Saturday, 31 December 2016

My Song Of 2016: Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater - By The Tides

2016 - well, that was a year for the future historians. It was as if someone had grabbed hold of the game board and just threw it up in the air, letting the pieces fall as they will.
The only constant, as usual, seemed to be music. Although 2016 decided it was a year to take more than it's fair share of Musicians up to The Great Gig In The Sky.

There have been some tremendous songs released this year. Most tucked away on various albums that the mass market won't even get a chance to hear on the National Airwaves. It's been up to the independent Disc Spinners to ensure these songs at least get a chance to be heard on the radio waves.
So BIG LOVE to Disc Spinners such as Adam Wilson, Alex Huskisson, Chris Giles, Del Day etc for helping bring these great songs to their audience.

Nobody could have failed to notice the turmoil around the world this year. The musicians certainly haven't. Again, it's left to the artists of the world to truly describe what we are feeling - not the newspapers or media who all have their own separate agendas.
By The Tides is Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater's response to the tragic scenes of the people of Syria desperately trying to make their way over the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. 
So many who saw the photograph of that child being brought dead out of the sea were moved by what they saw. But very few had a response such as this.

Delicate, heartbreaking and so, so moving, By The Tides captivates from the moment you hear it.
As I sit and write this, Top Of The Pops is showing on the TV. With it's plastic pop and commercially driven music, it is the total antithesis of what By The Tides stands for.
So often, it is left to what are perceived as Folk performers to tell the stories and describe life the way it is. And they are so often underappreciated for their efforts. But it's songs such as this that will, in the end, stand the test of time as future historians and musicians look to the past for information and inspiration.

Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater have written a modern classic. 

Seek out the album from which it comes - Findings. It's an absolute beauty.

Twitter - @AngeHardyMusic


Friday, 30 December 2016

My Album Of 2016: Robert Reed - Sanctuary 2 - (also my Prog Album Of 2016)

One of the fabulous surprises for me in my musical journey was the appearance of Sanctuary by Robert Reed in 2014.

Robert Reed – The Multi Instrumentalist, composer , producer and guiding light of the Welsh band Magenta and through various solo projects (under various names other than his own – Kompendium, ChimpanA, Kiama) – produced Sanctuary 1 as an exercise in long form instrumental music. He used his love of Mike Oldfield as his template. Many saw it as a tribute to Oldfield – but it wasn’t intended to be a tribute or homage. It was a ‘doff of the hat’ to one of his biggest influences and musical heroes. And he pulled it off with a sense of elan that I didn’t think was possible in these musical times. It was a fantastic piece of work 
that was just begging to be followed up with another record in the same format.

opening of Sanctuary 2

So, using the same template as Sanctuary 1, Rob Reed has produced the follow up, Sanctuary 2. This time he has added another of his heroes into the mix – David Bedford. David worked with Oldfield since his early days in Kevin Ayers band and through his various solo work such as Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, The Odyssey, Instructions For Angels and Star’s End.
Indeed, the opening lines of Sanctuary 2 have David Bedford written all over them. And what a great opening it is. Stringed Keys with a tremendous deep sonic boom which certainly gives your bass speakers a workout.

Sanctuary 2 - Side 1

Rob Reed has looked to Sanctuary 1 as a starting point and built upon the sound. Adding more textures and colours whilst keeping to the spirit of the original. I was lucky enough to have heard some of the early mixes where I described the sound as being Sanctuary 1 but wearing velvet and brocade and he’s stuck with this in the final mix. It really is a beautiful piece of music.

Rob has once again taken on the role of multi instrumentalist as he once plays the vast majority of the instruments himself but has, this time, taken the opportunity to broaden the soundscape with the help of former Oldfield drummer Simon Phillips. The drums within the record lift it up to musical heights that the first Sanctuary just hinted at.

The danger of the follow up mirrors the work of Oldfield when he followed up Tubular Bells with the more pastoral and delicate, Hergest Ridge. But Rob Reed has come up with a beautiful collection of melodies contained within the two sides for Sanctuary 2.
With legendary producer Tom Newman again working on the project, Rob has the opposite problem to Oldfield. With his pop sensibility for melody, he has had to cut down on the number of melodic passages contained within the work and to develop a melodic and cohesive whole, rather than adding another melody.

