The Progressive Aspect

This news story was originally published here:

Make Me Young, etc. is released on Rockosmos on Friday 26th October 2018 – which coincides with the end of the world.
Don’t make no plans.”

So says the PR blurb. Whoa! Given that I had tickets for a King Crimson phenomenon shortly after this date, the news left me somewhat panicky, however a quick glance at the calendar and I was relieved to note that the date had passed and my impending demise, along with that of everyone and everything else, appears to have been postponed, probably only until March next year when things are scheduled to get really bleak, but hey ho, it’s all kinda positive for the time being.

As we do now have some time to muse upon the contents of said new missive from Planet Thumpermonkey, what’s it like then?

Well, rather good as it turns out, the non-ending world scenario leaving us more time in which to enjoy it.

Make Me Young, etc. has been bubbling away in the TM lab for some time now, last full album Sleep Furiously having appeared to shout loudly into the ears of unsuspecting listeners, like a deranged tramp with a PhD, back in 2012, and it took a loooong five years for the Electricity EP to emerge, an edgy affair that certainly whet the appetite for this new release.

I have had the great pleasure of seeing Thumpermonkey live several times, not least a blistering set at this year’s magnificent Eppyfest that dropped more than a few jaws, and Make Me Young, etc. has become one of my most anticipated releases of late.

And it’s here. Initially I found it quite subdued, thoughtful where previous releases were angsty and wilfully obtuse, but it has grown hugely in stature as I have familiarised myself, the band delivering a highly sophisticated and mature album of startling elegance, whereas previously the big button in the studio marked ‘Weird’ would have been enthusiastically pressed.

In simple terms, it’s a beautiful record, built on Michael Woodman’s effortless melodic shifts into and out of his wonderful falsetto, and the controlled power and restraint of the band. The rhythmic shifts are often unexpected but not unsettling and there is an unusual warmth, given the often austere experimental ‘otherness’ of their past work, with cinematic grandeur coming from Rael Jones’ piano. But it’s not all serene, as massive bursts of energy are injected when required.

The album poses the question, if you knew tomorrow was the end of the world, would you be able to let go of all your regrets, and live differently for just one day? The lyrics are inscrutable but fit beautifully with the music in a tour de force performance from Woodman.

From the outset Make Me Young, etc. is eclectic and eccentric, the delicate electric piano and voice opening to Veldt adding twinkling percussion before a massive size 9 is applied heavily to the rear end, booting you into a stratosphere of controlled power. It’s stately yet malevolent, Woodman’s voice rising in intensity to compete with the instruments on equal terms. In stark contrast, the last third is a plaintive hymn.

There’s a funkier edge to Cranefly, courtesy of Sam Warren’s bass, as cyclical motifs interlock in a scene more familiar to long term Thumpermonkey listeners, but startlingly bright and fresh. It’s crammed with restrained energy, Woodman imperious and leading from the front. Rael’s keys cut through the overlaid vocal parts as the piece moves through a number of distinct feels in a fascinating journey of discovery, discord making its presence felt but without the urge to take over.

Piano is a big component here, shining through on Figstorm, supporting Woodman alone through the first half, a melancholic late night yearning at its heart. The second half is much darker but equally beautiful, brooding chords sounding a warning, piano striving to make progress through the storm, mournful guitar bringing in calm at the finish. Instrumental vignette Buttersun continues the theme of piano and guitar in a different vein, brighter and warmer, whilst retaining the brooding periphery, and here we are at the artwork inspiring Deckchair for Your Ghost, impending annihilation on a sunny day as grand entertainment for an individual cursed with the knowledge of the impending extinction event. Angular guitars solo as piano keeps everything grounded amid pounding bass and drums. It’s heady stuff, Rael’s piano the key to making it such a resounding success.

The centrepiece title track is grand scale majestic widescreen and a treat to the ears; Woodman angelic, Jones at his classical best, Warren’s bass moving in the spaces around Ben Wren’s massive drums. A lyrical piano and choir section hides quirky rhythms and off kilter guitar, ready to entrap the unwary. It is all just so seamlessly realised, an exhilarating listen that rewards your attention as the pace picks up to a quite stunning crescendo. At over 11 minutes it gives the band space to move; the pacing is fantastic and the resolutions sublime. Intelligent rock music for the discerning listener, and not difficult for the sake of it. Again, the piano is the key to the shape-shifting movement, holding it all together through the ebb and flow. Lolloping rhythms drive us forward to a second climax, more intense than the first – you can feel the wind in your hair through the headlong rush.

Finally, Tempe Terra, the gorgeous comedown after the high energy ripples of the previous two pieces. Thoughtful and delivered with precision, it’s a fantastically cleansing way to finish, undulating bubbles of positivity with powerful bursts of glowering gloom, ending with an undeniable full stop.

This is a magnificent release, a grower which takes their previous work as a foundation, expanding it in all directions with mesmerising results. Thumpermonkey continue to prove themselves to be one of the most fascinating bands in the country.

01. Veldt (5:23)
02. Cranefly (4:35)
03. Figstorm (5:08)
04. Buttersun (1:17)
05. Deckchair For Your Ghost (5:41)
06. Make Me Young, etc. (10:46)
07. Tempe Terra (5:19)

Total Time – 38:09

Michael Woodman – Vocals, Guitar
Rael Jones – Keyboards, Guitar
Sam Warren – Bass
Ben Wren – Drums

Record Label: Rockosmos
Catalogue#: ROK56
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 26th October 2018

Thumpermonkey – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

Leah McHenry is a Gothic Celtic singer from British Columbia, Canada. I have reviewed her albums in the past so when I found out she had a new album coming out, The Quest, I knew I had to hear it.

