Tales From A Misspent Youth is the latest fascinating exploration into rock heritage from Clive Mitten, the former main song writer of legendary ’80s cult progressive rock band Twelfth Night. Following his remarkable 2021 release Suite Cryptique: Recomposing Twelfth Night 1978 – 1983, Mitten moves away from his own music and takes on the considerable challenge of imaginatively reinterpreting some of the most iconic pieces in progressive rock history, in a similar style to his Suite Cryptique approach.
Clive Mitten has explained the inspiration behind this project thus:
“… this album is my tribute to those who inspired me in my teens to become a musician. I could already play the piano and classical guitar, but aged 12 I encountered ‘prog’ for the first time. I saw Pink Floyd play Dark Side of the Moon live, and watched Supertramp perform Crime of the Century before most knew who they were – all while wearing a great coat and carrying a crate of Newcastle Brown with me. These experiences and others led me to electrify my playing to work out what my heroes were doing. Now, 50 years later, I am paying my dues to them in my current style, which you can loosely define as cinematically orchestral but with an in-depth understanding of prog.”
The enforced isolation of lockdown led to Mitten embarking upon Suite Cryptique, often taking small elements of that music and re-shaping it in very different and sometimes almost unrecognisable ways. On Tales From A Misspent Youth Mitten has applied a similar approach, but has been less radical in re-composing these works – in short, all these well-known pieces are highly recognisable in essence, even if the melodies and forms are presented in unfamiliar and sometimes surprising ways. Mitten understands these are well-loved, iconic pieces, not straying from them too far, but he has shone new light upon them by presenting them with different instrumentation and emphases.
Mitten is a ‘re-composer’, re-framing these well-known works in what he describes as a ‘cinematic orchestral’ style. Please put away any preconceptions that these versions will be the rather literal and overly saccharine orchestral renderings of old favourites in the vein of those Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Hooked on Classics albums of the ’80s. For one thing, what stands out a mile is Clive’s obviously deep knowledge and long relationship with these pieces. This is a labour of pure musical love, inspired by his formative years when he saw many of these artists in their heyday. Coupled with that knowledge and great affection for these pieces is Mitten’s obvious depth of understanding of progressive rock and how to present those themes and feelings via electronics and sampled orchestras and synthesisers. Mitten was always the main music writer in Twelfth Night and that skill, shown to such great effect in epics such as Sequences and The Collector, shines through in how he has adapted these modern classics.
It could be said that Mitten is treading on dangerous ground, daring to meddle (pun intended) with the ultimate sacred cows of progressive rock, but listeners with an open mind will be drawn in by his touch and insight into these standards. This 2CD release commences each disc with two of the most iconic and gloriously resplendent jewels of the Pink Floyd canon, Shine on You Crazy Diamond and Echoes. You really cannot aim higher than these revered pieces. Shine on… transposes the vocal and guitar parts into a resonant and delicate cello concerto, with a clarinet subtly conveying the keyboard solo. It works beautifully, and as Mitten notes in his extensive and informative sleeve notes, this approach highlights the brilliance of the now sadly departed Rick Wright. The original Echoes was already a sparsely beautiful symphonic piece which lends itself perfectly to Mitten’s sweeping soundscape, over which floats a lovely solo violin. Mitten is not afraid to throw in some distinctly rock infused drums where necessary, over which he lays some portentous Rugby School Chapel organ and a swallow-like violin… and even some humpback whales samples!
Clive Mitten has mixed epics with some much shorter pieces. He seems to have quite a thing for Supertramp – this is a GOOD THING! The train rhythm infused Rudy seems to be a palate cleanser between two mammoth pieces on CD one. However, the later coupling of School and Bloody Well Right is perhaps one of my fsavourite parts of the whole album… but then I do really love Supertramp. School chimes and shines with four harpsichords and a chamber string orchestra – the piano part is skilfully played straight as the Supertramp original – some things really are not worth messing with. On the other hand, some things can reach new heights if treated very differently. Try imagining Bloody Well Right – a title felt to be quite rude and only to be played out of parental earshot in my family home at times! Anyway, try imagining that memorable song and distinctive chorus with three concert harps! Trust me, it works in a rather whimsical and very English way.
