The Ringmaster: Part One was brought into existence in October 2021. Recently, Part Two has been released, completing the Ringmaster story. The Ringmaster albums are the sequel to Robert Reed’s successful Sanctuary series and are therefore also referred to as Sanctuary IV. Once again, Reed has teamed up with Tubular Bells producer Tom Newman and multi-instrumentalist Les Penning. Top-notch drummer Simon Phillips and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley are also present.
Robert Reed felt it necessary, with over a hundred minutes of music, to release this work in two parts. This way, he supplied the listener sufficient time to process Part One and then anticipate Part Two without having to wait years for a sequel. In addition, he thought it was important that the songs had their own titles and identities this time, instead of simply calling it Sanctuary IV. Reed: “The Ringmaster concept is about an artistic muse who sits on our shoulder playing with us. Some days he gives everything and makes music flow from us. Other days, he can be cruel and spiteful, giving us no new music or creativity”. The latter does not seem to affect the extremely productive Reed. Just think, after Tubular World, Magenta, Cyan and solo material (Cursus 123 430), we now have the concept album The Ringmaster.
The opening track is the best as far as I’m concerned. Song of Healing Light is a strong piece with ebb and flow that makes you swoon in Oldfieldian atmospheres for almost ten minutes; orchestral, acoustic, chants, folky, flutes, electric guitars, heavenly vocals – it’s all there again. Super drummer Simon Phillips is once again emphatically present. With his mighty strokes, he puts his stamp on Swan Feathered Girl in particular, a potential hit song.
The voice of Angaharad Brinn (Kompendium, Sanctuary) is like a damp, cooling cloth on a feverish, overheated forehead. The appropriate Song of Healing Light is tailor-made for her, but just listen to her heavenly voice on Sendlinger’s Song. In his role as narrator, Les Penning talks you through a number of songs, a bit like Richard Burton did for Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, like a true ringmaster.
There are also some relatively new elements to behold in Reed’s diptych, such as the soundtrack-like The Hat, with strong references to Ennio Morricone. In combination with guitar parts in the style of the legendary Hank B Marvin. And what about a ‘punky’ piece (think of Punkadiddle from Platinum) in The Talking Ducks, in which I also hear excerpts of Guilty.
The beautiful melodies are certainly not new, as are the Oldfieldian chants and the use of the vocoder, unfortunately. The music in general is very much in line with the Sanctuary series, although the emphasis has shifted more towards individual songs, just like Reed’s idol Oldfield did back in the day. Subconsciously, my thoughts drift to the era of the previously mentioned Platinum, QE2 and Five Miles Out.
The Ringmaster: Part Two is available in a 3-disc edition (2CD/DVD), CD1 containing twelve songs with a total playing time of approximately 48 minutes. CD2 contains, in addition to a remix of Swan Feathered Girl, an orchestral version of The Ringmaster and a funny, short track called Nairn’s Jig, a Tom Newman mixed version of the full album. I’ve expressed my dismay about this before, but Reed just keeps on doing it.
The DVD, finally, contains the complete album mixed in DTS and Dolby digital 5.1 surround, a video of Simon Phillips drumming sessions and a number of promotional videos, featuring Reed, multiple times.
Another fine album by Robert Reed in the style of Mike Oldfield, so much admired by him. Still, with a possible successor, I would favour a more adventurous approach, the risk of recurrence is lurking. Time for something new?
01. Song of Healing Light (9:30)
02. Swan Feathered Girl (4:00)
03. The Hat (7:30)
04. The Talking Ducks (3:32)
05. Sendlinger’s Song (3:14)
06. Arthur (1:37)
07. Forever (1:41)
08. Dancing Master (4:26)
09. Landmarks (4:38)
10. In Sight of Home (3:20)
11. The Last Guardians of Everywhere (1:32)
12. Song of Waiting Dreams (2:45)
Time – 47:45
01. Swan Feathered Girl (remix) (5:27)
02. The Ringmaster (orchestral) (7:18)
03. Nairn’s Jig (3:13)
– The Ringmaster – Part Two:
04. Tom Newman Mix (tracks 1-5) (24:27)
05. Tom Newman Mix (tracks 6-12) (22:34)
Time – 62:59
Total Time – 110:44
– The complete album mixed in DTS and Dolby digital 5.1 surround
– Simon Phillips drum session video
– Promo videos
Robert Reed – Various Instruments
Simon Phillips – Drums
Troy Donockley – Various Instruments
Angaharad Brinn- Vocals
Les Penning – Narrator, Recorders
Record Label: Tigermoth Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 4th February 2022
– The Ringmaster: Part 2 (2022)
– The Ringmaster: Part 1 (2021)
– Cursus: A Symphonic Poem (2020)
– Cursus 123 430 (2020)
– Sanctuary III (2018)
– Variations on Themes by David Bedford (2017)
– Sanctuary II (2016)
– Sanctuary (2014)