CD Review – Clive Mitten – Suite Cryptique: Recomposing Twelfth Night 1978 – 1983

Now here’s an album that could have been a real mess. Clive Mitten played keyboards with Twelfth Night from its inception in 1978, making him a mover in the early development of what became known as neo-prog. But the band seemed to endure a stop-start existence, not helped by seeming indifference from a major record label they signed up to, underwent personnel changes, and had to deal with the death of friend and former singer Geoff Mann. Through it all though, Clive retained the feeling that he could achieve something more expansive with what the band had written and performed. It became a long-term aim of producing an orchestral interpretation of Twelfth Night’s music. The problems were firstly; was it achievable and secondly; would the people who followed the band accept it?

Another profound problem would have been that orchestral sounds on keyboards have notoriously not quite worked before and had a tendency to sound a little feeble and, well, naff. Certainly, they have rarely sounded like the real thing, or even anywhere near it. Although the mellotron has interesting settings they pretty much sound like what they are – a mellotron. There’s nothing wrong with that in the right context. Other keyboards provided sounds that weren’t much better. Clive was hoping to create something a little more authentic.

Given the title of the album has particular dates added, we are dealing with the era when Geoff Mann was with the band. The album draws on the music from Live At The Target, Live (And Let Live), Fact And Fiction, along with a couple of individual tracks, The Collector and Creepshow. It is also obvious from the title that these are recomposed pieces and far from cover versions, re-imaginings, if you like.

That this release is an artistic accomplishment is, upon listening, quite obvious. Of course, we have to leave it to the fans themselves to decide whether they can appreciate it. But it is an achievement. Clive managed to find keyboard sounds that he wanted, that in the end probably sounded even better then he thought they would. Individual instruments sounded to him just as they should. He could then take various themes, melodies, and motifs from Twelfth Night songs and arrange them into a series of four suites, sensibly taking the option of not just adapting individual songs so they have strings. A few musicians have taken that somewhat dodgy route. That becomes a little schmaltzy quite quickly. Clive did allow himself to be influenced though by some of his favourite classical composers, most notably Adams, Reich, Glass, Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and Mahler.

There is a great temptation when listening to the album to try and pick out the lines from individual songs. But the music does work very well and flows as complete suites rather than highlighting and telegraphing the themes from the songs. They are woven together. The sounds are mostly authentic, although you could be picky and claim that synthesised sounds can never have the feel and timbre of acoustic classical instruments, nor the qualities of touch and feel of a classical musician. The occasional drum sound and other percussions don’t always work though. But there is a good momentum to the music, and the mixture of old and new classical influences makes for a colourful listen that ebbs and flows with delicate sequences (sorry for the pun!) balanced with swells and flourishes, reaching invigorative crescendos.  This big broad sound is very cinematic and definitely widescreen. It is certainly a release where multiple listens will bring more of the music out to the attentive listener and surely add to the enjoyment.

The cover art for the CD was painted by Clive’s friend and former band mate Geoff Mann, who tragically passed away from cancer in 1993. It is a very modernist piece, a painting of a face. It suits the mood of the music excellently. The notes for the booklet are an extended essay by Clive that gives his thoughts and insights into the music of the album, which acts somewhat as a guide for the listener.

This is a substantial release for Clive then. Over the two hours that the two-disc set takes to play, the four suites are powerful, delicate, intricate and insightful. He doesn’t appear to lose the original meaning of the songs but uses the capacity of the musical themes to redefine them. He returns to the basic sketch of the original band pieces and redraws them with some astute interpretive skill. An album that could have been a real mess is the very opposite. It is bright, emotional, often beautiful and reinvigorating. An engaging, intriguing grand listen that encourages multiple plays.

Not content with this, Clive has another classical-styled release on the near horizon, this time interpretating the music of some of his progressive rock heroes including Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Jethro Tull and others. Suite Sixteen – Tales From A Misspent Youth (Volume I) will be released in November 2021.

Disc One:

1 Part One: Live At The Target (25:30)

2 Part Two: Live (and Let Live) (22:58)

3 Part Three: The Collector (20:13)

Disc Two:

4 Part Four: Fact And Fiction (32:32)

5 Part Five: Creepshow (17:38)

Clive Mitten – Written, Arranged, Recorded, Produced

Label: Bumnote Records

Release date:  2nd April 2021

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