Tag Archives: Sankara

HRH Prog 2

Crimson Sky's Jane Setter at HRH ProgJane Setter of Crimson Sky

HRH Prog 2 is a residential rock festival held in this year the former Butlins holiday camp at Hafan-Y-Mor just outside Pwllheli in north Wales, following on from the successful first festival held in Rotherham a year ago.

It’s certainly a long way from anywhere, at the end of miles and miles of single-carriageway roads winding through the Welsh hills, or an equally winding single-track railway line, and it certainly wasn’t the organisers’ fault that part of the train journey was by replacement bus because the tracks had been washed away in a storm. There were complaints from some quarters that it was an inconvenient location. But it was an equal opportunity inconvenience; it takes just as long wherever you’re coming from. Continue reading

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Also Eden and Sankara, The Globe, Cardiff

It was a last minute decision to go to this gig, at the end of what had been a rather rough week. A strong bill with three acts I was keen to see made it worth travelling to another country involving rail replacement buses and a stay in a cheap B&B. Sometimes it’s gigs like this where I’m reminded of the line in Mötorhead’s “We Are The Road Crew” ‘Another hotel I can’t find‘. But in this case I did manage to find the hotel, but got hopelessly lost in the decidedly non-Euclidian geography between the hotel and the venue. I was in a maze of small twisty streets, all alike. Fortunately I did eventually manage to find The Globe in time for the start.

Opener was the solo acoustic guitar virtuoso Matt Stevens. Matt plays acoustic guitar through a series of looping pedals and effects enabling him to turn a single guitar into a multilayered tapestry of sound. At times he uses his pedal board as an instrument as much as the guitar itself, and at one point was on his knees pressing buttons and making Hawkwind-like electronic effects. For the second half of his set, he was joined by virtuoso bassist and former Panic Room member Alun Vaughan, who played some imaginative bass parts to Matt’s solo compositions and added an interesting extra layer to the music.

I first saw Sankara at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival when they were still a four-piece, and the recently-formed band showed a lot of promise. Almost immediately after the release of their début album “Guided by Degrees” they changed personnel, with a new bassist and the addition of a second guitarist.

They now sound like a completely different band. Having two guitars fills out the sound significantly, with Jay and new addition Paul having contrasting and complementary styles. While their music still lies somewhere on the hard rock/AOR spectrum, they’ve now got a bigger, tougher and heavier sound than they had either as a four-piece or on record.

Their lengthy set including the majority of both the album and their earlier EP “Enigma”. Gareth Jones again impressed as a frontman, switching between the front of the stage and the occasional number sung from behind the keys. High spots included a very emotive “Lullaby for a Lost Boy”, which Gareth introduced as inspired by his day job in housing; ‘A song about homelessness’. Sankara have come on a lot in a very short time, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here.

Also Eden are another band in the throes of lineup changes. They’ve got a new bassist since I saw them last, and their current run of gigs marks the farewell appearances of founder member, keyboardist Ian Hodson. And although he’s established himself as the voice of the band over the last couple of years, Rich Harding wasn’t their original singer.

His politically-charged lyrics recall Geoff Mann-era Twelfth night, some of his theatrical vocal delivery reminds me a lot of very early Marillion, and his dedication of “1949″ to everyone who works in the NHS was a nice touch. Musically, despite sometimes lengthy songs and rich arrangements they avoid most of the obvious clichés of 80s neo-prog.

Their set drew heavily from their third album “Think of the Children”. For the older “Skipping Stones” they were joined on stage by their original singer Huw Lloyd Jones. They also played a substantial amount of brand-new material from the forthcoming “[Redacted]“. On first listen the new songs came over strongly, darker and heavier than their older songs, with “Chronologic” a particular standout.

From this performance Also Eden came over as a band who have significantly raised their game, and provided they manage to negotiate the speedbump of finding a replacement keyboard player they look about to move up to the next level. Certainly “[Redacted]” is now one of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the year.

