Monday, 29 August 2011

Oresund Space Collective - Dead Man In Space

Originally released in January 2010 on vinyl, the reissued CD version of Dead Man In Space came out in April this year, with an extra track not on the vinyl version. The album as a whole is more laid back than EITSC, as befits the title, and the half hour plus opening track High Pilots gets things going with a gentle meandering melody, building slowly and ebbing and flowing in a languid fashion. There's far more keyboards and synths on this than anything on EITSC, so the feel is more ambient and mushroomy (a new adjective? :)). You get the feel of the insignificance of the dead astronaut as he floats along through vast nebulae. A chillout experience par excellence. The extra track on this CD version is next and Who Tripped On The C(h)ord? continues the sonambulistic journey, and the trip is now in state of stasis. A bubbling bass groove underpins Space Jazz Jam 2.2 which as the title suggests invokes a jazzy feel which for some reason puts me in mind of The Grateful Dead at their grooviest. Appropriately there's some understated sax blowing on this too as it soft shoe shuffles along, clicking its fingers. Everything is cooked to perfection and is never overdone. My favourite track on the album. The album ends with the Hawkwind/Moorcock inspired Dead Man In Space, wherein our hero gets to tell the world where it went wrong...or not, only time will tell. A disposable but fun end to the journey.

This band do not do anything startlingly new, but considering it is all improvised they show a remarkable restraint where it would be so easy to go off the rails. If you love your space rock, buy with confidence!


1. High Pilots (32:30)
2. Space Jazz Jam 2.2 (17:35)
3. Who Tripped On The C(h)ord? (10:35)
4. Dead Man In Space (3:02)

Total Time: 63:42

Line up: (May not be entirely accurate!)

- Stefan / guitar
- Kaufmann / drums, percussion
- Dr. Space / synthesizer
- Thomas / bass
- Jocke / guitar
- Magnus / guitar, synthesizer
- Pär / bass
- Mogens / Hammond, synthesizer
- Anders / saxophone, effects

Listen and buy here: 

3 out of 5

Oresund Space Collective - Entering Into The Space Country

Caught as they drifted past overhead amongst some space debris, the robotic arm retrieved these two albums which show two contrasting sides to the multi-national jamming space-rock combo known as The Oresund Space Collective.

This amorphous musical co-operative revolve around the core of synth wizard Scott Heller aka Dr Space, and normally feature at least two guitarists, bass, other keyboards and drums. So, being of a certain vintage, with a line up like that I am immediately put in mind of 70s space rockers Man, amongst others.

Starting with the newer of the two albums, released in June this year, Entering Into The Space Country, first track Born Between Stars shifts through the gears around a simple enough structure, hitting a good groove about halfway through, and propels one along at a fair rate of knots, with some almost Hendrix like soloing later on. More Ozrics than Man, and at twenty two minutes long this is what one might term a typical OSC track, and fans of the band will not be disappointed. Rising Tides And Floating Nebulas - now, to my mind this is the sound that Man did all those years ago (try Spunk Rock off Greasy Truckers - a massive wigout and still in my all time top ten live performances after nearly 40 years!) and for once I don't mind a band being a bit backward looking, as any band that can rock with the spirit of the much missed Micky Jones is alright by me. Things gently float back to ground with Red Earth Calling, it's been a good trip.

Entering Into The Space Country


1. Born Between Stars (22:24)
2. Rising Tides And Floating Nebulas (14:10)
3. Red Earth Calling (7:41)

Total Time: 44:15

Line up: (May not be entirely accurate!)

- Stefan / guitar
- Kaufmann / drums
- Nick / guitar
- Jiri / bass
- Claus / guitar
- Mogens / synths
- Dr. Space / synths
- Johan / guitar
- Mathias / pedal steel, guitar

Listen and buy here:

3 out of 5

Now go here for the Dead Man In Space review

ByZero - Zencore

Labels - what would we do without them? Probably enjoy the music more and not get sidetracked into pointless and elitist debates about what does or does not constitute "bison-prog" or somesuch. On the other hand there are times when labels are useful, and as Amplifier's Neil Mahony says "I do....find some musical labels helpful – if something is described as Brainfuck Noisecore then I am usually pretty sure what to expect."

With that in mind, may I describe the scary and sometimes surreal noise made by ByZero as avant-punk-jazz-metal-rio-prog? No? well in that case I don't know where to start! Seriously though, this is one helluva CD and if you like your music challenging, unpredictable, HEAVY, and trance-inducing, then this muvva is for you.

Hailing from Moscow, ByZero have been going since 2009 and their core line-up consists of drums/bass/guitar/synths. On most pieces on this album they are joined by a saxophone or two, three or even four, whether or not all at once who knows, it's hard to tell. There are fourteen pieces (calling them "songs" would be well wide of the mark) on Zencore, their debut album, ranging from forty five seconds to nine minutes in length. I can only describe their influences from my own experience as I know little of the Russian avant-jazz scene. In this stew of fantastic noise I can hear Faust (quite a lot actually), King Crimson (imagine the heaviest thing on Red then multiply until the calculator breaks - that's the opening track PM), Don Ellis, Moondog (not in sound, more in feel), Acoustic Ladyland (speeding, with stacks of Marshalls and guitars), Anekdoten at their noisiest, Suicide, Fuck Buttons, Lol Coxhill, Acid Mothers Temple....I could go on. What this actually is is unique, something one rarely comes across these days.

The bass guitar is often used as a lead instrument, but still thumping out the rhythm with the drummer, who somehow manages to hold it all together, while the guitar and synths swarm around like angry bees, often in the company of one or more saxes. Lunnyi Beg Poreirya Ivanova includes an almost and atypically lovely guitar break that sounds like agitated raindrops falling from a roof, and following track AM goes all space-rock, before the swarm descends again. There are many brief interludes from the brutality throughout which gives the otherwise relentless nature of the album some much needed light and shade.

Noise of Zero Pt1 sees Faustian space spiders scratching at the hull while inside the saxes squawk and wail, arhythmic and ambient, but not in a chilled way. Twist Ling AM with Nick Rubanov takes the template of the version from earlier on and features added sax madness over an Anekdoten-like bass riff and syncopation. Storming stuff!

After an hour we arrive at fourteenth and last track "Vibration of Zero, or the Four Impro" (sic) it feels like we have just gone through twelve rounds with the Klitschko brothers. We are battered, bruised, but also exhilarated, knowing we will return for more. Probably the most frightening and compelling record I've listened to in a long time, and all the better for it. Do not listen to this if you have a hangover!

01 PM (2:35)
02 Twist Ling AM (3:17)
03 Lunnyi Beg Poreirya Ivanova (4:49)
04 AM (3:32)
05 Volosatyi Studen (5:20)
06 Noise of Zero Pt1 (5:37)
07 Minimal (0:45)
08 Confusion (4:00)
09 Etu Pesniu Pel Gagagarin vs Kosmose (4:31)
10 No One Light (8:09)
11 Noise Of Zero Pt2 (9:34)
12 Twist Ling AM with Nick Rubanov (3:35)
13 Minimal Remix (5:21)
14 Vibration of Zero, or the Four Impro (6:04)

Line up:
Alexey Bobrovsky - Drums
Anton Kolosov - Bass
Fyodor Fokin - Guitar

Katya Rekk - Synth

With saxophones:
Nikolai Rubanov
Anton Ponamorev
Ilya Belorukov
Ilya Simakov


3 out of 5

Canon Blue - Rumspringa

Canon Blue are essentially Daniel James with a whole host of mostly Scandinavian back up. As part of Efterklang’s touring band, Daniel, while not on the road with the Danish alt-pop ensemble had been intermittently working on this, his second album as Canon Blue. This may explain why each of the eleven songs here are bookended with the names of US cities. 

There were sessions in Iceland with Amiina, better known as Sigur Ros’ string section, and the album was put together in Copenhagen with producers Mads Brauer and Casper Clausen of Efterklang.

