Melody (noun): ‘a sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying; a tune.’ ‘The aspect of musical composition concerned with the arrangement of single notes to form a satisfying sequence.’ ‘The principal part in harmonised music.’ ‘Sweet music; tunefulness.’
It’s good to remind ourselves of the various definitions of the word from time to time. In progressive rock music it is not always welcomed by all amongst the complex time signatures, abstract composition and atonal passages. Yet even within extended prog epics, melody is usually present and remains a key feature in our enjoyment of the music. To quote John Cleese in Monty Python’s ‘The Cheese Shop Sketch’: “Ooo, I like a nice tune, ‘yer forced to!”
Andy Foster is fond of melody as well. A working musician since leaving school, he has been a saxophone player in the Band of the Grenadier Guards, gigged around the world playing covers and more recently been a solo entertainer on cruise ships.
“I’ve been writing songs for quite a few years. At the beginning they were more pop rock- type tunes which soon morphed into basically whatever came into my head! In my teenage years I grew up listening to hard rock (UFO, Van Halen, Lizzy, etc.), prog (Genesis, Yes, Supertramp, etc.), classical (Ravel, Stravinsky, etc.) as well as a multitude of styles that featured on Top of The Pops in the ’70s! Maybe listening to this wide palette of genres means that for me ‘melody is king’.”
Listening to The Way Home – the impressive debut album from his prog-pop project Kite Parade – it is clear to see how he followed through with this musical philosophy. Over seven vibrant and melodic tracks (including a concluding epic), you are treated to music that is both accessible and catchy, and yet with enough subtle proggy depth and complexity to keep prog rock listeners engaged.
“This debut album has taken quite a while to get to the release stage,” continues Andy. “Unfortunately, life got in the way and took its toll – with divorce, relocations, family losses, etc. In addition, because of my overseas work, some years I’d only get one day in the studio – ridiculous!”
The finished album oozes polished production standards, and Big Big Train producer Rob Aubrey must take credit for much of this. He was introduced to instrumental demos from Andy several years earlier by a mutual friend, and the collaboration has worked wonders.
“Working with Rob is a pleasure,” states Andy. “He’s amazing at what he does, knows the prog scene, understands what I want, and we always end up with the sound that’s been in my head during the writing process. Plus, we have a right old laugh doing it!”
Andy tells me that the name Kite Parade came from a mind-mapping exercise which ended with the two words drawn to each other: “The word ‘Kite’ was in the map because my late father and I used to fly kites when I was a kid, and ‘Parade’ because I used to be a military band!”
Although essentially a solo project (with Andy handling vocals, guitars, bass, saxophone and keyboard programming), he has collaborated with several musicians and lyricists to create a real, enhanced ensemble feel to many tracks. The mighty Nick D’Virgilio of Big Big Train plays drums on five tracks, with Joe Crabtree, formally of Wishbone Ash, contributing on the other two. Elsewhere, friends added bass, piano and extra guitar parts to give extra sparkle where necessary.
Opening track Letting Go is an exuberant marker for what is to follow. A rhythmic bass pattern introduces lush, pulsing guitar and stabbing keyboard chords which take you right back to the mid-’80s and the prog-pop of early It Bites mixed with the power pop soundscape of the likes of Go West and Nik Kershaw, amongst others. Andy’s vocals are stunning and accessible and the music is ridiculously catchy. “Surely this isn’t prog,” you might ask. However, at this point the tempo eases and a funky bass pattern, a dancing drum beat from Nick D’Virgilio and then some swirling synthesisers and an expressive guitar solo certainly ‘up the prog quotient’ considerably before the main theme is reprised.
The deeply personal lyrical content touches on being stuck in a relationship where both parties know it’s not the right place for them to be – with love inspiring a person to let go, find hope, happiness and live to their full potential.
Put your faith in me, I can show you the way, but you’ve got to start now letting go.”
Interestingly, the next track – the darker Strip the Walls – is the most atypical of the album. It starts with Russell Milton providing a walking blues bass guitar pattern over which Andy plays a more urgent, edgy guitar. The vocals are more menacing and the atmospheric ‘see-saw’ keyboards and Nick’s drums propel the track through its twists and turns, before a calmer mid-way interlude (with more plaintive vocals and a nice touch of saxophone). However, the opening tempo returns with a vengeance and the track has some fine demonic and progressive guitar soloing through to the end. Andy says, “We all have secrets. Some people keep their whole lives a secret to protect them from judgement. The world is full of some very messed up people, underneath the surface of their normal façade.”
