Lee Speaks About Music… #75

Sanctuary III – Robert Reed

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Introduction…

Robert Reed’s latest and 3rd solo studio album release is upon us once again, and it’s title of Sanctuary III comes as no surprise I guess. I guess it was also not a surprise to see that it comes once again with 2 CD’s and a DVD with the 5.1 mix of the main album on it. I always get excited whenever Robert Reed announces a new release, especially when it comes from this solo project of his.

There is no doubt that Mike Oldfield’s music touched my heart back in the 70’s, it still does today in all respects, and the very fact that Reed’s solo project is based around resurrecting and breathing new life into some of Oldfield’s old melody lines by rearranging them is what I love about this project the most.

There is no doubt that Oldfield’s music touched Robert Reed’s heart and one could even say it even possessed and had an obsession over him, enough so to even go to the lengths of bringing in the very guy who produced Oldfield’s 1973 classic Tubular Bells to lend an hand, plus a couple of the great musicians who played for Oldfield back in the 70’s and early 80’s.

For Reed this must of been like having your greatest ever dream come true. I suppose the only way it could possibly be beaten was if Mike Oldfield himself got in touch with him to work on a collaboration or something like that. But for me personally I feel that Robert Reed is doing an amazing job of it all with his own ideas and how skilfully he can take a melody and turn it inside out, upside down and shape it anyway he likes. This is where the genius in him really shines.

Since Robert Reed started his solo career with this Sanctuary project of his. I can honestly say it’s brought nothing but a lot of joy and pleasure to my ears. Even to the point of his albums bringing tears of joy streaming down my face. There is a ton of emotional beauty that comes from this guys music, and some might even argue that it’s not his music at all.

Well there is no doubt that the music is inspired by Mike Oldfield. It will even sound like Mike Oldfield. But you will not find one single melody line that belongs to Mike Oldfield I am afraid. So just what do they really know?.

Well the one thing I certainly know!. Is that back in the 70’s and early 80’s. Mike Oldfield’s music brought me the exactly the same joy and emotion I am now getting from what Robert Reed is doing with this Sanctuary project of his. And I am certainly not gonna kick the guy in the teeth for doing that :)))))).

So before we look at the joys and beauty Sanctuary III has to offer. Let’s take a look at the packaging and see what you get for the price of £15.99 which includes the UK postage and packing.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Well it really is another splendid package we have here. I like how the 3 tier gatefold Digipak comes in a nice glossy coated finish on its surface. The very fact it is gloss coated also adds protection to the discs when removing them from the cardboard pockets they so nicely slot into. It does not come with a booklet, but all the linear and production notes are printed out on the 3 tier gatefold Digipak. It also comes with a warning which states “This album requires more than one play. A single nonchalant play will result in insufficient emotional stimulus”.

The Artwork.

The front cover picture is the work of Markus Reugels. He specialises in high speed photography and the use of water and colour to create what is known as Liquid Art. The black & white photographs on the inside were taken by Chris Walkden.

The Album In Review…

Robert Reed’s Sanctuary III was released on the 20th April 2018. Although the album was only released in the formats of both a Digital Download and a 2 CD/DVD Edition which I have here. There is also a Limited Vinyl release scheduled to be released on the 18th May of 300 copies only. So all you vinyl lovers had best get your pre-orders in early if you want to grab a copy.

As with all of Robert Reed’s solo albums and the Magenta albums. I always pre-order them from his website rather than Amazon. I do so basically because it’s generally cheaper to do so. Though the chances of you getting your hands on it on the day of its release can be slimmer. I am pretty sure I got Sanctuary II back in 2016 a day earlier, but my copy of Sanctuary III did not arrive till Monday 23rd April 3 days after its release.

Another thing I have noticed is that this 2 CD/DVD package is also a Limited Edition. Though I would expect it to have  a lot more copies of it pressed than the vinyl release is going to get. But also be aware because I did notice that when the 3 disc versions of Sanctuary II ran out. The next run of the album only contained the 2 CD’s. So if you are like me and a surround freak. You best get in there quick. So now let’s take a look at the contents on the CD’s and the DVD…

CD 1.
The first disc contains the main album which is spread over 2 tracks Sanctuary III (Part 1) & Sanctuary III (Part 2). The disc comes with a total playing time of 1 second over 41 minutes. I quite like this time slot and prefer it to those who cram their albums up to the hilt, by trying to get as much out of the disc space as they can. It’s the old 70’s time slot  just like we got with both Sanctuary I & II and very much my preferred choice.

CD 2.
The bonus disc contains 7 tracks and comes with a longer overall playing time of 76 minutes, 13 seconds. The bonus material is not really new, and is basically different mixes of the material that’s on the first disc. For example you do get an alternative mix of the 1st side of the album which is titled the “Moon Singer Suite“. You get to hear more vocals in this mix, and it is quite different to the original track even with some of the instrumentation, to what’s on the main album.

You also get the whole of the album again on 2 of the tracks, which have been mixed by the man who did the mix for Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells namely Tom Newman. The 1st disc contains Robert Reed’s own mix. I quite like Newman’s mix simply because it’s like listening to the whole album again and there is a difference with the placement of instrumentation in the mix. Though my personal favourite and my preferred choice of them all, will always be the 5.1 mix of the album on the DVD.

The 4 other short tracks you get are titled “Troy’s Lament“. “Perpetual Motion“. “El Passo” and “Moon Singer Rising“. I quite like all these and once again they have been mixed a bit differently. They work well as short little ditties like this too.

Overall the bonus material is very good even if it is perhaps like having the same thing all over again in some respects. I can see myself playing the bonus disc quite a lot from time to time, just like I do with the one that came with Sanctuary II to which he’s basically done the same thing with the bonus material upon that.

The DVD.
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The DVD loads up and presents you with the main menu (shown above). The main menu gives the choice of 4 options to choose from. The “5.1 Surround Mixes” is the main feature of the DVD. The remaining 3 other choices of “Track By Track”. “Demonstration” and “Promo Videos” are all the bonus features. By clicking on the main feature the “5.1 Surround Mixes” it presents you with the following menu screen.

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From this screen you can make your preferred audio choice by clicking on either DTS or Dolby Digital. The DVD comes with 2 audio soundtracks only. Both of which are in 5.1 surround sound. It does not contain a stereo track and both the DTS & Dolby Digital audio formats are in 24/48.

To be honest I find it strange how only the first Sanctuary album came with an audio format of 24/96. Although it even stated on the sleeve that Sanctuary II was in 24/96. But it was only in 24/48.

The DVD Bonus Material.

The bonus material on the DVD is very good and by clicking on “Track By Track” it starts to play a 62 minute documentary with Robert Reed explaining all the segments and sections that make up the whole of the Sanctuary III album.

This is really interesting because he not only goes through the musical theory of how the music is structured with all its melodies, counter melodies, rhythms and voices. But he uses the piano to demonstrate and plays all the other instrument and vocal parts to show you.

He actually plays you the whole of the album on the piano over the 11 parts that make it all up. He also tells you his many influences that inspired him whilst composing it all. It really is a great feature and pleasure to watch. Here is a short extract Rob Reed posted on his Youtube channel of him playing one of the sections on the piano only.

By clicking on the next option “Demonstration” on the main menu. It starts to play you a 12 and half minute documentary of Robert Reed recording a short 3 to 4 minute section from the album. This is another really interesting feature where you get to see him make up the track from scratch and play all the instruments that was in the original piece, and how many tracks he used for each individual instrument.

The final option to choose from on the main menu is the “Promo Videos”. This section contains 4 promo videos that he made during the making of the album. Basically they are videos of the drummer Simon Phillips playing all his drum parts for the album in his home studio in America. And also the 3 female vocalists known as Synergy recording some of the vocal chants for the album, and a vocoder section.

My favourite of them is the video he posted about a week or so ago on his Youtube channel with Rob Reed & Les Penning playing this beautiful section from the album on the acoustic guitar and flute. You can see it here for yourself.

Overall the bonus material on the DVD is purely wonderful to have and there is quite an abundance of it and is very interesting to watch.

The 5.1 Mix.

Another one of the people who worked with Mike Oldfield over the years, was brought in to do the 5.1 mix and mastering. He is none other than Simon Heyworth. There is only one way I can describe this 5.1 mix and that is that it’s purely AWESOME.

Despite there being no 24/96 and only an audio format of 24/48 it is true to say that a good 5.1 sound engineer can produce the same great results just as one can achieve with an higher format of 24/96. Heyworth is a man who obviously knows what he is doing in the field of doing 5.1 mixes. The results are purely stunning in every detail on this mix.

This mix is purely gorgeous, and you can forget stereo and headphones, because they simply could never produce this quality and detail. Though of coarse it’s also superb hearing it in stereo too on the cans.

Musicians & Credits…

Recorded between January 2017 – March 2018 at BIG Studio in South Wales. Piano & Percussion recorded at Fieldgate Studio Penarth Wales. Synergy Vocals recorded at Umbrella Sound London. Drums recorded at Phantom Recording Studio USA. Produced, Engineered & Mixed by Robert Reed. Executive Producer Tom Newman. 5.1 Mix Mastered by Simon Heyworth. Cover Photograph by Markus Reugels. B&W Photography by Chris Walkden.

Musicians:

Robert Reed: Grand Piano/Electric Guitars/Acoustic Guitar/Nylon Guitar/12 String Guitar/Bass Guitar/Mandolin/Glockenspiel/Vibraphone/Marimba/Timpani/Banjo/Gong/African Drums/Snare Drum/Sleigh bells/Melodica/Recorders/Farfisa Organ/Solina String Ensemble/Roland SH-2000/Table/Bodhran/Tubular Bells.

Simon Phillips: Drums.
Les Penning: Recorders/Narration.
Troy Donockley: Uilleann Pipes/Whistle.
Gethin Liddington: Trumpet.
Tom Newman: Bodhran.
Angharad Brinn: Lead Vocals.
Micaela Haslam. Joanna Forbes L’Estrange. Heather Cairncross – Synergy Vocal Chants.
Shan Cothi: Opera Vocal.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Having watched the promos that Rob Reed posted on his Youtube channel prior to the release of Sanctuary III I got to see him discuss how once again this is different from the first 2 albums in this solo series of his. I also got hear how satisfied he was with it, how he thought that this was the best one so far. How it was more of himself this time around and how he also never held back by putting any restrictions of what to incorporate into the music. It was perhaps a bit like what I heard prior to the release of the new Magenta album We Are Legend that was released last year.

I think with all artists they are bound to give some sort of praise to their latest creations, and personally I have nothing against that, and every new album they make is perhaps always aimed at trying to achieve something better all the time, and that in reality is what spurs any artist to continue what they are doing and trying to achieve it, even if they never quite manage to achieve it or make that perfect album.

For most artists its always about the new and not the past, even if they were far more successful in their past. But for any listener it’s perhaps a different ball game to accept what the artist considers to be his personal best, and how it comes across to them.

For example although Rob Reed mentioned all the good points he seen in his music about Magenta’s album We Are Legend and how he was happy with it, how he felt it was their best album since their 2nd album Seven. I myself personally thought it was not as good as the previous album The Twenty Seven Club never mind Seven.

There was something I picked up on about the album We Are Legend straight away, and to be honest it was perhaps the first time I had ever heard Rob Reed do this, and it ties in with his solo project of Sanctuary too.

There is no doubt that every Magenta album contains influences from the many great prog rock bands from the 70’s. There is also no doubt that his solo album project is heavily influenced by Mike Oldfield. But the one thing I had never heard Rob Reed do before in both of those projects is copy a melody line. Until I heard the album We Are Legend.

The very thing I have always admired about Rob Reed apart from his musician skills, is how he goes about creating his music by using existing melody lines, and reshaping them so that they may sound like they came from somebody else’s album, but they are nothing of the sort.

He has this genius way of sculpting something out of someone’s else’s music and making it his own out of it. There is no doubt many people will accuse him of plagiarism when they hear any of the first 2 Sanctuary albums, I dare say they even would with this new album too. But not one of his melody lines sounds exactly like you will find on a Mike Oldfield album even if it sounds like one.

I like the album We Are Legend and I think it’s a good album. But I also think he overstepped the mark a bit with some of the melody lines that are on it. All this observation is my own personal view and how his music speaks to me as an individual. And every listener is an individual, will have their own observations and personal opinions about it all. And of course Rob Reed is also entitled to his own personal opinion of how his own music speaks to him.

So now let’s get down to my review of Sanctuary III and for this part of the review I am only going to be taking on the 2 individual tracks that are on the main album, and not the bonus tracks to which I have already touched upon earlier.

Track 1. Sanctuary III. Part 1.

The opening introduction of Sanctuary III will have you pining for Scotland with the wonderful sound of the Uilleann Pipes played by Troy Donockley. These pipes I have always loved and personally I think they produce much more of a sweeter sound and element of beauty in relation to the Scottish bagpipes.

You will often find the Uilleann Pipes used in a variety of Celtic music and here they very much portray that Celtic feel along with the use of the deep drone sound from the keyboards. To be perfectly honest I am not a fond lover of Celtic music, and my personal taste of most folk music is more of your English traditional folk, or English folk rock.

I was never fond of Mike Oldfield’s 1996 album Voyager either, and much preferred his earlier output back in the 70’s. I found a lot of Oldfield’s earlier music offered much more of a wider variety of music to them. Just like you get with Reed’s Sanctuary albums. But I have always loved the sound of the Uilleann Pipes.

The short intro is brought to an end with one heavy thud most likely on the timpani and at 1:08 the voice of Les Penning narrates the first couple of lines of a wonderful poem he wrote. The poem is also very apt and Celtic like in the way he’s wrote it and here is the poem he wrote.

Moon singer, your waiting is done.
Ye bring with the stars the flint fire of dawn.
We long for the stone whose voice is the wind.
Holding my hands while the embers alight.
Feeling the dance warming the night.

And the holy burns last, with a song of its own.
While piper and bellman call long for the sun.
We echo, still echo in times yet unborn.
The stone gift glowing in circles of straw.
The dancers are going, need never dance more.

Then in comes the first lot of vocal chants by the 3 lovely vocalist’s known as Synergy around the 1:22 mark. Unaccompanied at first, then the pipe organ comes in quietly at first and builds itself up louder to almost boiling point, then the guitars explode into action at 1:46 with some lovely lead lines backed up superbly with some fine instruments and percussion.

Sound wise it’s very Oldfield like with all the instrumentation, but these are Reed’s melody lines and not Oldfield’s. The power then simmers down and in comes a nice bit of work by Reed on the vocoder and at 2:23 Angharad Brinn makes her first appearance to sing the the poem that Penning wrote.

The interplay sections between the verses of the song are superb and at 4:02 Synergy come back for a few more chants and music builds up with more power and runs through some superb transitional changes, working both electric and acoustic guitars sections around the other array of truly great instrumentation.

Around the 6:15 mark it all simmers down nicely again and then at 7:30 in comes the section that’s in the video that features Rob Reed & Les Penning. This is what I call the Hergest Ridge section, simply because it very much reminds me of that album of Mike Oldfield’s. No doubt he as reworked some Oldfield’s melody lines in this section, but he has reworked and rearranged them, and not stolen them.

I have always loved Oldfield’s 2nd album Hergest Ridge he done back in 1974. To me it’s an album that contains some most beautiful melody lines and strong themes. This small section of Sanctuary III very much captures that beauty, even down to the use of the trumpet played in this section by Gethin Liddington.

There is no doubt you will hear many other snippets of reworked melody lines from other Oldfield albums. Right up to where I am up to now on this first track. I have heard bits of Incantations. Five Miles Out. AmaRok and I dare say there are many others too, even Light & Shade. But this Hergest Ridge section, is without doubt the strongest resemblance of them all.

The next section that follows is a vocoder section that’s perhaps a bit like the “Cookie Jar” vibe that was on Sanctuary II. This section once again builds up very well and at the 11:15 mark Simon Phillips drums come more into the action and it builds itself up into more of a crescendo and comes back down around the 12:23 mark.

Then we get another acoustic section that utilises the acoustic & electric guitars very well and it runs into a nice piano section and the angelic girls voices come back into play and it runs into a fine flute section and the choral voices come back to back it up along with some tasty lead work on the electric guitar. This then drops down into a lovely bit of nylon guitar and leads us into the next section.

This next section that comes into play around the 15;50 mark build it’s way into what Reed calls the Spaghetti Western section. It features some twangy electric guitar, banjo along with all the rest and even features the fine operatic voice of Shan Cothi that fits in perfectly to it all.

There is no doubt that Reed is doing things differently here, and doing a lot of things in his own way. The piano introduces the final section of part one and this section runs from 17:33 – 21:13. There is an array of goodies in the instrumentation department going on throughout it all, and it builds back up back into a crescendo and sizzles its way out more quietly at the end as it drops back down.

Even the way I have described the whole of part 1 here, there is just so many great things going on throughout it all, it’s impossible to take in everything that’s going on throughout this first part. But for me everything about it is so stunningly good. Each section is so well structured and the arrangements of the instrumentation and vocals is purely awesome.

Track 2. Sanctuary III. Part 2.

Part 2 opens up with the acoustic guitar and is perhaps a bit like how Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge opened up as well, only this is a completely different melody. But I do feel that a lot of Reed’s inspiration for this particular album did come from Oldfield’s 2nd album.

This particular section runs for about 5 and a quarter minutes, and builds its way along really well. You get more great instrumentation from Reed, chants from the girls and more great drums from Phillips. I also noticed the sound of a little laugh or it could be the sound of a dove cooing at the 3:08 mark. It’s a nice little touch and placed very well in the rear speakers on the 5.1 mix of the album.

The drums continue to play on in the next section and this is another really fine chanting section by Synergy that features some great lead guitar work along the way and it’s all uplifting and quite sprightly this section. It all comes down around the 7:22 mark with a nice few bars of piano before going into the next section.

This next section does have perhaps more of an Amarok feel about it, with the use of acoustic and electric guitars and it changes into more of a Tubular Bells II feel at around the 9:30 mark. It’s a bit like what Reed also touched on with Sanctuary II and the comical section of Tubular Bells II where the backing singers were having a bit of fun. Only here it’s a bit of a jolly instrumental section that utilises whistles and the banjo along with the other instruments and percussion. He also brings back the cookie jar bit of fun on the vocoder.

There is perhaps a fewer sections in the second part of Sanctuary III and around the 11:08 mark we get a reprise of the Scottish vibe section that opened up the album on part 1. This runs runs along and builds up into another fine crescendo up until around the 16 minute mark.

To be honest I would of thought that Reed would of used this section to end off the album as it started. But instead it comes back down with the piano and builds its way back up again for the grand finale, and comes down with subtlety once again on the piano to finish it all off beautifully.

Summary…

To sum up my review of Sanctuary III by Robert Reed. I think once again he has managed to carve out yet another masterpiece. I can certainly see why Reed thought this was the best one of them all so far and why he was happy with it. He was also right when he said it was more of his own input as well, even though it still sounds like an Oldfield album.

