Gandalfs Fist: The Clockwork Prologue
Fresh from their triumphant headline set at last years HRH Prog in Phweli, and with members Keri Farish (vocals) and Ben Bell (keys) joining founding members Dean Marsh and Luke Severn and 2013’s intake Stefan Hepe & Christopher Ewen, the band now have a settled and talented line-up.
Most bands will make sequels to their albums, or revisit their own universe, but of course, if you’re Gandalfs Fist and the question arises ‘How do we follow up 2016’s triple disc The Clockwork Fable?’ the normal answer isn’t ‘Let’s make a double disc prequel’ or it would be if you were any other band.
Gandalfs Fist however aren’t any other band, instead they look at other prog bands who wander up to the table with some outlandish epic idea, look around and say’….hold me beer’ (well except for Stefan, he’d neck his beer first)
Which is why this new album ‘The Clockwork Prequel’ is a two disc prologue to ‘The Clockwork fable’ described by the band as ‘an expansion pack’, which means if you wish you could listen to the entire story of its five discs, if you had a spare day to spend.
Taking the characters from the Fable including Eve, the Tinker, the boy and the Primarch, whilst introducing new characters, situations, badgers and cogs.
They return to Cogtopolis on the day before Shadowmass, and with new material that the whole band have contributed, as well as unused and reworked unused material from ‘Fable’.
For those who’ve been lucky enough to see the Fist in full flight know how great an addition Keri and Ben are to the band, and on this album Keri really flexes her muscles, particularly on the wonderful almost folk rock Solar Huntress, a reminder, for those who are put off by the name, that Gandalfs Fist are far more than just a prog band, they absorb and interpret all kinds of influences, and then via the medium of real ale, badgers and cogs, weave them into their epic storytelling.
Of course the addition of Keri and Ben are the final cogs in the machinery that makes the Fist work, and with Stefan and Chris providing a versatile and talented rhythm section, allowing Dean to weave his guitar work throughout, rocking out where needed, whilst the vocals of Luke, Dean and Keri work together to create some wonderful harmonies.
Taking the story across the whole of Cogtopolis to the sinister Waxwork Downs and the Primarch palace amongst other places, the band tells the story never losing pace, as more folk pieces like Supplies for the festivities (reminiscent of Steeleye Span or the Albion band – the title a nod to a recurring them in fable)
Then the contrast with tracks like the Blackening where they turn the rock up to 11 and Ben delivers a sublime Hammond solo that brings to mind Jon Lord at his finest reminds us that Fist are heavily steeped in the great sounds of the tradition and are not averse to throwing a few our way, and the beauty of it is, nothing is contrived, nothing is wasted.
Everything on here, whether it is intense soloing, the drama between the characters that drives the story along, and the different scenes and scenarios, like a well-made jigsaw every last piece fits.
The backstory and character history of the Primarch in Mender of Devices and the Clokkemaker which features what would normally be a reprise of a musical theme from the Clockwork fable (which I guess in this instance is foreshadowing), these buggers at the Fist have gone all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey with the chronology, as I was concerned about where to file this on my shelf (as I go on the time honoured alphabetical, chronological method) however according to Dean, this goes before the Clockwork Fable (cleared that up for you before you have that dilemma).
Meanwhile the band channel their inner Floyd on the sinister and atmospheric Waxworks Down (and in a similar vein to the narrative style of the late Terry Pratchett they subvert the familiar – hence the conveyor which would be recognisable to anyone who uses the tube) this narrative device is carried throughout, and when cross referencing ‘Fable’ makes this a coherent part of the complete story.
Throughout the album there are nods and quotes (both musical and lyrical) and hints of events to occur in Fable, and this has been incredibly well structured to be able to stand on its own as a new piece of work, as well as fit seamlessly into the overarching narrative of Cogtopolis making both this and Fable the alpha and omega if you will to unlock the whole story.
Then we have Leader of Men, premiered to great acclaim at HRH and is a mighty rocking piece that is one of the many highlights of the album, with its nod to Iron Maiden (Blaze Bayley sang the vocals of the Primarch on the Clockwork Fable) where this album ends with The Lamplighter (overture) which blends bits of the Lamplighter suite which is the lynchpin of the Clockwork Fable and allows Prologue to segue nicely into Fable.
So, this is another ambitious, inventive, creative, insane piece of work from Gandalfs Fist, whose vision and breadth of storytelling currently has no peer in the prog world, and who are a mighty fine band, both live and on record.
This has few (if any) comparable for narrative and music in modern music (the only one I could remotely think of was the Kinks Preservation Act pts 1&2 from the early 70’s) but even Ray Davies wasn’t bonkers enough to spread it over 5 mammoth discs.
It’s a brave man who tries it in one sitting…but, I guarantee one day you’ll pick Prologue of the shelf (see Fable filed next to it) and think… ah what the hell.
Only thing is you’re best of listening to it before they release the 4 disc fable sequel expansion pack.
Gandalfs Fist: The Clockwork Prologue
- The Belly of the Earth 58
- An expedition amongst the Ice Burrows 1.22
- Wardens 32
- Badgerwhacked 03
- Solar Huntress 43
- Dirty Doyles Surface Souvenirs 36
- Supplies for the Festivities 34
- Secrets, traitors and a Smashing Set of Porcelain Ducks on Layby 49
- Blackening 46
- Hall of the Badger King 55
- Sunsickness 58
- Menders of Devices 14
- The Clokkemaker 52
- A Shortcut across a deranged Steam conveyor 14
- The Waxwork Downs 28
- The Sovereign Airship Station 16
- Leader of Men 08
- Wheels in Motion 13
- The Lamplighter (Overture) 15.37
Dean Marsh – guitars, keyboards/synths, vocals (the singing voice of the good People of Cogtopolis)
Luke Severn – vocals (The sung word of the Knightkeepers)
Stefan Hepe – drums, percussion (the sung words of the Clokkemaker and her all-seeing spyglass)
Christopher Ewen – bass
Keri Farish – vocals
Ben Bell – keyboards (The Choir of doom)
Melissa Hollick – the sung words of Eve
William Stuart – violins
Mark Benton – spoken word of King Dahks/City announcer/City official/distant expulsions of the Lamplighter
Bill Fellows – spoken word of Dirty Doyle/Irontooth/Nightkeeper Spy
Tim Munro – spoken word of the Tinker
Paul Kavanagh- spoken word of the Primarch
Alicia Marsh – spoken words of Eve/various market traders
Keri Farish – spoken words of the Clokkemaker/Washer Ethel
Christopher Ewen – spoken words of The Boy
Bell Bell – spoken words of the deranged Steam-Conveyor
Rafferty Marsh – spoken words of an urchin at the weasel pie store
You – the listener as the Primarchs Street Informant
Released July 1st
A rather good album. Listening to it in my van at the moment.