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Martin Orford - The Old Road CD (album) cover


Martin Orford



3.83 | 127 ratings

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4 stars It is a great shame that Martin Orford has become almost as famous for the manner of his leaving the world of professional music as he was for his immense contribution to it as a founder member of IQ, certainly one of the most important and creative of the neo-prog bands which exploded out of the UK in the early 1980's. Further, if, as now seems very likely, this is Orford's swansong as a recording artist, then I for one am very sad, because this is, as would be expected, a very accomplished production.

To create this album, Orford invited a host of stars, most notably John Wetton, his old bandmate Mike Holmes, John Mitchell, and Nick D'Virgilio. That they all accepted bears testament to the lure of working with a maestro, because that is certainly what this great man is.

Opener, Grand Designs, weighs in at almost ten minutes, and is instantly recognisable as the type of track that would have sat very nicely indeed on an IQ album. Not only do Orford's keys shine (you would expect them to), but he also proves himself to be a very adept guitar player as well, delivering a lush and proud solo. Bombastic, and recognisably neo, this is a great start.

The pace continues on the marvellous instrumental Power & Speed, which delivers what it says on the tin, really. It moves along at a cracking pace, and is thoroughly enjoyable throughout.

I just love the following track, Ray Of Hope, which strikes me as being completely out of kilter with the mood Orford must have been in when this album was recorded, what with financial worries and all else. The pastoral soundscape is lush, and the vocals by David Longden are a joy to behold, and a clear highlight of this album. It is one of those tracks which takes you to another level, and has become one of my favourites of the decade.

Wetton makes his first appearance on Take It To The Sun. Here, I suppose, I should provide prospective purchasers of this album reading this review with a warning. If you dislike or hate Asia, then you will find nothing to please you here. This is a track extremely reminiscent of the work produced by Wetton on Omega and Phoenix. I like it a great deal. It is extremely commercial, it is extremely well performed, and is a joy. Much like the day job, I suppose, and Orford is a match for Downes on the ivories any day.

Prelude is a gorgeous short piano piece, which highlights the virtuosity of the man, and this takes us nicely into the title track, and the high point of the album. Steve Thorne shines on acoustic guitar and Colm Murphy on fiddle, and it is a testament to the songwriting skills of Orford that he allows space for his guests to be heard in the midst of a keyboard led song. This is one of those songs which I have always enjoyed. An intelligent, and extremely melancholic lyrically, paeon to an England that is virtually gone, certainly in the eyes of those who run the country, and we are all the poorer for it. Orford sings extremely well, and this is simply a fantastic piece of music that should be essential, in my opinion, for all lovers of prog rock, and is another piece of music that puts pay to the fiction that there is nothing original in neo-prog. Yes, there are shades of mid period Genesis stamped all over it, but it is never anything less than a marvellous Orford composition, and, again, would have sat very nicely on either Dark Matter or Frequency by his old band.

Out In The Darkness sees Thorne take lead vocal and guitar duties on a track which takes a pop at all things religious, and that with an intensity which I find slightly surprising, given the importance that organisations such as The Church of England played in the Old England that Orford mourned in the previous track. That ridiculously pedantic niggle aside, this is a very enjoyable rock track, with clear commercial sensitivities and always exceptionally performed.

It's back to the John Wetton show on the longest track on offer on the album, The Time and the Season. As with the other track he appears on, this is magnificently essential for any fan of the work Wetton has done in the latter part of his lengthy career. In other words, if you think he was a bum after Crimson & UK, then this isn't going to change your mind in any way, shape, or form. For my money, this is an enjoyable romp, fantastically produced and performed, and straying very much into more Pomp/Crossover territory quite deliberately.

The album closes with the appropriate Endgame. David Longden is, in my opinion, quite easily the finest vocal performance on this album, the presence of the great and legendary Wetton not withstanding. His voice is, once again, quite wonderful in its emotion, and this is a truly melancholic piece of music that really needs no explanation, given the events that would unfold. It ends, silently, with only the sound of birdsong to remind us the disc is still playing.

This album is, perhaps somewhat ironically given the manner of Orford's retirement, available as a download from Amazon for the incredibly cheap price of 4.99. Give it a few listens on legal streams such as Spotify, and then I urge you, buy this. I still hold out some hope that Orford can be tempted to return to record again. It doesn't have to be with IQ, because, as Frequency and this album prove, they are both capable of forging a path for themselves and producing damn fine music.

For if this is a swansong, then the loss to our genre and to the music world as a whole is a huge one. I rate this as four stars, an excellent addition to any prog rock collection, but in doing so, can state that it only just falls short of the masterpiece status that is surely in him for any future release. For me, the two Wetton tracks are hugely enjoyable, but not significantly so to allow the album the full five stars. The rest of the work easily justifies such a rating.

Come back Martin. The world of great music is a sight poorer without you.

lazland | 4/5 |


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