Blancmange – Happy Families / Mange Tout / Believe You Me

9 07 2017

Edsel Records are re-releasing the first three Blancmange albums on 4 August 2017, as the limited edition Blanc Tapes boxset and as three individual deluxe editions . The 2017 editions include a remastered version of the original album, plus b-sides, extended versions, remixes, demos, BBC Radio One sessions and three BBC In Concert performances.

Blancmange-Happy-FamiliesHappy Families (1982) was the first Blancmange album. The remastering on all three re-issues is really well done. No brick-wall remastering here – the music has never sounded as good as it does with these Edel re-issues.

From the Talking Heads like funk of album opener I Can’t Explain, through to singles Feel Me, God’s Kitchen and probably Blancmange’s most well-known track Living On The Ceiling, Happy Families is a wonderful early 80s album.

Disc 1 of Happy Families includes the 7″ and original version of Waves, as well as the extended version of Living On The Ceiling, the 12″ mix of God’s Kitchen and the 12″ instrumental of Feel Me.

Disc 2 is a mixture of demos and my favourite extended version from this period, the Feel Me [extended 12″ version], that features some great guitar work from guitarist David Rhodes (Kate Bush / Peter Gabriel). The demos show a glimpse of a much less polished Blancmange – closer to the starker more experimental work of Cabaret Voltaire and early Human League.

Disc 3 is made up of Radio 1 session tracks from February 1982 (John Peel) and June 1982 (David Jensen) and a concert recorded at the BBC’s Paris Theatre in November of 1982. The highlights of this disc are two rare Blancmange songs – the OMD-like I Would and the dark electronica of Running Thin.

Blancmange-Mange-ToutMange Tout (1984) was another commercial success – and contains the singles Don’t Tell Me, Blind Vision (my favourite Blancmange single), and a fine cover of Abba’s The Day Before You Came.

Other stand-out tracks on Mange Tout include Game Above My Head (CD1 includes a wonderful 7 minute version), the frenetic All Things Are Nice and the dark, glitchy Martin Ware (Heaven 17) demo of Blind Vision.

If you look beyond the pure-pop of the singles, there is a real feel of mid-80s experimental dance, along with a David Byrne influence that I did not pick up on at the time.

CD2 highlights the experimental side of Blancmange, with a mixture of demos and extended versions, the highlight being a very different version of All Things Are Nice. CD3 has a 4 song Kid Jensen session and 12 tracks from a Radio 1 In Concert recorded at Hammersmith Palais.

Blancmange-Believe-You-MeThe final 80s Blancmange CD was Believe You Me (1985). The least successful of the original albums, it doesn’t quite have the freshness of the first two albums, but is still a fine album containing some strong songs, including opener Lose Your Love and one of the bands best songs, Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone? 

Listening to this album now, especially songs such as M Diver (Alternate Dream) [demo] from the second disc, I think its clear that had the band continued, they could have found a second wind in the late 80s / early 90s amongst the likes of the psychedelic pop / dance of The Beloved and S’Express.

CD2 contains a mixture of interesting demos and extended / single edits, the highlights of which are the wonderful re-invention of Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone? as I Can See It [7″ single version] and the lovely, respectful cover of Glen Campbell’s Gentle On My MindRiver Of Life [demo] is a bluesy synth workout that points to Neil Arthurs most recent project, the boldly electronic First Light album by Fader.

CD3 is made up of a late 1985 Janice Long session and a BBC In Concert recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in late 1986. The highlight of this show is a superb version of Blind Vision (the final song in the set, but introduced as the first song in the set!). Not sure if that was a Spinal Tap moment or something to do with the CD sequencing, but its an enjoyable live show. Hello Cleveland!

blancmange-2017

The three 2017 remastered deluxe editions will appeal to Blancmange fans, and anyone who loved the electronic music of the 80s. The albums have been lovingly remastered and contain fascinating glimpses into the development of the bands songs.

Blancmange return with a new album Unfurnished Rooms in the Autumn of 2017, sadly without Stephen Luscombe but featuring guitarist David Rhodes.

