Clive Mitten – Tales of Misspent Youth – Volume II

Clive Mitten – Tales of Misspent Youth: Volume II

Two Years ago, Clive Mitten released the first volume of Tales of Misspent Youth, and he has now followed that up with his latest reimagining of classic progressive rock songs from the ’70s and ’80s. It may be timely, for any previously unaware of these projects by the former main songwriter and bassist/keyboard player in the legendary Twelfth Night, to remind ourselves of Clive Mitten’s explanation for the inspiration and approach behind these reinventions of songs that inspired him in his younger days:

“…I saw Pink Floyd play Dark Side of the Moon live, and watched Supertramp perform Crime of the Century before most knew who they were… These experiences and others led me to electrify my playing to work out what my heroes were doing. Now… I am paying my dues to them in my current style, which you can loosely define as ‘cinematically orchestral’ but with an in-depth understanding of prog.”

The main difference between the two volumes is that whilst Volume I was almost exclusively focused on the progressive rock giants of the ’70s, Volume II broadens the range to also include re-interpretations of some of the stalwarts of the early ’80s new wave of Progressive Rock bands who were contemporaries of Mitten’s Twelfth Night, including IQ and Marillion. One’s views on some of these pieces will inevitably be coloured by one’s view of the original versions, but it pays to have an open mind as to what Clive does with these classics as he finds new perspectives and nuances.

Clive plunges right into the deep end with his take on Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Tarkus, with a furious piano start, akin to the original version, showing Mitten’s own instrumental virtuosity. In all honesty, I was never that keen on Tarkus in its original form (I can hear the ‘Prog Police’ sirens for stating such sacrilege!) but this re-interpretation drew me in. I was particularly taken with the piano version of the vocal melody in the more gentle, lyrical and flowing passages. Indeed, such was the impact of this opening piece that it sent me back to re-listen to the original with a new appreciation. Tarkus is clearly so well suited to this cinematic orchestral approach, which Mitten pulls off with aplomb.

Next up is Widows Peak, Mitten’s first foray into the early ’80s and one of my favourite pieces by one of my fave bands, IQ. The Gothic grandeur of the original is ideal for Mitten’s re-interpretation, the multi-layered pianos perfectly suggesting the foreboding atmosphere of the original from The Wake in 1985. Half-way through, the introduction of a gorgeous but mournful violin section takes the song to its melancholic apotheosis – it’s heart-breaking. A xylophone sound breaks the shroud and we go headlong into the building urgency of the finale, which is sweeping and melodic. Another interesting perspective of these re-interpretations is that they can accentuate elements of well-loved songs to new heights. This Widows Peak underlines the beauty of the melody which underpinned the marvellous original.

So what motivated Clive Mitten to delve into these well-loved songs? This was how he explained his motivation in relation to Volume I, and it still holds true:

“Why take this on? The originals are complex works which are fiendishly difficult in places and already well-loved… but the main reason is that I feel I can shine a new light on the material – and in places it is an unexpected light. This album has been a labour of love, both for the people who drove me to write music in the first place and led me ultimately to being able to call myself a composer, and, as always, for the music.”

There’s no need to go into detail with every piece on this album – they’re all well known, and Mitten applies his craft across them with the same intuition and skill. This is particularly evident on Yes’s Close to the Edge. This absolute masterpiece of symphonic progressive rock is perfectly suited to the cinematic orchestral approach, particularly the opening ‘overture’. What can be a challenge for such ‘re-composing’ is how to present the vocal melody, with which so many listeners will be so familiar. Mitten skilfully uses the sound of a xylophone to represent that element – that may sound a little strange but, trust me, it works. What stands out very clearly is Clive’s great respect for the original works, and he evokes those familiar and much-loved sections with sensitivity, such as the strings and xylophones used in the quieter mid-section. In contrast, the ENORMOUS Wakeman-esque organ sounds he brings to bear in the lead up to the finale is titanic! The animated keyboard led finale is evocative and triumphant – he really pulls it off; not easy to do with a nailed on classic!

For this listener, it doesn’t always work quite so well. It was a brave decision to take on King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man with a furious drum and percussion with keyboard opening. It is undoubtedly full of energy, but for me it could never match the edge and bite of the original. In contrast, the second part of the King Crimson montage is the majestic mournful sweep of Starless, featuring brass instruments, which works so well in Mitten’s hands.

