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.’

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!

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.

 

My Jan/Feb Playlist

The Haxan Cloak – Excavation

The Haxan Cloak is an artist I discovered through Bjork’s latest album, Vulnicura. He contributed towards the production of the album and his personal characteristics shone through on ‘Family’ which is probably my favourite piece on the record. A low pulsating whirwind of such sonic depth that it shakes your very core. Such a sound gives you a very visceral image of what it is like to see your family fall apart.

His own album though is even yet more terrifying, one of the scariest musical experiences I have encountered probably since listening to Throbbing Gristle. The clue is in the title, and the album artwork. It would be an exemplar horror soundtrack. Some of the most impressive low frequency recordings I have ever heard, heavy beats, whirling strings, humongous reverb: it is masterful electronica music. Turn the lights off and prepare to let yourself be very creeped out by this record.

Julia Holter – Have you in my Wilderness

I have been very fortunate to discover this absolute gem of an artist. How refreshing it is discover someone new that just seemingly does whatever she pleases. Julia is very fun to listen to and her recent record has really seen her mastering her craft of writing artful pop music. There’s a lush range of instruments on display, stunning strings throughout with ‘Lucette stranded on an island’ being a personal favourite of mine, an awesome double saxophone solo on ‘Sea Calls Me Home’, and Beatles vibes on ‘Everytime Boots’. Heck she even rocks a harpsichord in ways that I would never imagine possible! Julia definitely has you in her wilderness, and you keep on wanting to come back to the record, time and time again.

Julia Holter – Loud City Song

As with any artist I discover, I get super obsessive with their back catalogue and similar musings are on display here. The exception being that the album is very much dedicated to themes of living in a big loud city, and how that impacts one’s life.

Jackson Browne – Late For the Sky

Jackson Browne is a writing genius in my book. Not so well known in the UK. But he wrote Take it easy and has associations with The Eagles. His album, ‘Late For the Sky’ has some of the wisest lyrics I have ever heard, up there alongside Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, in a time where music that mattered drove the culture so much more. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful album to listen to, tender, deep, comforting.

 

David Bowie – Blackstar

The man can only be marvelled at for choreographing his own death. Death is indeed a part of life and one that art explores often. However, there is something about Blackstar that is visceral in ways I’ve never experienced before. I saw Lazarus before knowing Bowie was going to die, and the transformation of the song’s actual meaning became very haunting.

Bowie is an artist who has indirectly influenced a lot of people. He has always been there in my musical upbringing and what is particularly notable about his death is that it marks the end of an era, where artists could experiment, push the boundaries and still be accepted by the mainstream. I hope Bowie’s parting gift resonates with people not only as just a great record, but a beacon for the future where a new generation of acts can arise who can push the boundaries once again.

 

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Out of character of my normal tastes you may say. Good music is good music and Kendrick Lamar’s recent album is one of the most exciting hip hop records I have heard in a long time. I think his outlandish and uncompromising lyrics and the concepts exploring racism, hood politics and soul searching are enthralling but the music and production of this record offers some jaw dropping moments. Lamar also fearlessly ventures into jazz at times, this is a record subsequently that has a lot of people talking…a brilliant record.

 

 

 

Eden Shadow Album 2 Drum Recording Sessions

The latter part of 2014 and all of 2015 has seen me making gradual progress with the second Eden Shadow album. There is no doubt that this has been a tremendously ambitious and difficult album to make and I can’t wait to share it with you all.

Last month, I reached a monumental milestone in getting the drums recorded. It was an intense, incredible weekend.  This album will be featuring Aled Lloyd on drums, who is known for playing with Japanese Metal Band, Cyclamen. Onwards with the rest of the production process!

Here are some photos taken by Bethan Miller

Ryan Elliott Eden Shadow Aled Lloyd Ryan Elliott Eden Shadow Eden Shadow Aled Lloyd Eden Shadow Aled Lloyd Aled Lloyd Eden Shadow Eden Shadow Aled Lloyd Ryan Elliott Eden Shadow Eden Shadow Ryan Elliott

My October Playlist

This was a widget, but I’ve decided to elaborate on my playlist a bit as I am discovering more music than ever. So here is the music that is seeing me through Autumn!

Jason Isbell – Something More than Free

How out of character of me…a country record! Throw away the prejudice and it’s a beautiful feeling of freedom to judge good music on the merit of being…well GOOD! And that is what Jason Isbell is, he writes some cracking contemporary music, loads of melody over a subtle minimum use of chords, lush violin arrangements and the thing that sold me most…his intelligently crafted lyrics. The latter which usually puts me off most southern american music, as it goes all too shallow and pedestrian. This on the other hand…hits deep.

