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Twelfth Night - Skan Demo/First Tape Album CD (album) cover

SKAN DEMO/FIRST TAPE ALBUM

Twelfth Night

Neo-Prog


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kev rowland
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Reviewer
4 stars If ever there was an underground progressive rock band who should have really made the big time then surely it must be Twelfth Night. Through many different factors, not all of them of their own making, they released just four full-length studio albums during their career, along with a couple of live albums plus some long-deleted and not available cassettes. However, due to the increased interest in the prog scene in general, and TN in particular there have been quite a few compilations and live archive releases released under the watchful eye of Bran Devoil, and there has even been a reunions and some gigs! But, what I am playing now is another of the Archive releases, and one of incredible importance to fans as it contains the very first demo from the band, the legendary 'SKAN' recordings when the band were just a trio, plus two songs from, the 'First Tape' album which was released later the same year (1979) when Rick had joined on keyboards.

Listening to these songs makes one realize just what incredible musicians these guys were, and also what a huge influence they must have been on Ozric Tentacles as "Fur Helene II" could easily have come from those guys. The songs themselves, albeit recorded in a studio, were actually 'live' with little in the way of overdubs and were normally first or second take. Andy is an incredible guitarist, while Clive was never content just to provide solid backing and also wanted to be in on the melody which left Brian at the back trying to hold everything together and ensuring that they all kept on track. The sound is really good, especially considering this was an unsigned band recording some 35 years ago, and certainly doesn't sound dated. But, this is an album that while not exactly the one I would recommend as an introduction to the band (their best studio album is 'Fact and Fiction', live is 'Live and Let Live') it is something that even those who don't know the band will enjoy as the swirling complex musical motifs move in the air to create something that is incredibly beguiling, compelling and entrancing.

But, if you are a fan of the band then you will recognise sections of songs that later on became parts of others, and having two versions of "Sequences" is always a good thing. I have to confess that each time I hear the early instrumental versions I still 'hear' Geoff singing over the top. To take such a monumental instrumental number (one version here is nearly eighteen minutes long) and add lyrics to it in a way that makes it seem that it was always meant to be hard that way is an incredible achievement.

I have been a fan of the band for years, but had not heard these versions until now and it is wonderful to have them widely available once again. www.twelfthnight.info

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Posted Wednesday, February 5, 2014 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The Twelfth Night archival series put out in 2013 this compilation of the material from the band's first two demo tapes - so I may as well break down this one by the demos in question.

SKAN

Twelfth Night's first recorded output was this hyper-rare demo tape (now made available for all on a compilation with The First Tape Album) recorded in March 1979. The back cover notes on the rerelease offer us a little insight into the tape's origins - namely that, instead of using a professional studio, the band had hired out a PA system, set it up in an empty hall, and basically played the material live!

Presumably this was a test run to see if the equipment in question was up to the task of properly showcasing the nuances of their hard-edged instrumental prog in a live context, before putting on any actual shows - with the opportunity to get a demo on tape being a handy bonus. Whatever the intentions behind this process was, the output was the material caught here - and the PA system was hired from a company called "Skan" (still in operation and hiring out PAs for concerts and festivals!), which explains the title.

The sound quality is, as you might imagine from the recording process, a little rough but not as bad as you might think - it's not, say, on the level of a good-quality soundboard tape, but (aside from some spliced-in audience noise at the start) the lack of an audience means that there's no background chatter to get in the way and, to give Skan their due, the PA system actually seems to be pretty good.

Musically speaking, this early incarnation of Twelfth Night show themselves to be masters of dark, instrumental proto-neo-prog. Brian Devoil's drumming and Andy Revell's guitar work in particular demonstrates why the two of them have really been the core of the band over the years, with Devoil's intense rhythms and Revell's frenetic guitar lines creating an intense, paranoid atmosphere in the set's most gripping moments. There's stages where Revell's guitar almost seems to get into the sort of area which Steve Hillage had made his own and which Ozric Tentacles would emerge from in their early free festival days - if you swapped out those acts' warmth and good vibes for something altogether more paranoid. (The "bad trip" equivalent, in other words.)

One could imagine the band evolving from here in a more psychedelic direction, plugging away on the UK's free festival scene which had some overlap with the early neo-prog world. Mark Kelly, before joining Marillion, had been in Chemical Alice (a group which found its largest audiences on the free festival circuit), and IQ's Mike Holmes has speculated that had The Lens kept going rather than reconfiguring as IQ and moving into the nascent neo-prog scene, they'd have become stalwarts of the festival scene and taken onboard influences from that musical world (and the rave culture that evolved from it).

Trust Twelfth Night, though, to take their own path: rather than go all-in on that direction and adopting a sound suited to the post-hippy pre-rave culture ethos of free festivals, they stuck to their musical guns, eventually earned a regular headlining spot at the Marquee, and along with Marillion, Solstice, and Pallas ended up becoming the major headliners of the original neo-prog movement. At least as far as Twelfth Night goes, that story begins here, and this demo remains a compelling listen in its own right.

THE FIRST TAPE ALBUM

This is actually the second demo tape produced by Twelfth Night, after early release Skan, and indeed some of the material on its various configurations first had an airing on that demo; after a long time being extremely hard to legitimately acquire, the material finally saw a reissue on Twelfth Night's archival series in 2013. The two tracks unique to it are (Hats Off To) Freddie Hepburn and the first full-length version of Sequences (an abbreviated version of the song had appeared on Skan). Both are much of a muchness - instrumental, dark neo-prog with a hard-edged attitude and a pulsating rhythm section. The sound quality is decent by the standards of demo tapes of this era, not up to the quality of a professionally-made studio recording, but with material like this I find the lo-fi aesthetic helps more than it hurts.

Report this review (#2287576)
Posted Sunday, December 15, 2019 | Review Permalink

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