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Grand Tour


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5 stars The idea to form GRAND TOUR sprang from a Hollywood film, apocalyptic 'On The Beach' (feat. Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins). Briefly recalling the plot: 'nuclear war has wiped out all life in Northern Hemisphere, and several last survivors spend their final days in Australia - awaiting the deadly radiation that should reach them too''... The new band consists of Hew Montgomery (known as a founder for Abel Ganz), Joe Cairney (Comedy Of Errors), Bruce Levick (Comedy Of Errors) and Mark Spalding (ex- Comedy of Errors). They combine their talents to create a superbly executed prog-release. The songs range from almost 5 minutes to around 14:30 - which opens and closes CD ''Heavy On The Beach' respectively. Putting aside the lyrical concept, I wanna concentrate only on the music here. The album begins with a threatening sound of the wind augmented by church organs. Pretty short intro fades out into the enticing beauty of approach what is the suitable vessel for incredible vocals. The shimmering Mellotron, Stratocaster's light tones and gentle drums accompany 'It's Come To This', reflecting a miraculous blend of Pink Floyd and Genesis. After an overture-type song, we hear 'The Grand Tour part 1'. Towards the middle, in proper place, the flowing melody speeds up in a captivating way. Methinks, each half of composition has its own identity. Next up, 'Time Runs Out'. Initially impulsive, possessing an energy, the musical palette suddenly changes for a mellow part, where faultless singing starts to roam. As the song progresses, accents revert to up-tempo groove. Inheritor - 'The Horn Of Plenty', moves along at a sedate pace, allied to fantastic guitar work from Mark Spalding. The voice of Joe Cairney perfectly compliments the music's heady atmosphere with heart and emotion, while the software synths from Hew Montgomery and elegant drumming from Bruce Levick are fairly restrained. An instrumental track 'Little Boy And The Fatman' displays a harder edge for the sonic landscape, to cause me think of IQ. In contrast, 'On the Radio' unfolds like a touching chapter that contains wonderfully deep sentiments. The character of this cohesive whole gradually builds up, leading up to the fabulous crescendo. Again, staggeringly passionate voice of Joe Cairney soars above a variety of dramatic instrumental changes, thus increasing the scale. The title track kicks off in vintage fashion, where grandiose Korg and beefy Hammond exhibit the trademarked symphonic overtones. Being in the limelight, Hew Montgomery guides us through the territory full of bent notes. Woven around spectacular key-based foundation, the guitar manipulations on Ibanez RG4570 contribute in the mix, providing a mild decor for the vocal melodies. The smooth percussion-fills from Bruce Levick can be compared to the nimble style of Phil Collins. The singer Joe Cairney does a great job amid the instruments. It's safe to say, Grand Tour are divine! The album concludes with an intoxicating brew, 'The Grand Tour, part 2'. A long duration allows more exploration to take place, and which the quartet have fulfilled to the maximum. It's a pinnacle of the set culminating, where subtle flavours are easy to follow thanks to some switching perspectives. The music contained therein, envelops and caresses. Stylistically, now it resembles Pendragon with a veiled hint at Yes. Each element is carefully developed to enhance the substance of the story. This magnum opus fluidly ends with a coda. All the sounds fade away, leaving the listener in the silence... WOW! I bet 'Heavy On The Beach' will be in my personal top-ten list for 2015.
Report this review (#1378383)
Posted Friday, March 6, 2015 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars In the blue corner with white cross, the challenger, from Glasgow Scotland, please welcome Grand Tour or as some of you may care to remember, Comedy of Errors Mark II. The Bio reads as three following : Abel Ganz stalwart and founding member Hew Montgomery decides to leave ,due to musical reasons, his mates before starting up on their 2014 self-titled latest, and create a new candidate for Neo-prog laurels and incorporating three prominent members of Comedy of Errors, whose recent 2013 album "Fanfare & Fantasy" was a critical elite choice. Ha, the Scots, such lovely people, at least their chairs are musical, as vocalist Joe Cairney, guitar slinger Mark Spalding and fantastic drummer Bruce Levick hitched up with Hew and spewed out one hell of a debut album that will leave many bewildered, easily as good if not even better than either Abel Ganz (though "Shooting the Albatross" was one monster disc) or the previously mentioned "Fanfare and Fantasy" recording. And that is saying quite a lot, so it certainly behooves me to explain my enthusiasm, even though the very first spin through left me indifferent, at best, proving that you have to always be receptive in the first place and adapt to what you have selected! Upon repeated listens, the depth and creativity as well as the stellar playing from all involved, really comes shining through. Monty's arsenal of keyboards really leaps to the forefront, utilizing mellotrons, synths, organ and piano in massive doses, leaning on Spalding's slick guitar to light up the skies, though he is no pyro technician, he plays with a lyrical flair and a lots of resolve. Cairney is not the flashiest guy holding a mike but he is utterly convincing in his delivery and a pleasant tone. The big drummer is my man, showing off some solid stylings and providing some serious propulsion. And as befits recent neo prog masterpieces (IQ, Galahad, Sylvan, Magenta, Flamborough Head, Final Conflict, Eyesberg, Harvest, Silhouette, RPWL, State Urge and Steve Rothery, among many others?), the suave melodies are captivating, the emotions razor sharp with pristine production and sound as well as beautiful booklet and artwork.

