Galatea’s Holiday is a warm and whimsical affirmation of the power of natural beauty – and music – to bring solace and healing in troubled times. Listening to each track feels like leafing through an album of fondly remembered holiday snapshots, each of which is brought to life by Brendan Perkins’ evocative and heartfelt music. Stylistically, this is melodic and accessible symphonic prog with a nod towards Genesis and Yes – the influence of Chris Squire is particularly evident in the excellent and delightfully quirky bass guitar writing and performance – but in which Perkins has found a voice which is distinctively his own.
To call Lincolnshire-based Brendan Perkins a multi-instrumentalist would be to seriously down-sell his talents. Not only does he play every instrument on the album, including banjo, but he is also the composer, vocalist, lyricist and recording engineer. Oh, and he is also responsible for the cover photo, which appropriately enough is a genuine holiday snap. Indeed, this really is a solo album in every sense of the word.
During the course of writing this review I have very much enjoyed the privilege of talking to Brendan about the album and its inspiration. His wish was that listeners “would take away the feelings of hope and happiness that I strive for myself by enjoying the beauty that still surrounds us”. So without further ado I hope you will join me and climb aboard the eponymous Galatea – a steam locomotive Brendan observed pulling holiday special trains – and take a musical journey through the varied delights of the English countryside.
The lyric to I Will Come Home, the opening track, uses a hike through the Peak District as a metaphor for our need to transcend the negativity of recent world events and look forward to a time when skies will be clear again. Proceedings open with a four-chord harmonic progression that underpins each verse and feels conventional enough until the final chord seems to take us far away from the original key, as though we have turned a corner on our journey and been rewarded by a new and unfamiliar vista promising new adventures. Almost immediately we hear Brendan channelling his inner Chris Squire on his own much-treasured Rickenbacker, providing an agile and characterful bass line that runs through most of the song. Brendan’s vocal tone in the verses is natural and expressive and brings an emotional authenticity to the lyrics. The chorus features lush vocal harmonies softened with reverb against a background of muted symphonic colours from the keyboards, and perfectly matches the bittersweet mood of the words. An instrumental section introducing a note of optimism is heralded by a solo on 12-string electric guitar, joined later by a duet of electric guitars soaring birdlike above the dark clouds in a lyrical outburst that would not disgrace Gordon Giltrap. The final chorus ends magically with the main theme performed by unaccompanied voices, ending on that unexpected chord to leave the song feeling unresolved and the listener eager to find out how this musical journey will progress.
Holiday celebrates the joys of being on the road, wandering where the whim takes you and making the most of every opportunity – perhaps a metaphor for life? This easy-going attitude is perfectly matched by the relaxed, late-night jazz style of the music, with its funky bass line and mellow guitar. I really like the way Brendan modifies his singing style, adding a jazzy smoothness to his tone and articulation. You might want to slip on your Hawaiian shirt for this one!
The intriguingly named Ha Ha Asupa-ta is the first of the album’s two vividly atmospheric instrumental interludes, both of which showcase Brendan’s talent for conveying images and moods with the lightest of musical brushstrokes. The holiday atmosphere here is conveyed by a nostalgic waltz in which the keyboards impersonate the tones of a fairground organ. The carousel spins slowly at first in a hazy and dreamlike blur of sound, but after a while the music becomes more dissonant, woozy and distorted as though the brightly painted horses are galloping out of control. Just as the dream threatens to turn into nightmare, the unexpected and almost comical voice of a banjo breaks the spell, overlaid by the repeated murmuring of the nonsense word that forms the song’s title. It is as though a loving parent is gently reassuring their child, whose sleep is disturbed by nightmares but finally falls happily back into peaceful dreams.
Beauty in the Skies is another enjoyably upbeat number. The verses feature solo voice, acoustic guitar and a jaunty descant on electric guitar. I picture our traveller relaxing at twilight as the sun sets over the sea, singing and gently strumming to entertain his friends. The reflective chorus uses more electronic and highly reverberated timbres and feels, optimistic despite the predominance of minor chords. The track closes on a positive note with an instrumental coda in which the electric guitar swoops and soars joyfully before taking its leave, revealing a quiet chord with the unexpected sonority and solemnity of a church organ lingering in the background.
This Painting is a catchy and enjoyable track with a flavour of ’80s post-punk – it’s a real toe-tapper. Like the opening track, it is built mainly around a short chord progression with a twist in its tail (G major, A major, and a somewhat cheeky F# major) that prevents the song from becoming predictable. The lyric plays with the idea of escaping from reality by stepping into a painting – and as a Doctor Who fan I was intrigued to hear that the inspiration for the song was provided by a fictional artwork depicting the destruction of Arcadia, city of the Timelords…
The Summer Walk evokes a warm day in an idyllic pastoral landscape. Against a shimmering heat haze of synthesised strings a tenderly expressive classical guitar introduces a languorous theme which becomes the basis for the track. Sparkling patterns on tuned percussion suggest the rippling of a stream. The sinuous wanderings of the melody together with some unexpected harmonic colours create a pleasant sense of tonal ambiguity, as though we are content to wander as the mood takes us without a clear destination. Toward the end of the track, the unexpected introduction of drums and bass provides a stronger rhythmic emphasis, injecting a sense of increased urgency and excitement until the tempo slows dramatically and the track ends somewhat abruptly. To my ears, a slightly longer and more gradual fading away would be more in keeping with the drowsy serenity of this track, but that is just personal opinion.
The closing track, Calm Waters, Cradle Light, is one of my favourites on the album. A dreamy, nostalgic atmosphere is immediately established by soft-focus vocals floating in harmony above a hypnotic pulse of quiet percussion and gloriously rich chords from the keyboards. The melody and harmonies of the chorus are gentle and comforting. A short instrumental passage introduces layers of twinkling arpeggio figures, which continue to provide a luminous background to the chorus. Finally the chorus theme is repeated by synthesised strings as the arpeggios continue to shimmer and sparkle like distant stars, ending the album on a note of peace and serenity.
The trusty Galatea has safely pulled our musical train from an uncertain and stormy daybreak to the peaceful tranquillity of twilight. The tracks (no pun intended, promise!) are all quite short, with the opening number being the longest at just over six-and-a-half minutes. This leaves little opportunity for complex development of material but ample space for Brendan to create a distinctive mood for each stop-off along the route, providing interest, variety and the occasional surprise. The standard of musicianship and production quality are outstanding for an album that the artist produced single-handedly in his converted spare room. If you fancy an uplifting and evocative break from the stress and malaise of everyday life, this might be exactly the album you are looking for.
01. I Will Come Home (6:40)
02. Holiday (5:35)
03. Ha Ha Asupa-ta (4.14)
04. Beauty In The Skies (4:44)
05. This Painting (3:46)
06. The Summer Walk (4:53)
07. Calm Waters, Cradle Light (5:19)
Total Time – 36:15
Brendan Perkins – Classical, Acoustic & Electric 6 & 12-String Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Drums, Banjo, Percussion
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 3rd November 2023