Certainly the biggest resemblance to Mike Oldfield on the whole of this album is the instrumentation he used and the way it all sounds. The electric guitars especially on that score. But he really as not nicked a thing regarding the rhythm and melodies. There is no doubt that this album has a lot more of Robert Reed about it too.

There is also no doubt that music done with a lot of instrumentation like this works purely fantastic for a 5.1 mix, and this one is real winner and is purely breathtaking to listen too. Mind you so are Sanctuary and Sanctuary II. Just as easy as I could say I love Sanctuary III to death. I could of course say the same about the other two.

Conclusion…

Sanctuary III is a totally stunningly superb album. We are only at the end of April and quite personally I do not think I will see another album get released this year that will touch it. In many ways I could quite easily give it the 2018 album of the year award now. It’s one of the most gorgeous albums on the planet right now.

The bonus material on both the 2nd disc and the DVD is excellent, and there is quite an abundance of it you are getting for it’s price point. Its excellent value for the buck and worthy of every penny.

Listening to this album in all honesty with how it displays pure beauty and so much of it. One wonders how there can be so many hateful people in this world. I think if more people paid more attention to music like this and listened to it, there would be far less hatred in this world and more people would stop to think more about what they are doing.

Besides all the beauty that can be found on Sanctuary III by Robert Reed. It’s also one very truly exciting album that will give you tremendous pleasure for the rest of your life. I simply cannot stop playing it right now, and along with Sanctuary and Sanctuary II. These albums are very much stayers and personally I could never tire of hearing them.

While Piper And Bellman Call Long For The Sun. We Echo, Still Echo In Times Yet Unborn.

The 2 CD/DVD Limited Edition of Sanctuary III is priced at £14.99. The best place to order it is from Tigermoth Productions. For UK orders it’s only £1 extra for the postage & Packaging. European and International orders are generally one or two pound more. I have provided the link here : http://www.magentashopfront.com/page5.htm

The both CD’s are also available as a digital download separately from Bandcamp. The main CD is priced at £7 and the bonus CD is priced at £4. You can also buy the 2 CD/DVD Limited Edition from there as well. But knowing how Bandcamp also charge you tax, you will most likely end up paying more for it.

The link to Robert Reed’s Bandcamp page is here: https://robertreed.bandcamp.com/

The 2 CD track listing is as follows:

CD 1.
01. Sanctuary III (Part 1). 21:13.
02. Sanctuary III (Part 2). 20:48.

CD 2.
01. Moon Singer Suite (Chimpan A Mix) Pt.1. 21:52.
02. Troy’s Lament. 3:14.
03. Perpetual Motion. 3:41.
04. El Passo. 3:03.
05. Moon Singer Rising. 2:17.
06. Sanctuary III Part 1 (Tom Newman Mix). 21:28.
07. Sanctuary III Part 2 (Tom Newman Mix). 20:38.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 10/10.

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

Lee’s 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Bonus Material Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

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Lee Speaks About Music… #74

Stems – Conqueror

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Introduction…

The Conqueror’s 5th album Stems sees the band heading in perhaps with more of a more modern flavour and approach, though the album still very much contains some great diversity and progression along it’s path that you will find on most of their albums. Once again besides the familiar 2 musicians of the band Natale Russo & Simona Rigano a couple of new musicians joined the band, and the band had reverted back to a 4 piece band rather than a 5 piece.

This is also the same line-up that they toured with to promote their new album at the time in 2014 and the live DVD/CD release of Un’altra Verità came off the back of that tour, and got released in the following year.

So far I have the bands first 2 albums and their live DVD/CD and have had them for quite awhile now along with this album and have already reviewed their first 2 albums Istinto and Storie Fuori Dal Tempo. Because I enjoy the bands music that much I shall also eventually get around to buying their 3rd and 4th albums 74 Giorni and Madame Zelle.

Though I have to confess that doing a review for the Conqueror’s studio albums is quite a task, simply because this is an Italian band where all the lyrics to their songs in the booklet that comes with the CD’s are in Italian, and you cannot find any of their lyrics on the internet so I can simply copy and paste them into a translator to understand what they are singing about.

To do any review of a Conqueror album I have to type the words in Italian into my word processor so that I can then copy and paste them into a translator. I have to confess this is painstaking process of doing things, which is why I sometimes get frustrated and it takes me awhile to even think of doing it. Hence the reason why these reviews take longer to surface, because I have to be in the right mood to tackle them :))))))).

I have asked the bands founder Natale on a few occasions now if he could send me the lyrics even if they are in Italian. I do not expect him to translate them and surely one of the members of the band must have them written down on a computer somewhere, so that he could simply copy and paste them into an email and send them to me.

I have even asked him to put them on the bands website and oddly enough it states on the back of the booklet that comes with this album. “For the English translation of our lyrics please visit our website”. Well I have been there loads of times and they are still not on there. It’s like banging my head against a brick wall :)))))).

So before I delve into the review of the album Stems. Let’s first as always take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The album Stems comes in a very well made cardboard Digipak and it even comes with a pocket to store the booklet and a plastic tray that seats the disc nicely and supports the packaging very well by adding that bit of extra strength to it all. All the linear notes about the production and the band and their instrumentation is in English. The 12 page booklet contains a few pictures and all the lyrics are printed in Italian.

The Artwork.

The photos in the booklet and the one on the front cover are credited to the Conqueror themselves. The photo editing and layout was done by Alberto Leo. To be honest I have no idea what the picture on the front cover is. It may be a piano or it could even be one of those weaving machines for all I know, and I fail to see how it relates to the albums title of Stems.

Personally I would of thought a picture of the stems that one records in their DAW on their computer would of been more appropriate, or even the stems from some flowers as an example. There is also a couple of pictures of flowers inside the booklet. But whatever this is on the front cover, it’s not a stem at all or any sort of stems I am afraid. I honestly do not get what on earth they was trying to portray here. Or maybe I am just as Thick As A Brick :)))))).

The only other logical explanation I can come up with to explain what we have here on the front cover is that a stem or stems can also be a central part of something from which other parts can develop or grow. This usually relates to a plant, but I guess if it is an actual part of a piano that’s on that front cover. I can see where they are coming from.

The Album In Review…

The album Stems by the Conqueror was released sometime in April 2014. It contains 8 tracks all of which are vocal tracks and contains no instrumental tracks. Though like most of their vocal tracks do tend to incorporate and inject quite a bit of instrumentation into their songs in the way of interaction between all the musicians that you would find in most prog rock music. The overall playing time of the album is just over 62 minutes.

Conqueror are not the kind of band who will knock out an album every year, and take their time working on the music they present to you when a new album finally arrives. Most of the tracks on the album Stems are quite long too, and the biggest majority of them are around the 6 to 10 minute mark.

So this is not like the bands 2009 EP release of Sprazzi di Luce which was more of a commercial release with shorter songs on it. In many respects even though this album may seem like a it has a more modern approach, the band have no doubt kept their distinctive style even with this current line-up. Even down to using poetry for the lyrics.

So let’s now take a look at the album credits and musicians.

Musicians & Credits…

The Band

The 2014 Line-Up Of The Band

Produced by Conqueror & Ma.Ra.Cash Records. Recorded and mixed at iXplon Studios between January – March. Sound Engineer: Ottavio Leo. Mastering by Ludnica Recording Studio. Studio Assistant Natale Russo. Photos by Conqueror. Photo Editing & layout by Alberto Leo. Art Direction by Natale Russo & Simona Rigano. Duplication by Houston Corporation.

Musicians:
Simona Rigano: Keyboards and Voice.
Ture Pagano: Guitar.
Peppe Papa: Bass.
Natale Russo: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

All the songs on the album Stems was written, produced and performed by the Conqueror. It’s all original material though the band do also sometimes play other artists material from time to time, and have even appeared on a few tribute albums playing the odd song here and there of some of the more known prog rock bands from the 70’s.

To be perfectly honest I have seen quite a few tribute bands play live over the years and quite enjoy their live shows. But no way could I buy an album done by them unless they was exceptionally good at it. But overall I prefer original material and I buy the albums of the original artists and not that of a tribute band. I do have a couple of various artist tributes albums though that was done by various prog rock bands in tribute to other prog rock artists.

Though in general I am not even one for various artists albums or the best of and greatest hits albums. I tend to stick to original albums only such as this one by the Conqueror.

Like many musicians who wind up on a Conqueror album they do not tend to last that long before they leave. Apart from the main 2 members Simona & Natale that is. Some of the musicians who have contributed to their albums also may pop back once in awhile. But no matter who comes into the band, they tend to generally slot in and are well capable musicians to do a grand job of it all.

Both the guitarist Ture Pagano and the bass player Peppe Papa have slotted very well into the band for this particular album, and they also done a grand job on the bands live album and DVD Un’altra Verità to which I shall review next month at some point.

Both musicians joined the band in 2013 and the bass player Peppe Papa left the band not long after they toured the album Stems in 2014. The guitarist Ture Pagano did stay on with the band up until 2016 before he left, so no doubt there will be another new line up for their next album which is due to be released this year.

So let’s take a deeper look into the songs we have on the album Stems as I go through the individual tracks in my review here.

Track 1. Gina.

The album kicks off with the longest track on the album “Gina” and as the title suggests it’s the name of a person, so no translation needed at this point at all. Once again the band stick to their normal style of writing poetry for the lyrics, and the words are based around falling in love and knowing if you can put your trust in somebody enough to spend the rest of your life with them.

Musically I quite like the spring like sound coming from Peppe Papa’s bass strings on the intro. The sound of his bass on this studio version does not project quite as dominantly enough on the live version that’s on the live album Un’altra Verità.

The song also features a near enough 5 minute instrumental break which contains some fine transnational changes and features some rather nice keyboard and guitar solos. It’s a great start to the album.

Track 2. Di Notte.

The 2nd track on the album is very much a contender for the top spot on the album, it features some great keyboard and guitar work and the band interact really well with each other. The title translates to “At Night” in English and the lyrical content is pretty hard to decipher in the way that it’s been written in the form of a poem.

But it seems to pertain to night and day in the sense of some kind of passing over from one world into another, like when somebody dies perhaps and their spirit awakens in the morning to a new journey and new life.

Track 3. False Idee.

False Idee” or “False Ideas” is very much like a two part track in that near enough 4 minutes of it is an instrumental introduction, which features once again some great interplay between band. It even has quite a medieval Scottish feel about the first 25 seconds of the intro. Then it goes into a guitar section that is almost verging on some melodies lines from “Echoes” by Pink Floyd.

It’s not like Floyd’s epic piece at all but for some reason it does have me thinking of it. It goes through some fine transitional changes throughout the instrumental section with both the keyboards and guitar exchanging some fine lead work. It all comes down and the second part is more of an acoustic section which opens up with some strummed out chords on the acoustic guitar, allowing the vocals to come into play.

It’s also perhaps a bit more orchestrated with the piano and keyboards. The lyrical content is based around the false ideas in the pretence of how we see and perceive things, and how they can perhaps look different in the night time in relation to in the day. The words are very poetic and deep. It’s another great track and contender for the top spot on the album I feel.

Track 4. Un’altra Realtà.

The next track on the album translates to “Another Reality“. I have to confess I have no idea where the band got the idea for the poetic lyrical content and subject matter for the songs on this album. In the past the band based their poetry around legends and myths, and even ghostly tales. The material here is perhaps a bit different, though I dare say it was inspired from something they very much read about.

The lyrical content for this particular song is perhaps pertained to one choosing sincerity or hypocrisy or putting on a false mask to hide behind the truth. The song flows along very well and contains some fine chord changes and diversity, and the guitar solo towards the end lifts it up quite well.

Track 5. Sole al Buio.

This song starts very much like a love ballad with Simona‘s fine voice and her playing on the electric piano. In some respects this song is a bit like a reverse of “False Idee” in that it does feature a long musical section, only here it comes in after the vocal section and then the song goes back to where it started with the vocals after the break.

Though it may be sung like a love song, it’s title translates to “Sun In The Dark” and the lyrical subject matter is based upon beliefs in the way that the things we seen so many years ago back in our past, no longer speak reality as one gets older. I suppose it could even be about religious beliefs that was instilled into us as a child, that turned out to be nothing more than broken promises at the end of the day.

I quite like how the band put their lyrics into the context of fine poetry and this verse from the song perhaps sums up the title of “Sun In The Dark” we have here: “But where are the promises that have ended, reassured my needs closed in a box. Forgot left alone in the dark, abandoned like this”.

Track 6. C’est la Vie.

The title here is very much from the French language and translates to “It’s Life“. It’s quite a lively song on the album too and has a bit of zip and zest about it. I quite like this one and once again it’s like the reverse of the 2nd track on the album “False Idee” and is mostly an instrumental piece. The singing section at the beginning lasts all of about 1 minute and 25 seconds, then the band do the business for the next 4 minutes.

It’s also the shortest track on the album and features a very tasty keyboard and guitar solo. It’s certainly got some really great diversity and progression along its path. It does sound familiar to something else in parts and it’s ending reminds me a bit like the ending you would find on “Hocus Pocus” by Focus.

Lyrically the words are pertaining to how short life is, and how everything runs fast and how time only stops momentarily now and then for us to take it all in. It’s a really great track and another contender for the top spot on the album.

Here is the studio version of the track from the bands Youtube Channel.

Track 7. Sigurtà.

Well the only translation for the title of this one comes from the Maltese language and it translates “Sigurtà” to “Security“. When looking at the poetry we have here, the only way I can see they relate to security is perhaps by feeling more secure with all the natural beauty and colours that surround us. It’s another fine piece of work the band do here and I quite like how the song builds up towards the end and ends at its climax. It’ s very much another contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 8. Echi di Verità.

The final track on the album is the 2nd longest track and its title translates to “Echoes Of The Truth“. Lyrically most of the songs on this album refer to poetry and night and day, and a sense of finding the real reality. It’s almost like the poet himself sees something in his own poetry that is quite different to how things really are.

This is another one of those songs that comes with a long instrumental intro before the vocals come into play. It’s also perhaps more of an instrumental piece too and ends off the album very well.

Summary…

To sum up the Conqueror’s 5th studio album Stems. There is no doubt the band went about the material that was written for it in their usual great style of combining musical structures with poetry. The album does have some great diversity and progression along its path. I do however feel they went about a lot of the songs we have here more or less in the same way with how they have been structured and arranged. For this reason I find it very hard to choose a favourite track on the album, because it does not really have a stand out track.

I do not think the album Stems is as solid as the bands first two albums, but never the less it’s still a very enjoyable album from start to finish. My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Di Notte“. “False Idee“. “C’est la Vie” and “Sigurtà“. It’s hard to pick a favourite from these 4 songs because they all speak to me in the same way and I do think they are the strongest tracks on the album, that stand out more so than the others.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Stems by the Conqueror. Overall it’s a pretty good album and nothing really disappoints at all out of the 8 tracks you get here and it’s quite a satisfying enough album. No doubt the album does have some sort of a concept about it, and even the ideas for the poetic lyrics have been inspired by some story or another and the band tend to stick to this format with all their albums in general.

No doubt the album is worthy of its price point of 15 Euro and unlike all the other albums of the Conqueror this particular album for some reason is not available to purchase from Bandcamp. So you can only buy the physical CD I am afraid.

The best and cheapest place to obtain the CD is from the bands website or via contacting the bands drummer Natale Russo on the following email nat@conqueror.it and paying via Paypal. Be sure to add on another 2 Euro to cover the postage and packing. I have provided a link to the website below.

The Silences That I Never Have Forgot, Now They Come Back…

You can purchase the CD of Stems from the bands website here: http://www.conqueror.it/eng/stems.asp

The album track listing is as follows:

01. Gina. 10:57.
02. Di Notte. 7:37.
03. False Idee. 7:42.
04. Un’altra Realtà. 6:28.
05. Sole al Buio. 6:43.
06. C’est la Vie. 5:43.
07. Sigurtà. 8:28.
08. Echi di Verità. 7:30.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 10/10.

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

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 7/10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee Speaks About Music… #73

Not As Good As The Book (Limited Edition) – The Tangent

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Introduction…

Well over the past 2 or 3 months I have been getting back into the music of the Tangent. This is a particular prog rock band I got into back in the early 2000’s when I had first gotten into The Flower Kings. I suppose in a way it was Roine Stolt and some of the members of The Flower Kings who helped Andy Tillison get this project of his on the road. It was also The Flower Kings that led me to The Tangent in  first place. It was also originally meant to be a one off album and project when the bands debut album The Music That Died Alone was released back in 2003.

Though after the bit of success they had with their debut album, it spurred the same line up to make the album The World That We Drive Through in the following year of 2004. Also the live album Pyramids and Stars came off the back of it and got released in the same year. Though it was not long after this that Roine Stolt left because of the many other projects he was involved on, plus still producing albums and playing for his own band The Flower Kings.

Though Stolt’s decision to leave did not deter Andy Tillison from carrying on, and he continued to keep the Tangent alive and an ongoing thing. A couple of the musicians from The Flower Kings also continued to play for The Tangent though over the years they have gone through many line up changes.

The bands 3rd studio album A Place in the Queue released in 2006 was my personal favourite album of them all. Though I enjoyed everything the band churned out at this point. But it was at this stage in my life that other things were going on around me at the time, and a lot of the bands I loved so much for keeping prog rock music alive, I sort of lost track of.

It was not until a few months back I recently got back into the Tangent by listening to some of the material from some of those albums I never had they had churned out over the past years, and a few live videos I found on Youtube that sparked my interest back into the band.

It Does Not Pay To Lose Contact…

I can tell you now losing contact with most prog rock bands can be a costly game simply because these type of bands do not have the popularity that most pop artists have, which means they cannot afford to mass produce their albums like those artists who are tied to major record labels can, and their albums and DVD’s can soon go out of print. Especially the limited editions.

Luckily enough I managed to find the limited edition of the bands 4th studio album Not As Good As The Book on Amazon and it was reasonably priced at £15.76. Though some of the bands media releases are a lot harder to locate, and when you do come across them, you get some people who will try and charge you the earth for them second hand.

I was so grateful that Roine Stolt decided to release the discography of The Flower Kings studio albums in a box set last year, especially having lost those early albums in the 1st box set entitled A Kindom Of Colours that was released. He is also releasing another box set now containing the rest of the albums in the discography, along with the bonus tracks that came with some of the limited editions I lost.

I pre-ordered it as soon as I clapped my eyes on it and will be looking forward to that in June when it gets released. I think this is something many of the prog rock bands should start doing. To stop people trying to rip people off with their own music by charging extortionate prices for them. Personally I would not pay silly money for music these days, not like I would have back in my youth.

Though if I wanted something desperate enough I may stretch my wallet to some degree. For example having stumbled upon some video footage that Andy Tillison had posted himself on Youtube that came from both the Tangent DVD’s he released awhile back. I very much wanted to get my hands on them, even though the footage on these DVD’s were not that professionally made.

Both the DVD’s of Going Off On One and Going Off On Two are very much out of print. When searching for the first one of these DVD’s on ebay and many other places on the net, the chances were you was only ever gonna get hold of it second hand. So finding one in mint condition was my first priority. I also noticed whilst searching for Going Off On One that there was a single DVD release and a limited edition release that came with a DVD & 2 CD’s. There was only 3,000 copies made of the limited edition.