Opening song Chicago (Chicago) features some choppy modernistic classicism to start, but soon finds its way into a gorgeous pop groove propelled along by a jaunty horn led electronica melody. “I keep searching for the thrill of it all” is the opening lyric and sets the theme for the album, with Daniel by turns questioning, optimistic, resigned, in awe, and in love, for the album is a road movie of the emotions. Trite the lyrics are not, and it’s good to hear such intelligent lyrics on a pop album for once.

The first and obvious single off the album was Indian Summer (Des Moines) which has some more swoonsome strings while Daniel intones a song of  weariness and longing as the strings weave in and out of the harmonies like a breeze through a wheat field. Utterly charming and seemingly effortless.

The interplay of strings, electronica and close vocal harmonies is prevalent throughout the album and is also what makes it so attractive, like a yearned-for hug. The European influence is all over the strings and glockenspiel intro to Heavy Heart (Minneapolis A) which morphs into a Madonna-like pop song. Following song Lulls (Memphis) is the only instrumental on the album and gives us a deeper look into the initially simple sounding, but on closer inspection densely layered music. A Steve Reich/John Cage influence is heard. At only just over two and a half minutes I would have liked to have heard more of this.

The choppy horns of the opening song are back on Fading Colors (Bloomington) backed by fast and complex rhythms that I would like to think were played although they sound programmed. A Native (Madison) strays into fast Arcade Fire territory and is the most upbeat tune here. I defy you not to dance round the room to this one. The album ends with Andalusia (Davenport) in an understated fashion and lets us down gently from the Canon Blue train. I await its return to Platform Alt-Pop with interest. 

3.5 out of 5

01 Chicago (Chicago)
02 Autark (Nashville)
03 Indian Summer (Des Moines) - free streaming - click the link.  
04 Honeysuckle (Milwaukee)
05 Velveteenager (Minneapolis B)
06 Heavy Heart (Minneapolis A)
07 Lulls (Memphis)
08 Fading Colors (Bloomington)
09 A Native (Madison)
10 Bows & Arrows (Vegas)
11 Andalusia (Davenport)

Line up:
Sorry, no info other than what I've scribbled above! 

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Mars Red Sky - Mars Red Sky

Nick, over at fab webzine Prog Sphere dropped this beast in my Inbox and said, "Hey, Roger - Tell us what you think of this". Now, some of Nick's taste is divergent from mine, but this is an album we can both dig.

With a classic guitar/bass/drums power trio line up, this French band produce a sound tethered to Earth by enormous slabs of bass heavy doom rock, tuned waay below normal, anchored by an unfussy drummer with a John Bonham obsession, atop of which some fuzzed up wah and reverb guitar takes flight. The dark is lightened up by the singer, who sounds like a young Ozzy had he been a choirboy rather than a grave-digger. His angelic voice is a pure thing and with a similar range to Mr Osbourne but without ever straining at the leash. The band stomp into opener Strong Reflection, giving praise at the altar of early Black Sabbath like any other self-respecting doom rockers, but they manage to add mystique with the singer's pure tones.

There is also a blues sensibility running through the album, and on Marble Sky the echoed vocal melody is reminiscent of Money Can't Save Your Soul by Savoy Brown but it might be doubtful if these young whippersnappers have ever heard that tune.

A decent addition to the collection of any rock fan who's into the heavier end of the spectrum. Apparently the band opened for Killing Joke at the Bataclan in Paris not so long ago. A strange combination that is also entirely logical when you think about it.

Track list:
01 Strong Reflection
02 Curse
03 Falls
04 Way To Rome
05 Saddle Point
06 Marble Sky
07 Up The Stairs

Line up
Jimmy Kinast – bass
Julien Pras – guitar, vocals
Benoit Busser – drums 


3.5 out of 5

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

In The Beginning - Part Four

In which the first wave of prog collapses under the weight of its own self referential pretension.

Part Four - "A waste of talent and electricity" or, Right, let's get controversial and ruffle some feathers...

This famous quote by DJ John Peel was his description of ELP's performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival after the band's performance had included the firing of real cannons from the stage, a Spinal Tap moment years before doing such a thing would be considered ironic. ELP are often quoted by prog haters as the epitome of everything excessive, bloated, and indulgent about prog, and, you have to say there can be little argument that their complete lack of subtlety combined with an apparent lack of self awareness remains divisive to this day. Even amongst prog fans they are either adored or loathed, although the former probably outnumber the latter.

What is certain is that the sight of three massive lorries in convoy with a massive E, L, and P on the roof of each in succession as they trundled the contents of an orchestra round the States for the Works tour was enough to make any self-respecting teenage garage band spit out fast'n'furious three chord venom with suitable gusto. I should know, I was one of them.

The thing is, they didn't care, and being so far removed from their audience, and from the zeitgeist of the time were unlikely to have noticed anyway. So, take a bow ELP for being the band that meant punk rock just had to happen.

At the end of Part Three I dangled the suggestion that there was a band who almost destroyed prog without realising. This dubious honour goes to Yes, and the album that encapsulates prog self indulgence, but in a good way, Tales From Topographic Oceans. Released right at the end of 1973, luckily for Yes and for those of us who think that although it is quite mad, it is also something of a classic, it came out when prog was only just about to begin its descent from its 1973 zenith and so the abuse it received from reviewers who wanted a Close To The Edge MkII was, to use an English colloquialism "water off a duck's back".

Recorded over a protracted period at Morgan Studios in Willesden, London, infamously decorated with cardboard cut-out cows (or model cows with electronic udders if you believe the more extreme versions of the story) and farm scenery to give it a rural ambiance, one has to wonder why they didn't just hire a rural studio like Rockfield in Wales for the job. Down to earth keyboard player Rick Wakeman grew increasingly disgruntled with the rest of the band's classical pretensions, playing darts or ordering takeaway curries while the rest discussed the increasingly bizarre musical and lyrical concepts behind this very odd meisterwork. Of course Rick later proved he could be just as pretentious by staging King Arthur On Ice, but there was, and still is, an appreciation of the absurd with Rick one feels.

If Tales From Topographic Oceans had been made in 1976 it too, along with the Panzer-like ELP would have been the joint reason that UK prog MkI had to die.

By early 1976 as a teenager, although I was a fan of the usual prog giants, (as you may guess apart from ELP who I have never come to terms with) and a lot of prog minnows for that matter, the general feeling amongst my peers and I was that why the hell should anyone need a first class honours degree in musical theory in order to form what essentially was still a rock'n'roll band?

There were two people from the first wave of prog who understood this, both called Peter, and both came up with punky alter-egos on their respective albums in 1975. Gabriel came up with proto-punk Rael and with Genesis made the utterly wonderful Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, while Hammill with his garage rocker Ricky Nadir alter-ego made the spiky and aggressive Nadir's Big Chance. It is no coincidence that one John Lydon has said Hammill and VDGG were big influences on him, and Gabriel left Genesis at just the right time to emerge largely unscathed from the UK punk revolution.

Those who believe that the 1977 Year Zero revolution had little or no effect on the Big Seven of first wave prog are being somewhat revisionist, as every big name group saw Punk have some effect on them, ranging from a change in direction to complete disintegration:

Lumbering through the popular music jungle of the late 70s like a wounded elephant, the behemoth staggered on before collapsing under the weight its own pretension and splitting for the first time in 1978. By then even they had changed to a shorter song based version of their former pomp on that year's execrable Love Beach, an album that nobody at the time would admit to owning if they wanted to maintain a morsel of street cred. 

As mentioned above, Gabriel saw what was coming and jumped ship, leaving Collins in charge of a band that sadly slowly fizzled out from a prog point of view from that point, eventually becoming a risible pop band before finally calling it a day as late as 1998, largely forgotten by this scribbler. I had to look that up and I was frankly amazed they lasted that long!

Jethro Tull
Probably the least affected by the UK Punk explosion as they were far more popular in the States than over here in the UK, so they carried on regardless. Even Tull, whether as a conscious result of the back-to-basics revolution or not, changed their style to a shorter song based version of their previous prog epic template, coming up with what is now known as their folk-rock trilogy. This started with 1977's Songs From The Wood, which incidentally is still my favourite Tull album.

