For King and Country is a new project led by Magenta mainman Rob Reed, but its roots go right back in his school days. Before Reed formed Magenta in 1999 he was in Cyan, formed at school in the early 1980s, later releasing three albums in the 1990s. Fast forward over 30 years and Rob has resurrected Cyan with a stellar new band, featuring Peter Jones (Camel & Tiger Moth Tales) on vocals, Luke Machin (The Tangent & Maschine) on guitars and bassist Dan Nelson (Godsticks & Magenta), to re-record and re-imagine For King and Country.
Rob Reed has shared in a ‘Prog Report’ podcast that his original four-track school demo eventually reached Nick Barrett of Pendragon, who loved it, but at that stage it went nowhere. Two years later a Dutch record company contacted Reed, wanting a whole album. The original school band version of Cyan had dissolved so Reed did it all on his own, including singing and using a drum machine for the original rather more rudimentary version of For King and Country. Nevertheless, that album did pretty well, and two more Cyan albums followed. For the planned fourth Cyan album, Reed considered using his band-mate Christina Booth from the rather more pop-oriented Trippa. She sounded great, and so Magenta was born instead!
However, Reed always loved the old Cyan material, especially the first album which he yearned to do properly with a band in a decent recording studio. He started putting together an updated version of For King and Country some years ago, including real drum parts, by early Magenta drummer Tim Robinson (this explains why the imminent Cyan live band includes the talented current Magenta drummer, Jiffy Griffiths, although he is not on the album). The process of putting it all together was delayed, Reed saying, “it just sat on the hard drive for ages”. The main issue was finding the right vocalist:
“I’d held off releasing this album because I couldn’t find a vocalist to do it justice. Meeting Pete ticked that box, as soon as I heard him sing the first track. His voice just blends so good against Angharad Brinnn, who I’d worked with on the Sanctuary solo albums.”
It is hard to argue with such taste, such is the undoubted vocal ability of the mellifluous Pete Jones, who has risen to far greater prominence after his stellar performances with the legendary Camel. Reed felt Jones’ voice took the album to another level, adding to the richness of the new Cyan by asking mercurial guitarist Luke Machin to join. Add Dan Nelson’s great bass skills and Reed had a band ready to breathe new life into the project of his youth.
Of course, there may be some risks in trying to do this, so the question is, should Rob Reed have left this music locked up safely and fondly remembered in his memory banks, or has it been worth revisiting and re-creating it for modern times?
Of course, with Reed we are always assured high quality musicianship and sparkling production. He has also shown impeccable judgement in exploring the musical world of Mike Oldfield with his Sanctuary project, more recently imaginatively delving into the electronic territory of Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis with Cursus solo album, so he is a master at exploring previously trodden musical paths – the difference this time is that he is re-treading his own path.
Typically, Reed does not do things by half and throws the proverbial musical kitchen sink at this project. I am not familiar with the original, long since deleted version, but Reed is clear that he has completely re-worked the album. The shining example of that approach is the spectacular opening piece The Sorceror, which has been getting very positive feedback from its previews. The original version was a mere 8-minutes, but in this new re-worked version it has been transformed into a dramatic and widescreen 15-minute epic. Reed has shared that he just kept re-writing it, developing the original idea and adding ever more ambitious extended sections, featuring fine musicianship from the whole band. It opens cinematically with the sound of thunder and a film score type orchestral intro – one can almost see the curtains folding back as we enter the story. With an impressive roll of Tim Robinson’s drums and a synth run, we are into the heart of the piece, Luke Machin adding a peculiar rising guitar motif. Pete Jones’ voice sounds suitably dramatic as he launches into an Arthurian tale. Yep, we’re heavily into full-on Prog territory with wizards in the lyrics and unashamed musical flamboyance from all involved – just go with it, it really is just great fun!
Reed and Machin duel with keyboards and guitars, and it is clear that a youthful Reed was keen on a certain caped keyboardist. It was a master stroke to choose a different guitarist to his usual Magenta bandmate Chris Fry. Needless to say, Fry is a brilliant guitarist but Machin brings a unique style and different tone, giving this Cyan its own distinct identity – this is not a Magenta clone. Jones rides this dazzling musical beast superbly with his usual skill and range. Ten minutes in and the piece really takes off with a fantastic and thrilling Hammond organ and electric guitar exchange which develops with orchestral backing – it will have some listeners nostalgically dabbing the corners of their eyes and checking their pulses. Some respite is forthcoming as languid, liquid guitar takes us to the end section, the great voices of Pete Jones and Angharad Brinn combining in a heroic, celebratory finale – The End… or at least that’s how I imagined this musical movie ending!
The Sorceror is in-your-face, uncompromising ‘Prog’ – it’s not ‘progressive’ or experimental. This song is undoubtedly high-class, full-on and spectacular Prog with the proverbial capital ‘P’, and capital ‘R’, ‘O’ and ‘G’ for that matter – and many fans are going to absolutely love it.
