Twelfth Night

No, not the Shakespeare play, but a neglected progressive rock band from the early 80s. While contemporaries Marillion went on (at one stage in their career) to play enormo-domes like Wembley Arena, and lesser bands like IQ and even the derivative Pendragon went on to lengthy careers, both commercial success and critical acclaim were to elude Twelfth Night.

I first encountered Twelfth Night as a four-piece instrumental band when I was a student at Reading University, in 1980. The band were students themselves at the time, and played the student’s union and local clubs in the Reading area at the time. The band’s sound revolved around guitarist Andy Revell’s extensive use of an echoplex. With song titles like “Fur Helene part 1″ and “Afghan Red”, they were either loved or hated by the student fraternity. Old-school rock fans loved them, punk and new-wave fans hated them with a vengeance.

This lineup recorded a live album, “Live at the Target”, which gives a good impression of what the band sounded like at the time. I was in the audience for this recording, in a underground pub with the band’s equipment crammed in a tiny stage at one end of the long, narrow room. The music, described by the band as a “timeless kaleidoscope of sound”, climaxed with the 20-minute epic “Sequences“, which condensed all the best bits of their sound; spacey echoplexed guitar in the early sections, atmospheric keyboard sections, and fluid guitar soloing.

The band sensed they needed to add a vocalist to move forward. After a unsuccessful start with a woman named Electra Macloed, and an awful, awful single called “The Cunning Man“, they chose fellow Reading fine art student Geoff Mann. Then they gave him a baptism of fire; to debut as singer in front of the biggest crowd Twelfth Night had ever played to; the 1981 Reading Festival, adding vocals to “Sequences“, transforming the instrumental epic into an the story of an idealistic recruit swallowed up in the horrors of World War One.

A year later, they recorded what was probably their best studio album, “Fact and Fiction“. This established Geoff Mann as a lyrical force to be reckoned with. The lengthy “We Are Sane” and “Creepshow” were both drawn from his experiences with art therapy at a psychiatric hospital, while the cynical “Fact and Fiction” reflects the arguments about nuclear weapons raging at the time. One critic described “We Are Sane” as ‘Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” summarised in ten minutes’. The overall tone of the album was dark and gloomy, reflecting the times – the early 80s were dark and gloomy, the feeling Thatcher and Reagan had declared war on the young and the poor, and with the ever-present threat of nuclear war. Mann’s voice was an acquired taste; more Peter Hamill than Jon Anderson, but there was a passion and humanity in his lyrics, reflecting his strong Christian faith.

They played the Reading Festival again in 1983, opening the bill on the Sunday, and I had the opportunity to see what a great frontman Geoff Mann had become; his charisma and lyrics more than made up for his shortcomings as a singer. However, just as things looked as though they taking off, Geoff left the band. The live album “Live and Let Live comes from his final gigs with the band at the Marquee club in London. Perhaps the band’s best album overall, the band on excellent form, featuring some material from “Fact and Fiction“, the previously unrecorded “The Ceiling Speaks”, and the full version of the epic “Sequences”.

Geoff Mann went on to train as an Anglican priest. He continued to gig and record with his new band The Bond, who I saw live a couple of times. To my tastes, they lacked the musical scope of Twelfth Night, and it seemed to me that Geoff had lost his lyrical edge too. Sadly Geoff was to die of cancer a few years after being ordained. Who knows where his career might have gone?

Twelfth Night themselves regrouped with new singer Andy Sears, and recorded the mini-album “Art and Illusion”. By now the sound was a little smoother and more commercial, but still retained enough depth to be interesting. In 1985 they finally signed to a major label, Virgin Records.

Sadly, the resulting album, titled simply “Twelfth Night” was a mess, musically, and a major disappointment. It’s as if they couldn’t decide whether to be Pink Floyd or Duran Duran. If it was an attempt at commercialism, it was a dismal failure. Only “Take a Look” came together and reflected the Twelfth Night of old. It didn’t sell, and year later the label dropped them. The band split.

But this wasn’t quite the end of the story. In 1988, the Geoff Mann lineup briefly reunited in the studio to record “The Collector”, an 18-minute epic played live but never recorded. This was to appear on the 1988 compilation “Collector’s Item”, a retrospective look at the band’s entire career.

Today, two albums are still available on CD; the live album “Live and Let Live”, and compilation “Collector’s Item”, recently re-issued with three new tracks replacing “Sequences” (which is on the live album). Other albums, including the classic “Fact and Fiction” remain out of print.

Update: According to the site Twelfth Night – The Collector, the classic “Fact and Fiction” is to be re-released.

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20 Responses to Twelfth Night

  1. ken says:

    I don’t remember ‘Twelfth night’ but so many good bands miss out due to not enough promotion

  2. Andy says:

    I saw them on their Autumn ’84 tour and have all of their original albums on vinyl (Collector’s Items indeed). Andy Sears couldn’t sing to save his life, unfortunately, but did duet with Geoff Mann on “Love Song”, the final encore at their Manchester gig. Geoff’s lyrics to “Sequesnces” remain his major musical achievement.