King Crimson
Robert Fripp either had remarkable foresight or was simply lucky in that he disbanded his group at the height of their powers in 1974, only to reform the band in 1981 as a cerebral left field indie-prog outfit with the utterly brilliant Discipline album. Incidentally "indie" back then was a far more radical prospect than the insipid soundalike version of today.

Pink Floyd
Always a band more prog in concept than musically in my opinion, 1977's Animals was bought by the shed load by Floyd's dedicated fanbase as if punk had never happened. Shorter songs were to appear on the Waters' dominated The Wall two years later, with his version of uppity yoof being a school choir (!) on Another Brick In The Wall Pt2. Like ELP they carried on regardless before finally imploding under the weight of Waters' paranoia soon after the awful Final Cut in 1983. Three albums in six years shows how they had run out of steam.

Van der Graaf Generator
The other Peter also knew what was going down and finally dissolved the string driven version of band sometime before the 1978 live double album Vital was released. Hammill continued with his eclectic solo career, and like Fripp and Gabriel was largely respected by the punky crew. 

If any proof of their desperation was needed, after a critical slating for 1978's Tormato, yet another example of a change to shorter song based writing, and the subsequent departure of Anderson & Wakeman, the band's management bizarrely recruited Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, better known at the time as synth poppers Buggles and made the atypical rock-pop album Drama. If this is not conclusive proof of the musical times a-changing, then I don't know what is.

All of that was of course entirely subjective, and disagreement from you, dear reader, is to be expected. The whys and wherefores of the Prog v Punk debate will go on forever!

...and so ends the tale of the first wave of UK prog. Let us not forget that Europe, and Italy in particular, were very quick to take up the prog mantle first picked up by the UK, and it is often said that had we not created the form then the Italians would have invented it anyway, but that's a story to be written (please!) by someone with far more than my limited knowledge of that vast scene. Now, where's that Acqua Fragile CD?.....

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Monday, 22 August 2011

Interview with Nordagust

In what may qualify as the most detailed interview yet seen on this site, Norwegian proggers Nordagust sat down for hours in front of their laptops, and with loving care and attention to my questions will now entertain us all with an in-depth insight into their music making and more. Enjoy!

Roger: Thanks for emerging from the dark woods of Norway for this chat! For those unfamiliar with the band, tell us a bit about your musical backgrounds and how and when the band first started.

Ketil: Thank you very much for your interest.

I grew up in a musical family - 3 generations in the same house. My grandmother was singing hymns and old traditional songs, my grandfather played harmonica, my father played accordion, my mother played acoustic guitar and upright bass. My 11 years older brother is playing guitar and kantele.

I began playing accordion at 10 years age  – with my father as a teacher. Spontaneously – my brother bought a vintage John Grey drum kit in 1978. It looked and sounded very interesting, but with both parents and grandparents living under the same roof - I was soon to be banished from the house. Next stop was the storehouse. It was very, very cold inside, and during the Norwegian winters - from November to March - I wasn`t able to practice at all.

From the age of 18, I have been involved in various bands, playing bluesrock, jazzrock, even countryrock. From 1994 to 1998 I played together with Daniel, Knud and two other guys, in a symphonic prog-act named “Ocean”. We made one album: “Newborn Ground” in 1997, and released it on our own label. We were also represented on two compilations named “Revenge Of The Orange” (1996) and “The good, the bad, and the orange” (1997). Both released on Briskeby records. This was two compilations (out of four) with Scandinavian progressive rock – that is quite hard to find for sale these days. They were all printed in a very low number of copies.

Anyway; Musea wanted us to sign a contract with them, but we never got that far. The members of Ocean were searching in different musical directions; therefore we disbanded – and Daniel, Knud and I formed Nordagust in 1999.

Daniel: As long as I remember I’ve been composing music in my head, but I didn’t play any instrument before I was a teenager, because we had no instruments at my home. But when I started to earn my own money, it didn’t take long before the house was full of various instruments. I have been playing a lot of various folk music, heavy rock, symphonic rock, progressive rock, heavy metal, classical music, some blues, all the way trying to find my own style.

Knud Jarle: Got my first bass at 13. Played in various local bands, and formed Ocean with Daniel in 1991.

Jostein: I got my first guitar when I was nine. A local musician, Stian Carstensen in Farmers Market helped me get it and taught me some basic guitar techniques and scales. After that I played with friends basically, and got back to Stian at age 15 to learn more. In 2002 I formed my first band called Freebird. A pop/rock band, and from there on I`ve played in different bands writing my own material. And I started to play the piano and keyboard as well. I recorded a lot of my material in Daniel Solheim`s studio, and after working together for some years we found out that we had a lot in common and pretty much the same view on music. So in 2008 I joined Nordagust.

Guro: I started to play the violin at the age of 6, but I quit and changed to the keyboards when I turned 9 (after seeing an incredible keyboard solo by Rick Wakeman on TV!). Then at the age of 13 the guitar conquered my life (together with the keyboards of course!) And It’s more or less thanks to Metallica's "Nothing else matters". And also by that time of my life Slash was one of my biggest inspirations , so I ended up buying a Les Paul as my first guitar! I joined Nordagust in 2010.

Roger: I have been listening to your powerfully evocative album In The Mist Of Morning. The album draws on Norwegian folk music, (although it is not "folky" in the slightest!) so could you tell those of us unfamiliar with Norwegian folk legend and folk music something about Norway's folk tradition?

Ketil and Daniel: Folk music is a musical tradition that has developed through being passed on directly by ear. The most important factors that shape the tradition are: Continuity - which binds the past to the present and variation - which arises from creative impulse.
The oldest Norwegian song traditions we know have their origins on the old mountain farms. For communicating with other people (or calling in their animals), over long distances, it was necessary to sing/shout the message in odd rhythmic and melodic patterns. Other instruments associated with older folk music, including voice, willow flute (sallow flute) , neverlur (horn covered with birch bark) and ram`s horn, have been less widespread due to their original functions as work implements. Many additional wind instruments existed that are not very common today; in earlier times, they were primarily sheperds´instruments. They include bone flute, neverlapp (lit. piece of birch bark), tungehorn (lit. tounge horn) and various variations of home made “clarinets”. Harp and lute instruments also have a long tradition in Norway, but fell into disuse long ago.

Norwegian and Swedish folk music is unusual in European music culture because they developed mainly among small farmers and cotters, and have remained nearly independent of influences from newer musical fashions in Europe. The music and dance have strong ties to one another; they are based on an older tonality, melodic structure, and rhythm patterns. The music is tied to certain instruments: Hardanger fiddle, ordinary fiddle, Jew`s harp and langeleik (a dulcimer relative). Music based on traditional Norwegian form usually includes minor scales (sometimes mixed with major scales), making a sober and haunting sound. Pure major key dance music forms also exist.

The old tonality with variable intervals and natural scales has been retained until the present time. Gradually, as the tempered scale we know from classical music and newer musical fashions becomes more and more common in our daily musical experience, the old tonality and rhythm patterns will be in constant danger of disappearing…

Roger: The album was given its official release last year on Karisma Records, but your website discography lists a number of demos (which I'd love to hear by the way!) so how long did the album take from recording the first demo version to the released version?

Ketil: Daniel presented his first sketches of this album in 1998, and we were finished with the recordings around 2003. I remember we had a discussion about whether we should sample the sound of a stone that was thrown into the water. Then we asked ourselves the question: “What type of stone will sound most natural?” Then we realized that the album was finished. Maybe we could have done something more “perfect” today, but that`s not the point. In that case I am afraid the original force more or less would have faded away. That said: We appreciate quality, and I don`t dare to think of how many hours Daniel has spent on this album.

The lack of response from record companies, and a hard drive crash delayed the progress. We have been involved in several other time-consuming projects, so for a couple of years we met maybe once a month – if not less. Ten years is a long time, but we also have composed and arranged some hours of music for Nordagust, that hopefully will be recorded and released some time in the future.

Roger: Daniel, Ketil and Knud have adopted the names "Solur", "Bergur" and "Strandur" on the album credits. What is the significance of these names, something to do with folklore perhaps?

Ketil: We have known each other for a long time, and our communication often becomes  a litte progressive, too . New Norwegian, Old Norwegian, different dialects, Icelandic, Swedish…. I think the nicknames were meant as a practical joke; a self-ironic Viking-view on ourselves, while recording songs for our demo-CD “Naudr”..

