Beginning with their massive box set celebrating ‘Human’s Lib’ issued in November 2019, Cherry Red Records have really gone the extra mile with their Howard Jones reissues. Each release has been afforded a wealth of extras, including bonus DVDs featuring archive live footage and TV appearances where available, and the addition of demos and alternate takes accompanying the main albums has been a fan’s dream. It was especially pleasing to see some love for Howard’s 1992 release ‘In The Running’, an album which saw him transition from 80s synth pop hero to a slicker, older singer-songwriter. Although overlooked by many at the time, it now stands proudly as one of the most enduring albums in the artist’s catalogue.
Complimenting the vastly expanded studio albums, this five disc box set of live materials allows for a different kind of exploration of HoJo’s past, but in hearing performances recorded between 1983-87 it really brings home the fact that he was, arguably, the greatest synth pop performer of the era.
For years, the ‘Recital of The Script’ VHS was only available document of Marillion’s earliest live shows. Recorded at Hammersmith Odeon in 1983, the gig was drummer Mick Pointer’s last public appearance with the band. Although visually brilliant, the performance is rather slow in retrospect, not always doing full justice to some great material.
After leaving Yes in 1979 following the tour for their ‘Tormato’ album, Jon Anderson barely rested. Between 1980 and 1982, he split most of his creative time between his own solo projects and collaborations with Greek keyboard virtuoso Vangelis, which brought the vocalist some UK chart success with the commercial new age/synth pop singles ‘I Hear You Now’ and the much-loved ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’. By the summer of 1981 and with the second Jon & Vangelis album ‘The Friends of Mt. Cairo’ having barely hit record shop shelves, Anderson was back in the studio working on the material that was soon to become his third LP ‘Animation’.
Upon release in June 1982, ‘Animation’ was a cult hit among fans, but not especially a commercial success. It marked the first time since the 1960s that Anderson failed to break the top 40 of the UK albums chart, and yielded no hit singles – which might seem weird considering his recent success with Vangelis – but, in all fairness, ‘Animation’ is a really complex animal. On the surface, it’s shiny pop oriented sound and extensive use of the technologies of the era make it appear as if it should’ve been much better received, but closer inspection reveals a sometimes challenging album that often delights in being busy, sometimes for the sake of it, and very occasionally at the expense of obvious hooks. However, it’s one of those albums which, with enough time invested, will eventually present a lot of brilliant material. Some of it is about as singalong as the more excessive bits of ‘Topographic Oceans’, but as is often the case with solo Jon, there’s far more at stake cheeky pop tune.
The 1960’s spawned a generation of guitarists who paved their way to stardom through vast amount of session work. Arguably the most celebrated of these players are Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page, but for these genuine megastars, there were a legion of other six string heroes who worked every bit as hard – or harder – but never reached “household name” status. Unless you’re the kind of fan who devours sleeve notes and credits with as much enthusiasm as the music itself, names like Clem Clempson, Geoff Whitehorn and Jim Sullivan, for example, might not be too familiar, and yet, if you love 60s, 70s and 80s rock, chances are you own a record or two featuring those guys.
Ray Fenwick is another musician who has maintained a presence for several decades, but has never seemed to get his full due. Beginning as a session man in the 60s, he’s played with some of the greats. ‘Playing Through The Changes’ – a three disc anthology from 2021 – shows off a chunk of his legacy more than admirably, pulling tracks from a very busy career. What it may lack in consistency it makes up for with variety, and unlike so many rock-based anthologies devoted to a singular talent, it doesn’t rely on too many really obvious recordings you’ll own elsewhere – purely because the nature of Fenwick’s work means there aren’t any obvious compilation filling hits and standards. There are a lot of oddities – which aren’t all good, naturally – but, in the main, it’s an enjoyable musical adventure.
By the time Judas Priest entered the 1980s – their second decade as recording artists – the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was in full flow. As has been written many times before, their sixth studio album ‘British Steel’ is a genuine metal classic, more than able of standing proudly alongside Iron Maiden’s self titled debut and Saxon’s ‘Wheels of Steel’ as one of the greatest heavy albums of that year. No matter how much great music Priest had up their collective sleeve, that would always be a hard act to follow.
In 1981, Priest had high hopes of repeating ‘British Steel’s’ commercial success with another timeless set. Being the first time the band had actually re-entered the studio with the same line-up, in theory, they should have been a stronger unit than ever. However, the resulting album, ‘Point of Entry’ (released in February ’81) initially sounds weaker than Priest’s previous couple of albums and although parts of it seem very formulaic on the surface, in reality, their seventh LP features a couple of musical experiments that show a band attempting to branch out. Regardless of some interesting material, though, it’s no match for its immediate predecessors (‘British Steel’ and ‘Killing Machine’); that said, it’s far from the bad album its sometimes suggested to be. Continue reading →