Prog Magazine - Pick of the year selection by four critics
John Wenlock-Smith's Top 10 albums of the year in Progradar
Dutch Progressive Rock Pages top 35 albums of the year
House Of Prog - Top 15 albums of the year
The Lost Art - Pick of the year selection
Tomasz Dudowski - MLWZ DJ (Poland) - Top 15 albums of the year
Ian Sharp - LP Substack - pick of the year selection
Emergent Unsigned - pick of the year selection
Bleeding Edge - Songs of 2023
The Prog Rock Files - Top 20 albums of the year
Going Undergound - Album Of The Week
"Another really intriguing album - a fabulous listen. Absolutely superb, it really is brilliant. It’s great, it really is good." - Garry Foster, The Prog Rock Files
“One of my favourite albums of the year” - House Of Prog
“A fantastic band” - Dark Compass, Hard Rock Hell Radio
“A certifiable masterpiece” - Eclectic Music Lover
“The whole package is a tour de force” - Velvet Thunder
“A cinematic masterpiece” - Musiczine.net
“Breathtaking” - New Wave Of British Heavy Metal
“Absolutely blown me away” - Beasties Rock Show
“One of the most interesting phenomena on the British prog scene” - MLWZ.PL
“I absolutely love that track”. The Prog Rock Show, Moshville-Times
“An excellent album, as you would expect” - Kiss That Prog
Heavy Music HQ
This is the third time Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate have appeared in our column, and they have never disappointed us. The Light Of Ancient Mistakes keeps the band’s momentum going, with plenty of stellar musicianship, strong production and interesting, topical lyrics.
Much like past efforts, the band’s seventh album keeps the influences of artists such as Genesis, David Bowie, and Pink Floyd at the fore, all while delivering some killer playing and catchy, pop-sensible choruses. … this band is flying way too far under the radar, and deserves a much broader audience.
The Light of Ancient Mistakes is the splendid seventh album from the eclectic UK progressive band, Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate (or HOGIA for short). Following on from last year’s The Confidence Trick, it is another diverse collection of idiosyncratic and genre-defying musical styles, full of songs with thought-provoking lyrics, complemented by a variety of instrumentals, which seemingly link them together.
HOGIA are Malcolm Galloway (vocals, guitar, keyboards and programming) and Mark Gatland (bass), along with occasional input from Kathryn Thomas (flute). Whilst they do have an identifiable signature style, the joy of their music is the broad range of their musical compositions and their intelligent lyrics that constantly challenge and surprise. They really are the musical equivalent of Forrest Gump’s ‘chocolate box’.
The Light of Ancient Mistakes is not a traditional concept album, with a single narrative running through it. However, it does follow a musical and emotional journey exploring a range of themes that have felt relevant to the band over the past few turbulent years. Overall, it has a dark tone to it – exploring not only current issues, but personal thoughts and feelings and even past injustices, making it both an ambitious and challenging listen at times, but one which definitely rewards repeated listening.
Once more, Malcolm takes inspiration from a range of sci-fi novels to put the issues of today into sharp focus. There is light amongst the shade, black humour at times, and even rays of hope – but sadness, anger and despair are the overriding emotions, becoming deeply cathartic as the album progresses.
Malcolm explains, “Although my aesthetic may tend towards the bleak, I think I am neither an optimist or a pessimist overall, but somewhere in the middle. As individuals, humans are often lovely, but as a group, particularly if surrounded by an echo-chamber, we can be appalling. I don’t think we are inherently bad, but we do have evolutionary hangovers in our psychology than can be hacked by those with malicious intentions. Some people prefer their music to be apolitical, and of course I believe that people should be able to listen to what they like. But as someone writing songs, I find it very difficult not to be inspired or affected by what is going on around me. We are very concerned about what appears to be an increased normalisation of the othering of minority groups in society in recent years, in a way that appears to be designed to channel anger at the vulnerable, rather than at those taking advantage of their power.”
I’d like to thank Malcolm for sharing his thoughts and the background to the subject matter on many of the songs. Personal interpretation is always important, but hopefully this song-by-song album review opens up the underlining meaning behind many of them for listeners.
