Stegzy's Music Project

A commentary on Stegzy's album collection

Into the Electric Castle – Ayreon [#638]

Ayreon_-_Electric_Castle album cover
Big-haired symphonic prog rocker Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s third concept album, with his collaboration project Ayreon, tells the tale of time-napped protagonists sent to find their way through some weird assault course like maze for some obscure reason that really doesn’t matter.

Marillion’s Fish, The Gatherings Anneke van Giersbergen and Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel all play characters warbling their way through various trials and tribulations much like they might in some Jeff Wayne tribute musical if it was done right. The dramatic passion within the music illustrates just how talented and creative Lucassen can be if left to his own devices.

Into the Electric Castle is possibly my most played Ayreon album if not for the fantastically big hair rock Rainbow Bridge which often results in in-car rock performances while en-route to distant places indeed, I have frequently threatened to subject passengers to the entire album it’s so good.

I think if I’d come across the music in 1998 when it was released, many of the late night conversations I used to have about music with my pals would have resulted in even longer talks into the night. Sadly I only became aware of Ayreon when I had moved away from my hometown of Liverpool, leaving the opportunities for late night debate ever diminishing into the realms of misspent youth and early adulthood.

 

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In Abstentia – Porcupine Tree [#621]

As a mature media student at Huddersfield Uni, it was fun, and refreshing, to discuss similar musical tastes with my lecturers during tutorials.

During one long discussion about the joys of Prog when we should have been discussing Media Theory, my lecturer asked me if I knew about Porcupine Tree. I said I didn’t. Reaching over to the bookshelf above his desk, he picked out a copy of In Absentia and told me that my homework was to listen to the album.

I was late handing in the assignment. Probably now nearly ten years late. To be fair, I’ve listened to some of the tracks admittedly not all but what I’ve heard I have enjoyed. Indeed, Blackest Eyes has featured in a number of my in-car playlists over the past few years. It is the band’s seventh album coming between Lightbulb Sun and Deadwing and features several songs seemingly about serial killing. As you do…

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Illusions on a Double Dimple – Triumvirat [#611]

Illusions_on_a_double_dimpleThis, it has to be said, is quite possibly the album that has been the most influential in my life. From as young as 11 years old, when introduced to the album by my brother who had won it in a competition, to my teen years where Shitbag Pulling and I would sit around his piano and try to deconstruct its intricacies and beyond into my late twenties, thirties and present day. Not a period of my life has gone by without something being connected or linked to this album.

Back in the pre-internet days, one’s only source of music would be friends, relatives and flicking through the alphabetical racks in Virgin Megastore, Our Price or HMV. Every single time I went to those shops I would flick through the racks, Triumph…Trivium…no Triumvirat. Every dictionary of popular music I would thumb through to T looking for anything, even a chuffing footnote about Triumvirat. No. Nothing. By my early twenties, when I was dabbling in Goth, I’d begun to think that maybe the band was just a fantasy. But as the floodgates of internet knowledge started to creak open, information about the band reached me and I began to realise that they were so much much more than this album.

The album is a concept in two parts. The first, an allegorical telling of a tale of social and financial hardship brought on by being “Born on the wrong side of town”. The narrator, fired from their job, accused of some dubious theft, heads to the local bar and seeks out a large glass of Dimple. Dimple, which I didn’t know until I was in my late teens, is a brand of Scotch whisky.  Upon imbibing the drink, and having sold his coat and every possession, our narrator heads out into the streets of Dusseldorf, passes out then plays the piano a bit.

The second half, possibly connected to the first, I’m not quite sure, tells of a band who revolt against their manager, Mr Ten Percent, a frightfully extravagant gentleman with a big Mercedes, a house on a hill and frequent week-long trips to Sweden, and become awesome and meet girls.

Well, that’s my interpretation.

The album was the band’s breakthrough release and saw their popularity rise in America and Europe. Of course, in the UK we’re culturally insular and don’t like anything not homegrown or that we’re not told to like by commerce. As a result, this is probably why Triumvirat, a giant on the world prog rock stage, were never available in major high street record shops in the UK. Well more fool you, Mr HMV. Look what your selfish enforcement of culturally appropriate music did to your profits following the Great Internet Download Free for All of the Early Noughties.  Even Apple Music has Triumvirat!