Most of them on Amazon where ridiculously over priced from £80 to over £100 for the limited edition. The ones that came with a DVD only I seen on ebay at a cheaper price of around £20 and upwards looked well dodgy and like pirates people had made themselves.

After a couple of weeks searching I came across the limited edition on Amazon advertised as new for £35. It was the only one the seller had and he was in Germany. So I snapped it up.

Going Off On One

Even though it came wrapped in cellophane. I personally do not think it was brand new. But it was in mint condition and looked brand new. The white bit of paper by the way is where I pulled the price tag off it to take a snap of it when it arrived about a month ago. I did not quite finish peeling it off as I hurried to take the shot. But since then I have peeled it off and it looks immaculate.

Now if I had never lost touch with The Tangent back in 2006. I dare say I could of got this brand new for around £14 or £15. £20 less than the price I paid for it today. I am well chuffed I have it though and I get a lot of pleasure out of this concert. But no way would I have paid stupid money to get my hands on it.

I have located Going Off On Two in mint condition as well. The problem is the seller wants £50 for it. I did email the seller asking him if he would part with it for £40 but got no reply. He still has not sold it and that was about 2 months ago I put in my offer. So I do have my personal limits of what I will pay for music these days.

Now that’s out the way let’s get back to the review of Not As Good As The Book by The Tangent. But first let’s take a look at the packaging as always.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The Limited Edition comes in an hardshell Digipak which is basically a double CD plastic Jewel Case with an inged tray to hold both discs on either side and it stores neatly away in the cardboard box that comes with it. This particular package not only comes with a 16 page booklet that contains all the linear notes of the lyrics and production credits, but it also comes with an 100 page book or Novella as it’s called written by Andy Tillison.

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The book also stores nicely away along with the jewel case in the cardboard box. Overall its quite a nice package you are getting for the money here, and not only do you get some great music, but you also get an interesting book to read as well.

The Artwork.

The cover artwork for both the booklet and all the illustrations in the book was done by Antoine Ettorie. The layout was by MBL Graphics. I rather like it and it’s done in great cartoon style for both the booklet and the book.

Musicians & Credits…

TheTangent 1978

Recorded at MBL Aveyron Studios France between January – September 2006. MBL Auch Studios France between October – December 2006. Reingold Music Studios Malmo, Sweden between June – October 2007 and Burnside Studios Leeds, England between January – December 2007. Produced & Arranged by Andy Tillison Diskdrive. Assisted by Jonas Reingold & Guy Manning. Mastered by Paul Brow.

Musicians:

Andy Tillison: Vocals/Organ/Piano/Moog Synths/Electric Rhythm Guitar/Yamaha XV 535 Motorcycle/Music Stand (Hit with wooden rods) and a sheet of tinfoil.
Guy Manning: Acoustic Guitars/Mandolin/Bouzoukis/Vocals/Hand Harp/Bell/Slode Guitar.
Jakko Jakszyk: Electric Guitars/Vocals.
Jonas Reingold: Bass Guitar.
Theo Travis: Tenor & Soprano Saxophones/Flute.
Jaime Salazar: Drums.

All words & music written by Andy Tillison with nods of acknowledgement to Gus Manning on “Four Egos One War” originally performed by Parallel or 90 Degrees. Julie King – vocals (On Four Egos One War).

The Album & Tracks In Review…

The 4th album Not As Good As The Book by The Tangent was released on the 3rd March 2008. The limited edition comes with an extra disc and also an 100 page book. The 1st CD contains 7 tracks and as an overall playing time of 50 minutes, 45 seconds. The 2nd CD contains 2 tracks with and a total playing time of 43 minutes, 53 seconds.

Being as I have the limited edition I shall take on the both discs in my review here. But let’s take a bit more of a look into the background of the bands main writer Andy Tillison who incidentally wrote all the music on this album. Plus the 100 page novella that comes with this package.

The band The Tangent were originally merged together by 3 of the the members of Parallel or 90 Degrees namely Andy Tillison. Guy Manning and Sam Baine. I do believe that this particular band were also playing support to The Flower Kings and that’s how they got together with Roine Stolt and some of the members from his band. The biggest majority of the Tangent’s material is written by Andy Tillison.

To be honest I do not know anything about Parallel or 90 Degrees and never heard or took any time to listen to what kind of music they do. I also know that Tillison as been involved in some other bands in the past, some of which were Punk Rock bands I believe. The fact that I detest Punk Rock is most likely why I never took the time to listen to anything he was involved in apart from the Tangent.

To be perfectly honest it was not until around 1999 that I first took any notice of Punk Rock having watched some documentary on the television. About the only thing that ever spoke to me about Punk Rock was the lyrics. As for the way the bands presented the lyrics with their don’t give a fuck attitude and the way just bashed it all out and could not sing or play for toffee, just did not appeal to me at all, and that’s why I detested it from day one. I still do. Show me a record of the Sex Pistols and it will be me doing the throwing up and not them :)))))).

Though in all honesty I think the one thing that Andy Tillison got from his earlier days of playing Punk Rock was very much the lyrical side of things. There is no doubt Tillison’s lyrics in the Tangent are very good. But he can also be quite cynical in some respects, though mostly he’s basically speaking the truth, and I think we all can be can be cynical at times, and no matter how truthful we think we can be ourselves, we cannot get everything right all the time.

To be perfectly honest, in my world of how I perceive music. It is always the music that will speak to me first and not the lyrics. Though no doubt it’s always good to have good lyrics, though I do not personally take them all to heart, like many others would.

The Book.

Having read the 100 page book written by Andy Tillison that comes with this limited edition. I have to say there is no doubt that Tillison does have a way with words and come up with quite a bizarre Sci-Fi futuristic story based around his own childhood and is love for progressive rock that was instilled into him back in the early 70’s and upwards to the present day.

It takes in some of his own personal record collection and I guess what he’s really trying to say by the title of this album being Not As Good As The Book. Is perhaps no matter how people perceive today’s prog rock music, a lot of them perhaps cannot accept it like they still accept all those classics that came out back in those dark days of the early 70’s.

So effectively today’s prog rock music is not as good as the book that was written many moons ago. Which is why it will never quite sells that widely like a lot those albums by bands like Yes. Genesis. ELP and many others did back in those days.

The one thing I do admire about Andy Tillison is that he’s a bit like myself in some respects, in the way he not only thinks about his own music, but shows support for the many other bands who are still keeping prog rock music alive.

I myself can still live in the 70’s regarding my personal taste of music. But I also love many of the prog rock bands and artists who are still keeping such great music I have always loved alive today. I would also say the Tangent are one of them.

Onto The Album…

Coming off the back of a couple of years after my personal favourite album A Place In The Queue. Trying to live up to those high standards I would of thought was always going to be hard to beat or even get near.

Surprisingly the album Not As Good As The Book is also another great album. It still contains the same stabbing cynical lyrics at the music industry and Tillison’s general view of how music is today in relation to all those years ago. Musically it even borrows music from the bands previous album, and you get a few bars here and there of others music thrown in for good measure.

So let’s take a deeper look into the album as I take through the individual tracks of the both discs that come with the limited edition release.

CD 1.

Track 1. A Crisis in Mid-Life.

The album gets off to a flying start with its opening track “A Crisis in Mid-Life“. Musically it’s very sprightly with its up-tempo pace shows great diversity with some of the directions it goes in along it’s path. You get your familiar keyboard and guitar solos along the way of its intersections between the words, and he even throws in a couple of bars of Mike Oldfield’sCrises” at the 3:50 mark to let you know that the subject matter is based around a crises :))))).

Lyrically the opening verses are apt enough to the subject matter we have here. To be honest the lyrics in those first few verses are more about the struggles and strains one would find about a crises in mid-life. I think we all find life presents us with many struggles and strains as we grow older, and life is never easy to get through on that score.

Then the lyrics tend to change their direction and are more aimed at having a crises about music than life in general. Tillison even brings in some of his cynical views about music as it progresses. For example he at first goes into how when we was younger and in our teens or the days of our youth, and how music was an escape for us to turn to and shrug off anything that be-fronted us enough to ignore it. I think personally that’s true.

However his cynical stab of how all those artists who made loads of money years ago from their music, and how they are living it up these days and brought houseboats with their wives and there’s nothing left to sing along too, because we have grown up. Is either here or there.

For example I myself do find that for some reason even though I still very much buy music today of the newer bands and artists who are out there. It’s very strange no matter how much you still like the music of today, how for some reason the lyrics do not bury that deep inside of you enough to start singing them out like you did with the music you had years ago. I guess this maybe an age thing and he could be right again. Though it’s hardly a crises :)))))).

I have always viewed music as a product, and the only reason all those artists made loads of money from their music, was because they made a product that sold and people liked it enough to buy it, just like people buy Coca Cola cause they like it. Nothing wrong with that at all. The whole intention and purpose of making any product is to sell it. It keeps people in a job if they can be successful at it, and if you can be highly successful at it, you can get rich from it. Simple as that.

OK it may need promoting and cost chunks of money in advertising to get it more widely circulated and known. But that is what business is all about, and just as much as it can be successful sometimes, it can also be a big gamble and a big risk. Most artists got lucky back in those days having record companies to take a gamble and risk a lot of their own money in promoting and selling an artist.

No doubt most of the artists also got ripped off along the way too. But they was not the ones taking the risk in the first place. Personally I never thought artists like George Michael never had a leg to stand upon trying to get the rights to his own music in court and get out of the albums he promised to do for the record company.

Record companies do not give you all that money up front to make so many albums in the first place for old rope I am afraid. At the end of the day it’s them who have to spend all that money in promoting it and selling it. Most artists were lucky to be given that chance in the first place.

A Crisis in Mid-Life” is a really great song and very much one of the contenders for the top spot on the album. I even think the words “There’s nothing like a crisis in mid-life!” is perhaps something I may very well sing in the way of an angry anthem. But in a real crises :)))).

Track 2. Lost in London 25 Years Later.

Well the title harks back to the classic “Lost In London” from the bands previous studio album. Also the story here with the lyrics pertains to the story in the book. The album is very much a concept album based around the story in the book, only here the words are not as bizarre and put more into context, and also the book uses different names for the characters.

Once again the lyrics are refereeing back to Tillison’s younger days of going to rock festivals and trying to get into a jazz clubs. Musically it also incorporates some fine jazz into it around the half way mark. It’s perhaps not in the same league as “Lost In London” from the 2006 album A Place In The Queue but nerveless flows well enough.

Track 3. The Ethernet.

The “The Ethernet” is longest track on the first disc which is really the concept side of the limited edition. The 2nd CD contains a couple of more lengthy bonus tracks. It’s at this stage the story simmers right down to more of a smoochy mood and deals with the subject matter of love, risks and Cyber Sex. Both the music and vocals are well fitting here and each track runs from one track to another in the way of a nonstop album to make the concept story flow along even more so.

Track 4. Celebrity Purée.

The shortest track on the album is up next and is an instrumental piece that contains some fine diversity and progression and it sort of reminds me of something the band Spock’s Beard might do. It picks the album up more and is a great little track.

Track 5. Not As Good As The Book.

The self titled track of the album is my personal favourite track and merits my top spot of the album award. I also like how all the previous tracks build up to this track. The song runs along at a great pace with some fine melody lines on the moog synth and as well as the keyboard work it also features some fine lead solos on the guitar and the acoustic guitar works particularly well and it has a nice come down section in the middle.

Lyrically the song is pertaining perhaps around how different ones life as panned out over the years, and how the future did not work out how you quite imagined it would turn out. It’s perhaps not as good as the book makes it out to be, and in this case Tillison is embarking on Buzz Aldrin’s life and the conspiracy behind them landing on the moon.

It also raises the question about what little computer technology they had back then and could they really put their faith and trust in a computer with less than brains of a ZX81 to direct them back home. He may have a point.

Track 6. A Sale of Two Souls.

Once again the pace comes down a bit on “A Sale of Two Souls” it’s another fine song that musically adds perhaps a slight touch of melancholy with Theo Travis’s flute work and the acoustic guitar, it builds up well enough with all the other instrumentation.  It even sounds a bit like a cross between Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd in some sections and I guess you could also say it ends off with something perhaps more familiar with what you might find on the Who’s album Quadrophenia with the talking bit at the end.

The lyrics are based around the subject matter of growing old and perhaps still having the rights to still go on making and playing music and having that feel of youth back again, rather than being seen as some has-been or a dinosaur perhaps. I suppose the title could also be harking at how music lost its feel today and how it does not tend to sell like it did years ago and it no longer as that spark enough for people to want to buy it today.

Track 7. Bat Out of Basildon.

A song that once again touches on getting old and looking back how nobody writes those old bikers songs like they did decades ago like in the film Easy Rider and Meatloaf’sBat Out Of Hell” to which the title gets it acquaintance :))))). It’s quite a good enough song with great lyrics and even rocks in a jazzy style in some respects. It perhaps does not have the power of Meatloaf’s classic though. But never the less it puts the end of the concept of the main album on the first disc very well.

CD 2.

Track 1. Throwing Metal at the Sky: Part 1 Four Egos, One War.

The first of two lengthy pieces on this bonus album take in quite a different subject matter in relation to the first disc which is the main album, and is more of what is known as bonus material as you would get with a limited edition release like this.

This particular track weighs in at just over 21 minutes and the subject matter is very much that of war that gets portrayed over 5 parts. Part 1. Ours. Part 2. Theirs. Part 3. Ours Reprise. Part 4. His. and Part 5. Mine.

As far as I can make out “Four Egos, One War” was written back in 2002 for another one of Tillison’s project bands known as Parallel or 90 Degrees. Like I said earlier I know nothing about this particular band but apparently when they wrote this song back then it was never released on any of their albums.

It was only after the release of this album that they released a compilation 2 CD set entitled A Can Of Worms by Parallel or 90 Degrees that contained some material from the bands back catalogue of albums along with unreleased material such as this track. Although this particular version on Not As Good As The Book comes with a different arrangement to the original. It also features Julie King on vocals in parts.

I have to say though I have never heard the original version, this version on the album is very good and I am well surprised that this song never got released back in 2002, especially if it’s anything like this. In some ways it’s perhaps a bit familiar to how Neal Morse goes about writing his music. I am now even tempted to buy A Can Of Worms to see exactly what type of music Parallel or 90 Degrees is all about.

Like I mentioned earlier the subject matter is very much different regarding the lyrics, and in my personal opinion they are far from bizarre in relation to what we got on the main album. The subject matter of war is handled very well here and this is really excellent bonus material, that in all honesty should never have been bonus material in the first place.

Musically it’s very well constructed and put together, and even incorporates or borrows some melody lines in a small section from their previous album A Place In The Queue. It’s very much a contender for the top spot on the album and another favourite track of mine.

Track 2. Throwing Metal at the Sky: Part 2 The Full Gamut.

The 2nd of the 2 tracks on this bonus disc is yet another excellent piece of work. “The Full Gamut” is perhaps a bit like a theatrical opera or play that comes with some great diversity and progression throughout it. Tillison’s keyboard work on this track is perhaps the best on the whole 2 discs. It’s got some great transitional changes along it’s path with some excellent interplay from all the musicians.

It’s slightly longer than the first part of Throwing Metal at the Sky and is a very exciting 22 minutes and 42 seconds long. The whole thing is put across in 9 parts. Part 1. The D599 – Dusk. Part 2. Gothenburg. Part 3. Last Tango. Part 4. Studio Tan. Part 5. Not A Drill – A Storm In The Mountains Of Cantal. Part 6. Southend On Sea. Part 7. The A1 North Of Paris. Part 8. Four Last Days. Part 9. The D599 and the A61 (Dusk).

Lyrically the song is perhaps a personal thing about Tillison’s break up with his long time partner Sam Baine which is perhaps why this was released as a bonus track on a limited edition. So the lyrics are aimed at her and perhaps why he was having a crisis in mid life as the opening track on the main album suggests.

Sam Baine used to play additional keyboards with both Parallel or 90 Degrees and The Tangent and she even played on their previous album A Place In The Queue in 2006. So this was first album not to feature her after the break up. Effectively the lyrics are about the effects and strains it would put on a relationship with them both touring to earn a living sort of thing.

The word “Gamut” means the complete range or scope of something to which he is certainly portraying the full scope of his broken down relationship. It also means a complete scale of musical notes which no doubt you are getting with this offering.

For me personally I have always put the music first before any lyrics, so the the lyrics here are not gonna get in my way sort of thing, and personally I do think the lyrics are more or less aimed at anger and do not perhaps measure up to the quality of the lyrics we got about war on the first track on this bonus disc. They could be however a bit useful to a marriage guidance counsellor perhaps, though it’s perhaps a bit too late for one of those :)))))).

Joking aside I personally think that the musical structure we have here is the best on the entire album. And this is another track that merits the top spot award on the album. Though effectively this limited edition bonus disc is another album, and could of even been released as a separate album. But at the end of the day I guess it was the personal side of his relationship with Sam Baine was why it was not as I already mentioned.

Summary…

To sum up the 2 CD Limited Edition of Not As Good As The Book by The Tangent. It’s very much like getting two different albums for the price your paying in the way that both discs take on different subject matters. If you can get it for the price point I paid for it, then it is value for the buck because you do also get an 100 page book with it.

Regarding the book that comes with it and the story written by Andy Tillison. It’s perhaps like a cross between something you might find familiar with writings by Peter Gabriel and even Douglas Adams Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy with its Sci-Fi and humour approach. It does make an interesting read even if it’s all a bit on the bizarre side of things. Although I would say that the music you get here is better than the book in this case :)))))).

My personal highlights from the both discs are “Not as Good as the Book“. “Throwing Metal at the Sky: Part 2 The Full Gamut“. “A Crisis in Mid-Life“. “Throwing Metal at the Sky: Part 1 Four Egos, One War” and “A Sale of Two Souls“.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of the Limited Edition of Tangent’s Not As Good As The Book. It’s perhaps an album that runs along the lines of a concept album in that each track more or less leads into one another. However regarding it’s concept it’s not what I would call a great concept album if I was going by the lyrical content which does not follow suit as a story sort of like Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds as an example. It’s perhaps a bit of a mishmash with its subject matter, and that may have been down to the fact that Tillison was dealing with perhaps a crises in mid-life and the breaking up of a personal relationship, that may have had an effect here.

I personally do not think Not As Good As The Book is as good as the bands previous album A Place in the Queue. For me personally that magic 3rd album they made is not only musically better structured, but the lyrical content leaves this album in the dust.  Though overall it’s still a very good enjoyable album and if you was to compare the bonus disc that comes with the Limited Editions of both of these albums. The bonus disc you get on this album leaves the one on their previous album in the dust.

The bonus disc for me is perhaps the winner with the limited edition of Not As Good As The Book. To be honest I have never come across another edition of this album but the limited edition. No doubt the both albums in this package have their merits and are well worthy of having if you can obtain it for the price I paid. I enjoy the both discs that come with it and it’s still a really great album to have and up there with their best.