Sold the Peace opens the album in lively fashion with Mark’s funky bass creating a swaggering, disco-like dance over a busy drumbeat and subtle guitar motifs. Stabs of synthesised orchestral sounds follow as Malcolm’s despairing vocals look at the Cold War period that followed the Second World War. The lyrics explore how so much was risked winning the war only for the politicians to sell their principles so cheaply – spending billions on nuclear weapons, in the process.
“We risked it all
To set the world free
Dead or free
The opportunity cost of the unused bombs
So much invested
We stormed the citadel
Then bought the lease
We won the war
We sold the peace”
Malcolm’s anger resonates strongly, as it does on so many HOGIA tracks, with the words juxtaposed to an almost ‘Pet Shop Boys’ soundtrack. Just towards the end there is a change of tempo and some chiming piano before reprising the indictment “We spent you to your knees. We won the war and sold the peace”.
The long-term effects of conflict and failure to communicate are also key elements of the next track, The Light of Ancient Mistakes. Musically it contrasts nicely in tempo and structure with the opener. It starts with a dreamy and atmospheric Pink Floyd-like soundscape conjured up by Malcolm’s manipulated guitar and Kathryn’s stretched vibrato flute, before being joined by Rhodes-style keyboards and then a lethargic bass and drum rhythm, matching Malcolm’s tired and ominous vocals dripping resignation. Malcolm delivers a couple of short, but effective ‘Gilmouresque’ guitar solos before a contemplative, echoey conclusion.
Malcolm says the lyrics are based on Iain M Banks’s novel Look to Windward. “It explores the long-lived consequences of an atrocity. The light from a sun-destroying explosion has travelled for 800 years before reaching an orbital where a commemoration for the tragedy is due to take place. The protagonist of the song is an artificial intelligence trying to show the futility of cycles of hatred to someone planning an act of mass destruction.”
“I want to show you
The light of ancient mistakes.
By the light of dying stars
You might see differently.”
The album artwork by Malcolm and Mark is as impressive as ever, and Malcolm’s cover art based on the title track is certainly haunting.
Transitional instrumentals are a feature of many HOGIA albums, and there are several on this album. Many are named after the work of the sci-fi writings of Adrian Tchaikovsky. Avrana Kern is Made of Ants is the first of these, and is a busy, rhythmically hypnotic track with swirling keyboards and electronica.
The Anxiety Machine is a 3-part atonal, minimalist keyboard-led instrumental, creating a suitably unsettling feeling of loneliness, desolation and separation in keeping with its title and the overall feel of the album. A bubbling mix of experimental and contemporary classical music, they successfully frame and introduce many of the songs.
Part one runs into the sombre and yearning Sixteen Hugless Years. Written after reading Adam Sisman’s biography of David Cornwall (better known as John Le Carré), it recounts his childhood experiences of emotional neglect and how it affected the rest of his life – and subsequently shaped many of scenes in his spy novels. There is a more traditional song structure here, with Mark’s rumbling bass and Malcolm’s restrained guitar chords, and snippets of keyboards accompanying the expressive lyrics (sung from Le Carré’s perspective) and memorable chorus.
“Sixteen hugless years
Sixteen long, long years
I’ve grown old and I’m cold and hard but I’m told
I’m the life and soul but it feels so hollow
After sixteen hugless years.”
Malcom delivers another lovely, though all too short, electric guitar solo at the end to round things off.
The Requisitioner and The Wonder and Gethli and Gothi are two more instrumentals – named after spaceships and characters from Adrian Tchaikovsky’s novels. The former has a haunting quality to it and a feeling of tranquil space and depth, before the tempo rises with expressive bass and keyboards, followed by some luscious and echoing guitar and strings to complete the track. Malcolm’s use of the base of a broken floor-standing lamp as a gong works rather well too. It is probably my favourite instrumental on the album and the extended time befits its multi-layered, compositional structure.
The latter instrumental exudes funky, jazzy influences and Mark once again shows what an expressive bassist he is, as he drives the song through Malcolm’s piano improvisions and keyboard noodlings. Short and snappy, but a lot of fun.