Leah’s music is perfect for this time of year, when the clouds surround the Sound, the leaves begin to change color, and the nights become darker and chillier. It’s time to bring out The Lord of the Rings Blu-rays and celebrate fall, and The Quest draws perfectly on themes from the The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and the Chronicles of Narnia lore. 

For The Quest Leah has brought together an international cast of top–notch musicians, including master of the Celtic pipes Troy Donockley. On the title song Leah’s voice sounds so similar to fellow Canadian Loreena McKennitt that you might not be able to tell the difference. The soft, calm way she opens the song is like dew on a fog covered morning on the moors, slowly lighting with the sun’s rays. Orchestration takes over with the sounds of pipes, flutes and stringed instruments, like The Lord of the Rings reaching out for the fall and roaring to life again. But Leah is not Loreena McKennitt, and the heavy metal bass, lead guitar and drums make their presence known. Beautiful piano remains as the song reaches triumphantly towards a climax with Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon-like thunder and power mixed well with McKennitt beauty. It’s the best song on the album to open.

Edge of Your Sword is one of the first singles released from the album, opening with birdsong, Leah humming beautifully to the accompaniment of guitar. The soft beginning is soon overwhelmed with heavy drums, bass and keys, before the guitars and strings return. Leah’s beautiful a capella vocal harmonies towards the end of the song are some of the best on the album.

Lion Arises opens with far off lead guitar, deep bass and drums. The guitar drift is one of the coolest fade ins on the album, arriving as if from across the ocean. Leah’s voice is delicate and wonderful throughout this song as golden keys surround her words. The keyboards just past midway are excellent, then metal guitars take over with thunder drums and bass.

Heir is another powerful heavy metal fortress of sound, guitars, drums and bass filling the air. Legends and lore fill the air as Leah sings with magical keyboards and Celtic woodwinds. Ruins of Illusion is another wonderful McKennitt inspired song with Celtic woodwinds, soft drums and violins with lyrics reflecting the Irish countryside, all amid orchestration that surrounds you with the feeling of being there. A song full of wonder. Labyrinth opens with strong drums and soft keys, along with more Celtic woodwinds and Leah’s voice sounding like Clannad. Powerful drums and lead guitar make for a memorable track.

Abyss opens with cool, unique keyboards, lead guitar, bass and drums. Woodwinds and keyboards join in to build a soundscape of majestic tranquillity. Epic guitar work also fills this song. When the Celtic sounds and heavy metal compete you get one of the most memorable moments of the album. Oblivion (Between Two Worlds) starts with beautiful piano, woodwinds and soft orchestration, Leah singing, “I stand between two worlds. There is no middle ground for me”. Just perfect, another of the best songs on the album.

Ghost Upon A Throne is full of monster guitar, bass and drums, Leah’s soft voice the only interlude from the thunder and orchestration surrounding. The Water is Wide has Leah singing with woodwinds surrounding, her voice echoing like she’s in a valley in Scotland, on this Scottish folk song classic.

With album artwork by Jan Yrlund, go out now, during fall in the Northern Hemisphere, and enjoy this album full of fall images and sounds. The assembled legendary artists that felt compelled to participate on this album, lending their musicianship to its beauty and power, is worth the price of admission alone. One of my favourite albums of the year, and the best of the fall so far.

01. The Quest (10:19)
02. Edge of Your Sword (5:02)
03. Lion Arises (4:41)
04. Heir (4:09)
05. Ruins of Illusion (4:19)
06. Labyrinth (5:16)
07. Abyss (5:34)
08. Oblivion (Between Two Worlds) (5:06)
09. Ghost Upon A Throne (4:31)
10. The Water is Wide (3:19)

Total Time – 52:16

LEAH – Vocals, Keyboards, Orchestration
Troy Donockley – Pipes & Flutes
Barend Courbois – Bass Guitar
Timo Somers – Rhythm & Lead Guitars
Sander Zoer – Drums & Percussion
Chen Balbus – Middle Eastern Saz & Oud

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Canada
Date of Release: 5th October 2018

Leah – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

This, from the official press release: “… a dramatic shift into more accessible territory: pop, electronica, rock & even folk elements …”

I’ve been honoured and able to call Sam Healy my friend for a couple of years. This wasn’t the intention when I calmly suggested his first solo project, Sand, was the best album I’ve heard in the 21st Century. When I finally met this talented man at a low-key North Atlantic Oscillation gig in Birmingham 3½ years ago, I soon learned that we had very similar senses of humour; he had an inventive, playful mind that wasn’t scared to juxtapose an obvious position. Or… he was quite mad.

I mention this, not because I want to be seen as a namedropper, or to shoehorn in the fact I still rate the first Sand album very highly, I mention it because Healy is a bit of a joker and I’m really not sure why the press release is worded that way… You see, I am a North Atlantic Oscillation champion and I believe they should have a far bigger audience than they have. The thing is, NAO to me are pop, rock, folk electronica – that’s pretty much how I ‘sell’ them to people (and probably 50% of the reason those people never follow my advice). So reading a press release that suggests the band are moving into that direction sat uncomfortably with me, because, on initial listens, Grind Show is quite possibly the least accessible of their albums, so far.