What happened to the future? It’s not as good as the book…

The album track listing of both discs is as follows:

Disc 1.

01. A Crisis in Mid-Life. 7:13.
02. Lost in London 25 Years Later. 7:32.
03. The Ethernet. 10:13.
04. Celebrity Purée. 3:43.
05. Not as Good as the Book. 8:54.
06. A Sale of Two Souls. 7:16.
07. Bat Out of Basildon. 5:54.

Disc 2.

01. Throwing Metal at the Sky: Part 1 Four Egos, One War. 21:14.
02. Throwing Metal at the Sky: Part 2 The Full Gamut. 22:42.

Lee’s overall Complete Package Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 8/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 9/10

The Bonus CD Rating Score. 9/10

The Original Album Rating Score. 7/10.

 

Lee Speaks About Music… #72

Preliminaries – Artyfiction

cover

Introduction…

I recently stumbled across a post in the Progrock Group on Facebook by Mirosław Berg the bass player of a new Polish band who call themselves Artyfiction. He actually posted the 1st track from their debut album Preliminaries along with a message asking what people thought of it. I was not that busy at the time and the artwork caught my eye a bit so I decided to give it a blast.

Upon having a listen I was quite impressed, though I did notice that this was an instrumental piece and as it had quite an heavy rock feel about it and some fine progression, it had me thinking maybe this would not work if the rest of the album contained instrumental pieces only.

For example It would perhaps be like the band Rush making their album Moving Pictures out of instrumental pieces only, and as good as the instrumental track YYZ is and works as an instrumental piece, I think the rock part of that band does cry out for vocals, and I am not sure if I would of brought that album in the first place if it was filled with instrumental pieces only.

I generally find instrumental albums only work perhaps better for those bands who do music like Jazz Fusion like the band Brand X or even electronic music like Tangerine Dream as an example, rather than prog rock bands. So I was intrigued by what I was hearing with Artyfiction enough for me to click on the link to Bandcamp and listen to a few more tracks.

Upon doing so I soon discovered they did have a singer and he was even singing the words in English. Once again I was enjoying what I was hearing so I decided to try and find out more information about the band, and upon doing so I noticed that the vocalist was in fact only a guest singer and was not part of the original band line-up and they was in fact looking for a permanent singer for the band.

Well I had no intention of applying for the job :)))))) but this mini album the band had made certainly impressed me enough to buy it. So let’s take a further look at the band and its debut album Preliminaries

The Band Artyfiction

A Band

The band Artyfiction as far as I know of consists of 4 members and are from Wrocław in Poland. They are currently looking for a permanent singer to join the band so that they can put themselves about a bit more and play some live festivals to get a bit more recognition.

Many of the songs on the album was also written and they played them live under the band name of Laszlo Taxi a couple of years ago. Though from what I heard of those songs Laszlo Taxi did back then, they have arranged them differently today and obviously changed the name of the band to something more fitting to the bands music.

The current line-up of the band is as follows:

Wojciech Bator: Guitar.
Dariusz Kawa: Keys.
Miroslaw Berg: Bass.
Pawel Kardis: Drums.

Guest Vocalist Jacek Ziora. (on tracks 2,4 & 5.).

Preliminaries Album In Review…

Preliminaries by Artyfiction is the bands brand new debut album and was released last month on the 21st March 2018. The album contains 5 tracks, 3 of which are vocal tracks and the other 2 instrumentals and it comes with an overall playing time of 31mintues, 38 seconds.

It’s perhaps a bit on the short side of things for an album these days, but never the less this time slot was nothing unusual to find back in the 60’s and 70’s for an album, and I myself prefer the older time slot of 30 to 40 minutes.

It comes in handy (especially if you have a lot of albums like myself) and this lesser time slot allows you to give more attention not only to this record, but to all the other records in your collection so to speak.

The album was mastered and recorded by Przemysław Wejmann at the studio Perlazza. The albums artwork was provided by Anna Jeżowska and it sort of gives the impression that the band Artyfiction are into heavy metal, but if you was to look up the word Preliminaries which is the title of the album, you will soon find out that the artwork is very apt to the title of the album we have here.

The band Artyfiction consist of some pretty darn good musicians who certainly know their way around their instruments, and have the ability to carve and sculpture some pretty fine musical pieces and well crafted songs that have the diversity and progression you will find in most great progressive rock music. There is no doubt they also have their own distinctive style too.

So let’s take a deeper look into the music at the music the band are presenting as I go through the individual tracks on the album.

Track 1. Scamper.

The opening track is the first of the 2 instrumental pieces on the album, and also happens to be the longest track on the album weighing in at just over 9 minutes. It sort of launches itself straight into the action with some rather tasty lead guitar playing from Wojciech Bator and is supported very well by the back line of both Pawel Kardis and Miroslaw Berg on the drums and bass respectively, and a rather a fine vamping piano melody from Dariusz Kawa accompanies it very well.

I must confess on my first couple of spins I got the impression that this nice little intro came in perhaps a bit quick, and it perhaps needed to be either faded in gradually. or another intro needed to be developed to make it work better. But after a good few spins you soon get used to it, and the guys obviously knew what they was doing, and I no longer get this feeling about the intro.

The intro is all of about 28 seconds long and it comes down nicely enough with some nice little bass fills backed by the keyboards. Around the 43 second mark the band bring in the heavier artillery and the action really starts to take off with some great interplay between the band which goes through some fine transnational changes and incorporates some great lead work from both the keyboards and guitar.

Musically the piece is very well structured, it has great diversity, heavy power chords from the guitar with some strong melodies from keyboards that hold it all together. The piece builds up very well and runs into some really great sections throughout it all.

The interplay and interaction between the section from 4 to 6 minute mark is very good, and then a couple of seconds later Wojciech Bator comes in with a flying lead guitar solo played at blistering pace. Dariusz Kawa follows it up nicely with his own solo on the keys and the band get back into the same routine to end it all off very well.

Scamper” is a really great piece of work that displays the capabilities of all 4 members very well. It works well as an instrumental piece, and it could of easily been structured to incorporate vocals I dare say if they wanted too. It’s a very strong contender for the top spot on the album and is a really great track.

Track 2. Appreciate.

From musical structures to a very well crafted song that’s precisely what we have here with the first vocal track on the album “Appreciate“. Everything about this song is so good. It really has been structured very well both musically and lyrically, and the guest vocalist Jacek Ziora as provided exactly the right delivery for the song with the power and aggression with his voice. It fits the music like a glove. He also wrote the lyrics for this song.

It’s the sort of song of song that grabs you straight away, and one you might latch on too and want to scream the words out yourself when you’re in anger. To be perfectly honest I find a lot of songs today with the many artists I buy tend to lose that special thing about them that many classics had years ago.

I do not know if it’s down to my age or what, but I have always felt that a good written song is one where you can quake up in the morning, get out of bed and instantly find yourself singing a song for no apparent reason without even thinking about it. If a song can do that to you, then it as to be good. Hardly any song in today’s age has the power to do that. But this song the band have so well carved out I definitely feel is one of those songs.

Appreciate” contains the power, the dynamics and all the qualities of a rock anthem. To put it in a nutshell this record should be an instant smash and a massive hit just like the many rock bands did years ago like ACDC. Judas Priest and all those sorts did years ago. It’s every bit as good and purely rocks my boat. It merits my top spot on the album award and is an highly addictive song that grabs you by the balls. This song is that good I decided to post it here from the bands Youtube channel.

Track 3. Moment of Revelation.

The 2nd instrumental piece on the album weaves its way along very well and is perhaps structured around the very dominant bass line and groove provided by the bands bass player Miroslaw Berg. Both the guitarist Wojciech Bator and keyboardist Dariusz Kawa craft some fine melodies around the bass and Pawel Kardis’s rhythm and pattern playing on the drums hold it all together very well, and the drums are also a great feature here.

The whole piece cooks on gas and once again contains some really great guitar and keyboard solo’s and this band work as a very tight outfit and feed off each other very well. The instrumental piece once again shows great diversity and progression along it path and it’s another excellent track.

Track 4. Perswadator.

The 2nd song or vocal track on the album comes with a rather strange title that is a made up word and a bi of a joke they was having. The bands bass player Miroslaw Berg wrote the lyrics. Miroslaw told me its a mixture of “persuasion” (Perswazja in Polish) and the “tor” is end of the words which are related to a kind of person like “ProwokaTOR” (instigator) etc.

I find the word “instigator” quite fitting to the song and this one even has quite a punk rock feel with how Jacek is delivering the words with his powerful voice. It’s quite a menacing song and familiar with many other bands with how Jacek is expressing his voice on this one. 

Musically the song is quite different to punk rock and the band are weaving some magic in and out of this one at some pace. No doubt the song has the power to rock, but personally I do not think it grabs me like the 2nd track on the album “Appreciate” does. Never the less the band are doing a grand job of it all.

Track 5. Viper.

The final song on the album sees the band going back in more of a prog rock direction that we got with the 2 instrumental tracks on the album. It’s quite interesting how Jacek has quite a bit of versatility in his voice, and how is more of a ballad approach in the opening verses works in relation to the more hard edge we got from his voice on the other 2 songs on the album.

No doubt the song does also contain the power for him to raise the game and bring out the harder edge side of things more and it works really well. Once again Miroslaw Berg wrote the lyrics for this one and this is another really well developed and constructed song that the band do the business on. It’s another contender for the top spot on the album.

Summary…

To sum up my review of the album Preliminaries by Artyfiction. I would say that it’s quite a solid enough album that contains both the power and adrenalin to rock and go in other directions with its diversity and progression. The band have certainly got their act together and have crafted out some fine songs and instrumental pieces and have what it takes to deliver the great music that’s contained on this first album of theirs.

It’s a shame that right now the band are still looking for another singer, and I think it will be quite hard to find one quite like Jacek Ziora who slotted in very aptly to the music the band presented to him here. He even contributed some really great lyrics on the song “Appreciate” which is personally my favourite track on the album, and it’s quite a smash hit in my personal opinion.

There is no doubt that the band Artyfiction have their own distinctive style and the combination of both rock and prog rock is perhaps along the lines of other great bands such as Creed. Jadis. IQ. Arena. Haken. Pearl Jam and many more. My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Scamper“. “Appreciate” and “Viper“.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review here, if your into rock and prog rock I do not think you can personally go wrong here. Preliminaries is a really great album that deliverers the goods at a cheap enough price for anybody’s pocket, and at its price it will give you plenty of satisfaction. It certainly rocks my boat and I am sure it will rock yours too.

The album comes with a very good quality production and was recorded in the studios and mastered professionally so there is no skimping on the quality here. The album is available in the form of a digital download only with a choice of high quality audio formats to choose from. I have provided a link below.

As with any band it’s always hard to get off to a great start, and many struggle to gain the recognition they truly deserve for the hard work they put in and the great music they are putting about. No doubt this band is worthy of a lot more attention and I am sure they will provide great entertainment if only more people would take to the time to listen. They certainly caught my attention and I wish them all the success for the future.

Check out the album for yourself. You might just Appreciate it…

You can listen to or grab your own personal copy of Preliminaries here : https://artyfiction.bandcamp.com/releases

The album track listing is as follows:

01. Scamper. 9:07.
02. Appreciate. 4:03.
03. Moment of Revelation. 6:25.
04. Perswadator. 4:07.
05. Viper. 7:56.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #71

The Studio Albums (1979 – 1987) – Sky

SKY-Boxset-FINAL

Introduction…

The Sky Studio Albums Box Set is one of the more recent releases by Esoteric Recordings and having noticed it a month or so back I very much pre-ordered it. I have always been fond of Sky’s music since they released their debut album back in 1979. Though I only ever brought their first 3 albums back then on vinyl. Later on in the 90’s I also brought those same 3 albums on CD only to be completely disappointed simply because the recordings were absolutely that diabolical, I could not even play them.

To be honest when I pre-ordered this box set I could not wait to get my hands on it because it was the first time I had ever seen any Sky album on CD to be remastered. Those CD’s on the Music Club I brought in the 90’s were certainly not remastered and sounded purely dreadful.

I was also totally unaware that Esoteric Recordings had remastered all the Sky albums and released them individually around 3 years ago. I only noticed them via gazing at the Esoteric Recordings website about a week before this box set was released. I also noticed that all these individual releases came in a Deluxe Edition which had a CD & DVD.

Had the DVD contained a 5.1 recording of the albums I would of certainly have cancelled this box set and got those. But unfortunately the only material on the DVD’s with those releases was nostalgic old video footage of the band, and as they was priced at around £12 each. I decided to stick with the box set.

As this is a box set and contains quite a few albums to get through. I am only going to take you through the highlights of each album, rather than review all the individual tracks of the album. But first let’s take a look at what you get for your money here.

The Sky Studio Albums (1979 – 1987) (Box Set) In Review…

The Sky Box Set was released on 30th March 2018. I pre-ordered it from Amazon on the 29th January and it arrived on the day of its release. The Box Set contains 8 Discs. 7 of them are all of Sky’s 7 Studio Albums. Plus a DVD of the band playing live in Nottingham. England back in 1990. The Box Set costs £25 which works out at around £3.12 per disc which is quite a bargain.

It’s a shame they did not include the bands live album which was titled Sky 5 Live. This is the only album that is missing from the bands complete discography here. But it does state Studio Albums and at this price one can certainly not complain.

Though I did actually complain on Esoteric Recordings Facebook Page when I opened the box set :)))))) because something appeared to be missing. More about that as we take a look now inside.

The Packaging & Contents…

Sky Box

The box that holds all the discs is what they call a Clamshell Box. I like the way that box opens up like a door and it does not come with a lid you simply remove to get at the contents. All the discs are housed in cardboard sleeves and come with the original artwork.

My only real complaint here is that they never included one gatefold sleeve, and I know that Sky 2 originally had a gatefold sleeve as it’s a double album. But once again for the price point you cannot really complain.

My biggest complaint and the reason I did complain too Esoteric Recordings was down to the fact that they never included a Booklet. This is something a Box Set like this should really have, and I rather think it was very lazy and cheap of them not to include one.

The back of the box and the backs of the CD’s sleeves do contain the track listing. But as for any other information there is simply nothing. All because the Esoteric Recordings were trying to make a fast buck. They are nothing but a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes :)))))).

However along with my complaint to them, I did also give them a bit of praise too. Simply because these recordings are superb and sound in every way as good as the original vinyl albums, if not even better I would say. They really have done a superb job here. So before I review the individual albums, let’s first take a look at a brief history of the band.

The Band Sky (A Brief History)…

sky

The band Sky were formed in 1978 by a couple of well known musicians who enjoyed travelling quite a lot. The band is made up of both English and Australian musicians and it was the English bass guitarist Herbie Flowers and the Australian classical guitar virtuoso John Williams who got together and put the band together.

It was not long before another couple of fine musicians from England namely the keyboardist Francis Monkman and drummer and percussionist Tristan Fry were recruited. The final member they recruited was the Australian guitarist Kevin Peek and many of its members had collaborated with each other before at some point.

Around the time the band were assembled the classical guitarist John Williams had already been causing quite a stir with “Cavatina” from the film the Deer Hunter in the box office/ It later went on to become a hit. So the rest of the band sort of seen him as their selling point so to speak.

Most of the musicians who made up the band Sky were classically trained and well known session players. Tristan Fry for example started his career as a timpanist in the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Francis Monkman was a classically trained harpsichord player and had also played keyboards for the band Curved Air.

Herbie Flowers had played with the bands Blue Mink and T.Rex besides playing as a session player for many well known artists including Elton John. David Bowie. Cat Stevens to name a few. He had also played the bass on Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War Of The Worlds the year before he formed Sky. He is also known for his Tuba playing too.

Kevin Peek was perhaps the most least known out of all of them at the time, though he had played sessions for well known artists such as Cliff Richard. Tom Jones and a few others too. He also was one of the main artists along with Rick Wakeman on Jeff Wayne’s musical version of Holst’s Planets which was entitled Beyond The Planets.

All 5 members that made up the band Sky were highly talented musicians and it did not take them that long to make their mark and put together some pretty amazing music, that consisted of their own arrangements of classical music, and they’re own written compositions.

Though like many bands a few members dropped out along the way, and other new members were brought in to replace them through their short career that lasted just over a decade.

The Sky Studio Albums In review…

S - S

Sky

Having secured a record deal with a small European record Label Ariola Records. The 5 members of the band booked into Abbey Road Studios London in December 1978 to set to work on their self titled debut album. The album was released sometime in May 1979 and even though they released the track “Cannonball” as a single that never did a thing. The album itself went Gold 7 weeks after its release. By the end of May the band were on the road touring and promoting their album and increasing its sales.

The self tiled debut album Sky contains 6 instrumental tracks over a playing time of 36 minutes, 47 seconds. The album was produced by the band and the 2 recording engineers Tony Clarke and Haydn Bendall remained with the band throughout its entire career. They recorded a great many transcriptions of various classical pieces and their own compositions.

At this early stage of the bands career it was only Francis Monkman and Herbie Flowers who came up as the main writers and contributed to 4 of the original compositions out of the 6 we get here. Kevin Peek arranged the Argentinean composer Pipo’sDanza” whilst John Williams arranged Satie’sGymnopaedia No.1“.

For me personally it’s the original compositions on this album that make it so magical and not the covers. The album kicks off with a great track penned by Flowers & Monkman entitled “Westway“. Flowers gave the title to the piece and it was inspired from driving home from the studio along an elevated road which was called the Westway. His bass on this track has a great driving groove to it, and the band play around it superbly.

The 2nd track on the album is another piece penned by Flowers, only this he co-wrote with another musician who goes by the name of Ian Gomm. It was most likely written before the band got together and he decided to use it for this album, unless he co-wrote it with Gomm at his home. “Carillon” is perhaps the most beautiful track on the album and in my own personal opinion it’s perhaps the single of the album and was the second single release from the album.

The final 2 tracks on the album are both penned by Monkman and for me they are both my personal favourites of the album. “Cannonball” sets the album on fire with its up-tempo groove and feel. And the Epic 5 movement suite entitled “Where Opposites Meet” is my personal favourite track on the album. It’s a masterpiece of prog rock and is the longest track on the album and weighs in at 19 minutes and 21 seconds.

Sky’s debut album is a truly remarkable album and quite a solid album in that every track is played so skilfully by all 5 members of the band. The diversity and chord progression is quite immaculate and played precisely. The band lineup is as follows:

John Williams: Acoustic Guitars. Kevin Peek: Electric & Acoustic Guitars. Francis Monkman: Piano/Synthesiser/Harpsichord. Herbie Flowers: Bass Guitar. Tristan Fry: Drums & Percussion.

My personal highlights from this album are as follows: “Where Opposites Meet“. “Cannonball“. “Westway” and “Carillon“. Oddly enough they are all the bands original compositions.