 

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Illusion – Renaissance [#610]

Ren_ill2Since rediscovering this in my collection, I have listened to it nearly every day since. It’s curious how the modern way seems to be more playlist orientated than album driven. As an exercise, I listened to the first album, Renaissance, this album, Illusion, and the following three albums, Prologue, Ashes are Burning and Turn of the Cards, in effect the first 5 albums by the band, to see if I could pinpoint something groundbreaking. I couldn’t but it was fun. But this Renaissance exercise has shown me how important music appreciation skills are in the full enjoyment of music by artists and appreciation of how sound develops over time.

As per Illusion by Illusion, I had mostly ignored this album, frightened by what stylistic differences that might exist to affect my enjoyment of core 1973-1978 era Renaissance. However, in true form, I found pre-Haslam Renaissance much more enjoyable. Indeed, it was clear that the style only seemed to change once the Dunford/Haslam crew stopped recycling work by the original band members and focused on their own style.

Illusion is the second album by the first incarnation of Renaissance that would later become Illusion and Stairway. It features the first song to include a member of the second incarnation, Michael Dunford, Mr Pine, which also features a melody that would later resurface in the fifth, and third with the new lineup, album Turn of the Cards. 

To add further twists the album was released in Germany in 1971, then again to the wider world in 1973 but not in the UK until 1977.

Finally, as a footnote, the video that accompanies today’s entry features Binky Cullom in the female vocal lead. Binky was a transitional member between Relf and Haslam. Sadly Binky doesn’t really seem to have the steadiness of Relf or Haslam, but I thought it would be fun to include it here.

Confused? Think about how the band felt!

and for those whose ears are now bleeding, here is the salve.

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Illusion – Illusion [#609]

Illusion_-_Same.jpgDuring the run-up to the next Music Project entry, I had to do a bit of research. Renaissance is one of those true prog bands whose line up has changed so much over the years, they’re unrecognisable to their original form. 

When Renaissance formed in 1969 it originally comprised of former Yardbirds Jim McCarty and Keith & Jane Relf together with John Hawken and Colosseum Bassist Louis Cennamo but when I first heard the band they were a quintet of none of the original members. The original line up released two albums then kind of went their separate ways in the early seventies. They then had a change of heart and reformed as a different band, Illusion. 

Of course I only kind of slightly knew this and to be honest, I was a little scared to listen to any Renaissance before Annie Haslam.  So when the next Music Project entry was Illusion by the McCarty/Relf lineup naturally I was a bit apprehensive. Then I dug about on Wikipedia and relearned the Renaissance story and how the McCarty/Relf Renaissance split and reformed as Illusion, confusingly later releasing the album Illusion. Curiosity got the better of me and I ended up Apple Musicing the album into my collection. 

So today, we’re looking at Illusion by Illusion. Jane Relf, together with Jim McCarty, John Hawken and Louis Cennamo (basically Renaissance pre-Dunford/Haslam) released this, their second Illusion album in 1978, Keith Relf having died tragically in 1976, is missing from this lineup.  It’s when you hear stuff like this, you begin to see the roots of Renaissance, the influence of other prog bands and how things could have been so-so different. 

Relf has a distinctive a voice as Haslam and there are clear embryonic audible melodic themes that would later resurface in Dunford/Haslam era Renaissance songs, likewise, one can hear the converse. Stylistically, they are subtly different yet the same; piano heavy, with an essence of floaty folk music vocals, airy poetic lyrics and a lick of Floydesque synth motifs here and there. I think my favourite track has got to be Madonna Blue which screams seventies folk rock so much it may as well grow long straight hair and wear a kaftan. Indeed, when listened to in its entirety, one might as well try listening back to back with Renaissance’s Illusion and see if you can tell the difference.

Just like I did.

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If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You – Caravan #604

Car-IfIThe thing with Canterbury scene folk music is it is as incestuous as progressive rock in that band members swap around like couples swap partners at a swingers party. Indeed, along with the band members, so also comes a very distinctive sound that pervades the music like the sort of odour that lingers inside a musty old caravan. Moreover, Canterbury scene bands blur the prog rock/folk boundaries and it is often difficult to pigeonhole your selected band into the correct genre.