Roger: There is a vast array of instruments listed on the album. Was it a deliberate intention to include so many sounds or did this organically evolve during the recording process? What is a "Swallowflute" by the way?

Ketil and Daniel: You are definitely not the first to mention it. It`s some kind of misunderstanding printed in the press releases here: We delivered two CD`s to Karisma Records; “In the mist of…” and “Naudr”, which is mentioned above.. On the last mentioned, we used the instruments you refer to , but on “In the mist…” the most unusual instrument you will find, is the kantele (in the woods) – the Finnish national instrument…

The”sallow flute”, also known as willow flute (Norwegian: seljefløyte, Swedish: sälgflöjt or sälgpipa, Finnish: pitkähuilu or pajupilli), is a Scandinavian folk flute, or whistle consisting of a simple tube with a transverse fipple mouthpiece and no finger holes. The mouthpiece is typically constructed by inserting a grooved plug into one end of the tube, and cutting an edged opening in the tube a short distance away from the plug.

Similar, however not the same instruments were made by peasants in Poland, usually using a different method described in sources as "kręcenie" (that nowadays means literally "rolling", at that time possibly also "drilling-gouging"), "ukręcanie", "ulinianie" (nowadays literally meaning: "making moulted"). Such instruments are mentioned in folk poems or songs.

The sallow flute is a type of overtone flute. It is played by varying the force of the air blown into the mouthpiece, with the end of the tube being covered by the finger or left open. The tones produced are based on the harmonic series. Playing the instrument with the end of the tube covered produces one fundamental and its overtones, playing it with the end of the tube left open produces another fundamental and series of overtones. sallow flutes cannot be tuned to an equal tempered scale.

Roger: Who are the main songwriters in the band, and did you go into the recording sessions with the songs fully formed, or did they evolve in the studio?

Ketil: Essentially, Daniel is the creative force. He has - more or less - all the music and the lyrics in his head. And if not, he will have a basic idea about how it should be. Some parts of a few songs are a result of jamming – but that’s just a few bits in the puzzle.

Roger: The music comes across as having a definite structure, as it would have to do on a studio album, but do you stretch things out a bit when playing live?

Ketil: Until last year we were absolutely sure of one thing; we would never be able to do "In The Mist..." live. It seemed hopeless, so we gave it a try! It's now nine months since we played the material live for the first time, and it worked better than we could imagine. It's not our intention to stretch the songs out..with..endless solos, but we all have changing moods and the songs will be coloured differently each time we play them.

Roger: What influences do each band member bring to bear on the sound? Daniel's guitar sound reminds me of very early Steve Hackett, and there is a definite and obviously inevitable Scandinavian feel to the music, Landberk, Änglagård, Anekdoten in particular, although the end result is certainly Nordagust!

Ketil: If I had to mention just one influence: John Bonham. That said: The drummers in Landberk, Änglagård and Anekdoten have all been great inspirators, with their different expressions. Sweden has raised a lot of good drummers; Morgan Ågren is fantastic – especially on Fredrik Thordendal`s solo-project: “Sol Niger Within”. Highly recommended!

I tune the toms quite low – and often use the floor tom instead of the snare. This reminds me of more “primitime” drums. (I also play a field drum; an exact copy of a military drum from 1808). To match the dramatic Nordagust sound, I want the floor tom to sound – sometimes – like a kettle drum. I try to colour the massive mellotron-eruptions with syncopes (?), not unlike the way Peter Nordins of Anekdoten are thinking…..I think. On “in the mist...” I use dark, heavy cymbals and a sharp, crispy hi-hat as contrasts. My best friend is a vintage 22” Zildjian ride cymbal with a million overtones. I use it as a ride, a heavy crash, and a gong. All parts of the drum-kit are dynamic instruments, and they should make a physical experience. I want the drums to communicate something more than just timekeeping.

Daniel: I love to hear you say that the end result is certainly Nordagust!

Since you mentioned Steve Hackett; yes, I have listened a lot to him (and Genesis), and especially “Spectral Mornings” was inspiring, and (of course) also “Firth of Fifth”. A lot of other guitarists have inspired me as well; John Lees, Andy Latimer, Mike Oldfield, Ritchie Blackmore and Terje Rypdal. Of younger guitarists I have to mention Reine Fiske.

Another thing; I have also listened to violinists in folk music and classical music, and this may be the reason I love the sound of mellotron-strings and vibrato sologuitar played together.

My way of singing is surely influenced by Mike Scott, Ian Anderson, Steve Walsh, Roger Hodgson and Roger Waters, together with some folk-music singers.

I remember one sentence I heard long ago by one of my favourite singers; “You have to sing from the bottom of your soul, then you will find your own voice, your own expression”. I followed that advice.

When it comes to the sound of the whole band; we all want it to sound organic. I remember one sentence said by Ketil; ”we should try to sound like the Norwegian nature”. And I asked myself this question at the early days of Nordagust; “what would it sound like if Edward Grieg and Pink Floyd composed music together”?

Knud Jarle: My biggest inspiration is the German band Eloy, and groups like The Beatles, Rush, The Who, Yes, Marillion etc. My favourite bassplayer is Klaus Peter Matziol from Eloy.

Jostein: Elvis and The Beatles were responsible for my first musical awakening. After that I`ve been listening to all kinds of music, Some of my favorites are; Grieg, Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, Led Zeppelin, Arnold Schoenberg, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, John Coltrane, Paul McCartney, Stian Carstensen, Jimmy Rosenberg, and Ole Bull.

Guro: I have a very special bond with the album "Dream" by Kitaro, it was the first album my parents ever played for me (or so I have been told) and I have listened to it ever since. I feel like it has shaped much of my life and the person I am today. Together with Kitaro I have grown up with listening to "Ocean" and the work of Daniel, so the tones and melodies of Nordagust comes very natural and nice for me.

Today I listen to bands like Rhapsody, Machine Head, Marillion etc etc.( very mixed!) I like melodic music with soul, and it got to have a real and honest expression/message, whether it is anger, melancholy etc.

Roger: Anybody in particular you're into at the moment?

Ketil: Future Kings of England, Sky Architect and Devin Townshend.

Daniel: Some music of Future Kings of England is certainly one of the most interesting things I’ve heard in a while, especially “Mustard Men” . ”Celestial Ghost” by Nicklas Barker is also a lovely piece of music. And I like the guitar-sound and some of the symphonic guitar-parts on “ 360 degrees of Wonder”, the latest album of Pluto and the Planets. I also listened a lot to “We’re Here Because We’re Here”  for a while after it was released, and I think it is the best Anathema album in a long while, but not as good as the brilliant “Judgement”(one of my favourite albums the latest decade).

And I just discovered a band called Eleven (some of their music is heavily inspired by Led Zeppelin, reminds me of The Tea Party.)

Knud Jarle: I’m stuck in the seventies.

Jostein: I recently borrowed Eloy's Ocean from Knud Jarle, a nice and atmospheric album. Beside of that my favourite progrock bands at the moment are; Emerson Lake and Palmer, Genesis and ....Nordagust of course :)

Guro: Within Temptation.

Roger: The album is very visual, conjuring dark and mysterious images of ancient woodland. Do you use film in your stage act? I can almost see it in my head!

Ketil: You do? We have been discussing it, and have some ideas. We will get back to that!

Daniel: I really like your description of the album, because that is just how I wanted it to be. :)

Roger: Have you played many shows outside Norway?

Ketil: No, none to be exact. Progheads from many countries have shown interest, but we need someone to put a tour together, without ruining us.

Roger: What's happening now with the band? Any gigs or more recording planned?

Ketil: We are playing Oslo, Begen and Trondheim later this autumn. Then I suppose it's time to boil our heads, and start recording again. 

Roger: What do you like to do after a show to relax? You can be as honest as you like!

Ketil: A beer and a pipe of good tobacco would be fine, thank you…

Daniel: Yes; cold beer and tobacco…. But I also want to get some feedback about the gig.

Knud Jarle: After the show I like to relax with a beer and a cigarette, talking with the fans and the rest of the band, and try to evaluate the show....