Sandwiched between these two instrumentals is the intriguing The Glamour Boys. Another impressive song with a relaxed, mid-tempo character, with the guitar-led melody complemented by reflective and reverberating keyboard passages. Based on Chris Bryant’s book of the same name about how a group of Tory MPs, despite threats to reveal their sexuality by Chamberlain’s government, stood up against appeasement. Malcolm’s assured vocals convey the sense of injustice felt by the MPs and sadly the ongoing discrimination regarding sexual orientation that persist in many countries to this day. Many went on to risk, and in some cases lose, their lives in the Second World War.
“They call us the glamour boys.
The punishment for speaking out.
The leaks and smears and telephone taps.
The hints the threat the veiled attacks.”
imtiredandeverythinghurts is a deeply personal and emotionally charged song as Malcolm shares his thoughts on the difficulties in communicating about a chronic invisible disability, in his case with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (a genetic collagen disorder which causes, amongst many other problems, chronic pain). The title is based on a t-shirt design Malcolm discovered, and the lyrics question our well-intended use of ‘how are you?’ in social interactions, and the expected ‘I’m fine’ response – when it is rarely true for many people in chronic pain or with other mental or physical health issues.
Malcolm explains: “I don’t want to be dishonest with people by pretending to be fine when I’m not, but I also don’t want to drag people into a conversation about chronic pain that they may not be comfortable with. On the other hand, for those of us with conditions that vary from day to day (or hour to hour), it may be important to communicate what our current level of functionality is. I am also aware that there is no negative intention behind the question, and the last thing I want to do is to discourage people from communicating. The song doesn’t offer any answers, but I hope illustrates an aspect of living with an invisible disability.”
Musically, it is as energetic and aggressive rocker and as direct as any 3-minute punk rock pop song from the late-’70s, with driving guitar riffing and an urgent beat. The insightful lyrics flow at speed and Malcolm even throws in a quick solo before the sudden end. It is another example of the broad church of musical styles within HOGIA.
“I keep smiling,
So you might not notice
That I’m falling apart.
I’m close to an edge,
I need help.
If this time you’re really asking,
I’m tired and everything hurts.”
Walking to Aldebaran is quite a departure even by the standards of HOGIA. A sad, quirky, multi-faceted and schizophrenic song, but not without some wry dark humour, that contains an amalgam of different musical styles. I’ll admit to it taking a few plays for it to click with me, but once you know the meaning behind the lyrics, it makes sense. I’ll let Malcolm explain:
“Awkward communications, although in this case between different parts of the shattering self of the protagonist, continue with this song. Inspired by Adrian Tchaikovsky’s novella of the same name, and includes quotes used with the kind permission of the author. In the story, the space-ship pilot, Garry Rendell (a reference to Grendel perhaps?), is exploring an ancient maze-like space object. Due to a miscommunication between himself and an old, possibly malfunctioning but well-intentioned machine, he is transformed into a monster. This song aims to jump between different styles, from prog metal to musical theatre and contemporary classical music, to reflect the different shards of the shattered mind of poor Gary – and is sung from his perspective.”
Malcolm says that the rhythm and time signature were written to fit the speech patterns in the novel and was a different approach to his usual method of writing. Malcolm’s stream of consciousness style of singing is especially suited to this approach. He also cites Peter Maxwell Davies’s 8 Songs for a Mad King, but I also felt there were even subtle elements of Zappa and Captain Beefheart under the surface.
The song starts boldly with a Dream Theater-like prog metal character, with bursts of guitar, pounding drums and racing piano, soon joined by expressive flute soloing from Kathryn. Malcolm’s vocals rage at the changes taking place within him:
“I’ve become what the monsters are scared of.
I’ve been changed by the mother machine.
I am the thing that used to be me.”
There are fresh elements of free-form jazz in the piano and rhythmic time signature changes and more guitar riffs before a haunting, dreamy synthesiser passage. However, a shift to almost Bertolt Brecht-like theatrics adds some wonderful black humour to proceedings:
“I was the pilot
They didn’t mention getting lost, and eating corpses,
When I was at astronaut school.”
