Musical Influences

Musical Influences (11)

Theo's Choice

A couple of days ago we finished off a series of 10 albums that have been inspirational to the sound and style of our own band. But all those reviews were rather focused on my own opinions and influences. And there are some long term members of the band who obviously have their own influences which they brought to the table too. In this article, Theo Travis is going to take a look at an album he feels has been a part of what he's done for this band. And it's "John Barleycorn Must Die" and it's by TRAFFIC,


I have been listening to Traffic’s ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’ since I was about 15 years old. I first found it in the record library in Central Birmingham (where I grew up) which I used to visit about 3 times a week after school, borrowing and taping everything that inspired me which was a lot of records! It was an Aladdin’s Cave of amazing music that in big way shaped my musical horizons. This album resonated with me deeply and I have loved it ever since.

The album was recorded and released in 1970 and it was originally going to be a Steve Winwood solo album, but when he brought in his friends Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood, it turned into a Traffic reunion and a relaunch of the band. John Barleycorn Must Die starts with the only sole Steve Winwood composition an instrumental called ‘Glad’. The track begins with a classic piano and organ riff and the whole piece grooves away for just under 7 minutes. It is wonderful song and I have been playing it live with my Double Talk band recently. I was hooked on the breezy jazzy vibe of the album, the many sax (and electric sax), flute and organ solos, the great feel of the band, the fabulous songs and Steve Winwood’s incredible voice – so soulful and mature beyond his years. Chris Wood was the sax and flute player in Traffic and his playing and musical approach has been very influential to me. The fact that Traffic were also from Birmingham made them seem all the more real and close to home. In fact a friend’s parents had known Steve Winwood, his brother Muff and their parents too. I would not say Chris Wood is one of the great sax and flute players in rock, but I have probably listened as much to his playing as I have to Sonny Rollins or Charlie Parker. His flute playing adds so much to the songs and shows just how woodwind can enhance the songs and fit perfectly in progressive music generally. I always found just his sound so engaging – he had a beautiful flute tone and the instruments were recorded very well and they were also pretty loud in the mix, like a voice or a lead guitar. On this album, there are almost no guitar solos and barely any electric guitar at all – just some acoustic guitar on a couple of tracks. That is another similarity to some of the Tangent’s albums, where the keyboards are very much the frontline lead instrument. Of course the Tangent has changed line up many times and Roine and Luke in particular have of course contributed some wonderful guitar playing to the Tangent sound while they have been in the band. But Andy’s keyboards are a constant in the Tangent sound and very much the lead sound.

‘Freedom Rider’ is second on the album and my favourite track too. Listening back to it now I can see how the woodwind adds so much to the song. It starts with a fat tenor sax riff before Steve Winwwod’s vocals come in soulfully and soaring, then there is a big flute solo with trills, fluttering and energetic runs of notes giving a very airy feel to the track. After the flute solo is a cool wah-wah tenor sax solo as well, before the vocals return.

At the time of the album Traffic was just a three piece – Steve Winwood on vocals and organ, Chris Wood on sax and flute and Jim Capaldi on drums and vocals. Dave Mason had already left and it was before the band expanded to the bigger subsequent line up. I think they did tour as a three piece but soon brought in others to fill out the band live. Like the Tangent, an evolving and changing line-up was a constant, though the same lead vocals/keyboards and sax/flute were always there.

The track John Barleycorn is a traditional folk ballad but done in their own style. Instrumentally, it is largely a duet between the acoustic guitar and the flute and I love that. Though more folk rock in a darker acoustic Led Zeppelin/John Martyn vein than a Fairport or ‘Hey Nonny Nonny’ vibe it is still a Summer of Love/ ‘Getting it together in the country’ sort of sound. I really like the way the flute weaves in and out of the vocals and the guitar and this is something I actually tried to emulate on my ‘Earth to Ether’ album with singer and guitarist Richard Sinclair (of Caravan and Hatfield and the North)

The Tangent has always had a Canterbury Music influence on its sound and I think this comes both from Andy’s writing and the bright and breezy flute flurries and interludes in the songs. Whilst Traffic were never a Canterbury Band, the woodwind in that band worked as perfectly as in any of those bands. I am certainly influenced by the flute of Chris Wood and Traffic as much as the flute in Gong, Soft Machine (and I know their music very well!) and other Canterbury bands and for me ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’ is the quintessential Traffic album. If you don’t know it – do check it out!

