The Back Story:
For those of us who grew up during the early 80s and enjoyed what got called “neo-progressive rock” will remember a band called Twelfth Night from Reading in England. The first time I heard them was due to an instrumental album called Live At The Target which featured a near 20 minute musical piece called “Sequences” on side 2! Personally I thought it was amazing. Then a few years later I came across the track again, but this time with vocals written and performed by vocalist Geoff Mann. Again it was a live version. It told the story of a young man going into the first world war and being seriously injured in the Somme. The song itself has been voted as their best ever by fans but had never been recorded in a studio. Well that is until now!
For 2018 to commemorate the centenary of the end of WW1, the band decided to record for the first time a studio version of the track. Rather than just do it the once, they have released it as an album with both an updated lyric version as well as instrumental. I have to say it sounds fantastic.
A Bit About The Album:
New singer Mark Spencer captures the emotion and feeling that was on the original live recording. The hurt, the anguish the anger are all there. For the first time the band have been able to present it in full glory with sound effects and beautiful orchestration. It truly is something special. The production is crystal clear and allows all the added subtleties to come through which makes the scenes in the song more vivid. One of the lovely things the band have done in my view is to add Geoff doing the speech as the sergeant major from a previous recording (obviously they must have had to work on the production to make it fit in with the new recording) so he is not only there in spirit (he sadly passed away in 1993 due to cancer) but vocally. A lovely respectful gesture to their band mate and original story teller.
The Full Review:
The haunting overture at the start is very effective. The echo on the acoustic guitar part – “I’m So Scared” – with the sound of the sirens leading into a lone voice in the trenches is truly captivating and terrifying. There is a touch of Pink Floyd about it (I’m thinking the 3rd side of The Wall). “It’s Madness” is repeated several times. The melody sends shivers down the spine. By the time we get to “Homecoming” we are down to piano (beautifully played by Dean Baker) until very light orchestration comes in.
Lyrically disturbed by the “stretchered flesh and bone” and wondering what in the name of hell it was all for, the soldier reflects plaintively leading to another outstanding Andy Revell guitar solo full of pain and emotion. The lyrics read “If hate and war could solve anything, don’t you think they’d have solved it a long time ago?”
Finally the writer calls out how flags we fight under are deceptive, we are fooled by leaders (thinking back to an earlier line from sergeant major in “if none of us went out to fight, we’d never prove our side was right”) and the only way to change things is through love.
As I said previously this is an outstanding reworking of an amazing piece that deserves to be heard by a wider audience. The performances by all are top notch including the rhythm section that is Brian Devoil, long time drummer, and new guy Andy Faulkner on bass.
They also have the track with no vocals which is also worth hearing as the music itself really does tell the story and I noticed certain touches from the players I didn’t notice with the vocal version. They also have added some piano based interpretations of sections from Dean Baker on the album to conclude the album. The packaging is well done, with photos, stories and background to the whole song originally and the reworking here. The album can be bought direct from the band and a percentage of all money coming in on each sale is going to the poppy appeal (At time of writing over £2000 has been raised).
Whether you are a long time fan and already own Sequences (possibly twice) I heartily recommend hearing this. It is honest and respectful to the original and everything added works beautifully to tell the story in a fresh and exciting way. If you love interesting well written and performed music (and missed this the first time around) then this is an album I can highly recommend.
Photograph of Geoff from Words And Music by Michael Anthony!