Oliver Wakeman – Anam Cara

Oliver Wakeman – Anam Cara

The culmination of a long period as a highly successful session musician and collaborator sees Oliver Wakeman return to solo pursuits. A window of opportunity has enabled songs that had been in development over the last decade or more to be finished, and a band to be assembled to bring them to life.

Anam Cara refers to the Celtic concept of having a ‘soul’ friend and the use of pipes and whistles, lutes and mandolins, lends weight to the impression that this will be a heavily-laden Celtic-inspired album. Of course, it is more complex than that, mixing a wide range of influences, and at the heart of it all is the pleasure of listening to Wakeman-esque piano and keyboard variations in a fresh context.

This is a collection of songs arranged with the whole of the band in mind and in similar style to the production that Oliver did for Yes’s From A Page EP, there is a lot going on most of the time but the mixing process delivers clarity and feeling, and the quality of the song-writing provides emotional highs and lows that keep the listener engaged.

Having reviewed father Rick’s latest solo album A Gallery of the Imagination last year, it has been fascinating to compare and contrast. In many respects, and unsurprisingly, they are companion pieces. It seems to me that the ambition of both albums is to make the songs the star of the show. The ‘Wakeman factor’ is ever-present but this isn’t allowed to divert attention away from the main events, the songs themselves. Whereas Rick’s album is reflective, contemplative and mellow with songs requiring his lead singer Hayley Sanderson to display her talent for delivering delicately expressive vocals, Oliver’s Anam Cara is bold and uplifting and it’s Hayley Griffiths this time, who is required to utilise her full dynamic range. Hayley Griffiths is no stranger to Celtic music and is an established prog rock performer, seemingly a match made in heaven for this particular piece of work.

The Celtic influence is strong in the first track The View from Here which features pipes and violin, but also the first of many soaring guitar solos. This fine opening song is an unusual and captivating mix of melodic folk/prog/pop that sets the scene for the tone of the rest of the album. For the second track The Queen’s Lament Oliver takes on the brave challenge of writing a song about Catherine Howard. His take on the story of her life, cut short, literally, as a result of her execution at the hands of Henry VIII, is about as far away from his father’s as could be. A gentle, Tudor-style lament with more than a hint of Greensleeves about the musical arrangement, it is mostly a showcase for Hayley Griffiths and her main accompanist Oliver Day, with his arsenal of plucked string instruments.

Next up Here in my Heart sees Oliver developing a simple Celtic refrain into a mini-prog epic with all the classic elements and will appeal to those with a particular fondness for keyboard-based melodic prog. This is followed by 1000 Autumns which has a similar feel, but this time a romantic and expressive song is followed by a dynamic, progressive electric guitar solo from David Mark Pearce.

Marble Arch is the longest piece on the album, and I have to say I haven’t quite got to grips with it as yet. Essentially, it’s an exercise in musical theatre and only really makes sense to me as a modern-day version of the themes previously written about in The Queen’s Lament. The middle section contains jazz piano and a heavy and discordant guitar solo. This section is followed by a violin solo and later on Hayley is accompanied, by a saxophone, before Oliver launches a particularly note-heavy, Wakeman-esque, synth break. It all feels a bit confused.

The second half of the album opens with In the Moonlight, as pure an example of melodic song-smithery you could wish for. This is the moment that cements the connection between Oliver’s album with father Rick’s ‘Gallery…’ and by doing so, also highlights the contrasting approach Oliver takes to crafting his songs.

The tempo is then taken up a notch, firstly with Miss You Now, a straightforward pop/rock song, with the now familiar Celtic feel woven in, much like the opening track. And, secondly, by Instead of my Fear which is a dynamic, riff-filled piece that works particularly well in this short form. Even the return of the jazz piano to close out the track feels appropriate in this setting. Lonely is another well-crafted piece of romantic musical theatre, the story-telling vocal interlaced with the quality of complementary musical arrangements that is Oliver Wakeman’s particular strength.

The album closes with a second crowd-pleasing melodic prog epic Golden Sun in the Grey. This is a joyous, soulful and optimistic album, and such is the pedigree of the creator that it is most fitting to have a slow-burning expansive prog piece like this as the cherry on an extremely tasty and uplifting cake.

Being able to carry off the level of versatility on show here whilst maintaining the overall feel and quality of the set is admirable. Oliver Wakeman manages to meld the Celtic stylings that are the main characteristic of this album with his more usual pop/rock and progressive sensibilities and has created an extremely satisfying album. The Wakeman dynasty is obviously in hugely capable hands and it is a treat to listen to some familiar tones set in an unfamiliar backdrop.

01. The View From Here (4:01)
02. The Queen’s Lament (5:46)
03. Here In My Heart (7:26)
04. 1000 Autumns (4:08)
05. Marble Arch (8:44)
06. In The Moonlight (6:05)
07. Miss You Now (4:51)
08. Instead Of My Fear (3:08)
09. Lonely (5:25)
10. Golden Sun In Grey (8:26)

Total Time – 58:00

Oliver Wakeman – Keyboards, Piano, Electric Guitars, Backing Vocals
Hayley Griffiths – Vocals, Backing Vocals
Troy Donockley – Pipes, Whistle
Oliver Day – Acoustic Guitars, Lap Steel, Lute, Mandolin
Scott Higham – Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
David Mark Pearce – Electric Guitar, Backing Vocals
Robert McClung – Violin
Steve Amadeo – Bass
Mick Allport – Saxophone, Clarinet

Record Label: Spirit of Unicorn Music | Cherry Red Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 17th May 2024

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