A more manic, absurdist atmosphere takes over as our protagonist increasingly talks to himself to retain any sense of identity and the music darkens and becomes more fragmented.
“Let’s pretend we’re having a conversation.
I used to talk to myself to keep me sane,
But I think we’ve moved a bit beyond that, don’t you?
After the final flurry, the music ends on a calmer, more serene and yet sadder theme, with a plaintive guitar solo, as poor Garry seems resigned to his fate or ponders his future:
“…I keep searching,
Keep looking for someone,
Someone, that looks just a bit like me.”
The track is definitely progressive in nature and will reward those listeners who delve deeper into its lyrics and musical twists and turns. It is interesting to think that, in reality, the monsters of the world are less obvious to us, without their claws and fangs. As Malcolm says, “They are the people some of us become, and some of us tacitly allow to take power, when we fail to control the worst aspects of human nature.” Very topical indeed!
Goodbye Cassini is a beautiful, though poignant, instrumental tribute to the NASA probe to Saturn and its moons, which was deliberately crashed into its atmosphere after almost 8 billion kilometres of scientific exploration. It’s a perfect come down from the intensity of the last track. There is some lovely flute playing from Kathryn throughout, with the notes soaring high and proud, over the relaxed tempo and shifting minimalist musical structures created by Malcolm and Mark beneath it.
The Man Who Japed, is based on a Philip K Dick novel (HOGIA fans will already know Malcolm’s great love of science fiction and the inspiration it gives him). In the book, a previously obedient government official, is surprised to find that he has severed the head of a statue of their dictator in a symbolic act of resistance putting himself at great risk (perhaps a thematic link to The Glamour Boys track from earlier?). The breezy, melodic and flowing instrumental has all the typical elements we have come to expect from the band – with bright keyboards, guitar, bass and drums combining refreshingly, with some nice proggy complexity – yet remaining rather accessible and catchy as well.
The final song, the lead-off single, is the environmentally themed Burn the World. It’s a deeply emotional and unsettling plea for us to do something about our environment, from the perspective of someone from the future looking back with regret on the things we didn’t do now. It has a plaintive and sad tone with Malcolm’s tired and melancholic vocals really seeping into you with repeat plays, and the mournful closing guitar solo resonates in a cathartic way. The lyrics say it all, and sadly have even more relevance, given the apparent effects of climate change seen around the world this Summer:
“We could have cared,
Just enough to give ourselves a chance,
But it’s easier to fail.
We never learned to change.
All the things we could have done, and we chose to burn the world.”
Interesting, the guitar solo is played on a Squire Stratocaster and was originally intended to be the ‘placeholder’ solo. I’m pleased Malcolm and Mark liked it enough to keep it in. Not bad for an £80 buy from eBay!
Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate have produced yet another fine, intelligent, contemporary and eclectic album, displaying their full range of musical styles, including progressive rock, art rock, avant garde, electronica, pop, minimalist classical, jazz and even funk. It is another ambitious and challenging artistic statement, with six diverse instrumentals (one in three parts) and songs with thought-provoking lyrics. A dark album for sure, which oscillates between anger and resignation – both political and deeply personal – yet not without light amongst its shade, with a twinkling candle of hope still flickering.
An album that needs an investment in time to fully take in and understand its deeper meaning. An album to revel in its stylistic variety and haunting atmospherics and the common thread that runs through many of its tracks. For those already familiar with the band, it is a ‘must buy’. However, if you are yet to discover their ‘left field’ charm, and you welcome musicians willing to take the road less travelled at times, then The Light of Ancient Mistakes is worth exploring further.
Nick Holmes Music
“A compelling mix of science fiction with the personal and the political.”
“Like the best science fiction, The Light of Ancient Mistakes urgently engages with contemporary issues.”
“The complex bass guitar and keyboards lines are a highlight, as are the Floydian guitar solos in several songs. Galloway’s vocals are compelling too, sometimes reminiscent of Tim Bowness of no-man; elsewhere there’s a touch of the urgency and yearning of Bowie”
“A thoughtful, highly literate and political album that forms a very satisfying and coherent whole.”