North Atlantic Oscillation is now Healy alone. That also bothered me. I was a firm believer that former bassist Chris Howard grounded him and made him aware of real music. Sam once told me that Chris was the guy who introduced him to a lot of his later musical influences; introduced him to the classic rock and prog that I grew up with and hear in NAO’s work. I also believed Ben Martin’s drumming was one of the reasons they had such a unique sound; often described as sounding a bit like The Flaming Lips, I’d call that comparison bullshit, apart from the way Ben smashed his drum kit like there was no tomorrow. Armed with the knowledge that both had left the band to pursue other dreams also filled me with an uncertain dread.

Let’s get this out there: I thought the band would feel a little incomplete without the missing members – yet their influences are there to be heard, even if they were not there in recording. I listen to it and I’d argue with Sam until the coos come hame that Grind Show is actually a departure from more ‘accessible territory’; to me it’s more like a post-modern post-rock album. I still see those similar and familiar influences, but performed now in a more ‘personal’ way. It still has that ‘epic’ feel the last two albums particularly had, yet in many ways it feels as stripped back as Grappling Hooks, but now with the influence of age and experience. This really isn’t a bad thing because the brilliance of individual musicians (or musician) tends to be easier to detect.

My initial impression was it’s more like a follow-up to Sand’s second album A Sleeper, Just Awake, probably down to the more electronic feel and the use of effects to conjure up uncertain atmospherics. However, Healy employs a lot of different vocal styles, testing his range, experimenting with new sounds. He really hits his stride with Sequoia, the ninth track, it’s the first track that truly allows Healy to stretch those brilliant vocals… he has a wonderful voice – like a mix of Cat Stevens, Peter Gabriel, Mark Hollis, Art Garfunkel, Scott Walker and Jimmy Krankie – and this is the first time in the album that he really gets to belt one out. That’s not to say he doesn’t stretch his pipes sooner, it’s just the track that shows you how powerful his voice can be.

You know the expression, ‘It’s a grower’? Well, Grind Show is exactly that. It isn’t accessible; I believe it’s the least immediate album by the ‘band’ so far, but what it lacks in some areas it makes up in others by being wildly inventive, unexpected and quite beautiful. Parts of tracks that I found jarring on initial listens now make so much more sense; there’s a distinct Miles Davis jazziness to the album that makes the sometimes in-yer-face electronic bits fit in with the customary cushioned wall of sound you normally associate the band with.

When you produce music as complex and intense as this, Talk Talk can never be too far from creative comparisons. NAO might currently be just Sam, but he has had a lot of production help from Pete Meighan, the Dublin-based producer who has worked with the band before and was instrumental (literally) on Healy’s solo efforts. Their relationship, to me, resembles the one between Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis and his producer friend Tim Freise-Greene – and look what music those two geniuses went on to create?

In conclusion; I’m in an unenviable position: what if I thought the album really was shit? I have a preview because I’m a fan [who writes great reviews] and a friend; does that put pressure on me to be kind? Would I be? Well, I did really think ‘WTF?’ the first time I heard it, but as stated above, more because it wasn’t what I expected and because I disagreed with the ‘accessible’ claim. Besides, what does a fan truly expect anyhow? I often wonder if aficionados and die-hard fans just want their favourite bands to do their favourite tracks – constantly repackaged or reworked so they don’t have to think about new songs, directions or ideas. I was the same; I approached this album with more dread than anticipation because… What if I didn’t like it?

If anything, in my mind NAO have become more uncategorisable than they were last week. If this album came out under the Radiohead banner there would be priapic rock DJs poking each others’ eyes out trying to be the most enthused about it; but it’s by a little known bloke in Edinburgh (originally from Ireland) who already has a back catalogue with more brilliance and invention than most rock stars can muster in their entire careers; so it’s probably never going to get the recognition it deserves (at least, not yet).

Grind Show is sublime. If The Third Day was velvet, this is felt – smooth but with a rougher edge. It’s full of atmospherics, feeling, diversity and invention. In many ways it’s haunting while being uplifting; happy while reflecting on sadness. And, I will concede it feels more like a rock album, but I don’t quite know why. I hope it’s going to attract many new fans, but if it doesn’t I feel sorry for all those people who don’t get what I do.

The test of a great album is how long it stays on your record player; The Third Day was played just last week (not even in anticipation of this new project); I don’t know if Grind Show will be played in 2022 as much as The Third Day has been since 2014, but at the moment I really hope so.

[You can pre-order Grind Show now on CD/MP3/WAV HERE and receive Low Earth Orbit as an immediate download.

Also, you can read Phil Hall’s interview with Sam Healy HERE.]

01. Low Earth Orbit (5:22)
02. Weedkiller (5:44)
03. Fruitful Little Moons (4:05)
04. Needles (4:43)
05. Spinning Top (4:00)
06. Sirens (6:36)
07. Hymn (5:47)
08. Downriver (6:56)
09. Sequoia (3:35)
10. Fernweh (7:15)
11. kcenrebbur (1:19)

Total Time – 55:22

Ben Martin – Drums, Synths, Programming
Sam Healy – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Programming

Record Label: Vineland Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 16th November 2018

North Atlantic Oscillation – Website | Facebook | Twitter

This news story was originally published here:

With the new North Atlantic Oscillation album, Grind Show, about to hit the shops on 16th November, Phil Hall was asked by TPA to stalk the band and discover their innermost secrets. Unfortunately, there’s only one of them left – Sam Healy – and he was well-protected…

Sam Healy - photo by John NeedWhen did NAO become just you?

It was a gradual thing. No dramatic breakup, no furniture tossed out of a fourth floor window. I had decided a few years ago to scale back live performing, and my writing and recording process has always been relatively solitary.

I might be a bit close to all of this – being a fan of both – but how do you differentiate NAO from Sand stuff?