After the massive musical wedding cake of The Sorceror, Cyan take a different direction with the more straightforward but hook filled Call Me, a real showcase for Jones’ versatile voice, easily at home with a more adult contemporary style. Dan Nelson is particularly fluid on this groove-laden piece which rolls on smoothly. However, this is Cyan, they cannot resist adding luscious frills to a lovely but fairly conventional song. In a shining, positive extended play out, synths and guitars swoop and dive around each other delightfully, before the song fades away into the sunset with Spanish guitar and subtle percussion. What this song demonstrates is that Reed also has a great liking for bands such as E.L.O., Abba and Supertramp, and is equally adept at writing great pop songs. Even Magenta at their most ambitious always have great tunes woven into their musical tapestries. I Defy the Sun is a great example of a song which starts like a fine ’80s pop/rock love song, Jones suavely intoning “I Tug on a different heart string”. Machin overlays a distinctive guitar solo along with the sound of horns in an anthemic zenith, before the piece fades poetically. It feels as if Reed and the band are delighting in presenting great songs but embellishing them with lush instrumentation and gorgeous touches you would not normally find on such songs – it’s a great mixture. Talking of mixtures, Don’t Turn Away characterises the two distinct strands of this album in one song. The opening section starts out medieval and ‘Robin Hood’-like, and then with a massive rock and orchestral fanfare straight out of Rick Wakeman’s Myths and Legends of King Arthur we are riding our Prog steeds into battle… suddenly morphing into a delicate and smooth soft rock mid-section in which Jones and Brinn sing beautifully – it’s actually reminiscent of the brilliant and chilled Chimpan A album The Empathy Machine, in my view one of the best albums Rob Reed has ever done. Meanwhile, with sound effects akin to Mike Oldfield’s Five Miles Out, the song takes another twist before stratospherically returning to the Prog skies with Machin’s guitar and Reed’s keyboards, spiralling upwards on an orchestral wave. It is a peculiar mixture of styles, but with sheer brio and skill Cyan somehow make it work so effectively.
Cyan grace the album with two instrumentals. Snowbound (no relation to the Genesis song) includes a gentle mid-section with lilting Steve Hackett-esque oriental sounds, sandwiched between majestically galloping rock passages. Machin’s guitar is almost talking in its expressiveness and Nelson’s bass interweaves nicely with flute sounds, until Machin’s guitar swoops back in, zooming in and out with the flute like flights of starlings in bewildering patterns. Night Flight is altogether different in style, starting with an organ intro uncannily like the beginning of She Chameleon by Marillion (but thankfully that is only a brief echo and we are not in dirge-like territory!). Night Flight is a fun tour of musical styles and sounds with medieval recorder giving way to full-on Salsa sounds… you couldn’t make it up! There’s even a jazzy sax towards the end, and throughout, the whole band are enjoying showing off their chops in a wide ranging and entertaining musical carnival.
If there are any reservations it would be that sometimes it can a feel a bit too much! Occasionally a little more restraint might have helped contrast the excitement and impact of some of the sections. It can feel a little like we are eating an enormous musical cake, dripping with icing and filled with delicious ear-tingling tastes… and sometimes such ornate virtuosity can just feel rather too filling! The extended story piece Man amongst Men, jam-packed with a range of styles, gave me that feeling. It sounds impressive and diverse, but for me it did not fully pull together, leaving me a little overwhelmed with ideas and sounds. But hey, that’s just me and in the wider context of the album it is a minor reservation.
The title track finishes For King and Country, filled with delicacy, poetry and drama, telling a story of men going to war. Jones is outstanding on vocals, displaying a hitherto unheard (for me) ability to hit very high notes perfectly. This is a great driving rock song with the band locked and tight as they barrel along powerfully, fading away like ghostly old soldiers into the distance with a church choir elegiacally singing. It’s a great way to end an outstanding album.
Rob Reed recently said that he loved ‘Musical Colour’ (which may also explain his choice of colours for band names). He professes a love for the production and cinematic quality of bands like Genesis and Camel: “It’s what I love and what I want to hear… This record is connecting to people”. Well, those colours and textures are in abundance and have been presented so vividly and freshly on this album. Peter Jones has said the songs have a “youthful and yet vintage quality about them”, which is a good way of describing the feel of the music – rooted in classic rock heritage but presented freshly and spectacularly. This is not ‘edgy’ or ‘experimental’ or ‘progressive’ – this is an album which is unashamedly and gloriously ‘Prog’ at times, whilst elsewhere it is lush and gorgeously presented smooth melodic rock… sometimes in the same song! Many fans will absolutely love it and will hope that one of the most anticipated prog albums of 2021 is the start of a series of new Cyan albums.
To be fair, as school projects go, over 30 years later this is an outstanding and truly entertaining achievement… and I’m sure glad the dog didn’t eat young Reed’s musical homework all those years ago (?)!
01. The Sorceror (15:10)
02. Call Me (5:27)
03. I Defy the Sun (5:28)
04. Don’t Turn Away (7:44)
05. Snowbound (Instrumental) (6:.23)
06. Man Amongst Men (11:47)
07. Night Flight (Instrumental) (7:46)
08. For King and Country (7:26)
Total Time – 67:11
Rob Reed – Keyboards
Luke Machin – Guitars
Peter Jones – Lead Vocals
Dan Nelson – Bass Guitar
Tim Robinson – Drums
Angharad Brinn – Vocals (tracks 1,3,4,6 & 8)
Record Label: Tigermoth Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 24th September 2021
– For King and Country (1993)
– Pictures from the Other Side (1994)
– Remastered (Compilation) (1997)
– The Creeping Vine (1999)
– Echoes (Compilation) (1999)
– For King and Country 2021 (2021)