In these extraordinary days, we have seen bands create albums remotely and whilst this is not a new thing as many band members these days live in different parts of the world and share files over the internet to create a new album, what is extraordinary about Catalyst*r (pronounced Catalyst) is that they have never physically met. Indeed, the band was created in 2020 when ex-ESP lyricist and vocalist Damien Child approached Progressive Gears Records for help in finding a possible collaborator. Enter guitarist Gary Jevon (This Winter Machine) and the two seemed to have a mutual understanding of each other’s ideas which bounced between London and Leeds throughout lockdown and remarkably, enough material was soon amassed for an album. Greg Pringle (ESP, Simon Townshend) joined on drums/percussion and the result is here, their debut album.
Musically, it is outrageous and I mean that in the best possible way. There are elements of 70s ELP, Floyd, Crimson and Genesis; there are Metal sub-woofer bass and guitar riffs, haunting vocals, weird noises and Prog time signatures and vocals that make their point and leave whenever necessary. In fact, the great achievement of the album is that every track ebbs and flows just at the right time. It never bores and demands your full attention from the opening song to the last - a fifteen-minute opus that will delight old Prog and Neon Prog Rockers in equal measure. I’m sure they used digital technology in the recording process but the album feels old (again, meant as a compliment) so whilst the recording is crystal clear, there are times you feel you have unearthed a long forgotten Prog gem from 1973. Of course, just as you slip into that mode, something else comes along to make you realise otherwise and snap you back to present day.
Dare I say it, there is even a bit of Pop. Well, seven minutes and fifty seconds of it to be precise in the absolutely delightful track, Immortal, which no doubt in the 1980s someone at a record company would have edited down to the length of a single and it would have gone Top 20 in the UK. A very simple hook and tantalisingly familiar, it is every bit of deserving a place on the album as the more Prog orientated tracks and is rather curiously tucked away towards the end of the record, a place traditionally reserved for the songs bands feel are not their strongest; typically on what would be side two of a vinyl edition. That said, there are no weak tracks on the album so it must have been difficult to choose a running order.
At just over one hour, this album flew past on my first listening and I couldn’t take it in. For the second listening, I opened a bottle of Chianti and soaked up the meld that this trio have created. I suggest you do the same and repeat as often as necessary.
Welcome To The Show
Apollo One Three
Someone Else’s Dream
You Against The World
In The Deep End
STRAWBS - CD
Back in the 1970s, Dave Cousins and his fellow members of The Strawbs were well known amongst their peers as writing some of the best songs of that era. Impossible to categorise due to their remarkable ability to shift between genres using a blend of Prog, folk lyrics and Pop melodies, amongst everyone I knew, there were people who said they didn’t like Lindisfarne, some who loathed Genesis, others that despised David Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers but everyone loved The Strawbs– including my Mum and Dad. Fifty years on and listening to this album just once will have you quietly smiling to yourself; the magic is still there.
To date, The Strawbs have had thirty-three line-ups, the consistent being Cousins who formed the band back in 1964. The singer, main songwriter, guitarist and banjo player has seen some amazingly like-minded singers and songwriters pass through his band, many have had multiple tenures in the band so it’s not so much a revolving door as a ‘see you later – welcome back’ kind of band. Of the four others that make up this album, three have had spells in The Strawbs before; likewise, two of the four guests so what we have is a collection of musicians, familiar enough with each other to know how each works and given time to explore their own paths. The result is a gorgeous blend of old, new, respect and commitment to making a great set of songs and instrumentals, as great as can be.
The opener, Settlement, starts with a droning acoustic and Cousins’ gritty menacing voice spitting out an attack on politicians and their policies of the rich getting richer. It builds, booms, almost terrifies and leaves you with the blood starting to boil in your veins. Contrast that with then next track which is such a thing of beauty that were it not for the same vocalist, you wouldn’t believe it was the same band. Clouds seemingly drift by in an English summer garden as the lyrics muse on what are indeed, Strange Days although exactly what is strange is ambiguous; herein lies the craft of the master lyric writer.
And so it goes. Each track reveals a little bit more of the collective called The Strawbs, each track a mini-masterpiece lyrically and musically making a sublime canvas that can do something that is very rare in music these days and that is to stir different emotions. Taken on their own, the lyrics could be classed as poetry and make no mistake, there are more than just one poet within the band. John Ford’s collaboration with Cousins for Each Manner Of Man and Dave Lambert’s The Visit to give just two examples are every bit as worthy of praise for their lyrics as the music; Chas Cronk’s instrumental that closes the LP version is as complete as can be.
Back in the 1970s then, The Strawbs were at the top of their game. I have some news for you: they still are.
Each Manner of Man
We Are Everyone
Champion Jack (CD only)
Better Days (CD only)
Liberty (CD only)