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STEP AHEAD

Neo-Prog • France


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Step Ahead biography
French act STEP AHEAD was active in the early 80's. Their only release prior to breaking up, 1982's "Step Ahead" has seen lots of praise coming it's way, which has led to the album being reissued two times so far.

In many ways the band, dominated by the contributions of Christain Robin (guitars), Claudie Truchi (keyboards) and Danny Brown (vocals) were a precursor of things to come. Symphonic rock of late 70's Yes is a clear influence, but mixed with classical influences and 80's keyboards the resulting sound was quite similar to what was to be coined Neo Progressive in England a couple of years later. Other musicians participating on the only album made by this talented group are Gerard Macia (guitars), Antoine Ferrera (bass), Jean-Yves Dufournier (drums), Alain Lejeune (keyboards), Philippe Recht (bass), Emmanuel Riquier (drums).

WHY IS THIS BAND LISTED AT PROGARCHIVES:
French act STEP AHEAD mixed obvious influences from symphonic rock with an 80's approach, specializing in the creation of complex semi-classical keyboard layers with the end result a style of music approved by the Neo Progressive team for inclusion into the database.

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Step AheadStep Ahead
Import
Musea Records France 2001
Audio CD$21.89
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STEP AHEAD discography


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3.73 | 25 ratings
Step Ahead
1982

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STEP AHEAD Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Step Ahead by STEP AHEAD album cover Studio Album, 1982
3.73 | 25 ratings

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Step Ahead
Step Ahead Neo-Prog

Review by apps79
Special Collaborator Neo Prog Team

3 stars Short-lived 80's French band with an adventurous story, starting in 1972 with its leader/guitarist Christian Robin moving to London in order to pursue a career as a musician.He was overlooked by the local players, but still earned money through various occupations, including composing music for ads.By 1979 he returned to Nice, France and worked at jazz pianist Jacque Loussier's Studio Miraval, where he met with amateur guitarist Aldo Gulino.In 1980 a band took shape with the additions of Jean-Yves Dufournier on drums, Alain Lejeune on keys, Antoine Ferrera on bass and Eric Mathieu on voice.Despite having different musical backgrounds, all musicians loved Classical Music and Step Ahead put up a demo, which Robin gave to RCA in Paris for promotion.First departures come in 1981, Lejeune, Gulino and Mathieu quit and ex-Carpe Diem Gerald Macia joined on guitar, followed by Claudie Truchi on keys (sister of Carpe Diem's Christian Trutchi) and later Englishman Danny Brown, whom Robin convinced to stay in France.RCA financed the band's self-titled debut, recorded in September 1981 and released early in the next year.

Despite being French and some other 80's local groups trying to keep up the spirit of classic French Prog acts, Step Ahead appear to have been influenced mainly by the British Prog Rock scene.There is a reason for this, first comes the long stint of the band's leader Christian Robin in the UK during the 70's and then it was the addition of Brown on vocals, which made the English lyrics a pretty comfortable choice for Robin.To my ears of course they sounded pretty close to German acts influenced by British Prog, for example AMENOPHIS, ANTARES or ANYONE'S DAUGHTER to name a few, maybe with a more raw edge in the guitar moves, maintaining a symphonic background via Claudie Truchi's balanced keyboards.Step Ahead were more of a guitar-oriented band compared to the UK acts of the period, either if we talking about the strong electric moves or the elaborate acoustic textures, featuring a decent vocalist.However they managed to keep a balance between rougher ideas and more romantic overtones, playing with Brown's ability for an intense lyricism.The material goes from sharp solos and dynamic riffs to melodic themes as a result.Keyboards are used with intelligence, even if a more pronounced flavor may had a better result.They are delivered mainly through symphonic backdrops and less flashy executions, but their display is a reason for a wider style and the evident links to 70's Symphonic Rock.

By the time the album was recorded Ferrera, Dufournier and Truchi had left the band, replaced by the returning Alain Lejeune, 17-years old Manu Requier on drums and Herve Ferrieux on bass.The album was poorly promoted and a 12-inch promo had to be distributed for commercial reasons.Ferrieux was replaced then by Philippe Recht and Step Ahead kept playing live and recording in the studio.Three live pieces from a performance at Theater De Verdure in November 82' are included in the album's CD reissue by Musea, along with two new pieces, rehearsed by the 1982 line-up.Quite a shame this act was so underappreciated, cause the new material shows them a bit closer to standard British Neo Prog, the sound is reminiscent of bands like QUASAR, PALLAS and THE LENS with some great guitar parts, expressive lyricism, an emphatic rhythm section and a convinving sound, which now lacked obvious symphonic leanings, but had become very energetic with some pompous keyboards added for good measure.

