Tag Archives: symphonic rock

Interview with Annie Haslam of Renaissance

Singer Annie Haslam has one of the most recognizable voices in the progressive rock world. She joined progressive symphonic rock group Renaissance during its early stage and has carried the torch for many years. Annie currently leads Renaissance and the band is geting ready to tour the United States. She talked to Progressive Rock central about her career and the upcoming tour.

What are your fondest musical memories?

Performing at Carnegie Hall in 1975, the Albert Hall in 1977, meeting my favorite singer I used to listen to before I started singing professionally ‘Joan Baez’, and I was also thrilled that she knew of me too!

Also meeting Paul McCartney at De Lane Lea studios in 1977 when I was recording my solo album ‘Annie in Wonderland‘ produced by Roy Wood.

Annie Haslam – Annie in Wonderland

Roy and I were listening back to ‘If I Loved You’, and I had just finished my final vocal track. Paul was at the studios with Linda and Denny Laine, they were mixing ‘Wings at the Speed of Sound‘.

Paul was taking a break and heard my vocals floating down the corridor from studio 3! When he came in he said how beautiful my singing was and that it made his hair on his arms stand up ! Wow!
Hhe stayed and chatted for about an hour, a magical experience!

Performing in 2017 with orchestra again, 40 years almost to the day that we last played with an orchestra… it was a huge amount of work to put it all together and something we had been trying to accomplish again for many years. We have a DVD from the Keswick Theatre show, Glenside, PA called ‘A Symphonic Journey‘, a very proud time!

Renaissance – A Symphonic Journey

Did you have any formal music studies?

Yes I did, I went to Sybil Knight who had been an opera singer, because of that I learned to sing from my diaphragm and not just from the throat, that is when I discovered my 5 octaves!

What was the first tune you learned?

When I was very young, I learned a song called “Diana” by Paul Anka… when friends came to the house (in Bolton, Lancashire), my Dad used to say “Our Anne, come on let’s hear you sing Diana… I was always mortified and dreaded those words that I knew were coming. I was only 10 and would only sing standing behind the door to the kitchen so no one could see me!

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

First, the strong beautiful and memorable melodies, carried along by the piano as lead instrument, thought provoking and unique interesting lyrics and my 5 octave voice. All of these elements enhanced by lush and powerful orchestral arrangements.

Renaissance was one of the pioneers of the progressive rock genre. How did the confluence of rock and symphonic music come together in your case? Were there other influences?

The original band was formed by Keith Relf and Jim Mc Carty of the Yardbirds. They were the ones who created the sound of the band. We took it to another level with the addition of more classical influences and writing our own pieces in a more classical vein and, of course, taking it to the ultimate level by performing with orchestras; in particular, The New York Philharmonic (Carnegie Hall) and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Royal Albert Hall).

Renaissance

The British and American mainstream music media were very hostile towards progressive rock. How did they treat Renaissance and why do you think there was such animosity towards progressive rock?

I am not aware that there was hostility. I remember being treated very well, with maybe a few reviewers that couldn’t quite get a hold of the longer passages that came along with this genre…we were very fortunate here in the USA with WNEW in New York City (Alison Steele) and WMMR in Philadelphia (Ed Sciaky) playing a huge role in breaking the band in this country.

Many of the progressive rock pioneers kept the band name but changed genre in the late 1970s and early 1980s, switching from progressive rock to radio friendly AOR and pop. Did Renaissance get any pressure from record labels and radio stations to change its format to shorter catchy songs?

We certainly did, and I was against it, but the times were changing, and after Northern Lights was a hit, it was plain to see that we were capable of writing pop songs… but we took it to the extreme, and sadly lost out uniqueness. We never caught up again until Michael Dunford and I reformed Renaissance in 2009 using some of my solo band musicians… from which we have grown from strength to strength. Sadly Michael passed away in 2012.

How did your musical ideas evolve throughout the years from your debut album to your latest recordings?

We were not involved in the first Renaissance album..Kings and Queens, a fabulous album. When I went for the audition in 1971 I learned all the songs on that and was asked to sing Island, which got me the job and which we orchestrated for the first time and included it in our 2017 ‘A Symphonic Journey‘ DVD.

renaissance – Prologue

Our albums from Prologue on evolved naturally from one album to the next; it was like we were all growing together in the same direction. The music was outstanding between 1972 through 1979, and stands out as being some of the best… After we made the foopah of taking the wrong direction in the mid-early 80s, finally years later when we reformed, Michael and I vowed we would go back to our roots, and we did with a glorious album called ‘Grandine il Vento (2012).