Beach House – Depression Cherry 

This band have been about a while, but it wasn’t until scrolling through Pitchfork that I ended up devouring their newly released album. A brooding all red album with moody female vocals, synths synths synths and guitar motives that all suit my taste for all things melancholic.

Debussy – Piano Works Volume 4

I’ve started properly learning piano, I am teaching general music lessons so it will come in handy but alongside that lies my aspiration to play this masterpiece.

Debussy, the very much loved composer who broke a lot of boundaries in the classical world and spearheaded one of my favourite art movements, impressionism!

Spirited Away Soundtrack

I love the film, and I want to play this on piano too.

Joni Mitchell – Hejira 

Sometimes, you have to kick yourself for bypassing something you shouldn’t. I’ve known Joni Mitchell for most of my life and I’ve been on edge over the past year when reading about her health in the news. Blue, Big Yellow Taxi, Both Sides now, how much more great stuff can you write? Then comes along the album that the hardcore fans in particular are beholden to, that is even more adorning…and that is Hejira. The album is just incredible, WHY did I not pay attention to it til now!? It features alongside Mitchell’s incredibly thoughtful lyrics accompanied by the musical genius of Bassist Jaco Pastorious and Larry Carlton (whose more than likely played guitar on many songs you know)…what more could you want? The title track in particular has been very apt for the grey clouds that have sometimes dominated the sky over these recent autumn days. ‘I’m sitting in a cafe’, and in the space of five minutes, Joni articulates what has been a very challenging year for me at times that has led me to a lot of self-reflection and pondering…the best music brings about a truth that you identify closely with, how did she know this about me? That’s the power of art.

Hejira is timeless.

Laura Nyro

You can call music amazing all you like; you can overuse that adjective in abundance all over the comments sections of social media platforms, but to me, it isn’t amazing unless it reaches a part of your soul that identifies with you in a way that is so resonantly truthful to oneself, that it brings tears to your eyes, sends shivers up your spine, and there isn’t really a tangible way in which your love of it can be expressed.

Which is exactly what I experienced about a month ago when I discovered Laura Nyro via the Lefsetz letter. When I Followed through Bob’s description song by song, I was very quickly sold, and off I went, searching for her music.


The first track I heard was ‘Wedding Bell Blues’ then ‘Stoney End’. Instantly recognisable hits from The Fifth Dimension and Barbara Streisand but Nyro wrote them!

As I ventured Nyro’s catalogue throughout a night of insomnia, I started to slowly unravel her genius: her angelic voice, that demanded your attention from everything between a soft whisper or a bellowing cry, her virtuosic piano playing that could interweave the simplicity of a solid backbeat of a catchy rock n’ roll pop tune with the dreamy complexity and space of jazz, not to mention the stunning arrangements of tracks such as ‘Lu’, ‘Poverty Train’, ‘Gibsom Street’ or my personal favourite ‘Captain for Dark Mornings’…some of those tempo changes too!!!

But the key thing about Laura Nyro is her soulfulness, sensitivity and sincerity. One of those few artists that can elevate certain feelings of love, loss and loneliness to above and beyond. Like those few artists, she died way too young, and it breaks my heart even more so when I listen to her.

As a Friday Night listening to Nyro transcended into a Saturday morning, and after a train ride and a strong coffee, I popped into the record store and bought 5 albums!

I’ve been telling everyone about her ever since, and only 1 person out of everyone knew who she was, having fallen under the radar whilst other artist’s renditions of her songs turned them into hits.

You’ve got to hear Laura herself though…she’s too good not to be heard by so few.

‘There is no way to make a living in it’

‘There is no way to make a living in it’ When I have told older folks in the past that I want to be a musician, make records, perform music and in basic human principle, do what I love doing, I was often thrown back the response ‘but there is no way to make a living in it.’ Now, I have recently seen others inflict that idea on younger people and want to take my own personal space here just to politely give a few examples of musicians who are making a living, and more so than that, being fulfilled in themselves as well as fulfilling others.

Guthrie Govan

Guthrie Govan – regarded as one of the best guitarists in the world, dropped out of a literature degree at Oxford and worked in Mcdonald’s for several years before becoming the venerable musician he is today.

hugh-laurie

‘Actor, musician, writer. Because the world needs more of those.’ Hugh Laurie’s twitter bio.

imogen-heap-gloves

Imogen Heap – Has had her ups and downs in her music career but her persistence and sense of innovation makes her one of electronic music’s most loved artists

laura2

Old head on young shoulders – Laura Marling’s ambition is untempered.

James-Rhodes

And last but certainly not least – james Rhode’s who constantly works towards supporting music education and raising awareness of it’s importance

So why do people say this? 