More line-up changes occured after the spring of 1983, Macia, Requier and Recht all quit due to the group taking a more commercial direction, with Norbert Lallemand, Alain Ruart and Phillipe Chayeb replacing them.When Robin met Alan Parsons around the time, hopes for a second work were born, abandoned a bit later, when RCA demanded from Step Ahead to firstly record a single.Robin thought this was a relegation for his band and Step Ahead eventually dissolved in 1984.

Guitar-led Neo Prog with an underground production, driven by the energetic rhythms, brilliant melodies, sharp vocals and decent keyboard lines.Recommended, especially if you're deep into the cult 80's prog sound.

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 Step Ahead by STEP AHEAD album cover Studio Album, 1982
3.73 | 25 ratings

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Step Ahead
Step Ahead Neo-Prog

Review by tszirmay
Special Collaborator Crossover Team

5 stars This is a one shot wonder from France that has a vast series of positives going for it, everything from magnificent cover art, a stunning and lightning fast guitarist, a female (that is rare!) keyboardist, a 1982 (read= a very lean prog year) production, an Irish singer who is a cross between Jon Anderson and REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin and finally, enough mood alterations to keep one on the Perpetual edge or Close to it (pun). The instrumental playing throughout is exemplary, to the point where legend has it Alan Parsons was set to produce a sophomore album with a hit single and leader /guitarist Robin refused to prostitute himself and thus fade into oblivion. That characteristic alone deserves recognition but truth is, the material presented here is beyond reproach, jam-packed with exciting ideas, ferocious tonal contrasts and mood swings (very Francais!). This is one of those seminal symphonic prog albums that define the value of one's collection!

The tracks flow from one to another with delicate confidence, highlighting the soaring voice, the sizzling guitar interfering with lush keyboard accouterments and of course, a rock solid rhythm section, not unlike Atoll or Mona Lisa. The initial splendor of acoustic guitar and piano opening up "Eyes" should be enough to captivate the listener from the get-go and then rapidly succumb to the rash guitar, the complex poly-rhythmic onslaught and the grandiose symphonic backdrop. No other word than beautiful will apply! When Danny Brown grabs the microphone, the jubilant ride really takes hold. The second track and longest at over 8 minutes, "Right or Wrong" is definitely a highlight piece, an epic world where airy synths introduce an irate guitar, boldly upfront and seductive, paving the road for an intense vocal performance, strangely very familiar yet utterly compelling. Axeman extraordinaire Christian Robin (somewhere between Page, Hendrix and Hackett) unleashes a series of dynamite leads amid pillows of mellotron (Claudie Truchi) and acoustic guitar (a deadly combo), and then stamps the arrangement with one of those 'I will remember this melody until the day I die' solos, a simply ridiculous prog moment, one for the ages! Shakes! Not content with such brilliance, the flute introduces the next jewel; the bluesy "Thinking" is taken to another level immediately by a ridiculously convincing guitar rant, a sublime chorus and a preposterous vocal line that careens along with impunity! The meowing guitar strains the shuffling beat even further, wham-bam merci, madame! The at-first serene "Heaven" slows down the pace with a pastoral etude on the acoustic guitar, tick-tock drumming ushering in a frenetic pummeling, spooky organ/synth mutterings and a near heavy rock feel, sounding more like Satan's universe than the celestial garden the title implies. In keeping with their mission to constantly search out new horizons, "11 Days" has an Oriental tinge that evolves into a rockier convention, then reverts to pastoral shadings that overwhelm the soul, using the sheer simplicity of gorgeous notes played with feeling. Now in typical cattiness, "Hell' is exactly the opposite of "Heaven" described earlier, a sweet, crystalline guitar piece that soothes the soul into rapturous benediction, using cello orchestrations to heighten the glory. "White Lady" is as close as they would come to a more accessible tune, an instantaneous chorus and verse that catches easily the listener's ear but transported by some interesting instrumental dressing. To cap off the excitement, a superlative guitar solo deals the final blow. "The End" simply serves to encapsulate the tremendous talent that never went beyond this magical album, Robin and Truchi exchange some vicious solos, totally in league with one another. This is just a gimme

"The End" it isn't really, as this re-release has 5 bonus tracks mostly live versions of "Heaven", "White Lady" and errr... "The End" (proving they had the chops for a live setting!) as well as 2 tracks both in the 4 minute range, never before recorded elsewhere, "The Sun Will Rise again" and "Shangri-La". These last two are indicative of the quality dispensed by this group of rebellious prog musicians, who did not "bend over and spread 'em" as would say Frank Zappa.

