which is how I described him a good few year ago, and even though the songs on this album were written a couple of decades ago now it shows that he had that quality craftsmanship back then too. 

Since he made this album Pravinand has gone on to write hundreds of quality songs, many of which can be found on Soundcloud under his persona name of Johnny Minstrel and he still very much continues to churn out truly GREAT! songs. I dare say he could even make many more albums out of the many songs he has written over all the years and my personal highlights from this album are as follows: “Damn“. “The Only One“. “Cathedral” and “The Ghost In Your Reflection“. 

Conclusion…

On The Byways is an album that contains a collection of 8 very well crafted songs that make up quite a solid albums worth of very well written material. The songs have been very well placed throughout it to make it work and flow like a good album should. The album has also been very well recorded and comes with a very good production. Credit also goes to all the GREAT! musicians who contributed to it and to Michael Jacob who done the mixing and mastering.

This is very much an album that I feel would sit well in most people’s record collection and will provide them with many hours of satisfaction and pleasure. It’s also a very comfortable album to listen to being that it’s not over 40 minutes and will leave you wanting more. At its low price point of 4 US dollars you simply cannot go wrong and it offers amazing value for the buck.

You can listen to the entire album for free or even purchase the album in the form of a digital download from the link here: https://pravinandmaharaj.bandcamp.com/album/on-the-byways

No doubt there will be more to come from Pravinand Maharaj or Johnny Minstrel in the near future and I know he is currently working on a new album of new songs. He has also acquired the production skills and services of another truly GREAT! talented songwriter and musician namely Bas Kooman to lend a hand and I am well looking forward to it. But in the meantime, I highly recommend his debut album On The Byways and the least you can do is give the album a spin. 

Blame It On Jesus Christ, On The Burning Sun

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind. 3:03.
02. Wasting Time. 4:13.
03. Damn. 4:16.
04. Cuisine Of Madness. 4:17.
05. Looking For You. 4:37.
06. Cathedral. 5:06.
07. The Only One. 4:52.
08. The Ghost In Your Reflection. 7:02.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #147

Electric Castle Live And Other Tales (Blu Ray Edition) – Ayreon

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Introduction…

It seems to appear that Arjen Lucassen has now caught the bug for playing live or rather is enjoying taking his music to the stage to present it in theatrical style like a rock opera. Since 2015, its the 3rd time now his music has been presented live but as ever the man himself plays very little part in the live performance and leaves it all in the capable hands of the musicians some of which who have played with him on his Ayreon project in the past. Arjen is without doubt one of the most successful musicians who does not have to go out and play live to sell his music by the bucket load, and he has been since he started out doing his own music projects back in 1995.

To be perfectly honest I cannot think of any other musician who can sit at home and make music and sell it at the rate he can. Selling music today is one of the hardest things in the world and the only way many musicians can generate any money from it is by going out on tour and playing as many live shows as they can. They have to travel all over the world as well to make their living. Yet here we have one guy who can put on one show over a few nights at one venue in his own country, and hardly play a part at all on the stage himself and still come out on top.

There are many people who would call Arjen Lucassen a genius, and there are many factors that come into the equation regarding how as an artist he has been so successful. The first of those would be that he was lucky that he came out in a generation or a decade before computers and the internet robbed many musicians of their livelihood. Secondly part of his success is really down to getting many other well-known musicians involved in his projects.

But the biggest part of his success is really down to having a business head on his shoulders. In any business you have to gamble and take risks, you have to be prepared to put your money where your mouth is and chuck loads of money at it. Selling music is no different to selling Coca Cola and at the end of the day it is a product you are selling and nothing more.

Marketing, presentation and packaging all play their part and the fact that over the past few years music has been presented to us in many other packages including expensive box sets, and with these type of products being more or less the in-thing today with the many artists who are releasing their products in this way. It is the very reason why Arjen can now take the risk with the vast amount of money it takes to put on a live show of this calibre.

He knows that should he loose out he will be able to generate the money back on the sale of the DVD and many other formats the live show has been put out on. In a way it’s a bit like having a safety net to fall back on and in reality, Arjen is not doing anything really more different than what he has done all along. He certainly does not make his money by performing live and he still very much makes it from the comfort of his own home more or less.

His latest release The Electric Castle Live And Other Tales is another spectacular live show like the last one he did back in 2017 with Ayreon Universe. Only instead of it being a show that showcased the best of Ayreon it showcases his classic 1998 album Into The Electric Castle and also features most of the original singers including Fish who was the very person that really introduced me to Arjen’s music and his project of Ayreon back in 1998. The biggest change is with the line-up of musicians that were on the original album, and only a few of them are here.

The “Other Tales” side of it features mainly live performances of some other songs from some of the other projects Arjen was involved in and a bit more besides. But before I go any further let’s takes a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The blu ray comes very well presented in a cardboard Digipak to which is around 20 centimetres taller than the standard size of a dvd or blu ray and I like the fact that despite it being slightly taller it still fits comfortably into most media storage shelving units. I personally prefer this packaging in relation to the flimsy blue plastic case that most blu rays come packaged in and it has a sturdy plastic tray to hold the disc in place and is also easy to retrieve the disc without getting your fingers over the disc. It also comes with a 12-page booklet that contains all the linear and production notes and photographs of all the singers and musicians who took part in the show. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon on the week of it’s release and got it for £14.99.

I did originally pre-order the Earbook edition months ago when it was first made available to pre-order from Amazon. But cancelled it for two reasons. The reason why I did originally want the Earbook was because this is my favourite Ayreon album and I already have the Earbook of the new remix of the album Into The Electric Castle that was released in 2018.

My first reason for cancelling the Earbook was really down to the price point and usually when pre-ordering in advance any album on Amazon you do end up getting it a lot cheaper, only this time the price was not dropping down and it’s price of £47 I very much considered as overpriced and in reality it should cost less than £40. When I pre-ordered the Earbook of Into The Electric Castle it was also priced at around the same price and I ended up getting it for around £10 cheaper.

The second reason why I had to cancel was really down to the lack of my financial situation and how the Coronavirus has affected the cost of living with many supermarkets being empty and looking like something out of a Sci-fi movie with aisles of empty shelves. To get by I have had to do most of my shopping at my local corner shops to which are more expensive and I only generally use them to pick up the odd thing here and there and not my weekly shopping. This is what forced me in the end to cancel the Earbook and get the blu ray instead.

The Artwork.