Renaissance – Grandine il Vento

Tell us a little about your upcoming tour and the musicians you are currently working with.

Our upcoming tour will be on the US east coast it will be our 50th Anniversary Tour, with 10 concerts, 5 will be with our very own ‘The Renaissance Chamber Orchestra.’

Founding member of the Yardbirds and Renaissance Jim McCarty will be making a special appearance at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania on October 12th and will be filmed for a blue-ray DVD. Band members are: Annie Haslam on lead vocals; Rave Tesar on keyboards; Mark Lambert on guitars and vocals; Leo Traversa on bass guitar and vocals; Geoffrey Langley on keyboards and vocals; and Frank Pagano on drums, percussion and vocals.

Renaissance in 2019

Your tours seem to focus on the northeastern region of the United States, what some call the progressive rock corridor. Do you have plans to tour in other parts of the United States or elsewhere?

We would love to perform in other parts of the US but it is too expensive to take 9 people on the road… our hearts are willing but the promoters cannot pay enough to make it happen.

We have been able to go overseas in the past few years, though, and since we reformed in 2009 we have been to Japan, South Korea, England, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Israel, Portugal and Brazil… in fact we are going back to Brazil next March (2020). So excited about that!

Mainstream media does not provide an outlet for progressive music. In what ways are you promoting your music?

We promote through live shows of course, some internet radio stations and there is streaming of many types… seems like the internet world in unending.

Of course there are still FM radio stations still playing our music, but most of them are commercial now and the DJ’s have less ability to choose their own choice of music.

If you could gather any additional musicians, or bands, to collaborate with, whom would that be?

At this point in time, I would just love to keep performing with Renaissance accompanied by orchestra, it’s just way it should be!

Personally, I would like to finish off a writing/recording project with Steve Howe that we started back in 1997. We wrote some beautiful songs together over in the UK and our blend of his unique style of guitar work and my voice were a match made in heaven.. that’s my wish (smiles).

Aside from the tour, do you have any additional upcoming projects to share with us?

After the Fall tour I will be going over to the UK in January to edit the DVD, looking forward to that very much. Then, we will be touring in Brazil next March, 2020. We were there in 2017, quite an amazing experience as the fans had been waiting over 45 years to see the band! So we know they will be unforgettable shows.

headline photo: Annie Haslam – Photo by Ebet Roberts

Gracefully Elegant Big Big Train

Big Big Train – Grand Tour (English Electric Recordings, 2019)

On the album Grand Tour, British progressive rock band Big Big Train provides a musical representation of the grand tour. This was a European 17th and 18th century tradition carried out by young upper class men, and sometimes women. The idea was to travel throughout Europe to get exposed to other cultures.

Although Big Big Train present songs about ancient history, sailing ships and conventional journeys, they update the customary trip with space travel as well.

Big Big Train – Grand Tour

Big Big Train has become one of the finest progressive rock acts in the current scene, with outstanding musicians and some of the best male vocals well, including lead vocals and their signature, beautifully constructed choruses.

The album opens with a short song, Novum Organum” with a magical feel that sets the tone of the album. It’s followed by “Alive” the most commercial track on the album, destined to be a sing along song.

Track 3, “The Florentine” begins with a folk-style acoustic and electric guitars and harmony vocals that progresses into marvelous symphonic rock with fine guitar, exquisite violin by Rachel Hall, creative drumming and synths.

“Roman Stone” is a progressive rock gem, an epic showcasing fantastic lead and harmony vocals, the band’s signature classical brass ensemble sound, intricate guitar, more delightful violin, majestic mellotron, sections where Big Big Train intertwines classical, jazz and progressive rock elements masterfully and with ease. And of course, a grand finale with synthesizer goodness.

Next comes the virtuosic “Pantheon.” It starts with bewitching mellotron and violin stars followed by brass, synths and on to the full band, delivering state of the art symphonic progressive rock.

Track 6 contains the album’s second single “Theodora in Green and Gold.” Here, the piano, string synths and vocals take the lead. It’s a beautiful ballad with memorable vocals and guitar work.

“Ariel” highlights more of the band’s masterful intertwined lead and harmony vocals along with genuinely lovely violin. The song builds uptempo with superb guitar and harmony vocals that amusingly sound like a tribute to Queen’s harmonies.

