Syd Arthur are a Canterbury based four piece prog/folk four piece band, whose sound pays a great homage to the progressive rock scene of the 1970s. On their ‘Moving World’ EP’s four featured cuts, the musical structures are tight, and the level of musicianship is often stunning. Liam Magill’s lead vocals have a distinctive, fairly high timbre which on record doesn’t always sit as comfortably on these studio recordings as they do in the live set, but that’s not a bad thing, as his voice is one which – once heard – could be recognised in an instant.
Things start out gently with ‘Morning’s Calling’, a bluesy number which on occasion is reminiscent Crosby Stills & Nash’s ‘Wooden Ships’, driven by rhythmic guitars. Those guitars have a great tone throughout and still leave enough space for occasional mandolin fills. For first time listeners, this seems to be an ideal opener, more of a mood piece than some of the more complex numbers which follow. The groove-led elements give way in the mid section for a brief atmospheric interlude, where acoustic guitars lay a foundation for gentle keyboard work and harmony vocals.
The shortest piece, ‘Exit Domino’ at first features Syd Arthur at their most laid back. Working from a circular guitar riff, subtle mandolin sounds and basslines add plenty of texture. Things build gradually until the band reach a rather uncharacteristic, full on rock freakout with crashing drums and a hard electric guitar riff, over which Raven Bush delivers a screeching electric violin solo. ‘Pulse’ is a much more interesting number, based around a fairly quirky mandolin riff and Fred Rother’s busy hi-hat. With a relative quiet on the verses and a pleasing staccato approach to the chorus sections, Liam Magill’s vocals seem far more at ease. While the guitars and mandolins provide the heart of the piece and the solos which dominate the second half are enjoyable, it’s Joel Magill’s busy basslines which provides the best feature. For a fairly accessible example of Syd Arthur’s prog-jazz fusion, this is the EP’s stand out number.
‘Planet of Love’ is a jaunty workout which has a sound which hints at early Jethro Tull and Caravan, eventually pulled together with a few jazzier vibes. Fred Rother’s drums lay down a great rhythm, from which the rest of the band grows. Once again, Joel Magill’s bass work is exemplary, but here, he is outshone by the mandolin riffs and flute lines, each adding to the Tull vibe. This leads into ‘Hermethio’, an instrumental coda which has a strong root in the acid jazz field. The flutes are still present, but take a back seat for an excellent array of guitar noodlings, congas and the occasional violin. It’s with these pieces which close the EP that the musical talents of Syd Arthur really bloom, with each musican finding his own space within the musical landscape, blending progressive rock, folk and jazz to superb effect.
If you’re not into prog, jazz-fusion or any of the old seventies Canterbury bands, Syd Arthur probably won’t appeal at all. While their core sound borrows quite heavily from a couple of Canterbury bands before them, Syd Arthur bring their own sense of style, and with that comes a fine balance between song structure and improvisation. While the EP doesn’t quite capture the power of their live set, for prog-heads, it makes for great listening.