21 July 2014 (released)
11 July 2014
This is an album that initially had me asking the question of why anyone would think that an album inspired by one of the greatest and most iconic prog albums of all time and made in the same format and almost with the same personnel would be worth the candle. Then I agreed to speak to the man himself, Rob Reed of Magenta & Kompendium fame, and listen to the album.
Now I have to admit that the album has totally blown me away – it isn’t a pastiche or even really an homage; this is a piece that stands on its own merits and one that I am still finding new things in after maybe a dozen full listens.
The album is in two pieces, each around twenty minutes long and Mr Reed plays all the instruments from the various keyboards, through many guitars and percussion as well as woodwind. The only thing he didn’t do was to sing and for that he brought in the acclaimed Synergy Vocals after their work with Philip Glass and Steve Reich. No samples and no fake instruments and all of the recording glitches like timing errors and tuning problems left in to ensure that the organic nature of the music was maintained.
Two things really took me aback here: one was that he was capable of learning all the instruments and playing them to a surprisingly good standard and the second was that this actually works – brilliantly.
Reed says "I just had a blind confidence that I could play them all. I owned all the guitars, etc in my own studio but had to hire the larger percussion instruments, like timpani's and tubular bells, so the lead percussionist of the Welsh National Orchestra turned up with a lorry full of the most expensive percussion. For two days he frowned as I made my way through playing these instruments, like a kid in a sweet shop. Whenever I struggled he continued to ask if I wanted him to play them. I replied that I couldn't, as it would break the pledge of making the album by myself.. Everything is played by hand by myself, except for guest vocalists, Synergy Vocals."
The music is complex but it has an almost folky vibe to it. You find yourself dancing a jig more than once and there is a bounce and a jaunty swagger in parts but there is also a darker undertone to parts. The second track touches on Elizabethan forms and his guitar playing is strident and powerful but the melodies are beautiful and strong and the playing brings them alive.
The album is mastered by Simon Heyworth, one of the original producers of the original ‘Tubular Bells’ and it is also co-produced by Tom Newman – the other.
Reed again: "Simon told me when he heard it, he closed his eyes and was back in the Manor Studios in 1973 and commented on how well it was executed. I contacted Tom to ask if he could offer any advice on the mix or production, and when we finally spoke, he was really complimentary and offered to get involved in the production and mixing; he also had loads of ideas about structure and arrangements. He has been invaluable with his insight and was always there when I was struggling to finish the album. All the timing errors and tuning errors are left in. it was real".
Tom Newman says: "I really enjoyed working on this - I had carte blanche and just enjoyed sculpting the sounds into shape, and placing all the beautifully crafted parts in the right places in the musical landscape . . ."
I asked Reed about the title and he explained that growing up in the Rhondda Valley (Wales) was a difficult place for a youngster whose passion was music. “I used to sit alone all day with my headphones and music was a kind of sanctuary for me. I heard Tubular Bells when I was seven and it has always been the music that inspired me – from that point on I wanted to be a musician”
Rob made the decision in January 2013 to utilise his abilities as a multi-instrumentalist and create an album in the style of Tubular Bells; he recalls: "The next four weeks were a blur as the music just came out. It turned out to be the most enjoyable album I've made. I wanted to play all the instruments, and for all of them to be real; no synthesised or sampled instruments, just the real thing."
Given that over forty years has passed since the first time I heard ‘Tubular Bells’ this album definitely brought the original to mind but as I said earlier, it stands on its own merits.