Let’s cut straight to the chase – Fact and Fiction is one of the greatest Progressive Rock albums released in the 1980s, and yet for some strange reason it never achieved the success its sheer inventiveness, lyrical excellence and fluid musicality so richly deserved. This superb album is now being re-released in a sumptuous triple CD format with a remaster of the original album alongside live versions from right across the band’s career, and, most fascinatingly, an additional disc of alternate cover versions of all the songs on the 1982 album. There are probably two sorts of potential punters considering this album – ‘Twelfth Night Virgins’ whom have never heard this album and want to know whether to buy it for the first time, and ‘Twelfth Night Veterans’ who already have previous releases of the album, and are wondering whether it’s worth buying it again.
The advice for the Virgins is simple enough – just go and get it… NOW! Go on, go and buy it now – read this later.
However, strangely some may need a bit more persuasion to buy so I’ll try to explain why this brilliant album should grace any self-respecting progressive music fan’s collection. Fact And Fiction begins with the powerfully biting We are Sane, an eerie keyboard underlying a strangely pitched intro vocal from Geoff Mann over sound effects of children playing and a TV burbling away. What strikes the listener straight away is the peculiar lyrical imagery employed by Mann as he played with the meaning and sound of the words themselves. Memorable phrases such as “Appetite angel going down”, “thrum-humming transistor, a brain-wave insistor” and the chilling “Lebensraum for megalomania” resonate, echoing around your brain long after the song has finished. Geoff’s skill as a consummate wordsmith is matched by the inventiveness and agility of the music written by bassist (and keyboardist for this album) Clive Mitten. Andy Revell’s flowing guitar and Brian Devoil’s deft, skilful drumming ensure that the vision is realised perfectly. The sound of a typewriter (rhythmically ‘played’ by Devoil) skilfully introduces the sense of powerless futility of the individual worker within the system. The central theme of this opening song, partly inspired by Mann’s work in a psychiatric hospital, is described by Geoff himself in the informative sleeve notes as being “about the political machine where people lie through politics in order to get their own way, maintain power through a whole load of half-truths”. The lyrical and musical ideas still sound fresh, infused with power and imagination even now, and should be an inspiration to many later progressive artists who are too often tempted to simply trot out the usual now rather tired ‘Prog’ blueprint. Twelfth Night were never about re-hashing the lyrical mythology and musical pastoralism so associated with early ’70s Progressive rock – they were a new and much more politically aware generation concerned with the impact of leaders like Thatcher and the appalling threat of nuclear annihilation. Some even called them ‘Punk Floyd’, though they were never punks. Mann’s biting lyrics and Mitten’s imaginative music delved into darker areas of the Cold War, insanity and the manipulation of the masses.
For an album originally released in 1982 it seems prescient that many of the lyrics and themes seem just as relevant now or even more so these days. In a world of ‘fake news’ Mann’s words do seem oddly – and rather sadly – prophetic these days:
“She reads about a will to power in papers full of lies…
As words of judgement pour out of the Mouths of those who make their mark,
By keeping people in the dark, those who bite worse than they bark are loudly shouting
We are Sane! Not insane!”
Splashes in a bath plunges us “Tremulous and quiverin’” into the stately keyboards of Human Being, with subtle synth drums and Revell’s restrained but delicate guitar. Mann’s distinctive vocal style spits out angrily, pointedly ending with a plea for us to “Stand up and be counted Human Being”, showing his belief in the value of the individual and the power of the human spirit, which later moved him to leave the band to take up a ministry in the Church. This City, about Mann’s hometown of Salford, is more restrained and subtle, but impactful in the simplicity of the guitar and synthesised strings – it’s also a beautiful vocal performance by Mann.
For some younger or non-U.K. readers it may be hard to believe that the U.K. government issued ‘Protect and Survive’ pamphlets to households in the early 1980s to prepare people for nuclear attack. You couldn’t make it up! This utter insanity inspired Fact and Fiction‘s title track. Catchy enough to have been a hit single and driven by ’80s synths (and backing vocals by Mann’s wife, Jane) this memorable rock/pop song is also punctuated by maniacal laughter… “Don’t make me Laugh” indeed. This earworm song segues into instrumental The Poet Sniffs a Flower, an atmospheric showcase for Revell’s guitar skills, named after Mann’s painting which is reproduced beautifully in the excellent artwork of the CD booklet for this re-release.
