Enjoyable and diverse instrumental debut solo album from guitarist and songwriter Steve Anderson of The Room.
A journeyman is the term given to a craftsman who is between an apprentice and a master craftsman. It is therefore a suitably modest and self-effacing name to give to Steve Anderson’s solo project Journeyman’s Progress – which paradoxically shows what a talented musician he truly is.
Better known as a guitarist for the melodic rock band The Room, Steve’s musical pedigree extends back to the later years of UK neo-prog favourites Grey Lady Down, and before that the jazz-prog fusion of Sphere3. Not surprisingly, his first solo foray draws upon this broad musical background and the result is a suitably refreshing, eclectic and diverse smorgasbord of instrumental textures and styles, all overseen, mixed and mastered to great effect by Andy Tillison of The Tangent.
The result is Journeyman’s Progress Part One – a personal collection of both newer and older, redeveloped compositions, sketches and improvisations, many going back to his art college years. The eleven instrumental pieces range from dynamic slabs of neo-prog and melodic rock, beautiful acoustic interludes, ambient passages and quirky, jazz-orientated flights of fancy. Steve plays all the guitars, as well as keyboards, bass and programmed drums, and does a fine job in shaping the varied musical landscape throughout the album.
The classical, acoustic guitar strains of Solus gently begin the album, giving way to the melodic electric guitar of Coda. Originally conceived as following on from The Book on The Room’s 2015 sophomore release, Beyond the Gates of Bedlam – which is why Chris York features on drums – this is an impressive track where uplifting, multi-tracked guitars and keyboards weave a Celtic-like soundscape, before more powerful guitar riffing over descending keyboard chords pick up the intensity. Steve Rothery-style guitar soloing concludes the track very satisfyingly.
A Glimpse of Light starts with delicate guitar motifs over an atmospheric backdrop, gaining brightness and clarity whilst repeatedly building, layer by layer, to produce an uplifting guitar-led sound that could have easily been extended and developed even further for me!
There are three short guitar sketches from Steve on the album. Hellebore (named after the Christmas rose) is a lovely evocative piece, with Steve’s guitars supported by subtle bass and keyboard chords. Circlet is from a Sphere3 session and is a concise, meditative, Robert Fripp-style circular guitar pattern, but with Steve playing alone rather than in a circle of fellow players. Later on, For Nancy (for Steve’s newly-wed wife) has a resonating folk character that slowly unravels and reveals more depth before chiming notes and harmonics bid a soft farewell. Each of these tracks work well within the context of the album.
However, Steve is not content to keep to one particular musical style on this debut solo release. Mr Mekano is an offbeat, idiosyncratic composition with a structure that Steve amusingly states is made from having lots of different bits bolted together! Starting with the industrious sound of model construction, the track has a free-form jazz/prog character and many diverse themes, with keyboards, guitar and bass weaving an undulating path through light and shade, accompanied by some excellent drumming and percussion from Jamie Fisher (Steve’s old Sphere3 bandmate) to keep it all flowing nicely.
The Descent is a darker, atmospheric piece, with reverberating bass and bowed notes dominating the instrumentation and giving it an uneasy, haunting quality. Glass Quartet comes from another Sphere3 session and has William Burnett, IQ keyboardist Neil Durant and Jamie Fisher helping Steve bring together samples of percussion sounds – bottles, saucepans, vases, etc. The main looped patterns are the sounds of all four of them hitting wine glasses with bamboo skewers. A curious, improvised interlude that exhibits Steve’s playful and mischievous nature beyond his guitar playing.
The First Step harks back to the very first improvised piece Steve did in Sphere3, during a mammoth 12-hour compositional session (which also yielded Circlet). Here, Steve revels in the keyboards/synthesiser tones of the likes of Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre and it has an ominous, ambient, cinematic quality that would grace many a science fiction film. It really is refreshing to see him use this album to reveal the different aspects of his musical skills.
However, the closing 10-minute track, Journeyman, sees him return to his trusty electric guitar with a vengeance and is undoubtedly the highlight of album for me, with a neo-prog template closer to Grey Lady Down and The Room. Starting with upbeat ostinato piano, sparkling percussion and flute-like keyboard sounds, it then takes off with rich electric guitar over driving drums. Changes of pace follow to keep things fresh, with acoustic guitar and keyboards accompanying the journey. Darker guitar riffing and real proggy keyboard flurries build up the tension midway, but it is then followed by some sublime stratospheric electric guitar soloing. The piano reappears and dense, stabbing guitar chords and swirling keyboards take us through to a powerful conclusion. It’s quite a ride to end with!
Steve Anderson has produced a confident and varied solo album reflecting both his past musical journeys as well as looking at future paths. Its eclectic collection of tracks can challenge at times, but each style reflects his multi-faceted musical personality – from quirky improvisations, through ambient keyboard-led soundscapes, beautiful acoustic guitar interludes and full-blown, melodic prog rock. Some will hit you immediately, whilst others may grow on you more gradually – but all are worth climbing aboard for and joining Steve on this musical journey. I look forward to hearing Journeyman’s Progress Part Two in due course – but in the meantime I recommend you visit Bandcamp or the website and check out this true master craftsman!
01. Solus (0:36)
02. Coda (5:30)
03. A Glimpse of Light (3:38)
04. Hellebore (1:42)
05. Circlet (1:11)
06. Mr Mekano (6:26)
07. Descent (3:07)
08. For Nancy (2:22)
09. Glass Quartet (2:45)
10. The First Step (4:45)
11. Journeyman (10:02)
Total Time – 42:04
Steve Anderson – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Percussion, Programmed Drums
Chris York – Drums (track 2)
Jamie Fisher – Drums (track 6), Assorted Percussion (track 9)
William Burnett – Assorted Percussion (track 9)
Neil Durant – Assorted Percussion (track 9)
Andy Tillison – Mixing & Mastering
Record Label: Independent
Formats: CD, Digital
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 4th February 2022
INTERVIEW WITH STEVE ANDERSON
Thank you for taking time to answer some questions about yourself and your instrumental debut solo release, Journeyman’s Progress Part One. A lot of progressive rock fans will know you as the guitarist for The Room and before that Grey Lady Down. Would you be able to outline how the album came about and some background about yourself?
