Twelfth Night, Friends and Family Sampler – Of all the bands from back there, of all the bands from that new wave of properly progressive forward looking period, that underground word of mouth scene that evolved in such an exciting way during the first half of the 80’s, of all the bands, Twelfth Night were probably the most powerful. Twelfth Night were probably the best of them all, IQ gave them a damn good run for their money during their first Pete Nicholls fronted era. Marillion were still lean and mean back there, it was dangerous dow nthe front of a Dagaband gig with those flying Hammonds, but Twelfth Night were the band for me. And no it wasn’t Neo Prog, that was something rather tedious that came along later in the decade and rather sanitised it all.
Twelfth Night fronted by the late great Geoff Mann were something very special back there, that Smiling At Grief, Fact And Fiction period that was kind of bookended in such a glorious way with the vital statement that was (and is) the Live And Let Live live album (recorded at the Marquee, home ground for what really was a very electric almost punky zine/tape/word of mouth powered scene for a couple of glorious years). Actually Twelfth Night’s Art and Illusion period, the bowler hats, black umbrellas and green triangles of the very underrated Andy Sears wasn’t a bad time either, those Dominion gigs, the tours with the yellow and blue ladders and such. Art and illusion was a most underrated album, Andy Sears a very under-appreciated front man trying and in large parts succeeding in his own way to fill some very big army boots.
Without a doubt Twelfth Night had (have) brilliant songs back there, great big songs that engaged with you, songs that grabbed you and took you with them, songs that have easily stood the test of time, songs that sound now as glorious as the first powerful time you heard Live And Let Live or chanced upon them at the Reading Festival or heard the live recoding via Tommy Vance and the Friday Rock show or maybe via your mate who made you a copy of her tape later on (those treasured live tapes of Reading changed hands again and again). Twelfth Night, from that second period with Geoff Mann, right up until when the Andy Sears version of the band signed to a major record deal label and released the rather flawed XII album in the Summer of 86 was a wonderful period.
Not long after that Summer of 86 is where I got off the ride. Followed them heavily in the early 80s, in the days of both Geoff and Andy, travelled to way too many gigs, put them on in my student days, actually there there was an Organ interview, it appeared in the very first edition late in 86, but that really was where we all parted ways (besides the occasional purchase of a live album or a re-issue). Twelfth Night have carried on in one form or another and as far as I know, they’re still kind of semi-active as a band and still occasionally doing things rather than just releasing back Catalogue. Occasional live dates have been spied in more recent years, really not been tempted to go see, good that they are still doing things now and again, festivals and such, not for me though and I can’t really claim to know that much about this century’s Mark Spencer period. I assume this is the one time LaHost vocalist Mr Spencer performing vocals on these more that decent re-recorded versions of old classics on this sampler and that this re-recorded version of what really is Twelfth Night’s Supper’s Ready, the mighty thing that is Sequences features him, pretty sure it Mark Spencer (the Bandcamp page could do with some sleeve notes!). I do remember Mark and La Host being rather good back there in the day, one particularly fine gig where they shared a bill with a by then solo Geoff Mann at the Wardour Street Marquee (I ain’t ‘fraid of La Host!), really must dig out the live tape of that one and see if it was as good as I remember it
yes, as samplers go this is a damn good one , a download only album, released via Bandcamp (in conjunction with the very glossy Prog magazine), this is an album packed with musical treats, two or more hours of it, loads to explore, and available at pay what you want price (or for nothing if you wish to pay nothing). It isn’t a best of, it clearly isn’t intended as a definite best of statement, it clearly is exactly what it say it is, a sampler, a twenty track taste of the current catalogue and a release alive with classic tracks jousting for position with alternative versions, as well as cover version or two of their songs recorded by friends – there’s a really imaginative version of Fact And Fiction from our old friends Galahad, IQ are in there with a fine version of Geoff Mann’s Apathetic & Here, I...
Not sure what’s going on with the cover art (I assume there is some kind of background explanation in this month’s Prog magazine? I haven’t read it), my initial reaction was that they must be doing some kind of Ukrainian fundraising or benefit or something? Apparently not. Maybe the album cover (a cover that is almost in the colours of those Art and Illusion ladders) is some kind of show of support for the people of that currently war torn country? If it is then nothing is said about it, maybe nothing needs to said? Maybe the cover and the words of Sequences say everything that needs to be said about the current war and all the current wars?
