Back in 2021 one unexpected musical delight was the glorious fusion of full on ‘Prog’ and shimmering ’80s rock pop of For King and Country, smoothly delivered by the stellar Prog supergroup Cyan, led by Rob Reed of Magenta and joined by the very talented Peter Jones of Camel and Tiger Moth Tales on vocals, the spectacular and distinctive Luke Machin of The Tangent and Maschine on guitars and lithe bassist Dan Nelson, Godsticks and formerly Magenta. Well, Cyan are back with another impressive album, Pictures from the Other Side, similarly brimming with skilful playing and reinvention.
The original version of Pictures from the Other Side was released in 1994 and was largely a solo multi-instrumental effort by Rob Reed with Nigel Voyle on lead vocals, with contributions from Andy Edwards on guitar and Christina Booth in her pre-Magenta days. It would appear that similarly to For King and Country, Rob had a yearning to re-record the album with a full band, re-visiting and radically reimagining the songs. Again, original Magenta drummer Tim Robinson provides the drums, presumably from sessions a few years ago as he did for the other recent reborn Cyan album. Parts of these new albums have been in gestation for a while now, but when you have great talents like Luke Machin and Pete Jones on board it’s definitely worth going back and injecting new life into these pieces.
The distinctive sounds of Troy Donockley’s uillean pipes launch us into the album with the heroic Broken Man – the use of the pipes being reminiscent of Rob’s musical hero Mike Oldfield, who often embellished his albums with such a Celtic touch. Indeed, on the splendid companion release Pictures from Another Side: Remixed and Live there is a gorgeous and much more delicate ‘Celtic Mix’ of Broken Man (keep it quiet but I think I prefer this alternative and much more acoustic version!). Whatever version you prefer, this is an excellent and compelling opening, with Machin in particularly fluid and lyrical form on electric guitar. Pete Jones’ vocals are outstanding, switching between touching intimacy and a more expansive, heroic nature, intuitively expressing the emotion of the ear-worm lyrics from Rob and his long-time lyricist brother, Steven. Apparently, the middle five minutes have been added to the original song, which Rob feels improves it. It’s certainly a great passage and one of the best parts of the album as Machin and Reed intertwine guitar and synthesiser to great effect, before the piece drops away into a brief pastoral section with the sound of whistles and some Trespass-style subtle keyboards. However, this is only a short rest before the more dramatic conclusion, in which Jones’ vocals sound enormous and emotional, complemented beautifully by Angharad Brinn. Machin’s skilful and evocative fretwork takes us to a stirring conclusion – what a great way to start the album.
The title track is a rather different and jauntier affair, featuring lyrics from Andy Edwards, presumably the same Andy Edwards now in The Mighty Ra. Pictures from the Other Side enters on a light sprinkling of rain drop piano notes before Robinson’s drums and Jones’ saxophone propel us in a much more energetic direction. Jones’ jazzy sax work dazzles, particularly in a jam midway through where he duels with Rob Reed’s Hammond organ. This passage smoothly transitions to another smooth inter play between Machin and Reed. There’s a great organ passage, reminiscent of Pete Bardens from Camel. As befits a song with such a title, the band show another side with a truly lovely interlude in which Angharad Brinn’s bewitching voice casts its spell, joined in perfect unison with Pete Jones – these two were made to sing with each other! The choral harmony backing vocals lift this piece further, and the melody and lyric will stick in your head all day long. The finale is much more off the wall and jazzy in quite an ’80s feel – it’s great fun.
Solitary Angel changes the atmosphere with an eerie synth opening of ethereal flute sounds. This song is a real showcase for Pete Jones’ great vocal talents, whether soft and imploring or sinister and dark in an early call and response section, or later powerfully filled with restrained passion. There is a real sense of foreboding or tragedy in this piece, enhanced by the other very real and distinctive ‘voice’ on this emotive song – the incredibly expressive guitar work of Luke Machin, dripping with feeling, matched by Brinn’s impassioned vocalisations. The tempo and atmosphere change significantly with the delicate piano and Jones’ yearning voice, joined by the shimmering beauty of Angharad’s vocal as Reed paints the scene with string sounds in the background. This prayer-like song is a real gem.
