If not the epicentre of prog, Canterbury is nevertheless synonymous with the genre, and perhaps its spiritual home, spawning bands like Camel, Caravan and Soft Machine. Inspired by the Canterbury scene, and using recording techniques sympathetic to the 1970′s, The Kentish Spires pay homage to the era with their debut album The Last Harvest.
No ‘new kids on the block’ the five-piece bring a collective wealth of experience to the project. Bassist Phil Warren came up with the idea, rekindling a musical relationship of 30 years with Danny Chang (production, guitars, backing vocals, percussion and additional keys) who, in the mid 90′s, formed Fyreworks with Rob Reed (Magenta). Perhaps of little surprise to find, therefore, that Reed mastered the album for Tiger Moth Productions, as well as filming and mixing the video for the song Clarity.
Central to the band’s sound are the sublime soprano, alto and tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute and recorders of Paul Hornsby, Rik Loveridge’s vintage keys (naturally enough including Mellotron and Hammond), and vocals (and violin) courtesy of Lucie V, who used to front Tinderstick (ex Iron Maiden/Samson). Non-group member Tim Robinson plays drums.
With a typically proggy mix of shorter and longer numbers, proceedings begin with the 11 minute ‘Kingdom Of Kent’. It’s a melodic corker, with so many enchanting facets that the unnecessary ‘Great Gig in The Sky’ vignettes can be forgiven.
‘Spirit Of The Skies’ is an irrepressibly effervescent, jazzy blend of keys and flute, and the dreamy, almost bossa nova like ‘TTWIG (That’s The Way It Goes)’ features more delightful reed and lead guitar work.
‘Introception’ has mild hints of Tull/Gentle Giant, while ‘Hengist Ridge’ is an evocative tour de force that would grace any prog album, of any decade. ‘Clarity’ has an eccentric, medieval minstrel flavour, and the epic closer, and title track, throws the kitchen sink into a number that blends elements of The Moody Blues and King Crimson circa Lizard.
But The Last Harvest is far more than just a celebration of the past, and is one of the most cultured releases you’ll hear this year. Beautifully crafted, the unusually clean production allows every note and nuance of some truly outstanding performances to be fully appreciated. It’s also nice to hear a vocalist who doesn’t sound like a clone.
So if you thrilled to the woodwind and reed instrumentation of Ian McDonald and Mel Collins back ‘in the day’, and even if you didn’t, make sure you check out this exquisite debut from The Kentish Spires. A band we’ll hopefully be hearing a lot more from in the future. *****
Review by Pete Whalley
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