Peter Jones has been making quite a name for himself in prog circles in the last few years, largely on the back of his hugely impressive live shows, both solo and in conjunction with Red Bazar, who he also joined for their Tales from the Book Case album in 2016. A major coup for Peter was filling the vacant keyboard stool in a rejuvenated Camel for shows in Japan last year, and he will be joining them again for a tour across Europe in 2018.
But it’s the albums that he makes as Tiger Moth Tales that are the basis of this increasing notoriety. The Depths of Winter follows on from his critically acclaimed previous releases, Cocoon (2014) and Story Tellers Part 1 (2015), and cements his reputation.
The world of Tiger Moth Tales is often gloriously and proudly nostalgic, looking back to the so-called “better days” but also questioning that perception. Filled with Peter’s engaging wit and prodigious musical talent it is also a very entertaining place to visit, but with The Depths of Winter TMT feels like it has come of age. All wrapped up in a sparkling production by Peter himself, there are darker elements and plenty of variety in the material. The Ballad Of Longshanks John and The Tears Of Frigga were co-written with Jamie Ambler, a school friend of Peter’s who also adds the enigmatic voice over parts. Peter as usual covers a large swathe of the instrumentation, including keyboards, drum programming, guitars, clarinet, recorder, ukulele and percussion, with well chosen guests taking things to another level. Emma Friend, Peter’s singing partner as 2 To Go from 2004’s X-Factor, adds flute to the introductory Winter Is Coming which flows into Winter Maker, brass parts adding a distinctive feel, different to the similar device used by Big Big Train but equally diverting. For the most part Winter Maker is crisp and brooding, conjuring vistas still and cold, but there’s a major shift for the last third to upbeat and driving, Luke Machin of The Tangent and Maschine adding some astonishing extended guitar pyrotechnics.
The theme is obvious from the album title and these opening pieces, carrying through the album but sometimes in unexpected directions. Distant guns bring in Exposure, winter on the Western Front, bleak, stark and melancholy. Pete has clearly picked up a thing or two from Andy Latimer as he solos beautifully and there are elements of Magenta and Pink Floyd circa The Division Bell, lamenting trumpet underlining the setting. The longest track on the album, it all works a treat, you can feel the intensity of the cold in a truly moving piece as “The world comes to a Stop.”
Peter’s vocals are beautiful throughout, rich and soulful, holding the diverse musical elements together. His love of Genesis is still present but he doesn’t wear it quite so openly on this one, they only really come into play on the Hackett infused Take the Memory, which seems to be a deeply personal song realised with real passion and gorgeously sinuous clarinet, and Hygge (a Danish word meaning a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being), the most overtly Genesis influenced in much of the phrasing, but it’s a lovely song. It’s not all serious though, the instrumental Sleigh Ride sees Steve Hackett fronting The Enid in a riotous bit of knockabout fun, Peter again showing that he’s no slouch with a guitar. It couldn’t be more seasonal and that underlines the one real issue with this album; it would feel a bit odd playing it in July. However, as the nights draw in, Jack Frost starts pissing everyone off before the morning commute and thoughts turn to Christmas, it works very nicely.
The nostalgic elements are frequently visible but they are held back from becoming ‘chocolate boxy’, sentimental without being mawkish, as with the beautifully haunting Migration, and Jones is adept at changing the mood and injecting an element of darkness or threat, The Ballad of Longshanks John swiftly moving from a Victorian Christmas to the tale of Robin Hood, the Celtic touches changing the feel with the occasional choral vocals reminding of Clannad and ‘The Hooded Man’. Peter can certainly pen a damn fine song and build a cohesive feel into extended themes, but he also has the instrumental firepower to let rip when the songs need it.
The Tears of Frigga (named for the Norse Goddess, if you were wondering) is a game of two halves, the insistent and twinkling drive is superb, it gives way to the expansive song itself which is also very well done, but I prefer the twinkly bits! It moves through a number of phases and holds the attention throughout and ends with some heartfelt vocals and fabulous keyboards.
Finally, the brief instrumental Winter’s End is a vibrant and intoxicating way to finish. This album is certainly a more mature work and less rough around the edges, Cocoon probably had some better songs but as an overall listen The Depths of Winter is a much better album. Peter has the space to stretch out here and deploy more textures that add to the album as a whole. There are parts of it that are very much of the season, which will hopefully not limit its appeal to being ‘merely’ a Christmas album, because it isn’t and there is some wonderful stuff here that bears many a repeated play.
There’s talent oozing out of every pore with Peter Jones, he really is an artist to be cherished.
01. Winter is Coming (0:31)
02. Winter Maker (10:50)
03. Exposure (13:34)
04. The Ballad of Longshanks John (6:58)
05. Migration (2:58)
06. Take the Memory (7:10)
07. Sleigh Ride (6:40)
08. The Tears of Frigga (11:42)
09. Hygge (9:12)
10. Winter’s End (1:50)
Total time – 71:25
Peter Jones – Vocals, Keyboards, Drum Programming, Guitars, Clarinet, Recorder, Ukulele, Percussion.
Luke Machin – Lead Guitar (on Winter Maker)
Emma Friend – Flute (on Winter Is Coming & Winter Maker)
Jamie Ambler – Voice Over (on The Ballad of Longshanks John & The Tears of Frigga)
Steve Bottomley – Bass
Brass parts for Winter Maker & The Ballad Of Longshanks John:-
Sara Baldwin – Flugel Horn
Sarah Wardle – Tenor Horn
Joe Heartfield – Tenor Trombone
Andy Baldwin – Euphonium
Mark Wardle – Flugel Horn (on Winter Maker & Winter’s End)
Record Label: White Knight Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 20th November 2017