It’s hard to describe a long form piece of instrumental music. Suffice to say, it ebbs and flows, takes you to highs and lows, is contemplative in passages and euphoric in others. The whole range of emotions. But it is very much a ‘human’ record. The recorders of Les Penning and the vocals of Synergy and solo vocals of Angharad Brinn further define these human moments in the layers of sound that swirl around you.

The album is certainly several steps forward from the original Sanctuary but keeps the same uplifting spirit as the first. Epitomised at the end of side 1 where Rob’s soaring guitar dances around the solid beat of Phillips’ driving beats while vocals, keyboards and Tubular Bells join in the euphoric melody as the musical reaches its climax.

The Sanctuary albums show another side of Rob Reed. The delicate, folky side of his nature. Sanctuary 2 has more of this flavouring than the first album and side opens with a lovely acoustic guitar melody which develops using vocals and glockenspiel and finally electric guitar and bass. Which then breaks into a lovely flamenco styled acoustic section. The whole album contains many musical twists and turns like this as it weaves it’s way through the various themes.

Rob has certainly used the skills of Les Penning to it’s maximum effect and you can tell both musicians are enjoying themselves as they’re playing. It’s one of those instrumental albums where you’re only a few bars away from a memorable phrase or theme that sticks in your head after only a couple of listens.

If you look back over the years, a lot of instrumental based albums normally save all their best ideas for side one and often side two pales in comparison. Not Sanctuary 2. The themes and performances in side 2 are of equal quality to side 1.

And I must say the quality of the playing by Rob himself is exceptional. Known as a keyboard player, his work on bass and particularly guitar, is getting better with each album. I think the original Sanctuary album meant more to Rob in terms of proving to himself what he capable of than all of his earlier work. I may be wrong and I’m sure he’ll tell me if I am. But I can see the growth in confidence both in his playing and approach on Sanctuary 2.
I was lucky enough to have been at the very first performance of Sanctuary live at Real World in the summer. To hear it live it a totally different experience. But how I chose to listen at home is through my 5.1 Surround Sound system. Music like this is made for Surround Sound and sounds absolutely breathtaking as the instruments swirl around you. If you have this facility at home, make sure you get a 5.1 copy of the album.

So, Rob Reed has shown that Sanctuary 1 was no fluke. He’s bettered it with Sanctuary 2. Is there going to be a Sanctuary 3? Who knows. Rob is obviously comfortable within the long form musical format but whether he feels he has explored those ideas enough, only he knows. Personally, I’d like to see him produce a third. Possibly with a more orchestral leaning maybe. Only time will tell. But if Rob Reed chooses to leave it at two – I’ll be happy as Larry with what he’s achieved and relish the prospect of his next musical move.

Twitter - @robreedmagenta

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

My Singer/Songwriter Album Of 2016 - BLAIR DUNLOP - GILDED

Released early in 2016 - Gilded -  the third album by Blair Dunlop finds him in superb form. Following on from his debut Blight & Blossom and his sophomore release House Of Jacks, album number three - Gilded - shows how much Blair has developed as a songwriter and performer.

Initially bracketed in the Folk genre, Blair has worked hard over the three albums to show that he has much more in his locker. And with Gilded he has thrown off the shackles and has, (excuse the pun), 'blossomed' into a singer/songwriter more akin to his West Coast heroes such as Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell.

The young man has even formed his own record label, Gilded Wings, (taken from his song Temper Your Smiling), on which Gilded is released.

Italy is never far away from Blair's heart and indeed the opening track, Castello, again brings a taste of sunlight into the observations of his story telling style - one aspect of his folk roots that will serve him well as his career develops in the future. Describing an encounter with a young lady on one of his tours, it's a delicious opener to an absolutely gorgeous album.


The album was recorded with very much a 'live' band vibe in Manchester's Blueprint Studios and with regular cohorts Fred Claridge on Drums & Percussion, Jacob Stoney on Keyboards and Tim Thomas on Bass.

She Won't Cry For Me rises and falls like waves on a beach as it shines a light on Blair's more romantic side as he ruminates about love and relationships - something that is never far away in his thoughts. 

Courtesy of

She Won't Cry For Me

Never scared to shy away from social comment, Blair quietly lets rip on Third World Problem, which features some lovely organ work from Jacob and focuses on today's industrial farming methods. And a sudden stop which will make you check your cd player.

It's amazing how the small everyday incidents can come to life in songs. With the jaunty 356, Blair describes a trip to a local car dealership near his now London home. The car in question is a Porsche 356 and the story is beautifully told.


Temper Your Smiling finds Blair in fine voice as his voice uses his falsetto in a pleading and epic 6 minute ballad. A key feature of the song is the splendid keyboard touches on organ and piano provided by Jacob Stoney which provides a counterpoint to the sensual, slow pace.

photo courtesy of Nick Baker

Blair also has a penchant for looking to history for subjects for his songs and next up comes Up On Cragside, about Lord William George Armstrong, the 19th Century entrepreneur. It may sound as dry as a bone but it's one of my favourite songs on the album. 

Up On Cragside

photo courtesy of Nick Baker

Eternal Optimist is at the moment my favourite song on the album. It's a beautiful shuffle with flourishes of piano and electric guitar against a lovely off beat which shows that Blair has more than one trick up his sleeve in his sonic explorations.

Let's Dance To Paganini is an acoustic song that Jackson Browne would be proud of and would sit well on any one of his early 70s album. It's great to see Blair looking to wider influences in his search for his own journey. One thing that gets better on each album is Blair's flair with a lyric. He's never been June, Moon, Spoon but with stories to tell and emotions to expose, it's becoming a major feature of his work.

This year, BBC Radio 2 came knocking at Blair's door as it playlisted the next song on the album, the ever so catchy, The Egoist. With a lovely three note phrase, the song hooks you and twirls you around it's delicate finger. Again, it features some lovely falsetto touches from Blair. 

No Go Zones is a reaction to US news reports that parts of the UK are now 'No Go Zones' due to immigration here in the UK. And Blair doesn't pull his punches. Showing his finger picking panache, it's an iron fist of an acoustic song presented in a velvet glove. And a beautiful thing it is too. Very much in a Woody Guthrie vain. 

No Go Zones

I Don't Know is another of Blair's gorgeous light and airy pleading ballads with the cymbals crashing like waves with a lovely pulsing bass running throughout the song. It almost beats like a heart. I think it's the most atmospheric track on the album and it's gone before you know it. Like a British summer.

Phoenix closes the album in style. It's a slow burner of a song which brings together all of the features of the album. Lovely electric guitar work, a touch of falsetto, throbbing bass by Tim Thomas, beautiful cymbal work from Fred Claridge and sympathetic piano work from Jacob Stoney. 

I can't believe how much Blair Dunlop has grown as an artist over these three albums. And he's still very much a young man. What's he going to achieve in his later years? He has the potential to be another Jackson Browne or indeed a Leonard Cohen. I only hope I'm around sufficiently long enough to see him able to take his place up there with the best the UK has to offer. He IS that special and we should cherish him.

Twitter - @BlairDunlop

Monday, 21 November 2016

ALBUMS OF 2016 - Part 2

Once again, I have found myself a victim of time as I count down my Albums Of 2016. I would love to give each one the page they deserve but time has beaten me to it. So I'm Afraid a list it will have to be. I'll try to do it in 4 parts. Sorry for being so shoddy - but I hope the quality will suffice :)


One of the best surprises of the year for this old Progger and many more besides. How they kept this quiet in the age of the internet, God only knows. But ex YES vocalist Jon Anderson & Swedish guitarist Roine Stolt have created such a beautiful album. From the opening harp sweeps and the first waves breaking onto the shore it brought tears to my eyes. Many viewed it as a 'Lost' YES album. I'm hoping it's the first of many Anderson/Stolt albums - just stunningly beautiful and uplifting. The perfect album for the post-election blues.


I'm not a fan of Rap - I find it too aggressive and self centered and very derivative. But, once in a while, something is released that just catches my attention. It took 16 years for the duo, The Avalanches to follow up Since I Left You, but it's been well worth the wait. Brimming with creativity and attention to detail, Wildflower is an album to immerse yourself in. And I guarantee it'll put a smile on your face.

Twitter - @TheAvalanches


How about a Folk Opera?? A ghost story told in song. Sound intriguing? It is. And it's a fabulously creative and original album. You won't hear anything like it released this year. Stunning songs, a selection of well chosen guest artists. 20 tracks of inspired music. So much I could say -  Just buy it.

