Mercurial Tiger Moth Tales man Peter Jones returns with A Song of Spring, his latest seasonally inspired album, following his 2014 debut Cocoon and 2017’s The Depths of Winter. A Song of Spring may well be his most accomplished and satisfying progressive rock album since the remarkable Cocoon. Jones’ 2020 album The Whispering of the World was a delicate and touching expedition into soulful piano and strings, drenched in emotion. He clearly has a prodigious musical ability and a diverse range of projects, including his stellar contribution to the Rob Reed led Prog supergroup Cyan, and his heavier diversions into Red Bazar territory. He has also reached wider recognition in recent years with his outstanding performances with the legendary Camel, quite apart from numerous cameo appearances with bands such as Barock Project, This Winter Machine and Magenta. Through all these projects, Pete Jones manages to maintain a remarkably high threshold of quality, which probably explains why he is in such demand. What is particularly notable about A Song of Spring is the diversity of the music across the album, drawing on sounds and stories from around the world.
Jones describes the ideas behind this album as capturing “the joys of Springtime and the hopeful elements, but with those darker and sadder aspects lurking in the background to take you by surprise. That’s how life tends to go after all”. He decided to return to a largely seasonal theme, after the turmoil and gloom of the last couple of years, drawn to Spring with all its positive associations. He says in the sleeve notes that he “really wanted to write an upbeat album”, in contrast to the more introspective The Whispering of the World.
Spring Fever plunges us immediately into a joyous world on a sprightly keyboard fanfare. The piece gallops along at a fair lick with jangling guitars as Pete sings of “dressing the well” and “beating the bounds”. There’s a real sense of hopeful optimism and re-birth in the verses, and the refrain is embellished with a short blast on the sax, showing Pete’s multi-instrumental versatility. A more gentle, pastoral passage with gorgeous harmony vocals is a lovely interlude, like light in a wooded glade, before the pace resumes to emphasise abundant new growth. A percussive break welcomes in a mad sax solo like some frolicking creature before the sax then takes up the joyful main theme again. It’s quite an opener and throws the doors wide open, leaving the darkness of winter (and perhaps the last couple of years) behind.
Whilst the last couple of Tiger Moth Tales albums may have explored music away from more expansive progressive rock, especially The Whispering of the World, it seems clear that in many ways Spring Fever is a return to the more ornate Prog style seen on the first two main Tiger Moth Tales albums. This is most characterised by the impressive multi-part Forester, telling a fantasy story of the battle between good and evil. Jones has shared that it is based on one of his wife Kim’s favourite books, The Tree of Seasons. There is a sad story behind this book as it was written by Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, who tragically died in 2009 of an undiagnosed heart condition before he could finish writing his fantasy novel. His partner Andrew Cowles used his notes and finished it for him. Clearly influenced by Tolkien, JK Rowling and CS Lewis, Gately’s book tells the story of three children on an adventure in a fantasy world where they meet ‘Forester’, the gatekeeper and protector of the wood. How much more Proggy can you get!? I feel sure Kim (and many Tiger Moth Tales fans) will be very pleased with her husband’s musical rendition of this tale, embroidered in turn with wistful penny whistles, sweeping musical vistas and rock infused battles. Forester conjures up various images with sinuous synth passages, acoustic guitar and flute interludes and a gloriously flighted guitar solo, which is a thrilling synthesis of the styles of Gary Moore and Pete’s beloved Steve Hackett. Corny subject matter? Maybe, but Jones handles it so deftly and skilfully it feels fine – you just have to go with it.
Pete Jones contributed to John Holden’s excellent first three solo albums, and it seems Holden repays the compliment by contributing to this album. Holden wrote the hypnotic chanted lyrics of Holi, based on the ancient Hindu Festival of Love, also known as the Festival of Colours, or of the Spring. Apparently, much coloured powder and joyful dancing ensues, and the piece is steeped in the exotic sounds of India, with sitars abounding. Holden’s keyboards and programming helps Jones weave an intoxicating musical tapestry. One of the shortest songs on the album, it’s also one of the most engaging and refreshingly different. Holden also collaborated on the much more expansive ‘mini-epic’ Rapa Nui, writing the lyrics over Jones’ sweeping cinematic music. Rapa Nui plunges us straight into a driving rock riff with Jones excelling on guitar and bass, with great programmed drums and special effects. There is a definite ‘John Holden feel’ to the lyrics (definitely a good thing), echoing the narrative style of his own albums. This is a fascinating story about the doomed existence of the indigenous people who lived on Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean, home of the mysterious and awesome Moai statues, told from the perspective of the crew of the Dutch ship, captained by Jacob Roggeveen, who discovered Easter Island on Easter Sunday 1722. The music really conveys an epic sea journey with a relentless driving riff and melody which drops to more exotic sounds in the mid-section, followed with a definitely nautical sounding progression. It’s another piece which displays Pete’s vocal dexterity, portraying different perspectives, framed in a stirring musical framework.
John Holden’s wife Elizabeth also contributed to another short and sweet gem with the beautiful lyrics to The Goddess and the Green Man, touchingly premiered at Magenta’s annual acoustic evening at the Acapela near Cardiff last November. The piano and recorders feature gorgeously, along with some fine acoustic guitar over which Pete’s wonderful mellow voice flows. This lovely song is about the union between the Oak King and the annual defeat of the Holly King and the Earth Goddess, underlining the theme of rebirth in Spring. The fine influence of John Holden is not confined to just the music as he also devised the evocative and striking artwork for the album, which complements the light and darkness of the music perfectly.