Buy The Blanc Tapes Box set, Deluxe Edition on CD

Buy Happy Families (Deluxe Edition) on CD

Buy Mange Tout Deluxe Edition on CD

Buy Believe You Me Deluxe Edition on CD

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Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light

14 01 2017

Lost In The Ghost LightLost In The Ghost Light is the fourth solo album from Tim Bowness (no-man / Henry Fool).

Lost In The Ghost Light is a concept album revolving around the onstage and backstage reflections of a ‘classic’ rock musician (Jeff Harrison of the band Moonshot).

Joining Tim on the album are Stephen Bennett (Henry Fool), Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief), Hux Nettermalm (Paatos), Andrew Booker (Sanguine Hum), and guest appearances from Kit Watkins (Happy The Man/Camel), Steve Bingham (no-man), David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) and Andrew Keeling (Robert Fripp/Hilliard Ensemble/Evelyn Glennie) arranging for string quartet and flute on three of the album’s songs.

Tim’s new album, as well as being a concept album, with a very clear theme, is also musically his most cohesive release.  His most recent solo albums, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things That Mean The World have both appealed to those who love progressive music. But if you are a fan of classic, first generation as well as modern prog, Lost In The Ghost Light will more than likely tick all the boxes for you. Musically, this album draws from the spirit of experimentation of the late 60s and early 70s, whilst keeping the Bowness musical identity intact.

I think its safe to say that Lost In The Ghost Light is an album that will be getting a ton of love from the (recently saved) Prog magazine, and will be appearing in a lot of reviewers end of year favourites lists.

Worlds Of Yesterday sets the scene with a backing of warm arpeggio acoustic guitar, some fascinating fretless bass and mid-70s keyboards / organs. The end section is wonderful, with flute (from Kit Watkins) and Bruce Soord‘s soaring guitar building up to a final 30 seconds that will surely melt your prog-filled heart.

Moonshot Manchild – well, Phil Collins would kill to have that feeling again. The piano and strings in the verse are solid-gold solo Collins, whilst the chorus and instrumental sections are unadulterated pre-80s Genesis.

“The days are long when you’re not working”

One of the most rewarding aspects of Lost In The Ghost Light is the multitude of instrumental passages, and Moonshot Manchild is one of the main beneficiaries of this freedom to explore the boundaries of the songs. I expect this song to be a possible Prog anthem of the year.

“You’re wearing the styles of your age.
 A slave to the whims of a phase, 
You dreamt of eternity’s gaze,
Now you’re running out of time.”

David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush) and Mr Pineapple Thief handle guitar duties on Kill The Pain That’s Killing You, the albums least proggy track. It’s more akin to the sound of Tim’s previous albums, with a hint of no-man thrown in for good measure, so its obviously an album highlight for me!

Mid-way through the album, we have what I consider to be the albums jewel in the crown. Nowhere Good To Go is a delicious Bowness ballad, one that’s so good that it could easily be a song from no-man‘s Returning Jesus. It’s quite simply one of Bowness’s best songs.

An ever evolving arrangement keeps the song fresh, even after repeated plays. The moving lyric and vocals stay constant throughout the song, as the arrangement gets increasingly prog-flavoured towards the end. Nowhere Good To Go is a finely layered song, but underpinning the arrangement and the emotional performances is a beautiful and painfully sad story of the loneliness of the touring musician who is long out of touch and now forever out of time.

“The theatre’s deserted,
And there’s nowhere good to go.”

You’ll Be The Silence is one of the albums longest tracks, which gives the song time to build and explore.

“You caught the music of the moment by accident.
You caught the moments in the music by chance.”

A song of regret as the albums protagonist watches his band become largely irrelevant as the industry moves on and leaves him behind. Where would a band as out-of-time as Jeff Harrison‘s Moonshot fit into these days of a down-sized music industry, with no more excess and huge physical album sales? An industry moving toward streaming as the norm? I suppose they would say their new album is a return to their halcyon days and hope for reviews of the “best since Scary Monsters” variety.

“You went on stage together,
But you failed to find the art.”

Lost In The Ghost Light is filled with remarkable individual performances – Stephen Bennett hits a career best on the album in my opinion. Colin Edwin also gives some fine performances, the highlight being a moving bass harmonics solo on You’ll Be The Silence.

