In years to come 2020 will always be regarded as a remarkable year, forever associated with the Covid 19 virus and its strange impact on society. However, it will also be a year in which the ‘Lockdown’ period has inspired great creativity as artists react to the tumultuous events. Peter Jones has done just that with his unexpected mini-album Still Alive. He had been expecting to release a piano/vocal album, but for various reasons that has been delayed. Into that vacuum, from his own home, Pete has poured out his own unique musical voice into a remarkable release that bears comparison with his classic debut 2014 album Cocoon. As if that was not enough, White Knight Records have decided to release Still Alive with a great live DVD recorded with the Tiger Moth Tales band a couple of years ago at the legendary Rockfield studios near Monmouth.
The title song, Still Alive, has already gained considerable attention on social media with a touchingly amusing video, by Mark Wardle and Chris Jones, showing members of Peter Jones’ village and Tiger Moth Tales fans all showing positivity in the face of Lockdown (the video is a welcome bonus feature on The Quiet Room live session). This is a delightfully melodic song full of folksy observations of life in the village, “Queuing by the chip shop, waiting by the post box”, and conveys the same sense of warmth conveyed in the Tiger Moth classic A Visit to Chigwick (and that connection is hinted at in the Still Alive video, with a subtle nod to the clever Trumpton-based video Chris Jones made for Chigwick). A beautifully picked acoustic guitar intro sets up Pete’s resonant vocals before a Melodica emphasises the folk-infused vision of the people in his neighbourhood. A lovely Irish whistle passage presages a brief emotional nod:
“To those that didn’t make it, Even though you’re gone,
You’re still here in our memories, Your spirit still lives on”
If there’s a better song which has arisen during Lockdown then I have yet to hear it. Credit must go to Pete’s good friend Mark Wardle who suggested Pete should write a song for their village in these troubled times. It’s simple and heartfelt, and at the same time it’s one of the best songs Peter Jones has ever released.
One could be forgiven for thinking that this piece would usher in a whole record of similarly folksy and possibly sentimental observations, but things are never quite that straightforward for Tiger Moth Tales. The imaginative artwork tellingly juxtaposes images of pollution and decay with pastoral perfection, portraying both the darkness and light suffusing this album. As Pete explains in the sleeve notes:
There are different moods in the songs, inspired by my own alternating feelings. From visions of a doomed world and a growing tone of madness, to a desire to see the positives and the spirit of endurance and survival. Hopefully the message is ultimately an uplifting one and will resonate with others.
This tension and balance is most skilfully displayed in the clearly linked and segued pieces The Mighty Fallen and Golden. After the pastoral idyll and positivity of Still Alive, we are immediately flung into the much darker world of The Mighty Fallen with a keyboard fanfare reminiscent of Frost*, showing Pete’s skills on the keyboards. As the title suggests, there is a sense of impending destruction in this instrumental piece with a brief guitar run which seems to reflect a world rushing and screeching towards mayhem. A superb flowing electric guitar solo which is pure Gary Moore initially carries us towards musical Armageddon in a more stately manner, but insanity and chaos soon overwhelms the piece with frankly bonkers fretwork and increasing intensity. The Mighty Fallen eventually implodes under its own weight and insanity, sinking into the dust of a synth drone, which segues poignantly into the gentle sunset of Pete Jones’s emotive voice and gentle piano in Golden. The echoes with probably his best ever song, Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright, are unmistakable… and that’s a good thing. There is a melancholic regret with a sense of someone looking back and thinking of what could have been, but still grateful for what was achieved before things fell apart. A brief but finely judged guitar solo serves to increase the sense of nostalgic yearning and sadness, but it is Pete’s achingly sad voice and simple piano which really touches the emotions on this elegiac piece. This 13-minute suite is right up there with the best moments of Jones’ career – he seems to have an uncanny ability to meld thrilling rock passages with more subtle emotional elements.