The artwork, layout and design were done by Roy Koch and it kind of represents the cover of an ancient or very old book. No doubt the Earbook would help give it a better presentation than the blu ray being as it’s made with much thicker cardboard and the same cardboard that would have been used to make a hardback book. The back-cover photograph was taken by Eddy Jolen and the rest of the photographs in the booklet were taken by Laili Soeng, Cristel Brouwer, Tim Tronckoe, Robert Zant, Dorien Goetschalckx, Lorena All, Rik Bauters, Ton Dekkers, Matthias Kirsch, Jostijn Ligtvoet, Steph Byrne, Bert Treep and William Van Der Voort.

Media Release Editions…

The live album has been released in the form of 5 physical formats which give you a wide choice to choose from and a good variety of choice to suit your pocket so to speak. I dare say it will also be made available in the form of a digital download which might be the cheapest option for you to lay your hands on it. But personally I do not think that any digital download is worth any more than £5 in reality and I prefer something I can have in my hands and hold and look at.

The cheapest of the physical formats in reality are all you really need when it comes down to just wanting to listen or watch the live show and the first of them is 2CD + DVD edition for around £15 on Amazon UK.

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This edition comes very well presented and packaged in a cardboard Digisleeve pack and is excellent value for the buck in that you not only get the CD’s to which you can listen to anywhere, but also get to watch it live with the DVD.

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The other of the cheaper alternatives is priced the same and that is the Blu Ray Edition. With this edition you do only get the one disc and you do not get the audio only like you do with the other package that comes with the CD’s. However, you do get to watch the show in HD which is more of a superior quality and this would be my personal choice out of the two and I do prefer to watch a live concert rather than just listen to it. The other thing you get that the 2CD + DVD edition does not have is 3 hours of bonus content that includes interviews and the making of documentary.

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For vinyl lovers who like all the snap, crackle and pop the concert as also been released in the form of a 3 LP box set which is priced up at around £23 on Amazon UK. The LP’s have been pressed onto Gold 180-gram vinyl and given the price of vinyl these days this package is also very well presented and comes at a very reasonable price. You do only get the audio only here though and you are also missing out on a couple of tracks due to vinyl restrictions. But this also comes with a free digital MP3 download which will include the couple of tracks that are missing.

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Now we are getting into more of the deluxe or elaborate editions and the Ear-Book or Picture-Book edition in reality gives you the same content that you get with both the 2 CD + DVD & Blu Ray editions. The only real difference is the way they have been packaged and that it also contains an extra DVD that includes the 3-hour bonus content that was only on the Blu Ray edition plus a 44-page book. There is no doubt there is a real element of quality regarding the packaging as the discs come in a hardback book the same size of a vinyl album but the question is do you really need to have the same concert on all 3 of the formats that come in this package.

This edition retails at around £47 (49 euro) on Amazon UK and from the Mascot Label Group EU store which I personally think is overpriced by at least £10. Although Amazon is still the cheapest place to get it from down to the fact that you will also pay extra for the postage and packaging from Mascot Label Group which could bump the price up top around £55.

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Finally, we have the most elaborate box set which is known as the Super Deluxe Wooden Box Set. This particular edition is only available on Arjen’s website and from the Mascot Label Group EU store and is priced up at a WHOPPING! 159 euro and is limited to 1,500 copies only. The box set contains all of the other 4 formats above and the only real difference is that instead of the vinyl edition coming on Gold coloured vinyl it comes with a Marble splattered colour instead. You do also get some other trinkets such as a picture disc, tee shirt, slipmat, poster and a signed certificate.

No doubt once again one really has to question if they need the concert on all of these formats and it is without doubt far too much of the same thing. But the craziest thing here has to be the packaging to which it does come in a real wooden box and by the looks of it, it looks like a dartboard cabinet :)))). It also looks as if the only way you could store this thing is by hanging it on the wall like a dartboard cabinet and it’s just as well that he has not thrown in a set of darts LOL..

Electric Castle Live And Other Tales In Review…

Electric Castle Live And Other Tales by Ayreon was released on the 27th March 2020. The Blu Ray contains the whole concert from start to finish that was performed and filmed during the last show that was put on at the 013 Poppodium in Tilburg on Sunday 15th September 2019. The 013 is one of the most popular music venues in the Netherlands and many artists have played there, it was also the same venue they had performed at back in 2017 for the Ayreon Universe show.

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The venue holds a capacity of around 3,000 and the live performance was captured from one of the four live performances that were put on between the 13th to the 15th September 2019. The show was put on to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Ayreon’s 3rd album Into The Electric Castle and two of the live performances were put on, on the final day the 15th.

Once again Arjen had the keyboard player Joost Van Den Broek at his side to help set up the show and he most likely could of never have done it without him. Most of the original singers who helped make the original album are present and only 3 of them missing.  Sharon Den Adel who played the part of the Indian was very busy at the time and Simone Simons stepped into her role. Robert Westerholt who played one of the two characters to represent death was also unavailable and Mark Jansen stepped in to take his part. It was Arjen’s personal choice to replace Peter Daltrey who played the part of the voice and narrator and being a fan of the Sci-fi series Star Trek, he managed to get hold of the actor John de Lancie to play the part.

The biggest change is in the musician department and only 3 of the original musicians are present. They are his long-time drummer Ed Warby along with Thijs Van Leer on flute and Robby Valentine on piano. Though all the replacements that were brought in were certainly more than capable of filling in and doing the job, most of which also played on the last concert Ayreon Universe and no doubt Arlen certainly has a terrific line-up that is capable of putting on quite a SPECTACULAR! Show.

The Blu Ray.

You certainly get a lot for your money regarding the blu ray and it contains 335 minutes of content counting the couple of bonus features. Regarding the actual content of the concert and bonus features the blu ray is missing nothing at all and the only thing extra you are getting with the Earbook is the 44-page book and the way the package is presented to you. Although no doubt the Earbook would have also provided you with some very informative information.

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The main menu is very well animated and the picture of the original albums artwork has all the things flying around it and castle also moves about. The menu itself gives you the choice of 5 options to choose from “Select Track”. “Play All”. “Audio Set-Up”. “Behind The Scenes” and “Interview”. All the menus are very well animated and easy enough to navigate your way around.

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The “Select Track” part of the menu comes in two parts to cater for all the tracks has you can see in the picture above. This comes in handy when you want to play a specific track instead of listening to the whole concert, the tracks can be easily be navigated from one page to the other.

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The “Audio Set-Up” menu gives you the choice of two audio tracks to choose from Dolby Digital 2.0 and DTS 5.1 both of which are 48K. By default its set to stereo so you will have to go into menu to set it to the surround mix or alternatively use the audio button on your remote which allows you to switch between the both.