Tomorrow’s Here Today is a beguiling journey of a song, commencing with an acoustic riff over which Jones and Brinn sing with such feel and harmony, Machin embroidering the first section with subtle guitar patterns. Apparently, Reed stripped back the song considerably from its original version, and this lovely opening shows that less is often more. However, about a third of the way in an electric piano picks up the tempo, joined by Robinson’s crisp drumming and Machin’s intricate guitar work. This interplays again with Reed’s serpentine synths as the number fairly dances along, before recapitulating to the subtle, languid opening theme. There’s a much more upbeat finale as Jones’ voice rises in proclamation with the band flowing along:
Don’t hesitate, don’t shy away, your moment’s now to shine”
Cyan’s previous album had a major Prog number (with a capital ‘P’!) in the spectacular The Sorceror, and Pictures from the Other Side concludes with a similar epic in the Gothic Prog of Nosferatu. It appears that the youthful obsession the two Reed brothers had with horror films was obvious quite some years before the 2020 release of Magenta’s Masters of Illusion album, which focused on the actors behind classic horror movies. The original Nosferatu song pre-dates that album by over 25 years, and it is perhaps appropriate that Reed has opened the grave of that original piece to resurrect and significantly reimagine it, removing a jarring string quartet sequence whilst still extending the song from 14 to nearly 18 minutes. I won’t be describing this widescreen Prog epic in detail, suffice to say it is chock full of stirring rock passages, jazzy interludes, great solos, playful quirky sounds and Angharad’s heartbreakingly diaphanous voice. If all that is not enough, there’s a section clearly influenced by Genesis’ Nursery Cryme as keyboards, bass and drums roll inexorably along. To top it all off, the finale is very close to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Spectacularly over the top and cinematic in nature, it takes a band with this much skill to pull off such a musical confection with brio and style – quite a way to finish an album.
In an interview with Michael’s Record Collection in November 2023, Rob Reed revealed that there are still two songs from the original album which have yet to be fully reimagined, and they may well see the light of day in 2024 on a mini-album, one song growing from its original 12 minutes to 25! If those two pieces are half as good as the rest of this album, we are in for a real treat. As is now customary from the Rob Reed stable, the album is beautifully presented with artwork from Azim Akberali, along with an additional DVD which provides the album in glorious 5.1 audio, some promo videos and The Quiet Room Session, featuring Reed, Jones and Machin playing some delightfully stripped-down versions of songs from For King and Country – you certainly get your moneys worth with Rob Reed.
Finally, I owe Cyan two apologies. Firstly, this album came out in late November and should have been reviewed around that time, but illness, work, family, Christmas and ‘real life’ have delayed it. Secondly, and strangely, I think I initially took the album for granted, listening to it amidst the hub-bub of life and not fully paying attention to it. It didn’t grab me in the same way as For King and Country (which is probably inevitable to a certain extent as it didn’t have that ‘surprise’ factor). However, it was only when I crawled out of the Christmas and New Year rubble and properly sat down to focus that I realised that I hadn’t given the album sufficient attention. It was only then that the subtleties, skill and sheer musicianship and songwriting quality really hit me. Therefore, I suggest not putting this on as background listening as you peel potatoes or scroll through your phone – you can do but I think you’ll probably just shrug and think ‘That’s pretty good’. For it to grab you I suggest sitting down and just listening to it… invest some time – which can also be said for a lot of other albums. For some strange reason I had forgotten to give this fine music the attention it deserves. Let me assure you that this Cyan album is definitely worth concentrating on, especially if you like skilfully performed melodic progressive rock with accessible ear-worm melodies and hook-filled lyrics. It will be interesting to see where Cyan go next; more reimagining or will they strike out into fresh waters? Wherever they go, it will be worth following them on their colourful and imaginative journey.
01. Broken Man (11:07)
02. Pictures from the Other Side (8:33)
03. Solitary Angel (5:48)
04. Follow the Flow (3:41)
05. Tomorrow Here Today (9:48)
06. Nosferatu (17:47)
Total Time – 56:44
Rob Reed – Keyboards, Guitars, Backing Vocals
Luke Machin – Lead Guitars
Peter Jones – Lead Vocals, Saxophone, Whistles
Dan Nelson – Bass Guitar
Tim Robinson – Drums
Angharad Brinn – Backing Vocals
Troy Donockley – Uilleann Pipes
Record Label: Tigermoth Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 17th November 2023
– For King and Country [original version] (1993)
– Pictures from the Other Side [original version] (1994)
– Remastered (Compilation) (1997)
– The Creeping Vine (1999)
– Echoes (Compilation) (1999)
– For King and Country [revised & reimagined] (2021)
– Pictures from the Other Side [revised & reimagined] (2023)