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And finally in our series of "Albums that make the Tangent Tick" here's the one that has been a frequently mentioned benchmark A Goal. A Gold Standard. As before though, this was not a chart, This is not number one in it. But if it was a chart, it would have a great chance.

Tales From Topographic Oceans By YES

There's a smugness that the seasoned traveler may feel as people get off the train at the more obvious destinations. They know that they are going beyond the capitals and large cities out into the unknown wilds. Exotic station names are being announced by the Tannoys as day to day commuters disappear into the centres. Places a long way away. The once full carriages are now emptied of the business suited, the train is shortened and the restaurant car closes. Yes. They are real travelers. Discoverers. Even pioneers in their own heads. Their destination may not take them through myriads of staggering scenery, although there will be occasional succulent examples. It will be long and tiring but the journey, no matter where it leads will be a journey that was worth making for its own sake.

In 1973 Yes made an album where many did actually get off the train. The journey that many had made with them, with Genesis, with ELP and Tull had reached that obvious set down point. They'd taken people on an Orient Express style ride across Europe and brought them to Venice. But Yes were heading for Istanbul. The scenery would change

Tales From Topographic Oceans was a defining point in the history of Progressive Rock Music. Those who'd been brought into the band's adventure by the rocky yet intricate "The Yes Album" and earlier work had been interested by the addition of Wakeman's mellotrons and 'wow' classical piano on "Fragile", seduced by the opulent and engaging melody of "Close To The Edge". Venice, as it were, was so appealing - why move on?

Wakeman himself is on record as not having either really come to grips with or having enjoyed the process of this album's creation. Journalists who'd written their first reviews of Yardbirds, Amen Corner and The Move just a few short years earlier were suddenly faced with the task of writing reviews of what was essentially a Symphonic Tone Poem in four movements based on the Shastric Scriptures. They were out of their depth and they railed against it. Railed and rallied.

Maybe it was fear of the unknown, maybe it was the beginning of the age we now live in where there is not really time for 80 odd minutes of intensive concentration demanding programme music. But everyone was pretty divided on this album, even within the band itself.

It opens with the remarkable, mysterious and indecipherable lyrical section, a rap before there even was such a thing, full of fleeting images of 'sharp and tender love'. A gift for the cynical, a get out of jail free card for the doubting, the opening preamble is enough to justify the rebellion of punk which came a few years later to anyone wanting to write a similar article from that other point of view. Yet it's arguable that this was in itself rebellion. That these apparently "meaningless" words were not pretentious, but were akin to the abstract brushstrokes and beauties that Kandinsky or Klee had put on paper earlier the same century.

Yes were almost magnanimous, offering a dignified retreat path for the faint hearted. Tales was your way out, should that be what you wished. No-one would blame you or think ill of you. There was no shame. The real problems were not for those who disembarked the train here. Those problems were for the people who stayed. It was a sharp edged invitation. The snorts of derision in Britain's 1970s pre-enlightenment days towards "Tales Of Topographic Oceans" and its fans were almost as ignorant as the language used by the people of the day towards Gay people - rife with a press fuelled type of quasi-racism, full of curled lip insults like "pretentious" and "pompous". The Dumbing Down was on its way, the discrediting of those who stood in its way began, in earnest on the release of Tales From Topographic Oceans.

