Well, a BIG subject sometimes just deserves a BIG treatment, and in modern day Britain there is no issue currently BIGGER than the contentious issue of ‘BREXIT’. Galahad have bravely decided to plunge head on into those rather turbulent waters with their new album, Seas of Change, which consists of one massive ‘Magnum Opus’ piece exceeding 42-minutes of ambitious, imaginative and dramatic modern Progressive Rock. Yet again, Galahad show they are a band not afraid to go off in a different direction, following the mellow acoustic and dream pop offerings of last year’s Quiet Storms – clearly the ‘Calm before the Storm’ of this enormous and broiling piece of music.
Q. Does politics have a place in progressive rock music?
Some fans of Roger Waters, particularly in America, curiously only seem to want ‘entertainment not politics’, but conversely it does not seem to have done any harm to Marillion in the U.K. recently, following the great success of their very politicised F.E.A.R. album and tour. Until now Galahad had only dabbled in occasional forays into politics, such as Chamber of Horrors in 1991 from Nothing is Written, about Parliament and Margaret Thatcher’s resignation. Vocalist Stuart Nicholson has never written lyrics to ram home a personal political view, preferring to write from personal experience or interpreting the perspective of others. However, one would have to have been living under a rock in the U.K. in the last couple of years to not have been influenced or affected by the social turbulence and sometimes bitter arguments, fuelled by the ‘echo chambers’ of social media, which have preoccupied and distorted the political and public debate of Britain. Nicholson harnesses the energies derived from that cauldron of discourse to inspire Seas of Change, but wisely decides to address these issues as an ‘commentator’ rather than taking one side. It is as if he is on the outside looking in, observing and scratching their head, thinking ‘what the hell is all this about?!!’ No matter one’s position on Brexit, what is indisputable is that the whole issue has been divisive and disruptive to the political and social status quo – a source of delight or despair for different people. Whilst we could focus on the political content of this album one crucial question we have to ask is:
Does it actually work as a piece of music, a piece of art? (Lest we forget the well-intentioned but frankly dreadful 2006 anti-war album Living with War by Neil Young!!)
The answer is a resounding ‘YES’ – this is music brimming with ideas, variation, creativity, subtlety and power, all wrapped in the lovely and evocative artwork by Paul Tippett for Vitamin P. I would suggest sitting down with a pot of tea, or maybe a nice bottle of red wine, and let the waves of Seas of Change sonically wash over you, allowing you to embrace the full scope and feeling of the music. I could bore the Union Jack pants off you with a line by line analysis of the twelve parts of this piece, but that would take longer and be about as engaging as the average Parliamentary EU departure debate. This music was meant to be consumed as a whole, and not dissected. Unlike Brexit this album manages to balance both ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’, with passages of pounding and scintillating heaviness offset by more lyrical, acoustic interludes.
The return of former Galahad bassist Lee Abraham, but this time as guitarist, replacing long term member Roy Keyworth, has attracted further interest to this album. However, impressive as Abraham’s guitar work on this album, it has to be said that alongside Nicholson’s excellent vocals and lyrical input, the real star is Dean Baker on keyboards. Baker wrote all the music, arrangements and ‘orchestration’ – a very relevant term as he generates a bewildering range of sounds and effects from his keyboards, akin to a full orchestra, giving the album a widescreen, cinematic effect. It just sounds so ‘MASSIVE’ with impeccable and crystal clear production by the band, with the help of Threshold’s Karl Groom, much of that sonic panorama created through Baker’s use of keys and technology. The album includes samples from film dialogue referencing the growing anxieties in Britain and Europe in the period before the Great War 1914-18, which appears to hint that Britain has always had a rather fractious history with our European neighbours, thereby linking the past with the present and future. Similarly, musically Galahad choose to fuse elements of traditional ‘Prog’ sounds with much more modern elements. This fusion of old and new in a kind of hybrid is most exemplified in Baker’s outstanding playing and instrumentation, incorporating the old sounds of Mellotron, Moog, piano and Hammond organ along with much newer contemporary sounds, rhythms, pads and sequencers, giving the rock a modern edge but still grounded in ‘Prog’ sounds.
According to Nicholson, this started out as a 7-minute piece (!!) and then presumably Baker, Nicholson and the band inspired by circumstances (maybe they had a vote!) gradually developed it into this extended, inspired musical saga. There are recurring themes and memorable melodies as the band takes us on a journey through the labyrinthine debate. As an example, the opening is like an extended overture drenched with synth and then a delicate piano. Orchestral effects and crystalline choral notes take us into what sounds like some sort of formal dinner party where we hear Pete Watson’s ‘Toastmaster’ pompously and humorously setting the scene:
“My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, I respectfully request that you be upstanding
For I give you total confusion served up with a smattering of understated incredulity
Topped off with a heady dose of utter bemusement.”