Track 8 is dedicated to the “Voyager” spacecraft. It’s an instant classic, a superb set of first class vocal work, symphonic brass, dancing violin. It grows into full blown epic-form progressive rock. There is a section with mesmeric violin and guitar that is truly electrifying.

The album ends with an engaging song where the full band’s vocals, drums, guitar, electric organ, brass and violin stand out.

Buy Grand Tour in the Americas

Buy Grand Tour in Europe

Renaissance Releases Expanded Version of “Prologue” Album

Esoteric Recordings has announced the release of a newly re-mastered and expanded edition of the classic 1972 album by Renaissance, “Prologue”.

Formed in 1969 by former Yardbirds members Jim McCarty and Keith Relf, Renaissance had by 1971 experienced a series of line-up changes and had evolved into a completely different band from the one that had recorded the albums “Renaissance” and “Illusion”.

Renaissance – Prologue.

By June 1972 Renaissance included celebrated vocalist Annie Haslam, John Tout (keyboards, vocals), Jon Camp (bass, vocals), Terry Sullivan (drums, percussion) and Rob Hendry (guitar, mandolin, vocals).

The album “Prologue” was recorded in June and July 1972 and contained material written by Michael Dunford (a member of the group who had decided to skip performing with the band to concentrate on songwriting) and lyricist Betty Thatcher. Featuring such classic material as the album title track, “Kiev”, “Spare Some Love” and the epic “Rajah Kahn”, “Prologue” was also notable for the presence of guest musician Francis Monkman (of Curved Air) who would play VCS 3 synthesizer on “Rajah Khan”. The album would pave the way for the future success of Renaissance and would effectively be regarded as the band’s first true album.

This Esoteric Recordings edition has been re-mastered from the original Sovereign Records master tapes and adds the rare single version of “Spare Some Love” as a bonus track (appearing on CD for the very first time). The booklet features a new essay and exclusive interviews with Annie Haslam and Terry Sullivan and fully restores the original album artwork.

Interview with Transylvanian Band Yesterdays

Yesterdays, a progressive rock band based in Transylvania, Romania, recently released Senki Madara, a fascinating recording where Hungarian traditional music meets with state of the art symphonic progressive rock.

Yesterdays – Senki Madara

The band talked to Progressive Rock Central in December 2018:

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

I think is important to listen many styles of good music. For us, classical music, jazz, fusion and traditional music are the ingredients and this helps keeping the sound and the ideas fresh. Prog is just the final form, we communicate on this “language” best.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

We grew up listening to The Beatles, Yes, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd, but from the classical side renaissance music is essential for us, the usage of polyphonic vocals are very important to us.Of course Debussy, Ravel, Bartók and Stravinsky are also our favorites. Later we got to love Pat Metheny, Chick Corea’s works from the seventies and of course Hungarian bands like East and Faxni, and also some obscure folk/jazz bands like Makám and Kolinda.

Stephanie Semeniuc (vocals) – Yesterdays

How did your musical ideas evolve throughout the years?

We started Yesterdays at a young age, so we were experimenting with prog, even bossa nova. Now after more than 12 years we are still experimenting, but everything got more conscious. You know, we love prog because here we can do musically everything we want. We are not part of any big label, so we don’t have to deal with compromises, which is a fantastic thing.


Fehér Róbert Benjamin (guitars, backing vocals) – Yesterdays

Tell us a little about the band members and the background.

The main “old” elements of Yesterdays are still present, me on guitars and keys, Enyedi Zsolt on keyboards, synths, Kósa Dávid percussion, we were present on all the 3 albums. Kecskeméti Gábor, flute virtuoso, got involved with our second album and since then he is also with us. While Zsolt and I are the main progheads, Dávid is more a funky guy, Gábor comes from the jazzy, bossa-nova fields, he is an amazing fusion guy with perfect pitch! Stephanie Semeniuc is the lead singer on the new album, she also has classical training, but she comes from jazz and funk, she’s a pro, handles prog very easily. Our drummer is Szűcs József, who plays with us for years now.

Enyedi Zsolt (keyboards) – Yesterdays

What’s the connection between progressive rock and Hungarian folk music?

Well, you can find connections everywhere. Hungarian folk music is such a rich and ancient source, it’s been “used” by Bartók a lot. It has beautiful melodies, texts, deep meanings, sums up the Hungarian traditions and history. Progressive rock is such a nice and forgiving style with integrating the “old” into the “new”. Just look at the classical renditions by Nice, ELP or Gryphon’s and Gentle Giant’s renaissance connections. We did the same thing with Hungarian folk music and it felt very natural. I think one can feel it by listening to the Senki madara album, it’s been only 1 and a half months since the release date and we are almost sold out. It feels good!