The Bonus Features.

The couple of bonus features that you get are very lengthy and the first of them “Behind The Scenes” comes with a running time of 1 hour 47 minutes, 27 seconds. In this footage you do get to see them setting up the stage and some of the rehearsals along with interviews with a good few of the singers such as Fish, Damian Wilson and the narrator John de Lancie and so on. Most of the footage is of Arjen and Joost Van Den Broek talking about the show and various other things relating to the music of Ayreon and so on.

The second bonus feature “Interviews” comes with a running time of 1 Hour 32 minutes, 23 seconds and even though this might look like you are getting quite a lot extra, there is not a lot different here in relation to what you get in the “Behind The Scenes” footage. To be perfectly honest I find it rather strange why they titled this bonus footage “Interviews” simply because the only people in it are Arjen and Joost Van Den Broek and the interviews with the other artists are in the “Behind The Scenes” only.

Overall, the bonus content is quite good although in reality it is only the “Behind The Scenes” footage that is really worth watching. Simply because around 90% of it is of Arjen and Joost Van Den Broek talking about the show and various other things and the same footage has been used to make up the other bonus feature “Interviews”. I think the biggest drawback is that there is very little content showing you actually behind the scenes and interviewing the other singers and musicians that took part in the show.

Picture & Editing Quality.

Panda Productions were the team behind filming and editing the live show and the video & post production was done by Jens de Vos and the use of a total of 12 camera operators including himself. To be honest for a venue this size 12 camera operators might seem over the top, but I cannot really argue with the end result. The concert has been very well captured visually and a TOP JOB! was also done on the editing side of things. Regarding the picture quality its quite pristine and that good that even the DVD would still look like 1080p full HD if you were to put it in a blu ray player with good upscaling.

The 5.1 Surround Mix.

Perhaps the biggest surprise regarding the 5.1 mix was the fact that for the first time ever Arjen actually used DTS. However, I would not get too excited because this is not a true master lossless format that is a common feature that is more widely used with Blu Ray these days, but I suppose he has to start somewhere and in a way it could be seen as some sort of improvement. Though not by a lot and that is really down to how he has gone about the mix and to be honest he has gone about it in the same way most 5.1 mixing engineers would do with a live concert.

The one thing the 5.1 mix certainly is not, is the way that Arjen describes it in the “Interview” section of the bonus material. To which he mentioned that most people say you have to be careful with these types of mixes but he just went over the top and put things here, there and everywhere sort of thing. To be perfectly honest if he was talking about the 5.1 mix, he done for the remix of the Into The Electric Castle album he did a couple of years ago I very much think that he would be right to make those observations. But this is a much more tamed mix in relation to that album and the 5.1 mix for this concert is not going to give you a better result by any means and it does not offer you that same exciting experience.

But like I said most live shows have 5.1 mixes like this where the rear channels are mainly used for the audience and not so much for the instrumentation and the backing vocals. Like many of these types of mixes they do have their moments in parts but you do have to wait and for much of the concert the music and vocals are only really using the front channels more than anything else. The only time the rear channels do come into play is in between songs with the interaction of the audience and the odd keyboard FX that have been thrown into the pot to add to good effect.

You will get to hear some of the guitars panned in the rear channels on “Garden of Emotions”. The synths also get utilised a bit more on tracks like “Castle Hall” and Evil Devolution” too, and the vocals get put to use in the rears on “Twisting Coil”. But the highlight of the tracks were the 5.1 mix gets utilised more is the “Tower of Hope” and besides the keyboards being put to good use on the beginning of the song it also gets very well utilised for the break in the middle where the musicians get to play their individual spots.

To be honest there is not a lot of live concerts out there that have really good or GREAT! 5.1 mixes and it’s very rare they will measure up to the better job that has been given to more studio albums. But this is really down to how good the engineer is in the first place and there is some very cable 5.1 mixing engineers out there that have to the ability to do truly stunning 5.1 mixes for live concerts. It’s unfortunate that those engineers are still very much in the minority and people are still not learning anything from them yet.

Like I have mentioned in my other reviews of Ayreon regarding Arjen’s ability to do a 5.1 surround mix to which he as been improving all the time and to be perfectly honest I do not see this mix in anyway as a setback. Personally, I think he has followed guidelines of what the biggest majority of mixers are doing with live concerts which is nothing really to write home about and nothing special or GREAT!  But overall, this is not that bad and acceptable, and both the stereo and 5.1 mixes are as good as each other.

Musicians & Credits…

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Executive Producer Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Lead Producer Joost Van Den Broek. Production Manager Naomi Van Hak. Co-Producer & Storyboard Lori Linstruth. All music and lyrics by A.A. Lucassen (except Highlander & Kayleigh lyrics by Derek W. Dick. Barbarian Amazing Flight lyrics by Jay Van Feggelen. Egyptian melody line on Tunnel of Light & lyrics on Shores of India by Anneke Van Giersbergen. Out of This World lyrics by Marcello Bovio. Ashes lyrics by Astrid Van Der Veen. Twisted Coil lyrics by Lori Linstruth. Narration written by John de Lancie & Marnie Mosiman.

Video & Post Production by Jens de Vos. Camera Operators Jens de Vos, Jolien Artis, Nick Maris, Bart Sperling, Casper de Coninck, Erik Wijnen, Frederik Celis, Maria Munoz, Gilles Schijvens, Stijn Janssens, Michel Sequaris, Timo Vandiest. Stereo & 5.1 Mixes by Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Mastered by Brett Caldas-Lima at Tower Studios. Blu Ray Authoring by Scott Long. Blu Ray Menu by Scott Long & David Letelier. Front Cover & Layout by Roy Koch. Back Cover Photo by Eddy Jolen. Photographers Laili Soeng, Cristel Brouwer, Tim Tronckoe, Robert Zant, Dorien Goetschalckx, Lorena All, Rik Bauters, Ton Dekkers, Matthias Kirsch, Jostijn Ligtvoet, Steph Byrne, Bert Treep and William Van Der Voort. Visuals by David Letelier. Paintings by Jef Bertels.