It is almost as if the band are taunting us. Every so often there come flashes of the band that we already love, snatched away so quickly after an all too fleeting glimpse. How an album that is considered so long can leave people feeling that they haven't had enough of certain sections is almost paradoxical. But Yes' train is heading out through less familiar territory. This isn't the lush alpine scenery of Close To The Edge. Mountain ranges to be sure, yes, but visible in the distance across huge big-skied plains. Now and then huge spectacular gulfs and canyons open up under the matchstick thin bridges that crazily cross them giving gasp inspiring views before suddenly returning to the flatlands.

Stations flash past with no stop made, night comes and goes. The band are f***ing with our heads, pulling us in, building us up, dashing our hopes and digging down as well as building up. Throughout the album we are tricked, cajoled, surprised, delighted, entertained - all these wonderful things though have a price; our patience.

Somewhere in the middle of side three it all becomes apparent. We really have changed terrain. Bit by bit we've become used to it, but there's no denying here that we are worlds away from the safety of the first side. "The Yes Album" is forgotten, in another place that we're leaving behind. Almost a decade before the "world" music influence on Peter Gabriel really began to show through, Yes have fused musics together where stepped pyramids rise out of Hampshire and gothic cathedrals teeter on the side of the Himalayas. Howe's electric guitar work is like some cracked lonely horn ringing out into desolate valleys. There's no going back, there's no gift shop or café. We are now the helpless voyagers, and Yes have given us the journey. The only way back is through the rollercoaster ride of Ritual with its dangerous tracks and mindblowing descents.

In the 40 years since this music was created there are whole generations of people who have never experienced the thrill of a musical journey like that offered here. To blast off into the unknown without really knowing where the music is going to take you. And although the desire is certainly there as evidenced by the continuing sales of music by Stravinsky, Beethoven and even Mike Oldfield, the fact remains that there have been precious few thanks or good words to be said about this masterpiece, flawed or otherwise. The author would argue that it's one of the most imaginative works of the 20th Century and should take its place alongside The Rite Of Spring, The Planets Suite and Bitches Brew and the sooner the better. It took many years for acceptance of The Rite, and it looks as though the fate of Tales will not be decided for some time to come. One can only hope that the composers of this remarkable piece and those of us who held its values high will be rewarded in our lifetimes for our patience and new younger musical critics will rediscover the piece and elevate it to its true status as a classic.

For those of who who have enjoyed my little look at some albums I thought were important to our band, may I politely encourage you to read one of the best reviews that has been written about OURS? If, as I say, "Tales" is an album that I have held high on the horizon and aimed towards, then our new 80 minute long album with 5 tracks certainly aims for the format if nothing else. Why not have a look at what Progradar had to say.…/review-the-tangent-the-slow-rus…/

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The Flower Kings

There are a number of reasons why this album is so important to our history and by far the biggest reason is that it is a brilliant, brilliant record. Also of great importance is that it's one of the albums that helped form the group, in a physical sense. (Pale Rider) Roine Stolt & Jaime Salazar may be the only Tangent members who played on this particular album, but nonetheless to me this was a huge inspiration, a call to arms, a gauntlet - use any Game Of Thrones cliché and you've got it. Including "Winter Is Coming". Except it's summer that is coming.

For me, a lot hinged on the night in the late 90s when Po90 supported The Flower Kings at Herringthorpe Leisure Centre. It's a story I have told plenty of times in the past so I won't repeat it all, suffice to say that I wasn't expecting a group with that name to be much of a challenge to what I saw as "the mighty Po90". Suffice to say that I was blown away, humbled, shocked and spent over a hundred pounds on their back catalogue 2 days later. The story ends 9 Tangent albums later, Jonas and I are still working with each other, and the Tangent would never have been without TFK. But what I want to talk about is this album....

