The Chronicles of Father Robin – The Songs & Tales of Airoea

The Chronicles of Father Robin – The Songs & Tales of Airoea

According to the internet, Lucille Ball once said “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” In 2018 Wobbler played The Night of the Prog Festival in Lorelei, Germany, alongside the likes of Big Big Train, Riverside, Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly and Casey McPherson. In 2019 they played the much easier to get to Summer’s End Festival in Chepstow, alongside another of my favourite bands Phideaux. The cost of a trip to Germany put paid to me seeing Wobbler in 2018 and a diary clash I can’t even remember stopped me making the short trip to the Drill Hall a year later. I very much regret not making it to either of these festivals and I still haven’t seen Wobbler live despite loving them for years.

When I first heard Eleision Fields, the lead single from The Songs & Tales of Airoea, I instantly recognised the enchanting vocals of Wobbler’s frontman Andreas W.S. Prestmo. This felt like Wobbler turned up to eleven and I was instantly smitten by this 12-minute song, which felt like Wobbler turned up to eleven. On the first listen it hit me with that blissful feeling of letting a full-on prog track wash over you, until it’s part of your very soul. I put both hands up to do this review because if the rest of the songs were half as good as this one, I knew I was in for a treat.

What could be more prog than a supergroup coming together to release a concept triple album? The band’s name, though it sounds more like an album title, suits their heady blend of ‘prog, folk rock, vintage rock and psych’. This Norwegian collective also features members of Tusmørke, The Samuel Jackson Five and Jordsjø. These eighteen songs have been thirty years in the making, set in an alternate archaic world of Airoea, fittingly over a period of three decades. Father Robin himself is an embodiment of all of the band members combined into one being (how very Mighty Morphin Power Rangers!). Much like Marillion’s H era albums, these songs grew out of lengthy jam sessions before being crafted into the versions you hear on the record. The album will be released on CD and streaming one at a time, each ‘book’ chronicling a decade of the story. I got to listen to all three as one, like those who ordered the vinyl box-set, which at first made the whole thing a bit overwhelming. Multiple listens however brought out the layers, composition and different instrumentation and once the whole triple album landed with me I couldn’t stop playing it.

This is a band who obviously truly loves classic prog, there are modern elements on show, in both the song-writing and the production, but at its core this is a ’70s album released fifty years later. In that respect it reminds me of the aforementioned Phideaux. There are sections in the songs on this triple album that are reminiscent of all kinds of ’70s prog giants, from Yes and Jethro Tull to King Crimson and Gentle Giant. Despite that, this isn’t some glorified prog re-enactment society though, it’s a group of musicians issuing all the tools available to make their own songs. Like so many Norwegian bands, The Chronicles of Father Robin approach their craft in poetic and powerful ways. This album is playful and evocative in equal measure, which I absolutely love. Once you get past the comparisons with the forefathers of the genre, you start to really appreciate what the band have done here. They kind of throw everything at this record – this is prog and then some. Even the most die-hard, “I don’t listen to new music I just want to play Selling England by the Pound on a loop until I die” old school prog fans will appreciate this record from 2023 rather than 1973. The traditional symphonic side of progressive rock is in very safe hands here.

The three albums move us from the land, to the sea and then the air, and I love how that creates a sense of movement and narrative across the record. It’s a lot of music to digest in one sitting, but I’m glad I’ve played it in its entirety a few times to really let it get under my skin. It’s hard to pick out standout songs as this record, like the best prog, works best as one big opus. Having said that, Ocean Traveller will be in your head for days, that song is an instant earworm. The drum, guitar, flute salvo on Green Refreshments is very King Crimson meets Jethro Tull to my ears. The Grand Reef is an infectious foot-stomping, head-nodder and I actually think CloudShip is the best Yes-style song I’ve heard in years, albeit with an added Norwegian touch. And as I mentioned earlier, Elision Forest from Book 1 is an exceptional song too.

If, like me, you are a Wobbler fan, I think you’ll fall in love with this record too. During the Covid lockdown I took up running and one of my go to albums was Wobbler’s Dwellers of the Deep. I can’t think of a better collection of songs to inspire a run, especially if it’s in the countryside. This album gave me similar feelings and if I was still running (and could actually run as far as a triple album) then I’d be hitting play on this after lacing up my trainers. I might just have to go for a long forest walk with this record for company instead, it’s a beautifully constructed joyful celebration of the music that birthed this genre. I plan to check out the other bands who have members on this record very soon, and I’m excited by that prospect.

I really hope that Summer’s End, Fusion or one of the other growing number of UK prog festivals manages to book The Chronicles of Father Robin in 2024 and gives them a two hour slot to play this start to finish. I don’t think I would regret dropping everything and moving mountains to make sure I can see them play this excellent record live.

Book I: The Tale of Father Robin 
(State of Nature)

01. Prologue (1:07)
02. The Tale of Father Robin (1:17)
03. Eleision Forest (11:57)
04. The Death of the Fair Maiden (8:03)
05. Twilight Fields (15:24)
06. Unicorn (8:29)

Time – 46:17

Book II: Ocean Traveller (Metamorphosis)
01. Over Westwinds (4:00)
02. Orias & the Underwater City (8:37)
03. Ocean Traveller (6:22)
04. Lady of Waves (5:39)
05. Green Refreshments (7:10)
06. The Grand Reef (7:14)

Time – 39:02

Book III: Magical Chronicle (Ascension)
01. Magical Chronicle (6:09)
02. Skyslumber (7:26)
03. Cloudship (6:57)
04. Empress of the Sun (4:47)
05. Lost in the Palace Gardens (7:58)
06. Epilogue (1:04)

Time – 34:21

Total Time – 119:40

Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo – Vocals, Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Oberheim OB-8, Kawai SX-240, Percussion
Jon André Nilsen – Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
Thomas Hagen Kaldhol – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Mandolin
Aleksandra Morozova – Backing Vocals
Kristoffer Momrak – Steel Flute, Minimoog Model D, Buchla Music Easel
Håkon Oftung – Hammond C3, Hohner Clavinet D6, Arp Pro Soloist, Mellotron M4000
Martin Nordrum Kneppen – Drums & Percussion

Record Label: Karisma Records
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 23rd June 2023 (Vinyl triple box set), 15th September 2023 (Book 1 CD & Streaming)

The Chronicles of Father Robin – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp