It has been more than twenty years since I first made contact with Clive, and since then I have followed his musical adventures with great interest. I spent one Summer holiday playing Shadowland’s ‘Ring of Roses’ almost constantly as one of my daughters (who was all of five years old at the time) declared that it was the most amazing thing she had ever heard. Fast forward to 2004 and another of my daughters had me play ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ constantly as she was of the same view with this particular album (and she was older at eleven). Me, I have enjoyed everything Clive has been involved with, from Strangers on a Train and Pendragon through Shadowland and others and have always enjoyed our chats in various pubs and venues. But, having seen photos of the Polish show of this album, would it live up to expectations?
I initially received this as a digital download to review, but it wasn’t long before I bought the CD and the t-shirt (literally) as I just had to have the complete package in my hands. To say that this is by far Clive’s greatest achievement may be quite a statement to make, but playing this through just once will ensure that you agree with me. Clive has brought together some great musicians to assist him in providing the wonderful backdrop, but it is the singers that steal the show. This is much more than ‘just’ a concept album, it is a full-blown musical, and even though there is further explanation in the detailed booklet that comes with the double CD set, the lyrics and narration ensure that the listener knows exactly what is happenings. It is a quest, a fight of good against evil, with Professor King (played by Clive) and his colleagues attempting to foil the dastardly plot of Lord Henry Jagman (Andy Sears).
In all there are eleven characters, with most of the singers well-known to the prog crowd, but it may surprise some to discover that vocalists such as Tracy Hitchings (Landmarq), Damian Wilson (Threshold etc) and Paul Manzi (Arena) actually have fairly small roles. The other main male role is taken by David Clifford (Red Jasper) who is William Gardelle, while the two main female roles are Agnieszka Swita who plays Amelia and Victoria Bolley who plays the part of Eva. As I said, it is the singers who steal the show, with all of those involved putting in stunning performances. I honestly believe that Andy Sears has channelled all of the anger and angst that he used to perform “Creepshow” into a full-blown performance that has him singing better than he did 20 years ago. Clive is a revelation, as surely this can’t be the same person who supports Nick in Pendragon, while DC was Red Jasper’s drummer, not their lead singer (although he has now taken that role), duet comes across as a polished performer of real class. Add to that the incredible sopranos of Agnieszka, Victoria and Noel Calcaterra who plays Jessamine and it is an incredibly powerful mix.
But, there is much that makes this a compelling album. For me one of the major elements is the complexity of the vocals, which sometimes means that three or four singers can all be singing different melodies and lyrics against the same music backdrop, mixing and melding together in a way that is hard to comprehend yet is in such clarity that every word and nuance is fully heard and understood. There are songs such as “Quaternary Plan” or “Tide of Wealth” that brings together elements of ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ with ‘Mary Poppins’ as the listener wants to join in the chorus, while others are far darker and harder. There are showstopping ballads, with room for every one to shine.
To me this is the logical progression on from ‘Journey To The Centre of the Earth’ and the aforementioned ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ with ‘Les Mis’ and ‘Fiddler’ also making important contributions.
I was dropping my youngest daughter at the bus stop the other day (she is 16, I am blessed with four daughters and I’ve tried to train them all in the joys of music, with differing levels of success), and she asked me what I was playing. I told her, and she said “it’s really good, and the singers are incredible aren’t they?”
‘Nuff said. I can’t imagine hearing a finer piece of work for a very long time indeed.