John Holden - Rise And Fall

John Holden – Rise And Fall

To put it very simply, John Holden has done it again. Lightning has indeed struck twice, after 2018’s Capture Light. In Rise And Fall, John Holden has released a very fine album, encompassing a range of fascinating stories, packed with captivating melodies and skilfully played progressive rock.

Whilst curious punters may be attracted by the presence of members of Yes and Mystery, alongside the mercurial Peter Jones of Camel and Tiger Moth Tales, with the added vocal talents of That Joe Payne, it will be the great quality of this enchanting melodic music that will beguile them to stay and repeatedly listen to this fine album.

It is perhaps significant that John Holden commences this album with Leap of Faith as it is indicative of his own musical journey when after a career in business he decided to follow his dreams to write and work on his debut album Capture Light for quite some time. When it was finally released in 2018 Holden achieved quite some success, seemingly straight out of nowhere! He takes another similar leap on this opening song by working alongside the relatively unknown keyboard artist Vikram Shankar (who released an album under the Lux Terminus banner last year). Vikram co-wrote the outstanding introductory instrumental section The Comet with Holden. It draws the listener in with atmospheric piano and violin-like synths which evolve into a more orchestral and choral feel, suggesting an overture for the song and album. Vikram Shankar plays piano and keyboards on most of the songs, and he is clearly a great attribute to John’s finely crafted album.

In an example of the stories depicted by Holden, with fascinating explanatory sleeve notes for each song included with the lovely artwork of the CD booklet, Leap of Faith tells of an 11th Century English Benedictine monk Eilmer, who was reportedly the first recorded person to have attempted flight. Eilmer witnessed Halley’s Comet as a youngster and also again in 1066 shortly before his death, and the stellar connection with his aspirations for flight are evoked by the flowing melodic rock, tinged with monastic touches and flourishes. Apparently, Eilmer’s flight was from the belltower of Malmesbury Abbey, leaping off wearing only wings… if you want to know the outcome you will need to get the album. What I can tell you is that this story is told through a series of captivating musical and lyrical phases as Eilmer reflects, experiences monastic life, studies and plans before taking his ascent to the tower. Peter Jones adds suitably airy recorder and whistles, and beautifully sings each changing emotional stage of the story, including the stirring tones of ‘The Leap’:

“Soaring now the world beneath me, High above the ground
People gaze with awe and wonder, Gliding without sound.”

It’s an absolutely marvellous opening song which sets the scene and standards for the whole album.

The quality of the songs continues with a stellar vocal contribution from Jean Pageau from Canadian progressive rock band Mystery in the title song Rise and Fall. Pageau has a remarkable voice, simultaneously capable of conveying great emotion and subtlety as well as handling more powerful sections. One can see why he seemingly had no hesitation in reprising his vocal contribution to Holden’s debut album as this is a rich, melodic song full of resonance, touching on a person’s struggle with an addiction balanced with their feelings about the person trying to save them from their own self-destruction. At the end of the day it is down to the person to make a choice – will they Rise or Fall?

Much of the inspiration for John Holden’s work comes from his partner Elizabeth, who also helps him write some of the fine lyrics. John set ‘Libby’ a challenge, that she should write a song which he would set to music, the opposite of their usual way of working. Facing her own personal challenges in recent years with great grace, Libby decided to combine a requiem for herself that was also a love song. She chose to use the theme of The Golden Thread of the Fates seen in Greek and Roman mythology – these are noble and beautiful ideas, but do they work as a song? Well, the short answer is most definitely ‘Yes’. Oliver Wakeman (ex-Yes) provides a delicate piano accompaniment with added lush orchestration by Vikram Shankar. This a perfect canvas for the crystal clear voices of Joe Payne (ex-The Enid) and Lauren Nolan who duet beautifully about the bond of everlasting love. It’s a gorgeous song filled with the love that so clearly shines between John and his Muse, Elizabeth.

