Friday, 20 April 2012

TAAB2 @ Sheffield City Hall

I spent last night in the company of a number of (mainly) gentlemen of a certain age to enjoy one of the few public performances in its entirety (certainly since its release in 1972) of the classic Jethro Tull album 'Thick as a Brick', followed after a short interval by a full rendition of Ian Anderson's sequel, the inventively-titled 'Thick as a Brick 2'.

The show began with the stage slowly filling with men in light brown overalls and flat caps, sweeping the stage and bringing the last of the equipment and instruments on, accompanied by video footage of some kind of warehouse. This faded to a scene in a psychiatrist's surgery waiting room, where an unseen Gerald Bostock was ushered in to a consultation with his 'shrink' (Ian Anderson). After a brief conversation, cue Anderson on stage with solo acoustic guitar, and the opening bars of TAAB.

The band accompanying Anderson - Scott Hammond on drums, Dave Goodier on bass, John O'Hara on keyboards & Florian Opahle on guitars - performed the music with great skill and panache, and Anderson himself switched from guitar to flute with flair and dexterity. My only disappointment with the performance, certainly during the first half of the show, was with Ian's vocals, where he really struggled at times to reach some of the higher notes - a problem I don't remember him having when I saw him during Tull's 40th anniversary tour in 2008. He was helped, though, by the inclusion of young actor/ singer Ryan O'Donnell, who took many of the vocal parts during the first half of the show, and did a more than passable impersonation of a younger Anderson in places.

Mid-way through TAAB, Anderson made a joke about the fact that some in the audience couldn't make it through to the interval without having to 'leave the room', and invited one such gentleman onto the stage for a cursory (off-screen) prostate check - making the point that 'men of a certain age' need to look after themselves in this area.

After the interval came the rendition of TAAB2, a story that charts the life of disgraced poetry prodigy Gerald Bostock over the last 40 years. The story was illustrated again with images on the screen: the more poignant being images of repatriated British soldiers during 'Wooton Basset Town'; the more bizzare being a recurring image of a frogman walking the streets in search of water (complete with Aqualung). The inclusion of the images and of O'Donnell's performance made this more of a show than a performance, and it proved to be a very entertaining evening. Although I was left maybe wanting a little more, there was no encore, and perhaps that was right. We were left having enjoyed the story of Gerald Bostock, 40 years in the telling.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Breaking my Fast - New Music

I took the decision as Lent was beginning to fast from buying any new music. This proved difficult, as there was a whole raft of new releases that were clamouring for my attention over the period, and I finally broke my fast last Monday (2nd April). What a treat was waiting for me!

First there was the recent collaboration between Steve Hogarth (Marillion) and Richard Barbieri (Porcupine Tree), entitled 'Not the Weapon but the Hand': an ethereal collection of tunes with a deep passion and a meditative heart. Alongside that was the latest offering by Norwegian band Gazpacho, a source of great chill out music for me (no pun intended), entitled 'March of Ghosts'. They continue to produce moody pulsating tunes that enchant and enthral.

In a more up-beat mood is the sophomore offering from DeeExpus, who have called on the talents of Mark Kelly of Marillion to assist them in this follow-up to their highly rated 'Half Way Home' - 'The King of Number 33'. The style of this latest collection is more developed, and contains the almost 27-minute epic title track, which is divided into 6 parts (movements?).

Mike Portnoy has not been idle since he left Dream Theater in 2010, and one of his current projects, Flying Colors, have recently released their eponymous debut album. Consisting of Portnoy, Neal Morse, Steve Morse, Casey McPherson & Dave LaRue this is quite frankly a stunning collection of virtuoso contemporary progressive rock ranging from mellow, almost pop-y tunes to hard-hitting rock. Without doubt one of the albums of the year for me.

Close behind it is the new album from It Bites, 'Map of the Past': a rarity these days even in Progressive circles in that it is a concept album. "Inspired by the discovery of an old family photograph, Map of the Past is a highly personal journey that explores love, passion, jealousy, anger, remorse and loss through the eyes of a previous generation against the backdrop of Britain as it enters a new century and one of the most defining periods of its history." Again the music ranges across the musical spectrum, and beyond, and grows with every listen.

Finally is an album that has, in one sense, been 40 years in the making. Ian Anderson's 'Thick as a Brick 2 - whatever happened to Gerald Bostock' is a sequel to Jethro Tull's 1972 anti-concept album 'Thick as a Brick'. It is billed as an Ian Anderson album, rather than Jethro Tull, but has much of the feel of a classic Tull offering, and references some of their work in its phrasing (as well as echoes of the original TAAB there are also hints of 'Heavy Horses' for me in there too). It retains that tongue-in-cheek element of much of Tull's 70s material, and has a delightful reprise of the original album at the close of the final section. A true delight, and I can't wait to see and hear it performed live later this month.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

O Bread of Life - a Communion Hymn for Easter

Preparing for worship on Easter Day I was looking for a hymn to lead us into Communion and couldn't find the right one. So I decided to try and put into words what I was looking for, and this is what I wrote.

Do please let me know what you think, and do feel free to use it if you wish. I simply ask that you acknowledge the source.

O Bread of Life, our hands are lying open
To share these tokens of your boundless love;
Your life-blood spilled; your body torn and broken:
The gift of life for us from heaven above.

O Word of Life, our ears are waiting, open
To hear your message spoken to our heart:
The great Good News of death’s dominion broken;
Of lives set free; of joy in every part.

Spirit of Life, our hearts are yearning, open
To feel the flame of love burning within.
Come, fill us now, renewing lives once broken:
The risen life of Christ in us begin.

© 2012 John L Simms

Tune: Intercessor []