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(57:00; Twelfth Night)
The Armistice of 11th November 1918 ended fighting on land, sea and air in World War I between the Allies and their opponent, Germany, and came into force at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. There have been a great many anniversary celebrations attended by world leaders (even in the rain), and many people have taken the opportunity to reflect. For the last twelve years I have lived in New Zealand, and in 1914 the population of the country was just over one million. In all, more than 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas and 18,000 died in or because of the war, and about 41,000 men were listed as wounded. The impact on New Zealand was seismic, with virtually every family affected. “Sequences” was originally recorded in December 1979 when it was an instrumental, and was used for a while as a way of trying out new ideas (hence the title), before becoming a highlight of the 1981 album ‘Live At The Target’. It was only with the arrival of a certain Edmund Geoffrey Mann as lead singer that the extended instrumental became instead a song with lyrics telling the story of a young man from Warrington volunteering for the army and signing up for the local South Lancashire Regiment. Geoff apparently drew on the experiences of his wife’s grandfather, Jack Parham, who served in both wars (rising to the rank of Major General), and Geoff used to wear his uniform while performing this song. The ultimate version of the song was recorded during Geoff’s farewell gigs at The Marquee, released as part of ‘Live and Let Live’. The “talk” from the sergeant major is chilling, as is the one from the colonel, but for me it was always the blowing of the whistle and the “Alright boys, over the top we go!” which really brought it home as our brave lads went into no man’s land. This was one of those songs always associated with Geoff, and by the time the band originally folded they were no longer playing the full version. When Twelfth Night reformed in 2007 the song was again performed in its entirety with Andy Sears, then retired when guitarist Andy Revell was no longer in the band, and then brought back when Mark Spencer took on the lead vocal role. With the centenary of the end of the war approaching , it was felt that the time was right to finally record a full vocal studio version with all funds going to the Royal British Legion (a charity which provides lifelong support for the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force, Reservists, veterans, and their families). Just to place some context around this release, I believe this is the first fully available studio recordings since ‘The Virgin Album’ in 1986 (although the band did reform to record “The Collector” for the ‘Collector’s Item’ compilation and “Piccadilly Square for the ‘Mannerisms’ tribute). Here, Andy Revell and Brian Devoil (drums) have joined forces just as they did in the Andy Revell Band, which pre-dated Twelfth Night, with Mark Spencer (Galahad) now providing vocals and multiple instrumentation, Dean Baker (Galahad, Coburg) piano and keyboards, and Andy Faulkner (Walking On Ice, Jump) bass, along with loads of other friends on backing vocals. Released in a digipak with a booklet, we have a newly recorded 25 minute version of “Sequences”, an instrumental version of the same length, plus a ten minute version which contains interpretations of different sections of the song. The front cover shows a field full of poppies, with a greyed photo of soldiers going to war, while the rear cover is the same field with a young child playing. Without the sacrifices of the first, the second could not have happened. The CD itself features a poppy wreath, and when removed, the words to the ‘Ode of Remembrance’, taken from Laurence Binyon's poem, ‘For the Fallen’, are revealed. The booklet contains the details behind all previous recordings, plus all the lyrics, and plenty more photos. The whole thing is incredibly emotional, and that is even before the CD is put in the player! Although Mark has a similar vocal style to Geoff, he will never be the Mann, and it is fitting that they kept Geoff’s original sergeant major’s pep talk. Musically there are sections that have been extended, some which apparently have been reinstated, so that musically it is longer than the famed seventeen minute version which is on ‘Live And Let Live’. For me it is the use of acoustic guitar, strings, and additional keyboards that really made this stand out, while Dean’s piano in the final song is poignant, delicate, and completely fitting. Any Twelfth Night fan will have sent off their money as soon as the note came out that this was being released, yet apparently there are still some available according to the note I saw from Brian today. This is a one-off, a re-recording of one of the greatest epics ever within the progressive rock music canon, and all proceeds go to charity. What are you waiting for? If you have already purchased this then you have in your collection not only a wonderful piece of music, but also a tribute not only to those who sacrificed themselves for our liberty in the Great War, but also a tribute to Geoff Mann who will always be associated with this. If you haven’t, then get over to the band's website and correct your oversight, as if ever something was truly essential for so many reasons, not just musical, then this is it.
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