Vocalists & Characters

Fish: (The Highlander)
Simone Simons: (The Indian)
Damian Wilson: (The Knight)
Edwin Balogh: (The Roman)
Anneke Van Giersbergen: (The Egyptian)
John Jaycee Cuijpers: (The Barbarian)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: (The Hippie)
Edward Reekers: (The Futureman)
John de Lancie: (The Voice)
George Oosthoek & Mark Jansen: (As Death)

Instrumentalists

ED Warby: Drums.
Joost Van Den Broek: Keyboards.
Marcel Singor: Lead Guitar.
Ferry Duijsens: Guitars/Mandolin.
Bob Wijtsma: Guitars/Mandolin.
Johan van Stratum: Bass.
Ben Mathot: Violin.
Jurriaan Westerveld: Cello.
Thijs Van Leer: Flute.
Robby Valentine: Piano.

Other Vocalists

Dianne Van Giersbergen.
Jan Willem Ketelaers.
Marcela Bovio.
Robert Soeterboek.

On To The Show…

The concert is split into three sections and in total the whole show including the credits at the end have a running time of 2 hours, 38 minutes, 36 seconds. The show kicks off with its main feature to which they play the whole of the double album Into The Electric Castle from start to finish. It was also important to have a castle to make the show and the story look even more convincing and the one he had built provided the right backdrop to set the scene I personally think.

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But you also had to have the lights and visuals to also make it work and  David Letelier done an excellent job on the visuals which included moving pictures and animation to complete the backdrop and make it look even more convincing, plus a camera crew of 12 operators to capture it all. No expense was spared here and the show is nothing more than SPECTACULAR!

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Because Arjen had recently remixed the album a couple of years ago, he was not as concerned in having the same line up of musicians who played on the original album like he was with trying to get most of the original singers. Like I mentioned earlier it was only Ed Warby, Thijs Van Leer and Robby Valentine who played along with Arjen himself on the original album and Arjen was looking for something to give the album a slightly different edge or sound.

This particular band line-up is much the same line-up that played at the Ayreon Universe show and consists of 10 musicians. The newcomers to the line-up are Jurriaan Westerveld on cello, lead guitarist Marcel Singor and Bob Wijtsma on guitar and mandolin. The other good thing is that Arjen himself also makes more of an appearance in that he plays the original role as the hippie. He may only mainly feature on vocals but you do get to see more of him on this concert.

Part One: The Main Feature…

The stage is set and show opens up with with the albums opening track “Welcome To The New Dimension” to which is the introduction to the story that was set to the album. Although the actor and narrator John de Lancie has changed some of the words they still follow along the same lines and do not deviate away from the original storyline. There are very few musicians on the stage for this opening number and Ben Mathot on violin along with the keyboard player Joost Van Den Broek are the first to make an appearance on the stage.

The first glimpse of John de Lancie is on a large screen projection of him narrating the words above the castle at first and then at the end you see him standing on top of the right-hand tower of the castle. He very much narrates the words from different places on the set throughout the whole show and the way everything has been planned and set up really makes it quite an entertaining show and his role can be very convincing, authoritative and funny at times and he’s certainly done the business regarding presenting the story and is perfect for the role.

As the show goes on you get to see more musicians and singers come out of the woods so to speak and the next track “Isis and Osiris” is really where it all kicks off and the action starts to come more into play. This is where Fish makes his appearance and this is really a song where his voice does have more of a speaking role rather than singing and using some of the aggression and characteristics you would find in many of the songs he sang on his solo albums and from the days he was with Marillion.

So, this is quite a comfortable job for his voice and he is able to present it more or less spot on to how he did it on the original album even though he has lost a lot of the finer characteristics in his voice over the years and cannot project his voice like he could back in those early days. Many of the other singers who also featured on the original album 20 years ago also do pretty much a bang on job still today.

The album’s 3rd track “Amazing Flight” as always been my personal favourite track of the album and is one of the major highlights of the album. This is also where Arjen himself makes his first appearance and unlike Fish who is one of the first characters in the story to be killed off, he has more of major role to play in the story and for me Arjen has always had quite a good voice and he still very much has it as well as you can see in the video he put out on the tube from the show.

John Jaycee Cuijpers plays the part of the Barbarian who was originally played by Jay van Feggelen but he does an admirable job here and the interaction between him with Arjen works very well. I quite like how the flautist Thijs Van Leer of Focus makes his entrance and first appearance in the show through the castle doors. The projections onto the castle also make it more realistic including the ones on the doors.

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You can also see how well the audience love this particular song by the reaction at the end in this snapshot I took from the blu ray. You can also see the smile on their faces although you may have to zoom in here and it’s not quite the same as viewing it on a much larger TV.

Well so far, I have only covered the first 23 minutes of the shows main featured album and I could go on about every track from that album simply because the way the show has been presented and the performances of everybody well and truly shines. Fish once again does an amicable job on “The Decision Tree” although he’s more low key alongside Anneke Van Giersbergen on the “Tunnel of Light“. The likes of Edwin Balogh and Damian Wilson provide the right power it takes to deliver “Across the Rainbow Bridge” which ended off the the first disc of the original double album.

The Garden of Emotions” is another of the albums highlights for me and this is a song that does have some really GREAT! progression along its path. It’s also a song that features most of the singing crew and musicians to pull it off as you can see in the second video Arjen posted on his YouTube channel from the show.

Into The Electric Castle is an album that has quite a few highlights to the songs that were written to its story and many will even like the soft touch that Anneke Van Giersbergen lends to “Valley of the Queens” with her fine voice and the Celtic feel the song has with its musical presentation. It would also be a personal favourite song for many I also feel.

 “The Tower of Hope” is another of my personal highlighted tracks especially for the interaction play between the musicians. But the biggest highlight of the show for myself comes from one man alone, and that is the track on the album that was named after him namely Robby Valentine. He actually featured more on the original album than he does on this live show, though the little spot he gets here when they roll out the white grand piano for him to play is pure BRILLIANCE! and it’s by far the most sophisticated part by a long shot.

The way Valentine knocks out some of the classical GREATS! on the piano in this 5-minute slot he gets is truly STUNNING! This guy is more convincing and SPECTACULAR! than the many pianists in the world of classical music and my GOD! he’s far more entertaining than those boring idiots by a long shot. He knocks classical music out of the park as if it was nothing to play LOL! and he honestly stole the show for me. His 5-minute spot is worth the price of the Blu Ray alone.

My personal second favourite track on the album is “The Mirror Maze” and Robby Valentine also gets to play the piano on this song before they wheel off the piano. They even bring Fish back for the final song despite him dying at the end of the “Tunnel of Light“. But it was perhaps understandable being as it was the final song of the album and everyone who took part in the show is on the stage to join in and put an end to the main featured part of the show which runs for 1 hour 48 minutes, 34 seconds. Overall, everybody involved in this show puts in 100% and they have done a truly GREAT! job of bringing Ayreon’s third album Into The Electric Castle to the stage.

