A Farewell to Rush

‘Hold your fire 
Keep it burning bright
Hold the flame
‘Til the dream ignites
A spirit with a vision
Is a dream with a mission’ 

Mission, from Hold Your Fire (1987)

This band is part of my DNA.

Earlier this week, Alex Lifeson had revealed that Rush had spent two years no longer recording and touring and there were no plans to do so in the future. A totally quiet and un-rockstarlike way to bow out gracefully and to be honest, I would expect no less from such a band.

I discovered the music of Rush at the age of 9. The same time I had just started learning to play the guitar. My Mum had decided to buy me and my brother one of those Portable CD players each. The year was 2001 and the mp3 players and iPod had still not quite hit UK stores. My Mum decided to test the CD player with ‘Presto’. Now every Rush fan knows how that album starts; ‘Show Don’t Tell’, those quiet drums, at which point she is convinced that the CD player is a bit quiet, whacking up the volume at the point to which the full band is about to kick in with the riff and subsequently, having the shock of her life.

There you have the introduction of Rush into my life. I listened to ‘Presto’ religiously, and my teenage years saw me embark on a journey of discovering their entire catalogue. From the weird and wonderful 70’s era that saw the band dressing up in Kimonos delivering sci fi concept albums, 2112, ‘A Farewell to Kings’ and ‘Hemispheres’ to the thought provoking more concise and synth dominated records of the 80’s to the heavy guitar driven records of the 90’s.

The band ignited my love for physical records at a time where it was swiftly disappearing for my generation. I  couldn’t just listen to the music, I had to own it, unpack the concepts within the artwork and the deeply thought provoking lyrics. Listening to their music became a way of life.

For those who like myself, had Rush as a pivotal soundtrack in their lives, there is just so much to admire about them. For a start, their untempered ambition to do whatever they wanted to do, despite the initial pressure in what was a considerably shaky start to their career. Three albums to their name and a fair amount of negative criticism, particularly with ‘Caress of Steel’ and less than satisfactory sales. Their label pushed Rush to develop a more commercial friendly album and how did they respond? By making ‘2112’ a twenty minute Ayn Rand inspired epic about a futuristic totalitarian state! The result…unprecedented success.

The second is their musical prowess. All three musicians are simply insane at their instruments, Alex Lifeson is one of my favourite guitarists, Geddy Lee’s driving bass and his ability to simultaneously manage singing and playing bass and synths…with his feet! Of course, Neil Peart’s presence behind the kit needs no introduction.

The third is the philosophy and the lyrics. Not to say I don’t love Led Zeppelin and AC/DC but unlike most rock bands, Rush were willing to dig deeper into a wide range of themes. I can think of four love songs that they wrote off the top of my head! Beyond the initial records where they let their imaginations fly, they managed to explore so many dimensions that covered science, society, suicide, ambition, probability, fame and conflict. ‘Subdivisions’ is often mentioned with praise for the way in which it captured that feeling of alienation in an incredibly heartfelt way for those who felt like an outsider. It was an anthem for me in my high school days. That is one of many songs I could delve into. There is so much about Rush’s music that resonates.

The final point that has to be made is that Rush were a definitive rock band, but they carried such a sense of humility about them. All three members are intelligent individuals who have always been weary of the weight that fame could have had on them. They never took themselves too seriously, and are just seriously cool and interesting people and always remained captivating, grounded and funny in interviews and documentaries.

Rush is a band that not everyone knows, yet they are the third most successful band in terms of gold and platinum albums, behind The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Arguably, they are the biggest cult band ever. The ones who do know of them and are fans truly stand as one of a kind in terms of the abundance of passion they have for Rush. So much so that it became a central theme in the 2009 comedy ‘I love you, Man’ where the two main characters share a crazy love for the band. Admittedly there is much of that sensibility in myself and my fellow Rush fans. Take one of my Science teachers as example. When he found out I was a fan, he grabbed every opportunity to talk to me about 2112. My brother also told me small anecdotes of times he would play the record to the entirety of his form group, trying to convert unimpressionable teenagers into embracing the trio.

I saw Rush three times. 2007’s Snakes and Arrows tour, 2011 The Time Machine and 2013’s Clockwork Angels tour. The first time I saw them was one of the most exhilarating live shows I have ever been to. Their live show is utterly mesmerising, the power they can carry as a trio was just unbelievable as is the overall production of each tour they did. To have seen them live three times was a privilege.

And then there is the influence they have on my Music.

The first time I met the Kinky Wizzards, I distinctly remember myself and Miffy talking about our love for the band after commenting on the R30 T shirt he was wearing at the time. Incidentally, one of the first songs we learned to play together was YYZ and we still cover it live to this very day. The first song I played when trying to find musicians for Eden Shadow was ‘Tom Sawyer’. There is no surprise as to why so many listeners and critics of my own music often compare it with Rush.

Rush is part of my DNA.

And I am eternally thankful that this band exist. They have taught me so much and have inspired and continue to inspire me. After four decades of music, the band are done with their work, but their legacy will remain a long, long time.

To quote Alex Lifeson’s ‘Hall of Fame’ speech;

‘Blah Blah Blah, Blah Blah Blah Blah.’

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My Favourite Music from 2016.

Here are my favourite music releases of 2016.

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool.

Regina Spektor – Remember us to Life

PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project

Norah Jones – Day Breaks

Bat for Lashes – The Bride

Agnes Obel – Citizens of Glass

Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

Opeth – Sorceress

Gojira – Magma

David Bowie – Blackstar

Music in 2016.