The album track listing is as follows: 1. Westway. 3:39. 2. Carillon. 3:29. 3. Danza. 2:57. 4. Gymnopedie No. 1. 3:40. 5. Cannonball. 3:41. 6. Where Opposites Meet. 19:21.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

————————————————————————————————————-

S - S2

Sky 2

After their European tour and a bit of a break for Christmas in the following year 1980. The band decided to go back into the studios at Abbey Road to work on what was to become their 2nd album Sky 2. They actually got the idea that as the album was going to their 2nd album and titled as such, that it would be appropriate to make a double album this time around. By now all of the bands 5 members where contributing to the writing and arranging, though it was still perhaps Herbie Flowers and Francis Monkman who contributed to the biggest chunk of it.

They also included 5 classical pieces from other composers that they arranged to keep in touch with their formidable symphonic prog rock classical style. One of those 4 covers they decided to do was a guitar arrangement of Bach’s Toccata which was arranged by Kevin Peek & Leroy Holmes. It was released as a single here in the UK and gave the band a lot more success and reached number 5 in the UK charts and got them on the television on top of the pops. The album also reached number 1 in the UK charts and was the 10th bestselling album of the year in 1980.

The double album Sky 2 was released in April 1980. It contained 13 instrumental tracks spanned over an overall playing time of 79 minutes, 24 seconds. The success of the album meant that they could broaden their field a bit more, and they went on to do an international tour and even went as far as Australia to promote the album even more. It was to be the bands most successful album ever.

No doubt once again the band had produced another really great album that never had a bad track upon it, and was continuing in their own great style with the music they was presenting that was found on their debut album.

Once again Herbie Flowers set the groove for the opening track “Hotta” to which he co-wrote with Kevin Peek. It was a piece that they wrote in the previous year and also played live a few times before settling for this arrangement of it. This piece as got to be one of the contenders for top spot on the album.

Another couple of contenders for the top spot of the album were also written by Peek & Flowers only this time individually and not together. The 3rd track on the album “Sahara” was penned by Kevin Peek and is gorgeous track that shows great diversity from the band and contains a most beautiful electric guitar solo from Peek himself. This beauty of a piece may have inspired the albums artwork on the front cover of the desert.

Scipio” is my personal favourite of Herbie Flowers self penned 3 tracks he writ on his own for the album. It’s much more adventurous and goes in more places than the other two pieces “Dance of the Little Fairies” and “Tuba Smarties” he wrote. Though the latter of these two is quite comical and he plays the tuba on it. It was also recorded live too from a show they played in the previous year.

Originally “Scipio” was also faded out and was missing about a minute on the CD release because of fitting the double vinyl album onto 1 CD. To be honest I am not quite sure why they did this in the first place, because even with this box set they have put the double album on 1 CD and managed to get it all on, including that missing minute.

John Williams contributes to the arrangement of 3 of the 5 classical pieces on the album. Although one of them “El Cielo” is actually his own composition to some degree. He was always fond of traditional Spanish folk songs and constructed this piece out of 2 of his favourites. The other 2 pieces he arranged on the album were “Ballet – Volta” originally composed by Michael Praetorius and Vivaldi’sAndante“.

The other 2 classical pieces not written by the band are Jean-Philippe Rameau’sGavotte & Variations” and a piece inspired from Vivaldi that was written by Curved Air’s violinist Daryl Way entitled “Vivaldi“.

Even the bands drummer and percussionist Tristan Fry gets in on the act and wrote  a piece he entitled “Tristan’s Magic Garden“. The piece is played entirely by Fry himself on the album with the use of marimba, vibes, timps and anything he can have a bash on. Though when it was played live you would often see both Williams and Peek on marimba and vibes and Monkman on the drums.

I have saved the best till last, and this is in fact the only piece that Francis Monkman contributed to on the album and wrote. Though once again it is in fact quite a hefty chunk because it took up the whole of side 2 of the vinyl album and takes up 17 minutes and 13 seconds.

FIFO” is my personal favourite track on the album and just like the lengthy track he wrote on the bands debut album “Where Opposites Meet” it goes places and as plenty of diversity and chord progression. Though personally I do not feel it as good as that track. But it speaks well enough to me to merit it with the top spot on the album award.

The piece comes in 4 movements to which are sub division titles. The first movement is the same name of the title track FIFO. Which by the way is an abbreviation of “First In, First Out”. The 2nd movement is titled as Adagio and the third moment Scherzo and the final 4th movement is simply called Watching The Aeroplanes :))))).

Monkman also played electric guitar on this lengthy track too, and it was panned to the left hand side to distinguish his bad playing in relation to the other two guitarists :)))).

Sadly this was to be Francis Monkman’s final contribution to the band and it came at the bands most pivotal point of their career. Though he did tour with the band before making his move, and left right at the end of the last show without any discussion what so ever. He left to pursue his own career in writing after the success he had in scoring the music for the film “The Long Good Friday”.

To be honest when Monkman left the band I personally thought Sky was finished. Because he was without a doubt my personal favourite composer at this stage of the bands career. Though they did prove me wrong and still continued to make great music despite not quite capturing the limelight as they did on this album.

Sky 2 is another really great solid album and great output from the band with the material that was written and arranged for it. For a band that started just as punk was going out of fashion and the new romantics and 80’s synth retro was about to explode. Sky did extremely well, and I am not surprised with the virtuosos that made up its band.

My personal highlights from this album are as follows: “FIFO“. “Scipio“. “Hotta“. “Sahara” and “Toccata“. Sky had managed to keep same lineup for their first two albums and the only thing that changed in this line up was perhaps the instrumentation slightly.

John Williams: Classical Guitars. Kevin Peek: Electric & Classical Guitars. Francis Monkman: Piano/Synthesiser/Harpsichord/Electric Guitar (On FIFO). Herbie Flowers: Bass Guitar/Tuba (On Tuba Smarties). Tristan Fry: Drums/Vibraphone/Marimba/Bass Marimba/Tympani/Xylophones (Tuned Percussion (On Tristan’s Magic Garden) Trumpet (On Tuba Smarties).

The album track listing is as follows: 1. Hotta. 7:48. 2. Dance of the Little Fairies. 3:32. 3. Sahara. 6:56. 4. Fifo. 17:13. 5. Tuba Smarties. 3:22. 6. Ballet – Volta. 2:48. 7. Gavotte & Variations. 5:15. 8. Andante. 3:00. 9. Tristan’s Magic Garden. 4:11. 10. El Cielo. 4:24. 11. Vivaldi. 4:03. 12. Scipio. 12:10. 13. Toccata. 4:42.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

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S - S3

Sky 3

I suppose the way the band Sky released their albums it was a bit like how Rupert Murdoch released his Sky Channels for the Satellite TV Giants later on. About the only thing if you type in the word “Sky” in Google these days you will see, all relates to the TV Giant’s and you will be lucky to find anything about the band Sky without adding the word “Band” to it.

With the departure of keyboard player Francis Monkman it did not take long for the band to find a replacement. The only possible replacement they could think of was Steve Gray another keyboard virtuoso who had been a session player for many well known artists and perhaps more associated with Jazz. He had played for the likes of Quincy Jones. Henry Mancini. Sammy Davis Junior and John Barry to name a few.

With Monkman no longer in the band most of burden for writing original compositions fell to Herbie Flowers and Kevin Peek. They decided to give the band a bit more of a Jazz style, most likely to entice Gray to want to stay with the band. Though Gray was also a composer in his own rights and also contributed to writing a couple of tracks we get here.

With their new keyboard player now in the driving seat, it was time to work on a new album to which some of the material came off the back of a European tour they also embarked on.

As 1981 was approaching it suddenly occurred to them to take on a special event, and on the 24th February 1981 the day of the announcement of Prince Charles wedding to Lady Diana Spencer. Sky played their one and only live concert in Westminster Abbey London. To mark the 20th Anniversary of Amnesty International, a cause which many of the band members had always supported.

They opened that particular show up with their own version of Handel’sSarabande“. They also included a version of it on what was to become the bands 3rd album Sky 3. The concert was also filmed for television and the band thought it was a good launching pad for their new album.

Sky 3 was released in March 1981 and people still had enough interest in the band particularly in the UK (including myself) for them to break into the top 10 of the album charts, and it’s highest peak was at number 8. The album contained 11 instrumental pieces and had a total playing time of 45 minutes, 25 seconds.

Handel’sSarabande” was the only cover on the entire album, to which John Williams arranged. The rest of the material was original compositions by the other 4 members of the band.

The album starts off with a 30 second introduction of a piece entitled “The Grace” written by Herbie Flowers. This rather nice little guitar ditty runs into “Chiropodie No.1” which is one of the 2 collaborative compositions written by Peek & Flowers that are on the album. It’s title is based around a bit of fun they was having playing around with the title of Erik Satie’sGymnopedie No. 1“. Though  musically they are miles apart and “Chiropodie No.1” is much more up-tempo with its pumping bass line and as more of a rock style about it all. It gets the album off to a great start.

The other piece both of these guys wrote together is another fun full enough tune that in some ways could be seen as the son of “Tuba Smarties” which Flowers writ and played tuba on it, on their previous album. I guess you could also associate the title of “Dance of the Big Fairies” with “Dance of the Little Fairies” which Flowers also wrote on their previous album. Flowers also gets the tuba out again for “Dance of the Big Fairies” and musically this is one very skilful arrangement I will say.

Flowers also penned the last track on the album “Keep Me Safe and Keep Me Warm, Shelter Me from Darkness” although it’s title is quite long, once again it’s another little musical ditty and just another version of the opening track “The Grace“. They later on used to use the both version to open and close their live shows during the time they made the Five Live album.

Meheeco” was the first collaborative piece that Flowers wrote with Steve Gray the newcomer to the band. They both wrote it at Gray’s home in Glastonbury. Gray also penned a couple of tracks for the album by himself and both “Sister Rose” and “Hello” are really great tracks. The first of them as more of a fiery upbeat about it, whilst the latter of the two compliments the subtleness and beauty you would find in “Carillon” on the bands debut album.

Kevin Peek’s both solo contributions on the album “West Wind” and “Moonroof” are also very good.  The latter of the two is perhaps more sprightly though they are both up-tempo pieces and for me personally “West Wind” grabs the top spot on the album award and is my favourite track. Though I have to say it’s extremely difficult to pick a favourite track on this album and I perhaps gave it to this track for the great change in the middle section of the piece.

Perhaps one of the most diverse tracks on the album is the one and only track penned by Tristan Fry. His piece “Connecting Rooms” is the longest track on the album. To be honest I am not entirely sure how a drummer and percussionist could write a piece like this apart from it coming from the percussion side of the piano.

In some ways the way the first part of it builds up, reminds me of Francis Monkman’s writing and I do miss his diversity on this album a lot. It’s very much like a two part piece with how its powerful build up comes down around the 4:10 mark and goes into a more graceful section of beauty. It almost has me singing “We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters and the melody line is very reminiscent of it.

Overall Sky 3 is quite a good album. I think despite losing one of their main writers Francis Monkman they still done remarkably well. The band no doubt managed to maintain their great style, though they may have lost that progressive rock edge without Monkman’s epic lengthy pieces.

In some ways it’s got more of a subtle rock approach to this album in relation to their 2 previous albums. John Williams also got more involved on the electric guitar on this album too, and perhaps that was down to the way a lot of the material was written. My personal highlights from the album are “West Wind“. “Sister Rose“. “Connecting Rooms“. “Chiropodie No.1” and “Hello“.

The musicians are as follows: John Williams: Guitars. Kevin Peek: Guitars. Steve Gray: Piano/Synthesiser/Harpsichord/Clavinet. Herbie Flowers: Bass Guitar/Double Bass/Tuba. Tristan Fry: Drums/Marimba/Vibraphone/Waterphone.

The album track listing is as follows: 1. The Grace. 0:30. 2. Chiropodie No. 1. 4:24. 3. West Wind. 6:22. 4. Sarabande. 3:04. 5. Connecting Rooms. 7:16. 6. Moonroof. 4:05. 7. Sister Rose. 4:34. 8. Hello. 4:14. 9. Dance of the Big Fairies. 3:24. 10. Meheeco. 6:35. 11. Keep Me Safe and Keep Me Warm, Shelter Me from Darkness. 0:57.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

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S - S4

Sky 4 Forthcoming

Well just as you thought the band were very well getting the writing together on their last album with it only containing one cover. They did completely the opposite here and apart from 1 track written by Kevin Peek. The rest of the album contained arrangements of many classical greats. The band also felt that many of the arrangements were not the best and they was not so satisfied with the end result.

Sky 4 Forthcoming was released in April 1982. The album contained 10 instrumentals and had an overall playing time of 39 minutes, 47 seconds. Despite the band not being that satisfied with album, the album it still managed to sell enough to reach number 7 in the UK album charts. Though I would of thought many of their fans would of brought the album without even hearing a track from it, especially those who like myself already had their 3 previous albums.

Oddly enough I myself never brought another Sky album after Sky 3. Although Sky 3 was not a bad album, I did not think it quite captivated me like their first 2 albums did, and I was missing Francis Monkman’s contribution to the writing. I enjoyed his lengthy compositions a lot and personally liked the diversity and progression you got in his compositions.

Once Monkman left the lengthy compositions went more or less out of the window. Though no doubt both Flowers & Peek did also write some great tracks too. To be honest I am so glad I brought this box set to see what I missed out on, and there is also a couple of great albums in it as well. Though Sky 4 Forthcoming is perhaps not one of their best and very patchy on that score.

To be honest I know that Sky had a reputation to live up too, and was often seen as a band of classical virtuosos who would incorporate classical music into their repertoire so to speak. I think in general a lot of their fans admired them for doing so. But up until now, the band only ever did the odd track here and there that they arranged for their first 3 albums. Most of the material on those albums were original and their own written compositions, and that for me was my personal favourite side of the band and what I admired about them the most.

To make an album consisting of 9 covers and 1 original piece is where I think they personally went wrong on this album. The best track on this album is without a doubt the one solitary piece of music written by Kevin Peek entitled “My Giselle“. This one track alone contains more diversity than the other 9 tracks put together :))))) and it just goes to show that classical music is not a great as most people think it is. It merits the top spot on the album with ease.

To be honest I do not mind some classical music, though I am not a fan of listening to chunks of it like this album presents you with. I have also without a doubt heard better arrangements of some of the classics they have arranged on this album. I do not think any band (no matter how good of musician you may be) can get it right all the time, and this was perhaps one of the bands low points in their career.

Not everything on the bands 4th studio album is not that bad, for example it opens up nicely enough with “Masquerade” to which was composed by Aram Khachaturian a Russian composer who is perhaps more noted for his ballet music. The bands keyboard player Steve Gray done the arrangement for this piece, and he also arranged another 3 of the tracks on the album. It’s certainly suited for John Williams classical guitar this piece and is quite pleasant.

March to the Scaffold” is another fine arrangement and this Richard Wagner composition perhaps benefits being arranged by a percussionist and is Tristan Fry’s one and only solo contribution to the arrangements of the 9 covers on this album. John Williams arranges a couple of the tracks on the album and the best of those is Bach’sFantasy“. The combination of guitar and harpsichord works a treat on this one.

I quite like the vibes on the arrangement of the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’sXango” that the whole band arranged. Although apart from the way piece builds up, it does not say a lot, and is not a particularly well constructed piece of music on that score.

Both Herbie Flowers & Kevin Peek do a better job of the arrangement of Alonso Mudarra’sFantasia“. Just as the album started off pleasantly with a fine Steve Gray arrangement, he also arranges the American Jazz Composer Hoagy Carmichael’sSkylark“. and puts the album nicely to sleep.

Overall the album Sky 4 Forthcoming is an half decent enough album, though I do think the band lost some of it’s great style along the way somewhere. My personal highlights are “My Giselle“. “March to the Scaffold” “Fantasia” and “Fantasy“.

The musicians are as follows: John Williams: Acoustic & Electric Guitars. Kevin Peek: Acoustic & Electric Guitars/Guitar Synths. Steve Gray: Keyboards. Herbie Flowers: Bass Guitar/Double Bass/Tuba. Tristan Fry: Drums/Marimba/Celeste.

The album track listing is as follows: 1. Masquerade. 3:22. 2. Ride of the Balkyries. 5:06. 3. March to the Scafford. 4:57. 4. To Yelasto Pedi. 4:01. 5. Waltz No. 2. 2:33. 6. Fantasy. 3:15. 7. My Giselle. 4:37. 8. Xangô. 5:04. 9. Fantasia. 3:44. 10. Skylark. 3:08.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 5/10.

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S - C

Cadmium

Sky’s 5th studio album Cadmium was released in December 1983. It was the first album not to be associated with a number. Even their double live album Sky 5 Live was given a number and although it’s not a studio album, it still could be in a way seen as the bands 5th album because it did contain new material as well as older material from their 4 albums.

Once again the album contains 10 tracks that span over a playing time of 48 minutes 32 seconds. By now I guess the band were losing most of its fans after the disappointment they got from their 4th studio album, and this album failed to make an impact on the album charts. Not even their so called rocked up version of Sergei Prokofiev’sTroika” they released as a single did anything. But the one good thing that did happen here is that at least the band got back to writing some of their own compositions.

To be honest Cadmium is not a bad album and it’s certainly better than their previous attempt even if the band have perhaps adapted a new approach to their music. I do not think it’s gonna set the world on fire though, and in many ways I can see why John Williams decided to quit the band after its release. His lack of interest perhaps shows on this album, and he did not even contribute anything to the writing or the arranging of the 10 tracks we get here.

Besides the Russian composers “Troika” that Tristan Fry arranged the other 2 tracks on the album that was not written by the band were both written by Alan Tarney who is a close friend of Kevin Peek and also wrote a lot of songs for Cliff Richard. As these both compositions were going spare Peek decided that the band could use them and do something with them.

I quite like the more modern approach Sky have given to both Tarney’s compositions “A Girl in Winter” and “Return to Me” they bring a bit of zest and life to the album. Kevin Peek also contributed a couple of pieces of his own and both “Fayre” and “Night” are quite sprightly up-tempo tracks. The first of those having quite a Christmas feel about it like the opening track on the album “Troika“.

Herbie Flowers’s 2 contributions to the album “Telex From Peru” and “The Boy From Dundee” are a bit of an hit and miss. The first of them is the longest track on the album and by far the better of the two. In some respects its perhaps a bit like what the band used to be about in relation to their more modern approach on this album, though this is not entirely a classic like he did with “Scipio” on Sky 2 but I would say it is contender for the top spot on the album. The latter of the 2 tracks is very disappointing.

Just like Flowers, Steve Gray also contributed 2 tracks to the album. His first one “Mother Russia” is also very disappointing. The 2nd of the two “Son Of Hotta” is very much my favourite track on the album and merits the top spot award. I am surprised Herbie Flowers never come up with something like this, after all it was he who wrote the original “Hotta” on Sky 2.

Another contender for the top spot goes to “Then & Now” penned by Tristan Fry. This graceful beauty also harks back to how Sky used to be and it’s a lovely piece.

Overall the album Cadmium is like I said earlier is perhaps not gonna set the world on fire. If anything it’s a bit of late night light entertaining music pleasure for your ears. The sort of music you may have found on the television in the early hours of the morning when it closed down.

It’s also got quite a Christmas feel about a few of the tracks which was intentional and  the band did purposely release the album in December in time to catch the Christmas spirit of things and it’s market. It’s not a solid album by any means, but it’s pleasant enough if you’re in the right mood for it.