Part Two: Other Tales…

This extra feature of the show is presented by Michael Mills via the use of a pre-recorded video of him that was used for the introduction. Most of the material the band perform here is new territory for me and is mostly from other projects that Arjen has been involved in over the years. To be perfectly honest there is very little in this set that would even entice me to go out and buy the albums the songs came from either. But I cannot take a thing away from the performance and it also gives some of the other singers a chance to take more of a part.

The only song I do recognise out of the 6 they perform live in this small set is the Marillion song “Kayleigh” to which gives Fish another chance to sing the song. It’s not the song he wanted to sing either and they had to work on him a bit to get him to perform it. I can perhaps see why Fish wanted to do another song instead and his voice cannot really project this song like he sang it many moons ago and it’s not on par with how he did it many years ago with Marillion and even his own band.

The only song that speaks to me out of the remaining 5 songs is the very last one they perform with the rather bizarre title of “Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin“. It’s a song that came from Arjen’s second solo album entitled Lost In The New Real and to be honest I was unaware or never really paid that much attention that he had made any solo albums.

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The album was released back in 2012 and it might be worth me checking it out at some point because I think this is a really GREAT! song and it works very well to round off this little small set of “Other Tales” which runs along for around 33 minutes.

Part Three: Speech And Encore…

The final part of the live show sees Arjen return to the stage to give his speech and show his appreciation to everyone involved in it all and to his fans in the audience. He also has an electric guitar with him to which he does play the rhythm to the final song he chose to end off the concert which is a song from his Star One project entitled “Songs of the Ocean“. This also gives everyone who took part in the show a final chance to return to the stage and take their bow to the audience for the final time.

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Summary…

To sum up the Electric Castle Live And Other Tales by Ayreon. There is no doubt in my mind that Arjen has once again pulled off another truly GREAT! live show that is just as SPECTACULAR! as the one he pulled off for Ayreon Universe back in 2017.  A week after its release the live album hit the number one spot in Holland’s official album charts and it’s hardly surprising given the performances of all the singers and musicians.

For me personally it’s the concerts main event and how they pull off the whole of the double album Into The Electric Castle live from start to finish that is highlight of this concert and not so much the “Other Tales” side of it which does contain material from his other projects to which mostly are less interesting to myself. But I cannot take anything away from the performance and its certainly not enough for me to take away any points from my concert rating score.

The only real downside I can see in relation to the Blu Ray of both Electric Castle Live And Other Tales and Ayreon Universe is perhaps in the bonus footage department. You do get more bonus footage on this latest concert and a good 3 hours’ worth. But a lot of it does tend to be the same footage they have used across the couple of bonus features and it’s mainly set in the one location. It also does not show you that much of how the show was set up and its perhaps not so much behind the scenes like you got with the bonus footage on Ayreon Universe.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of the Electric Castle Live And Other Tales I would say that this is a concert or rock opera that provides truly GREAT! entertainment. I also think it’s more of a must to have a visual presentation of the show and both the CD/DVD and Blu Ray packages are all you really need to get the full benefit of a concert like this. They both have the same price point of around £15 and no doubt you are getting genuine real value for the buck.

The performances, production, visuals, theatrics, sound and editing make it what it is and its nothing short of SPECTACULAR! No expense has been spared to put on a show like this and I feel that this will appeal to more than Ayreon fans alone. It might even introduce more people to the world of Arjen Lucassen’s music and deserving so I might add. Who knows what is the next project for Arjen but whatever it is, it would not surprise me if he brings it to the stage yet again and I am looking forward to it?

Another Amazing Live Flight In Space…

The Live Set-List is as follows:

01. Welcome To The New Dimension. 3:10.
02. Isis and Osiris. 10:51.
03. Amazing Flight. 8:26.
04. Time Beyond Time. 6:30.
05. The Decision Tree. 5:44.
06. Tunnel of Light. 4:29.
07. Across the Rainbow Bridge. 6:05.
08. The Garden of Emotions. 9:00.
09. Valley of the Queens. 4:18.
10. The Castle Hall. 5:45.
11. Tower of Hope. 5:32.
12. Cosmic Fusion. 6:53.
13. Robby Valentine. 4:52.
14. The Mirror Maze. 6:52.
15. Evil Devolution. 5:00.
16. The Two Gates. 6:54.
17. Forever of the Stars. 1:39.
18. Another Time, Another Space. 6:18.
19. Shores of India. 5:23.
20. Ashes. 5:06.
21. Out in the Real World. 4:01.
22. Twisted Coil. 9:18.
23. Kayleigh. 4:14.
24. Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin. 4:36.
25. Songs of the Ocean. 5:43.

Lee’s overall Complete Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 10/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Picture Quality Rating Score. 10/10

The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 7/10

The Bonus Features Rating Score. 7/10

The Concert Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #146

Solitude – Flávio Franco Araujo

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Introduction…

Over here in the UK the South American country Brazil is perhaps more well noted for two things, football and music, and the country no doubt is not short on GREAT! talent when it comes to either of them. Internationally over the many years the country has produced one of the very best football teams ever and no country has won the World Cup more times than Brazil. I myself have very fond memories of the side they had when they won the World Cup for the third time in Mexico back in 1970 and even the GREAT! team they had that did not win it in 1982. That side was by far the GREATEST! football team I have ever seen still to this day. It had the style, flare and the skill that was equivalent to what the Harlem Globetrotters gave to Basketball.

Musically the country is perhaps noted for being the birth place of Samba music although Bossa nova is also a well-known style of Brazilian music which was a new trend that was popularized back in the 1950s and 1960s. The music of Brazil was formed mainly from the fusion of European and African elements and rhythmically I suppose there is some of the elements that came out of Africa that is associated with the percussion side of things. But also, Latin American rhythms were also widely used and fused with jazz we get what’s known as Latin jazz or even Afro-Brazilian jazz, which includes bossa nova and samba.

The country is well noted for its many talented musicians in all fields of music including classical, folk and many other genres besides, and today have become more universally accepted worldwide. I have to confess I myself do not know a great deal about the country’s music and its many talented musicians. But I have watched many music documentaries that have nothing but high praise for the musicians that have come out of Brazil and I know what skill it requires to make the music that I stumbled upon Soundcloud a good few year back when I landed on BongÔMusics.

