Sherlock Holmes gingerly stoked the dying embers of the fireplace with the poker while feverishly puffing his briar pipe - the third bowl in rapid succession. The stench of the noxious cloud permeated the room, reeking of old socks and the tail end of a horse. Watson could bear no more. Leaping to his feet he raised the window coughing and hacking for dramatic effect.
“Holmes, if you wish to do yourself in by smoke inhalation, please have the common courtesy to give me fair warning should I choose 'not' to join you.”
Watson's protests went unnoticed. Holmes shut out the world; taxing his powers of deduction on the baffling puzzle that at hand.
What heinous manner of criminal mischief had so obsessed Holmes?
Would it surprise you to discover its … neo/prog?!
In his investigation into the origin of neo/prog one set of fingerprints inexplicably showed up time and again. Not master criminal Professor Moriarty – but keyboardist extraordinaire Clive Nolan! A mad genius in his own right. And winner of the coveted Best Keyboardist Award by the Classic Rock Society in 1995, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2009, 2010, and 2011.
Clive Nolan may not have single handily fathered the neo/prog movement – but it's true since 1986 his fingerprints are all over the genre. His discography is truly amazing:
Add to that list of accomplishments several guest appearances for artists like: Threshold, Medicine Man, Nightingale, Dragonforce, Edge Of Sanity, John Wetton, Landmarq, Ayreon, Galahad, and Blind Ego, and a host of others.
- Arena: Songs from the Lion's Cage (1994), Pride (1995), Welcome to the Stage (1997), The Visitor (1998), Immortal? (2000), Breakfast in Biarritz (2001), Contagion (2002), Caught in the Act (dvd 2003), Live and Life (2004), Pepper's Ghost (2005), Smoke and Mirrors (dvd 2006), The Seventh Degree of Separation (2011)
- Caamora: Closer (EP 2006), Walk on Water (EP 2007), Embrace (EP 2008), Journey's End – an Acoustic Anthology (2008), She (cd/dvd 2008)
- Casino: Casino (1992)
- Clive Nolan: Skeletons in the Cupboard – Archive vol.1 (2003)
- Clive Nolan & Oliver Wakeman: Jabberwocky (1999), The Hound of the Baskervilles (2002)
- Clive Nolan with China Zorrilla and Noel Calcaterra: Otra Vida (2011)
- Neo: Broadcast (dvd 2007)
- Nolan and Barrett: A Rush of Adrenaline (dvd 2006)
- Pendragon: 9:15 Live (1986), Kowtow (1988), The World (1991), The Very Very Bootleg (1994), The Window of Life (1993), Utrecht... the Final Frontier (1995), The Masquerade Overture (1996), Live in Krakow (1996), Not of this World (2001), Acoustically Challenged (2002), Believe (2005), Past and Presence (dvd 2007), Pure (2008), Concerto Maximo (dvd 2009), Passion (2011), Out of Order Comes Chaos (dvd 2012)
- Shadowland: Ring of Roses (1992), Through the Looking Glass (1994), Mad as a Hatter (1996), A Matter of Perspective (2009), Edge of Night (dvd 2009), Cautionary Tales (dvd/cds box set 2009)
- Strangers on a Train: The Key Part One: The Prophecy (1990), The Key Part Two: The Labyrinth (1993)
It's easy to sympathize with Holmes dilemma when you approach the career of Clive Nolan employing the same backwards principle as the parlor game “The Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon”. But instead of trying to find Kevin Bacon's connection in six moves or less to anyone involved in the film industry, use the same basic principle connecting Clive Nolan to the prime movers in progressive rock. His fingerprints and DNA trace evidence shows up time-and-again.
And in this exercise lets not restrict Nolan's association with prog/rock. Applying this
'Six Degrees” principle we can easily link Nolan back to the original 60s' British Invasion. With little effort you can actually connect Clive Nolan to the Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones.
Keeping in mind all the bands and musicians Nolan has performed with, and by adding their names to the branches of the Clive Nolan tree, you find associations with bands like Marillion, The Flower Kings, Transatlantic, IQ, Spock's Beard, It Bites, Kino, Jadis, Frost, Porcupine Tree, The Wishing Tree, Dream Theater, OSI, … well with a little effort you might make a connection to nearly every neo-band.
And by factoring in his association with Rick Wakeman's son Oliver (who also toured for a spell with YES), that increases the “Six Degrees” family tree substantially by adding the original prog/rock pioneers like Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, ELP, The Moody Blues, Refuge, Pink Floyd, Genesis, The Strawbs, The Nice (and the many off-shoots and solo projects from members of those band); and to the mix add mainstream artists and rock and roll giants like David Bowie, Elton John, Mott The Hoople, Bad Company, The Who, David Cassidy, John Mellencamp, Queen and much, much more. The roots and branches of that Nolan Family Tree expands like a pyramid scheme gone awry. And since Ozzie Osbourn also appeared on Rick Wakeman's “Return To The Center Of The Earth” there is a whole heavy metal angle I didn't even consider.
Oh yes … and how did I arrive at The Beatles connection.
Connect Nolan to Oliver Wakemen … Wakenman to his Dad Rick of YES … Rick's replacement on the “Relayer” album was Patrick Moraz … Moraz moved to The Moody Blues … Denny Laine was the original guitarist of The Moody Blues who eventually went on to become the guitarist of Paul McCartney's Wings … and McCartney leads us to The Beatles.