In these cash-strapped times shows like this are exactly the sort of thing more bands ought to be doing, putting together a bill of two or three contrasting but complementary acts that give audiences their money’s worth regardless of who is the nominal headliner. It works for audiences, and I think it works for the bands as well.

All photos by Paul Johnson

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In God We Trust

Video of the opening track from the album “Guided By Degrees”, filmed at the album launch in Cardiff back in December, featuring the new five-piece lineup of the band with Arnie on bass and Paul on 2nd guitar.

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2012 Albums of the Year – Part One

Yes, it’s that time of year again, when everyone who fancies themselves as a music critic lists the records that have defined their year.

The usual disclaimers apply, of course. They’re selected from the albums of 2012 that I’ve actually had the chance to hear over the course of the year. It’s also a personal list of albums that have made an impression on me rather than any attempt to declare them the “best” of the year, whatever that might mean. Which is why there are very obscure independent releases alongside heavily-promoted major-label albums.

My self-imposed rules exclude both live albums and studio restatements of past material, although Steve Hackett’s “Genesis Revisited II” and Heather Findlay’s “Songs From The Old Kitchen” deserve mention.

It was going to be a top 20, but once I’d got my list finalised someone went and released a record in the middle of December that really deserved to be on the list. So now it’s a top 21. I’ve given up trying to rank all 21 album in any kind of order, and have gone for grouping them under Good, Great, Superb and Legendary, the last being my album of the year.

So here are the ten Good albums, which form numbers 21 to 12 in the list, ordered alphabetically.

Joe BonamassaDriving Towards The Daylight

Excellent album of guitar-shredding blues-rock from one of the most exciting guitar players of his generation, with electrifying takes on blues standards from the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon alongside a handful of original numbers. Yes, the ever-prolific Bonamassa can probably turn out albums like this in his sleep, but that’s just a measure of his talent.

DelainWe Are The Others

A seamless blend of in-your-face metal riffs and chart-friendly pop choruses, featuring the remarkable vocals of Charlotte Wessels, all of which makes it more of a mystery why a major label sat on this record for months before releasing it. If only daytime radio wasn’t afraid of big-sounding guitars.

EnslavedRiitiir

Symphonically-dense wall-of-sound metal which mixes moments of brutal heaviness with a surprising amount of melody. There’s plenty of death-metal growling, but there are also passages that prove how well metal riffs and Gregorian chants go together.

It BitesMap Of The Past

The 80s pop-prog veterans reformed a few years back, with the talented John Mitchell at the helm.  Although the latest album doesn’t quite top 2008′s “The Tall Ships”, it’s still an impressive work that combines emotionally-rich songwriting with all the widdly soloing you could possibly want.

Mermaid KissAnother Country

A move away from the symphonic prog-rock of their previous album “Etarlis”, with a beautiful semi-acoustic record with touches of Americana and gospel. Not many bands have Cor Anglais as a principle lead instrument.

Sankara Guided By Degrees CD ArtworkSankaraGuided By Degrees

An impressive melodic hard rock début from former members of The Bluehorses and The Reasoning. It’s a rich, multilayered record in which Gareth Jones’s excellent vocal performance proves he’s more than capable fronting his own band.

Shadow Of The Sun – Monument

Former Reasoning guitarist Dylan Thompson returns with some prog-tinged hard rock/metal with guitars that go up to Eleven. A record that’s only been out a few days and I’ve only given a handful of listens. But that’s enough convince me it belongs on this list.

Howard SinclairThe Delicious Company of Freaks

Lyric-driven semi-acoustic balladry from the Bristol-based singer-songwriter who supported Panic Room on their November tour. Some memorable songs, with one high point being the spellbinding “These Dark Hills” sung as a duet with Panic Room’s Anne-Marie Helder.