BongÔMusics was set up by a very talented multi-instrumentalist and producer who is known as  Flávio Franco Araujo. Over the many years he has set up his own studio and produced many talented artists and helped them make many records. He is perhaps more known as a producer and BongÔMusics is the name of his studio and not the name of a band so to speak. But now finally after all these years he’s got to release a very fine album of piano solos entitled Solitude, which really shows this GREAT! man’s talent as a pianist, a composer and as a very skilful arranger. But before we go any further into his history let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Well as you can see the package is nothing to look at and that is just one of the many disadvantages a Digital Download will present to you in relation to a physical product that would also include things such as linear production notes and credits, along with lyrics and glossary photos and such. Though the Digital Download is perhaps more popular these days than any physical media format and quite often provides you with a cheaper alternative way of getting your hands on an album.

I have to confess that I myself am more of physical product guy and prefer something you can touch and hold in your hands in relation to the Digital Download. But I can also see the point of using this format especially for the lesser known artists who are not going to be selling their albums by the bucket load and will most likely end up with a load of CD’s cluttering up their basement or garage.

Let’s face it music is very hard to sell these days and the Digital Download is really the only way the artist can protect themselves from losing a pile of cash with the extra expense it costs to put your album out onto a physical format. So, for many lesser known artists this is really the best way you can go about getting your music out there.

Digital Download v Physical Format. The Way I See It…

Being more of a physical media guy my own personal view of how much a Digital Download should cost really boils down to all the things you are missing out on regarding the packaging and the extra content you get with a physical media product. I myself certainly do not believe any Digital Download should cost any more than £5. That is not to say that the music is not worth more than that and is really down to what more you get with the physical product.

For example, a Digital Download is a bit like buying a CD that comes with no packaging and all the other informative information about the product that comes with it. If you were to take a CD out of its jewel case and sell it on its own, the chances are that you would most likely get less than half of the price you paid for it with the packaging and the rest of the contents. The informative information that comes with any album is just as vital and important as the music itself to a collector like myself. It’s also one of the most useful things to have to write a detailed review about any album too.

Now I am not saying that all artists should charge no more than £5 for a Digital Download and at the end of the day it’s up to themselves what they think it’s worth. But it’s very rare I would pay more than £5 for such a thing and being more into the physical side of things is where I personally see more quality and value can be had for the buck. The Digital Download really should be much cheaper and should be sold as a cheaper alternative way of getting your hands on an album and not sold at the same price as a physical product which offers way more.

But you could also argue the point that because a lesser known artist is hardly likely to sell as many copies and hardly any at all in comparison to any mainstream artist. That you should pay more to give the artist support. But that does not reflect on the price point of the both formats in relation to what they are actually worth, and to charge the same price for a Digital Download as a CD will reflect that its price point is too high and overpriced.

The Artwork.

The artwork for the album cover was a photograph taken by Flavio himself and it was taken along with several other photos from where he lives. The photo he chose no doubt represents the albums title of Solitude very well I feel as you can see from the original photo below. He also edited the photo in Lightroom to give it that personal touch for the album cover and it also works very well I feel.

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Flávio Franco Araujo In Brief History…

Flávio Franco Araújo was born in Guararapes, Brazil and currently lives in São Paulo. Although São Paulo is not the capital city of Brazil it is the most populated city and I guess in some ways it’s a bit like how the many musicians here in England would have moved to London to get noticed with there being something more going on. Whether the city of São Paulo works that way or even that was the reason for Flavio to move there I could not personally tell you. But it is a city that does tend to have a lot going on for it and even the 2014 World Cup was hosted in the city.

Flavio is a practically self-taught musician and composed his first song at the age of 13. His passion and his love of music I guess goes back to the quality music he would have heard in his parents’ house when growing up as a child and the music of Chopin, Lizst, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and great arrangers like Claus Orgeman and Quincy Jones would have influenced him in many ways. He was also passionate about cinematic music, especially from older films and they also provided an influence for him. He loves romanticism but he also liked to dare in other musical styles.

He plays various instruments, such as acoustic piano, keyboards, guitar, bass guitar and has learned all of them quite well, though I would say that it is his love of the piano and keyboards is where he excels the most and as a keyboardist and pianist, he has performed in jazz festivals such as Tatui with the group Amatuza and Paraty with the Rhandal de Oliveira’s quartet. He has also performed along with Ná Ozzetti, Raul de Souza, Sizão Machado, Duda Neves, Claudio Celso, Max Sallum, Adyel, Pete Wooley, among others.

Being also a producer the other instruments he plays no doubt come in handy and get utilised and sound quality and production is also another side of his passion in wanting to achieve the best there is out there by keeping up with the latest technology. It was back in 1993 that he founded and established the critically acclaimed studio, BongÔMusics, and focused on advertising campaigns and musical productions such as albums, soundtracks, post production, mixing and mastering. Flávio is currently working on children’s music projects, film soundtracks, publicity and his instrumental music albums. Throughout his career, Flávio has won several awards as a composer and producer at Brazilian popular music festivals and respected publicity celebrations.

The Album Solitude In Review…

The album Solitude by Flávio Franco Araujo was released on 7th February 2020. The album contains 8 instrumental piano pieces spread over and overall playing time of 46 minutes, 28 seconds. The 8 tracks on the album are all his own compositions and portray 8 moments of his life that were very important to him, most of which relate to his family and he also pays homage to his idol Bill Evans.

Solitude is very much Flávio’s debut album and is an album that contains 8 piano solos that he wrote over many years. He has spent perhaps more of his own time producing other people’s music and playing and arranging more widely known mainstream music than he has given to his own compositions. Time has no relevance regarding his own music and his philosophy is that he likes to wait for the right moment. For example, the albums self-titled track “Solitude” was written at a time or a moment where he revaluated everything and started to be a little more isolated.

He also told me that he was very connected to the universe at the time and most of his compositions are born that way. However, you look at his music you can see he is very proud and passionate about it. But the other thing that keeps him busy is live performance and he has performed with many GREAT! quality musicians besides doing live solo performances like the one we have here of him performing his own unique arrangement of the well-known Harold Arlen composition “Somewhere Over The Rainbow“.

This live performance comes from a free concert he gave at the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall in the United States on March 5th 2019. Flávio also performed some of his own material that is on the album at the same venue along with a few more covers. From this live performance you can quite easily see how passionate he is with his approach to the keys and there is certainly a degree of skill than has been put into the arrangement he gave to the piece to which gives it a lovely jazzy flavour.