A 'no contest' purchase and an obligatory hunt for the die-hard prog fan looking for a sensational musical fix. The production could have been better (hey Parsons) but it's precisely what makes it so charming!

5 strides onward

Review is dedicated to Mellotron storm and Greg Walker

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 Step Ahead by STEP AHEAD album cover Studio Album, 1982
3.73 | 25 ratings

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Step Ahead
Step Ahead Neo-Prog

Review by b_olariu
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Step Ahead is one of the bands from early '80's that will keep the flag high in progressive rock music with their sole album from 1982 selftitled. This french outfit did manage to creat a good album in that period when progressive rock music was in the shadow. Step Ahead sounds to me like a cross between late '70's german bands like Tibet or Minotaurus with some elements from swiss band from early '80 Dragonfly. The music is close to neo prog, the genre that was a baby in that year, with some symphonic elements thrown in, to give more variety. The keys sounds intristing, the guitar is the main instrument here who gives a pleasent atmosphere in every pieces, but is nothing realy groundbreaking, even the album was issued just prior to Marillion bursting 1983 album. It's sad that they released only one album, it's almosta forgotten gem from 1982, Musea records re issued the album fiew years ago and they got a little more exposure in prog circles than before. The best pieces, well all are good, not a weak moment here, but the most intristing is the opening track Eyes, here Danny Brown's voice is excellent, like on the rest and the instrumental one Heaven - with a guitar sound close to Hackett (Defector era), dark and very smooth. The Cd re issue has 3 live tracks and two unreleased pieces Shangri la ( an AOR tune with progressive leanings) not band not something special either and The sun will rise again. So to this almost unknown band from France I will give 3 stars, a good and pleasent album for sure, but nothing close to an essential listning. Btw - great cover art.

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 Step Ahead by STEP AHEAD album cover Studio Album, 1982
3.73 | 25 ratings

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Step Ahead
Step Ahead Neo-Prog

Review by kenethlevine
Special Collaborator Prog-Folk Team

3 stars Recorded well after the peak for symphonic progressive rock and just before the nouveau prog of Marillion et al, Step Ahead sounded like a blend of latter day YES and STARCASTLE, with some ALAN PARSONS and Eloy thrown in for variety. While Danny Brown possesses a fairly distinctive high pitched, yet generally pleasant voice, the group's overall sound was not that unique, even if it was not typically French either. Moreover, while the keyboards are competent in that early 80s busy way, it is Christian Robin's lead guitar that takes precedence time and again, and any pretenses to above average status stem from his often arresting yet tasteful flights of fancy.

In the final analysis, the album contains only one great track, several good ones and a few middling pieces. "Thinking" begins with gentle flute from Claude-Marius David and Gérald Macia's acoustic guitar before the scintillating lead histrionics begin, and these are really the high point of the disc, a ten megaton tune that fairly collapses the sonic barrier. The main vocal part manages to do justice to the original musical concept, before the guitar inserts itself for the grand finale. "Right or Wrong" provides a pleasant acoustic-electric blend but is marred by silly vocoder running alongside the vocals. Both "White Lady" and "The End" confirm that the group is at its best when they defer to Robin, although admittedly the latter's keyboards do provide a suspenseful kickoff.

The bonus material consists of fan-directed live versions of a few tracks and two studio songs not previously released, both of which espouse decent and compact AOR. In particular, "Shangri La" sounds very much like its time period, thinking "Abacab" and "90125", and is one of several tracks that suggest the band may have inspired 90s Swiss proggers CLEPSYDRA, as it sounds similar to their 1994 single "Fly Man".

When contemplating the sole effort by STEP AHEAD, I have to conclude the group was a bit optimistic with their name, but they weren't simply followers, and may have improved given the opportunity. Just under 3 stars, rounded up.