The 3 studio albums and the live album this incarnation of the band made. Made it the most constant line-up of the bands career. After John Williams left the band, for many it may have been the end for Sky as they always seen him as the bands main attraction.

Though Williams did also state in an interview in 1979 when they released their debut album, that he would only commit about 5 years to the band, so it was no surprise when he did leave.

My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Son Of Hotta“. “Telex From Peru“. “Then & Now“. “A Girl in Winter” and “Fayre“.

The musicians are as follows: John Williams: Guitars. Kevin Peek: Guitars. Steve Gray: Keyboards. Herbie Flowers: Bass. Tristan Fry: Drums.

The album track listing is as follows: 1. Troika. 2:58. 2. Fayre. 3:09. 3. A Girl in Winter. 3:35. 4. Mother Russia. 6:57. 5. Telex From Peru. 8:11. 6. The Boy From Dundee. 5:31. 7. Night. 4:07. 8. Then & Now. 3:21. 9. Return to Me. 3:38. 10. Son of Hotta. 7:05.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 7/10.

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S - TGBR

The Great Balloon Race

With the departure of John Williams the band decided to carry on as 4 piece rather than bring in another member. To be honest I seen no reason why they could not either, because Williams never really contributed anything to the writing in Sky and only really got involved with a few arrangements.

Sky’s 6th studio album The Great Balloon Race was released in April 1985. The album contained 9 tracks over a playing time of 42 minutes. It’s the most adventurous album of all Sky albums and for the first time we even get a vocal track.

Personally I do not feel the band missed John Williams and if anything without him the band had more liberation to do what they wanted. This for me is the best Sky album since Sky 2. OK no doubt this is much more of a more modern approach, but the written material is quite stunning.

It’s a shame really because by the time this album came out, I bet a lot of their fans just like myself back then had lost interest. Having just recently brought this box set and listened to this album I was well surprised of how stunningly good this album is. Though the band did also rope in some guest musicians to make it work.

The album kicks off with Sky’s first ever vocal track entitled “Desperate for Your Love“. To be honest I did remember hearing this song back in the 80’s on the radio and had no idea it was by Sky. It was also released as a single, though it may have been in Australia only.

The song was written by the English keyboard player and composer Tony Hymas who also plays synthesizer and sings on this track. It also features Clare Torry harmonising on vocals. Torry was more renowned for her vocals on “The Great Gig In The Sky” by Pink Floyd. The song very much as an 80’s retro keyboard style and was typical of what most bands were doing back in that decade. It’s so typical of what bands were doing back then, that it’s no wonder I never thought that Sky did it, as it’s so unfamiliar with their music.

I have to confess I was never fond of the 80’s retro keyboard orientated music myself, but I really quite like this song they have done. In some respects it’s perhaps a bit out of place, but not that far when you listen to some of the other adventurous material on this album. It’s quite breathtakingly fresh from Sky and even holds up well today.

Hymas himself was noted by Jack Bruce between 1976 to 1978 and played in the Jack Bruce Band back then too. Even Jeff Beck took notice of him and had him playing for him and he featured on his album There & Back and wrote many songs for Jeff Beck during the 80’s. He also formed the 3 piece trio band Ph.D. with a couple of musicians from Jeff Beck’s band. The singer Jim Diamond and the drummer Simon Phillips. And he also played keyboards with the prog rock band Camel.

Steve Gray wrote the next track “Allegro” and it’s one of the 3 pieces he did write on his own for the album, he also co-wrote another one of the tracks with Herbie Flowers. “Allegro” means “Quick” and this track certainly is without a doubt. It features some superb bass playing from Flowers, and blistering paced keyboards and guitars from Gray and Peek respectively. Sky purely rock this one out and this certainly different from what they ever did before, but suits them well.

The Land” was penned by Trevor Spencer & Kevin Peek. Peek and his friend Spencer  were trying to capture the feeling of their native land in Australia. They did quite a good job of it too and got quite a folky feel about the fine piece. Though it’s perhaps less adventurous than some of the other tracks on the album.

Speaking of being adventurous the next couple of tracks penned by Herbie Flowers certainly are, and for me personally this is best bit of writing I have heard from Flowers since Sky 2 even if this is nothing remotely like the material that was on that album. The first of them is “Peter’s Wedding“. The song got its title from the bands manager Peter Todd who married Isobel on a boat in Sydney Harbour in the previous year.

Peter’s Wedding” is the longest track on the album at 7 minutes, 21 seconds it’s the most diverse track on the album and goes on a very funny adventure to which features Flowers using his voice in a very strange way. The way the whole thing builds up is superb and it features one of the guest musicians Ron Aspery on Saxophone & Flute.

After about 2 and half minutes it comes down with some fine double bass from Flowers and this is also where he brings in his funny sense of humour with his voice, and then it races off like the clappers in the mad movies with Gray playing some fine honky tonk piano at a blistering pace. Asprey’s job on the sax and flute work solid in the piece, it was not the first time Asprey had played for Sky either. They quite often used him on their live tours when they could.

Peter’s Wedding” is my personal favourite track on the album, and merits my top spot award. But even the self titled track that follows it “The Great Balloon Race” is another cracking piece penned by Flowers and very much one of the contenders for the top spot on the album.

The magic does not quite stop here either as the next track to follow suit is “The Lady and the Imp” penned by Flowers & Gray. Once again this is a piece with great diversity. It not only displays beauty but goes off into what I can only describe as an Heavy Rock Irish Jig. This is my 2nd favourite track on the album and the strongest contender for the top spit on the album.

The next track up is another one of Steve Gray’s compositions “Caldando” and although it’s the 7th track on the album, it’s perhaps the first track that certainly does have that old familiar Sky feel about it. It’s another real Gem that features lush nylon string guitars, piano and keyboards, and features another couple of guest musicians Lee Fothergill on guitar and Adrian Brett on pan pipes.

Kevin Peek’sRoleystone” rocks the album back up a bit. The title got its name from the place where he lives in Australia. To be honest both the tracks that Peek contributed to on this album are a bit under par to his usual standards, but they are both pretty much OK and short enough not to let the album down.

Another Steve Gray composition “Night Sky” puts the album to bed, and once again this is another beauty that is so familiar with Sky’s earlier style from their first 2 albums. It’s simply short sweet and delicious.

Overall the album The Great Balloon Race by Sky has to be their most diverse and adventurous album ever, and it works so well. I personally cannot fault a track on the album and it hit me in the face with quite a few surprises. If you have not heard this album by Sky you don’t know what you’re missing, because it’s up there with the best of their albums. The album is that good I simply had to take you through every track in my review here of this one.

My personal highlights are “Peter’s Wedding“. “The Lady and the Imp“. “Caldando“. “The Great Balloon Race” and “Desperate for Your Love“.

The musicians are as follows: John Williams: Guitars. Kevin Peek: Guitars. Steve Gray: Keyboards. Herbie Flowers: Bass. Tristan Fry: Drums.

The guest musicians are as follows: Tony Hymas (Synthesiser & Vocals on Desperate For Your Love). Clare Torry (Vocals on Desperate For Your Love), Ron Aspery (Saxophones & Flutes on Peter’s Wedding). Lee Fothergill (Guitarson Caldando). Adrian Brett (Pan Pipes on Caldando).

The album track listing is as follows: 1. Desperate for Your Love. 6:40. 2. Allegro. 3:35. 3. The Land. 3:19. 4. Peter’s Wedding. 7:21. 5. The Great Balloon Race. 4:51. 6. The Lady and the Imp. 5:43. 7. Caldando. 4:36. 8. Roleystone. 3:25. 9. Night Sky. 2:31.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

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S - M

Mozart

Well just as Sky had done their most adventurous album The Great Balloon Race back in 1985. A couple of years later they perhaps released their most bizarre album ever. Unfortunately their 7th Studio album Mozart was their final studio album.

But the biggest unfortunate thing is the fact that the album Mozart is not like listening to a Sky album what so ever. It’s very much like listening to an orchestra, and they contribute more to what’s going on here than the band. To put it in a nutshell. The band may as well of stayed at home :))))).

The album Mozart was released in November 1987. The album contains 12 tracks and as a playing time of 50 minutes, 50 seconds. All the 12 pieces of music on the album were composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and was performed by Guest Musicians who play for the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Sky. It’s a sort of Chamber Orchestra and the whole thing is conducted by Sir Neville Marriner whoever he might be :)))))).

If you love classical music and the music of Mozart you are in for a treat here, because this album is no different to buying Mozart’s music performed by one of the many orchestras. For most of the album you are not even going to recognise there is a member of the band Sky playing here at all :)))))).

For example you may hear Herbie Flowers bass and Tuba on a good few tracks. I dare say you will get to hear Tristan Fry on percussion on a good few tracks as well. You will get to hear Steve Gray on piano and harpsichord in a few tracks too, most notably “Symphony No. 34: Last Movement“. “Come, Sweet May” and “Alla Turka: Rondo“.

You will also get to hear Kevin Peek’s classical guitar on “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Rondo“. Symphony No. 34: Last Movement” and “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Romanza“. And the only piece that does have some sort of resemblance of the band Sky is perhaps track 10 to which is entitled “A Musical Joke: Presto“.

All the tracks on the album have been arranged by Sky but to be perfectly honest this album is no different to sticking a classical record on the turntable. For lovers of classical music it will suit perfectly, but for people like myself, your only ever gonna stick this album on once in blue moon :)))))).

We all know that the band Sky incorporated classical music into the music they presented with the odd track here and there, but here they have gone completely over the top, even to the extent that there is no way that if you heard this album on Classical FM you would know it was Sky.

There is no doubt the whole thing as been professionally done, and if I was gonna be perfectly honest I would even rate this album better than Sky 4 The Forthcoming. But this is a long shot off what I brought Sky for in the first place, and in some ways it says very little about the band and more about the orchestra playing here.

Overall Mozart by Sky will suit the classical lovers and it’s a pleasant enough album showcasing Mozart’s great music, but it’s not gonna be everyone’s cup of tea that’s for sure. It could be that the bands last album The Great Balloon Race never sold that well so they thought stuff it let’s not bother writing any of our own material.

Which is a damn shame, because I always liked their original material the best, and it was a damn site more creative than playing somebody else’s music. It also made the band what they was, and made them stand out from the crowd. This album does not I am afraid and after doing something like this, it’s no wonder the band never made another album.

The band did continue to play live however and in 1990 they even recruited the multi instrumentalist Paul Hart to make the band once again a quintet. In 1991 Kevin Peek decided to call it a day because he was involved with too many projects and it was expensive coming to England all the time from his home in Australia. Even his parts on this album were recorded in his own studio by himself and not with the band.

In 1992 the band recruited guitarist Richard Durrant to replace Kevin Peek though by 1994 the bands popularity was waning and they decided to call it a day.

The musicians are as follows: The Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Orchestra. Conducted by Sir Neville Marriner. John Williams: Guitars. Kevin Peek: Guitars. Steve Gray: Keyboards. Herbie Flowers: Bass/Tuba. Tristan Fry: Drums.

The album track listing is as follows: 1. The Marriage Of Figaro: Overture. 3:56. 2. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Rondo. 2:43. 3. The Marriage Of Figaro: Non So Piu, Cosa Son. 2:33. 4. Symphony No. 34: Last Movement. 3:49. 5. Symphony No. 35: (“Haffner”): Andante. 5:25. 6. The Magic Flute: Overture. 6:51. 7. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Romanza. 5:34. 8. Horn Concerto No. 4 In Eь: Rondo. 3:36. 9. Don Giovanni: La Ci Darem La Mano. 2:59. 10. A Musical Joke: Presto. 3:59. 11. Come, Sweet May. 2:55. 12. Alla Turka: Rondo. 6:30.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 6/10.

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Live In Nottingham (Bonus DVD)

The 8th disc in the Box Set is a bonus DVD in which the band were filmed for television back in 1990 at the Central Television Studios in Nottingham. The Central Television Studios were actually in my own town of Birmingham before moving their premises to Nottingham. It’s actually now been moved back to Birmingham.

Many artists were filmed in the Central Television Studios for TV back then including Steve Hackett and Rick Wakeman. I have both of those concerts that was filmed back then and many of them were released later on DVD and CD by Classic Rock Records at a cheap price.

I actually remember watching this live concert Sky performed on the television back then, and the concerts of the other two artists mentioned here along with many others. Though most of the times unless you actually videoed the concert yourself from the television, the video and CD releases you could buy from the shop were always edited down, and you was missing a couple of the songs they played. As was the case with both the video and CD release that Classic Rock Legends decided to release in 2001 of this live concert.

As with any concert filmed for television back then, the bands and artists only generally got about an hour’s slot to do their thing. Some were a bit more lucky and got to slot in another half hour, though in general the TV only ever broadcast an hour of the concert.

The bonus DVD in this Box Set released by Esoteric Recordings does feature for the first time more or less the full concert they played in the Central Television Studios in Nottingham. Though as with all these type of DVD’s they have released, even with the individual Deluxe Editions of the albums Esoteric Recordings released, they are not of the best quality.

But having watched it. I have to say it’s not that bad at all, though the sound quality is not up to the great sound quality that Esoteric Recordings have done with remastering the CD’s in this box set. So let’s take a closer look at what you get here as a bonus.

The DVD.

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The DVD comes with no bells and whistles and is pretty straight forward and box standard. The menu gives you 2 choices. “Play Concert” and “The Set List“. Regarding the audio it’s most likely in mono only to be honest it’s pretty hard to tell and you are going to have to whack the volume on your HiFi right up to actually hear anything. Once you have done, sound wise it’s not that bad and acceptable for something perhaps this old.

To be honest I thought Esoteric Recordings were based here in England in the UK and a part of Cherry Red Records in London. But judging by the DVD and the fact that it’s in a format of NTSC they must be based in America. NTSC is a video format that came out of North America and even though it scans at 30 frames per second in relation to the PAL format here in the UK which only scans at 25 frames per second. NTSC is quite inferior to PAL because it uses less lines to scan with.

But in saying all that. The Picture quality is very good and a lot better than what I expected and what they have done with the audio here.

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“The Set List” presents you with the choice of selecting a favourite track, it’s always a useful feature if you want to show one of your fronds something quickly. For those who have the Classic Rock Legends DVD or CD you are going to notice 3 tracks missing, and also 1 track that’s on that release that is not here at all.

I will go further into that as I now review the live concert we have here.

On To The Show…

The band kick off with “Son Of Hotta” my personal favourite track from their Cadmium  album and then proceed with the classic “Cannonball” from their debut album. The next track up entitled “Found” on this DVD is in fact nowhere near to be found :)))))) and for those who have the Classic Rock Legends DVD or CD this track is in fact rightly titled “Jehad” and was a new piece written by Kevin Peek. So Esoteric Recordings have made a cockup here with the titles.

The live versions of both Bach’sToccata” and “Tuba Smarties” to which both studio versions can be found on Sky 2 are previously unreleased and was not included on the Classic Rock Legends DVD or CD. So in reality that earlier 2001 release is only missing these 2 tracks.

There is no doubt that the band Sky are really great musicians and perform these songs live really well. The fact that they added Paul Hart to line-up makes this concert work better for it. He also contributed a couple of new pieces to the live set here too with “Reverie” and “Praeludium“. Both pieces were played live at the London Palladium earlier in the same year, though they was not recorded or released from that show, and surfaced from this concert here in Nottingham.

To be honest watching the band Sky for about the first half hour of this show is perhaps a bit like watching paint dry. I have nothing against the performance at all, but the fact that they are all seated and do not even say a dicky bird to the audience gives you the impression that they are perhaps snubbing their own audience. This is the kind of crap you find with classical concerts and they all appear to be rather stuck up snotty nosed fukas.

It actually takes me back to being around my mates house back in the 90’s and he had just brought a live DVD by Neil Young. Now I quite like Neil Young a lot and have most of his albums and some of his live concerts. But this one was entirely different and no way on this earth would I buy it either having witnessed and sat through the whole concert at my mates house.

To be honest I cannot remember what the name of this concert is called of Young’s. But it did take place in the 90’s and he was entirely on his own with his guitar and piano. Throughout the entire concert he never said on word to his audience and he looked like he was in a right mood and got out of the wrong side of the bed that day.

The whole performance had no heart in it, and it was just completely boring. As a matter of fact if I was at that show myself. I would walked out after 10 minutes :))))). It was so unlike him.

Thankfully Sky did not do that throughout the duration of this show, and after about half hour or so, you did get some movement, and they actually stood up during their performance of “Toccata” :)))))).

There is some great highlights from this show though that do stand out very well. In some respects the multi talented instrumentalist Paul Hart steals the show. He’s a very skilled keyboard and violin player and it’s great to see both him and Herbie Flowers changing instruments during the performance of “Would You Say I’m In love With You“. This is one of the older Blue Mink pieces that Flowers co-wrote with his band mate Roger Cook back in those days.

Whilst Flowers starts the piece off on the ukulele Hart jumps on the bass, then towards the end Flowers jumps back on his bass and Hart jumps on the mandolin.

But the ultimate highlight of the show as to be “Tuba Smarties“. Flowers plays this on the oboe of course, only the oboe is crammed with lit up Christmas lights and during the performance the bands drummer Tristan Fry pulls out a trumpet and plays it with one hand, whilst his other hand plays the drums with one drumstick.

You have to wait a good 45 minutes before any of the band speak to the audience, and the only member who does speak to the audience is the new member Paul Hart. It’s quite funny as well because he says to the audience “for those who do not know me, I’m the new John Williams look alike” and then he introduces one of the new pieces he wrote for the band “Praeludium“. They then end the show off with another one of my favourite tracks from the Sky 2Hotta“.

Overall the concert can at first tend to appeal to be a bit dry, but it does have some good moments that spruce it up towards the end. The dryness comes from the band not interacting with the audience by not speaking to them. If you’re gonna entertain an audience you need to come out of your shell a bit, to make it that more entertaining, and this perhaps something the band lacked.

As a bonus disc it’s a good bit of nostalgia that comes with quite a quality picture and not something that’s broken up like really old film and video footage. I think Esoteric Recordings could of, and should of done something better with the sound, because you are really goona have to whack your HiFi near enough full blast to hear this concert at a reasonable level to enjoy it.

I like the fact that they have a mixed set list of old and new songs and once you’ve sorted out the volume levels it’s quite a good watchable concert.

Lee’s Live DVD Rating Score. 5/10.

Summary…

To sum up the Sky Studio Albums Clamshell Box Set released by Esoteric Recordings. Overall it’s a very good package especially for its price point of £25. The recordings on all 7 of studio albums in my personal opinion are the best your gonna find of any recording of a Sky album including the original vinyl releases.

These are the same recordings that were released by Esoteric Recordings individually a few years back that came with the Deluxe Editions that come with a CD & DVD. The real quality is in the CD’s and not the DVD’s. Those only contain nostalgic video footage like we have on the bonus DVD in this box set.