Tim Bowness

The Bowness production / arrangment and the usual high-quality mix and mastering by Steven Wilson need to be recognised in  reviews of the album. The way the Univox SR-55 drum machine slips seamlessly in and out of the percussion arrangement on You’ll Be The Silence is a joy to hear. A tip of the hat must also go to Bruce Soord, who delivers a passionate solo in the outro that David Gilmour would be proud to call his own.

The album’s title track is pure no-man – glitchy electronics and a treated vocal that recalls the darkness of no-man’s Bleed or the Wild Opera period. The lyrics see our man Jeff questioning the relevancy of his music and whether there will be more, or whether he will remain on the soul-destroying roundabout of the nostalgia circuit.

You Wanted To Be Seen continues the questioning and self doubt, with a backing that recalls Fragile era Yes with a pinch of Pink Floyd added for good measure.

I love Andrew Booker‘s performance on this track, which works so well with Bruce Soord‘s multi-layered guitar. It reminds me a little of late period Porcupine Tree in it’s intensity.

The album ends with Distant Summers, with Colin Edwin giving it some Danny Thompson on the double bass, and a stunning flute solo from Ian Anderson. Tim delivers one of his most emotional vocal performances on Distant Summers, and I hear echoes of early Kate Bush in the piano / bass interplay and string arrangement.

“Third on the left,
A monster and a mess,
Back in the days that you still love the best.”

A couple of years  have passed since the last Bowness album, but the wait was definitely worth it. Lost In The Ghost Light is a rewarding album that reveals new details on each play. I cannot wait to hear what people think of this album, as for me, its the best Bowness album to date.

5.1 mixes on the CD/DVD version

The 5.1 mixes by Bruce Soord of Lost in the Ghost Light and Stupid Things That Mean The World make up the DVD section of the double-disc version.

Lots of new details come to the fore in the 5.1 mixes. The vocal harmonies in Worlds of Yesterday and the piano on Moonshot Manchild are much more prominent in the 5.1 mix.

My favourite track on the album, Nowhere Good to Go, sounds amazing in this mix, with a lovely separation between the synth and the lush acoustic strings. Old school Genesis fans with love the synth lines that really stand out in this version.

The arrangement on You’ll Be The Silence is stunning heard through a 5.1 set-up. The album’s short title track sounds very different, with hidden, competing electronica making for a disturbing experience.

Another album highlight, You Wanted To Be Seen, has to be heard at volume to be appreciated fully.  The violin parts sit beautifully in Distant Summers, as does Ian Anderson’s solo.

I forgot to download (doh!) the 5.1 mix of Stupid Things That Mean The World that came as a pre-order bonus when the album was originally released, so this was my first listen to the album in 5.1. Just like Lost In The Ghost Light, new details emerge in the 5.1 mix of this album. Having the two 5.1 mixes adds real value to this package.

The first track that really stands out is Where You’ve Always Been – there is a lovely clarity in the individual performances, and it was a joy to get re-acquainted with one of the most underrated Bowness songs.

Know That You Were Loved works so well in 5.1 – no fancy tricks, no panning effects, just the power of an emotionally direct song in extremely high audio quality.

Press Reset is the real highlight of the 5.1 mixes for me. The bass notes cut through the mix, and oh man, when the heavy percussion and bass kicks in, it sends shivers every time.

“This is the day you’ll disappear”

The neighbours will be having words with me, as I have to crank up the volume on this track.

Everything You’re Not also reveals more detail of the unusual harmonies that go so well with the nostalgic strings and brass.

The short but certainly not sweet Soft William also takes on a new lease of life in this mix. Album closer At The End Of The Holiday reveals its powerful melancholy in 5.1. An emotional string intro leads to a moving arrangement, with brutal lyrics, and a proggy organ solo that almost act as a precursor to where Bowness would venture next with his new album, Lost In The Ghost Light.

Artwork

My initial review was from a digital copy of the album. Now I’ve got my physical copies – vinyl and CD/DVD – a special mention of the albums wonderful artwork is warranted. Tim has worked with Jarrod Gosling to flesh out the story of Jeff Harrison and his band Moonshot, whose story runs through Lost In The Ghost Light.

litgl

The album cover works as a perfect scene-setting statement, and really should be experienced in its full-size vinyl format. The gatefold sleeve (part of which is shown above) is stunning – with Moonshot vinyl, singles, vhs, CD and cassette artwork. The £1.99 sticker on the Moonshot Live at the Rainbow cassette raises a smile every time I see it.