Twitter - @paulmosley


and a treat from a forthcoming album - already in the bag :)

Peter James Millson has been prolific this year. Building on the success of his lovely debut album Sweet The Love That Meets Return, Peter has released another gorgeous slice of top quality introspective songs with The Red Cafe. Not only this, he has recorded another very special album with Boo Heweredine at the helm - now due for 2017. The Boy's on fire. So keep tuned Music Lovers.

Twitter - @pjmillson


Well, I didn't see this one coming. I've been a fan since the first single way back. But Believers has just blown me away. The best set of songs Ricky Ross has come up with for many a year. Believers is right up there with Raintown & When The World Knows Your Name. Plenty of Anthems and quieter moments too. Just Glorious.

Twitter- @deaconbluemusic @rickyaross

Sunday, 20 November 2016

ALBUMS OF 2016 - Part 1

Once again, I have found myself a victim of time as I count down my Albums Of 2016. I would love to give each one the page they deserve but time has beaten me to it. So I'm Afraid a list it will have to be. I'll try to do it in 4 parts. Sorry for being so shoddy - but I hope the quality will suffice :)


Paul McClure continued his musical adventure this year with help from his friends. Produced by Joe Bennett of The Dreaming Spires, Songs For Anyone has much more of a band feel than his previous 'first' solo album - Smiling From The Floor Up - it's packed full of fabulous tunes - and whatever you do - SEE HIM LIVE - He's Brilliant.

Twitter - @PMcCluremusic


Trevor Jones must be the most consistent UK Songwriter over the last 20 years. With his partner Marcus Cliffe, they are the duo Miracle Mile. And they have been producing superb music for years. Happy Blue is Trevor Jones' third solo album and contains his most personal recordings to date. Born from sorrow, it shines like a diamond.

Twitter - @hissytrev


Sorry - no videos now available - click here to see earlier review


Big Big Train turn their considerable musical talents to the English Folk tradition of  story telling with a sumptuously melodic album full of ideas and musical twists and turns. Top quality songwriting and production values coupled with virtuoso performances lift it above the many Prog releases this year.


Reg Meuross is the epitome of the Troubadour. A man who travels the world and sings his songs to the people. A man of the people. Reg has produced a beautiful understated record in December. Full of gorgeous songs with a minimal production, it's a album of Love. 

Twitter - @regmeuross

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Live in 2016: Magenta & Special Guests live at Acapela Studios, Pentyrch, Cardiff on Saturday 12th November 2016

It was great to be back at The Acapela Studios for the very special performance by Magenta - Robert Reed, Christina Booth & Chris Fry with special guests to launch their new DVD/CD Chaos From The Stage.

The trio are complemented by regular rhythm section of Steve Roberts on Drums and Dan Nelson on Bass with extra help in the shape of 

Peter Jones - Recorder, Sax & Guitar/Vocals, Claudine Cassidy - Cello, Karla Powell - Oboe,  Steffan Rhys Williams - Lead Vocal & Francesca Murphy - Backing Vocals.

These extra musicians brought a lovely new flavour to tonight's performance as the evening unfolded.

The show was split into two halves. Part one was music from the various solo work and projects of Chris, Christina & Rob.

The second half of the show was dedicated to Magenta songs with a surprise thrown in for good measure.

The Acapela was packed out with family and friends in attendance which made it feel like a rather large House Gig.

Once again Acapela Studios produced a perfect sound for the musicians and the audience - and this is no fluke as I've now attended several gigs here, of various musical acts and the sound has been fantastic in very one. It's those perfect Welsh Chapel vibes. Made For Music.

Chris Fry

The first three songs were from Chris Fry's solo work and the album Composed which included the tracks Secret Garden and Diablo which featured Prog Multi-instrumentalist Peter Jones aka Tiger Moth Tales on guitar and Claudine on Cello.

Peter Jones
Photograph courtesy of Neil Palfreyman

Secret Garden

It gave Chris a chance to show what an accomplished guitarist he is. You could see he loves playing his acoustic guitar - very much in the same vein as a certain Mr Hackett.

The rest of the musicians then took to the stage with rapturous applause as it now fell to vocalist Christina Booth to take to the stage. 

Christina is an award winning vocalist and tonight she shows her softer side with some deliciously understated performances from her latest solo album, The Light.