"Back..." is the first album BY the Flower Kings although Roine Stolt's solo album "The Flower King" which predates it shares much with this release. It was the first album of the many I bought that day that I played. What it said to me, plain and simple, in its first tracks was:

"Andy - you were right all this time, this music is still alive, it can still take chances, go off on diversions, run around the hills, climb the mountains and look down on the view"

That first song says it all - after years in the wilderness, here we are, "The Children Of The Woodstock Generation" finally back in the world of adventurous music that we so loved. The first track is bottled joy - an outrageously cheerful tune with Bodin's synthesiser line as infectiously optimistic as a milkman's whistle on the first day the sun shines. It was almost incongruous to hear something so tuneful and joyous, I remember feeling it was like some kind of guilty pleasure, and remember looking around me to check I was alone. Off we went of time sig changes, speed ups, stops on a dime, mood changes, timbres old and new... constantly wowed by the playing - the depth and the sheer imagination. Not a nice metaphor perhaps, but I was the long term addict getting my first shot in a long time. And it felt so, so good.

Those early days of the Prog revival had led me to Porcupine Tree (who at the time were like a sort of "Ozrics with vocals") and I'd heard Spock's Beard who I thought were really good. But this was a different animal. I've said before that human beings went to the Moon during the time of Progressive Rock's heyday. And the trips stopped and so (for a long time) did the music. The amazing places that Yes would visit in CTTE, Tales & Relayer had become memories - places I could revisit but those adventures did seem to me to be largely over. Until we were back in the world of adventures, where this album quite literally put me.

The wonderful instrumental Atomic Prince/Kaleidoscope... the groovy funky pop song "My Cosmic Lover" (who would DARE write a song with that title in those days?) all make for a fantastic trip - all these songs are faves of mine... but there is ONE, this unbelievably great great song on this album which became not just my favourite song of theirs, but just about my favourite song... ever. And its called "Big Puzzle"

Big Puzzle is for me, a huge rush of emotion, start to finish. It has reference points in all the music I loved as a teenager, Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Camel - and I Hear Joni In There Too!! Yet instead of being mere homage or tribute, what Roine, Hasse, Michael, Thomas and Jaime accomplished here was a new record, made by fellow travelers on that same road all the years before - and instead of appealing to Andy the wide eyed kid on the bus with his new copy of "Tormato" - they were appealing to Andy, the father of two, the guy who'd watched the media industry trash all the music that we'd so loved and turn it into some kind of joke. And where the opening track welcomes us back to the World Of Adventures, Big Puzzle takes us away on one such.

Starting with a similar mood to the slow and sombre sections of "Starless" - BP has a beautiful vocal melody from the off. Sax interjections between the lines only serve to make the effect even more captivating. Anderson like lyrics speak of the "River Of Time" and behind this the e-bow? guitar begins stirring up those emotions. There's part of the song where Roine is singing of his frustrations in the world - is it the musical environment that has frustrated him? (if you're reading Roine, I don't wanna know the answer).... But this bit where he says that every night he's watching the stars for (I assume space-)- ships passing by... he feels alone, stranded with his blue guitar, hoping someone will come and take him home to where he belongs. Now, I might have got this ALL WRONG which is why I don't want the illusion shattered by actually KNOWING what that bit was about, but if I am right... Roine's frustration was MY frustration. I felt that too. I felt out of place, I felt I was having to compromise and hide my true musical calling. And lots of others of us felt the same thing. I am sure I can't have been alone, but this track was like some kind of blessing, it said "it's OK" it sided with us and as well as all that it managed to be moody, majestic and end with a spine tingling guitar tour de force.

BP brought me to tears on several occasions. I'm even more fond of the version on the "Alive On Planet Earth" in which Roine "Scats" with his guitar... a section I played to Luke earlier this year... which both of us decided would be a suitable addition to our track "The Sad Story Of Lead And Astatine" So even now this track is having an effect on what the Tangent do.

TFK went on to make brilliant albums for 20 odd years - some of which were even more amazing than this one. "Unfold The Future" is in itself one of the crowning glories of the genre as a whole with some of the boldest fusions made in Prog's third wave and altogether the standard of their work has hardly ever dropped in a career that is more than double the length of the original era.

In 2000 I had to have an operation. The nurse who wheeled me back into the ward after it knew how much I liked music and had the decency to put my headphones on my head and switch on my Walkman for me. As I came out of the anesthetic, the first thing I heard was Roine sing "There's No such thing as blank and total darkness". Wow.