SquackettA Life Within A Day

Two of the most distinctive instrumentalists in the prog-rock world combine their talents for a polished and song-focussed album. At times this collaboration sounds like Steve Hackett with a different bassist, at times it’s Yes with different guitars and vocals. “The Tall Ships” with it’s bass groove and soaring vocal harmonies is a particular highlight.

"I fireball the gazebo"Winter in EdenEchoes of Betrayal

With a great vocalist in Vicky Johnson, the Durham-based band prove if the songwriting is good enough it’s possible to do female-fronted symphonic metal without needing the choirs, orchestras and kitchen sinks of the more extravagant European bands.

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Sankara – Guided By Degrees

Sankara Guided By Degrees CD ArtworkSankara, the rock band formed from former members of The Reasoning and The Bluehorses are about to release the debut full-length album. They’re having an official launch on 17th November at The Buffalo Bar in Cardiff. I’ve reviewed the album, titled “Guided by Degrees” over on Trebuchet Magazine.  As I say in the review, it’s a solid piece of work, which ought to establish Sankara as a band who mean business.

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The Cambridge Rock Festival

My review of the weekend is now up on Trebuchet Magazine, here are a few of my photos from the weekend.

Virgil and the Accellerators at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Virgil and the Accellerators were an early highlight, playing some guitar-shredding electric blues.

The Heather Findlay Band at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Heather Findlay played her first full band gig on a big stage since November last year, and went down a storm.

Sankara at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Sankara, fronted by Gareth Jones, formerly of The Reasoning played the CRS stage, and made a strong impression with their mix of hard rock, metal and AOR.

WInter in Eden at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Winter in Eden, fronted by Vicky Johnson, played an absolute blinder as special guests on the CRS stage.

SIlverjet at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Silverjet. Because first thing in the morning, some back to basics rock and roll is what a festival needs.

Stolen Earth at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Stolen Earth were another band who rose to the big occasion to play one of the best sets they’ve ever done.

Panic Room at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Panic Room did what Panic Room do, which was to blow everybody away. They really should have been far higher up the bill.

Chantel McGregor at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Chantel McGregor delivered another incendiary set, great songwriting and some spectacular guitar pyrotechnics.

Flanborough  Head at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Flanborough Head played some delightful old-school prog. There is nothing quite like a flute solo backed by Mellotron.

Mr So and So at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Mr So and So impressed me a lot, they came over a lot better than last year.

Touchstone at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

The mighty Touchstone stormed the stage to deliver an impressive high-energy set.

Olivia Sparnenn of Mostly Autumn

Mostly Autumn, special guests on the Sunday night and playing their first gig since the end of last year did not disappoint.

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Sankara – Enigma

Sankara is the band formed by vocalist and keyboard player Gareth Jones and drummer Vinden Wylde, both formerly of The Reasoning, and guitarist Jay McDonald, formerly of The Bluehorses, with bassist Rhayn Jooste completing the lineup. “Enigma” is their first release.

The four track EP gets off to a strong start with the opening title track. Building from a piano arpeggio to a big soaring chorus the end result is a song you just can’t get out of your head. This and the following hard rocker “Exalted Star” with it’s growling riff and multi-layered vocal harmonies recall bands like Styx before they descended into cheese. The ballad “Lay My Body Down” is perhaps the weakest of the four songs, never really coming to life despite some good guitar work from Jay towards the end, but the EP ends on a high note with the hard rock of “Full Flow”.

This highly melodic mix of hard rock and AOR ballads is quite a way from the prog-metal leanings of Gareth’s and Vinden’s previous band. But there are still definite echoes of some of Gareth Jones’ earlier songwriting contributions for them, and his accomplished vocals prove he’s more than capable of fronting his own band, not that it was really in any doubt. On this disk he sings all the harmonies as well as lead, which makes me wonder how they’ll reproduce the songs live; I guess it depends on how well the rest of the band can cope on backing vocals.

This is a promising start for the band. Even if the production isn’t slick and polished, the quality of the songs and playing shine through, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more good things from them in the coming months and years.

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