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 Step Ahead by STEP AHEAD album cover Studio Album, 1982
3.73 | 25 ratings

BUY
Step Ahead
Step Ahead Neo-Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 4.5 stars. I have to give Greg Walker a thankyou for bringing this band to my attention some time ago. It wasn't until recently that I was able to get it, as it has been out of print for some time. Greg sent me a list of his all time favourite prog albums (1 per band) and this was on that list of about a 120 albums from all over the world. Anyway STEP AHEAD were from France, and the leader and guitarists' name was Christian Robin.This guy is an outstanding player, I mean he could play in a Metal or Fusion band he is so amazing. He ended up getting Gerald Macia on acoustic guitar, he had played with CARPE DIAM late in the career of that band. Speaking of CARPE DIAM, their keyboardist Christian Truci helped out STEP AHEAD with the keyboard arrangement that had been written by changing and elaborating on them, even starting over from scratch on some of them. His sister Claudie Truchi would end up on this recording playing the keys. She had sung on stage with CARPE DIAM during some of their concerts, and played keys with another band, and also composed her own music. So STEP AHEAD was ready to record their album, except for one problem. One month before they were to go into the studio they still had no singer. A friend of Christian's who was camping told him about this superb singing voice that he had heard issuing from the caravan of an Irish tourist. Christian was so desperate that he contacted this man who turned out to be Danny Brown. In the liner notes it says he used to play for THE SMALL FACES, but I can find nothing to confirm that. So it's either a mistake on the band mentioned or Danny may have just told them that ? I don't know, but apparently he was a singer, and man can he sing ! This Irishman agreed to stay in France and become part of STEP AHEAD. Oh there is some guest flute on the song "Thinking" by another CARPE DIAM member Claude-Marius David.

"Eyes" opens with beautiful acoustic guitar and piano melodies. Drums and aggressive guitar take over briefly before it settles back down. Tempo shifts continue. What a beautiful melody 2 minutes in as the synths join in. Vocals before 3 minutes. Screaming guitar and pounding drums follow. Great opening track. "Right Or Wrong" features many tempo changes in the first minute alone. The guitar is incredible. He can really rip it up. Vocals 1 1/2 minutes in are simply moving. Blistering guitar before 3 minutes. Piano and vocals follow. It's not often that i'm singing along with the chorus. Synth waves are followed by a calm. A guitar solo is next followed by what sure sounds like mellotron(it comes and goes). A guitar solo late goes on and on. Unbelieveable ! "Thinking" opens with some tasteful guitar, then flute replaces along with acoustic guitar. Guitar and crisp drums come in. The tempo picks up as the guitar is on fire. Vocals and a calm 2 minutes. What is it about his vocals that are so moving. Fantastic tune. I love when it becomes almost melancholic at different times. Check out the speed of light guitar shredding after 4 minutes.

"Heaven" is an instrumental. Gentle guitar to open before some surprising heaviness a minute in. Some great synths and filthy guitar to follow. "Eleven Days" is a mellow tune with cello and almost Jon Anderson-like vocals. There is a lone acoustic guitar melody 2 1/2 minutes in before drums and vocals return. "Hell" is another instrumental that opens with intricate acoustic guitar, cello 1 1/2 minutes in follows. "White Lady" opens with reserved vocals and piano. Gulp. Drums come in and a fuller sound. Some uplifting guitar 2 1/2 minutes in. Incredible tune. "The End" opens with piano and some atmosphere. Vocals, followed by a child's voice. More vocals as guitar then drums come in. Tempo continues to change quickly. Love the guitar as usual.

I really believe every Neo-Prog fan out there should have this beautiful album. It's so close to 5 stars in my opinion, it would be hard for me to explain why it shouldn't be rated a five. Maybe in time I will change my rating. There are some live bonus songs on this version which allow us to get a sense of how good they were on stage.

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 Step Ahead by STEP AHEAD album cover Studio Album, 1982
3.73 | 25 ratings

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Step Ahead
Step Ahead Neo-Prog

Review by Prog-jester
Prog Reviewer

5 stars There are two kinds of reaction when you receive an obscure stuff from past times. One is “thank God they’ve disbanded”, and the better one is “pretty good! Another prove that all good albums are from 70s/80s/90s”. STEP AHEAD is from the second passage. Moreover, they are almost flawless!

