Gardening Club - Boy On A Bike,
As music reviewers, we all try to be as objective as possible, but there are times when it just isn’t possible to separate our personal feelings about the people involved and the music being performed. In those rare occasions all we can do is recognise the fact, be honest about it, and then try to still write something which makes sense. Hard as it is for me to realise, my relationship with Martin Springett only goes back a few years, from when I read a rave review about the 2017 Gonzo reissue of his 1983 solo album ‘The Gardening Club’ which intrigued me so much that I hunted down a copy myself. I then wrote my own review, and in turn Martin sought me out. From there on in we have been in contact at least weekly, often daily, and Martin has rediscovered his love of performing which he had put aside while he concentrated on being a professional illustrator. When I was thinking of artwork for ‘The Progressive Underground’, there really was only one person to ask and Martin kindly provided the art and design for all four volumes (two are already available, the third is delayed at the printers due to matters beyond our control – some virus thing, and I have started on the next in the series, honest). During this period, he also formed a band to record a sequel to ‘The Gardening Club’ and taking the name of that album as the new name for the group, they released ‘The Riddle’.
Now Martin, Norm MacPherson et al are back with the third in a series which shows no sign at all of slowing down (Martin is already working on ideas for the next album). His art influences his music, and vice versa, so much so that illustrations are an incredibly important part of each release and I have been lucky enough to have seen some of these illustrations long ago and was also fortunate enough to hear some of the early demos. See what I mean about it being impossible to review this? Trying really hard to listen to this with an open mind, I feel the arrangements have become more complex and layered on this release, as the guys have got used to working with each other and Martin has got back into the groove. Listen to the title cut, with wonderful guitars dropping in and out, a sumptuous bassline which adds so much and get taken all the way back into the Seventies and once again you are discovering Camel for the very first time.
I have likened Martin in the past to Hackett and especially Roy Harper, and those are both indeed true, but Camel are very much front and centre on this release. So much so I can state with confidence that anyone who enjoys playing Camel (which surely is obligatory at least weekly) is going to get a great deal from this. But Martin and Norm also enjoy twisting their guitars together with phasing and distortion on the electric, combining with the acoustic to create a very special sound indeed. This is progressive, accessible, singer-songwriter material and so very much more. It is an album which cries out to be discovered, and from my viewpoint it is wonderful to put this album into a search engine and find so many other people thinking the same and recognising him for more than “just” being an incredible artist and illustrator. There is a great deal of variety here, as he brings in different guests on woodwind and violin and even a female singer to push himself in new directions. As well as the albums, I highly recommend checking out the live performance he undertook with violinist Sari Alesh. Martin provides acoustic guitar and vocals, while Sari provides some incredible melodies which take the songs into an area previously unthought of – given they live in different parts of Canada and this was undertaken with basically no rehearsal makes the feat even more remarkable.
I am fortunate to think of Martin as a friend, yet another I have made in this wonderful musical world of ours. But I hope those of you who have been reading my material for more than 30 years would realise that I wouldn’t let that stop me from saying this was a poor release. Luckily, I don’t, as it is yet another sublime example of a performer finally chasing his dreams and all power to him. Essential.