This Time is a more accessible and melodic track, with almost a Crowded House feel to the opening acoustic guitar. Andy’s pitch-perfect vocals and well-judged keyboard programming let this sumptuous track breathe and soar, and once again a touch of saxophone works well towards the end. The lyrics touch upon change and the choices we need to make to carry on, learn from our past mistakes and improve as people.
With a new horizon, wake up to new beginnings that I’ll share with you.”
Suffer No Longer is a more contemplative piece – almost a power ballad in places. Not too dissimilar to the work of John Young’s Lifesigns. The track rises and falls majestically and gradually reveals itself. Some lovely piano from Steve Bradford and bass from Andy Marlow, whilst Joe Crabtree’s drumming keeps it all flowing well. Andy’s friend David Thwaites wrote the lyrics, about a woman becoming empowered and breaking the chains of an abusive relationship and memories of the past, and Andy sings them with real empathy and emotion.
David Thwaites also co-wrote the lyrics to the intriguing Going Under. The spritely, infectious prog-pop is there once again over spoken words. Yet it contrasts with more serious lyric content of the torment of a drug addict and their battle with hard drugs. Shimmering instrumentation is juxtaposed against the dark, pleading lyrics.
The penetrating “Stop, shaking, stop” refrain really hits home towards the end and the dark heart within the song is revealed.
The title track is all shiny ’80s melodic pop instrumentation – all concentrated by Rob Aubrey’s superb production values. Andy’s keyboard programming works wonderfully, and Roger Xavier provides a great guitar solo over an energetic rhythm section from Russell and Joe on bass and drums respectively.
Andy explains: “This song is about attempting to save a broken relationship. Not noticing the damage until it’s too late and the end is inevitable. Like every person at the end of this journey, we all try to find ourselves again. We all search to find our way home.”
The lyrics, by Steve Thorne, match the underlying positivity of the music and you can’t help but sing along with Andy to the closing lyrics:
Yet, Kite Parade still have a final surprise for us. If you thought there was more pop than prog so far, the epic Stranded truly highlights their progressive side impressively, without sacrificing their accessible, melodic soul. Running almost 15-minutes in length, atmospheric, twinkling keyboards and piano set the scene before Andy’s anthemic guitar takes flight. The vocals have a weary, dreamy feel to them as they ruminate on the search for faith and the desire to follow leaders, only to be stranded when they go or faith is lost. Nick D’Virgilio provides a masterclass on drums, throwing in jazz strokes here and there, whilst following the undulating changes of pace and intensity the track moves through. The saxophone makes a welcome return and then the instrumentation is allowed to flow effortlessly before the tempo and vocals take on more urgency. A sudden ending and no bombastic crescendo, but a subtle, restrained complexity inherent within this extended track. Strangely hypnotic, the track could have gone on and on quite happily for me.
The Way Home by Kite Parade is already destined to be one of my albums of the year, and Andy Foster has produced one of the most melodic and accessible prog-pop albums I’ve heard for some time. In many ways it could be a ‘gateway’ release which has the potential to draw many more mainstream listeners into the prog world – which is no bad thing. With a second album just being finished off and a third in preparation, Kite Parade are set to fly high. Catch the band now – you won’t be disappointed. Available from Rob Reed’s White Knight Records.
01. Letting Go (7:16)
02. Strip the Walls (6:05)
03. This Time (5:57)
04. Suffer No Longer (4:57)
05. Going Under (4:35)
06. The Way Home (4:45)
07. Stranded (14:47)
Total Time – 48:22
Andy Foster – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Saxophone, Keyboard Programming
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums (tracks 1,2,3,5 & 7)
Joe Crabtree – Drums (tracks 4 & 6)
Russell Milton – Bass (tracks 2 & 6)
Andy Marlow – Bass (track 4)
Roger Xavier – Guitar (track 6)
Steve Bradford – Piano (track 4)
Phillipa Sen – Female Voice (track 5)
Music – Andy Foster
Lyrics – Andy Foster (tracks 1,2,3,5 & 7) | David Thwaites (tracks 2,4,5 & 7) | Steve Thorne (track 6)
Record Label: White Knight Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st March 2022