Good question. The distinction might feel arbitrary from the outside, but I always know whether I’m working as one or the other. I tend to focus on one album at a time, so there’s no internal slippage of identity.

Now that you’re on your own, what about Sand?

I’m quietly confident that there’ll be more.

You’ve said [to me elsewhere] there was no intention to do any touring; is it something you’re not keen on or is it purely too much of a chore for little return? And would you ever consider doing a stripped down Sam Healy solo/unplugged kind of thing?

I’ve never ruled it out, but translating such annoyingly complicated material from record to stage, without sacrificing detail, requires a lot of work. I’m not an avid fan of unplugged or acoustic interpretations but (co-producer and engineer) Pete and I have discussed a few oblique strategies for hacking together some kind of live facsimile.

How many songs on Grind Show came perfectly formed in your head, or are NAO songs constructed rather than already formed?

Zero. At most. A few (Sirens, Needles, Low Earth Orbit) were reasonably quick to yield their fruits, others were like pulling teeth out of a larger tooth.

This brings me to one of those long and rambly sensible questions I occasionally have: Many years ago, for my sins, I met Genesis (when they were a 3 piece) and I asked them about one of my favourite tracks on their then current And Then There Were Three album [1978 – I was 16] and each of them basically said, “I haven’t heard the track since we recorded it” or a version of such. This disappointed me at the time because I thought ‘they’re treating this like a job not as something to be celebrated’. How often do you listen to old NAO and Sand stuff? If it isn’t as much as a reader would expect, is it because you’re too close to it and at what point do you go, ‘I think I’ll play Grappling Hooks’…?

Very seldom, though not never. By the final stages of making ‘thing X’, I’m itching to start ‘thing X+1’, to the point where it takes much self-corralling to finish ‘thing X’. I’ve never ever listened to an old album of mine from start to finish. I’ll sometimes accidentally hear an individual song, think either “hmmm, that’s actually not as bad as I remember” or “wow, that’s considerably worse than I remember”, and then get back to work.

What was inspiration for calling the album Grind Show?

It’s in the lyrics of the final track, Fernweh.

Yes, I’m aware of that even if people reading this aren’t, and I’m aware that previous titles have appeared in lyrics – is this as simple as it is? You call an album whatever you really like from the written lyrics?

The title always comes dead last. But it tends to come easily.

I expected to hear some kind of farmyard animal making an appearance, but instead there’s a blast of something distinctly 1920s flapper in there. This isn’t really a question, just a heads up that I hear your madness…

The turkeys unionised and got too expensive, so I hired a chorus line instead.

Sam Healy - photo by John NeedWhat was the thought process behind the bonus track?

Wait… There’s a bonus track? It’s a fragment from an abandoned song that couldn’t stand up on its own, but sounded about right as a mangled remnant.

On the track listing of the version you sent me it’s down as track 99, which suggested to me it was going to be hidden away at the end of the CD. I thought kcenrebbuR was simply just an unfinished piece played backwards, but it’s not as simple as that (having now played it backwards), neither is the beginning of Sirens, which explains why you would find it so difficult to tour this album without a small studio of cassette players.

Yes, the two elements are connected. There are always solutions to playing complicated studio material live. If we need to, we’ll hire a troupe of bonobo chimpanzees to play the cassette players at the crucial moment, in exchange for fermented durian juice.

I noticed a real attempt at different vocal styles, especially on Downriver, which seems to use variation through your vocals rather than through instruments; are you trying to do something different with your voice?

I suppose so. I get very frustrated with the limitations of my voice, and typically go through a process of trying various options, realising they sound even worse, and reverting to type. Maybe this time I left some of the botched experiments on show…

As someone who has forged a career in music since the digital revolution, would you say you write a lot of your music for the iPhone generation? I noticed an almost lack of bass on this album – I know it’s there, but (my wife) likens your music to being written for people who don’t know what a proper record player is – that isn’t a criticism as such; she, like me, is of a generation that grew up with organic music, whereas much of modern music relies too heavily on studio trickery, for things such as drums, horns or orchestral bits. I also see this as possibly the reasoning behind not taking it on tour, because even with the best musicians you won’t be able to replicate much of it without tapes and loops, etc.

By bass do you mean bass guitar? There’s plenty of low-end on the album, but yes, it’s largely synthesised. I listen to most music on headphones, and I do write from that perspective: music as a solitary, intense, meditative experience, not a communal one. Our live shows have always been as much machine as man – technology is capable of making art cold and impersonal, but only when overdone. There’s a Goldilocks zone between the analogue and the digital where magical things happen. Think Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, OK Computer, Wendy Carlos, Duncan Jones’ first film Moon, Terrence Malick’s umpteenth film The Tree of Life. None of which would be possible without the tech so blithely decried. In any case, how something makes you feel is blind to how it was made.

Are there any major influences at play with Grind Show? I’m presuming it isn’t a ‘concept’ album, although I did pick up some oblique political references in the lyrics?

They’re there, but they’re oblique. They must have slipped in when I wasn’t looking. It’s not surprising I suppose. The era of being able to legitimately ‘opt out’ of politics is long behind us. The world is so polarised now that to have no stance is to have a craven, lazy and callous stance.

Sam Healy - photo by John NeedWhat are the things that bother you about the music industry? I appreciate you are very much a lone person in a massive landscape of artists and styles, but you strike me, from our conversations, as someone who is in touch with an era you probably weren’t born in, as believing in the art of the album, in bands/artists having distinguishable catalogues?