Sometimes ‘less is more’ and with Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven Clive wisely focuses on the gorgeous melodies with a lush, string-laden approach. It’s simple but captures it beautifully. The final piece on CD 1 is a brilliant version of Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick. A great flowing piano and strings opening emphasises Ian Anderson’s gorgeous melody. Whether it is in the more restrained melodic sections or the more assertive rock-tinged passages, Mitten has evoked the atmosphere of that classic epic with assurance and imagination – for me it is probably my favourite re-interpretation on the album, but then I always was a sucker for this fantastic piece. One’s liking for the original must somewhat influence what we think of the re-composed version – for instance, whilst I admire the music of the early ’80s Discipline era of King Crimson, it does not grab me emotionally, hence I was not so taken by Mitten’s insistent and rather repetitive versions of Discipline and Frame by Frame on CD 2, but that has nothing to do with the skill in which he has put his own perspective on those pieces. The second CD is similarly filled with beautifully and imaginatively arranged cinematic orchestral versions of popular progressive rock classics, including a sweeping medley of great Genesis moments, the highlights including a whimsical piano echoing the vocal melody of Musical Box… almost as if the piano is itself speaking, and the final Firth of Fifth section which is perfect for lush orchestration, Steve Hackett’s smooth solo replaced by a graceful synth.

There could be a danger for such a project to focus on the more symphonic passages, but Mitten shows his insight and skill in tackling more elaborate and less obviously symphonic songs. This is exemplified in the way he successfully captures the whimsical, playful and sometimes staccato nature of Marillion’s Garden Party with keyboards and woodwind sounds, including the memorable call and response section. He goes on to tackle the relentless finale of Grendel with the xylophone sound evoking Fish’s vocal melody over the building piano.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer are re-interpreted again with their unexpected hit Fanfare for the Common Man. This is rather a curiosity in itself as E.L.P. re-interpreted Aaron Copland’s original piece in their inimitable bombastic style, and now we have Clive Mitten re-interpreting it in his own distinctive cinematic orchestral style. It becomes clear that Mitten is very much basing his version on E.L.P’s take. I’m not sure it reveals anything new about the piece… but it’s still a stonking piece of music. The final epic piece on the album is a version of Rush’s Cygnus X – 1 Books I & II, amalgamating pieces from their late ’70s A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres Prog zenith. It is great to hear these separate pieces brought together in one compelling musical narrative. This is a very cinematic perspective – one can almost hear it as a movie soundtrack. This diverse and fascinating album finishes with a surprisingly sweet coda inspired by Van der Graaf Generator – not really a band known for their sweetness! Mitten’s version of Refugees, from 1970’s The Least We can Do is Wave to Each Other, emphasises the innate beauty of the main melody and finishes off this impressive album with grace.

It is clear that Clive Mitten understands these iconic pieces of music, and he shines a new light on the familiar progressive rock standards with his imaginative re-compositions, showing a fundamental knowledge and a clear love for this music, which he either grew up with or was being played by his contemporaries in the early ’80s.

One thing that crosses my mind is that whilst I enjoyed this album, and the previous volume, in some ways I preferred Mitten’s Suite Cryptique: Recomposing Twelfth Night 1978 – 1983, in which he more adventurously re-interpreted the music of his former band with such a fresh new perspective. The takes on both volumes of Tales of Misspent Youth are much closer to their origins in nature. It will be interesting to see in which direction he goes next – I hear there may well be more exploration of classic era rock and prog in a third volume, but I also hear that he may well be returning to his ‘home territory’ of Twelfth Night inspired music, to which I look forward with great anticipation.

Clive Mitten has yet again skilfully re-imagined classic tracks with imagination, insight and brio in his own unique cinematic orchestral style. Tales of Misspent Youth Volume II is another inspired homage to progressive rock which is well worth investigating.

Disc One

01. Tarkus (12:21)
02. Widow’s Peak (8:42)
03. Close to the Edge (14:41)
04. 21st Century Schizoid Man / Starless (7:38)
05. Stairway to Heaven (4:31)
06. Thick As A Brick (20:47)

Time – 68:40

Disc Two
01. Fanfare for the Common Man (6:33)
02. Watcher of the Skies / Fountain of Salmacis / The Musical Box / Firth of Fifth (13:43)
03. Discipline / Frame By Frame (8:55)
04. Garden Party / Grendel (9:58)
05. Cygnus X – 1 Books I & II (16:20)
06. Refugees (2:14)

Time – 57:43

Total Time – 126:23

Written, Arranged, Recorded & Produced by Clive Mitten

Record Label: Twelfth Night Records | Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 10th November 2023

– The Age of Insanity – (as ‘C:Live Collective’) – (2018)
– Suite Cryptique: Recomposing Twelfth Night 1978 – 1983 (2021)
– Transcriptions (2022)
– Tales of Misspent Youth – Volume I (2022)
– Tales of Misspent Youth – Volume II (2023)

Clive Mitten – Website (Twelfth Night) | Facebook | Bandcamp | Bandcamp (Twelfth Night)