Well, I’ve been writing and performing with a number of bands since about 1990, but this is the first project I have fully undertaken on my own – so it’s a little different having to manage everything by myself, but I am very grateful to Anne Claire at Bad Dog Promotions for her help with some of the PR. I’m also hugely grateful to Andy Tillison for the mixing and mastering. I’d been rather pig-headedly trying to do everything myself, but I eventually had to concede that I needed another pair of ears to help get this finished. His expertise and observations on the songs have been invaluable, and we had a lot of very long chats about the whole prog scene and our respective paths through it over the years.
Regarding my background: my first ‘proper’ gigging band was Sphere3, which started together with Neil Durant (now of IQ). We produced a demo and then a cassette EP and gigged around London supporting other prog bands like Galahad and Pendragon. I suspect we ended up making more of a name for ourselves at the time from handing out amusing flyers at all the other prog gigs we would go and see.
We came to the attention of Malcolm Parker who ran the Cyclops label, and slowly started writing material for an album. Malcolm was luckily very patient and ended up waiting until 2002 for us to actually finish our debut album Comeuppance.
One of the other Cyclops bands was Grey Lady Down, and at one point Neil played a show with them at the Marquee Club. A year or two later they needed a new guitarist, and I was asked to play some gigs – the first in Holland, and then ten days up and down the east coast of America, with GLD doing several shows together with US band Tristan Park. I carried on with them, helping to write the album Fear and doing a lot of shows and festivals in the UK and Europe, before becoming quite affected by tinnitus. This caused me to completely back away from live shows for a few years until it had settled down and become more manageable.
How did you get back into recording and performing music?
In about 2010 we had decided to reform GLD with both myself and the original guitarist, Julian Hunt, as a six-piece. We also recruited Piers de Lavison from the Genesis tribute band G2. In and around the same time, Martin Wilson, the GLD singer, had also started a new band, which he asked me to join. The intention behind this project was for something less overtly prog and just more melodic. The band became The Room, and 12 years on, we’re now starting to think about our fourth album.
How did the idea of a solo release take shape?
I’ve been in lots of bands, played lots of gigs, lots of rehearsals and lots of writing. But throughout all of this I’d always been writing little ideas and playing with riffs and tunes at home on my own on guitar, but mostly on keyboards. A lot of things that just weren’t ‘band’ pieces or were just atmospheric textures and experiments; ambient things, acoustic multi-tracked ideas, and snatches of recorded jam-sessions which felt interesting. One of the biggest problems I always had though, was taking a specific idea, and developing it enough into its own complete, finished piece. So, a lot of this archive material was still in its basic original form and some of it had sat there for a very long time indeed.
Did the extended lockdowns of the last couple of years help you in progressing the solo project?
I suppose it did. A lot of artists had understandably found the periods of lockdown very productive, and some of this album was produced then, but actually the seeds of it had started a couple of years previously. I finally realised just how long I’d been thinking about the idea of a solo album, and it had finally dawned on me that unless I sat down and really did something about it, it was never going to happen!
I had three or four tracks in a fairly finished state and so I started going through my archives of ideas to see what else I could work on. As the material began to take shape, I did spend quite a while worrying that people might feel it was disjointed and too diverse – I also knew that an instrumental album would always be a harder sell; but variety, dynamics, texture and contrast is always something that has appealed to me in music, so ‘to hell with it’, I thought, this is my album and this is what I do!
Working methods for these pieces have also varied a lot. Some, like Circlet and The First Step, are almost entirely improvised – I would record a take and then play it back whilst recording another and repeat five or six times. Coda started life as a studio jam with The Room during the recording session for our second album. I took the drum pattern and wrote the solo over the top at home. Only much later did I then come back to it to write the keyboard chords around what the solo was implying. Mr Mekano was originally written as a piece for Sphere3, entirely on keyboards and I then had to go back and work out how to play the guitar parts! Hellebore was originally entitled ‘An English Rose’, but my brother mentioned that it sounded Christmassy, and I’ve always liked hellebores as ‘Christmas roses’ so the title hints at that without being too literal.
The album shows a surprising range of musical styles, beyond what many would have encountered from you on the more recent albums and live performances. What musical influences would you cite?
In terms of influences, very early ones growing up were Jean-Michel Jarre and Mike Oldfield, Wendy Carlos’ Clockwork Orange and Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. Then Clannad and Enya. Seeing John Williams playing Cavatina on TV at 16 is what made me want to play guitar, and I still love the band Sky. My latter teenage years were a mix of Saxon, Iron Maiden and then Metallica. And only much later did I discover Genesis, Rush, King Crimson and Frank Zappa. But it’s clear to me that all of that music shares a depth and complexity of harmony or texture or contrast, and that is what appeals and draws me into it. Equally, those are the kind of qualities that I have always tried to encapsulate and express in my own music. This album has very much been a journey for me, it is a statement of my own growth and progress, but also a starting point in bringing it out and sharing it with everyone else.
I’ve certainly enjoyed listening to it, Steve. I’ll wish you all the best and look forward to seeing The Room in the near future, and hopefully seeing Journeyman’s Progress Part Two released in due course!
Thank you David, and all at The Progressive Aspect for taking an interest in the album. Watch this space, as they say!