Jostein: After the show I like to be social, meet new people with a good pipe of something.

Guro: After a show I’m usually full of energy and run out and get some fresh air, and maybe if we are playing with other bands, I like to meet the other musicians and/or look at the rest of the show.

Roger: That was great - thanks for your time guys!


Nordagust are...

Daniel "Solur" Solheim - Vocal, Guitar, Keyboard, Samples, Kantele, Dulcimer, Mandolin, Sallowflute, Mouthharp, Conch, Axe and Hammer.

Ketil Armand "Bergur" Berg - Drums, Percussion, Kantele, Saw, Accordion, Hammer, Bells, Voices, Grindstone, Kettles and Barrels.

Knud Jarle "Strandur" Strand - Bass and Business.

Jostein Aksel Skjønberg - Keyboard, Voice, Flute

Guro Elvik Strand - Guitar, Keyboards

Thursday, 18 August 2011

In The Beginning - Part Three

Here I get my boots muddy as I trawl along the deepest depths of the prog rock trench to unearth some splendid obscurities and some not so obscure, from the first wave of UK prog, up to 31st December 1973. Some are now well known, some remain beneath the radar.

Part Three - 10th October 1969

In my opinion the first true 100% UK prog rock album by a 100% prog band was King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King, released on the 10th of October 1969. I consider that King Crimson were the first band formed specifically to create something entirely different both in lyrical scope and in musical structure and ambition, and did so using musicians who were not necessarily rock musicians by choice or instinct. The Nice may have released prog albums before this, but ITCOTCK stunned the rock underground at the time with its grand ambition and vast scope in a way that no other album had before.

There were albums released before that auspicious date by bands that were already in existence and later became solidly identified as "prog", apart from the aforementioned The Nice, specifically the first albums by Caravan and The Soft Machine, both released in 1968, and both heavily psychedelic in tone. Of those two albums, The Soft Machine comes closest to being prog, but as it was not released in the UK at the time, that's my get out clause!

Here's a few early UK prog albums that were sadly neglected at the time, and some that still are. All are worth a listen, and maybe the more obscure will lead you to some hitherto undiscovered backwater...

Kevin Ayers - Whatevershebringsweswing
If this was a modern release, it would have ".com" as a suffix. If only Kevin had known! A collision of styles and a stellar cast conspire to produce an eclectic collection of off-the-wall songs from Our Man in Nice. Starring David Bedford, Mike Oldfield (on bass!), Robert Wyatt, Didier Malherbe and others. This is my Ayers favourite, but all his albums are worth a listen.

Jack Bruce - Songs For A Tailor
Continuing his partnership with Pete Brown and letting his jazz instincts take centre stage, still my favourite JB solo effort.

Caravan - For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night
OK, so these first three are not exactly obscure, but they deserved to be far more successful than they were at the time. This band should need no introduction, and against the accepted opinion that In The Land Of The Grey And Pink was their peak, I reckon it's this.

Clark-Hutchinson - A=MH²
Power trio blues rock given an exotic twist with Indian musical scales. Strange.

Clear Blue Sky - Clear Blue Sky
Now we're getting obscure! Power trio rock collides with proto spacerock. Read my old review of this here.

Clouds - Watercolour Days
Keyboard led to the point where there are no guitars on the album (I think - it's a while since I've played it), songwriting takes precedence over soloing. A nice album.

Cressida - Cressida/Asylum
Both these albums are fine examples of mellotron and keyboard led pop-prog.

Edgar Broughton Band - Sing Brother Sing
"Don't touch the liddle birdy nest, you'll break da liddle birdy eggs". Utterly mad minimalist space blues, with some very non-PC lyrics. Bonkers but great.

Egg - Egg/The Polite Force
After the split of Khan (see below) keyboard maestro Dave Stewart formed these cerebral art-rockers with Mont Campbell & Clive Brooks. Now well liked amongst Canterbury fans they were sadly largely ignored at the time. These, their first two albums, are a must.

Fields - Fields
Formed by Graham Field after he left the far more well known Rare Bird, Fields' sole 1971 album continues in the vein of Rare Bird's early keyboard dominated prog. An underrated gem.

Family - Family Entertainment
In which the acid rock of their first album, while still present, takes a back seat to a sort of R&B/prog/folk hybrid. Unique and underrated band.

Fruup - Future Legends
Fine classic symphonic prog from Ireland.

Gracious! - Gracious!
This band should have been big. Arguably the missing musical link between The Moody Blues and King Crimson MK1, this album is by turns beautiful and frightening.

Gravy Train - Ballad Of A Peaceful Man
Releasing four albums between 1970 and 1974, this, in my opinion their best effort from '71 is a fine example of its era, with Norman Barratt's (no relation) psych guitar led songs accompanied by mucho sax and flute. Nice.

Peter Hammill - In Camera
I don't really need to tell you anything about Mr Hammill, surely? My favourite solo album of his, and quite strange it is too!

Hannibal - Hannibal
So obscure they're not even on Wikipedia or Prog Archives, and unusually for the time this jazz based band had a funk beat going on. I believe they were from Birmingham. If you can find it, check it out, as it's refreshingly different.

Hatfield & The North - Hatfield & The North
Marvellously unhinged Canterbury jazz-prog. Who can argue with titles like Shaving Is Boring and Gigantic Land-Crabs In Earth Takeover Bid, played by a stellar lineup of Canterbury luminaries? Second band so far in this list to feature Dave Stewart.

Heaven - Brass Rock I
The British Chicago (early version) - left behind this double album and then disappeared without trace never getting to make Brass Rock II. Not subtle!

High Tide - Sea Shanties/High Tide
Respectively starring the psych tinged guitar and violin of Tony Hill  and Simon House, who later joined Hawkwind, these two albums released in 1969* & 70 are well worth checking out.

Horslips - The Tain
The first Celtic folk-prog band, released two albums in '73, the second being The Tain, a full on concept album based around an Irish legend. Timeless, and great stuff!

Indian Summer - Indian Summer
More keyboard led prog that was mostly ignored at the time. Quite intense in places.

Jade Warrior - Jade Warrior/Released/Last Autumn's Dream
Eastern (Japanese rather than Middle Eastern) tinged guitar prog, with all sorts of world music influences added to the mix before that idiom had been defined. Criminally ignored.

Kingdom Come - Galactic Zoo Dossier/Kingdom Come/Journey
All three of these albums are a must for any self-respecting left-field early prog fan. Songs about traffic lights and lower colonic irrigation and space travel all delivered in Arthur Brown's operatic baritone, accompanied by spacerock freakouts, Zappa-esque in places. What more could you ask?

Khan - Space Shanty
The first sighting of Steve Hillage's glissando guitar. A space rock monster. Third album with Mr Dave Stewart in the list.

Man - Greasy Truckers Party
OK, so not a Man album as such, and I could have chosen any of eight (!) albums released up to the end of 1973 from the Welsh Quicksilver Messenger Service (only better in my book). This just happens to be one of my all time favourite live recordings by anyone, ever. So there! Read more about the album here.

Manfred Mann's Chapter Three - Volume 1 & Volume 2
Before the far more commercially successful Earth Band, this was the keyboard wiz and band leader Mann's highly entertaining attempt at big band jazz-prog. It worked.

Matching Mole - Matching Mole/Little Red Record
Robert Wyatt's fusion band post Softs and before the accident. Equally charming and fierce, built around Phil Miller's scorching guitar, and Daves Sinclair & McRae on keyboards. Those of you with a little knowledge of the French language will see what RW did there with his new group's name. :)

McDonald & Giles - McDonald & Giles
Another that was ignored at the time, but has since received the attention it deserves. Some of the songs on this album were destined for King Crimson's second album before KC MK1's implosion on a US tour. Nuff said.

Nucleus - Elastic Rock/Solar Plexus/We'll Talk About It Later/Belladonna (the latter credited to Ian Carr, but using the same line up)
Highly influential early UK fusion band, led by trumpeter Ian Carr. Chris Spedding started here, along with all of the later incarnations of Soft Machine apart from John Etheridge, and a later album featured Allan Holdsworth, but as far as I can ascertain Dave Stewart is nowhere to be seen!