 


Bogáti-Bokor Ákos (guitars, keyboards) – Yesterdays

Although you are a Hungarian band, you are based in Romania. What’s the reason for this?

Yes, it’s correct. Transylvania, where we are living now was part of Hungary for a few hundred years. The 20th Century brought changes with the World Wars, so Transylvania is now part of Romania. Our grandparents were born in “Hungarian times”, we were born in “Romanian times”, so right now we live in Romania as Hungarian minorities along with many others. It’s a historical thing. Our roots belong here, our past, our traditions tie us to this land, we are at home here.

Kecskeméti Gábor (flute) – Yesterdays

What musical instruments do you use?

Yesterdays is s symphonic prog band, so we are using all those instruments and samples from the seventies which made this sound unique. Many types of acoustic guitars, electrics, steel guitars, distorted bass, fretless bass, mellotrons, Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, piano, flutes and many many vocals.

Kósa Dávid (percussion, vocals) – Yesterdays

Do you have plans to continue the great fusion of progressive rock and Hungarian music?

Of course, although this album started out as an experiment, looking at the current success and positive responses we decided to play as many shows as possible in 2019 with a minimal setup (voice, guitars and flute, in a trio line-up), but of course you can expect many sound-wizard things as well. We are planning to shoot a DVD with this material in the Summer of 2019. But near this, a brand new concept album is in the making, my long-time dream, a classical story from literature…

Szűcs József (drums) – Yesterdays

How’s the progressive rock scene in Hungary and Romania?

Right now it’s not in a good shape… the classic bands like Solaris are doing a few comeback shows every now and then, but that’s all. Barbaro is over, After Crying isn’t active as far as I know. In Romania it’s the same. Yesterdays is the only active prog band in Romania (it’s safe to say).

If you could gather any additional musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

We have many special friendships with Flamborough Head (played with them 3 times in the past), with Paidarion (from Finland) and with Argos (+Yacobs). In 2019 we’ll play a few shows with Argos in Germany.

As for recordings, we have many wishes to play with Patrick Moraz, Pálvölgyi Géza (East), maybe Dan Andrei Aldea (from Romanian band Sfinx), just to name a few, but Canadian singer/songwriter Marie-Pierre Arthur got under our skin with her recent album, she got near the progressive rock territory… it would be nice to collaborate with her (she is also involved in the recent Harmonium tribute in Canada… check her out!)

Aside from the new album, do you have any additional upcoming projects to share with us?

Yes, we are working on a new single/song right now and in 2019 hopefully will bring our first DVD/live CD, and in the meanwhile we’ll keep on working on the 4th album, hopefully it won’t take this long as the 3rd…

Discography:

Holdfénykert (Rockszerviz Records, 2006), re-released enhanced and remastered in 2008 (Musea Records)
Colours Caffé (2011)
Senki Madara (2018)

website: www.yesterdaysband.eu

Formidable Multifaceted Alan Simon

Alan Simon – Songwriter (Babaika Productions/The Right Honourable Recording Company, 2017)

Songwriter is a compilation of musical works by French musician and composer Alan Simon now available on as 2 CDs (previously it was available on vinyl only). The anthology includes material from rock operas and other recordings made from 1995 to 2017.

Alan Simon is the creator of the highly successful Excalibur: The Celtic Rock Opera. He’s deeply influenced by Celtic, world and symphonic music, folk and progressive rock as well. Songwriter represents a wide range of genres, from majestic cinematic orchestral pieces to evocative Celtic music, exotic world music and progressive rock elements as well.

The compendium includes guest appearances by well-known artists from various backgrounds: members of Supertramp, Jon Anderson of Yes, Christian Décamps of legendary French progressive rock band Ange, Spanish bagpipe master Carlos Núñez, Midnight Oil, Alan Parsons, Fairport Convention, Moya Brennan, John Wetton, Justin Hayward, Maddy Prior, Billy Preston, Roberto Tiranti, Martin Barre, Les Holroyd, Mick Fleetwood and Zucchero.