As fun as this all might be, I'd better get back to reviewing Nolan's new album “Alchemy”.
Besides displaying his amazing keyboards virtuosity in a variety of bands and musical collaborations, Clive Nolan has proven himself to be progressive rock's answer to Andrew Lloyd Webber, by composing and orchestrating ambitious grand scale theatrical rock operas.
I'm not talking about the type of concept albums we experience every few years from artists like: Genesis (“The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”), Spock's Beard (“Snow”), The Who (“Tommy” and “Quadrophenia”), Pink Floyd (“The Wall”), Yes (“Tales From Topographic Oceans”), Jethro Tull (“Thick As A Brick” and “Passion Play”), or IQ (“Subterranea”). Nolan transcends the prog/rock concept album by creating genuine Broadway musicals in the vein of “Cats” and “The Phantom Of The Opera”; complete with a cast of performers, dancers, chorus, an elaborate stage presentation, and all the musical accoutrements that go with a theatrical musical.
His first double-CD rock opera, “She” received high praise and critical acclaim, both as an album and a live theatrical performance. A DVD of Nolan's first epic musical, “She” (based on an adventure novel by H. Rider Haggard) was filmed at the Wyspianski Theater in Katowice Poland on October 31, 2007, and performed by the Caamora Theatre Company; and is available through Metal Mind Records. The musical featured the Polish vocalist Agnieszka Swita in the title role.
For his new project “Alchemy”, Nolan has once again assembled a talented cast of musicians to bring this new double-CD to fruition. The vocals are provided by Tracy Hitchings (Landmarq, Strangers On A Train), Andy Sears (Twelfth Night), Paul Manzi (Arena), Damian Wilson (Threshold), Paul Menel (ex-IQ), David Clifford (Red Jasper), Agnieszka Swita (“She”), and Uruguayan singer/actress Noel Calcaterra (she performed with Nolan on “Otra Vida”).
The “Alchemy” cast of characters include vocalists:
The Caamora Company musicians include Clive Nolan (keyboards), Mark Westwood (guitars), Scott Higham (drums), Claudio Momberg (keyboards), Kylan Amos (bass), Ian Scott (horn) and Penelope Gee (violin).
- Agnieszka Swita (Amelia Darvas)
- Clive Nolan (Professor Samuel King)
- Vicky Bolley (Eva Bonaduce)
- David Clifford (William Gardelle)
- Tracy Hitchings (Jane Muncey)
- Andy Sears (Lord Henry Jagman)
- Paul Menel (Ben Greaves)
- Chris Lewis (Thomas Anzeray)
- Damian Wilson (Captain Joseph Farrell)
- Payl Manzi (Milosh)
- Noel Calcaterra (Jessamine)
A DVD of the concert filmed in Poland is expected to be released in the very near future.
In an earlier review I suggested musicians dabbling in ambitious concept album may well be frustrated writers lacking the wherewithal to commit to a 50,000 word novel, so they compress their tale with a few hundred words of lyrics and 60 minutes of music. But Clive Nolan is an exception. Nolan has in fact committed to … and written the novel “Mephisto Bridge” - and is currently shopping around for a publisher.
And the conception for “Alchemy” is based on Nolan's original idea.
As described on his website:
“Alchemy” is a tale that reaches deep into the mysteries that mankind has striven to solve for centuries: the story of the shadowy world of alchemy … dark science … and the supernatural. This is a Victorian 'Steampunk' tale of adventure, passion, betrayal and revenge. The search for lost secrets. The lust for retribution. And the quest for the greatest power on earth. It's a race for the ultimate prize … transforming lead into gold, changing death into life, or perhaps turning hatred into love.”
“Alchemy” is not as easy to digest as the tunes of Arena, Pendragon, or Shadowland because it requires your full attention. It's a narrative story and not just a collection of hook laden tunes. This isn't a CD you pop in the player while cruising down the highway with a chatty passenger in tow. “Alchemy” is a bona fide musical operetta with a beginning, middle, and end which needs to be followed. Think of it as an epic audio book complete with a musical score.
In the world of progressive rock there is little to compare it to other than Jeff Wayne's “War Of The Worlds”, Rick Wakeman's “Journey To The Center Of The Earth” and “Return To The Center Of The Earth”, Glass Hammer's “Journey Of The Dunadan”, and the pair of Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman collaborations “Jabberwoky” and the Sherlock Holmes tale (which brings this review full circle) “The Hound Of The Baskervilles”, based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel.
It's difficult to review this album without using descriptive well worn platitudes like monumental, grandiose, epic, and cinematic – but they all apply.
This isn't a perfect album, and there are a few uneven tracks that didn't grab me with the same gusto as the more dynamic tracks. But it should be noted that although I enjoy music – not necessarily operatic Broadway musicals - so there were occasions when I found myself pushing the envelope of my 'music comfort zone'. But the majestic highlights far outweighed the squiggly bits.
For the sophisticated, adventurous listener who enjoys both musicals like “Phantom Of The Opera”, and a well told tale, then “Alchemy” should be your cup of tea. It's a truly magical musical experience.
And if not … well maybe it's time to expand your musical pallet and experience something unique for a change of pace.
As much as I enjoyed the CD I imagine this will translate even better visually as a theatrical performance, so I can't wait for the release of the DVD.
Reviewed by Jseph Shingler on April 19th, 2013