The John Irvine Band – The Spaceships Are Gathering

The John Irvine Band – The Starships Are Gathering

Ravaged by the consequences of our total disregard for the planet, along with frequent attacks from an ever evolving alien species, was scene for Scanning the Dark Horizon, part one of a three part concept release from The John Irvine Band. Constant flooding in the lowlands meant that most of the inhabitants were now confined to higher ground in the North. Given the conditions, it is perhaps inevitable, power struggles were rife, if not somewhat futile. With little hope for survival, time to leave this Earth… but even then it may be too late. This was the scene for the somewhat desolate first instalment of this sci-fi inspired trilogy. Now one year on – to the day – although perhaps not chronological as far as the story goes, John Irvine has returned with the sequel, The Starships Are Gathering.

As all of John’s previous solo releases have been instrumental, a written background has been very welcome. Perhaps more so here, as it helps crystalise the music to the ‘concept’ which straddles the three albums. Given the somewhat bleak setting for Scanning the Dark Horizon, a darker musical backdrop was employed. Listening to part two of the trilogy, the bright and breezy album opener All Systems Go! suggests matters may have improved, or maybe it’s just a temporary respite? Those welcome album sleeve notes offer an insight, and All Systems Go! sees our protagonist and a crew of four setting off to explore a declared emergency.

Pulsed by bass synth and rock solid rhythm, the infectious synth lines intermingle with equally engaging guitar parts, and act as a fitting prelude. It’s a great opener…

The crew’s journey is rather uneventful, although JIB’s musical setting is far from unexciting. Once again the interaction between the synths and guitar is truly harmonious, whilst the drumming is solid and technical in equal measures. The man behind the kit is Andrew Scott (King King/Paul Gilbert), who appeared on part one of this series, and he is once again on the money from start to finish. This is no better displayed than on the third track, The Electrics Were Down, where Andrew not only drives the track but adds a glorious groove to the proceedings.

The distinct upbeat feel of the opening tracks continues throughout The Starships Are Gathering, strengthening the notion of a more optimistic turn in events, and as such makes it the perfect sequel to the darker Scanning the Dark Horizon. With the electrics now up and running, the crew look to the final checks before leaving the now abandoned station. Even the readings around the ‘Lacus’ which had triggered the initial emergency seem now to be OK. Lacus Temporus itself is the album’s centrepiece, clocking in at just shy of eleven minutes and with all the requisite elements in place for a mini-epic. There’s a fiery opening salvo – once again Andrew Scott takes command with his dynamic drumming, whilst John lays down the barrage of themed synth/guitar lines. In contrast, there’s a hugely atmospheric mid-section with bass synth drones, swathes of strings and subtle melodies, before the track brakes loose once again.

Now there’s no doubting John Irvine’s mastery of the fretboard, however increasingly and over more recent releases, his command of the ivories has continued to stand out. For me there’s an almost Wakeman-esque touch to his playing here, coupled with those lead sounds you might expect to hear from Rick. Strengthening the comparison to Mr Wakeman is JIB’s music, which has a concept and memorable themes. The brief, but hideously catchy, Alien Interceptor captures it all for me…

Despite the initial ’emergency event,’ the crew’s journey has been unremarkable and not revealed any major issues. However, as they ready to leave the outpost a cryptic message arrives, followed by an explosion in the ‘Lacus’, a blinding light and “an unearthly ball of red-hued heat”. As track six fills the headphones, the burning question is, has the uneventful journey now taken a darker turn? However, and with the fear of repeating myself, I’ll simply say that this musical ‘gathering of the spaceships’ continues in an equally engrossing fashion throughout Baptism of Fire : Gordian Knots and The Great Polyandrium in the Sky.

The final line in the cover notes reads: “I Looked Up. It was a beautiful site. So many ships, coming through the clouds. Hovering… Waiting…”

The starships are gathering… time to leave… at last?

A radiant closing track sets out the stall for the intriguing finale. The burning question is – will it end well? 31-01-2025 seems to be a probable date for us to find out. But for now, we need to savour The Starships Are Gathering – a superb mix of thematic progressive rock and jazz-rock, performed by two stellar musicians.

01. All Systems Go! (5:07)
02. The Archimedean Point (6:05)
03. The Electrics Were Down (5:55)
04. Lacus Temporus (10:52)
05. Alien Interceptor (3:13)
06. Baptism of Fire : Gordian Knots (7:24)
07. The Great Polyandrium in the Sky (5:28)
08. The Starships Are Gathering (3:26)

Total Time – 47:30

John Irvine – Guitar, Keyboards, Bass
Andrew Scott – Drums

Record Label: Head In The Door Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 31st January 2024

The John Irvine Band – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube
Andrew Scott – Facebook