Six Harpsichords (yes six!) feature again, wonderfully, in a suitably shimmering version of Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill, alongside a chamber string orchestra and an oboe – it’s simply gorgeous. Clive even throws in some mischievous musical ‘Easter eggs’ of snatches of On Broadway and Here Comes the Flood – he always did have a weird sense of humour. Jeux San Frontieres, his rather eccentric take on Gabriel’s Games Without Frontiers, is conveyed mainly with tuned percussion, but does not work so well for me, although it is undoubtedly a clever and accomplished take on the song. Jethro Tull’s Living in the Past takes on a similar tuned percussion approach for the 5/4 rhythm (and strangely echoes the memorable soundtrack to the movie The Mission), and for me that works a lot better.
Rush feature as highly as Supertramp with three pieces given the Mitten cinematic orchestral treatment, including an ornate take on Xanadu. A much shorter Countdown segues into the brilliant instrumental tour de force of La Villa Strangiato. This couplet of pieces has already been described as ‘bonkersly brilliant’, and whoever said that has a point. Mitten’s piano takes on Geddy Lee’s rhythmic bass so well, and a concert harp delicately portrays the classic solo. Reading this, you might be thinking ‘You must be having a laugh – Rush with harps and strings?!’ – but when you hear it the whole thing makes inspired sense… honestly!
I will not go into detail for every song – firstly, all of them will be well known to a progressive rock audience – after all, who of us has not heard Supper’s Ready and Tubular Bells? Secondly, it’s almost impossible to do them justice with the written word – you just have to hear what Clive has done to them. It’s remarkable. Briefly, as Tubular Bells is already a modern rock symphony it is an ideal canvas upon which Mitten can re-imagine this musical masterpiece in different hues. Supper’s Ready sounds absolutely huge in places, and Mitten shares that to perform it live in the way he has used sampled orchestras it would take 320 musicians (!) which clearly won’t be happening, although he does tantalising reveal that there are plans to play with 10 people and the ‘aid of mighty computers’ – take my money now, Clive! The sleeve notes are fascinating and the CD has been presented very well, including gross ’70s style wallpaper patterned CD artwork, and a great cover from David Read with all sorts of images referencing the songs… trying to spot them all is part of the fun.
Talking of HUGE, the rendition of the Genesis live classic In the Cage medley, based on the Three Sides Live version, is absolutely gargantuan in places with thunderous drums and a whole plethora of strings, woodwind, harps violins, Moogs, and probably the kitchen sink as well!
And yet, amidst it all Mitten remains true to the spirit of the piece, as he does throughout the album – that is because Clive Mitten clearly just bloody LOVES these songs… and so will most of his listeners.
Tales From A Misspent Youth: Volume 1 is a fine homage to classic progressive rock presented with great skill. Clive Mitten is clearly inspired by respect and love for the originals, but crucially imbues these Tales with sparkling imagination.
01. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (10:55)
02. Jeux Sans Frontieres (3:30)
03. Tubular Bells (Part One) (20:27)
04. Rudy (2:42)
05. Supper’s Ready (23:17)
Time – 60:51
01. Echoes (13:21)
02. Solsbury Hill (4:04)
03. Countdown (2:05)
04. La Villa Strangiato (9:11)
05. School (4:07)
06. Bloody Well Right (4:22)
07. Xanadu (8:20)
08. Living In The Past (3:34)
09. In The Cage Medley (including: Cinema Show / In the Cage/ Cinema Show (reprise) / Colony of the Slippermen / Afterglow) (15:18)
Time – 64:22
Total Time – 125:13
Written, arranged, recorded and produced by Clive Mitten
Record Label: Bumnote Records | Twelfth Night Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 4th February 2022
– The Age Of Insanity – (as ‘C:Live Collective’) (2018)
– Suite Cryptique: Recomposing Twelfth Night 1978 – 1983 (2021)
– Tales From A Misspent Youth: Volume 1 (2022)