Patto - Patto/Hold Your Fire
Featuring Mike Patto's gravelly tones and Ollie Halsall's jazz guitar from space, a great improv band who sounded like it could all collapse at any time, but never did. Tight but loose, as they say.

Pink Fairies - What A Bunch Of Sweeties
More stoner rock than prog, but Twink's on it so it has a lineage.

Pete Sinfield - Still
Typically verbose and grandiose album of classic prog with a pastoral touch in places, the former King Crimson lyricist used his connections to entice a supporting cast of tens including past and future members of KC, to make this, his sole solo effort of the seventies.

Skin Alley - Skin Alley/To Pagham And Beyond
Two albums both released in 1970 both of a proto fusion/jazz rock construction with much sax and flute playing heavily featured over guitar and organ. Of its time, but good nonetheless.

Skid Row - Skid
Crazy skewed blues based prog with a very young Gary Moore on the geetar. Loud and mad.

Spooky Tooth (with Pierre Henry) - Ceremony
Were Spooky Tooth prog? Possibly, possibly not, but with this album they teamed up with French musique concretè pioneer Pierre Henry and made this weird and out-there album, definitely prog, no question. Marvellous!

Spring - Spring
Well crafted melodic mellotron prog with acid guitar. The singer's idiosyncratic style takes some getting used to though! Amongst their number was Dire Straits' first drummer, but don't hold that against them.

Three Man Army - A Third Of A Lifetime
The Gurvitz (or Curtis) brothers, fresh from psych rockers Gun ditched the drummer, found another one, and reinvented themselves as a power trio with prog leanings. Big in Germany, should have done better over here. Would have given Budgie a run for their money.

Tonton Macoute - Tonton Macoute
Mostly laid back jazz influenced prog with a big acid rock hangover and some classical influences, has some nice flute and sax breaks. Sounds a mess? It may well be, but I like it.

Trees - Trees/The Garden Of Jane Delawney
Marvellous folk with crazed acid guitar. Highly recommended.

Tudor Lodge - Tudor Lodge
Great psych folk to go with Trees above. Slightly more pastoral. Like the Trees albums, originals are as rare as Elton John's real hair.

There are literally dozens more I could include, but we'd be here all day. Feel free to add your own suggestions, with the proviso that they must have been first released between the 10th October 1969 and 31st December 1973.

*Addendum: As I couldn't find the actual release date of High Tide's Sea Shanties, released on Liberty in 1969, there's every chance it may well have come out before 10/10/69, but obviously it did not have the impact of KC's debut, so I'm sticking to my original date as "The Beginning Of UK Prog"!

Next, the final part - The band that almost killed prog without realising it, and the band that did kill prog and didn't give a damn. Pass the silver spoon, Alice!

Part One

Part Two

Part Four

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Temple Of The Smoke - Against Human Race

In which four heads from Belgrade throw some classic metal and spacerock influences into the blender with dub reggae (really!) and come up with a retro stoner rock psych-fest.

The first song has a title that tells you nearly all you need to know about these guys’ influences, and Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator will pin you to your seat or put you in need of a neck brace if you’re standing up. Spitting and snarling from a forgotten chunk of space debris, the ghosts of DikMik and Del Dettmar are conjured up and space squiggles a-plenty haunt this song, a Hawkfest meets Bevis Frond on bad speed. This is baaaad, man.

Unnatural Regression lets us chill with some space-dub-reggae. I’ll bet Lee 'Scratch' Perry never thought dub reggae would get as deep as Serbia, but there you go. Melting into Naked Sun the return of the analogue synths languidly builds with another Hawks-like bassline and some heavily treated guitar from Ozricland.

Deadly Skies sounds like it could be an outtake from the first Black Sabbath album, and if you’re of a certain age you can almost hear Ozzy’s wail coming round the corner. That it never does is no bad thing actually. This is a seriously HEAVY riff they’ve dug up on this one. Autumn World is far more laid back and does indeed manage to convey its title, at one point becoming almost pastoral would you believe.

South Of Heaven, and we’re back in deep space, with a riff as monstrous as a black hole, this mofo will suck you inside out. This time they’ve finally broken free of gravity, leaving behind the Sabs/Hawkwind influences arriving in an orbit of their own contrivance. Not for the faint-hearted and I’ll bet they’re ear-bleedingly loud live!

Into The Storm declaims in a sample at the beginning that “Citizens need to be armed to protect themselves against a tyrannical Government” – that may well be, or have been, true in Serbia, a place not known for the lightness of touch of its recent leaders, but sitting here in the UK after the shit that has gone down recently that statement has a laughable irony to it. Of course that’s not the band’s fault, and this song sees a return to dub reggae. I’m not sure that this style works within the context of the rest of the album, and dub reggae is an awful lot harder to get right, particularly the bass parts, than might appear at first listen. Of the two dub reggae songs on the album this one works best as the bass playing is far more of the fluid nature needed to carry off this style with any panache. If anyone thinks playing dub bass is easy try telling that to Robbie Shakespeare!

The album ends with Tortoise Du Mars, and we’re back to what the band do best. There’s a cyclical guitar motif about three and a half minutes in that is almost Fripp-like in construction, showing these guys are no mugs musically. This track shows most promise of all on the album and taken further this spacerock symphony bodes well for the future.

You won’t find anything startlingly new on this album, but it is an enjoyable listen, if a little disparate in its style changes. It will be interesting to see where Temple Of The Smoke go from here, and if the last track is anything to go by there’s still a lot to come.

3.5 out of 5


01. Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator
02. Unnatural Regression
03. Naked Sun
04. Deadly Skies
05. Autumn World
06. South of Heaven
07. Into the Storm
08. Tortoise du Mars


Janko Stojanović – guitar, synth, vocal
Dušan Žica – guitar, synth, dubbing
Marko Ilić – bass
Dragan Mirković – drums & percussion


Daymoon - All Tomorrows

Daymoon are a multi-national collaboration based around the songs of Fred Lessing, and are based in Portugal. The album was co-produced by Andy Tillison of The Tangent, so the prog credos are present and correct. I must admit that when I read in an interview that Lessing himself describes the band as regressive rock, and that they make "no conscious effort to create 'new' music" I was put off somewhat, as there are enough prog bands out there doing that already, and for this listener recreating what has gone before is simply not enough.

However, I need not have worried too much, for although what Daymoon have presented us with is certainly referential, it is not slavishly so.

So, on to the album....with a retro Hammond (or modern synthesis of same) sound on the first and title track on initial listen this band put me in mind of Atomic Rooster, but I couldn’t have been more wrong, as this song ends on a waltz, led by a Brian May like guitar line before flatlining!  From track two the Rooster sound is dropped entirely and one song even has a reggae beat, and tempo and style changes abound. The guitarists cover many styles, and later saxes and flutes make an appearance and I’m sure I heard a Theremin in there somewhere too.

Many a modern prog album are let down by weak vocals and/or lyrics, but the various lead voices although not outstanding are better than some I've heard recently and the lyrics are intriguing and seem to be centred around love and destiny. The group’s harmonies sometimes recall Yes while still retaining enough of their own qualities, and the music, although full of traceable prog influences is referential without being overwhelmingly derivative, as has been the case with too many other recent releases.

There’s a hell of a lot going on here, and you won’t hear it all in one listen that's for sure. Marrakech for instance goes for a late 60s psych feel, continued into mini-epic Sorry, the next song. By now the album has gone somewhere else entirely from the impressions given by the opening title track, and we’re only half way through the album.

By eighth song Arklow we’ve left behind 60s acid rock and we’re into full-on prog territory. The lyrics need to be read to be fully appreciated as I’m sure there’s more to them than I've yet got a handle on.

An album like this would not be complete without ending with an epic, and at just short of fourteen minutes The Sum is exactly that, and all the influences previously mentioned go into the pot.

My one criticism is that maybe Daymoon are trying just a little bit too hard here, and at times the album seems a bit “all over the shop” as if the style changes are there on a whim, and because of this it feels longer than its comfortable 65 minutes, but one cannot fault the excellence of the musicianship or the production on the album. A few less ideas in the melting pot, and the employment of a musical director to reign in Lessing's admitted inconsistencies would not necessarily have been a bad thing.