Buy Songwriter

The Flower Kings Announce Second Boxed Set: ‘A Kingdom of Colours 2 (2004 – 2013)’

Acclaimed Swedish progressive rock band The Flower Kings has a new boxed set titled A Kingdom of Colours 2 (2004 – 2013). The new anthology includes the albums from ‘Adam & Eve’ to ‘Desolation Rose’ and also contains 3 discs of bonus material dating back from 1995.

This new collection is a follow-up to ‘A Kingdom of Colours (1995-2002)’ released late last year, that covered the period starting with ‘Back in the World of Adventures’ to ‘Unfold the Future’ over the course of 10 discs.

Full track-listing for the boxed set:

Adam & Eve
1 Love Supreme 19:50
2 Cosmic Circus 3:00
3 Babylon 2:41
4 A Vampires View 8:50
5 Days Gone By 1:10
6 Adam & Eve 7:50
7 Starlight Man 3:30
8 Timelines 7:40
9 Drivers Seat 18:22
10 The Blade of Cain 5:00

Paradox Hotel

CD1
1 Check In 1:37
2 Monsters & Men 21:21
3 Jealousy 3:22
4 Hit Me With a Hit 5:32
5 Pioneers of Aviation 7:49
6 Lucy Had a Dream 5:28
7 Bavarian Skies 6:34
8 Selfconsuming Fire 5:49
9 Mommy Leave the Light On 4:38
10 End on a High Note 10:43

CD2
1 Minor Giant Steps 12:13
2 Touch My Heaven 6:09
3 The Unorthodox Dancinglesson 5:23
4 Man of the World 5:59
5 Life Will Kill You 7:02
6 The Way the Waters Are Moving 3:11
7 What If God Is Alone 7:00
8 Paradox Hotel 6:30
9 Blue Planet 9:43

The Sum of No Evil

1 One More Time 13:04
2 Love Is the Only Answer 24:28
3 Trading My Soul 6:25
4 The Sum of No Reason 13:25
5 Flight 999 Brimstone Air 5:00
6 Life in Motion 12:34

Banks Of Eden

1 Numbers 25:20
2 For the Love of Gold 7:30
3 Pandemonium 6:05
4 For Those About to Drown 6:50
5 Rising the Imperial 7:40

Desolation Rose

1 Tower One 13:37
2 Sleeping Bones 4:16
3 Desolation Road 4:00
4 White Tuxedos 6:30
5 The Resurrected Judas 8:24
6 The Silent Masses 6:17
7 Last Carnivore 4:22
8 Dark Fascist Skies 6:05
9 Blood of Eden 3:12
10 Silent Graveyards 2:52

Bonus Disc 1

1 Kite 07:32
2 Buffalo Man 05:28
3 The Flower King (re-recording 1998) 11:46
4 Stardust We Are (re-recording 1998) 08:57
5 Last Exit 09:17
6 Brazilian Woman 04:18
7 Dexter Frank Jr. 02:24
8 Agent Supreme 02:34
9 Space Traveller 13:10

Bonus Disc 2

1 Petit Heritage 02:02
2 A Good Heart 05:21
3 The Crown and The Cross 04:54
4 King of Grief 03:51
5 She Carved Me a Wooden Heart 05:59
6 Space Revolver 07:33
7 Jupiter Backwards 06:25
8 The River 05:43
9 Turn The Stone 05:07
10 Regal Divers 06:01

Bonus Disc 3

1 Illuminati 06:20
2 Fireghosts 05:50
3 Going Up 05:10
4 LoLines 04:40
5 Runaway Train 04:41
6 Interstellar Visitations 08:24
7 Lazy Monkey 02:25
8 Psalm 2013 02:10
9 The Wailing Wall 03:18
10 Badbeats 05:24
11 Burning Spears 03:15
12 The Final Era 02:57

Buy A Kingdom of Colours 2 (2004 – 2013)

The Enid Releases Live At The Citadel

British progressive symphonic rock band The Enid has a new album titled Live At The Citadel, recorded in St. Helens, October 2017.

The live performance includes classic and recent the Enid musical pieces, including Mayday Galliard, Ondine, When the World is Full, Death, The Lovers, Cortege, Humoresque, Spring, Fand, and Chaldean Crossing.

The Enid live at the Citadel, October 2017

The lineup includes Robert John Godfrey on keyboards, Zachary Bullock on keyboards and Jason Ducker on guitars.

The album is available from www.theenid.co.uk

Rising Talent from Brescia

Il Paradiso Degli Orchi – Il Corponauta (AMS Records, 2016)

Il Paradiso Degli Orchi is a new progressive rock band from Brescia in northern Italy that has attracted a lot of attention. Il Corponauta is the band’s second album, based on Il Corponauta, a book by the late Flavio Emer.