A few years back I was angry about the usual things unsuccessful musicians get angry about. Spotify, piracy, autotune, godawful pop, the debasing of ingenuity in musical democratisation’s skanky wake. Now I struggle to feel much about the music industry at all. Some of the doomsaying turned out to be hysteria: the loudness wars appear to be over, a passionate fifth column still – mirabile dictu – pay for music, and there are teenagers in existence right now who love Nirvana, or Cardiacs, or Kate Bush, or John Coltrane. It’s a pretty rare event for me these days to find a Good New Album, but it does happen: Moses Sumney and Mitski Miyawaki, from the west and east coast of America respectively, have released excellent music in the past two years.

What are your folks and siblings into musically? I ask this because, if you’ve read the review I contested the Press Release’s suggestions of rock, pop, folk and electronic because I’ve always seen NAO as being exactly that. Always that rather than prog; for me NAO have always been progressive never prog…

I’ve never seen NAO as prog either. I knew next to nothing about the genre at all until our bass player Chris introduced me to early Yes and Genesis. We’re associated with it because Kscope is associated with it, but that’s as far as it goes. The closest brush I had as a nipper was my parents’ vinyl copy of Meddle by Pink Floyd. I remember being entranced by the groove and menace of One of These Days, and Echoes is a hell of a suite too. But I didn’t even know the word ‘prog’ back then. I knew ‘frog’, which is quite close.

What next? Apart from making cheesy memes and asking weirdly existential questions?

Combining the two into a new art form known as the pondergram.

The Blade thing you did at Leith Theatre – why? What was the reasoning behind it and was it just for there? Tell us more!?

It was a venue-specific one-off show commissioned by the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I was in charge of the digital side (projections, devices, games, live visuals). Here’s an overview of the components (click HERE).

Just out of interest, I heard your name associated with something called ‘Zeppo’ the other day?

It’s a band I was in back in the seventeenth century, in Dublin. We knocked out bangin’ madrigals on the latest Lautenwercks.

I’ve actually not asked what you do for a living when you’re not recording. I don’t know, do you?


Sam Healy - photo by John NeedYou love dogs, don’t you?

Without condition or end.

If there was a last question what would you like it to be?

“What would you do in a hypothetical situation?”

Okay then, what is the weirdest question you’ve ever been asked (in an interview, obvs)? And what would you do?

I have a vague memory of an interview with some trendy culture magazine, back in 2010 when people thought we were a real band. You know, with haircuts and opinions and so forth. It was a question about brands of shoes. I had no answer. It was awkward.

What would I do in a hypothetical situation? Draw a map that requires more than four colours to ensure that no two adjacent territories are the same colour.

And with that Sam disappeared into the fog settling over Edinburgh (or it might have been a bonfire) and left me with loads of words and an urge to go and listen to Moses Sumney…

[All photos by John Need and used with kind permission. You can read Phil Hall‘s review of Grind Show HERE.]

North Atlantic Oscillation – Website | Facebook | Twitter

This news story was originally published here:

Pontardawe Arts Centre
Friday, 26th October 2018

At ‘Progressive Aspect Palace’ we like Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) – we like them a lot! This is our third PSB gig review within 12 months so perhaps we won’t go into our usual detail and just give some impressions on yet another impressive live performance for this unique band.

Their most recent album, Every Valley, was based on the history of the South Wales coal industry and those who worked so hard in the pits. They recorded in South Wales and used the Wales Miners Library in Swansea to help their research. The success of Every Valley has seen PSB reaching the point that they are able to hold a show at The Royal Albert Hall, and as a warm up to that prestigious gig, PSB chose to thank the communities of Wales, as they had been so helpful and welcoming during their research, with a series of small-scale gigs in towns across the principality, mainly in the mining areas of South Wales. It seems entirely appropriate that Every Valley has returned to its roots with a packed and sold out gig at the lovely venue of the Pontardawe Arts Centre where there is a special atmosphere.

PSB - photo by Leo Trimming

Every Valley is well represented in the show, commencing with the lyrical Welsh tones of Donald Houston (from the 1957 documentary of the same name), and Richard Burton’s rich voice speaking of the ‘arrogant strut of the Lords of the Coal face’. This quickly segues into a muscular performance of The Pit, with Wrigglesworth pounding out a powerful rhythm. Alongside him J.Wilgoose Esq handles guitars, banjo and synths with aplomb. Multi-instrumentalist JF Abraham on bass, keyboards, guitars and occasional horn skilfully completes the main trio for the evening. This very tight threesome produce an impressive array of sounds, with occasional appearances from an energetic horn section.

PSB - photo by Leo Trimming

Go to the Road, Progress, They Gave Me A Lamp and Mother of the Village from Every Valley provide an interesting and often powerful narrative in the middle of the show, touching on different aspects of the coal mining story, including the role of women in those communities. PSB’s use of sound clips and film footage has been described as ‘gimmicky’ in some quarters, but they are absolutely inseparable and fascinating, especially in a live context. Their show artfully marries sounds and images in captivating testimonies to the real people remembered in those visual and audio archives.

Whilst PSB clearly respect the material and human stories upon which they draw their inspirations they also crucially remember that they also need to entertain with their music, exemplified in fun numbers such as Theme from PSB and the popular and thrilling Spitfire, complete with the distinctive opening sounds of those stirring Merlin engines. New song White Star Liner, based on the story of the Titanic and written for the BBC ‘Biggest Weekend’ event in Belfast earlier this year, yet again shows PSB’s acumen at dealing with history in an entertaining and yet respectful manner – letting the real words tell the story against a subtle musical backdrop.

