Musical Influences

Musical Influences (11)

Joni Mitchell

As we approach the release of "Slow Rust" - here's the third of 10 albums which I feel have been part of the inspirational makeup of The Tangent over the years. It's not a "best of" or a chart, there is no Number One. The first one featured was UK's first album and the next was Van Der Graaf Generator's "Still Life". Today we move out of the formal Prog Rock arena to Joni Mitchell, almost certainly my favorite solo artist ever - and this album which in case you hadn't realised was inspirational to the titles of so many Tangent Records - "The Hissing Of Summer Lawns".

Truth be told that Joni's work is so varied and of such a high standard that choosing one would be difficult - were it not for the fact that this one had a big impact on me and my journey as a musician/listener. And I think the reason why it had this effect was that in many ways she was reporting back to the world on the discoveries that SHE had made. Her career had been as an angelic voiced folk singer - easily comparable with artists such as Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne - Carole King - even John Denver.

But somewhere (well Court & Spark) there was this shift and Joni started to use jazz as part of what she was doing. And it wasn't a kind of "get some old jazz legends and make a smiling record in awe of them" type of thing. Not at all. Joni went for what was the latest thing - up and coming "happening" musicians - people working in fusion. "Bitches Brew" was still fresh in the memory! "Summer Lawns" has a unique ensemble feel. I know many would have thought that I'd choose a Pastorius contribution album... but although I love it to pieces, Hejira was a much starker and simpler album. THOSL is dense, complex, orchestrated and full of subtle colour and nuance. It's prog. In its way.

From time to time, all over this album you can almost see scenes from the TV series that were on at the time. The USA really did use innovative Jazz tinged music in the 70s, often in their many detective shows - and you can often hear these influences in Joni's album. Joni was an artist in a state of progressive flux, which is why I feel so many of us in the main area of the genre are beholden to her. The first time I ever sat down to eat a meal with Pale Rider or "Roine" as I knew him, we ended up discovering our mutual love of Joni - and thus ending up not talking much about "Prog" that night. I often hear her in TFK music, and hope that people have spotted her hand in our stuff too, "The Company Car" from "Down & Out" and a fair few bits of "The Celluloid Road" spring to mind as an observer of my own work. You may know others that I hadn't spotted.

So my first introduction to the world of Jazz fusion really came through a folk singer who was embracing something new to her and advancing into it very quickly - to the point of being influential on that movement itself. Aged 16-17 it was a ticket to loads of other music I was about to discover and she opened the door. On "Hejira" in the "Song For Sharon" Joni goes to buy a Mandolin and sees a wedding dress in a shop window - finding herself gazing at the world of the role she is expected to take by society... and of course buys the mandolin - we assume. Many years ago this happened to me when the first job I ever took (a Piano Technician) was entirely taken in order to finance my first car. In 1978 - all the money for my car was spent at Kitchen's Music Shop in Leeds on my first Synthesiser - the Yamaha CS30. Since then I have never owned a car - or indeed even driven one. Thankyou Joni...

Like Peter Hammill, Joni could sing about anything. She was the real deal. Her songs on Summer Lawns sometimes look at the claustrophobia of life in Suburban North America - contrasted with the open wildness of the Jungle in "The Jungle Line" She was also one of the first to be talking to the prog rock generation from her viewpoint as a key member of half the population of the planet. A Woman's take on it all. Back in those very male dominated days where women were often just put in front of male dominated rock bands to sing - Joni was the complete package, writer, arranger, lyricist, innovative guitarist, pianist - and her special touch on the instruments and production was felt by all who loved it. She challenged, she commented, protested, reminisced, cajoled and laughed with us all. She sang about music - something I later came to enjoy, she sang about fictitious characters presumably based on real ones... the stories in "Edith & The Kingpin", "Harry's House", "Song For Sharon" "Coyote" and "Old Furry Sings The Blues" are real world stories - songs about the minutiae of life through her wide open eyes. I often place Hammill and her together in my mind as two people who have really SEEN the world we live in during our lifetimes. Their wisdom of that world is positively inspiring and has been inlfluential on all my efforts. I often wonder if she's even heard of him... if they ever met etc.

This process here is not about "Andy's Top Ten" - it's just ten albums I feel are influential to our journey. However, this one would be very high in my personal choices - an album I'd like to listen to many times more, despite the 40 and more years it's held my attention so far. It introduced me to Jazz. It introduced me to North America/Canada. And so importantly it introduced me to women and what they really felt in a world where they were draped over the fronts of cars fawning over James Bond, running from Benny Hill or screaming wildly through a Man's adventure movie. For a young man - locked away in a boys boarding school - Joni was an important signpost to the world that waited just beyond the walls. Words to a new generation about new attitudes. This was the classic album in which the starry eyed hippy singer actually produced a manifesto that made the earlier ideals she had sung of actually work, in the world Men and Women live in right now.

