Unit8 are a highly enjoyable 4-piece progressive rock band from Alnwick in Northumberland who I had the pleasure of watching at their full electric debut at Alnwick Playhouse a month ago (in support of Stuckfish). Their eponymous debut album came out last November and somehow passed me by until I heard it this summer.
They are a group of experienced local musicians who have joined together to produce progressive-leaning music, but which reflects all of their diverse backgrounds and influences – progressive rock, jazz fusion, classical, blues, folk and classic rock. Paul Gee and Kris Popat both play guitar and supply lead and backing vocals, with Kris also adding touches of keyboards. Dave Coates handles bass guitar and backing vocals, while Frank Hockney plays drums and percussion, as well as some keyboards and samples on the album.
Although they describe themselves as neo-prog, they have a broad musical style that can differ from song to song. It is this freshness and variety that makes the album so appealing.
The Right Choice is a bright opening track about someone being tempted to leave their family for someone else but realising they have too much to lose. Starting and ending with melodic guitar notes over a steady rhythm and warm vocals, in between you get a real increase in both tempo and ‘progginess’, with some nice soloing and rich keyboards chords. Nonesense is nicely funky and accessible and has a real Caravan feel to the whimsical vocals, with repeating guitar motifs and keyboards well to the fore. Sinister Knitwear starts with the menacing sound of a siren and is a wonderful, instrumental concoction of prog rock, with a great nod to the classic early ’70s era of King Crimson. A song about war and conflict (and apparently Putin’s dodgy dress sense!), it ends peacefully and reflectively (as hopefully all wars do) and is one of my favourites on the album.
The poppier, ballad-like I Feel Fine provides a nice contrast in style, but still has some welcome guitar interplay throughout over a pleasing beat. Growing Old is a lovely, melancholic song, starting in a similar vein, with a dreamier feel. However, the second part injects more pace and complexity, and Kris delivers a nicely judged guitar solo over a synth background and busy rhythm changes from Frank and Dave. Wanting More is Paul’s dig at the rich and their often-detrimental effect on whole communities. There is a touch of Genesis and Fish on Friday, and even some echoes of Abel Ganz on this track which is really pleasing on the ear – especially when the music builds up with some soaring guitar playing towards the end.
Self Isolation is a delightful guitar riff-led instrumental with the spirit of Rush and King Crimson in there somewhere amongst the flurry of instrumentation. Written during the lockdown, for a relatively short track it certainly packs a lot of melody and intricacy and should delight many a prog aficionado. Might As Well apparently started as an old Brit Pop tune from Kris, but the band have added a dark and slightly eerie edge, accentuated by the simple Bontempi-like keyboard notes over some distorted guitar riffage. Remember uses the lyrics of Paul’s friend, Jim Tate, who said ‘there you go, put some music to that’ – which they duly did, with a diverse range of musical styles, changing tempos and a variety of acoustic and electric guitars that gel well together, through to a percussive finish. Kris’s light, folky ballad You and I has a touch of Strawbs and Fairport Convention perhaps, and despite not being particularly proggy, it rounds off the album very nicely. There is a dreamy slide guitar from Paul throughout and once again the lead and backing vocals flow effortlessly.
I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable and refreshing this album was. There is a real grassroots/self-produced charm to it all. Recorded at Mill Studios in Alnwick by Ally Lee (who deputised for Dave when they played live), you can really feel the enjoyment these seasoned musicians got from getting together and producing some accessible, melodic and eclectic prog rock. Prog rock with a smile on its face! Unit8 might not have ambitions to be a gigging band outside of their hometown, but apparently plans for a second album are already taking shape, which I will definitely be looking forward to in the near future. They are well worth investigating further and I recommend you go to their Bandcamp page to hear this little gem of an album for yourself.
01. The Right Choice (7:08)
02. Nonesense (4:52)
03. Sinister Knitwear (5:58)
04. I Feel Fine (5:37)
05. Growing Old (6:01)
06. Wanting More (6:27)
07. Self Isolation (3:47)
08. Might As Well (4:10)
09. Remember (6:32)
10. You and I (4:08)
Total Time – 54:40
Dave Coates – Basses, Backing Vocals
Paul Gee – Guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals
Frank Hockney – Drums, Percussion, Keyboards, Samples
Kris Popat – Guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals, Keyboards
Record Label: Independent (CD, Digital)
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 17th November 2022