PSB - photo by Leo Trimming

The Race for Space album is amply represented with five songs (if EP song Korolev is considered to be from the same sessions) and really shows the range of the band’s music and the varying perspectives they take on a fascinating subject. The Other Side filled the room with expectancy and tension as Apollo 8 astronauts historically went round the ‘back side of the moon’ in 1968, followed by the celebratory clamour of Go! based on the moon landing in 1969, with the whole crowd repeatedly crying out ‘Go!’ The cosmic space funk of Gagarin, so memorably added to by the energetic horn trio and dancing astronauts, is a real fun way to encore the show. Rittipo, Street and Philpott seem equally adept at adding brio with their horn instruments, but are also able to add some pathos and feeling at other times.

Orgreave ManThe final Every Valley song of the evening is aptly titled All Out which chimes out with real power and anger, remembering the bitterness and conflict associated with the miners strike of 1984 to 1985. One concert goer, Ryan, had come all the way from Stoke proudly wearing his ‘Orgreave’ t-shirt especially to hear that powerful song and it clearly meant a lot to him, as it did to many others in the crowd in an area which was badly affected by that rather dreadful episode in modern British history.

Compared to their main tour shows this was a more modest affair, clearly somewhat restricted in terms of staging, effects and additional musicians by the smaller stage – however, it was still a special gig for Public Service Broadcasting, demonstrating and confirming their special relationship with Wales. J.Willgoose Esq indicates that whilst they are from South London they feel a real connection with South Wales, as evidenced by these specially arranged shows. PSB are developing into a truly special band, whom continue to mine rich seams of history. Their music and images imaginatively and sensitively tell the stories of real people at the centre of those events… and such a connection should indeed be valued and celebrated as it clearly was in Pontardawe on a memorable night.

  • PSB 8 - photo by Leo Trimming
  • PSB 7 - photo by Leo Trimming
  • PSB 6 - photo by Leo Trimming
  • PSB 6 - photo by Andy Langran
  • PSB 5 - photo by Leo Trimming
  • PSB 5 - photo by Andy Langran
  • PSB 4 - photo by Leo Trimming
  • PSB 4 - photo by Andy Langran
  • PSB 3 - photo by Leo Trimming
  • PSB 3 - photo by Andy Langran
  • PSB 2 - photo by Leo Trimming
  • PSB 9 - photo by Leo Trimming
  • PSB 2 - photo by Andy Langran
  • PSB 1 - photo by Leo Trimming
  • PSB 1 - photo by Andy Langran
  • Psb 8 - Photo By Leo Trimming
  • Psb 7 - Photo By Leo Trimming
  • Psb 6 - Photo By Leo Trimming
  • Psb 6 - Photo By Andy Langran
  • Psb 5 - Photo By Leo Trimming
  • Psb 5 - Photo By Andy Langran
  • Psb 4 - Photo By Leo Trimming
  • Psb 4 - Photo By Andy Langran
  • Psb 3 - Photo By Leo Trimming
  • Psb 3 - Photo By Andy Langran
  • Psb 2 - Photo By Leo Trimming
  • Psb 9 - Photo By Leo Trimming
  • Psb 2 - Photo By Andy Langran
  • Psb 1 - Photo By Leo Trimming
  • Psb 1 - Photo By Andy Langran

[All photographs by Leo Trimming and Andy Langran, used with kind permission.]

01. Every Valley (intro) – The Pit
02. People Will Always Need Coal
03. Theme From PSB
04. Night Mail
05. Sputnik
06. Korolev
07. Go to the Road
08. Progress
09. They Gave Me a Lamp
10. Mother of the Village
11. White Star Liner
12. Spitfire
13. The Other Side
14. Go!
~ Encore:
15. All Out
16. Gagarin
17. Everest

J.Willgoose Esq. – Guitars, Synths, Banjo, Samples
Wrigglesworth – Drums & Percussion
JF Abraham – Bass Guitar, Guitar, Keyboards, Flugelhorn, Additional Percussion
~ With:
Johngy Rittipo Moore – Sax, Bass Clarinet
Toby Street – Trumpet
Barnaby Philpott – Trombone
Mr. B – Visuals

Public Service Broadcasting – Website | Facebook

This news story was originally published here:

Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) are in danger of becoming ‘National Treasures’ with their penchant for musically documenting stories from history that resonate with people, whether they are about war time, the Space Race or industrial history. Shortly before their prestigious gig at The Royal Albert Hall in London PSB released their latest EP, White Star Liner, about the ill-fated RMS Titanic, continuing in their well proven historical vein. PSB wrote these pieces for the BBC live music event ‘The Biggest Weekend’ earlier this year in Belfast, where the Titanic was built, and it is in their multi-media live shows that PSB fully reveal the skills in their approach.

Carrying on with the same approach so skilfully and sensitively utilised for The Race for Space and Every Valley, PSB address this story with an interesting range of perspectives on the Titanic story.

The tremulous sound of horns introduces The Unsinkable Ship over which we hear a Belfast man speaking of his Grandfather’s pride in showing him the enormous feat of engineering built by the Belfast shipbuilders. “It was a huge piece of steel. It seemed to reach the sky it was so high” are words accompanied with a suitably metallic fanfare with Wrigglesworth’s pounding drums, and accompanying horns. The city of Belfast was very proud (and still is in some ways to this day) of the achievement of their workers in building such a prestigious ship which literally towered over the city, and this song somehow conveys its scale and majesty. It was indeed an incredible creation, signifying British industrial and imperial might at the time, hence the enormous shock at its loss.

