Just a gorgeous, inimitable, eternal album, that deserves to live forever.
Digest: 12/15, “Bucolic Folk Prog? Whatever you want to call it, “The Riddle” deserves its second chance in my opinion more than many recent first releases.
Behind this album is one of those stories that makes (Prog) music so special for fans – and often so hard to sustain for the artists / protagonists. Because the quality offered here has simply nothing to do with the recognition or success it received… The protagonists were originally brought together almost by coincidence or rather the idea of an old mutual friend, to introduce the guitarist Norm MacPherson (also: mandolin, bassoon, Keyboard instruments) to singer / guitarist / composer Martin Springett. What promptly proved to be beneficial and fruitful, even more so, as after some time Norms son James Macpherson filled the originally exclusively programmed drum parts continuously with more life and Wayne Kozak joined as a saxophonist. More than just the icing on the cake was the arrival of jazz bassist Sean Drabbit, whose warm-singing fretless playing grounded and enhanced the sound of the project. But what sound?
Elsewhere, the album was compared to The Strawbs and / or The Syn. The own associations were more in the direction of the solo works of Anthony Phillips and / or Colin Bass, but each with guest contributions by G.E. Stinson (Shadowfax) – mainly because of the great slide solos. But above all, the music is positive – not cheerfully or boisterous but slowly and continously uplifting, like a day spent outdoors in a beautiful landscape.
The ‘The Riddle Overture’ introduces the music gently but inexorably – like a beautifully chiselled, mysterious garden gate into a magic garden. ‘Whirled Away’ turns out to be a gentle, melodic as well as rhythmically catchy tune. Why has such a thing of beauty just never become known better? The same might be asked about ‘Seven Year Old Poet’. Speaking of poets, did we mention that? – The lyrics are also readable and tasty. And this is best done when listening to the record and based on the 24-page booklet, lovingly illustrated and provided with a typo suitable even for older eyes. Illustrated? Yes, because one of Martin’s many talents is just that and Wikipedia knows him, for example, as an illustrator of Guy Gavriel Kay’s “The Fionavar Tapestroy” trilogy of fantasy books.
While we continue to listen to some more samples of his art here …
Although ‘Blues for Richard’ is not that (twelve-bar), it still is proof that this team succeeds at exciting instrumentals as well. The enchanting ‘Pauline’ is dedicated to a colleague of Martin, the illustrator of Narnia books Paulina Diana Baynes. The jazzy ‘Notes On The Affair’ as well as the two parts of ‘The Original Sleep’ remind the author pleasantly of The Tangents Andy Tillison. Another highlight of the album.
The artist sells this gem for 20 (presumably Canadian) dollars, including postage (presumably within Canada). Even better: with each order he adds a signed copy of the CD “Diving Into Small Pools” – Martin’s “autobiographical journey in song”. Otherwise, it used to be available for £ 9.99 in the UK at Gonzo Multimedia, but is sold out there.
Rating: 12/15 points
by Klaus Eckart at Betreutes Proggen / Bonn Germany
The Gardening Club is probably a lot like the records your parents played to death: Yes, King Crimson and the like. The latest release from Space Wreck Records (a label helmed by Koyama Press’ Ed Kanerva) features canoodling guitars, light-footed drums, far out storytelling and prog rock hyperbole in droves. But since musician-illustrator Martin Springett recorded the album in 1983, at the height of electronic and new-wave hype, The Gardening Club procures itself an affective identity that’s much more paradigmatic. Springett calls it the “cosmic giggle”. And this becomes even more apparent when listening in 2016. The record sounds like the ‘70s; channels the aesthetic and narrative attributes of Middle Ages poetry and art; was released during the heyday of futurist pop, and is now being reimagined more than 30 years later. Naturally, given Kanerva’s day job, the release is accompanied by a gorgeous full-color comic book by Springiest, featuring acid-drenched visuals pulled from the pages of Alice in Wonderland and a coterie of decidedly proper parachute-skirted British ladies. The Gardening Club is currently sandwiched between Chance the Rapper and Mercyful Fate on my Itunes’ recently played folder. All boundaries of past, present and future are fleeting and this record will show you why.
Jeff Low, Broken Pencil
A special treat: Martin Springett’s Gardening Club and the first year anniversary of this blog, October 13th, 2014…
Comment on the review:
Wow – Special treat indeed! Real killer artwork & a masterpiece of music – this is a Monster!! Enchanting, moody and beautiful…love the instrumentals, they strike a chord in my soul…
Hearty Thanks my friend 🙂
And can’t believe it’s already been a year,
Thank you so much for all the rare and wonderful music,
forgotten treasures uncover new horizons…
Here’s to many more bro!!!
Written by: Kev Rowland
Martin Springett is probably best-known as an artist, but over the years he has also released some albums, and this one from 1983 has just been reissued by Gonzo. I had not heard of Martin, and it was only because I had read a review in the mighty Gonzo magazine (what do you mean you don’t read it? As Jon says, “It’s stylish, it’s witty, it’s subversive, it’s free. It’s everything you want from a music magazine”. I was intrigued, and knew that I had to find out more, so soon had a copy sent to deepest darkest New Zealand. To say that I was blown away on hearing it is something of an understatement. That this is a classic isn’t even up for debate, the only question in my mind is how on earth has this been missed by progheads? It all has to be down to timing, if it had been released ten years earlier then it would have been written about by the mainstream press, but back in the early Eighties it was hard to discover any prog unless you had a frontman called Fish – even Twelfth Night and Pallas suffered, so an ex-pat living in Canada didn’t stand a chance.
But, thanks to Gonzo we all now have the opportunity to relish this. Think ‘Breathless’ era Camel, combining forces with Steve Hackett and Anthony Phillips, and it is an album which made me smile from the first song to the very last. I must make mention of Bob Brough, who contributes some very fine soprano sax, and makes instrumentals such as “The Traveller” very much his own. There is a great deal to discover and enjoy on the album, with songs making way for instrumentals, 12-string acoustic guitars to electric, always with a strong sense of melody. It is dream, it is reflective, it is pastoral, it is very simply bloody excellent! This is simply one of the finest reissues I have ever come across in terms of pure musical enjoyment. To find out more about Martin, his art and his music, then visit his website. All progheads should have this: I personally could play it all day and not get tired of it.
“The Gardening Club bursts with passion and sorrow, quirk and groove, and proves that sometimes you can go home again. From the swirling suggestion of “Moon Mischief” to the ever-so-slightly off-kilter vibe of “Upside Down Blackbird”, this album is a moody, musical bit of time travel. Past and present meet here, in Springett’s voice and guitar, and in words about long-lost friends and the kind of yearning that never changes. Onward, to the future!”
Caitlin Sweet, author of The Pattern Scars, The Door in the Mountain and The Flame in the Maze among others
How I unearthed a long-lost Toronto prog rock album
Martin Springett’s The Gardening Club is cosmic Canadiana at its best, and his story is a CanCon prog rock version of the Searching For Sugar Man saga