Stripped of their studio sheen and with the sympathetic, sparse arrangements, Christina's pure voice soars and dips in the fantastic acoustics of The Acapela. Perched on her stool like a French Torch Song Chanteuse, Christina has the audience in her hand and teases and coaxes the melodies, bringing the beauty out of the music. Her performance of The Light's title track is a thing to behold. Delicate and gloriously uplifting, it's one of the highlights of the whole night for me. And in a night of highlights that's something special indeed.

The Light

Christina Booth

We are also treated to Disappeared and Legend In The Making from the same album.

What must also be mentioned here is Rob Reed's piano work. Rob obviously relished being able to perform on the Acapela's Baby Grand piano. It's a side to his music you very rarely get to see, as when he is with Magenta his keyboards are very much the colours of the sound and lead lines are left to Chris Fry's guitar and Christina's vocals. It's great to hear his piano flourishes as he conducts the band through these new arrangements.


With two of the trio having performed their solo work, it was now time for Robert Reed to take centre stage. With the recently released Sanctuary 2 not long released and various other musical projects to choose from we were in for an absolute musical feast to take us to the interval.

Robert Reed
Photograph courtesy of Neil Palfreyman

Firstly, we were treated to two musical pieces from his latest instrumental album, Sanctuary 2. On the album, the wonderful Les Penning contributes some gorgeous recorder work to the album and tonight it falls to Peter Jones to provide the recorder melodies and he does a fantastic job. His musical abilities were really well received tonight and more than one person commented positively on his music which was played before the gig, during the interval and after the gig too.

Sanctuary 2

Claudine Cassidy
Photograph courtesy of Neil Palfreyman

Karla Powell
Photograph courtesy of Neil Palfreyman

The next section comprises of three songs from Rob's 2012 project, Kompendium - Beneath The Waves.

Now, this was a real treat as these tracks are very rarely performed live. Tonight, we had the vocals supplied by Steffan Rhys Williams, Christina Booth and Francesca Murphy who did a sterling job of bringing the tracks to life in a live setting.

mercy of the sea

On the original album, there is a roll call of prog royalty to contribute to the sound, which includes orchestra and choirs but I have to say that the stripped down arrangements of the tracks tonight sounded just as good as the album, only different. More intimate and sensual.

beneath the waves

Steffan Rhys Williams

But we were in for one special surprise before the interval as the band performed a song from Rob's 2006 project with Steve Balsamo and Rob Thompson, Chimpan A. 
We are treated to a lovely performance of The Secret Wish which closes the first part of  the show.

the secret wish

Francesca Murphy

Part Two is dedicated to Magenta songs which are taken from throughout their career. The band kick off which Gluttony from the album Seven, based around the seven deadly sins. 
All of the Magenta songs tonight were given a new texture from tonight's choice of musicians, as Chris Rea once put it, New Light Through Old Windows.

Another special surprise about tonight's performance was the fact that it was filmed for possible future release. So Magenta fans should keep their eyed peeled for announcements in 2017 when the new album is released.


With such a wealth of great songs to choose from for the second half it was always going to be a tough decision on what to include. But choose they did and with the addition of cello and oboe, it was a wise move to strip the arrangements right back and concentrate on the quieter moments. I have to say the whole second set was a joy to behold and the songs suited the arrangements. Well done Mr Reed, who I assume came up with the arrangements.

The songs chosen for the second half included 

Raw, Pearl, Preikestolen, Red, The Lizard King and Red.

Photograph courtesy of Neil Palfreyman

Two special highlights for me came in the form on quietly epic performances of  Devil At The Crossroads and Sunshine Saviour with Christina & Steffan on dual vocals.

Devil At The Crossroads

The Lizard King

The show just sped by and before we knew it we were at the end. But there was always going to be an encore.
I've never made it a secret that YES are my favourite band and it was a real joy to hear Magenta play their rendition of Wonderous Stories. Very few bands attempt a YES cover but to do it and successfully is a testament to Magenta's bravery and musicianship.

Wonderous Stories

Photograph courtesy of Neil Palfreyman

A perfect evening of music from a superbly talented set of Musicians. 

There is nothing quite like seeing musicians at the top of their game breathing new life into songs that you know so well, or maybe not so well. 

I do hope the band choose to release the film of the show. I know many of their fans would love to see the songs in this new light.

Photographs by Nick Baker and Neil Palfreyman

Twitter - @robreedmagenta