Title track White Star Liner tells the story of the launch of this Leviathan of a ship: “Then she set off for the open sea and New York… and as she sailed away her builders had no doubt this was the start of a great career…”

The music sails along in a celebratory fashion with jangling, chiming guitars and Vocoder effects, reflecting the sense of pre-war optimism and pride that characterised the feelings about this ship’s maiden voyage across the Atlantic. The story and music takes a very different and much darker turn as C.Q.D. floats menacingly along initially before powerfully becoming more turbulent, with Wrigglesworth’s insistent drums accompanying j.Willgoose’s synth sweeps and effects. ‘C.Q.D.’ means ‘All Stations: Distress’ and was used by White Star ships as a Morse code alternative distress signal to ‘S.O.S’ (which later became the standard signal). There is very little speech on this piece as Public Service Broadcasting show they can use music virtually alone to convey the tragic story of the ship’s sinking, and concludes with a trumpet mournfully intoning over a bleak wind swept backdrop.

This short but resonant release concludes with the suitably reflective and eerie piece, The Deep, signifying the discovery of the wreck at the bottom of the ocean in 1985. Apparently this is based on Archibald Joyce’s Songe d’Automne, which Titanic historian Walter Lord has identified as probably the final song played by the Titanic’s band before the ship sank beneath the waves. Survivor Eva Hart passionately speaks of the loss of 1,513 victims who “died unnecessarily” and quotes Dr. Ballard, the discoverer of the wreck, with his reflection on the quiet and peaceful place at the bottom of the ocean as a fitting place for these souls to rest.

This is only a short release by Public Service Broadcasting but yet again they have respectfully and sensitively conveyed a story of great resonance… what will they do next?

01. The Unsinkable Ship (3:18)
02. White Star Liner (4:15)
03. C.Q.D. (3:44)
04. The Deep (2:23)

Total Time – 13:40

j.Willgoose Esq. – Guitars, Synths, Bass, Banjo, Percussion & Sampling
Wrigglesworth – Drums
JF Abraham – Trumpet & Brass arranging (track 3)

Record Label: Test Card Recordings
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 26th October 2018

– The War Room (EP) (2012)
– Inform, Educate, Entertain (2013)
– The Race for Space (2015)
– PSB Live at Brixton (2016)
– The Race for Space Remixes (2016)
– Every Valley (2017)
– White Star Liner (EP) (2018)

Public Service Broadcasting – Website | Facebook

This news story was originally published here:

St. David’s Hall, Cardiff
Wednesday, 31st October 2018

“Welcome back my friends to the show that sporadically ends…”

There are loads of great bands out there, and then there is King Crimson; from their earliest incarnation a method of approaching music rather than a musical group in the traditional sense. We’re currently in a Golden Age of KC, tour after tour, meaning that having waited 15 years to see them again I’ve had the pleasure three times in as many years. I didn’t see that coming, and that inveterate tease, “Chuckles” Fripp, continues to bamboozle his admirers, not least by adding drummers to the line-up as if they were going out of fashion. Three might be considered by many to be excessive, but Bob has proved that it can be done, and supremely well at that.

‘Expect the unexpected’ has always been the watch phrase for all things Krim and this year we get a “double quartet” formation: drums cubed, guitars squared, vox, wind, bass/Stick, keys/Mellotron, spoons, kitchen sink and Tupperware. With Bill Rieflin back in the band to handle keys and Mellotron, the 16-armed Beast has to be one of the most impressive arrays of musical muscle ever gathered together and now have even more scope to reinterpret a repertoire that only the most fervent optimist could have expected to hear played by the band again.

Bring. It. On.

Second night proper of the U.K. tour and here we are as the well named Uncertain Times tour rolls into Cardiff on a damp but not too cold Halloween. If the band choose to emerge from enormous pumpkins it would be just oh so right.

In a world where nostalgia is where the big bucks can be found, King Crimson remain at the cutting edge, where they have been from the very start. An amazing 50 year achievement, Fripp’s decisions to fold the band and reanimate it only when the time, mood and music are right paying dividends over and over again. There is a sense of expectation in the air and the three minute warning has the faithful rushing to their seats like a hoard of excitable puppies.

Entering the hall it’s the three drum setups across the front of the stage that immediately grab your attention, a raised platform behind for the other five members with Fripp, as usual, far right. We get the traditional jovial welcome over the speakers from Robert, inviting us to join in the party, but only to photo and viddy with our eyes and brains until the last note has been played. This appears to be well observed throughout the show. The lights dim, but only a bit as this is an evening for band and audience to share the moment with no barrier of darkness; this is a band that does not need a light show or effects, the audience hanging on every note and movement. They take the stage in an array of suits, synonymous with the current image, led by Pat Mastelotto, Fripp bringing up the rear, each to his space, quietly acknowledging the appreciation.

They look relaxed. A few moments of settling, Fripp straps on his guitar and kisses it, some introductory recorded studio chat and we’re off, the front line of Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison throwing down a hefty gauntlet of synchronised drumming. The way that these three work together is evolving all the time and feels like it’s firing on all cylinders at the moment. With Gavin as the master technician and Pat the experienced improviser, Stacey and his bowler hat take a position, quite literally, between them, also adding some lovely piano when required. It’s fascinating from the start and they get a good workout to bed themselves in before a sparkling version of The ConstruKction of Light, the Belew era featuring significantly in the set this time. The sound is superb, every contribution audible with no need for excessive volume. Everyone seems comfortable and ready to go with a particularly wacky take on Neurotica, with spiky additions from Mel Collins and a first vocal from Jakko Jakszyk, taking us to a selection from the very first Krimson album. Half a century on, Moonchild is a delicate and haunting antidote to what has preceded it, The Court of the Crimson King making a majestic entrance to follow, a skilful take as is everything this band choose to do, before Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part IV) returns us to the sheet metal brilliance of the band’s later work.