With the assistance of rock progressivo italiano icon, musician and producer Fabio Zuffanti, Il Paradiso Degli Orchi delivers a formidable, masterfully-crafted album.

From the very beginning, Il Paradiso Degli Orchi engages the listener with superb layers and mellotron, guitars, drums and assorted percussion. The vocals are in Italian, which always adds to the charm of Italian bands.

The instrumental skills are what stands out in Il Paradiso Degli Orchi with great interplay between the guitars, flute, keyboards and bass, supported by creative rhythms.

Stylistically, Il Paradiso Degli Orchi incorporates exquisite, classic progressive rock of an epic nature, jazz fusion, forward-thinking electronica and some Italian folk music inspirations. Influences include prog rock era-Yes, Banco, King Crimson, PFM and Jethro Tull.

Il Corponauta is a long album with a mix of short songs and extensive pieces, including an 18-minute long suite and the final epic aptly titled Il Gran Finale with guitar and mellotron that will send chills down the spine of progressive rock fans.

The lineup includes Marco DeGiacomi on drums and vocals; Michele Sambrici on guitars, keyboards, mellotron and vocals; Andrea Corti on bass; Sven Jorgensen on lead vocals and guitars; Stefano Corti on percussion; and Andrea Calzoni on flute and saxophone. Guests: Iran Fertonani on percussion; and Giorgio Presti on synthesizer.

Buy Il Corponauta in Europe

Buy Il Corponauta in the rest of the world

Focus’ Renaissance

Focus – The Focus Family Album (In and Out of Focus Records, 2017)

Acclaimed Dutch band has been experiencing a renaissance in recent years with superb progressive rock albums, international tours and artwork by iconic illustrator Roger Dean. The Focus Family Album is a 2-CD set with 15 previously unreleased pieces and alternate adaptations.

Disc One opens with Nature Is Our Friend, a great flute solo piece by founder and bandleader Thijs Van Leer.

Track 2, Song For Eva, is one of the best compositions in the album. It begins with a spoken word part taken from Lord Byron’s “They Say That Hope Is Happiness.” The rest is a masterful instrumental with admirable bluesy prog guitar work, nearly eight minutes of guitar goodness by Menno Gootjes.

Each member of the band has solo pieces in The Focus Family Album. Riverdance is a drum and percussion work by Pierre Van Der Linden, from a drum album he made from friends.

“Victoria” is an anthemic Focus instrumental that appeared in the album Focus X. This is a vocal remix version with vocoder.

Menno Gootjes picks up the acoustic guitar on Two-Part Intervention, recorded after the Focus 11 sessions.

Mosh Blues is a powerful blues jam recorded in Brazil while on tour.

Raga Reverence 1 is a piece by Swung, an improvisational jazz-rock trio formed by Focus members: Menno Gootjes (guitar), Pierre Van Der Linden (drums) and Bobby Jacobs (bass).

The Fifth Man is a hard rocking track recorded in 2014 that nearly made it to Focus 11.

Bassist Udo Pannekeet, who joined Focus in 2016, delivers a masterful fretless bass performance on Song For Yaminah.

The last track on Disc 1 is the laid back Clair Obscur featuring masterful guitar work by Menno Gootjes. It’s an early version of the piece that appeared in Focus 11.

Disc Two opens with another classic Thijs Van Leer flute solo, a mesmerizing piece titled Let Us Wander? That includes birds and other nature sounds.

“Birds Come Fly Over (Le Tango)” was released in Focus 10 with vocals by Ivan Lins. Here, the song features the original vocals (and his unmistakable trademark whistling) by Thijs Van Leer. It has a Latin American flavor and features superior guitar work by Menno Gootjes.

“Spiritual Swung” is the second solo drum piece by Pierre Van Der Linden.

Brazilian singer Ivan Lins sings in Spanish on “Santa Teresa” a song by Thijs Van Leer dedicated to Chile. Originally meant to be included in Focus X, it only appeared in the Japanese edition of Focus X. Great work by Lins on vocals, Van Leer on flute and Gottjes on guitars.

Hazel is an exquisite, skillful acoustic guitar solo by Menno Gootjes.

Focus plays the blues on “Fine Without You,” featuring vocals by Jo De Roeck and superb blues organ by Thijs Van Leer and electric guitar work by Menno Gootjes.