The second major ‘tour de force’ track on the album is the sinister and chillingly evocative Creepshow. There is a real sense of descending into a nightmarish world as Mann’s manic vocals and guttural sounds are matched by the aptly creepy guitar and keyboard tones. This piece is simply staggering, fusing nightmarish lyrical imagery with dazzlingly inventive music to convey the horror, especially the phantom-like guitar sounds half way through this startling song. Multi-talented Mitten tastefully uses keyboards to illustrate the scenes and his almost funky distinctive bass drives the song on. Mann’s vocal performance is astounding in its dexterity and characterisation, alternating between the sinister ‘host’ of the Creepshow to the seriously disturbed ‘Amanda’ or the manic ‘Cyril’. The lyrics fizz insanely:
“Sometimes he’ll watch a moron machine in the corner of his cell,
Lost in time, lost in minds, Cyril writhes like smoke, his bigots eyes are slashed skin
Their expression none the nicer for being blank.”
The ‘Mirror’ sequence shimmers with menace as Mann’s weirdly hypnotic speech culminates in a moment of insight as he shouts “COME ON, WAKE UP! WHO’S RUNNING THIS SHOW ANYWAY?” This is the cue for a dramatic musical finale underpinned by Devoil’s finely judged drumming, and featuring a soaring guitar solo by Revell as Mann urges us to “Use your Free Will”. What is crucial in understanding the class and musical artistry of Twelfth Night is that such flourishes are not included for the musician to show off their musical chops – they are integral and essential to convey the narrative or atmosphere of the song. There are no indulgent or extravagant solos, they are artistically designed to do exactly what is needed, conjuring images and sound pictures.
After such a dark journey from We are Sane to Creepshow it was essential that Twelfth Night brought proceedings to a more positive conclusion. Devoil suggested Mann pen a more uplifting song so he wrote the words for Love Song. Written very quickly by Mitten and Mann over a straightforward acoustic guitar this simple but beautiful song has become anthemic, marked with such evocative lines as “skittering wind-blown leaves” and the spiritually laden conclusion: “Take a tip from the carpenter, forgive and love again… and again”. It’s a truly beautiful end to a remarkable album. Mann later left the band to become a priest, but for those possibly uncomfortable with the ‘F’ word, be assured that this is the only direct reference to Mann’s ‘Faith’. This is an album imbued with passion and commitment, but it is not overtly ‘Christian’ or preaching.
Hopefully the above may have persuaded wavering ‘Twelfth Night Virgins’ to take the plunge – I doubt you’ll regret it if you’re interested in finely played music with poetic and powerful lyrics from a passionate wordsmith, perfectly imagined in music full of ideas, innovation, feelings and power.
What about all the punters who may already have this album ? (Thanks for staying the course so far!) Is it worth buying it all over again?
Yet again the simple answer is very definitely: YES. ‘Why?’, I hear some say who may need a little more persuasion.
Well, firstly this remaster helps improve the sonic quality of the album, although to be fair it was always remarkably good quality for an album recorded on an almost zero budget! However, I doubt improvements in sound would be quite sufficient for punters to re-invest in the world of Fact and Fiction. The band, and particularly the ‘keeper of the Twelfth Night Flame’ Brian Devoil, understands that existing fans require and indeed deserve much more to make it feel worth buying this latest re-release. Previous ‘Definitive Edition’ releases of Twelfth Night albums have featured live versions and rarer extra tracks with alternate and demo versions. This release also features such attractions, such as the high energy spiky eighties rock/pop of East of Eden and their synth driven take on The Beatles classic Eleanor Rigby, released as a single in 1982. One personal reservation I do have is that I wish they had squeezed these curiosities in elsewhere in the set, rather than after the original album songs – sometimes you just want an album to end where you remembered it ended!
The second disc features the album songs laid out in various live renditions dating from 1982 to 2012. Three of the songs are taken from the same recordings used for the classic Live and Let Live live album in 1983, but are versions from the other night not used on the album. They reveal what a truly great live band Twelfth Night were in their heyday, a cracking rock band on top form with Mann the consummate front man and Rick Battersby back on keyboards after his curious ‘sabbatical’ for the year they took to record Fact and Fiction. Andy Sears replaced Mann on vocals and his distinctive style interprets Human Being (from 1984) and This City (2010) in his own inimitable way. Mark Spencer’s own classy but different vocals are featured most remarkably on Creepshow in 2012 and perhaps most enticingly with a joyous, bubbling guitar version of their trademark song Fact and Fiction, taken from the forthcoming live album A Night to Remember, recorded in London in 2012 and keenly anticipated by many Twelfth Night fans. Additional songs on the ‘live’ disc feature the demo curiosities recorded in March 1982, and reveal that this was a band still looking for its own identity. Some early versions of later songs were played in very different styles with synths and drum machines to the fore – the evolution of some of these songs by the end of 1982 and how they turned out on Fact and Fiction is a revelation.