Harpsichord sounds are accompanied by Sarah Bolter’s lovely flute before a burst of drums and Mellotron, and then the piece settles back into a plangent guitar and a sonorous, echoing passage until Nicholson’s first singing, after over 6 minutes:
Interesting times ahead, indeed, both in terms of the lyrical narrative and the swirling, multi-layered and varied music. Lee Abraham’s powerful guitars and Baker’s majestic keyboards are driven upwards in a climbing passage, reminiscent of IQ’s Guiding Light. This is heady stuff, repaying the patient and attentive listener – this is no ‘casual listening’ album, one needs to find the time to experience and absorb the whole piece. In this sound bite, instant gratification culture that’s no bad thing.
Galahad are clearly also having fun with this piece, including some references to classic ‘prog’ albums such as “The Wall of Death is lowered in Parliament Square” – you can have the fun of finding the others.
Nicholson is clearly cynical about the mess the political classes have got themselves and the country in to on this issue:
If that sounds wordy and possibly rather unwieldy to sing then you would be right, and Nicholson even recognises that with a wink in the line:
Even with this ‘wink’, for some there could be a sense that the lyrics are possibly too literal or straightforward – there is little ambiguity or poetry in the narrative style he adopts, but you certainly have no illusions about the subject matter. Generally, although this is a serious subject, which Nicholson covers with diplomacy and skill, Galahad do not take themselves too seriously.
The recruitment of Lee Abraham has helped reinvigorate the band after their hiatus from new full band albums since 2012. He has been developing his own rather impressive and growingly confident solo career with a series of high quality albums in the last few years. Apparently the original plan was to use producer Karl Groom on guitars for the main piece, and some guest guitarists on the additional edits, but this did not prove practical. Abraham had been asked as to play as a guest initially but volunteered to do the whole album, and after impressing the band with the quality and range of his contributions he formally rejoined the band, but on guitars this time! This is a happy reunion as his performances are outstanding, particularly his soaring, beautiful and exciting solos towards the end of the album. He rejoined too late to be significantly involved in the writing so it will be interesting to see what impact he has on the next Galahad album. Tim Ashton is another returning member of the band, last playing with them in 1990, following the sad death of long time bassist Neil Pepper a few years ago. Ashton contributes a solid foundation to this epic and ever changing piece of music. Alongside him is long serving drummer Spencer Luckman, who produces a massive and crisp drum sound to appropriately underline the diverse soundscapes, particularly on the pounding Mare’s Nest section.
The album closes as we come full circle with Nicholson’s lovely voice intoning again about “interesting times” and the piece ends enigmatically with perhaps a sense of the reality of the challenges facing the country but with suggestions that a positive attitude is needed:
The sheer ‘Britishness’ of this album should not be a hindrance to other nationalities enjoying it – indeed such is the appeal of the heritage of British bands in progressive rock it may actually be a plus point. What is important is the quality of the composition, music and performance, which are all undoubted on this outstanding release.
An early contender for album of 2018? That Remains to be seen, I’ll Leave that to others to decide. I have another suggestion though – perhaps Galahad should advertise Seas of Change on the side of a Big Bus – that always works, doesn’t it! 😉
CD & Download versions
01. Seas of Change (42:43)
~ Bonus tracks
02. Dust (Extended Edit) (5:57)
03. Smoke (Extended Edit) (7:14)
Total Time – 55:56
Vinyl Picture Disc version
01. Seas of Change – Part One (20:57)
02. Seas of Change – Part Two (21:54)
Total Time – 42:51
Stuart Nicholson – Vocals & Backing Vocals
Dean Baker – Keyboards, Orchestration & Programming
Spencer Luckman – Drums & Percussion
Tim Ashton – Bass Guitar
Lee Abraham – Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Sarah Bolter – Flute, Clarinet, Soprano Saxophone, Backing Vocals
Peter Watson – Toastmaster
Andrew Wild – Newsreader
Record Label: Independent/OSKAR
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 15th January 2018
DISCOGRAPHY (Album CD’s)
• Nothing is Written (1991)
• In a Moment of Complete Madness (1993)
• Sleepers (1995) (Remastered 2015)
• Classic Rock Live (1996) (Remastered 2008)
• Other Crimes & Misdemeanours II (1997) (Re-released 2009)
• Following Ghosts (1998) (Remastered 2007)
• Other Crimes & Misdemeanours III (2001) (Re-released 2009)
• Year Zero (2002) (Re-released in expanded version 2012)
• Resonance – Live in Poland (2006)
• Empires Never Last (2007) (Re-released Deluxe edition – 2015)
• Other Crimes and Misdemeanours (2008) (CD version of 1992 Cassette only release)
• Sleepless In Phoenixville – Live at Rosfest (2009)
• Whitchurch 92/93 – Live Archives Vol. 2 (2012)
• Battle Scars (2012)
• Beyond the Realms of Euphoria (2012)
• Seize the Day – EP (2014)
• Guardian Angel – EP (2014)
• Mein Herz Brennt – EP (2014)
• ’30’ – EP (2015)
• Solidarity – Live in Konin (2015)
• When Worlds Collide (2015)
• Quiet Storms (2016)
Galahad Acoustic Quintet:
• Not All There (1995)
Galahad Electric Company:
• De-Constructing Ghosts (Re-mix album) (1999)