"A Helicopter lands on the Pan-Am Roof
Like A Dragonfly on a tomb
And business men in button-downs
Press into conference rooms.......
Batallions of paper minded males
Taking commodities and sales
...... While paper wives and their paper kids
Paper their walls to keep their gut reactions hid"

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Van Der Graaf Generator

Here's the second of 10 albums which I feel have been part of the inspirational makeup of The Tangent over the years. It's not a "best of" or a chart, there is no Number One. The first one featured was UK's first album. Today I'm looking at the darker world of Van Der Graaf Generator. A Dark Metal Goth band if you look at it one way and a full on Progressive Rock Band another way - who used organs and saxes and (on this album) very little guitar at all

It's hard to choose from the output of what, I suppose I must acknowledge as "My Favourite Band Ever". For me Van Der Graaf Generator were Ground Zero in my desire as a teenager to become a musician. Although Yes were and still are similarly placed in my affections, it was VDGG that sowed the seed of "you can do this" in my own mind. Hugh Banton was an Old Boy of the school I was attending - the organ pictured on the inside of the original "The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other" showing Hugh as a boy - is the very same physical instrument I was learning on at the time - even sharing the the same teacher albeit 5 years later. I came across the record which belonged to a sixth former - at the tender age of 12. I became an addict immediately.

I chose "Still Life" though because in the end, that magnificent album specialised in superb SONGS that told stories and posed questions in a slightly more mature way than the earlier example. By the time this was released I WAS the sixth former - and my thirst for musical inspiration was at a high..

From the beautiful, uplifting and indeed stirring refrain of "Pilgrims" which in its way is so fabulously British (perhaps a desire to have a "Theme One" of their own?) - majestic and almost football-terrace-ready, to the darker and more sinister La Rossa, the existentialism of the title track and the foreboding "Childlike Faith In Childhood's End" with that chilling but insidiously optimistic "In The Death Of Mere Humans Life Shall Start!" The album effortlessly combines Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, Johann Sebastian Bach and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown into one glorious goop of creativity and imagination - with that unique voice as a mouthpiece - but weaving melody and formal classical structure into the philosophy and making a gorgeous body of work. The fact that this album had NO bass guitar and hardly any regular guitar of any sort was also a whole game changer - in demonstrating the possibilities of keyboards to a young wannabe. Over the years I learned this craft, and now I'm an old wannabe. But very grateful for the experience.

The use of keyboards in Van Der Graaf was crucial of course - but didn't follow the same development as the other bands in the area. They centred on just two instruments, the piano (or live Pianet) played by Hammill and the Hammond Organ with full pedal board played by Hugh. Although occasionally other instruments like Mellotrons would make subtle guest appearances on the records, the band largely eschewed the synthesiser revolution that was going on and stayed in the "Proto Prog" era regarding keys until - well - the last time I heard them. The piano was never really used as a lead instrument, more of a continuo around which to base a song (Man Erg for example) - and Hugh Banton approached the organ in an entirely different way from his contemporaries, His was a more sepulchral sound much of the time - frequently quite gothic. He manipulated the drawbars more than many, eking many different sounds out of the beast that were missed by others in their time spent on synths. Of course, he was playing the bass too - on those pedals during the second era of VDGG from which this album comes.

When forming The Tangent I knew that the band was going to have to include Saxophone and Flute. Obviously inspired by VDGG who had pressed this from the "Least We Can Do" album onward. Having David Jackson himself for the first album was obviously a bit of a boost!. I was made up - the 43 year old Andy remembering his David Jackson posters on his student wall - and here he was making our debut album, At my house. Wow. But it's Theo who has continued this tradition - a musician I find working with incredibly easy - sufficiently his own man to not just carbon copy Jackson's Role - but knowledgeable enough to be aware of it . We often play "Still Life" together for fun, and he, like I find this album at the very top of our listening favourites.

While being as you all know - a big fan of Yes... Van Der Graaf offered an entirely different lyrical experience. Hammill has over the years covered just about every topic anyone can think of that's worth making a song out of. Like Yes, sometimes their lyrics were abstract (Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers) - but in an altogether more mysterious and shadowed tone than Yes' often blinding optimism. On the other hand they were often highly specific, focused, factual - often highly charged with either anger or pent up emotion - there were politics, unrequited love, social commentary, science fiction, horror, war, songs about Witch Trials, and lost astronauts. What VDGG instilled in me the most was the desire to be able to write about anything that took my fancy - and taught me that songs can have something to say on nearly every aspect of life.

This lineup of VDGG was really the "First Band I Ever Saw" in 1976. The Grand Theatre in Leeds was packed to the rafters - I was only 16 or 17 on the "World Record" tour - and was really pleased that "Still Life" was still very much in the repertoire. I remember my eyes being fixed to start with on my two heroes Banton and Jackson - but throughout that evening I found myself gravitating more and more to Hammill's performance - the beginnings of a musical appreciation which would last many many years. I think the night I walked out of that building - the lucrative jobs I might have had in finance, the law or journalism had gone. The most ultimately costly night of my life made me only interested in one career path.