“I absolutely freaking love this, the seventh album from Malcolm Galloway and his insanely brilliant – and most beautifully named – HOGIA project. It’s so feckin’ out there that NASA are going to have to invest billions in a new probe to discover all the levels of its brilliant luminosity….
‘TLOAM’ is prog at its most gloriously excessive and self-indulgent, but also at its most expressive and explorative, combining elements of jazz, folk, glam rock and down ‘n’ dirty trash miens (just in the aforementioned ‘Walking To Aldebaran’ alone). And, ironically, it also prog at its most accessible, blending together tropes and miens that will be familiar to younger fans of the heavier modern incarnation of the genre in a way which also pays due homage to the movement’s fore bearers.
I may have fallen out of love with prog 40 years ago, but shining light on some perceived ancient mistakes may well have rekindled a long-dead affair…"
‘The Light Of Ancient Mistakes’ is the new album from Hats off Gentlemen It’s Adequate and, again, we are offered an intriguing collection of songs, some of which are based on books and authors that Malcolm Galloway has read and been enthralled and inspired by. These books include works by Adrian Tchaikovsky and also the likes of David Cornwell, who wrote as John le Carré, and Conservative MP Chris Bryant. Other tracks are inspired by the works of Sci-Fi authors Iain M Banks and Philip K Dick. So, whilst not a concept album, many of the tracks are thematically linked to literature. This makes the album unusual and also challenging to listen to at times. However, the music is of their usual extremely high standard and there is a lot going on musically which grabs your attention.
The album has several instrumental tracks that combine to make a musical statement. This is pretty different to their last two albums, ‘The Confidence Trick’ and ‘Nostalgia For Infinity’, although the Science Fiction angle is covered by the choice of authors whose works inspired the music. There is some excellent music on this album, including the up-tempo opener Sold The Peace and the sad and aching hurt of Sixteen Hugless Years, which is based on the experiences of childhood neglect. This in itself is a sobering and desperately sad song, it is song where the hurt is palpable and deeply heartfelt. The track really makes an impression as you hear the hurt in the lyrics, all portrayed by Malcolm in a passionately delivered vocal. Also impressive is the song Glamour Boys which is about a group of mostly homosexual or bisexual Conservative MPs who were threatened by the reveal of their sexuality by Chamberlain’s government of the day. These men stood against appeasement and were prepared to suffer for their feelings and their different lifestyles, remember that homosexuality was actually a crime in that time. Many of these MPs paid a high price as a result.
Amongst all this heartache and pain you have interspersed some shorter instrumental pieces that act as a musical sorbet in cleansing the palate before the next song, for example the brief and deeply personal i’mtiredandeverythinghurts, Malcolm’s reflection on coping and living with an invisible disability (chronic pain due to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) and how he feels when folk ask innocently, and with well meaning, ask how he is doing. It is a surprisingly upbeat track, very brief but it makes a good point about how we ask and often fail to understand or comprehend each other at times.
The next big track is Walking To Aldebaran, which is inspired by the Adrian Tchaikovsky novella in which miscommunication between an astronaut and a malfunctioning, but well intended, machine leads to a monstrous transformation. Parts of this inspiration comes from the novella and other parts come from rhythmic patterns inherent in Peter Maxwell Davies‘ ‘Eight Song For A Mad King’. This is a very diverse track, often jarring and abrupt, with a lot of sequenced keyboards and Chapman Stick. It is highly developed and has great sounds contained within its nearly nine minute duration. It is, ultimately, another rather sad and forlorn piece though. Goodbye Cassini is a flute led tribute to the space probe that explored Saturn and its icy moons. When its fuel supply was exhausted on September 15th 2017 it plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere, still returning data to its end. A rather profound tribute to what was a ground-breaking and important scientific research mission that last nearly twenty years and covered nearly five billion miles. The Man Who Japed is inspired by Philip K Dick (who wrote ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep’) and the album’s title track was inspired by Iain M Bank’s ‘Look To Windward’.