    “The flags we weave, they decieve. We must believe … we must believe in love!”

  3. Gaz says:

    I had most of their stuff on vinyl back in the 80′s and recently obtained a remastered copy of Fact & Fiction on cd from e-bay. The memories came flooding back and it is a classic. It also has 7 bonus tracks including their 1982 single ‘East of Eden’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’. It was a shame to hear about Geoff, whose vocals were fine as far as I was concerned.

  4. John says:

    I can’t believe I’m reading the comments of “Andy”, Dec 15 (above). Are you sure you ever listened to Twelfth Night Andy? The truth is that Andy Sears was/is an excellent vocalist, with a range far beyond those of his contemporaries.. from strong low registers (i.e., Blondon Fair) to incredible falsetos (Take A Look, Shame), as well as a sense of harmony and backing vocal configurations second to none. Wake up and smell the coffee Andy, sounds like you have a personal grudge!

  5. Tim Hall says:

    I have to agree with you John; Andy Sears was an excellent vocalist, at least on record (I never got to see him live). Perhaps Andy saw them at a show when Andy Sears was having an off night?

  6. miguel angel says:

    hola soy de chile y hace mucho tiempo escuche a esta banda y me encanto el problema es que en chile no venden nada de ellos alguien me podria ayudar a conseguir sus cd.

  7. Andy C. says:

    I had the pleasure of seeing the Andy Sears line-up a dozen or so times, mostly at the old (Wardour St.) Marquee Club. Glorious gigs- I seem to remember Sear’s vocals as being fine…also spent one Saturday afternoon watching rugby on telly with Brian Devoil (drummer) at his flat in Reading + dinner & pub after, but that’s a long(ish) tale. Wonder what the’re up to now….

  8. Helen Grieve says:

    I had the great pleasure of seeing Twelfth Night (apart from Rick) last night in Rotherham. My husband went to 76 of their gigs in the 80s, I went to my first last night, and if anything, they sound better than ever. I’m now waiting to see if my husband’s passport will come through in time to see them in Barcelona next Saturday.

  9. Tim Hall says:

    And I saw them at The Peel the night after Rotherham. Fantastic gig

  10. Andy says:

    The shame. What was I thinking? Imagine, posting that comment back in 2004? My apologies to Mr Sears, who is a fine singer, a great songwriter and a nice guy as well. Since making that quite undeserving comment I have met and/or interviewed all of the band (including Rick B and Geoff’s widow, Jane) and chatted to Andy at length on the phone for a forthcoming project … stay tuned to http://www.twelfthnight.info.

  11. David Johnston says:

    I wonder if someone might furnish me with some information concerning Twelfth Night????

    I once had some tape that i recorded on the Friday Rock show(Tommy Vance) many moons ago.
    It was a 20-25 mins snippet of an awesome live performance by the aforementioned band.
    The finale (i think) was introduced with a cry of “Right lads,over the top we go!!!) before the guitarist launched into a fine guitar solo.
    I’m aware of some live cd’s on the market that could contain the gem in question,but are rather dear to purchase blind.
    Any ideas?????
    Cheers.

  12. Helen Grieve says:

    Well, they are supposed to re-releasing the old albums re-mastered, BUT if Andy ever gets his finger out, new DVDs should be available soon including “Sequences”. I will nag….

  13. Andy says:

    David, you have a recording of Twelfth Night at Reading festival in 1983.

    The song in question is Sequences.

    My advice would be to pick up the album “Live at Let Live”, recorded later in 1983, which includes Sequences in its full 17 minute glory.

  14. David Johnston says:

    Excellent,many thanks.

  15. Andy says:

    David, please contact me at andrewpwild1@yahoo.co.uk regarding availability of the Live and Let Live album …

  16. Jerry says:

    Ha, fun to see this blog staying alive with comments! :)
    Jerry

  17. Tim Hall says:

    Seeing as it’s six years old now, and a lot has happened since I originally wrote it!

  18. Helen Grieve says:

    Still nagging…

  19. Mark says:

    I saw TN for the first time at The Christopher in Eton and bought the 7th last copy of their first CD. I was hooked. The last time I saw them was my 104th TN gig. Trouble is, after the gig in Spain and one return to the John Peel in Kingston they seem to have fallen of the edge of the Corner Of The World (the name of one of their tours). It seems as if they have wasted an opportunity. I hope I am wrong.

  20. Andrew Wild says:

    Hey Mark,

    Expect a newsletter from Brian soon with some more news … there won’t be more gigs any time soon (they are all busy people) but re-releases, DVDs and my authorised biography are on the way. E-mail me at andrew.wild at siemens.com as I’d like to hear your TN stories … who knows, I might put them in the book!

    regards
    Andrew Wild