And now for something completely different. Hands up who expected a 20-odd minute suite from Lizard?

Thought not.

It is riveting. Lizard has been an album that languishes in my collection, I haven’t played it in years, but I sure as hell did the day after this show. Cirkus is a piece that suits this incarnation very well, Mel getting a good opportunity to blow, but following this with an updated reinterpretation of the album’s second side is a revelation. It underlines the softer edge to much (but not all) of this first half in a beautiful and enigmatic work that allows the band to play very differently from much of the rest of the set. Gavin sets the initial bolero rhythm, the selections emerging in a slowly evolving suite to fade with Fripp’s final lament. Just wonderful.

The surprises continue in a take on Indiscipline that features sung words and wonderful improvisation between the drums. Fascinating stuff, they’re clearly enjoying playing together and the rest of the band clearly enjoy watching the interplay from the best vantage point in the house, with smiles all round. Jakko brings it to a close with a resounding “There’s Lovely!” in the slot generally used for “I Like It!”, giving the Cardiff crowd a chuckle. Bringing the first half to a close, a cleansing version of Islands that highlights what a marvellous song this is, a hidden gem from its parent album.

Interval: time to recap. Phew! People are looking around in a bit of a daze, it has been breathtaking so far with brilliant playing, unexpected treats and Robert appearing to smile quite frequently. And well he might, this band just get better and better.

With a serene and almost expressionless Rieflin back, the Mellotron work is much more apparent, and with Fripp also frequently adding even more this is something of a ‘Tron fest for any fan of the venerable old instrument. Jakko is in fine voice and his guitar complements Fripp’s spectacular work throughout. Collins and Tony Levin are masters of their chosen instruments, Tony’s inimitable playing switching between bass guitar and Chapman Stick, Mel’s array of saxes and flutes being brought into play in often unexpected ways, in pieces where brass did not originally feature, making this the jazziest version of KC ever. And it is wonderful to see Fripp at the heart of the band again, rather than hiding in the shadows, his fluid, often coruscating lines fill me with awe. An enigma and visionary of impeccable stature, one of the last real legends, at 72 years old his playing is still unique and extraordinary.

And we’re back. Eyes down for more of the same in the second half, only bigger! The drum buddies give themselves another good workout, Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) banging and clattering, the drum line thranging through, feeding off each other in a display of teamwork second to none. Amid it all we get a startling Meltdown before Larks’Tongues in Aspic (Part V) (or Level Five as it is more commonly known) brings the band back to the latest studio release under the KC banner, a ferocious slab of venomous intent, which is followed by a heartbreaking take on Epitaph, Jakko again doing a fantastic job, as he does on a stonking Easy Money, the drums once more getting a good hammering before the interlocking loveliness of Discipline. The volume is noticeably raised in this second half, underlining the intensity.

You really don’t know where to look, it’s sensation after sensation, every man playing as if his life depended on it. You probably do need to see this show eight times to capture it all, all of the performers worthy of your full attention throughout, whether they are playing or not. When the unmistakable sound of Starless kicks in, Levin’s commanding presence is immense, Pat sitting, eyes closed, absorbing it all. It all leads to the only change in lighting during the whole evening as the band are bathed in a fiery crimson, and Fripp’s howling guitar owns the second half of the song. A fantastic version of a classic song that demonstrates the power of a band fully bedded in and playing as a well honed unit.

The crowd go nuts, the band smile and wave, heading off briefly before returning for an encore of the obligatory 21st Century Schizoid Man, complete with a highly innovative melodic solo from Harrison. He really does raise his already stupidly high game in this setting and his drum buddies clearly appreciate his efforts. The psychotic end section is brilliant, culminating in all three drummers on their feet. Levin reaches for his camera, the previously agreed signal for everyone else – including Fripp – to reach for theirs to capture just one small part of this extraordinary evening. Fripp smiles. The band smiles. We grin like Cheshire cats! As my colleague Mel Allen noted, KC take 20th Century music and give it a 21st Century twist.

Yes, the tickets are expensive, to which I say, “Here’s my money!”


Set 1:

Drumsons on the Dock of the Bay
The ConstruKction of Light
Court Suite:
– Moonchild
– Bass & Piano Cadenzas
– The Court of the Crimson King
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part IV)
Lizard Suite:
– Cirkus
– Bolero
– Dawn Song
– Skirmish
– Prince Rupert’s Lament
~ Interval ~
Set 2
Drumsons Achieve Independence for Wales
Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) I
Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) II
Larks’Tongues in Aspic (Part V)
Easy Money
~ Encore:
21st Century Schizoid Man

Gavin Harrison – Drums
Jeremy Stacey – Drums, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Pat Mastelotto – Percussion, Acoustic & Electronic Drums
Robert Fripp – Guitar, Mellotron
Jakko Jakszyk – Vocals, Guitar
Tony Levin – Bass Guitar, Chapman Stick, Upright Bass, Backing Vocals
Mel Collins – Saxophones, Flute
Bill Rieflin – Keyboards, Synthesizer, Mellotron

King Crimson – Website | Facebook
Robert Fripp – Website | Facebook
Tony Levin – Website | Facebook
Pat Mastelotto – Website | Facebook
Gavin Harrison – Website | Facebook
Jakko Jakszyk – Website | Facebook
Jeremy Stacey – Facebook
Mel Collins – Facebook
Bill Rieflin – Facebook