To thrust this to the uppermost level, we also have a real good story that is personally close to my heart, focusing on one of Hollywood's finest movies ever, "On the Beach", a doomsday 1959 flick that was the equal to other classics of the era like "Failsafe", "Seven Days in May", "Colossus, the Forbin Project" and the famous black comedy one, "Dr Strangelove". The cast composed of the cool Gregory Peck, the always weird Anthony Perkins, Fred Astaire and the suitably frazzled Ava Gardner (spectacular performance as a drunken milf) and dealt with charming subject of global nuclear annihilation, except for Australia. There is this one scene that is particularly haunting, as the US navy sub commanded by Peck picks up a Morse code message of gibberish from California and quoting Wikipedia "Near San Diego, the ship's communications officer, in a radiation and oxygen suit, is sent ashore to a power station. He discovers the mysterious signal is the result of a tilted Coca- Cola bottle having been suspended by its neck with an open window's shade pull cord; the shade then fluttering from random ocean breezes and the suspended bottle's weight tapping out random signals on a "live" telegraph key. Using proper Morse code, the officer sends a message describing the situation and then returns to the sub". I have cherished this passage ever since I saw this as a youngster, at a time when nuclear war looked inevitable and ducking under a school table was the suggested option for survival. Hew has decided in our trying times, to remind this apathetic society that the danger is even greater now than when only a few leaders had access to the ICBM inventory, while as today, too many nutcases may blow our planet sideways! This is one of those occasional recordings that require the listener to shadow the lyrics booklet and submerse themselves into the grim topic matter.

The sweeping choir enters the stage, with piano and synths in tow , followed up by the glittering electric guitar introducing "It's Come to This", as Joe spins his sad tale, a hopeless realization that the end is upon us, fueled entirely by humanity's worst fears and tendencies. We perhaps tend to forget that the Cold War is not over, only the main actors have changed (Putin, Kim Jong-un, Obama, Khameini), a terrible newbie showing up for a cameo role (Isis) and buckets of apathy, from a society that has seemingly lost its consciousness. Rock music once used to be highly political (Country Joe & the Fish, U2, R.E.M., Dylan), so it's certainly nice to see a prog band dealing less with sci-fi fantasy and more with current reality, even if it has doomsday-like tendencies. Let us be reminded that Hiroshima and Nagasaki was before most of us were even born, a tragedy that just might repeat itself one day, if we are not careful or at the very least aware.

The core of the album is the 2 part "The Grand Tour" suite , the first 8 minute + section setting the table , while the longer second part ends the disc with a 14 minute explosion. The urgency and despair are vehiculated by the dire lyrics, the screeching guitar work, the reverberating bass and the tectonic drumming, while the synths yearn to be considered as some kind of desperate alarm/siren to the deaf and blind. The axe work is suitable twirling in intensity, the pulse frantic and urgent, with Montgomery piloting his Enola Gay keyboard arsenal towards the inevitable.

"Time Runs Out" qualifies as a gloomy title par excellence and the pace is appropriately evil with gargantuan waves of choir mellotron, slippery organ work and a sense of foreboding, 'a place in my nightmares' as a grieving Cairney intones , a glorious melody that will feel very familiar (a hint of "Hold out your Hand" by Chris Squire)and a subsequent development that is classic neo/symphonic as 'the rockets fly, and the sun burns out in a mushroom cloud' , not exactly sugary love songs about teenage pleasure, I assure you.

This new world order promised us "The Horn of Plenty" and instead gave us more despondency than ever before, a 'connected' global society that constantly maintains the 'maybe', communication tools that rely on poor quality text messaging and even worse orthography, as no one answers their phones anymore. This brave new world is far from heroic, encouraging primitive idiocy in order to justify the newfangled form of control the masses sheepishly endorse, reignite the millenary conflict between religions and sects. This realization is brought home by the intense lyrics and the purposeful arrangements, a coalescence of brooding power and melancholic despondence that is impossible to ignore.

My favorite track is the instrumental "Little Boy and Fat Man", the rather odious nicknames for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs respectively, as the booming bass leads the orchestra in retelling the tragic days in 1945 that ended the war. The argument that it saved many million more casualties (experts agree that expected Allied losses in invasion were in the 1.5 million range and the Japanese were willing to die 'en masse' for their emperor) serves notice that there is nothing humans can do better than hurt each other willingly, individually or collectively. Mark Spalding unleashes and unlatches a series of spellbinding and explosive guitar solos that match the synthesized artillery to perfection.

The epic "On the Radio" is a plea for discovering any leftover sounds of life (the coke bottle scene comes to mind), scouring the airwaves in a desperate search for surviving clusters of humanity. The mood is convincingly sardonic, a mixture of symphonic holocaust and lyrical introspection that again fits nicely into the package, the last remaining link left in a radiated world of silence. The survivors will be jealous of the incinerated dead, to quote Nikita Khrushchev. The visuals can be quite arresting, as the listener is sitting on a desolate beach, the once blue sky fiery red, no communication with no one, wondering why, waiting for the end, in some kind of prostrate finality.