Because making a living from an artistic vocation isn’t easy: in fact, according to Renee Magritte, it’s a mystery, I’ve read into art a lot trying to find logic in it where there is more often than not, no logic to be found. There is an imminent amount of risk involved, along with uncertainty of any stability or sustainability. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no way to make a living from it. This statement is usually made incontrovertibly out of personal doubts and fear as opposed to reasoning. The way to make a living from music or art requires talent, a hell of a lot persistence, hard work, luck, good attitude, intelligence, uncompromising arrogance and sacrifices to an extent…it is bleedin’ hard and it is certainly not for just anyone; but Mr Laurie is right, it is artists, actors, musicians producers are the people that gives the world it’s colour and reminds us of the beauty that this world is capable of offering to us.

So what should be said instead?

Instead of saying ‘there is no way to make a living’ out of music to aspiring young people, devaluing their love of what they do and forcing them to do another subject or vocation that would potentially offer stability in the coldest comforts and maybe misery and regret, approach  the subject with a perception that isn’t binary. Say that it is possible, but it’s a way of life that you will do because you HAVE to do it as opposed to just wanting to do it. It is about being realistic whilst also being encouraging and supportive.

Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

This year thus far has been an impeccable one for music thus far and yesterday is what I could call one of the most highly anticipated Monday’s of my life as I waited for the post man to deliver the deluxe edition of Steven Wilson’s new album Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Anyone who has heard of my work with Eden Shadow or has met me in person will be aware that I take a lot of influence from this artist. I grew up with Porcupine Tree and besides Dream Theater, Tool and Opeth; Wilson has been one of very few artists to carry the torch through the last two decades for a genre of music that was constantly pushing boundaries (deemed by many as prog).

Besides being an unusual artist emerging through the 90’s, it has become very clear to me why Wilson has now gained the deserved amount of success he has had with Porcupine Tree and now his solo career. Firstly, the guy is relentless and completely prolific in writing music every single day, continuously making records, he has failed at achieving what he’s wanted at times but he’s kept going. It took him 15 years before he gained any prevalent recognition for what he was doing when PT released In Absentia, and every time he has faced success, he is adamant in ensuring that he does not repeat himself. Secondly, his attention to detail at times is astounding, you take many of his records, and the way in which they’re presented both sonically and in it’s packaging is remarkable, leading to a unique and immersive experience. Finally and what i would argue to be most important point is the context of his music. I have heard so much music from this scene, which is completely contrived and says so little that I would say even though most of my time is dedicated to writing progressive rock music, I avoid listening to most of it! The older I get, the more I realise what makes music work for me is how much I see of myself in it, which is when people ask me what my favourite records, I’ll say something like Vespertine by Bjork because it is a complete reflection of my introverted self. Wilson has more and more through the years delivered albums where he has had something to say. Music is a language after all. He is also one of very few artists who, low and behold, can actually be articulate in an interview, listen to to a question and say something insightful.

In terms of having something to say, and a mirror to hold up, after listening to Hand. Cannot. Erase. for the first time, I regard this album as one of the most relevant to me he has yet written. The album concept in brief is this,

“The story of Hand.Cannot.Erase. is a about a girl who grows up, moves to the city and begins to erase herself”

This is loosely based on the disappearance of Joyce Carol Vincent, who was a young woman, had a family, had friends but erased herself from everyone around her, died in her apartment and wasn’t discovered for three years. That is an incredibly macabre subject matter, but it holds a lot of pathos about modern day life in the city, and I have experienced this myself! I moved from the Welsh countryside to my student town, just outside London, and there were times when I was in London on my own and I felt completely isolated from the millions of people around me.

It’s not just the idea of being able to isolate yourself in a metropolis that is explored in this album, it’s also the impact that social media has had on my generation in particular and the fact there are people who can loose themselves in social media and video games where they do not walk outside their front doors for days on end. I am all to aware of the benefits of social media, but I share some ambivalence about it. More so than anything else, I use social media to share ideas, to share my thoughts, my music as well as other people’s idea and works but all too often, people who are using social media for those purposes are contending with a mass volume of trivial noise of people portraying their lives in a way that is faux. The lyrics from ‘Home Invasion’ seriously hit home.

Download sex and download God.
Download the funds to meet the cost.
Download a dream home and a wife.
Download the ocean and the sky.

Another day of life has passed me by.
But I have lost all faith in what’s outside.
They only are the stars across the sky
And the wreckage of the night.

Download love and download war.
Download the shit you didn’t want.
Download the things that make you MAD.
Download the life you wish you had.

I’ll save describing the music or concepts any further, but in my humble opinion, this album is again an incredible achievement and I look forward to seeing it live. For more context, here’s a great interview.