I’m honest with myself. Surely this is not an all-time masterpiece, it has some average songs, but the whole impression is more than enjoyable! Strong musicianship, complex yet catchy and melodic songs and epics, very good quality of record and performance…Besides album is made in my favourite way – this is Symphonic Prog, but catchy and accessible enough to be called Neo. Vocals are somewhat Jon Anderson-like, but less high-pitched and more powerful; keyboards are classy and fiery; guitars are melodic and shiny (almost proto-MARILLION!). Pity they didn’t manage to make another album and time swallowed them. Thanks for Musea for this re-edition; pure enjoyment for every Symphonic/Neo devotee! Get it, it must not be missed and forgotten. Highly recommended!!!

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 Step Ahead by STEP AHEAD album cover Studio Album, 1982
3.73 | 25 ratings

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Step Ahead
Step Ahead Neo-Prog

Review by erik neuteboom
Prog Reviewer

3 stars This French progrock band got a good contract from RCA and sold at about 30.000 copies from their eponymous debut LP (1982). But then RCA wanted to force Step Ahead to make a single on their second album. The band refused to make a commercial kneefall. The story goes that Alan Parsons was impressed by Step Ahead their demo and even proposed to partly produce their second album. But unfortunately this didn't lead to a good end. If you listen to Step Ahead their eponymous debut LP, it's incredible and unfair that this promissing French band only made one album. Their sound is not typical French (melacholical, complex, theatrical vocals) but more in the vein of UK bands delivering a melodic and accessible progrock sound that evokes mid-Genesis and Rick Wakeman. The vocals from ex-Small Faces (!) singer Danny Brown sounds like Jon Anderson but less high pitched. The focus is on guitarplayer Christian Robin, obviously influenced by Jimi Hendrix. The contrast with his fiery and often raw guitarwork and the soaring keyboards and acoustic guitar often creates strong tension like in "Right and wrong" and especially "The end": a good build-up, strong breaks and a grand finale featuring sumptuous keyboards and biting electric guitar. Most of the tracks sound dynamic, the only mellow song is "Hell" with cello and acoustic guitar.

THIS IS PLEASANT FRENCH PROGROCK THAT DESERVES WIDER ATTENTION!



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 Step Ahead by STEP AHEAD album cover Studio Album, 1982
3.73 | 25 ratings

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Step Ahead
Step Ahead Neo-Prog

Review by erasearise

3 stars This certainly has a strong element of neo-prog, but the music packs more ideas and changes of dynamics and tempo within the songs than most neo-prog does, only one song I'd call overly repetitive. The guitarist is the songwriter and his (nearly always electric) instrument dominates more than the keys. I detect a fairly strong Camel influence in many of the guitar passages, both in atmospheric sections and in more melodic rocking sections. Other times he leans in a somewhat wankery-rock direction. The drummer is not quite first rate, as shown especially in busier sections, not quite tight as it should be. The singer is decent, in the lower tenor range, he rarely try to sing beyond his range, a plus.

- The lyrics to me are a problem; they seem to deal with 'a singer' who has something to offer a corrupt world, but the people don't understand him. This, quite soon, leads him to cynicism. Thus, what's portrayed is mostly a world of little joy or meaning in which 'the singer' too has little to offer that is genuine, and serves as but a angry and disappointed reflection of what might have been. (There IS a 'White Lady'. Redemptive? No she comes too late. "His eyes were empty, they couldn't feel anymore. From errors of times past, he couldn't go on.....") - The original studio album lasts just under 40:00, bonus live material about 26:00. The sound quality of the live tracks is about that of a decent bootleg.

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 Step Ahead by STEP AHEAD album cover Studio Album, 1982
3.73 | 25 ratings

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Step Ahead
Step Ahead Neo-Prog

Review by Prognut
Prog Reviewer

4 stars A Great French Band that had just this output in 1982! A Great Album!!! I actually read some reviews before get in it; and, I was surprise by some, that actually cross them over with Marillion...but, remember the year issue (1982) just before Marillion or I would say around the time they were also starting!!

I hear influences of Asia Minor and Hackett, maybe even mid-period Yes. Solid guitar and interplay, a lost Gem that I am very happy to own and had discovered.

Basically, Neo-Prog with beautiful Symphonic touches!!!

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