When you listen to the likes of Caravan, it’s not surprising that it seems so familiar. Indeed, two of the band’s members, Richard and David Sinclair, later joined Camel. But apart from that, one can detect influences both from and to the likes of Gong, Spirogyra, Trees, Renaissance and even Greenslade. I ended up with this and three other Caravan albums following a deeper investigation of bands featured on The Best Prog Rock Album in the World…Ever compilation.

If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You is the band’s second album. Released in 1970 and features the original line up of the band – Pye Hastings, David & Richard Sinclair and Richard Coughlan. It also features a rather prog-a-licious heavily jazz-influenced 14 minute track For Richard. 

 

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I Can See Your House From Here – Camel #601

I Can See Your House From Here – Camel

Obviously influenced by the successes of Supertramp, in this album prog-meisters Camel make a departure from their sound of Mirage and Snow Goose and head down a more poppy Collins era Genesis path effectively becoming a sound akin to some sort of Rush-Supertramp-Toto hybrid.

This is Camel’s seventh studio album following Breathless and, in typical prog fashion, features a lineup change with original keyboardist Pete Bardens and bassist Richard Sinclair both having left the band. Moreover, Genesis’ Phil Collins guest performs on the album as a percussionist, which is probably why it sounds a little Genesissy than previous releases.  Indeed, the keen ear can certainly pick out the foundations of Stationary Traveller era Camel when the band went full on pop.

Not a big listener to this album to be fair but even during the listen for writing this entry I’m sofa dancing like a fan.

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Hurdy Gurdy – Hurdy Gurdy #599

 

R-1977968-1373153933-1294

Hurdy Gurdy by Hurdy Gurdy

Legend has it, Danish prog band Hurdy Gurdy wrote to Donovan in the late 1960s asking him to help the band break into the music scene. Impressed by the demos he received, Donovan went home and wrote a song for the band but when he heard them perform it, he rewrote a more acoustic version and kept it for himself.

 

That song became Hurdy Gurdy Man.  

Of course whilst Donovan made it big on the world stage, Hurdy Gurdy would have disappeared into obscurity if only for the Great Free-for-All-Download of the mid to late noughties. You know, that big downloady thing people did back then that killed popular music? I often think about my actions during that time and how I wrongly downloaded music from online file sharing locations depriving many artists of their hard earned funds. Hardworking artists and music that I would never have heard of had it not been for the whole downloady thing because, face it, who has time (and money) to spend all day looking through the racks of market approved music in HMV?

Hurdy Gurdy is Hurdy Gurdy’s first and, as far as my limited research has taught me, only album. I came across it while looking for hurdy-gurdy music, which, if you know me well enough you will know, is my favourite musical instrument. Sadly there are no actual hurdy-gurdys on the album. However,  it is saved by being very much a prog sounding album, with lots of guitar twiddling and quite a bluesy feel to the whole. The non-melodic singing is a little shouty for me and reminiscent of some post In the Court Of the Crimson King King Crimson or early Triumvirat. I think the only reason I’ve kept hold of it is that it’s quite a rare album and I’m always a stickler for rarities.  Fortunately, good old Youtube has the whole album for you to hear yourself.

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House of Yes: Live at the House of Blues – Yes [#594]

House_of_YesWhen this album was released back in 2000, the internet as we know it today was still in its fledgeling state. Websites were mostly created and owned by actual people rather than by corporations and users actually had to seek out their news rather than have it shown to them if an algorithm deigned to do so. As a result, I was only aware it had been released because I saw it while I was browsing the CD racks in HMV.

Of course, with it being a Live/Best of compilation and I already had most of the songs Live or in compilations, I was reluctant to part with hard earned cash for stuff I already had and instead bought something a little more desirable like Air’s Moon Safari or whatever else was about in those days. However sometime later, probably during the Great Internet Download Free-for-All of the early noughties, I was given a copy of the album by a work colleague and so it joined my collection.

House of Yes is a live double album featuring music from Yes’ earlier career and their album The Ladder. It also features Billy Sherwood on guitar and Igor Khoroshev on keyboards, Sherwood left shortly before the album’s release and Khoroshev had already been booted out of the band by that time due to a sexual harassment controversy.

I can’t say that I don’t like this compilation. There are some good performances on the album the enjoyment of which can be enhanced by the viewing of the DVD of the gig.

