There we were with the two most successful producers of the 1970s working together, says Strawbs leader Dave Cousins, recalling the initial sessions for his band’s first proper album. The producers in question are Gus Dudgeon, who helmed all of Elton John‘s biggest albums, and Tony Visconti, whose work helped make stars of David Bowie and T. Rex. Unfortunately, the punchline that finds parallels throughout The Strawbs’ career is that the band’s aforementioned sessions took place in 1968, when both producers were unknown quantities. The original version of what would become 1969’s Strawbs was scrapped by an unhappy record exec, and the band was made to start over again.
It’s part of a phenomenon that’s practically a running joke in Strawbs lore ” for instance, the bass player on those ill-fated sessions happened to be a young John Paul Jones, but in that pre-Led Zeppelin period, the name impressed no one. At the start of the ˜70s, The Strawbs’ acquisition of hotshot keyboardist Rick Wakeman hastened a move towards prog rock, but Wakeman would soon depart to fulfill his true prog destiny with Yes, leaving Cousins and company in the lurch. (more…)
It’s something that I didn’t think I’d be doing again is the first comment out of Annie Haslam‘s mouth about the revitalization of Renaissance, the legendary British prog-rock band she led to fame in the ˜70s. On such classically tinged art-rock milestones as Ashes Are Burning, Turn of the Cards, and Scheherazade & Other Stories, Haslam’s crystalline vocals blended with Michael Dunford‘s deft acoustic guitar work and John Tout‘s vivid keyboard flourishes on epic tracks brimming with invention and energy in equal amounts. Renaissance was a leading light on the ˜70s progressive rock scene, but since the ˜80s, their live activities have been sporadic, and the 2001 release Tuscany has been their only studio album since 1983’s Time-Line.
I kind of wound down my solo singing career in about 2002, says the Bolton-born songbird, who now makes her home in Bucks County, Pa., and started painting, which is my other love, just as much as singing. I’ve been painting nonstop since 2002 now. So I didn’t really have any interest in going back into music, I liked the fact that it was just me, and not a lot of other personalities to deal with. Then Michael Dunford contacted me in 2008, and before he opened his mouth, I just knew. He said, ˜Annie¦’ I said, ˜No.’ [Laughs] And that’s basically how it started up again.
A revamped Renaissance ended up touring in 2009-’10, playing their classic cuts for grateful fans. Soon, some new work found its way into the set list. We added a new song Michael and I had written together called ˜The Mystic & The Muse,’ expains Haslam, We don’t ever remember having a standing ovation for a brand new song, which we had every time we played it, so that was very encouraging for our future writing. Before long, Renaissance was embarking on two equally ambitious projects”staging a new tour to perform Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade & Other Stories in their entirety, and putting together their first new album since 2001.
Turn of the Cards was really one of our most popular albums, says Haslam of the full-album shows they started doing in 2011, with ˜Mother Russia’ and ˜Running Hard’ on it, and Scheherazade we felt was really a huge album”when Michael and I decided to do that, we were talking about it and we both thought, ˜My gosh, this is a huge piece of work to give to the musicians to do.’ It was huge when we did it [originally]. Actually it was probably bigger [to undertake] in the ˜70s, because we didn’t have the technology. They pulled it off though, it was brilliant. I love that piece so much, ˜Scheherazade’ in particular. When I’m onstage I get so into the music that I just barely remember to come in with the tambourine and come to the front of the stage. There’s a lot of music in it so I kind of step back, and I just get lost in it.
Epic sci-fi prog-rock concept masters, Coheed & Cambria are at it again with their new installment of The Amory Wars. Claudio Sanchez and company have announced on their website that their forthcoming release will be a 2-part album with staggered release dates. According to TheAudioPerv.com, “The first volume, The Afterman: Ascension, will be available on both physical and digital platforms October 9, 2012 via Hundred Handed/Everything Evil, and distributed through Fontana/Ingrooves. The second volume, The Afterman: Descension is slated for release in February 2013.” You can watch an HD teaser trailer for the albums below.
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What the hell is a Van der Graaf Generator anyway? That’s the question a lot of people were probably asking back in 1969, when the first album by a young British band of that name appeared. In fact, a Van de Graaff generator (note spelling) is a device that creates electrostatic energy, but the group named after that machine generated an electricity all their own. By the early ˜70s, after releasing such cult-classic records as He To He, Who Am The Only One, and Pawn Hearts, Van der Graaf Generator had established a musical reputation as the Richard III of U.K. prog-rock bands, reveling in the dark underbelly of the human condition and casting a crooked half-smile upon creation as something slightly sinister simmered in the background.
While the initial incarnation of the band fell apart in 1978, Van der Graaf returned to active duty in 2005 with Present, as a trio featuring original members Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton, and Guy Evans. Incredibly, the 21st century version of the group turned out to be just as vital-sounding as the original ensemble, and they’ve recorded four albums together so far, with the fourth, ALT, out on July 3. Prolific VDGG frontman Hammill also just released a new solo album, Consequences (he’s maintained an active solo career since the early ˜70s), and he’s currently busy touring America with his Van der Graaf bandmates.
The new band album is kind of an unusual one because it’s kind of improv, says Hammill. I know a lot of Van der Graaf is pretty out there, but this is out there even by Van der Graaf standards. That’s coming out more or less simultaneously with the tour, but on the tour we’ll be doing comparatively normal songs. On the new album¦it’s all instrumental for a start, which is not normal for Van Der Graaf, but basically it’s stuff that built up since 2005. Every time we got together for a rehearsal period or for a recording period, there would always be some element of improvisation that was recorded. We’ve got a long track record individually and collectively of doing things that are not really in any rock area, they’re more sort of musique concrete sounds, so that’s more or less what this new record, ALT, is about. Basically, the material built up over a period of years until it reached a kind of critical mass and we went, Okay, actually, this is not our usual stuff, but it’s also part of our story and our history, so now is the right time to put it out.