Buy the album

Buy from Burning Shed

Buy the CD/DVD & vinyl from Burning Shed 

Buy from Amazon


Lost In The Ghost Light – vinyl


Lost In The Ghost Light – CD/DVD

Stream Lost In The Ghost Light on Spotify





Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984)

10 10 2015

Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984) is a new in-depth look at one of the most influential (and often neglected) bands of the late 70s / early 80s.Japan - A Foreign Place

Published exclusively by Burning Shed in deluxe hardback edition, the book features contributions from former band members Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean, with archive material from David Sylvian (who did not contribute directly to the book) and the late Mick Karn.

Anthony Reynolds 212 page book starts with the early years of the band, and provides a fascinating insight into the musicians formative years in South-East London (Catford and Lewisham).

Along with the obvious 70s musical and cultural starting points, such as Bowie, Bolan, Lou Reed and Roxy Music, other surprising influences such as Motown and New York’s Television crop up as feeding into the mix of what was to become Japan.

The influence of Simon Napier-Bell and the lack of money making its way to the band, even during their most successful Tin Drum period, is well-documented in the book. In these days of a reduced and weakened music industry, you often hear about the golden era of the 70s and 80s when artists sold millions of albums, so its easy to forget that not everyone reaped the financial rewards during this bygone era.

The most interesting part of the book for me was the pre-fame years – especially stories about the early gigs, where Japan shared the stage with acts as diverse as Blue Öyster Cult and The Damned. The often negative audience reaction seemed to give the band the strength to ride the criticism that was to come their way over the next few years.

As well as talking to the band members, Anthony Reynolds also gives a voice to key-collaborators such as guitarist David Rhodes, along with school teachers and friends of the band. This helps to frame the time-scale of the story, as the band moved from being a guitar-heavy, new wave inspired band to the more electronic, layered experimental outfit that eventually found chart success and critical acclaim.

The Tin Drum album and the farewell tour are covered in depth in the book. Listening today to the bands most famous song Ghosts reinforces that its as moving now as it was when originally released all those years ago – late 1981 to be precise. The songs stark arrangement has certainly helped the song age gracefully.

The role of producers – particularly John Punter and Steve Nye (who worked with David Sylvian on several of his post-Japan solo albums) is explored and the sections on the recording of the later albums makes for fascinating reading.

Some awkward moments are also touched on in the book – including the falling out between Karn and Sylvian that led to the band’s disintegration, and the Gary Numan misunderstanding on a Japanese tour.

Reading Japan – A Foreign Place made me listen again to the bands catalogue with renewed enthusiasm. I rediscovered songs that had passed me by at the time, such as Fall In Love With Me and Alien. I also fell back in love with the Tin Drum album, especially the percussion work of Steve Jansen (Visions of China has such a unique drum pattern).

Japan – A Foreign Place is well-paced, and clearly written by a fellow musician who is a lifelong fan. The words and (many) pictures give a flavour of the various stages in the bands short but colourful career. It is also pretty fair in the amount of time devoted to individual members – its not the David Sylvian story, and its good to hear more about the contribution and personalities of Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen and Rob Dean.

My only criticism is that the period covered by the book ends in 1984. I would have liked to have read about Rain Tree Crow, the post-Japan collaboration from 1991 that remains one of my favourite 90s albums, and is a period that is not really well-documented. Also, because of the timescale, there was no opportunity to discuss the time Jansen, Barbieri and Karn spent working with no-man in 1992. Maybe Anthony Reynolds will consider writing a post-Japan book?

Ok, I’m off to listen to Quiet Life and Tin Drum, followed by Gary Numan’s Mick Karn infused Dance. Why don’t you join me?

Buy Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984) from Burning Shed

Buy Gentlemen Take Polaroids on Amazon

Buy Tin Drum on Amazon

Buy Exorcising Ghosts on Amazon

Buy Quiet Life on Amazon

Buy Gary Numan – Dance on Amazon








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