The final and perhaps most fascinating disc in this re-release is a set of ‘Covers and Interpretations’ recorded between 1983 and 2018, with most of them originating recently. Some covers were already recorded for other projects, such as Pendragon’s characteristic take on Human Being for the 1994 Mannerisms tribute album following Geoff Mann’s untimely demise, or 2014’s Alan Reed (ex-Pallas) and ex-Touchstone singer Kim Seviour’s delicate duet charity release of Love Song. It is perhaps appropriate that Galahad also feature with a subtle dream-pop version of Fact and Fiction, as Galahad members have also played with Twelfth night as a live band over the years. This relationship is exemplified by Galahad keyboardist Dean Baker who’s orchestration and keyboard skills feature on five of these tracks, most notably Tim Bowness’s wonderfully glacial No-Man styled take on This City, and new band Coburg’s smouldering version of the same song, featuring Anastasia Coburg’s rather striking vocal interpretation. Brian Devoil has recently revealed that the original plan was for the third disc to be a complete re-recording of Fact and Fiction by the multi-talented Mark Spencer, the last Twelfth Night singer and also currently with Clive Mitten’s new project C:Live Collective. Devoil realised that Spencer’s work warranted its own release rather than being the third disc in this set, nevertheless Spencer’s confident and dramatic updating of We are Sane and the bizarrely incongruous but entertaining use of horn sounds on The Poet Sniffs a Flower (with Lee Abraham) are included, indicating that Spencer’s own take on this album will have its own fascination in due course. Twelfth Night themselves appear on this interpretations disc with Creepyshow. Devoil has recently explained that “Creepyshow is a re-mix of the version of Creepshow recorded live at Wath in 2010. It was included on the MMX DVD, whereas the ‘real’/original live recording version was released on the MMX CD. It was done by Clive, mainly I think for fun and as an experiment. He added some extra elements, effects, changed the balances, messed around with the vocals, and moved a few things around, for example the guitar and keyboard solos…”. Mitten has continued to explore very different interpretations with radically different versions of a couple of Fact and Fiction songs on C:Live Collective’s recent release The Age of Insanity. It appears that Twelfth Night’s appetite for imaginative use of sounds continues to this day.
It is perhaps appropriate that the final word on this reissue, which owes so much to the lyricism and artistic influence of Geoff Mann, sees it end with a couple of live versions from 1992 of Fact and Fiction songs by Mann’s own band, called rather strangely the Eh! Geoff Mann Band.
With any re-release there is always the query from existing fans as to whether any of its facets give the necessary added value and interest. This package certainly does, it is very artfully and sympathetically designed by Paul Tippett with Brian Devoil, with Geoff Mann’s original brilliant and unique artwork featured significantly alongside some great photos (particularly Mann at his mike with a face contorted as he enacts Creepshow) and all the lyrics, overlying scans of Mann’s original handwritten words. There are also extensive and informative sleeve notes, with an additional edited extract from Michael Anthony’s Twelfth Night work, Words and Music. The band members (and Mann’s wife, Jane) themselves also contribute some fascinating comments about each song… and all of these additional features, along with the truly outstanding music, make this a package well worth acquiring.
There have been numerous other re-releases of much more famous artists, with associated eye-watering price levels, which many will find hard to resist. However, whether ‘Virgin’ or ‘Veteran’, when it comes to Twelfth Night this is a remarkable re-release of tremendous value, which adds to the story of this now legendary ‘almost made it’ band. 36 years since it was released, and still sounding fresh, incisive and exciting, this version of Fact and Fiction stands out as one of the best re-releases of any band in recent years. If you missed it first time then dive in as soon as possible, and even if you have known the original album well this is an absolutely essential re-release. Dedicated to the memory of Geoff Mann it’s a very fitting tribute to his art, sincerity and humility.
[You can read Leo Trimming’s interview with Twelfth Night drummer Brian Devoil HERE.]