The album is an interesting concept and also a very rewarding one ,especially if you delve into what thoughts lie behind the songs and then take the time to let the music work its own magic on you. Within this release you will find many excellent musical passages, some thought provoking words and some deep and important themes and questions. For me, this is another fine, well thought, considered and expertly delivered musical statement from Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate.
"Supreme, eclectic collection of songs from a vital modern act
Tt has only been a year since the release of The Confidence Trick (you can see my review at https://lazland.org/album-reviews-2022/hats-off-gentlemen-its-adequate ), and this is the third since 2020, so they are on a fine creative roll. The new album is a very eclectic mix of styles, ranging from pure prog to post punk, with concepts referencing literary works, climate change, fascinating biography, and the deeply personal. It is a very intelligent piece of work....
I am going to start with a three-part instrumental interspersed within the album, The Anxiety Machine. It exemplifies everything I like about this band’s modern rock music. The first part is dark, foreboding, with orchestral extended synths and dystopian organ notes which hint at a particularly unpleasant experience ahead. The second part continues with the organ but settles into the heart of the attack with a pulsing bass underneath as the anxiety takes control in a passage which is strangely quite beautiful, as, of course, images and words from nightmares can be. The final part is the shortest and amongst the same noises there is a set of disturbing guitar chords as the nightmare is given full vent before a wonderful lighter passage closes proceedings – no more anxiety, simply pastoral existence. These short pieces, to these ears, mark the band as the natural successors to the classic futuristic music of the day such as Tangerine Dream or Kraftwerk.
So, let’s discuss the main body of the album.
Walking To Aldebaran is inspired by a novella of the same name written by Adrian Tchaikovsky, a winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award – you can get this on Kindle. It is the story of an astronaut who is lost and alone in The Oort Cloud, and amongst the rocks there is something very nasty indeed. He loses his sanity and is slowly transformed into a monster. This is a long track, just short of nine minutes and is heavy in parts. The flute swirls and whirls, the musical definition of going mad. Galloway narrates with screaming voice and sober reflection. There is a fantastic bass guitar riff throughout, absurdly weird piano notes bringing a jazz sensibility in a brief passage which stands in stark contrast to what preceded it, but also some gorgeous Floydian synths and a lighter flute as the subject of the story reflects on his transformation. The closing passage is simply beautiful with a sensitive guitar solo. This is a hugely impressive theatrical piece of music which really sounds like nothing else you will hear in 2023.
The same author is responsible for the “Children of Time” series, the first of which won him the award in 2016 dealing with terraforming and a clash of civilisations in what strikes me as being a very ambitious set of works. Three tracks are taken from this series, namely Avrana Kern is Made Of Ants (she is the character responsible for terraforming the uninhabitable world as the last vestiges of humanity leave Earth), The Requisitioner and the Wonder (two spaceships), and Gothi & Gethli (two crow-like creatures which insistently deny they are sentient). The first track is embedded below. I love the almost disco-type groove on this. I can see myself dancing to it, a track which rather defies description. It is certainly not stereotypical progressive rock, but a piece of music which absolutely grows on you with its incessant rhythmic vibe.
The second is a six-minute plus track which opens with some gorgeous synths, delicate guitars, latterly a gorgeous bassline, and especially jazz-infused percussion throughout. Close your eyes and see the spaceships making their way through the ether on a voyage of discovery. The final minute is orchestral and quietly majestic. This is probably the best unspoken track I have heard this year.
The final part has more of that bass and percussive groove. You really can’t help yourself moving along to it. The guitars and piano play the parts of the crow creatures, with some improv weighing in which suggest that (without having read the books) the subjects are trying their hardest to put their inquisitors off the scent. The quiet of the close suggests they were successful and can relax.
Iain M Banks and his novel Look To Windward is the inspiration behind the title track. It is part of his “The Culture” series (I am not familiar with it) and takes its name from a T S Eliot poem, The Waste Land. There is a sense of desolation in the bleak flute and synths which open the piece. There is a gorgeous guitar solo, desperately sad, some three and a half minutes in, and we get another later in the piece presaging dramatic keyboards to close and I get a sense of a modern narrative as well here, in that we seem to be doomed to repeat the same old mistakes (a familiar theme for this band). I have embedded it below. Do enjoy Galloway’s beautifully expressive vocals.