2016 has been a year in which music has been a very interesting topic for two particular reasons. The first of which of course is the abundance of records that have come out but the second is the constant shift towards access over ownership and streaming growing larger and larger.

Spotify now has 40 million subscribers to premium accounts whilst Apple has 17 million. Other companies have entered the competition such as the well established Deezer, Rhapsody and Google Play with Amazon and Pandora having recently entered, but I think Spotify is the winner here and there is the assumption from some industry analysts that it will go public before long.

It is still being booed down by some artists but the argument is a very convoluted one. Streaming has ultimately killed piracy, that’s a good thing right? Payment is still at a low rate, but it is dependant on a major area, and that is whether you have a hit….most people don’t, but if you are in the top 50, you are earning more money than ever.

Some artists have taken advantage of the debate in an insidious way, namely Adele who held off Spotify for a cash grab and ended up streaming eventually. Frank Ocean’s exclusive with Apple was a tipping point, causing frustration amongst fans to which Lucian Grange refused any Universal act to sign an exclusive deal. Exclusives haven’t been much of a thing since.

And with that, the major record labels have reconsolidated their power. When I was in university, the belief was that independence was all to play for, but the tables turned in 2013. Still, never has the bar been so low to enter the game. You spend a couple of hundred on recording through your laptop, you set up a license with CD baby or Tunecore and boom! You’re in the digital world with your record. Just don’t expect to make a living from it!

But is the top 50 any good? Justin Beiber had the come back of come backs, credit to his manager Scooter Braun, and the record he made was one of huge hooks that enraptured teenagers if you are able to listen to him as a pragmatist and concede that. The charts were almost ubiquitously dominated by Electronically Dance Music and in my opinion it is for the most part banal, but once again, acting as a pragmatist, it is music that is reflective of the current culture. Life is hard, no-one knows what is going on, there is uncertainty, there is brexit, trump and inequality. Music provides an escape to which people just want to dance and have a good time!

But if you are not a casual listener, if music is something that you listen to in self reflection, introspection and sincerity, there was so much music on the periphery that provided just that. (My top picks to follow). That’s the music I look for, a mainstream with streams that meander off into their own unique beauty. Less people will listen, but they listen closer, they voice their passions louder. This is the music I search for and whilst people can choose to stream, they are buying vinyl too.

The baby boomer generation is dying out. First it was David Bowie, then Glen Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and the list goes on. It is tremendously sad but their resonance and legacy is one that is enormous, all generations old and new are listening, remembering or discovering. These people pushed the boundaries, and our generation in all honesty needs to step up if we are to have a fraction of the same impact as they did. Maybe we are but in a way that includes more people in a frustum. Read this fantastic article by Seth Godin released at the start of the year, it made me look at the state of play with sheer optimism.

It is a fascinating time for music, and the truth is more people are listening than ever. When music hits you, it makes you feel alive and the means to do so is more wider than ever. Choose the best way for you, stream it, spin it but most importantly…

Experience it.

Keeping the Peace – Arthur Beatrice.

When there is such an overwhelming amount of media out there, how on Earth can you break through and penetrate to audiences who would seemingly fall in love with the material you create?

I think it is a mixture of things these days, from the main trusted sources, snapping, tweeting and posting social media networks, gut wrenchingly writing out a cheque for marketing but I am sure as anything that good old spontaneity can be easily overlooked.

Because it was through that, that I stumbled across this beauty of a band on a rainy summer day at Field Day festival. I was there for John Grant, Air and PJ Harvey but I arrived super early on my own, ready to embrace a day of stumbling across anything and thank goodness I did.

I discovered many good acts that I had loosely heard of, Mystery Jets and Steve Mason who both impressed; but I had never ever heard of Arthur Beatrice, a band that has just released their second album and have been on the peripheral for a while.

They were superb live – in fact, awe inspiring. Their second album is a statement of intent, beautifully composed well worked songs, powerful vocals and an overall soaring, anthemic feel.

Besides spontaneity being overlooked as a means of discovery, you cannot underestimate word of mouth. That’s proven in my inability to stop mentioning this band to my fellow music lovers and sharing it here in my own digital space.

This band, in my humble opinion needs to be heard by more people, so here it is people.

Arthur Beatrice – Keeping the Peace

Give it a listen!

Kinky Wizzards album 2 Guitar recordings.

Here are some photos of the recording session for the Kinky Wizzards 25th/26th June 2016.

This is without doubt one of the most intense yet, exhilarating and hilarious experiences I have ever had in the studio.

The new album to come out is one where myself, Miff and Jiff have really pushed ourselves technically, all the while, keeping our sense of humour and grooviness in check. It is an album that I am proud of and I look forward to releasing it in the not too distant future.

Photos taken by Bethan Miller.

Ex factor

Lauryn Hill’s Ex factor is a class in it’s own right. The track fuses styles of RnB, Hip Hop and Neo Soul and the lyrics are masterful in outlining the heartbreak of a toxic relationship and a perpetual wheel of trying to hold everything together. When done as well as this, it is the type of song that everyone can take their own meaning and experiences from.

That is just about the listeners though. Some musicians may identify with such a song that they are able to open up another dimension of it, and never have I heard a rendition of a song so remarkably done than Mara Carlyle’s cover of ‘Ex Factor’.

I first heard this cover when I saw Mara supporting Goldfrapp at the Royal Albert Hall in late 2014. I was enraptured.

All of a sudden, the well known Neo Soul track known for grooving your blues away is much more contemplative and spacious affair. Mara arguably gives the song a more melancholic shade as she leads and a church organ accompanies and the delicate emergence of a choir.

How can the same song be done so differently? I love both versions, but I think Mara’s desperately needs to be heard by more people.