In Appreciation – Alan White & Andy Fletcher

by Ben Hogwood

Yesterday was a sad day for fans of pop music, with Alan White and Andy Fletcher, two members of Britain’s biggest and finest rock bands, sadly leaving these shores.

Alan White, drummer with Yes from 1972, died on 26 May at the age of 72. White was very different from Bill Bruford, who many fans would name in their fantasy Yes line-up, but he had an incredibly strong rock aesthetic in contrast to Bruford’s jazzier leanings. Both more then proved their worth as indispensable members of the group, with the often unsung White providing drums for landmark albums Going For The One, Fragile and Tales From Topographic Oceans. White also enjoyed session work with John Lennon and George Harrison in their solo careers.

A personal memory from seeing Yes live in Hammersmith in 1998 is that White was the lynchpin, forming an incredibly solid and dynamic rhythm section with Chris Squire, also sadly departed. The pair providing some unexpected funk to much-loved tracks like I’ve Seen All Good People. Here is the studio version:

The band’s new material in that decade was also notable for bringing out White’s rock attributes, as the opening track The Calling, from 1994’s Talk, illustrates:

The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus), from the Fragile album, shows White’s ability to underpin a track with the most unwavering pulse, no matter how tricky its rhythmic profile:

Meanwhile here is a track from 1974’s Relayer, a chance to appreciate White’s virtuosity and musicality:

Also announced yesterday was the sad death at 60 of ‘Fletch’, a founding member of Depeche Mode. The Essex group have been going for a remarkable 42 years, with Andy Fletcher an ever-present on keyboards. In a moving social media post yesterday, the band paid tribute to a much-loved friend:

Here are two stand-out performances from Depeche Mode’s early years, beginning with their first appearance on Top of the Pops in 1981 with New Life, from outstanding debut album Speak and Spell. This first incarnation of the band presented a new sound with synthesizers that was only just breaking into the mainstream, and the fresh faced pioneers were clearly enjoying their art:

By the time Just Can’t Get Enough came around, the band were regulars in the charts with a succession of brilliant pop songs. This one in particular has lasted the distance, introduced by a jabbing riff from the keyboard section that is a proper mind-worm! In both visuals ‘Fletch’ can be seen getting the most out of the music:

Finally a lesser-known example from the Mode’s singles back catalogue, the exquisitely shaded Everything Counts, seen here from the legendary Pasadena Rose Bowl concert in 1988, part of the 101 tour. Here, keyboards and an electronically treated oboe create some unusual and unexpectedly graceful treble lines:

Switched On – Szun Waves to release new album Earth Patterns

by Ben Hogwood

Today brings another very welcome musical return, with Szun Waves announcing a new album, Earth Patterns, due on The Leaf Label on August 19. The band – producer Luke Abbott, saxophonist Jack Wyllie and drummer Laurence Pike – have today released a taster of what we can expect, and it is mightily impressive.

Both the title and language of New Universe suggest a return to basics, and the music – rooted in the key of C as much ‘universe’-themed music seems to be – has stark, creation-like beginnings. As it evolves the music grows in strength, reaching a full blooded apex before subsiding a little, its growth made all the more powerful when experienced with Dom Harwood’s video, with its Martian parallels.

Watch and enjoy – on this evidence the new album, with additional production from James Holden and David Pye, promises to be something special:

You can find out about the album here:

In Appreciation – Vangelis

by Ben Hogwood

As you have probably heard, the Greek composer and synthesizer maestro Vangelis has very sadly died at the age of 79.

Over his illustrious career, Vangelis has given us some of the very best and most recognisable film scores, not to mention productive projects in pop and classical music. A pioneer right through his musical life, he signed off with a typically ambitious piece of work, the Juno to Jupiter album for Decca.

A celebration of his career would not be complete without the inclusion of his timeless, majestic score to Blade Runner, a game-changer when it appeared in 1982:

Perhaps his best-known film work dates from the previous year, the soundtrack to celebrated film Chariots of Fire:

Meanwhile his pop projects included a strong connection with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson, which brought among many things I’ll Find My Way Home:

Meanwhile the Juno to Jupiter project mentioned above was a late work, featuring soprano Angela Gheorghiu:

One of the most-shared videos in the light of Vangelis’ passing has been Aegean Sea, a track from the 666 album released under his Aphrodite’s Child pseudonym in 1972:

In Appreciation – Simon Preston

by Ben Hogwood

It is with some sadness that we have learned of the death of Simon Preston, a great English organist, at the age of 83.

From the warmth of the tributes paid to Preston on social media, it is clear he was well liked:

I was fortunate enough to interview Simon back in 2008 for the Classical Source website, where we spoke about the music of J.S. Bach, promoting an all-Bach concert in that years BBC Proms festival. It was a chance to thank him for some wonderful recordings made for Decca and Deutsche Grammophon, some of which we present below.

There is only one place to start – his impish recording of Charles Ives’ riotous Variations on America, which sounds like one of the most fun pieces to play! Also included are Preston’s exploits as a conductor, which are often overlooked, We have included his account of Vivaldi’s Gloria in a playlist that includes Bach (naturally) but also a few of his more Romantic offerings recorded for Decca:

Third Coast Percussion to release ‘Perspectives’

The ever-inventive Third Coast Percussion have another album in the bag – and they are ready to share Perspectives with us in two weeks’ time.

Furthering the ensemble’s links with Cedille Records, the new album contains four new works, headed by a new four-movement Percussion Quartet from Danny Elfman. This substantial 20-minute work was written for Third Coast Percussion at the behest of Philip Glass, whose Metamorphosis no.1 is next up in an arrangement by the quartet themselves. Electronic composer Jlin has been commissioned to write a new piece, Perspective, a large-scale suite comprising seven contrasting viewpoints. Finally Rubix, a collaboration with flute duo Flutronix, signs off the album with its three sections, Go, Play and Still.

Have a listen to the latest edition of the Cedille podcast, where Third Coast Percussion’s Robert Dillon talks through the album and plays clips from it:

Arcana will cover the album in full next month…but before then you can read more about it and hear short clips on the Cedille website