Instrumental trio Swung returns with a second improvisational piece titled “Raga Reverence 5.” The three musicians experiment and create new parts during Focus soundchecks and downtime.

“Five Fourth” is classic Focus, a symphonic progressive rock instrumental with delightful guitar and organ interplay.

Udo Pannekeet performs a funk jazz bass solo titled “Anaya” on his 6-string bass, along with drum programming.

The last track, “Winnie” is another wonderful instrumental from the Focus 11 sessions featuring memorable guitar by Menno Gootjes and flute by Thijs Van Leer.

The Focus Family Album physical edition comes in an 8-panel digipack with artwork by Roger Dean. The booklet includes credits, lyrics, photos and illustrations.

Buy The Focus Family Album in Europe

Buy The Focus Family Albumm in the rest of the world

Interview with Acclaimed Norwegian Band Wobbler

Norwegian act Wobbler is one of the greatest progressive symphonic rock bands that came out of northern Europe in recent years. Wobbler recently released a superb album titled From Silence to Somewhere. The current lineup includes Lars Fredrik Frøislie on keyboards; Kristian Karl Hultgren on bass; Martin Nordrum Kneppen on drums and percussion; Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo on vocals and guitar; and Geir Marius Bergom Halleland on lead guitar. Two members of Wobbler discussed with us the new recording and their background.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

Andreas: The sound of Wobbler is not a constant one, but there are some elements that probably could be called essential. We’re very fond of vintage gear, because we think it sounds better and more «natural». It’s not always a perfect sound in terms of modern hi-fi standards, but it is an honest and soulful sound, almost with an otherworldly presence.

When a sound is very slick or perfect with no flaws, it becomes artificial and flat in our opinion. We try our best to create some magical moods and moments within our songs, and the right gear helps us achieve that.

Another essential element is the way we think about progressive music. We will never make a difficult song or structure just for the sake of pushing the envelope in terms of doing something completely new. We strive to create compositions that touches both the brain and the heart.

Seven different parts piled on top of each other does not necessarily make a good song. If we manage to make music that speaks directly to the listeners, that bypasses genres and analytical examination, then I believe we have done something right. And the song may be complex, but not for the sake of it. It has to fit with the greater whole. Our aesthetics are rooted in the golden age of prog, but we’re no strangers to incorporating newer elements if it suits the music. And we love a good melody.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

Lars: Mainly progressive rock from the golden age 1969-1974. British bands such as King Crimson, ELP, Genesis, Yes, Egg, Hatfield and the North, Gentle Giant. Loads of Italian bands: PFM, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Marxophone, Museo Rosenbach, Il balletto di bronzo, etc. Also baroque music, classical, jazz, 60s psychedelia and pop, 90s black metal and folk can be traced.

When it comes to sound, I’m fond of the sound of early 70s, Neil Young, Dolly Parton, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd to name a few.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

Lars: Hinterland (2005): we were very young, and this was probably the first time most of us had ever been in a real studio. The process was long and filled with pain and ups and downs. I did a remix of Hinterland which was released last year, which I’m quite proud of. Finally got the sound we aimed for.

 

Wobbler – Hinterland

 

Afterglow (2009): We had almost broken up as a band, and i started recording the old songs we made when we were in our teens. Like a document. Also the painting of the front cover is from the same period (late 90s), so Afterglow seemed like a appropriate title for the album. It’s quite short (30-something minutes), but it’s so full of ideas and stuff, that it would have been too much info for the ear to have it longer – at least in my opinion. Anyway, the album made us hang in there as a band, even though it was recorded in a very primitive manner on my parents farm. Didn’t really have that good recording equipment, just a few ok preamps and half decent microphones.

I did a remix of that one as well a few years back, and it really helped to send the signal thru my analog TG1 limiter and germanium eq. Basically the same equipment as they had in Abbey Road in the early 70s.

 

wobbler – Afterglow

 

Rites at Dawn (2011): With Andreas on vocals everything finally got together in my opinion. Such a great vocalist and he also writes lyrics and is full of ideas. He came in rather late in the recording process, but his vocals is like it had always been there.

 

Wobbler – Rites at Dawn

 

From Silence to Somewhere (2017): After Morten, the guitarist, left the band in 2011, we went into a sort of depression or something. I think that’s why it took so long before this one came out. When Geir Marius joined the band on guitar, everything became easier, and now we have a steady line up, and everything is going great.

