Last year I was fortunate enough to hear John’s second album, ‘Rise and Fall’, and it is safe to say I was blown away by what I was hearing. Here was a multi-instrumentalist who had brought together a group of singers and additional musicians to deliver an album that was simply epic. John and I got to talking afterwards, and that of course led to me wondering what was the debut like? Well, I can honestly say that it is another absolute delight. As well as providing all the material and producing the album, John also provides guitars, bass, keyboards, and programming, but he has also brought in a host of star names to assist including the likes of Emily Dolan Davies, Gary O’Toole, Billy Sherwood, Oliver Wakeman, Peter Jones etc. Then to cap it all he some wonderful singers in Joe Payne (The Enid), Jean Pageau (Mystery) and Julie Gater. Although the album is fairly split between male and female vocals, Julie had a huge part to play as she sang the vast majority of songs as they were being developed (John admits he is unable to sing) and provided guide vocals to the others so they knew what John required.
This is one of those albums where it is difficult to describe what is the most important aspect of the overall. All performances are wonderful, with complex arrangements, the vocal melodies are sublime, while the lyrics are often thought-provoking. Take for example “One Race” which is all about Jesse Owens, not only that race itself at the 1936 Olympics but his return to the States. It actually got me thinking about the man who was famous for setting four world records on the same day and defeating the myth of Aryan supremacy in front of Hitler, so much so that I undertook some research and discovered that not only did Hitler actually shake his hand, but that in many ways he was disowned by his home country on his return due to the colour of his skin. It reminded me of the story of Muhammed Ali returning from the Rome Olympics and then throwing his gold medal into the Ohio River after he and a friend were refused service at a restaurant.
One of my favourites is “Dreamcatching”, which is mostly instrumental, featuring some wonderful flute, saxophone, and fretless bass, along with some spoken words about where dreamcatchers hail from and the significance of the different elements. Interestingly, Peter Jones added the flute and saxophone as he was undertaking some backing vocals, and then presented them to John to use if he wished, yet they are an integral part of the overall sound. There is no real theme to the album, and each song is quite different to the rest, yet it is always the strength of the arrangements combined with complexity and simplicity which makes this such a compelling piece of work. That it is a debut from an “unknown” is just incredible, as it is polished and refined in a way that convinces the listener they are playing an album by someone who has been at the very top of their game for a great many years. This is polished progressive rock that is commercial, yet also refined and combing both elements of the Seventies and today to combine in one album that is simply essential for anyone who enjoys this style of music. Check out John’s informative website for more details on his albums, all the musicians involved, and then buy them. Simply superb from beginning to the very end.