CD 1 – Studio Album (Revolution Studios, Cheadle Hulme, Stockport, Summer 1982)
01. We Are Sane (10:23)
02. Human Being (7:48)
03. This City (4:02)
04. World Without End (1:51)
05. Fact and Fiction (3:59)
06. The Poet Sniffs a Flower (3:50)
07. Creepshow (11:50)
08. Love Song (5:41)
~ additional tracks
09. Being Human (3:46)
10. Paradise Locked (0:24)
11. East of Eden (3:24)
12. Eleanor Rigby (3:22)
Time – 60:20
CD 2 – Live: 1983-2012
01. We Are Sane (11:54) [Marquee, London, 5th November 1983]
02. Human Being (8:09) [Marquee, London, 9th March 1984]
03. This City (3:57) [Montgomery Hall, Wath-upon-Dearne, 28th May 2010]
04. World Without End (1:34) [Rotherham Rocks, 16th May 2008]
05. Fact and Fiction (5:34) [Marquee, London, 4th November 1983]
06. The Poet Sniffs a Flower (3:38) [Marquee, London, 4th November 1983]
07. Creepshow (12:27) [Summer’s End, Lydney, 29th September 2012]
08. Love Song (7:56) [Marquee, London, 5th November 1983]
09. Fact and Fiction (4:43) [Guildhall, Barbican Centre, London, 15th December 2012]
Demos: 1982 (Recorded at Matinee Studios, Reading, March 1982)
10. Constant (Fact and Fiction) (2:24)
11. Fistful of Bubbles (3:18)
12. Leader (2:41)
13. Dancing in the Dream (2:58)
14. Creepshow (After The Bomb Drops) (3:53)
Time – 75:08
CD 3 – Covers and interpretations: 1983-2018
01. Dean Baker – Electro Sane (1:26) [Poole 2010, remixed 2018]
02. Mark Spencer – We Are Sane (11:07) [Dysfunction Studios, Letchworth & Thin Ice Studios, Virginia Water, between 2011 & 2018]
03. Pendragon – Human Being (6:51) [Halfway Houses, Maidenhead, 1994]
04. Tim Bowness – This City (4:42) [Poole and Bath, March 2018]
05. Coburg – This City (5:21) [Poole and Rushden, March 2018]
06. Clive Nolan – World Without End (2:18) [Thin Ice Studios, Virginia Water, March 2018]
07. Galahad – Fact and Fiction (5:01) [Thin Ice Studios, Virginia Water, February 2018]
08. Mark Spencer featuring Lee Abraham – The Poet Sniffs a Flower (3:44) [Dysfunction Studios, Letchworth & Dockside Studios, Southampton, March 2018]
09. Twelfth Night – Creepyshow (12:20) [Montgomery Hall, Wath-upon-Dearne, May 2010]
10. Alan Reed & Kim Seviour – Love Song (5:55) [Clanjamfrie Studios, Guildford, February 2014]
11. Axe – Don’t Make Me Laugh (3:52) [John Verity’s Studio, Bradford, October 1983]
12. Eh! Geoff Mann Band – Fact and Fiction (4:20) [The Norderlight, Tilburg, Holland, May 1992]
13. Eh! Geoff Mann Band – Love Song (6:51) [The Norderlight, Tilburg, Holland, May 1992]
Time – 74:48
Total Time – 210:16
MUSICIANS (on original album recording)
Brian Devoil – Drums, Percussion & Typewriter (!)
Geoff Mann – Vocals & Tape Effects
Clive Mitten – Bass, Keyboards, Classical Guitar
Andy Revell – Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Jane Mann – Additional Vocals (tracks 4 & 5)
Record Label: progrock.co.uk
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: June 2018 (original release December 1982)
– Live at the Target [Original release 1981, re-released Definitive Edition in 2012 with 9 bonus tracks]
– Smiling at Grief [Original release on tape in 1982, re-released on CD in 2009 Definitive Edition with 14 additional tracks]
– Fact and Fiction [Original release 1982, re-released in 2018 Definitive Edition with 31 bonus tracks]
– Live and Let Live (live album) [Original Release 1984, re-released in 2012 Definitive Edition with 7 bonus tracks]
– Art and Illusion [Original release 1984, re-released in 2010 Definitive Edition with 12 bonus tracks]
– Twelfth Night (aka ‘XII’) [Original release 1986, re-released in 2005 with 6 bonus tracks]
– Collector’s Item (Compilation) [Original release 1991, re-released in 2001]
– Voices in the Night (live and studio recordings from 1980 to 1997) [Released in 2007]
– MMX (live album) [Released in 2010]