The album takes a distinctly darker and more sinister path on Dark Arts, showing Joe Payne’s versatility in a much heavier piece, focusing on the deception in politics, social media and the press. This piece features some nifty bass work from Billy Sherwood of Yes, once again returning to contribute to a John Holden album. The talented Zaid Crowe also strafes a searing guitar solo later in the piece, and the whole piece is driven on with great percussive skill by Nick D’Virgilio of Big Big Train and ex-Spock’s Beard on drums, as he does for most of the album – just how does Holden persuade these great artists to appear on his albums?!

One of Holden’s main collaborators is Oliver Day, a very skilled guitarist who plays with the Yes tribute band Fragile as well as with Joe Payne, and he particularly shines on Heretic. This was inspired by the incredible bravery of Khaled al-Asaad, the 82-year-old Head of Antiquities who refused to disclose the whereabouts of priceless hidden treasures to his ISIS torturers when they captured and destroyed the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra in 2015. Payne sings the piece with great feeling while Day’s deftly played guitars evoke a range of images, and suggest the hopeful ending that displaced peoples can return home one day, as empires rise and fall. A guitar part from Day also inspired the penultimate song, After the Storm, which starts with a synth violin line before Sally Minnear touchingly and optimistically sings a song of hope after the storm. The part John Holden plays on this album should NOT be underestimated. He plays a range of instruments with skill and feeling on all the songs, and it is his gorgeous songwriting, with clearly a great ear for an attractive melody and a memorable line, which enables the artists he gathers to create such enticing and interesting sounds and images.

Rise and Fall closes with the ambitious Ancestors and Satellites which re-introduces the rich voice of Peter Jones on lead vocal, suggesting The Comet seen in the opening song. Like Halley’s Comet, this piece stretches across time, commencing with the hand paintings left 40,000 years ago by ancient cavemen right up to the virtually eternal footprints left on the Moon’s surface by the Apollo astronauts. Joe Payne, Lauren Nolan and Sally Minnear harmonise soulfully with Peter Jones on some of the vocals in a lovingly constructed patchwork of voices over a beguiling melody and sweetly resonant chorus:

“Light the Fires, Words are spoken
Incantation, Stories
Call the memory
From the darkness
Imagination, Our Song.”

The fluid grace of Michel St-Pere on electric guitar lifts the song further to a shimmering conclusion before his Mystery bandmate Jean Pageau ends with the words “In the Rise and Fall”. This is a truly lovely song – there’s no hard edge or cynicism – it’s a song inspired by and shining with positivity and beauty… and don’t we need a bit more of that now and then?

Rise and Fall is a delightful series of musical paintings depicting tales stretching right back to prehistoric times through to the present day and beyond – but this is no musty soulless gallery. These songs shimmer with wonderful melodies and the words bring the stories to life with resonance and emotion, tied together with a Golden Thread of ‘Hope’ running through this remarkable and uplifting album.

It’s early yet but Rise and Fall may well be one of THE albums of 2020.

[You can read John Wenlock-Smith’s recent interview with John Holden HERE.]

01. Leap of Faith (10:10)
02. Rise and Fall (6:23)
03. The Golden Thread (4:56)
04. Dark Arts (7:06)
05. Heretic (9:20)
06. After the Storm (6:09)
07. Ancestors and Satellites (8:57)

Total Time – 53:01

John Holden – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Programming
Vikram Shankar – Piano, Keyboards (tracks 1,2,3,5,6 & 7)
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums (tracks 2,4,5,6 & 7)
Oliver Day – Guitars, Lap Steel (tracks 2,4,5 & 6)
That Joe Payne – Vocals (tracks 3,4,5 & 7)
Peter Jones – Vocals, Recorder, Whistle (tracks 1 & 7)
Oliver Wakeman – Piano, Keyboards (tracks 3 & 4)
Jean Pageau – Vocals (tracks 2 & 7)
Michel St-Pere – Guitar Solo (track 7)
Billy Sherwood – Bass (track 4)
Jon Camp – Bass (track 2)
Zaid Crowe – Guitar Solo (track 4)
Emily Dolan Davies – Percussion (track 2)
Simon Fitzpatrick – Bass (tracks 5 & 7)
Sally Minnear – Vocals (tracks 5 & 7)
Lauren Nolan – Vocals (tracks 3 & 7)

Record Label: Independent
Country uf Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 29th February 2020

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