If you want to spend around £90 just to have those DVD’s included and some bonus tracks then that is perhaps for the more serious record collector than myself. I dare say serious collectors will also buy this box set as well. What’s in this box set works at around £3.12 per disc and it speaks enough about the band for myself and my pocket. It’s genuine value for the money.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of the Sky box set. For the 25 bucks you cannot really go wrong at this price. It would of been nice if they included their double live album Sky 5 Live. To be honest had Esoteric Recordings released it in a cardboard Digipak instead of a plastic jewel case. I might have brought it and tried to squeeze it in this box set, being as there is no booklet. The fact they have not included a booklet in this box set is one of the biggest downfalls about it.

Like I said earlier in my review. I only ever had the first 3 Sky albums and having all 7 of their studio albums as opened my eyes up a bit more to the great music Sky did produce over their musical career. Both the albums Cadmium and The Great Balloon Race are really good albums. The latter of the 2 is a real Gem.

I personally felt that Sky was a great band. There is not a lot to dislike about their music. I suppose in some ways not liking Sky’s music is a bit like not liking The Shadows. Even though musically they are perhaps miles apart, they still have the same elegance and beauty about their music.

The Sky’s The Limit, Perhaps Not At This Excellent Price Point…

Lee’s overall Complete Box Set Value Rating…

The Box Set Presentation Rating Score. 8/10.

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #70

Ayreon Universe (Blu Ray) – Ayreon

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Introduction…

Well Arjen Lucassen is back with another new release only this time it’s a live concert and not a new album. I have to say this is quite a spectacular show that the guy as put on and arranged with Joost van den Broek. It must of took a lot of time, effort and money to bring Ayreon to the stage for the first time and this really is quite an amazing concert and performance put on by all involved.

Although The Theater Equation was a live stage performance of Ayreon’s 2004 album The Human Equation which consisted of 4 live shows that was put on in September 2015 in Rotterdam. They were not performed as an official Ayreon product. Whereas the shows put on last year in September 2017 for this release where.

To be honest I am not entirely sure how the official thing comes into play and could even count just because The Theater Equation was released by Inside Out Records and this was released via the Mascot Label Group. But the one thing that is certainly different here is that Arjen as finally plucked up the courage this time around to appear live in some of the performances himself, and that may just merit as to why Ayreon Universe is perhaps more of the official product.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The packaging I have to say is a very welcoming new way of presenting a Blu Ray. I myself have never been fond of the standard plastic cases that Blu Ray’s come in. I think the plastic looks cheaper and more flimsy than the standard DVD plastic case. This may have something to do with the light blue colour of them giving it that cheaper appealing look.

The only thing I did like about them was the fact that they come with a blue strip along the top of the case, which made it more easily so you could spot a Blu ray from a DVD.  But for me this packaging is much more suited for the product in my opinion. They have made a Digipak version of the casing with cardboard, and as you can see from the picture below, they have even kept its blue identity strip.

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Inside you still have your firm strong plastic tray holder to house the disc, and a pocket as been provided to house the booklet. OK you could say that using cardboard is perhaps not a durable as plastic in that it can be damaged easier or even be harder to keep clean. But overall I think it looks and appeals a damn site better, and if you treat your discs with respect in the first place, I am pretty sure you will not have a problem with this type of packaging.

It comes with a 20 page booklet that contains photographs and information of all the singers and musicians as well as all the linear usual production notes and some stage pics. It’s perhaps does not contain enough information for my review here, but it’s very neatly presented and quite adequate.

The Artwork.

The artwork appears to be a collage from Ayreon’s album covers pieced together and was done by Lori Linstruth. Arjen Lucassen and Roy Koch. The layout was also done by Roy Koch. I quite like the Gold Leafing that as been applied to it as well to which is very hard to capture with a digital camera.

So far online I have not seen one image that truly captures the genuine look of the front cover, and I would say the one I used right at the top of my review is the closest. It really looks great. Gold or Silver Leaf is very hard to print as well, and no inkjet printer could print it either. You need an high quality Laser Printer to be able to do so.

The Media Format Releases…

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Ayreon Universe was officially released on Good Friday the 30th March. As with all major releases they come with a variety of media formats to suit your personal pocket. For example the 5 Disc Earbook that comes with 44 page hardback book looks very attractive and it comes with 2 CD’s. 2 DVD’s and a Blu Ray for 49 Euro. Is perhaps value for the money.

But personally for me the only attraction here is the book and nothing else. I do not see the point in having the CD’s & DVD’s as well as the Blu Ray. As far as I am concerned the Blu Ray is the only thing I would watch. The rest of the discs would just gather dust I am afraid. Plus this type of package is going to be a lot harder to store on the shelf, and take up a lot of space.

Vinyl lovers will perhaps like the 3 LP Edition which comes in a choice of standard black or Gold vinyl which once again is very reasonably priced at 29 Euro. But for me personally this is a pointless release and I would much rather prefer to see the show, not just listen to it. So for me personally the DVD or Blu Ray will win every time for a live concert. But whatever floats your boat I suppose.

I pre-ordered the Blu Ray from Amazon a couple of months in advance on the 30th January and it arrived on the day of its release. I could of got it signed by Arjen himself if I pre-ordered it from his website and the price of 14.99 Euro was attractive. But with so many things on pre-order I had to watch the pennies and even though I ended up paying £15.62 for it from Amazon. It still would of cost a bit more if I ordered it from Arjen because of the postage and packing.

Setting Up The Show…

For those like myself who know the works of the many projects Arjen A. Lucassen as been involved in over the years, he is perhaps one of the most successful artists who works from his own studio writing and producing the many albums he has put out over the past 3 decades, without having to go out and play live. He has sold albums by the bucket load and a lot of that success is really down to the many well known artists he brings in to make his projects work so well.

I have to confess the only project of his I myself really buy into is his Ayreon project. I have enjoyed this project since I first stumbled across it in the early 2000’s and have been a fan ever since. I admire everything about the guys music and the way he goes about it. He is a very talented musician.

Even though The Theater Equation was a live show of Arjen’s music done back in 2015 he was never involved in the creative process of that show and never played live in it either. He only made an appearance at the end of every show as a stand in producer and was involved in mixing the sound for a live release. Arjen has not played live since the 80’s when he was with the band Vengeance.

Since then he as always feared playing live, and set up his own solo career and created the many projects he has been involved in his own space at home.

The Ayreon Universe is an Ayreon live in concert for the first time ever, organized and arranged by Arjen A. Lucassen and Joost van den Broek. It took some 2 years to prepare and set it all up, and it was the first time any of these 2 musicians had ever done anything like this before. Setting up any concert this size and getting all the musicians and singers together at the same time to rehearse, especially when they are already in their own bands doing their own thing, has to be carefully planned.

Finding the right venue and having the worry if you can fill it up for 3 nights so they could capture the show on film for a later video release was another task. Plus the cost of all the stage gear and lighting, the stage crew and the cost of having all the animation made for the background is quite a risk to take on. The animation had to be worked on from day one and I have to say it’s quite spectacular.

The 013 in Tilburg was the venue they chose. It’s the largest music venue in the southern region of the Netherlands and holds capacity of around 3,000. Perhaps peanuts in comparison to the Genting Arena down the road from where I live. But just as Arjen sold out all the tickets for 3 nights in one day, I dare say he would of done the same at the Genting Arena here in Birmingham that can hold up to 16,000 with no problem at all.

The Singers & Musicians…

Vocalists

Floor Jansen – Nightwish
Damian Wilson – Threshold
Hansi Kürsch – Blind Guardian
Tommy Karevik – Kamelot
Anneke van Giersbergen – The Gentle Storm
Marco Hietala – Nightwish
Jonas Renkse – Katatonia
Mike Mills – Toehider
Marcela Bovio – Stream of Passion
Irene Jansen – Ayreon
Robert Soeterboek – Star One
John Jaycee Cuijpers – Praying Mantis
Edward Reekers – Kayak
Jay van Feggelen – Ayreon
Maggy Luyten – Nightmare
Lisette van den Berg – Scarlet Stories

Instrumentalists

Ed Warby – Drums
Johan van Stratum – Bass
Marcel Coenen – Lead guitar
Ferry Duijsens – Guitar
Joost van den Broek – Keyboards
Ben Mathot – Violin
Jeroen Goossens – Flutes, woodwinds
Maaike Peterse – Cello

I dread to think what the cost would come to, to hire this lot to put on a show. To be honest I do not know a lot about these singers and musicians, apart from them being involved in previous Ayreon albums, and I have nothing of the bands they play in either. The only one who sticks out to me is perhaps Damian Wilson and I only know him from doing something with Rick Wakeman back in the early 2000’s. But Damian as appeared on quite a few Ayreon albums as well, and so have the many others here too.

Rick Wakeman himself as also appeared on an Ayreon album, along with other more well known artists I do actually know as well such as Keith Emerson. Fish. Bruce Dickinson. Mark Kelly. Jordan RudessThijs van Leer. Clive Nolan. Neal Morse. James LaBrie. Heather Findlay. Martin Orford. Oliver Wakeman. Ken Hensley. Tomas Bodin. Steve Hackett and Paul Gilbert.

The one thing I can tell you about all of them, is that they are all very talented and have done a truly remarkable job.

Ayreon Universe (Blu Ray) In Review…

The Blu Ray contains the whole of the concert which runs for just over 2 hours and 20 minutes. The concert footage itself comes from the 2nd night of the 3 days they played there and it was filmed with 30 cameras on Saturday 16th September 2017 at the 013 Poppodium Tilburg Netherlands.

In total they performed 28 songs over the 122 minutes, 38 seconds duration and  26 of those were chosen from the 9 studio albums in Ayreon’s discography to date. The other 2 songs they performed were “Intergalactic Space Crusaders” and “The Eye of Ra” which were both from Arjen’s Star One Space Metal project.

The Blu Ray.

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The main menu is animated  and presents you with some background music and a rather nice moving star-field. The menu comes with easy enough options to choose from. “Play All” plays the whole of the featured concert. You also have your usual “Select Track” and “Audio Set-Up” along with a couple of bonus extras.

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The “Select Track” option allows you to simply select any one of the 28 tracks you may want to play instead of watching the whole concert all the time. It’s a useful feature to have for quick access of a track you may want to show to your friends.

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The “Audio Set-Up” is set to Stereo by default. For surround freaks like myself you will need to select the 5.1 Surround. The sound formats are quite low for Blu Ray standards in that there is no 96/24 though it does come with a DTS HD Soundtrack Master and both the stereo and surround formats come in 48/24.

The Bonus Features.

The bonus features are quite good especially behind the scenes which is presented by Arjen & Joost who set the show up. You get almost an hour and half documentary more or less showing you them booking the venue and signing the contract at the 013. Plus interviews with all the artists involved in the show, and a look at some of the gear they brought to set up the stage.

I did however notice quite a few audio glitches that cropped up around the 50 minute mark of the documentary and continued to do so throughout the rest of the documentary. But they was not that severe to spoil one watching it. Thankfully the glitches are only on this documentary and not on the concert footage.

The other bonus feature runs for about 17 minutes and shows you clips of the try out performances of the many singers, and was filmed in the smaller of the 2 stages at the 013 which is the Jupiter Stage that holds a smaller audience capacity of around 700 people. This was filmed a couple of weeks before the main concert on the 1st September 2017 and it’s like a mini highlight of the show where they are rehearsing for the main event.

Picture & Sound Quality.

The picture quality is very good as should be expected for Blu Ray and I quite like the way it’s been very well professionally edited as well, especially as 30 cameras were involved. It’s a lot better editing than what was done with The Theater Equation that was released a couple of years ago.

To be honest I do not have that concert, but from what I have seen of it on Youtube the quick camera shots where it changes angles all the time to try and capture all the performers on the stage, is quite bad and put me off buying it. They have done a far better job this time around and it makes the concert very exciting to watch.

The stereo mix is very good and the sound quality is very good too. Arjen has always been good at mixing stereo. It’s 5.1 mixes is where he really fails and I do wish he would bring in a proper sound engineer who knows how to do a 5.1 mix, rather than try and take it on himself.

The 5.1 Surround Mix.

Surprisingly the 5.1 surround mix is not that bad as I would of expected coming from Arjen. I do admire his attempts in trying to work in this field and this is a lot better mix than what he did with the 5.1 mix on the last Ayreon album The Source. Though once again as good as he has done here, it’s not particularly very good I will say.

He did do a good job on getting the effects placed in the rear speakers that mainly come at the end, and in between the songs. Apart from that there is not a great deal I could say about how he has utilised the 6 channels, and I would still say that his stereo mix is better than the 5,1 mix.

I will give him a 7 out of 10 for his effort and he is improving slightly I feel. But for a show as spectacular as this. A good 5.1 engineer would of brought out the best here for real, and this type of show really needed someone of that experience to do the 5.1 mix as well. Arjen still as a lot to learn and working in this field is far more complex than working with a stereo mix. You need the right head on your shoulders, and Arjen does not have that quite yet I am afraid.

On To The Show…

I have to say everything about this show is very spectacular. Even the singers themselves have the right acting skills to pull off the theatrics even though they are not real actors themselves. They have done a truly amazing job. The musicians are also class and everybody on the stage as managed to pull off quite a perfect performance. I am sure Arjen must be overwhelmed of how this lot truly done justice to his great music.

Besides all the highly talented singers and musicians. I have to take my hat off to the guy who worked on the animation for the backdrop at the back of the stage. This is really Science Fiction at it’s best the way the animation as been done. It even adds to the excitement of it all and this is one massive rock opera in space, even down to all the costumes. They thought of everything to put this magical show across and done a bang on job of it all.

Regarding the set list of 28 songs. I honestly do not know where to start for my review here, there is far too many of them, and it would take me a lifetime to go through them all, so I am not going too either. My only real disappointment is they never played “The Day That the World Breaks Down” from the last album The Source. But I guess it was because its 12 and a half minutes long, and they wanted to pack in as many songs as they could to feature the best of Ayreon.

The show opens up with the prologue. Which is basically an intergalactic short story that Mike Mills (one of the many singers) introduces the show with. He’s dressed in some cosmic outfit and is wearing some strange helmet on his head. The top part of it looks like the scarecrow Worzel Gummidge once lived in there :)))))).

The show then proceeds with the first song which is “Dreamtime” from the very first Ayreon album The Final Experiment. The prologue is also from the same album though it’s been slightly changed for the opening speech. “Dreamtime” is one of the 2 songs from this particular album that gets featured in the show. The other song “Merlin’s Will” get it’s live airing a bit later on.

The “Abbey of Synn” is one of 3 tracks that gets featured in the show from Ayreon’s 2nd album Actual Fantasy. The albums self titled track and “Computer Eyes” appear much later on in the show, and the show sort of gets off to the kind of start where you may think the songs are running in the order of which the albums came out. But it’s not the case as “River of Time” from the 7th Ayreon album 01011001 pops up next on the list.

To be honest I am not a massive fan of Ayreon’s 7th album 01011001 as many others are, and in total 5 tracks from this album are in the set-list, more than any other album. Though thankfully they have all been spaced out and appear through various stages of the show.

Then we get a couple of tracks from Ayreon’s 8th album The Theory Of Everything. Now this is one of my preferred albums and much more down to earth on that score. And it was great to see this album get 4 of it’s tracks featured in the live show here.

Both Ayreon’s 4th and 5th albums the Universal Migrator Part 1 & Part 2. Draw the short straw perhaps, and only 1 track from the 1st part, and 2 tracks from the 2nd part get a live airing at the show. To be honest I personally think both of these albums are better than 01011001 though all 3 of of these albums I have always regarded the weakest out of all 9 Ayreon albums. Though they do have their moments no doubt.

You could say that Ayreon’s 6th album The Human Equation also got the short end of the straw with only 2 of its tracks being featured here. Though this was perhaps understandable down to the fact that the whole of the double album got played a couple of years earlier on the stage in the The Theater Equation. The Human Equation is another one of my favourite albums that is also down to earth, and it was great to see at least a couple of its tracks performed live here.

The latest and 9th album in the Ayreon discography The Source amazingly only gets 2 tracks played live here from it. Thankfully they are both from the 1st of the double album that makes up this album. The first of the tracks does not appear until about 40 minutes into the show to which is the “Star of Sirrah“. The 2nd of them “Everybody Dies” comes towards the shows climax much later on around the 1 & 3/4 hour mark and its quite a dynamite of a performance.

You can see if for yourself from the video of it Arjen posted on his Youtube channel. You will also get to see Mike Mills with his suit and Worzel Gummidge Helmut :))))).

Though as much as “Everybody Dies” is certainly one of the best highlights of the show. The best is still yet to come, and straight after this song Arjen himself makes his first appearance on one of the 4 songs that’s featured from my ultimate favourite Ayreon album Into The Electric Castle.

He perhaps takes it a bit easy on “The Castle Hall” and afterwards he gives quite an emotional 11 minute speech. Tears of joy come streaming from his eyes and for a man who literally is scared of performing live he does extremely well delivering this speech in praise of all the performers and the audience.

Then after his speech we get what I would call the ultimate highlight of the show as he plays one of my favourite tracks from my favourite 3rd album of his Into The Electric Castle with the band, and he does the song “Amazing Flight In Space“. Arjen not only handles the lead and rhythm parts of it on the guitar but also sings on it. For a guy who is shitting himself this is quite a performance and something to behold.

He needs to do it a lot more, and at the end of this performance he leaves the stage and the band play out the final song of the show before reappearing once again with all the singers and musicians on the stage to take a bow to the audience, and be congratulated by them for putting on one really superb enjoyable show from start to finish.

Summary…

To sum up the Blu Ray version of Ayreon Universe (The Best Of Ayreon Live). It’s pretty much an outstanding live Rock Space Opera full of spectacular live performances from all the singers and musicians. There is no doubt they got it all right on the night and practically performed Arjen’s great music to perfection.

Even though quite a lot of the songs have been shortened to cram all 28 songs you get here, it does not take anything away from the show, and I even quite enjoyed some of the songs I was not that fond of in the first place for being here, and how well they was all performed.

It’s that good of a performance that I do not even miss the fact that some of the singers never actually sang on some of the original album tracks. Though there is quite a lot of the original singers here, but even those had to sing songs they had never sang before, and handled them superbly.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Ayreon Universe. I would say that a show like this would perhaps appeal to many and not just fans of Arjen’s great music. Simply because it has all the theatrics and stage presence one would find in even a much bigger show that perhaps artists like Meat Loaf and Queen have brought to the stage in the past.

The fact it’s also done on a lot smaller stage, and they have utilised the space very well to cram this lot on to it. Is also very good. The whole production and performances are nothing short of spectacular and it’s a very enjoyable concert from start to finish.

Both the picture and sound quality is very good and the video footage captured from all 30 camera’s as been edited very well and make it all more spectacular in that it captures the performers at the right time. The bonus material is very good too, and for its price point even at £15.99 represents great value for the money.

