Published on 22nd March 2021
Nick Fletcher – Cycles Of Behaviour
The eighth edition of the famous Progdreams Festival at the Boerderij in Zoetermeer, Holland, back in 2019 was especially interesting for me because of the performance of the John Hackett Band. This was mainly due to the release of his most recent album, the quite proggy Beyond The Stars. The performance itself was a bit disappointing, especially the vocals, which left something to be desired, and the band rattled quite a bit. But there was also a ray of hope, maybe even a lighthouse beam. A certain Nick Fletcher turned out to be my discovery of the festival. I saw an absolute top-notch guitarist at work whose style of playing was somewhere in between Allan Holdsworth, Dave Gilmour and Steve Hackett. It was no coincidence that the instrumental songs stood out, a star was born.
With the release of Nick’s first prog album, Cycles of Behaviour, a more extensive introduction is in order here.
Nick Fletcher has been described as ‘the best kept secret in British Prog’. He is a guitarist and composer who has been playing guitar and writing music professionally since 1981, after leaving music college as a classical guitarist and guitar teacher. He later started a career as a session player and worked in a number of bands with, among others, Dave Bainbridge and Tim Harries.
Since 1991, Fletcher has mainly engaged in solo performances and arranging and composing music for classical guitar. Over a period of 25 years he has written and recorded numerous compositions. At a later stage, the collaboration with John Hackett arose and together they formed the guitar and flute duo Fletcher/Hackett, but in 2015 he started having that special tingling again. Hackett invited him to join his new band and from that moment on Fletcher started to focus on playing the electric guitar again, with great success and praise from the press, public and fellow musicians.
“Nick Fletcher is probably the best jazz rock guitarist in the UK, I consider him an absolute star.” Quite a statement, certainly in view of the fact that it came from none other than Steve Hackett. It is not entirely coincidental that Fletcher’s album is released on Steve and brother John’s Hacktrax label, but I do trust the legendary guitarist’s integrity when it comes to fair judgment.
Cycles of Behaviour came about due to the excellent press reaction to his participation in John’s Beyond the Stars. Nick had written similar material and some musical ideas were in line with Beyond the Stars. This resulted in a new direction and musical development, with a broader sound palette and especially more instrumental numbers.
In addition to the aforementioned Dave Bainbridge (Lifesigns, Celestial Fire, Iona, Strawbs, Downes Braide Association) on Hammond organ and Tim Harries (Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, Steeleye Span) on bass guitar, drummer Russ Wilson (The Book of Genesis) and Caroline Bonnett on keyboards and vocals play an important role on Cycles of Behavior, the latter also co-producing and mastering. And let’s not forget the contributions on flute and vocals by John Hackett.
Nick’s music is a unique take on prog, incorporating many different influences ranging from Pink Floyd, Genesis and Camel, the jazz/fusion of Bruford and Holdsworth, the classical compositions of Ravel and Stravinsky through to Herbert Howells, the English composer of choral music.
The opening title track starts with a strong guitar riff with recognisable Allan Holdsworth-esque playing, supported by Bainbridge’s Hammond and superb solid backing by drums and bass. Above it all, Fletcher soars with alternating long flowing lines and more staccato playing in this delightful instrumental jazz-rock song. In Heat Is Rising the voice of John Hackett can be heard for the first time, in a mid-tempo rocker with another strong guitar riff. Halfway through, Nick breaks loose in a way that is a cross between Holdsworth and Andy Latimer on speed.
Delightfully dreamy sounds appear during Hope In Your Eyes, referring to Genesis but especially Steve Hackett. Another great eight-minute song, Fletcher’s open chords are supported by Mellotron tones and John’s voice and flute. Another great solo finishes it all off. Drummer Wilson and bassist Harries lay the foundation during Tyrant and Knave, a song reminiscent of the heavier side of Camel, complete with organ and bluesy guitar solo with emotional and flowing lines. Halfway through, there’s a complete metamorphosis with a strong touch of Focus’ Jan Akkerman and a return to the original theme of this instrumental track.
Desolation Sound is by far the shortest song, just under three minutes. The ethereal tones of Hackett’s flute are accompanied by (guitar?) synthesised sounds, like in the best Hackett times. There’s a somewhat ominous and cinematic character, and it’s an interesting track. However, Interconnected is very different, the tempo increases sharply with John’s vocals trying – and just succeeding – to keep up with the pace. The Red Flower of Tachai (from Spectral Mornings) appears briefly halfway through this rocking, but otherwise unremarkable track that could have originated from Steve Hackett’s Cured era. Not his best. In contrast, Annexation is a beautifully atmospheric song in the best Hackett tradition, acoustic guitar and flute setting the tone, to be abruptly relieved by Camel-style keyboards and electric guitar with a slightly oriental touch. Fletcher’s version of Rajaz?
Closing track Philosopher King clocks in at just over thirteen-minutes and is the longest song on Cycles of Behavior. In terms of guitar, David Gilmour is the main reference point. This song could easily have been on, say, On An Island and would not have been out of place at all. The phrasing and playing of the Pink Floyd guitarist has been executed to perfection, which is quite a compliment. The slow tempo and heavy orchestration with excellent bass and keyboards are also worthwhile. A middle section referring to Genesis/IQ/Steve Hackett is eventually followed by the original theme which brings the song to calmer waters. An excellent song, by far the best on the album and without a doubt fully worthy of the ‘prog’ label, however, John Hackett’s vocals are a big disappointment.
I’m not a big fan of John’s vocal qualities; his voice is bland, just too inconspicuous to really add anything to the music. With some melancholy, I remember the voice of, for example, Paul Williams, Allan Holdsworth’s IOU singer in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Sadly, Williams died in 2019.
But what sticks is a fine prog debut by star guitarist Nick Fletcher. He shows his versatile side with a style that mainly relies on the sound of Allan Holdsworth to which a pinch of Andrew Latimer and a tad of Steve Hackett have been added. If he’s able to attract a good singer, he could prove to be an even more valuable addition to the genre.
01. Cycles Of Behaviour (6:05)
02. Heat Is Rising (5:24)
03. Hope In Your Eyes 8:12)
04. Tyrant And Knave (7:11)
05. Desolation Sound (2:42)
06. Interconnected (7:44)
07. Annexation (4:24)
08. Philosopher King (13:19)
Total Time – 55:01
Nick Fletcher – Guitars
Dave Bainbridge – Hammond Organ
John Hackett – Flute, Vocals
Caroline Bonnett – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Tim Harries – Bass
Russ Wilson – Drums
Record Label: Hacktrax
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 26th March 2021