Having taken us into a melange of darkness and light, Peter Jones then chooses to plunge the listener into insanity and weirdness in very differing ways. Lean into Madness is all eerie keyboards, distorted vocal effects and a disturbed mind. The weirdly echoing sound effects, based on a Tibetan singing bowl sound, and synth drones are unsettling with a truly strange resonance. It sounds quite unlike anything else I have heard, although there are hints of Peter Gabriel on his third album (also known as ‘Melt’). Apparently, some of these pieces are partly drawn from much older compositions dating as far back as Jones’ teenage years, which just shows that some things take time to reach fruition… and also the fecundity and sometimes worrying strangeness of the adolescent imagination! After that three minutes of weirdness, things taken an even more peculiar twist with the extended Whistle Along. A jolly little beat pulses below what can only be described as an eccentric and whimsically playful keyboard, although it’s clear we are strolling along in some sort of strangely distorted neighbourhood… which then just descends into a bonkers break with Goon-esque voices about “Going down the Shop”. Frankly, it’s like Pete is replaying some sort of distorted childhood memory of an episode of Mr. Benn whilst off his tits on mescaline, or so I imagine! Listeners to Peter Jones’ Progzilla Radio show Tales from the Tiger Moth will already be familiar with his penchant for peculiar Monty Python and Kenneth Williams style humour, and it’s as if Pete has distilled that sort of humour and eccentricity into a bizarre musical outing with silly voices, sound effects and God knows what else. Over seven minutes is quite a long time to sustain such weirdness and ‘weirdnosity’, but he just about manages to keep the listener on board without the need for calling a Doctor! It’s like nothing else you will hear in 2020, and that’s saying something ‘cos this has been a VERY strange year.
The sound of birdsong brings us back to the warm embrace of the title track with a touching reprise of that sweet and memorable song in a more wistful take on the same message and feeling:
“Way before the light I’m waiting by the window,
who will be the first, the first to break the silence”
Peter Jones is a unique talent who somehow combines touching pathos with weird eccentricity, all splurged out of his peculiar and abundant imagination with a great ear for melody and consummate musical talent.
In addition to this unexpected album is the very entertaining DVD, including Pete with his talented Tiger Moth Tales band recorded live at the legendary Rockfield Studios (where Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody, Rush recorded A Farewell to Kings and Noel Gallagher sat on a farm wall and recorded Wonderwall – it’s a special place). This show from at least a couple of years ago features songs from Cocoon and The Depths of Winter, and highlights what a great live band they are, with some great fretwork from Andy Wilson, particularly his great take on the final guitar solo in the outstanding Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright. Tears of Frigga from Depths of Winter comes much more alive in this session. Mick Wilson is solid as a rock on bass and backing vocals, but also shows his fine versatility on clarinet on the sentimental Migration. Paul Comerie seems equally adept at subtle percussion with some powerful, crisp drumming on the spectacular Tigers in the Butter, one of the highlights of the set. Peter Jones is the undoubted star of this session with his wonderful vocals, and his uncanny ability to at times play keyboard with one hand and a guitar with his other hand… yes, really!
Of course, no Tiger Moth Tales show would be complete without his pastoral classic and nostalgic A Visit to Chigwick, which does feel as if we have come full circle to Still Alive, written for Pete’s village. In dark and strange times this excellent release reflects the anxieties and tensions many have felt whilst also somehow making us smile, and we all need to smile a bit more, don’t we?
After all, we’re all Still Alive.
CD – Still Alive
01. Still Alive (5:06)
02. The Mighty Fallen (7:27)
03. Golden (5:58)
04. Lean Into Madness (2:56)
05. Whistle Along (7:21)
06. Still Alive (Reprise) (3:19)
Time – 32:07
DVD – The Quiet Room: A Visit to Rockfield
01. Overture (4:20)
02. Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright (11:43)
03. The Tears Of Frigga (11:26)
04. Migration (3:04)
05. The Ballad Of Longshanks John (6:43)
06. The Merry Vicar (7:32)
07. Tigers In The Butter (14:09)
08. A Visit to Chigwick (9:11)
~ Bonus tracks:
09. Still Alive (Promo video, edited by Chris Jones)
10. Hygge (The Quiet Room Piano Session)
Peter Jones – Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars (CD & DVD), Melodica, Cajun & Irish Whistle Drum Programming (CD)
Andy Wilson – Guitars (DVD)
Paul Comerie – Drums (DVD)
Mick Wilson – Bass, Vocoder, Clarinet & Backing Vocals (DVD)
Record Label: White Knight Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st August 2020
• Cocoon (2014)
• Story Tellers Part One (2015)
• Selling England for a Pound (Genesis Covers) (Download only) (2015)
• Live at the Borderline (Official Bootleg) (Download only) (2015)
• Peter Jones Plays Genesis – Seven Stones Turned (Download only) (2016)
• Live at Summer’s End (Official Bootleg) (Download only) (2016)
• The Depths of Winter (2017)
• The Mad Mothster’s Tea Party (Official Bootleg) (2017)
• Story Tellers Part Two (2018)
• A Visit to Zoetermeer – Live (2020)
• Still Alive (2020)