Hey Dude, You’re So Uncool! But Hey, That’s Alright…

The Live Set-List is as follows:

01. Prologue. 4:50. 02. Dreamtime. 2:34. 03. Abbey of Synn. 4:17. 04. River of Time. 3:57. 05. The Blackboard. 1:52. 06. The Theory of Everything. 4:40. 07. Merlin’s Will. 3:09. 08. Waking Dreams. 3:41. 09. Dawn of a Million Souls. 5:09. 10. Valley of the Queens. 2:50. 11. Ride the Comet. 3:42. 12. Star of Sirrah. 5:54. 13. Comatose. 2:59. 14. Loser. 4:43. 15. And the Druids Turn to Stone. 4:43. 16. The Two Gates. 10:27. 17. Into the Black Hole. 6:11. 18. Actual Fantasy. 1:25. 19. Computer Eyes. 4:34. 20. Magnetism. 4:57. 21. Age of Shadows. 4:37. 22. Intergalactic Space Crusaders. 5:35. 23. Collision. 3:35. 24. Everybody Dies 5:02. 25. The Castle Hall. 6:36. 26. Arjen’s Speech. 11:11. 27. Amazing Flight In Space. 6:13. 28. Love. 4:05. 29. The Eye Of Ra. 7:35.

Lee’s overall Complete Blu Ray Audio 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. 8/10

The Concert Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #69

A Curious Feeling (CD/DVD Deluxe Edition) – Tony Banks

TB - ACF

Introduction…

Having recently pre-ordered a couple of items that are being released by Esoteric Recordings, I decided to have a browse through their catalogue and stumbled upon the first 2 solo albums by Tony Banks. These albums are far from new to me and I brought them on vinyl at the time he released them. But what I did find new about these releases is that they both came with a DVD with the 5.1 mixes of the albums done by the very guy who did the 5.1 mixes for the Genesis albums Nick Davis.

To be honest just like the Genesis pop side of things when they was a 3 piece band, I find  a lot of Tony Banks albums have pretty much outdated themselves, though I always felt that his first solo album A Curious Feeling was personally his best.

I know just recently he has released a new album entitled Five and just like his two previous albums Six & Seven they are very much just piano & orchestra albums and do not interest me at all I am afraid. From what I have heard of them they just bore the life out of me, and they are far from something like what Jon Lord did with Pictures Within’ on that score. Now Lord’s album does speak to me, and that album of his, is one of my personal favourites of his solo career.

There is no doubt that Tony Banks is the most least successful solo artist out of the 5 major members that made up Genesis from 1971 – 1975. He was also known as the person who contributed the most to the writing of Genesis earlier music, though his writing perhaps never really shined through into his solo career, though some of it does on this particular album.

There is no doubt that Banks tried to be more popular and would often bring in other well known singers to sing on some of his solo albums he put out after this album. Though he perhaps never really grabbed the attention or the limelight that his band mates Phil Collins & Peter Gabriel got. Or even Mike Rutherford & Steve Hackett got for that matter.

For my own personal taste my favourite solo artist out of this bunch as always been Steve Hackett. He is the only one of them who stuck by his guns and never tried to change. Personally I do not think Tony Banks was capable of writing albums like Voyage Of The Acolyte and Spectral Mornings and not even this debut album of his will match up to those albums either.

But it’s not that bad album at all and before I go into a more in depth look at the album, let’s first take a look at the packaging.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The both discs come in what Esoteric Recordings call a Hardshell Digipak. Basically it’s a plastic Jewel Case that comes with a cardboard cover to house it in, and is nothing like a Digipak which is made of cardboard and a far more attractive and stylish way of packaging the discs.

Though the Jewel Case does provide good protection and this is one of those that comes with a swinging fold out flap that holds the both discs on both sides of the flap.

It also comes with a very well detailed 16 page booklet that provides information of when the album was made, plus linear notes on the credits and production side of things and the songs lyrics. It also contains some rare photographs of the recording sessions that were never put in any previous releases.

The Artwork.

The artwork is based around a God by the name of Wuluwait from northern Arnhem Land in northern Australia. Besides a rainmaker he was also known as a boatman who ferries the souls of the dead to Purelko, the aboriginal afterlife. The painting of the Wuluwait Boatman of the Dead was done by Ainslie Roberts.

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Wuluwait Boatman Of The Dead

Ainslie Roberts was born in London England in 1911 and migrated to Australia in 1922. He spent his life in painting and photography and was a commercial artist best known for his interpretations of Aboriginal legends in his Dreamtime books, written in collaboration with ethnologist/anthropologist Charles Mountford.

The CD/DVD Deluxe Release…

The CD/DVD Deluxe 30th Anniversary Edition of A Curious Feeling was originally reissued, remastered and released on the 19th October 2009 by Esoteric Recordings, not long after the Genesis Box Set’s were released to which Nick Davis done all the 5.1 mixes for them. Unlike those Box Sets though that came with an Hybrid SACD & DVD of the bands albums, this was released as CD/DVD only.

This particular release is out of print and came in Digipak with a fixed booklet inside and looks a lot better than the new reissue I have just purchased.

This release I have purchased was re-released by Esoteric Recordings again in February 2016. Only this time it did not contain a fixed booklet and it comes with new remixes of the albums tracks to accompany the DVD and also was repackaged in an hardback Digipak.

This is the version I got from Amazon for £13.47p, and the price suits my pocket very well indeed I will say, and you would end up paying silly money for a second hand version of the CD/DVD Deluxe 30th Anniversary Edition if you could find one.

The CD.

The CD comes with the new stereo remixes of the albums original 11 tracks done by Nick Davis and does not contain any bonus tracks. As as a rule I never really bother playing the CD’s that come in a release like this, and my only incentive here is the DVD with the 5.1 mix. But I thought I would give it a spin to see how well the new mixes came out. I also took the liberty of playing the CD first as well.

To be honest I am not sure it’s really benefited at all regarding the new mixes, and it sounds the same as I remember it on the vinyl album from years ago. If there is any difference it’s very subtle. But it does sound very good.

The DVD.

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The DVD’s main menu features a moving animation of the album cover, and the animation gives the effect of the water moving and adds a rather nice little touch. The menu presents you with 4 simple enough options to choose from. For surround freaks like myself, I always like to check in the “Audio” section first to make sure I have my preferred choice of audio rather than just click on “Play”.

SS3

The “Audio” section is set to 96/24 Stereo LPCM by default. My preferred choice is the DTS 96/24 5.1 Surround Mix. Though I will say it was very good of them to have included the Stereo mix with high quality audio as well.

The DVD contains the albums original 11 multichannel tracks mixed into 5.1 audio only by Nick Davis. It also contains the new stereo mixes as well and both are in an high quality audio format of 96/24. Once again it does not contain any bonus tracks and Tony Banks must of used up everything he wrote for this album at the time.

It does however come with 2 promotional videos of the tracks that were made at the time which were “For a While” and “The Waters of Lethe“. Both videos are nothing that special, and can even be seen on Youtube these days.

When they was working on the reissue of the album in 2009. Tony Banks tried to get in touch with the singer Kim Beacon perhaps for the purposes of doing a short documentary to be included on the release. But unfortunately the singer died in 2001.

The 5.1 Mix.

The 5.1 mixes were done by both Nick Davies. In my own experience of Davis’s work on the Genesis 1970 – 1975 Box Set (to which I brought a good while back now) I would say that his work on mixing 5.1 is quite familiar with that of Steve Wilson. They are both engineers who do not believe in going over the top, and pay great care and attention not to take too much from the front stereo field and place it in the rear speakers.

They are also very good with the way they use reflections of the instruments too from the front to the rear speakers. If anything I find Davis perhaps a bit more subtle than Wilson at times, and although both engineers are capable of getting great results in bringing out the dynamics and the clarity.

I personally find that Steve Wilson’s work has improved a lot more over the years in mixing 5.1 and in general he will breathe a fresh new life into a mix. More so than what Nick Davis has done here with this 5.1 mix. So this is not what I would personally call an exciting 5.1 mix, but never the less it’s still quite good.

Musicians & Credits…

Recorded at the Polar Music Studio in Stockholm Sweden between the spring and summer of 1979. Produced by Tony Banks & David Hentschel. Originally recorded and engineered by David Bascombe and David Hentschel. Artwork Ainslie Roberts. Original Cover designed by Hothouse. CD Packaging Design by Phil Smee. New Mix at The Farm in Surrey 2008. Stereo & 5.1 Surround Mixes by Nick Davis. Assisted by Ben Hampson. Technical Assistant Geoff Callingham. DVD Authored by Ray Schulman.

Musicians:
Tony Banks: Keyboards/Guitar/Bass/Percussion.
Chester Thompson: Drums & Percussion.
Kim Beacon: Vocals.

The Album & Tracks In Review…

A Curious Feeling by Tony Banks was originally released on Charisma Records on the 8th October 1979. Most of the material for the album was written in what little time he had off from touring the Genesis 9th studio album And Then There Were Three. Some extracts that was written for that album also ended up on this album.

Banks decided to use Abba’s recording studios in Sweden to record the album, and roped in Chester Thompson who was part of the Genesis live line-up at the time, and Kim Beacon who was in one of the earlier incarnations of the band String Driven Thing who was signed to Tony Stratton Smith’s Charisma label. The album was then finally mixed at Ian Anderson’s Maison Rouge studios in London.

I would of thought it was the Genesis manager Smith who recommended vocalist Beacon to Banks in the first place. Though Banks did state in an interview that he was unaware he was signed to the Charisma label and found him through listening to various tapes he had of different singers.

The album upon its release was one of only two of Bank’s albums to get into the UK album charts and this one fared better than his 2nd album reaching number 21. Bank’s also said that many of the bad reviews it received was unfair, because it was released at the time of the post punk era and was perhaps not album people wanted to hear.

Some of the more respectable reviews from Classic Rock and those sorts were more favourable with their words. Some even went as far as saying that it captures some of those finer elements from the Peter Gabriel era of Genesis. Though I would not go that far myself with my own view of the album, and if anything this album captures the exact time the bands 9th album And Then There Were Three was written and not a lot more.

Bank’s inspiration for this particular album came from the novel “Flowers For Alganon” by Daniel Keyes. Which was originally a short science fiction story he wrote in 1958 and had it published in a magazine in the following year. It even won an award.

Later on between 1962 – 1965 Keyes worked on expanding the story into more of a novel and several publishers refused to publish it, and wanted him to change the ending of the story, to which he refused. Keyes got his own way in the end and it was published by Harcourt in 1966. It won many more awards and has sold more than 5 million copies and still sells today as it’s never been out of print.

So let’s now take a look deeper into the individual tracks on the album…

Track 1. From the Undertow.

The album kicks off with a short instrumental piece that was originality written back in 1978 and intended to be an intro for the 2nd track “Undertow” on the Genesis album And Then There Were Three from the same year. Hence the title we have here.

This particular piece was also used in 1978 for the British horror film Shout to which both Genesis members Mike Rutherford & Tony Banks wrote the soundtrack for. Though the soundtrack to the film was never released.

Musically it fits Ainslie Roberts painting of the Wuluwait Boatman of the Dead like a glove. It’s quite haunting and dramatic. In some ways it could even be seen as depressing with it’s down minor key and tempo. It’s not a bad instrumental piece but it does not exactly ignite the fire either. It’s more of dramatic soundtrack piece if anything.

Track 2. Lucky Me.

Although a single release of “For A While” was released as single release from this album “Lucky Me” would certainly be the track on the album I would of felt of being the strongest contender for one. Personally I think Banks should of released it as a single and the album might have got a bit more attention.

But then again there is no doubt that this particular song does contain some very well written meaningful lyrics, that may have been too much for your average pop listener to take in, and it’s not your average lovey dovey stuff :)))))).

Though it certainly does have more brightness about it, and is perhaps a ray of sunshine in relation to the opening instrumental piece. It does have that pop feel about it, and it’s quite catchy too. It must be, because even I can still wake up in the morning singing this song of his many moons after he wrote it. Any song that can do that to you has to be a great song.

Besides Banks’s keyboards on the track he also makes good use of his 12 string guitar like he did back in the days with early Genesis, though this song is not in the least prog rock. Kim Beacon’s voice is also well suited on this song and his vocals work well for a ballad like this one. It’s my personal favourite track on the album, and wins the top spot award.

Track 3. The Lie.

A song that comes in two parts and it gives one the impression that this particular album as some sort of a concept about it, especially with the lyrical content we have over the two parts here. The way the album flows with its songs and instrumental pieces, may also give that impression, because there is a sense of drama to a lot of the tracks on the album.

This first part of the song (even though it opens up with a subtle intro played on the keys) has perhaps more of an harder edge to it with its up-tempo steady pace.  It even borrows and incorporates the chorus from the Genesis song “Trick Of The Tail” in the middle section of it, and even as myself singing the words to that song rather than this one along with its vamping piano melody :))))))).

Track 4. After The Lie.

The second part of the song starts off where it came down from the first part. It opens up in a more refined ballad style which tends to suit Beacon’s voice more than the hard edge sections.  Though he does cope quite well throughout. It’s also got a lot more of dramatical feel about the 2nd part, and I particularly like the way it builds up to its more powerful ending. Banks plays some great keyboards on this track.

The both parts are very well put together and work very well, and this two part piece I would see of having a bit of contention for the top spot on the album too.

Track 5. A Curious Feeling.

The album’s self titled track is another brighter sprightly up-tempo song. Once again the lyrics are very well written and it’s a stab at politics and religion in the way that it’s telling you not to believe in everything, everybody says. I like how he also uses a reference to the tv series the Man From Uncle in it, as if to say you may as well believe in everything that is shown on the tv, or even fairies for that matter.

No doubt it’s another pop song, but there is nothing wrong with pop songs when they come with lyrics like this that’s for sure. I think it’s another great track and contender for the top spot on the album,

Track 6. Forever Morning.

Forever Morning” is one of the two longer instrumental tracks on the album. In some respects it’s a bit like a cross between the Genesis songs “One For The Vine” and “Undertow” though it’s certainly more like the latter of those two. It’s almost as if it wants to open up into the Undertow’s main theme, but it does not quite get there sort of thing. No doubt Banks is a great keyboard player and he does a fine job of things here.

Track 7. You.

Banks’s once again accompanies his keyboards with some fine 12 string guitar on one of the more longer songs on the album. It’s perhaps a slow starter with Beacon doing another fine job singing along, then it goes into a very nice keyboard solo that picks up some great pace towards the end of it. It’s perhaps more of an instrumental track more than anything else, because once the solo comes in Beacon’s job on the track is done.

Track 8. Somebody Else’s Dream.

The longest track on the album is perhaps the reverse of the previous song in that Beacon gets to play more of a role on the vocal side of things. To be honest I find it quite strange that there is not even a lead break considering its some near enough 8 minutes long.

The song does burst into action nicely though with its intro, and it’s got quite a promising start. It even has a nice little short bridge instrumental section, but it’s basically a verse and chorus song and can get a bit monotonous and it even drags itself out a bit.

Track 9. The Waters of Lethe.

The longest instrumental piece on the album and it’s title is very much what the boat is standing in on the cover of the album. The so called waters of Lethe goes back to Greek and Roman mythology of the underworld where these waters are found. Many see it has the waters of hades though to the Aborigines it would be seen as their boat ride to heaven.

Musically the piece is once again like that of the “Undertow”  though it does have some different melody lines along the way. Just like the opening track on the album that can sound a bit depressing, there are some brighter elements and contrasting themes to “The Waters of Lethe” and it contains a lot more structure about it. It’s quite a fine piece of work by Banks and is another worthy contender for the top spot.

Track 10. For A While.

The albums picks itself up wonderfully with this lovely song even though it’s about a dying man so to speak. Once again the lyrical content tends to pertain and lead more towards Ainslie Roberts’s painting, and the myth of that boat taking one to their promised land so to speak. So I get quite a feeling that Tony Banks’s inspiration from Daniel Keyes novel somehow got lost along the way a bit, and he perhaps fused two stories together here, but it still flows pretty well for it.

For A While” was the only single release from the album. It was released with “After The Undertow” on the B-Side here in the UK, and I do believe in other countries “A Curious Feeling” got put on the B-Side. It’s a great song and is another worthy contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 11. In The Dark.

A 3 minute song that closes up the story and put the album to bed nicely enough. There is no doubt the album does contain a lot of meaningful lyrics that do go to some way of making it a more interesting album. Banks accompanies song on the piano with some subtle touches of ambient nice sounds from his keyboards here too.

Summary…

To sum up A Curious Feeling by Tony Banks I personally think it’s the best solo album Banks made, though a lot of its material at times can be very low key giving it that bit of a depressing edge to it. In some respects it’s a bit like he’s tried to combine pop material with dramatic soundtrack material with the instrumental and vocal tracks he wrote for the album.I think the lyrical content is very strong and holds up very well, though regarding the concept and the inspiration he had with Daniel Keyes novel of the Flowers For Algernon. Which is a science fictional story about Charlie Gordon who was an handicapped person they used as a guinea pig to experiment on to give a human being more intelligence.

He may very well of also been inspired from Ainslie Roberts artwork and the stories behind the Waters of Lethe as well if anything.Well that is certainly how it appears to me, though to be perfectly honest, having not read Daniel Keyes book myself and merely looked up some information of what it’s all about, my own personal judgement could very well be wrong. But I have always liked the fact that the lyrical content of any song, can have so many different interpretations and meanings to us all on that score.

Conclusion…

Overall the album A Curious Feeling by Tony Banks is perhaps not an album I would personally place in a list of top 100 albums. I also do not think it’s a solid album either. But it is a good album. It’s an album if anything, I personally feel flows really well. It’s always been the best of his solo output for me, and it makes a pleasant enough listening experience from the start to the finish, even if some parts of it can be a bit depressing.

My personal highlights from the album are “Lucky Me“. “The Lie“. “After The Lie“. “A Curious Feeling“. “The Waters of Lethe” and “For A While“.

Having this new version of the recordings that now comes with a 5.1 mix was my only incentive for buying this album again. I think the 5.1 mix has been done well enough and was worthy of me buying the album again. Though I do feel that Steve Wilson would of put more life back into it had he have done the mix.

But then again I could be very well contradicting myself because this is very much an album that was made when we were approaching the 80’s, and most records from that decade really outdated themselves including Genesis pop albums. Even promo videos were made at the same time.

So these are technically a lot harder recordings to get to sound any better at all on that score. So it could very well be that Nick Davis done the best he could here, and it would of even been a difficult task for Steve Wilson to do any better with. All I can say is thank god Hugh Pagham never produced this album in the first place, like he did later on with Genesis.

The price point of £13.47 for a package like this, that comes with a CD and a DVD is very good. The fact that you are getting a DVD with a far more high quality audio recording on it, and your getting a 5.1 mix makes this very much a winner.

My Name Is Unimportant And My Job You Could Call Mean

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. From the Undertow. 2:47.
02. Lucky Me. 4:27.
03. The Lie. 4:56.
04. After the Lie. 4:49.
05. A Curious Feeling. 3:59.
06. Forever Morning. 6:03.
07. You. 6:29.
08. Somebody Else’s Dream. 7:51.
09. The Waters of Lethe. 6:33.
10. For a While. 3:38.
11. In the Dark. 2:57.

Lee’s overall Complete Package Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 8/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Bonus Material Rating Score. 3/10

The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 7/10

The Original Album Rating Score. 7/10.