Since then, I've had the opportunity to spend time with Hugh, talking about our school experiences, back in 1992 Guy Manning and myself coaxed him out of retirement and played a set of VDGG songs in a gig in Peterborough - a night where arguably both Guy and I both began our separate careers in Progressive Rock as opposed to the other things we had been doing.

In 2005 I remember flying back from our headline show at Rosfest - just in time to see VDGG take to the stage for the first time in 30 years at the RFH in London. I cried several times that night. A lot of us did.

The opening of our new song "Slow Rust" is highly influenced by the Generator. Denial would be folly. For some fleeting seconds you could be listening to an out-take from the wonderful album featured here. Over to you......

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UK

As we approach the release of "Slow Rust" - here's the first of 10 albums which I feel have been part of the inspirational makeup of The Tangent over the years. It's not a "best of" or a chart, there is no Number One. I just decided to start with this one.

The eponymously titled "UK" is, was and probably always will be one of my fave albums ever. Arriving late in the day - after the punk explosion had happened and during the Media industry's wanton rejection of the previous ten years - the short lived lineup of UK that made this incredible record managed to do something new with the genre, create one last classic band of the original era - and make it count among the best.

The musicians involved on the record had all played their parts in the shaping of progressive rock in other bands. It looked even at the time as though this was one of these bands that looked good on paper but would fail in reality, Far from it. The Tail Gunners of 70s progressive rock took one final adventurous leap and created an album which I've always felt was not just a masterpiece, but a very listenable one, one that can give pleasure on many levels and in many situations.

If UK was a "supergroup" one thing it wasn't was a shoot out between the different members. Well - if it was, that was a behind the scenes thing. The record had its own sound, identity purpose and character that defined UK as a standalone BAND. It used many Progressive Rock hallmarks, but managed to add a whole load of new harmonic structures that had perviously been mainly known in the Jazz Fusion scene. Particularly the Weather Report/RTF area. The voicings of Holdsworth and Jobson together were a fabulous combination - creating a glorious new shiny architecture from the coming together of their careers. Bruford's playing at its best on this album drove it excitedly all along and Wetton - before the pop/rock of Asia was able to weave this magnificent display of musicianship into really good songs.

Great choruses like that of "In The Dead" and "Time To Kill" mixed with mega-prog workouts like "Alaska" which easily gave the ELP of that day a run for their money, into staggeringly beautiful harmonic/melodic arrangements found in "Mental Medication"

In Technical terms - I'd say that on this album, the Polyphonic Synthesiser as a musical instrument made its first totally successful contribution to Progressive Rock - sounding much more comfortably integrated to the music and generally purposeful than Yes or ELP had managed to to incorporate it - Keith had simply "replaced the organ" with his and Wakeman just had more notes to play with... Jobson thought about the instrument as something new and really got the best out of it in those times. Personal opinion of course.. but there it is.

All of us in the band like UK. How could we not. I remember discussing the band with Roine as we blueprinted what we wanted The Tangent to BE - right back at the start. Luke has been a fan since I had the honour of introducing them to him - he was already a Holdsworth fan of course.. but I remember Luke playing me some Planet X (which I enjoyed a lot) and i remember saying to him that the harmonic content was often very reminiscent of UK. He explored, as he always does, and came out a mega fan of a band whose career had started and ended decades before his own birth.

Theo's a big fan too, in fact I think that Theo is actually more into the SECOND album. That one is often sidelined... but it was a really astonishing album too - despite the lineup having changed so much.

Jakko was most helpful with our experiments with UK stylings back on "Not As Good" - taught me a lot about the voicings needed to create that type of thing - and of course contributed as a musician himself in many ways - occasionally recalling Holdsworth's role in UK. The figure that opens the song (the keyboards riff) "Crisis" was originally Hammond Organ. It went "Yamaha CS80 Polysynth" at Jakko's recommendation and his guitar parts made me revoice many of the chords to make that tune one of the most successful Tangent Prop (sic) songs.

Sadly - we've lost two of the band in recent times - I know Luke was most affected by Alan's passing. he recorded a little tribute from "Mental Medication" - I don't know if he wants to share it on this thread, but he's more than welcome

The Tangent has over the years been very influenced by UK - I can't see "A Crisis In Mid Life" without that set of influences - and the start of "the song A Place In The Queue" itself is shamelssly derivative of "Danger Money".
UK are to me a shining example of true fusion. A band who could have so easily failed and just taken the "lets all show off" road and noodled us into submission. Instead, they made songs and compositions which were highly intelligent, listenable and exemplary specimens of what Progressive Rock Music was capable of doing.

Any thoughts.... anyone?

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