Definitely an album that needs more than a few listens to fully sink in, and I hope that it sticks with me, as this band have talent in abundance but maybe need a little more discipline in execution. Their next album will be looked forward to with anticipation by this scribbler.

Investigate further here: All sale proceeds go towards Fred's wife's cancer treatment.

3 out of 5
# 52


01.  All Tomorrows
02.  TranscendenZ
03.  Human Again
04.  Marrakech
05.  Sorry
06.  Bell Jar
07.  First Rain
08.  Arklow
09.  News From the Outside
10.  The Sum


Fred Lessing: guitars & bass, keyboards, woodwinds, percussion, ethniticities, vocals
Paulo Catroga: keyboards, vocals
Adriano Pereira: clarinet, vocalsLuís Estorninho: bass guitar
Fernando Guiomar: guitar

Luca Calabrese (Italy) flugelhorn on TranscendenZ
Bruno Capelas (Portugal): acoustic & electronic drums and percussion
Paulo Chagas (Portugal): saxophone, flute
Hugo Flores (Portugal): vocals on All Tomorrows and First Rain
Maria João Tavares (Portugal): clarinet on TranscendenZ
Thomas Olsson (Sweden): electric guitar on Sorry
Mats Johansson (Sweden): keyboards on Sorry
Andy Tillison (UK): keyboards, cameo vocals
Mark Lee Fletcher (USA): lead vocals
Pete Prown (USA): guitar solos on TranscendenZ
Jay Schankman (USA): keyboards

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Grails - Deep Politics

The album starts with the nonchalant groove of Future Primitive, almost Gothic in atmosphere, setting the tone for this, the 6th Album by Grails, nigh on undefinable psych-space rockers-postrockers (?!) from somewhere in the USA. There is a strong Swans influence pervading some of the tunes which while mostly calm have a mysterious dark cinematic undertone, something Swans specialised in particularly on fantastic albums such as The Burning World and White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity (if you've not heard these, you really should). This would explain Michael Gira's attraction to the band many years ago when he asked them to support Swans on tour. Gira was also instrumental in them getting their first record deal.

For some reason All The Colors Of The Dark, while continuing with the Gothic vibe, puts me in mind of Spaghetti Westerns. By Corridors Of Power things have taken a more spaced out vibe with some flute warbling on top of deeep bass drum and oriental vistas are imagined. Things slow down further on the minor key piano led title track, a mournful introspective piece of music that stops and then builds to a film noir climax, scratchy feedback guitar occasionally making an attempt to break through as the stings buck and sway. Quite and quietly magnificent.

If this is post-rock, then I might be fan after all, having been increasingly underwhelmed over the years by the likes of Mogwai and their ilk. Although the music on this album is not really complicated, and uses post-rock methods in its build and fall, it is far more than that over-hyped genre and there is more than enough going on in the instrumentation to keep this listener interested. Actually I don’t care what label I or anyone else might want to stick on this, it’s just good music, pure and simple.

Daughters Of Bilitis (mmmm. nice!) gently plinks along down a dark rainy alley, but watch out, for there be monsters, monsters like Almost Grew My Hair, which sees some guitar to the fore in an almost jaunty melody, and leans more towards a space-rocky vibe. A break in the song halfway though, and we’re off again, prodded back into life by some bass guitar from somewhere down an echoey corridor…..then guitar, and my word, that was almost a powerchord! I’m really digging this one, it’s a bit of a mini-epic. Building with a wah-fuzz noise, the song ends in a wail of guitar protest and we’re left in an orbit round a far off planet.

I Led Three Lives at 8:49 is the longest song on the album, another construct of ethereal menace led by a synth pulsebeat before a simple but effective guitar motif takes the song through to a calmer place.

Things conclude with Deep Snow started on a slowly plucked circular acoustic guitar line, which has an almost Spanish feel in contradiction to its title. The song brings us back to base in a cosseted gorgeousness of sound. Four minutes in and we’ve arrived back home where the sound of a full sonic orchestra greets our arrival, the song ends quietly with some slightly strange discordant piano chords.

This a is great album and stands out like a diamond in the recent slew of so-called prog releases as something that goes its own way without being a slave to the past. A fine effort.

Track listing:
1. Future Primitive (5:28)
2. All The Colors Of The Dark (4:07)
3. Corridors Of Power (3:54)
4. Deep Politics (5:38)
5. Daughters Of Bilitis (3:24)
6. Almost Grew My Hair (8:03)
7. I Led Three Lives (8:49)
8. Deep Snow (7:20)

Line up:
- Zak Riles / acoustic guitars
- Emil Amos / drums, guitars, piano, synthesizer, tape
- Alex John Hall / electric guitars, mellotron, synthesizer, sampler
- William Slater / bass, piano, synthesizer

additional musicians:
- Ash Black Bufflo / synthesizer (7)
- Timba Harris / string arrangements

Buy it here -

4 out of 5

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

In The Beginning - Part Two

In which we discover the important influences on what would become the UK Progressive Rock scene.

Part Two - Proto-prog

As an almost uniquely British phenomenon to begin with it is no surprise that most of the bands listed below are from the UK, but of course this is entirely subjective, as I'm sure we all hold differing opinions on this subject.

Morphing from psychedelic rock and blending influences from jazz, classical and experimental music, and featuring many jazz and classically trained musicians playing rock, progressive rock produced many moments of sheer brilliance as well as more than a few turkeys, particularly towards the end of its period of dominance.

These then are my thoughts on the bands that became or were an influence on UK prog rock...

Pink Floyd
Already blazing a trail with their unique blend of quirky psych-pop and longer more experimental journeys when playing live, Floyd's The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn album from 1967 (see Part One) was a benchmark for UK psychedelia. Syd's unfortunate meltdown meant that the following year's Saucerful Of Secrets was a stop-gap before the band's first truly prog LP, 1969's Ummagumma.

It is difficult to assess their influence, but I suppose the Barrett live era, on songs such as Interstellar Overdrive and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun showed the world what could be done with two chords and a sequencer and a light show.

The Wilde Flowers

Brian Hopper, Richard Sinclair, Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper and Kevin Ayers
Formed as early as 1964 in Canterbury, England, this band were not so much influential, as they never released any recordings, as they were progenitors. Passing through their ranks at one time or another was entire original line up of Caravan, and two of the original line up of The Soft Machine, and Hugh Hopper, who joined the Softs after Kevin Ayers' departure in 1968. All of this led to that major prog tributary, and personal favourite, The Canterbury Scene.

Procol Harum
With their 1968 sophomore effort Shine On Brightly they introduced the world to the 20 minute song cycle, "In Held 'Twas In I". With Keith Reid's verbose and intriguing lyrics and Gary Brooker's R&B meets classical inspired tune-smithing, along with Robin Trowers' acidic guitar breaks here is the first true proto-prog epic.

The Who
"What are they doing here?" you may well ask, but don't forget that they gifted the world the "Rock Opera" with 1966 sophomore release A Quick One While He's Away, a format that would soon morph into the dreaded concept album. No other prog credentials to speak of.

The Moody Blues
Days Of Future Passed (1967) & In Search Of The Lost Chord (1968) both qualify as proto-prog efforts, the former being the first group/orchestra collaboration. It's probably only the pop leanings of Hayward & Lodge that stopped this band turning into a veritable prog monster. This band also discovered the early prog instrument of choice, the mellotron, hiding in a bush in Aston, Birmingham. They took it home, fed it, and the rest is history! What would King Crimson have sounded like without this band's influence is difficult to imagine.

The Pretty Things
1968's S.F. Sorrow is credited as being the first concept album, and were it not for record company admin errors it would have been released a year earlier, and given the right promotion could have given the ubiquitous Sgt Pepper a run for its money. If you've not heard this you should search it out. An underrated masterpiece in my opinion.

The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown

The Children of My Kingdom
Their one marvellous self titled LP (1968) is full of weird effects and strange time changes and contained the keyboards of Vincent Crane, the man who wrote Fire, and the not yet over-the-top drumming of Carl Palmer. Both left the band in 1969 to form Atomic Rooster. The booming baritone of Mr Brown went on to grace Kingdom Come who released three prog classics in the early 70s. Well worth checking out.