A couple of years ago Flávio did mention to me that he planned to do some travelling and do some live performances to get his name out there a bit more. He also set up a series of live performances with other musicians to which he called Vinyl Review. Although this was pretty much set up at his own studio or at another location in his own country as you can see from the picture below.

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The concerts they gave would also of been performed to friends who they had invited over. Vinyl Review was a really GREAT! series that I enjoyed a lot and they actually premiered and streamed live these performances at an exceedingly high quality, where both picture and sound quality were pristine. This is something that is very hard to achieve especially streaming it live over the internet. The quality was as pristine as blu ray too and it might be worth them putting them out on that format.

A lot of the concerts have now been edited down to single tracks to which Flávio has put on his own Youtube channel. But no doubt the musicians were class as you can see from this live performance of “Footprints” which he put out in January this year.

My guess is that Flávio chose the word “Vinyl” or “Vinil” in Portuguese (to which the Brazilian language is derived from and uses) for the series to represent the high quality. Although in reality I would say that the quality was much better than vinyl simply because vinyl does have its restrictions and is prone to surface noise. Though no doubt for many it is still regarded as one of the better media formats and is still widely associated and popular with many music collectors.

Quality has always played an importance to his and other people’s music and I guess when you are working with musicians of this calibre you want the best for them. The production side of music also plays a big factor and has a producer he is not short in this department either, and his production work and skills are of very high standards.

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Like I mentioned earlier Flávio set up his own studio BongÔMusics back in 1993 and over the decades he has maintained and kept up with the latest technology so that he is able to achieve such high-quality standards. However, this year his studio has been stripped down and his own debut album Solitude might very well be the last thing to come out of BongÔMusics. But even though it only comes in the format of a digital download it has also been made available in a hi-res 96khz at some outlets.

Musicians & Credits…

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All music composed, arranged and performed by Flávio Franco Araujo. Recorded at BongÔMusics studios Morumbi, São Paulo. Brazil. Recorded mixed and mastered by Flávio Franco Araujo. Album cover and design by Flávio Franco Araujo.

Musicians.

Flávio Franco Araujo: Piano.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Solitude is an album of instrumental solo piano pieces and you could say that it’s very much a family album in that the biggest majority of the pieces are dedicated to those in Flávio’s family, some of which were very much written to remind him of the wonderful times he had with some of those who are no longer here. There is no doubt that each piece will have a special place in his heart and you could also say that it’s also a personal album that has more of a personal meaning to him.

However, you look at any piano piece there is a certain feel of elegance, beauty and grace and the piano is an instrument that can capture many emotions and moods that can be quite captivating. I think there is a certain amount of pleasure one can get from playing any instrument and even I myself can get tremendous pleasure and joy playing the piano. Though I have to confess that I am far from an accomplished piano player or pianist like this guy is, but any instrument will give you a sense of reward and pleasure no matter what level you can play it at for that matter.

The very fact that I can play the piano to a certain degree does mean that I have a particular interest and love for the instrument. Though I have to confess that an album that consists of nothing but piano or even guitar solos is not the thing in general I would personally buy. I have done many moons ago in the past and they are the kind of albums that I would rarely get out and play these days. I like more elements of instrumentation thrown into the equation and prefer an album where only one or two solo pieces have been put onto the album.

So, without further ado lets now take a look at the albums individual tracks as I go through them one by one and see how the album all pans out and works.

Track 1. Sol Brilhante.

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The title translates in English to “Bright Sun” and Sol also happens to be the name of Flávio’s beautiful wife to which this opening piece on the album is dedicated too. You could say that the album gets off to a bright start with this opening piece too and it does sound bright and has an air of elegance and romance to the piece. It also dances itself along quite wonderfully as if it’s telling a story and use of 8va variants work well to lift the piece up and it also utilises some of the lower regions to provide a certain amount of weight to the piece.

Overall, “Sol Brilhante” is a really beautiful piece that has a certain amount of air, grace and elegance to it and contains a touch of darkness to give it a bit of shade with the added weight from the lower regions of the keyboard that comes into play around the 3 minute mark. It’s a piece that lends more from the classical side of things rather than jazz and the beauty it has is perhaps why he chose the piece for his wife. It’s a GREAT! start to the album in some ways it reminds me of some of pieces that Rick Wakeman wrote for his Country Airs album back in 1986 and I see this has one of the contenders for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 2. Solitude.
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The albums self-titled track is one of the three longer pieces on the album and is played at a more subtle slower pace and lends to the space with its movement to represent the emptiness and the loneliness that is associated with the word “Solitude”. It’s a piece he wrote in a moment where he started to revaluate everything and started to be a little more isolated. I guess there are many times when we want to be by ourselves at times and isolate ourselves and collect our thoughts. Although right now in the present situation with Coronavirus spreading rapidly around the world, having to isolate ourselves is perhaps not the same thing.

This is another fine piece that has more of a classical structure to it and has a certain feel of sadness and beauty and also has a sense of warmth about it. It fits the title like a glove and Flávio did feel he was connected with the universe when he wrote it. Even though that is not him in the picture I chose to use for this piece, I do also feel it fits the picture too and see it has him collecting his thoughts with the universe.

If anything, “Solitude” is a piece that very much has perhaps more of a chilliout mood to it and also a sense of purpose with its melody lines and the environmental recording of the rain and birds singing at the end works very effectively to round the piece off. It’s a very well-constructed piece of work and is played with precision and his fingers are quite magical with how he touches upon certain keys that add to the beauty of the piece. It’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 3. Flavia Jogando Bola.
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Jogando Bola translates to “Playing ball” and this is a very playful piece that has a feel and sense of joy about it all. The piece itself reflects back to Flávio looking back on his past to the times when his daughter Flavia was a couple of years old and playing ball. I guess we all have fond memories and moments we like to gaze back at every now and then and this really is a GORGEOUS! little piece that dances along joyfully and the keys really do express and capture the joyful moment in time he was looking back on.

Track 4. Miss You.

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Miss You” is the longest track on the album and was inspired by the film music that Flávio’s father loved so much. It’s a piece that very much has a feel of loneliness like the 2nd track on the album “Solitude” only there is a lot more movement to the piece and it touches on jazz and classical structures to make it what it is.

It’s quite a powerful dramatic and expressive piece that captures many moods along its path and builds itself around melodies that contrast between light and shade. I would also say that you would have to have quite some strength in your fingers to be able to play a piece like this over its 10 minute and 19 second journey and it’s another very well worked out piece and one that has some really GREAT! chord progression along its path.

Track 5. Bella.