The title track is another elongated affair, maintaining the subject matter on trajectory, traced by satellite beacons and rows of computerized target algorithms, 'desperate souls standing next to me', Hew flirting with his armada of analog synthesizers urging a sense of impending hopelessness, various contrasts as they switch from one screen to another in the command center buried deep in some mountain range (upon reflection, a music studio can resemble a missile launch control center, all that blinking equipment serving the operator). Cairney's voice now slips into a finalization of what is to happen in the End as he closes his eyes and sings : 'the party is almost over on the beach' and ' no one left alive on the beach' repeated ad infinitum.

"The Grand Tour" part 2 puts the final touches (The final countdown) on the perfect isolation that results from human stupidity, 'an industry of madness' that recalls Eisenhower's chilling farewell speech, an incredibly intrepid and courageous act coming from a 5 star general, unveiling the term 'industrial-military complex' and placing it at the forefront of our dangers ( I urge everyone to look it up on youtube!). The music fits the atmosphere, Spalding unwrapping a slide guitar barrage that is completely awe-inspiring, as all involved provide the sonic background for the implicit message, a trait that is still a rarefied commodity in our material world.

I generally refrain from giving the highest marks for a debut album but there should always be exceptions, as this slow burning, effervescent, thought provoking and existential recording needs to be properly addressed and disseminated to all the blind sheep out there, before we accidently or willingly blow ourselves to kingdom come. Certainly music food for thought and one of 2015's finest releases so far. Hey, you get music, history, current affairs and art, all wrapped in one!

5 nuclear footballs

Report this review (#1384195)
Posted Wednesday, March 18, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars Grand Tour's first album is a concept album based on the book/film On the Beach about a group of people in Australia waiting for the radioactive fall-out from a nuclear war that has destroyed the Northern hemisphere to reach them.

This is a dark and, indeed, potentially chilling subject for a record, but while this is a serious and at times melancholy album, it is also surprisingly uplifting. That uplift owes a lot to the musical skills on display herein - the album consists of eight full-length neo-prog tracks that nicely combine guitars and synths overlaid with a brilliant emotive vocal performance. Fans of Comedy of Errors will recognise and enjoy the musical style. The lyrics deal with adult themes of loss, regret and dreams unrealised made all the more prescient by the quickly impending end facing the characters.

While the threat of nuclear destruction may seem more distant than in the Cold War era when the book and film were made, this is nevertheless a brilliant meditation on the lives of men and women fated to die in a conflict not of their making or their choosing - as one of the characters in the film says: 'It's unfair because I didn't do anything and no one I knew did anything'.

Highly recommended.

Report this review (#1397162)
Posted Saturday, April 11, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars If you have to buy one album in 2015, this should be it. Joe Cairney's vocals are excellent, the musicianship is phenomenal, and the lyrics are superb and catchy. Heavy On The Beach is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, and should be in every prog fan's catalog. There are some amazing albums this year from some of my favorite bands, but I still return to this album the most. If you want to evaluate an album based on listens, then this will win for me followed closely by A Spark In The Aether - The Music That Died Alone: Volume Two by The Tangent, +4626 - Comfortzone by Beardfish, and Home by Sylvan. This is turning out to be an exceptional year for prog, but this gem should not be overlooked by anyone. I love a great concept album, and this is already a favorite. This first album is so organic, so natural, and everything works perfect.
Report this review (#1400022)
Posted Friday, April 17, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars Grand Tour is basically Comedy of Errors (a Scottish refreshingly energetic and sharp neo-prog band) by another name, as the two formations share three quarters of their members. Pure neo-prog is the game here - gorgeous melodies, theatrical vocals, sweeping keyboards, soaring guitars, chunky bass, meandering instrumentals - what bands like Pendragon were doing the 1990s. A crystal clear production. No metal and no techno (a current fad among the neo-prog). Despite the dark subject matter (nuclear war, hippies blah-blah-blah), this is actually a fairly easy-sounding affair. The drawback is the sameness of the sound - the same leisurely pace picking up for a moment before slowing down again - to the point that the songs blend together in a kind of a huge neo-prog song. maybe that was the intention here.

Report this review (#1400036)
Posted Friday, April 17, 2015 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Dated, soporific neo-prog is not my bag. The vocals are rather weak and uninspired--especially melodically--and the lyrics are lacking conviction. I didn't like Comedy of Errors much and only liked Abel Ganz moderately well, so I had no high expectations for this one. Listening to it I find myself thinking that I'm listening to lost demo albums from the 80s from the likes of STYX, LOVERBOY, AMBROSIA, ASIA, YES or ALAN PARSONS PROJECT. The drums and lead guitar work are quite competent but there's just nothing new here to bring me back for receptive listens. Album highlight is the instrumental "Little Boy and Fat Man" (8/10) with "On the Radio" coming in a not-so-close second.

3.5 stars rated down for lack of originality.

Report this review (#1424010)
Posted Friday, June 5, 2015 | Review Permalink

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