Every Tiger Moth Tales album appears to have a whimsical comedy number, and this time it is Mad March Hare. Fizzing with jazzy saxophones and jolly lyrics, this is very much in the vein of Toad of Toad Hall from 2019’s Story Tellers Pt Two, or the omnipresent Tiger Moth tales gig number The Merry Vicar (maybe Mad March Hare can finally replace that old chestnut?! 😉). Whilst we are on the subject of Tiger Moth Tales’ more whimsical music, there is also an additional ‘hidden’ track, about a minute after the album’s final number Light. May Time, uncredited on the sleeve notes, is a dizzying slice of jazz fusion, based on an old Hymn, with Jones displaying his excellent mastery of recorders, whistles and saxophone. Apparently, there was some debate as to the inclusion of this effervescent instrumental; an early version of the album I heard featured the song ‘unhidden’ and sequenced earlier on the album. Hands up – I’m not a great jazz fan, so of course I would say the right choice was made to include May Time hidden away at the end because, as fun and as undoubtedly well played as it is, it does not really fit the ‘feel’ and flow of the rest of the album. Some will delight in its jazziness, but some may choose to leave it ‘hidden’, including me!
Tiger Moth Tales albums often have a song with a darker twist, and the mesmeric chanting of Dance Til Death does not get much darker. Jones has shared that this is his take on Stravinsky’s controversial Rite of Spring, about primitive rituals celebrating the advent of spring in which a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death… The Merry Vicar it ain’t! The piece includes a range of musical motifs, including acoustic guitar, saxophone and synthesiser textures, but it’s dominated by Jones’ versatile voice, depicting various characters embroiled in this sinister and intoxicating ritual. Dance Til Death increasingly cavorts and contorts itself, torturously spinning into a sort of delirious representation of the fatal last dance – probably not one to play to your Granny, or grandchildren!!
Where there is darkness, there must be light and Tiger Moth Tales finish the album with a touching and beautiful song of healing in Light, with lyrics from both Elizabeth and John Holden with Peter Jones. Light is about getting over the death of a partner, with the idea that the new season of Spring will bring a sense of healing. There is a feel of trying to move on, being grateful for the end of darkness and the end of Winter. Music can say so much and give such solace.
Please excuse a personal moment, but there are good reasons. On November 20th 2021 I attended Magenta’s annual acoustic gig at the Acapela. It fell to my friend Peter Jones to inform me of the untimely death of David Longdon of Big Big Train that day. Peter was performing with Magenta that night, starting the show with his own set. He broke the news, and many hearts that night, with an impromptu and deeply heartfelt piano version of Big Big Train’s Victorian Brickwork… but whilst that was a transfixing and truly emotional moment as Pete remembered his friend, that remarkable rendition also strangely started the healing – music is strange and somehow magical in that way. The saddest moments can often also be the most precious. Light was written before that tragic event, but this song has that same sense of reconciling oneself to new life after the pain of loss:
Who truly understands how I feel, Like you used to do…
Now the Winter has gone, And Springtime has come,
Giving us Light, Bringing us new Life again”
This delicate piece commences with gently chiming acoustic guitar and piano laying out a path of pastoral melody, over which a woodwind floats like a butterfly. Peter gives one of his best and most touching vocals over this graceful, lilting setting. A brief wispy keyboard, with echoes of Genesis’ Stagnation, joins with woodwind, and Pete’s vocal becomes more impassioned. There are definite echoes of Big Big Train as the sound of brass joins in the background, before an inimitable and soulful guitar solo from Pete’s Camel bandmate, the legendary Andy Latimer, adds shimmering beauty to this exquisite song. This is one of the best songs Tiger Moth Tales have ever produced, ending this heartfelt and life-affirming album on a suitably positive note, with uplifting, poetic but simple words:
To live my life in wonder, not regret”
This enchanting and positive album welcomes in the real Spring after the bleakness of Winter, and more symbolically it is also released as hopefully the long dark shadows of the pandemic are also receding. A Song of Spring is a true musical highlight of 2022, and will very probably become regarded as one of Tiger Moth Tales’ best albums.
01. Spring Fever (6:53)
02. Forester (7:52)
03. Dance Til Death (10:21)
04. Holi (2:47)
05. The Goddess and the Green Man (2:39)
06. Mad March Hare (4:00)
07. Rapa Nui (7:35)
08. Light (8:25)
09. May Time [Hidden Track]
Total Time – 50:32 [not including hidden track]
Peter Jones – Vocals, Keyboards, Saxophone, Guitars, Drums, Percussion, Recorders & Whistles
John Holden – Keyboards & Programming (track 4), Pad (track 3)
Andy Latimer – Electric Guitar (track 8)
Record Label: White Knight Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 4th March 2022
• Cocoon (2014)
• Story Tellers Part One (2015)
• Selling England for a Pound (Genesis Covers) (2015) [Download only]
• Live at the Borderline (Official Bootleg) (2015) [Download only]
• Peter Jones Plays Genesis – Seven Stones Turned (2016) [Download only]
• Live at Summer’s End (Official Bootleg) (2016) [Download only]
• The Depths of Winter (2017)
• The Mad Mothster’s Tea Party (Official Bootleg) (2017) [Download only]
• Story Tellers Part Two (2018)
• A Visit to Zoetermeer – Live (2020)
• Still Alive (2020)
• The Whispering of the World (2020)
• A Song of Spring (2022)