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This is a piece that Flávio wrote in a way of a dedication and remembrance of his dog Bella after she sadly passed away. Once again, it’s a piece that is built around a classical music structure in that it is built around a theme and variations of the theme. It’s a very well-crafted composition that has a sense of purpose about it, it starts off slowly and even though the piece builds up a bit quicker with its pace it constrains itself and holds everything together really well.

It’s not really a playful piece like the 3rd track on the album he wrote about his daughter and its perhaps done more in a way to represent the pleasure that Bella brought to him and his family over the 90 odd dog years she lived. It’s a very emotive piece that captures sprinkles of joy and a touch of sadness with how it presents itself to you and is a wonderful little journey through the life of Bella who is pictured in the photo above. It’s another of my contenders for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 6. Beautiful Flowers.

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This piece was composed in honour of Flávio’s father Florentino and the “Flor” in the first segment of his name means flower in Portuguese hence the reason for the title he chose here. His father was a true master of the craft and very much his hero and this particular piece has been very well crafted in a way of a dedication to him and is the second longest track on the album weighing in at 8 minutes, 44 seconds.

There is quite a lot of beauty here which is to be expected in that it deeply shows his love for his father, and this is a piece that has eloquence, grace and even romance and is another very well constructed piece of work with how it all builds up to its heights and goes through motions and emotions that take in both happiness and sadness. It really is a masterclass piece of work and he has also backed it up slightly in parts with some warm strings which support the piano very well. This is another strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 7. Mother.

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The second piece that Flávio has dedicated to his mother is much shorter and once again this is a piece that has a sense of purpose about it and is more constrained like the 5th track on the album. This is perhaps done in way to represent how mothers have more of caring aspect about them in that they keep us safe from harm and are more protective or sometimes even overprotective by watching over us sort of thing. Well that is how it comes across and speaks to me, and it is perhaps more sombre and reflects darker shades, yet still manages to shine some light and is another wonderful worked out piece of work he has composed here.

Track 8. For Bill.

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The final piece on the album pays homage to one of Flávio’s idols namely the American jazz pianist and composer Bill Evans. To be honest I have never heard of him though jazz is perhaps not that popular in my own record collection although I do love certain aspects of it and am perhaps more into jazz fusion and the sort of thing that Flávio does with the other GREAT! musicians he plays with.

But I do have tremendous respect for some of the truly GREAT! jazz pianists and one that perhaps amazes me is Oscar Peterson. I also love boogie and ragtime music and have seen many old vintage clips of some those GREATS! from the past way before my time play them and enjoy a lot.

To be perfectly honest when listening to the album Solitude it does tend to lend more to the contemporary classical side of music than it does to jazz. But this is a piece that really displays some of the more technical aspects of playing jazz and it’s as if Flávio is playing a serenade to his idol Bill Evans and he certainly does justice to him too.

He also performed this live at the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall in Fayetteville Arkansas in the United States and done a GRAND! job of it as you can see in this video that he put out on his Youtube channel.

You can also find many more live performances on his Youtube channel including a straw of 3 of the other pieces from the album Solitude he also played live from the same venue. “For Bill” is a perfect way to put the album to bed and end off a very satisfactory body of work and a GREAT! album of fine piano pieces. It’s also my personal favourite track on the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Summary…

To sum up the album Solitude by Flávio Franco Araujo. I would say that the biggest majority of music that was written for the album does have more of a contemporary classical feel and lends itself more to that style more so than the jazz side of things. But that is perhaps to be more expected given that the album does have more of a personal side to it and is very much a family album.

I suppose in a way of categorising it in the way of giving it a genre, it’s bit like the genre of New Age that was given to the Country Airs album that Rick Wakeman had done back in 1986 and it is quite similar to that type of album. But then again how exactly does New Age really categorise a particular style of music especially when they have ambient electronic music, acoustic and all sorts filed under the same name tag. Like the many genres that evolved over the years they do tend to be ridiculous.

You can see that Flávio has put a lot of thought into the placement of the tracks on the album and it does flow and work very well in the order that they have been placed. The other good thing the album has in its favour is its overall time slot, which at 46 minutes is a very comfortable listening time that flies by in no time at all making it much easier to give the album another spin afterwards.

Reviewing any instrumental album presents a difficult task especially for me to convey how each piece comes across individually. But as with any album I review I do listen to the album several times and each track intensely. Though I may not be the best when it comes to wording things, especially when it comes to describing piano pieces. Solitude is an album that also presented me with quite a challenge to pick my personal highlights from the album but they are as follows: “Sol Brilhante“. “Solitude“. “Bella“. “Beautiful Flowers” and “For Bill“.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of the album Solitude. I personally do not think that an album filled with piano pieces is going to appeal to the masses, and it will appeal to those who are more into the piano than myself. But that’s not to say you cannot get tremendous pleasure and joy out of listening to an album like this or deny the skill that went into making an album like this either.

I would even say that given the current circumstances we are in with the Coronavirus and how we are all revaluating our lives to fit and work around it. An album like this might be just the ticket and the thing you need right now to focus on other things and I certainly think it will make you appreciate some of the beauty there is in this world.

Every musician in the world comes with their own appraoch and personal touch to their own instrument and that is where the real value lies within an album like this. For example, being more into prog rock myself Rick Wakeman has always been my personal god of the keyboards. But when it comes to playing the piano, he is no Oscar Peterson or even Flávio Franco Araujo for that matter and I would hardly say that his album Country Airs was one of his better albums. I personally do not think it’s a bad album but in all honesty the album Solitude speaks to me a lot more than that album of his.

The album Solitude is an album I highly recommend and contains a very fine strong body of work and I personally could not fault a single track upon it and each piece is very well composed, played and arranged and the quality production speaks for itself. It’s an album that I feel has a lot more to offer than I thought, even if it is made up of solo piano pieces and is not the sort of thing, I would personally buy these days. It’s also an album that one can truly appreciate and there is no doubt that Flávio Franco Araujo is a very gifted talented musician.

You can listen to the album for free on places like Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music or alternatively you can purchase the digital download of album from Amazon and many other outlets for around £9.99. You can even purchase an hi-res version of the album from here: https://www.prostudiomasters.com/album/page/55320

A Moment To Revaluate Everything

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Sol Brilhante. 4:35.
02. Solitude. 7:24.
03. Flavia Jogando Bola. 4:06.
04. Miss You. 10:19.
05. Bella. 3:48.
06. Beautiful Flowers. 8:44.
07. Mother. 3:49.
08. For Bill. 3:43.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.