The album opener is Sold the Peace. The bass guitar is at the heart of a track which fair races along. Lyrically, I take this as a theme I have a great deal of personal and political affiliation with, how we won the war against totalitarianism (or, so we thought in 1945 and again in 1989) but owing to our greed and the ineptitude of leaders, threw it all away in the name of the corporate global market economy, thus bringing to the fore a new generation of despots, either in business or in hostile countries. In my professional life, I am sadly very familiar with the offshore greed piling into Britain Galloway bitterly sings about. The closing passage opens with a mournfully gorgeous keyboard leading a jazz piano and the angry denouement of where we are as a society.
Sixteen Hugless Years is inspired by the childhood experiences of David Cornwell, better known as John le Carré. They were a talented family; with one brother Rupert I remember well as a distinguished journalist for The Independent. As you might expect from the song title, it was a difficult childhood. His mother left the family home when he was five, and the father was a known associate of the Krays and did a spell in choky for insurance fraud. The sixteen years referred to is the time he did not see his mother until she initiated a reconciliation. I had a similar experience with my late mother, although far shorter at a couple of years, and my sister, sadly, never reconciled with her. The bitterness flows through this music, Galloway lyrically and vocally putting across a sense of anger so effectively that you feel that there is something personal in this as well as narrating a story. The rhythm section is urgent, and the synths are sorrowful. There is an emotional guitar solo. I really like this piece of music, something intelligently rooted in real-life experience.
But this, I think, is trumped by The Glamour Boys, inspired by the Labour MP (one I admire) Chris Bryant’s book detailing the experiences of a group of mostly homosexual or bisexual Conservative MPs who argued against appeasement – the government of the day threatened to expose their predilections, showing, if nothing else, that dirty tricks by the establishment to get their way are nothing new. Many of these patriots lost their lives in WWII. The song very cleverly talks through the secret lives these men had to live when one’s sexuality could be not merely an embarrassment, but a criminal offence, and certainly the ruination of a career. Musically very thoughtful, with keyboards oozing feeling and empathy, all the while the bass thumping underneath.
So, to the deeply personal. Iamtiredandeverythinghurts is brilliant. Galloway has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (please do go to https://www.ehlers-danlos.com/ to find out more) and the chronic pain led to him having to retire from his medical career. When people ask him how he is, understandably he rather takes umbrage because of the fact he is in constant pain. The vocals are so personal and tell a story of a condition in just short of three minutes, with angry guitars and an urgent rhythm section batting away the questions. He is not okay and listening to this, you get a sense of the pain. It is embedded below.
Goodbye Cassini is a tribute to the space probe which spent thirteen years orbiting Saturn. In 2017, it was deliberately “burned” in the gas giant’s atmosphere, hence the title. Kathryn shines on this gorgeous piece of music. Her flute playing is wonderfully expressive as it follows the probe’s final journey, in parts playful because this was such a successful mission, so the demise was a celebration as opposed to a failure. Expressive classical music in a progressive rock context, and very enjoyable.
The Man Who Japed is a cracking title and named after the novel of Philip K Dick published in the 1950’s, japes being the practical jokes we are familiar with (“jolly japes”). There is a cracking image from the album for this track I have reproduced below, and it refers to the jape where the lead character knocks off the head of a dictatorial leader’s statue. Again, there is a modern parallel here with the recent defacement of traditional heroes’ statues such as Churchill. The instrumental piece recalls the mental turmoil of the hero who is appointed to an important position in a nasty government, but (the jape) has the head hiding in his cupboard, waiting to be discovered.
Burn The World closes proceedings and is a climate change piece. Unbroken sea, islands disappearing, the burning of forests, encroaching desert, and a world in turmoil in a familiar, if important, contribution to the musical debate on the warming climate. It has a gorgeous guitar lead and some delicate backing vocals.
This is another very enjoyable album by one of the most important modern progressive rock bands in Britain. The sheer scale of the ambition and eclecticism is what makes them so good, and this is intelligent music wrought large. It comes very highly recommended.