 

Wobbler – From Silence to Somewhere

 

When it comes to instrument philosophy I try to keep it as old school as possible. I avoid modern equipment as much as i can. What you hear on the albums are the real deal – only vintage analog keys, etc.

Making a living from progressive rock is not easy, more like a passion. Are you full-time musicians or do you have daytime jobs?

Lars: I was a full-time musician (mainly in the studio) for a few years, but I hated having music as a job. It killed the thrill, and it became a …umm.. job, instead of a hobby. If you have to think about money and stuff it’s no fun. So now I’m working as an curator/art historian in the City of Oslo’s art collection, and it’s great to combine the two passions.

You can easily grow tired of something if you only do one thing, at least that’s how it is for me. So in the evening and weekends it’s all about music. Just for fun as well as an outlet for whatever is on my mind. Music can be therapeutic (of course if you’re stuck on a piece it’s hell).

Andreas: For all of us music is a passion, and not a job. But after almost 20 years of playing in a band you think and feel like a full time musician all the time.

For me it’s a part of who I am as a person, how I express myself and interpret the world around me. It’s like an ongoing and never ending journey. If it gets too focused around the coin and paying the bills, I loose sight of the creative track and start doing things for the wrong reasons. But I believe that doing other stuff than just music can be a good thing and actually enhance the moments you work with your creativity. Gurdijeff and his ideas about «The Work» is interesting in this context.

 

 

On your new album From Silence to Somewhere you use mellotron, synths and other keyboard sounds. Are these real vintage instruments or emulators?

Lars: Yes. No emulation.

Where did you find the keyboards and how do you maintain them?

Lars: it took ages and a lot of work and money. Much of it is from ebay and such, before the instruments became way too expensive like they are today. Many of the instruments I maintain myself if it’s an easy fix, but for the more tricky stuff I hire technicians (like for the cembalo, Hammond organ, mellotron, chamberlin and some of the synths). Also I take very good care of them in a stable climate, with an annual maintenance plan. Also it’s very important to just use them. I’ve sold everything i don’t use, simply because if you don’t use an old keyboard it will wither and die.

What other musical instruments do you use?

Lars: lots of old string instruments, like the Marxopone, Tremoloa, autoharp, etc.

Andreas: Apart from the vast array of keyboards, we also use recorders, glockenspiel, different percussion, bass clarinet, steel flute, crumhorn and more conventional instruments like Rickenbacker 4001, Fender Jazzbass, Fender Stratocaster, Telecaster, Les Paul Standard, Gibson Firebird, Gibson SG double neck and different acoustic guitars.

On the amp side we summon the power of Sunno, Sound City, Music Man, WEM, Fender Twin, Vox AC15 and such.

 

 

And what effects do you use?

Lars: Roland Space echo re 201 and 150, vox and snarling dog wah wah, various vintage fuzz pedals and an old flanger.

How’s the current progressive rock scene in Norway?

Lars: right now it’s quite exciting, with bands like Tusmørke, Jordsjø, Weserbergland, Alwanzatar, Arabs in Aspic, Suburban Savages and of course good old White Willow. We played at a progfestival in Bergen, west in Norway, and there were lots of exciting young bands, so i think the prog-scene in Norway is up and coming.

Andreas: The progressive scene in Norway is thriving and a lot of new bands are emerging. more and more people are attending concerts and supporting the scene. During the last couple of years several Norwegian contemporary jazz acts has even released albums inspired by classic progressive rock. It raises the awareness of the progressive music to a greater audience, which is a good thing.

Your neighbors in Sweden had an association dedicated to the promotion of progressive rock. Is there something similar in Norway?

Lars: Yes, there are several small prog-societies around. In Stavanger, up north, Larvik, Hurum, etc.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

Andreas: I think it would be interesting to collaborate with some Norwegian folk musicians. People like Hallvard T. Bjørgum, Kirsten Bråten Berg and the like. They are bearers of an old tradition of Norwegian folk music and masters at what they do. Also it would be exciting to work with a classical composer and a choir sometime.

Do you have any additional upcoming projects to share with us?

Andreas: It’s been six years since our last release, so naturally the focus now is on the new album. We very much look forward to release it, but also to share it from the stage as we plan several concerts in the near future. The last weekend of September we’ll do a show in a church in Oslo with Tusmørke, Jordsjø and Alwanzatar. That’ll be fun.

We’re also playing in Chicago in October and then some gigs in Norway before Christmas. We have more planned for early next year, so it’s looking good!