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Harbour of Tears – Camel [#568]

Andy Latimer and Pete Bardens conceptualise the departure of generations from Ireland to seek prosterity in the New World.

If you can imagine Justin Hayward had joined Clannad. Yeah? Well that’s the sound you get.

Harbour of Tears is an interesting album from Camel’s catalogue. You can hear the aural fetuses of themes developed further in later albums such as Stationary Traveller and Rajaz. Also, unlike with earlier Camel albums, gone are the Tolkienesque overtones and there is actually some really good guitar work from Latimer.

It’s a real shame about Camel. They could have been much bigger than they were but with the looming brooding shadow of punk and new romance and their bastard child corporate saccharine pop, progressive rock bands like Camel were never going to break out of daddies record collection before the core band members died off. A condition made worse by the record company’s DMCA writs fired out at fans trying to entice newer uninitiated fans into the temple of prog on social media platforms.

It’s almost as if they don’t want any publicity…

So no fan video for you, freeloaders. Instead have a cover version…..

 

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Force of Gravity – Sylvan [#486]

Sylvan - Force of GravitySince we last met Sylvan with their release Artificial Paradise, I’ve actually grown to like them more. I’ll even go as far to say Artificial Paradise is quite a clever little concept album and deserves more ear time. Force of Gravity is another one of those albums that have not had anywhere near the amount of ear time as I would have liked. Getting old sucks kids, don’t do it.

Anyway, Force of Gravity, Sylvan’s seventh studio album, shows a great deal of maturity considering it was released seven years after Artificial Paradise (the band’s second album). Yet still we get the rich gravy of their sound pouring over our aural Sunday dinner complete with their lyrical roast potatoes and conceptualised roast meat (or nuts if you’re aurally vegan).  It’s as if the band have actually bettered themselves rather than tear themselves apart in an effort to maintain the successes of their earlier output.

The album has, as in the opening statement, had little ear time despite languishing in the collection since 2009, something I regret, but even on fifth listen I’m impressed with the sound the band have produced.

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Fairyport – Wigwam [#455]

Wigwam_-_FairyportDiscovered while exploring the far corners of progressive rock during the noughties, Wigwam’s 1971 opus Fairyport is a curious album. While not in the same attention winning arena as Bodkin, it does show the roots of the likes of Glass Hammer and perhaps the influence of early Genesis.As an eternal pregnant keen to explore the darkest reaches of Progressive Rock, Fairy Port provides a nice restful stop on the way to King Crimson.

The band themselves hail from the land of Prog, Finland and while in some respect, stylistically similar to their contemporary country fellows in dear old Triumvirat, there are sufficient differences in both to distance their music from each other comfortably. Wigwam managed an impressive ten albums during their career, with the most recent surfacing in 2005 and only had a few minor changes in their line up.

Great if you like a lot of twiddle in your prog sandwich and just as wonderful if you don’t.

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Days of Future Passed – Moody Blues [#344]

440px-TheMoodyBlues-album-daysoffuturepassedWhen I listened to this album in its entirety for the purpose of the Music Project, I couldn’t help  but imagine some sort of Raymond Briggs style animation to accompany it. Something like The Snowman or maybe When the Wind Blows. 

Justin and his chums released this, their second album back in 1967. It is a concept album about the passage of a day culminating in the famous Nights in White Satin. 

Because of this album, some say that the Moody Blues sparked off the whole Progressive Rock movement, a questionable statement that many still argue about. Still, it’s a good starting point for anyone wanting to embark on a historical prog filled journey.

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Camera Camera – Renaissance (#241)

Camera Camera - RenaissanceCamera Camera – Renaissance

Prog is a funny old thing. Lots of twiddly widdly. Lots of showing off. Long songs. Nice things like that. Punk came along and ruined it; turned music listeners into consumers of sweet saccarine junk with about as much artistic merit as a lump of tar.

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Album #95 – Asia – Asia

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 14.15.38Asia by Asia

It was, so John Wetton (ex-King Crimson), Steve Howe (Yes), Geoff Downes (also Yes and Buggles) and Carl Palmer (ex-Emerson, Lake, Palmer) sing, the heat of the moment.