Great acid rock band unfairly mainly remembered for My White Bicycle, that although not that commercially successful were a musos band, having many connections within the London music scene, and they were even known to Frank Zappa, who was particularly enamoured of a certain Steve Howe's guitar playing. The band also boasted drummer John Charles Alder AKA "Twink" who later joined The Pretty Things, playing on S.F. Sorrow (see above), and later still The Pink Fairies.

The Mothers Of Invention
Fusing acid rock, jazz, and Mr Zappa's off the wall sense of humour, this lot were almost a category on their own, but were no doubt highly influential on the nascent fusion scene, both in the USA and in the UK. Releasing their first album Freak Out! in 1966, and Absolutely Free the following year, a die was cast. An oft quoted review from the LA Times by Pete Johnson describes Freak Out! thus...

I guess you might call it surrealistic paintings set to music. Not content to record just two sides of musical gibberish, the MOI devote four full sides to their type of 'artistry.' If anyone owns this album, perhaps he can tell me what in hell is going on...The Mothers of Invention, a talented but warped quintet, have fathered an album poetically entitled Freak Out, which could be the greatest stimulus to the aspirin industry since the income tax...

Haha! I wonder what he made of Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica? Which brings us neatly to Zappa's buddy..

Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band
With 1967 debut offering Safe As Milk the slightly crazed Van Vliet and his crew dipped their first tentative toes into the waters of avant-blues, which would later see them almost drowning with 1969's Trout Mask Replica, an album so strange that in spite of being played many many times over the years chez moi remains just out of reach. What I mean to say is I still cannot decide if it was genius or trash. Beefheart & Zappa must have been an influence on Henry Cow, Samla Mammas Manna, and the rest of what would become the Rock In Opposition movement.

Mentioned in dispatches:

The Zombies - Came up with Odyssey & Oracle in 1968, a true pop-psych masterpiece from the band that morphed into mid-table proggers Argent.

Ian Carr - UK jazz trumpeter who formed the fusion band Nucleus in 1969, deserves a mention for having most of the UK jazz-prog alumni passing through his band's ranks at one time or another.

The Grateful Dead - Their live extemporisations gave birth to free form mainly guitar led freak outs later popular at the more jamming based end of the prog spectrum (Man, Hawkwind, Gong etc).

Next in Part Three - We'll skip the obvious albums in the first wave prog explosion and highlight some of the lesser known but still wonderful recordings of the era.

Part One

Part Three

Part Four

Saturday, 6 August 2011

In The Beginning - Part One

In The Beginning is a short history of the rise of prog rock in the UK. If I have missed out influential bands from the USA or more particularly Europe, then I apologise, for my formative years were spent immersed in glorious eccentricity of the UK music scene and my knowledge of other scenes is at best sketchy!

Part One


For a relatively short period of six years between 1967 and 1973 the UK underground rock scene developed at a frightening rate, with new bands being formed and dissolved in the blink of an eye, and going down hitherto unexplored aural backwaters to emerge squinting into the daylight exhausted but exhilarated, with seventeen new ways of playing the most elusive chord progression in the oddest time signatures imaginable.

The journey starts in 1967, the best year for debut albums ever, absolutely no question. There have been other years since where a slew of new music was unleashed into an unsuspecting world, but no year since then has thrown up such a diverse mix of innovative musics covering all styles, some known, some shiny and new.

The accepted opinion is that the album that changed music forever was Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band by The Beatles. Undoubtedly unlike anything that had gone before in the world of pop, their own Revolver excepted, I would argue that this is one of those self-fulfilling prophecies that has become a truism simply through unending repetition. The myth is that SPLHCB showed how musicians with ambition could work outside the 3 minute pop-love song format, well hadn't Bob Dylan already done that? Secondly, innovative studio trickery was taken to a new level by this album, which I agree with to an extent, but a certain Are You Experienced by The Jimi Hendrix Experience was released some 3 weeks previous to SPLHCB, and you can't tell me that the title track alone has as much weirdness going on as in the whole of The Beatles' epic.

No doubt The Beatles and Hendrix were working on their respective sonic adventures simultaneously and probably unaware of what the other was up to. Also credit to the Merseysiders for starting the strangeness off with the previous year's album Revolver. Don't get me wrong I think SPLHCB is a fantastic slab of vinyl, but I consider that Hendrix "changed music forever" at least as much as the Fab Four.

Whatever your views on The Beatles or Hendrix, 1967 saw a worldwide seismic shift in popular music, the likes of which would never be seen again. The UK saw an upheaval of similar proportions ten years down the line, but it was far more localised than that of the "tune in turn on and drop out" generation.

In rough chronological order of release these are those amazing 1967 debut albums, errors and omissions excepted...

The Doors - The Doors
Cat Stevens - Matthew & Son
The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico
The Grateful Dead - The Grateful Dead
Country Joe & The Fish - Electric Music For The Mind And Body
The Electric Prunes - The Electric Prunes
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced
David Bowie - David Bowie
Moby Grape - Moby Grape
Procol Harum - Procol Harum
Kaleidoscope (US) - Side Trips
Vanilla Fudge - Vanilla Fudge
Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Big Brother And The Holding Company - Big Brother And The Holding Company
Scott Walker - Scott
Captain Beefheart - Safe As Milk
Ten Years After - Ten Years After
Nico - Chelsea Girl
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band - Gorilla
The Amboy Dukes - The Amboy Dukes
Traffic - Mr Fantasy
Pearls Before Swine - One Nation Underground
Art - Supernatural Fairy Tales
Electric Flag - The Trip
The Nice - The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack

This list doesn't include equally influential sophomore efforts from the likes of Love, 13th Floor Elevators, Cream, Tim Buckley, Incredible String Band and others, and mention must be made that some of these artists, like The Electric Prunes, Jimi Hendrix Experience and a few others released more than one album in 1967. In a way I'm glad I was far too young at the time to appreciate what was exploding all around me, otherwise I would have had to have got up to all sorts of nefarious activities in order to be able to acquire the cash needed to buy even the best of that lot!

Obviously some of these albums were far more influential at the time than others, which only garnered historical prominence with the benefit of hindsight. All of these can be regarded as classics to a greater or lesser extent. Tell me a year that was more diverse and I'll turn into a strawberry cheesecake, especially for you!

As for English prog rock, it was still merely an inkling in the lysergically altered minds of a few young and mostly middle class gents (and a few ladies) playing in sundry beat and psych pop combos struggling up and down the few motorways of Great Britain in various battered vans.

Pink Floyd were of course riding their first wave of success by 1967, but as the term Progressive Rock had yet to be coined, they were still firmly in the acid rock bag. Quite where fellow UFO club regulars The Soft Machine (as they were known at the time) were filed away ante-prog is anyone's guess, for they made a very weird racket indeed that wasn't quite space rock, pop or jazz but somewhere in between. Formed in 1966 they may therefore assume the honour of being the first prog band in the world! The band famously featured both Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen, until the latter's refused re-entry to the UK from a French TV appearance in October '67. Allen stayed in France and formed Gong, as if you didn't know, and not long after Ayers left to record his first solo album, and lo, the Canterbury scene was born.

Family also formed in 1966 but were more of a straight R&B group at the start, although they did manage to release the single Scene Through The Eye Of A Lens in October 1967. If you've not heard it, you can almost guess what it sounds like from the title I'd imagine!

Two out and out prog bands did form in 1967, the first being The Nice who just managed to release an album by December, and were the first band to fuse classical and rock with any commercial success. The other band was the first incarnation of Van der Graaf Generator who didn't get to release an album until 1969. Also formed in that year, though more as a school band than anything serious was a certain Genesis, hidden away within the posh confines of Charterhouse public school (American friends read "private" for "public"). Also just about scraping in by the lacings of their jockstraps, formed in December of that incredible year, were Jethro Tull.

Next in Part Two - What I consider to be the British proto-prog bands that were big influences on what was soon to follow.

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

2019, the insanity grows...

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