Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Spectral Mornings 2015

There are certain songs and tunes that stay with you throughout your life: music which has a certain timeless quality to it. For me Steve Hackett's 'Spectral Mornings', the instrumental title track of his 1979 third solo album, is one of those works - something that can lift the soul and brighten any day. I remember it being a high point when I first saw Steve and his band in concert back in July 1980, and it has stayed as a part of my musical 'inner furniture' ever since.

So when, 36 years after its initial release, I heard that lyrics had been written, my interest was raised. Musically Spectral Mornings has always been a 'lyrical' tune: would words enhance or hinder that quality? I needn't have worried.

The new version of the song (well, 4 new versions actually) has been conceived as a fund-raiser for research into Parkinson's disease, and pulls together a stellar collection of musicians from the current progressive rock scene, under the guiding hand of Rob Reed (Magenta). The lyrics have been written by David Longdon (Big Big Train), who provides the vocals alongside Christina Booth (Magenta) - and what a duo they prove to be, playing to and off each other's strengths with spine-tingling emotion and power. The backing comes form Rob Reed on keys, Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson band etc) on bass, Nick D'Virgilio (BBT) on drums, Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales) on recorders, and of course Steve Hackett on guitars.

The four different mixes each bring their own particular slant to the song, from a quiet piano on the acoustic mix, to an almost Celtic feel in the opening section of the instrumental mix. The 'Classic' Mix is probably the nearest to the original, musically speaking, but the vocals simply take it to another level. I didn't think it was possible to improve on the original version, but I think it might just have happened! But judge for yourselves... and then buy this CD!

New horizons (Brighter skies)
Spectral mornings
The sunset (A new sunrise)
New horizons (Brighter skies)
Spectral mornings
The human soul, letting go
May each new dawn always be yours.

© David Longdon 2015. Used with permission

Monday, 20 April 2015

111 years of worship & mission

Last evening I attended a service at one of our local churches which is due to close next week. The congregation of Horizon Methodist Church, situated in Hunter's Bar on the west side of Sheffield, had taken the decision, after much heart-searching, to call time on the life of worship, service & mission in that place.

It was, some might think strangely, a joyous occasion. A congregation had gathered from across the city and packed the church to capacity, and the opening word from the Minister, Rev Gareth Jones, summed up the emotion evident in the place - "Wow!"

We sang; we reflected; we gave thanks and confessed; we looked back, let go and moved on. And the occasion had a certain poignancy for me, as I had not only preached in this church on a few occasions but, for a brief time back in 1987 when I lived in the YMCA that was situated just up the road from the church, I had myself been a member of the church (it was known as Endcliffe Methodist Church then) - the second of only 3 churches of which I have formally been a member. The first (my home church, Grove Road Methodist in Harrogate) closed sadly in 2009: now Endcliffe/ Horizon is closing, and with it another part of my past.

Yet we move on, praising God for all that is past, and trusting God for all that's to come.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

A high point on Low Sunday

For most of the 20-odd years I've been in ministry I've taken the Sunday after Easter (traditionally known as Low Sunday) off. How I fill that day has varied from year to year, but this year, for the first time, I spent it at a gig.

The Robin 2 in Bilston, Wolverhampton, is renowned for hosting an excellent roster of bands, including a considerably large proportion from the broad Progressive genre. Today's fayre were two bands: London-based 'The Gift', and Sweden's 'Änglagård'.

The Gift have been around for about 10 years, on and off, and have released two albums, 2006's 'Awake & Dreaming' (re-released in 2014) and 2014's 'Land of Shadows', and have an accessible sound that reminds me in places of Genesis and Fish-era Marillion. In a short (30-35 minute) support set, the band gave us material from both albums played with aplomb and enthusiasm, ably led by front-man Mike Morton who engaged naturally with the appreciative crowd. These are talented musicians, who should be more widely known.


After a short break for refreshment both of the punters and of the stage, the floor seemed to become noticeably fuller as Änglagård took the stage. Änglagård have been around since the early 1990s, and released albums in 1992 & 1994 before a hiatus which lasted (after a brief return in 2002-03) until 2009, with a third studio recording appearing in 2012. Their 90 minute set drew from the full range of their material, most of which comprises long-form, complex compositions, and which takes its inspiration from Progressive rock, jazz and pastoral folk. How you actually describe their style of music is difficult to say: emotive, full of energy, ranging from quiet & lyrical to experimental and atonal; always surprising and engaging and at times quite wondrous and awe-inspiring. I've not seen many bands who count party blowers and balloons in their instrumental repertoire!

The musicianship throughout was of the highest order, with everyone displaying a natural virtuosity. That said, this is not 'easy' music. Back in my school days there were certain albums that were sometimes described as 'difficult to get into', and Änglagård's material would certainly fall into that category. My wife, Jude, who accompanied me to the gig, came away unconvinced, and maybe they will always be a kind of 'Marmite' band (she was sold on Moon Safari & Lazuli last year!). But if you like your music with an edge, Änglagård are a band to look out for, if you don't know them already. For me they, along with The Gift, were certainly a high point on Low Sunday.