Indeed it was, the heat of the moment when I got this album thinking “Hey! It must be ok if two fifths of Yes play in it“. It was a moment that quickly entered an ice age where all life ceased to exist. Because, this album, is actually an accurate description of the word bollocks.

And so, I leave this album review with a warning. Buying side project work can be harmful to your musical credibility.

 

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Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe – Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe [#71]

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 19.10.20Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (ABWH)

ABWH by ABWH is an album that slots in between Big Generator and Union in the pantheon of Yes albums. Oh, yes, you probably won’t be aware of what happened.

As frequently happens with Yes, there are often little tiffs between members, some members want to do something one style, while the others throw their toys out the pram and say they want to do it a different way.

Case in point. Listen to any Yes album pre-90125. The style is different. You can hear how the style has evolved sure, but it’s definitely a different paradigm shift is styles. The younger, cooler, less hippy members of the band went “We want to do an album like this” while the pye eyed hippy lot went “No but we want to do one as well”

Unfortunately you can’t have two bands with the same name formed of members, old and new. No. It just won’t do (Are you reading this Renaissance, Deep Purple etc?)

So what you do in a situation like that? When your older band mates come along and say “Hey, lets make an album?” Well you make an album. Of course the existing member of Yes at the time (White, Squire, Kaye and Rabin) went “Oi! No! Not as Yes you don’t” and so began a long battle for the rights to use the band name Yes.

In the meanwhile, ABWH produced an album and this is that album. Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick “Grumpy” Wakeman and Bill “I’ve met Stegzy Gnomepants” Bruford. It’s full of Anderson mystique, Howe and Wakeman twiddly and Bruford boshbishbashing. It’s a show off album. It says “Listen to us! We’re old but we can still do stuff”. Yeah.

It’s ok.

It’s not great.

It’s ok.

Its definitely of the time, late eighties, early nineties. You can tell from the tribal and African influences. To me it’s too twee for the time. It’s certainly an album of talent, but it’s like 10 years too late. The style is very Peter Gabriel and you can tell Squire isn’t about because the bass just isn’t as fiddly.

Spin forward a few years, the band reconciled their differences and recorded Union. Another pile of tosh. More of that later.

 

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A Song for All Seasons–Renaissance [#43]

imageA Song for All Seasons–Renaissance

 

I first came across Renaissance in 2002 when I used to subscribe to Last.fm’s radio service.

 

In case you didn’t know, Last.fm supposedly checks what you listen to and then finds artists you might like and plays samples of their music mixed in with yours.

 

The song that kept being played was Northern Lights. It was one of those songs that made me think “Here! I’ve heard this before!”. It was more than probable that I had.

 

Keen to find out more, I spent a week downloading their catalogue and rapidly falling in love with their music. Bewildered by the fact that I hadn’t actually heard of them before that day.

 

They’re a mix of folk and prog. Prog folk? Maybe. Kind of like Fairport Convention meets Yes.

 

No..that’s not it.

 

It’s similar. But not.

 

Anyway, make your own mind up and, as usual, I would be interested to hear what you think about them too.

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Music Project Album #13 – 25 Years On – Hawklords

25 Years On – Hawklords

Hawklords are the little known reformation sub-band of the widely known Hawkwind.

You might know Hawkwind from such mind altering albums as Quark Strangeness and Charm or Pxr5 or the single Silver Machine or perhaps you know Hawkwind as that prog-band with the tits(Hawkwind employed a topless dancer for live concerts who would just squirm and gyrate, topless, to their sets) or the band that Lemmy used to play for before Motorhead. Of course, you might not know Hawkwind at all.

Hawkwind are true prog. Concept albums abound, frequently changing line ups and weird lyrics that morph into socio-political Sci-Fi motivated anthems such as Highrise. For the album 25 Years On, the lineup consists of Hawkwind stalwarts Bob Calvert, Dave Bork and Simon King (no not that Simon King, the other one) with a couple of lesser known musicians. If you are familiar with Hawkwind you will detect the immitable Hawkwind sound permeating throughout the set. In fact that is basically what it is. A Hawkwind  album performed by three regulars and a couple of session musicians.

Songs of note from the album include Psi Power and Flying Doctor. Both testaments to Calvert and Brock’s lyrical genius.

http://www.allmusic.com/album/25-years-on-mw0000808795

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