Earlier this year I was provided with some downloads to review, and although I noted that one was a new album by Clive Nolan I didn't pay it any more attention than any of the others, as although we have known each other for many years, I wasn't aware what it was. When I eventually listened to it for the first time I was blown away, so much so that I immediately purchased the album and a t-shirt! Since then I have played at least part of the album once a week, every week. It has become the 'go to' album in the car when my youngest daughter is with me (her favourites are "Ambush" and "Burial At Sea" while I always go to "The Unwelcome Guest", "The Warning" and "The End Justifies The Means"). It is rare for me to play music for pleasure (get out the violins and handkerchiefs) as I am normally listening to the next set of albums I need to review, but there is something incredibly compelling about this piece of work that brings me back time and again. The last time I can remember an album having this much impact on me was 'Snow', and I know I didn't play that as much as I have this. But, this isn't a review of the double CD of 'Alchemy', but rather of the five disc set which is 'Alchemy Live'. Two CDs of the performance, an additional CD of bonus numbers, a DVD of the live show, and then a further DVD containing loads of bonus material which gives a real insight into how this all came together.
For those who haven't heard 'Alchemy', it is a musical that brings together prog rock with many other styles, and while the musicians are all top class, it is the singers and arrangements that steal the show. It is a story of good over evil, with Clive being the good Professor Samuel King while Andy Sears is the evil Lord Henry Jagman. For the original album Clive brought in a good number of people he had worked with previously, and then it was decided that a full-blown live performance would take place at Wyspianski Theatre, Katowice, Poland. Although this has been written as a full musical, time and money dictated that this performance would see the singers standing in front of microphones, with the band onstage throughout. Mark Westwood (guitars - Caamora), Scott Higham (drums - Pendragon), Claudio Momberg (keyboards - Subterra) and Kylan Amos (bass) do a wonderful job, with backing tracks provided by Penny Gee (violin) and Ian Stott (horn).
Virtually all of the singers who were on the album are here with three exceptions. So as well as Clive and Andy we have Agniescszka Swita (Amelia Darvas), David Clifford (William Gardelle), Victoria Bolley (Eva Bonaduce), Tracy Hitchings (Jane Muncey), Damian Wilson (Captain Joseph Farrell) and Paul Manzi (Milosh). So in Andy, Clive, DC, Tracy, Damian and Paul we have singers all used to fronting bands. The 'new' singers are Sohelia Clifford (Jessamine), Christopher Longman (Ben Greaves) and Chris Lewis (Thomas Anzeray). So, just four musicians but 11 singers, and what an incredible night this was.
One thing that I noticed when playing this is that there are a few times when a voice goes slightly sharp, which is great as it proves that if you were there that night then this is what you would have heard. Now, I can't believe that anyone is going to buy a five disc set unless they already know the material, so instead of a full track by track review, here are just a few highlights.
First off, Andy is the consummate villain. He was born to play this role, and of all those involved is the most theatrical of the main roles, and at the same time he is singing better than ever. When he hit the high notes in "Deception", which is only the second song, I knew we were on for a good night. Agnieszka is a star throughout, with incredible range and pitch, and her duet on "The Warning" with Victoria is a joy to hear. But, I have to confess that the song I was waiting for was "The Unwelcome Guest" which starts as a duet between Tracy and Christopher before Victoria and DC join in on one of the most complex vocal arrangements of the whole performance, as they all sing different lyrics and melodies. But, although it is still a standout song with a stunning performance from Tracy, I felt that Christopher's voice is just too smooth for this, and lacked the edge provided by Paul Menel in the studio. Also, it must be a nightmare to count in and Claudio was trying to help by providing some additional notes but it doesn't really come off.
Sohelia is DC's young teenage daughter, and her voice belies her age as she owned the role of Jessamine and her major solo, "Desperate Days" is a triumph. But her dad is no slouch either, and "Amelia" among others shows what a wonderfully clear voice he has. Paul plays the part of a pirate to perfection in "Ambush" and relishes the role he was given, while Damian could never be anything but the consummate professional. With his hair tied back, and beard in place, can this sailor captain really be the same singer that has fronted so many bands?
Then of course there is Clive. This was his night, the culmination of years of work, and the result is just staggering. He more than stands his ground with the rest of the singers, and given that he is normally a keyboard player in the background that is no mean feat. But, if I was to point to just one song, one line, in fact one word, that makes this indispensible to those who already have the studio album then that would be Victoria in "Treachery", where when confronted with Jessamina who she believes has betrayed them, she calls her "bitch". That one word, is sung with such power and passion that the hatred is palpable and makes this all feel so very real indeed.
Metal Mind have brought together an incredible package, with a five disc fold-out digipak, each side showing a photo of one of the singers, and a 40+ page booklet with all of the lyrics plus more photos, details of where all of the songs from the bonus CD come from. Some of these are original demos, while others are songs that never made it to the final album or morphed into something else.
Of course, as well as the music there are two DVDs containing the complete show plus loads of additional material including interviews, fundraiser footage, 'Making Of' etc. The result is something that is worth far more than the lousy 5/5 I can give it. Looking at the Top 2013 in PA, I can see that 'Alchemy' is currently at position 22 (a travesty) so there are obviously many people who have purchased the studio album, and if they love that half as much as I do then this is an absolutely essential purchase. I wasn't able to get to the Cheltenham shows in September (something to do with living on the other side of the world), but until I do manage to catch up with this wonderful cast then this is something to which I will often be returning.
Review by Kev Rowland
Photos by Natalia Tuszyńska, Kara Rokita