Not everything on here works, Dance never really did that much for me and not really sure about the almost muzakish version of Pink Floyd’s Shine on, a piece taken from a solo effort from Clive Mitten, although it is growing on me with each subsiquent listen to this alrady well played sampler, Clive did put out a solo album of covers or interpretations a couple of years back, maybe it needs to be revisited? Did check it out when it was released, his versions of Mile Oldfield classics alongisde bites of 70’s Genesis and such, chose not to review it at the time, maybe time for another listen? Guess the Sampler is working?. Not really sure why there’s so much of Pendragon’s arch Neo Prog instigator Clive Nolan on here but then he did kind of push things on when it was all losing a bit of pace.
No not everything here works but there’s way (way) more than enough to satisfy. That opening shot fired that is a classic live version of The Ceiling Speaks pretty much seals the deal all by itself, still spine-shivering! There it goes with the classic Twelfth Night bounce, and there goes a triumphant version of Take A look from the very underrated Art And Illusion period, a version recorded as part of a demo for another major label before they got sucked into that fateful Virgin deal. The band were really on it around the time the labels were sniffing their flowers, those Dominion shows, especially the one at the end of that excellent Art And illusion tour, by that time they really were a band on top top form. Not enough Art and illusion on here. although pretty much all eras of the band who originally formed in 78 are represented (no Electra McLeod, I guess that would be for the box set of rarities, actually you coould put together a more than decent box that would tell the whole story).
There is something very powerful about those words of Geoff Mann that are evolving through the various versions of Twelfth Night, his own performances of versions of Sequences with the band were something very very special. Do like the evolved version of Sequences on here (if you don’t know the song, the massive piece of work, that giant anti-war statement, if you don’t know it you really do need to go and listen to the version on Live and Let Live or maybe the version that the Geoff fronted version of the band performed that wonderful afternoon at Reading in 83 (a recording that I do believe has been released as a live album now), the opening seven a bit minute section of the relatively recently re-recorded version is more than good, but you do need to hear the emotion of Geoff Mann’s vocals on the original live versions of Sequences, it really is a masterpiece, one of the all-time prog rock classics that you could argue was up there with The Musical Box or Van Der Graaf’s Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. Okay, that igth be pushing it jsut a little but it was so pwerful live. I assume this version on the sampler is with Mark Spencer on vocals, and I’m not sure about that keyboard riff seagulling a little too much all over it) and his Love Song is just about the most beautiful song ever, whoever sings it, Geoff himself, Andy Sears or here on this album, Pallas frontman Alan Reed taking it on, it really is something very very very special (as Geoff himself was, we lost Geoff Mann to cancer in 1993). This excellent version of Love Song is the perfect way to end this album, and yes okay, Clive Nolan’s keyboards are adding a rather fine layer t othe song.
if, like me, you’re an old fan, you’ll find lots and lots to unpack and really (really) enjoy here, if you’ve never heard (or heard of) Twelfth Night, then yes this is an excellent sampler and a fine way to discover Twelfth Night, although I’d say start with the Fact and Fiction album and that first track We Are Sane (even though the production was a little flawed). We Are Sane will tell you why those of us who knew about them back there knew Twelfth Night were something rather special, that they were a properly progressive prog rock band. And there you have the version on this album, an alternative version of We Are Sane – actually if it had been played in a slightly different way, it could easily have been a Crass song, Geoff Mann always had a bit of that in him, perormances peices on stages shared with Poison Girls and such. So yes, check out the Fact And Fiction version of We Are Sane, then follow it up with the version of The Ceiling Speaks that opens this Sampler (along with every single second of the Live and Let Live album), those things will tell you most of what you need to know, about how good Twelfth Night were (personally I still think Art And illusion is still an excellent and somewhat overlooked album)
And there you have it, for what any of it is worth, a thought or two (that no one asked for) on a sampler that’s well well worth your time. Twelfth Night were a special band back there, they were special times, will you file this for me please Mary? Excellent sampler album. (SW)
Foottnote: We;ve jsut been told, in terms of the cover that “there is now some explanation. Any money donated goes to Médecins Sans Frontières to support the victims of the war in Ukraine. That now explains the colours”.
Meanwhile, this week’s Other Rock Show on London’s Resonance FM went like this….
Marina Organ presents an hour of music that uses unconventional structures and ‘other’ time signatures – gathered from the worldwide undergrounds of math rock, avant prog, weird electronica and strange pop. This week’s show features new music from Ultra Zook, Ultraphana and Aaron Myers-Brooks, plus Ron Anderson’s PAK, black midi, After Nations, Tombouctou, Poil, Twelfth Night and Emma Physema.
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