Parallel or 90 Degrees

Title

Label/Cat No.

Year

Length

No More Travelling Chess

Cyclops CYCL086

2000

69'47

No More Travelling Chess

NO MORE TRAVELLING CHESS

Originally 'No More Travelling Chess' was released on cassette back in 1992 under the band name of 'Gold, Frankincense and Diskdrive', a collaboration between Andy Tillison Diskdrive and Guy Manning.  Due to popular demand the album has finally been re-released in CD format and, as an added bonus, the track 'Black Room' has been added.  The other obvious change is that the band name has been changed to that of Parallel of 90 Degrees which is Andy's current band and one which is probably better known to a lot of people.

The somewhat strange title, 'No More Travelling Chess' is actually a direct quote from the Peter Hammill (of Van der Graaf Generator fame) song 'In the End' which featured on his 1972 album 'Chamelon in the Shadow of the Night'.  This is very apt since for the most part this CD contains re-workings of Hammill songs taken from the the period 1972-75, except 'Flight' which is from 1980.  In contrast the last two tracks are original compositions credited to Tillison and Manning respectively.

Apparently the idea that spawned this album was not initially any great desire to attempt to create a 'tribute' album.  It seems that Andy Tillison having lost his copy of the VdGG album 'Godbluff' set about making a recording of the track 'Arrow' from memory, and at a later date while looking for inspiration for a project to work on he and Guy Manning decided to record some additional Hammill tracks.

It is true to say that Hammill has long been regarded by many as a leading exponent in the field of progressive music, and those familiar with his work will already be aware of the passion and unique style with which he delivers his material.  Having been fortunate enough to see Hammill perform with Van der Graaf Generator back in the seventies, my first thought was that any attempt to emulate the man must surely be an act of folly, but having listened to 'NMTC' I must say the end result is excellent.

The recordings here are not hollow imitations of the originals, Tillison and Manning have managed to capture what I can best describe as an essence of the best aspects of the Hammill over the years, and used it here in concentrated format to bring out vibrant up to date performances of some classic material.  If you actually play the original recordings side by side with these they are very different, but in some perverse way this album almost sounds more like Peter Hammill than the man himself.

In the discussion of the tracks that follows I have included the title of the original album on which the song first appeared, along with the year of issue.

First up then is 'Arrow' ('Godbluff' 1975), the track that is really responsible for the whole affair, and arguably coming from the zenith of VdGG's career.  The music and vocals are very up beat and the delivery shows a potency and enthusiasm that is infectious.

In contrast 'Roncevaux' ('Time Vaults' 1972), is a much slower paced piece, which is tinged with melancholy.  The track is perhaps a less well known one, and is based on the story of Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, who died in the battle of Roncevaux in the 8th century and who was immortalised a few hundred years later in the epic 'Song of Roland'.

'Flight' ('A Black Box' 1980) is for me the real masterpiece on the album and is something that many of the current crop of neo-prog bands could probably learn a trick or two from.  With a run time of nearly twenty minutes this really has something of everything - with plenty of changes of mood, pace and tempo throughout.  Again the track has very superb vocals which effortlessly range between low, soft delivery through to powerful hard hitting sections. Similarly the instrumentation is full of rich texture which is sometimes in quite stark contrast to the often sparse sounding original.  At the risk of heresy, and I never thought I'd say it, I actually prefer the version here!

Next up is 'Modern' ('The Silent Corner of the Empty Stage' - 1974), which I have to say is not a track I have ever been overly keen on.  From what I can tell this is true to the spirit of the original with hard edged guitar sounds cutting in right from the edge and remaining with the listener throughout.  The track does not give so much vocal scope and the instrumentation seems to border at times on an almost experimental sound - undoubtedly an interesting performance.

As already mentioned 'In the Black Room' ('Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night' 1972) is a previously unreleased track that has been included on the CD issue.  The recording covers parts 1 & 2 of the song and also includes 'The Tower'.  This is another track that plunges headlong between soft and hard sections, and again the vocals range from quiet gentle phrases to periods of almost manic intensity.  The addition of backing vocals is a nice touch and the saxophone feel that has been achieved, presumably with keyboards, adds some nice tonal variation.

The first of the original pieces featured is 'Advance' which was written by Andy Tillison.  This starts out with a very up tempo rhythm and the musical style follows on very nicely from what has gone before - it integrates well with the preceding songs and if you are not familiar with any of the music it's hard to hear the join.  The music uses very nice contrasts between piano and guitar which are very apparent in the early stages.  The main vocal line is perhaps not always as strong as it might have been, but there is a harsh edge to the sound that certainly adds character, backing vocals had some nice harmonics but are far too limited in terms of quantity.

Finally we arrive at the closing track 'Evolutionary Status Quo' by Guy Manning.  This track takes a different approach making great use of acoustic guitars, with a hard vigorous playing style in support of the punchy vocals ... a great track with which to conclude matters.

There will no doubt be purists who do not like the idea of an album of what they regard as simply cover versions but, as a long time VdGG / Hammill fan myself, I would strongly urge other fans to give this a try - you won't regret it!   For the rest of our readers, not already familiar with this music, I would recommend the CD as an ideal starting point if you are curious about finding out more about either Hammill or Parallel or 90 Degrees.

Simon 15th January 2001

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