I will always remember them as being the force that brought all of that musical love back to me. In many ways I had begun to think that it wasn't even possible to do what they did any more. The album "Back In The World Of Adventures" was for many, where all this re-began. They took us back to the Moon, The Topographic Ocean, they took us OVER the edge and for me, personally, they were/are one of the brightest sparks in my Aether.

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This one just happens to be one of the best albums ever made.

My love for this album is well documented, but despite its brilliance, this album has managed to remain THE great lost masterpiece of Prog - highly regarded by those who know it, but therein lies the problem, nowhere near enough people know it. Round about 7 billion too few by my calculations. 
Refugee (for the uninitiated) was the band formed by The Nice after Keith Emerson left to form ELP. They chose Patrick Moraz as their keyboards player and as a result of his sudden departure to do "Relayer" and join Yes, the band was short lived and only made this one studio album.

It is , quite simply, a blitz of ideas, phenomenal writing, musicianship and inventive recording. Although the album boasts 5 tracks, it includes two epics - both of which are strong enough to rival the best of the best. Up there with Karn Evil, Close, Supper and The Truth. The comparisons with ELP are inevitable. this keyboards led trio which had already BEEN Keith Emerson's first band, brought their past with them. They kicked the album off with a very nice, very ELP style instrumental - Hammond organ driven - called "Papillon" A great track - but nothing to go utterly bonkers about. It's followed with a song "Someday" - where the first appearance of Lee Jackson's raspy grating voice gives an indication of why the bend MIGHT never have scaled the heights they deserve... remind you of anyone? :). The song is very good, has a wonderful synthesiser solo in it... but not anything to go Utterly Mad About.

"The Canyon Suite" is the moment where the whole game changes. This is the shorter of the two epics on the album - and rather like Smetana's "Vltava" it follows the course of a river, telling its story on the way. And the river is the Colorado, the canyon referred to in the title is the Grand Canyon,,, and those rather large inspirations lead to a piece that really does justice to the subject matter. It starts with some of Patrick's lovely sound effects - the unique sounds and styles he later brought to "Relayer" and "The Story Of i" This is followed by a glorious fingers and sticks flying instrumental prelude of great dexterity,

A wonderful solo Piano section gives way to the entry of the vocals, the band joining in for a fantastic song where the band "swoop right up the Canyon Wall, then like an Eagle, down we fall!" - followed by an absolute fireworks display of wonderful playing from all three musicians.... and my goodness but the Rapids section is fantastic. Every time I hear it I find something new (I first heard it in 1973 in Scotland) It actually defies words at times... it really is THAT good. The synthesisers sound great, Moraz had a really great touch that owed as much to Corea as it did to Emerson.. his sound choices are individual and well made. Brian Davison's drumming has real swing yet is still ridiculously complex - he outshone all his previous work on this stunning album, and all his previous work was fairly astonishing. Along with Lee Jackson, Davison was one of the earliest Prog musicians.. the Nice's first album predates "The Court Of The Crimson King" and this album was the pinnacle of their huge contribution to Progressive Rock.

"Side Two" featured another natty keyboards led instrumental (great) which is then followed by "Credo" - a seemingly atheistic look at belief in the afterlife... and, like the Canyon suite another display of great writing, improvisation and stunning musicianship. There is real CHAOS in Refugees music, sometimes it really is on the edge of what you can cope with, but for me it absolutely stays within, just within grasp and you can stay with them on their rollicking and bone shaking ride every beat of the way providing you are really "with them".

Most of my readers will know of my love for "40 percent of what ELP did" - that 40 percent being some of the best music I ever heard. Refugee equaled it - indeed improved it for me, there are so many times when I wonder what could have been if they had continued to record. We will never know if they would have been the best or the worst. Maybe it's better to not know. This album is great. Beyond great. It's at the pinnacle of my favourite genre - and remains criminally unknown. If you haven't heard it, I am jealous. Because if you have any sense, you will get a copy . You should run, not walk.

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