Interview with Chris Braide
Halcyon Hymns is the fourth studio album from the well-known writing partnership that is Geoff Downes and Chris Braide. Here, DPRP's Patrick McAfee speaks with Chris Braide about his career and how the new album came into being.
Congratulations on another fantastic DBA album. After 2020, it came as a welcomed and much needed surprise.
Well, thank you very much, Pat. That's really kind of you. Yeah, we're really excited about it, and I agree, it came at a good time.
As I understand it, you and Geoff didn't initially have plans to record a new DBA album in 2020, but COVID-19 and the lockdown kind of opened the door for it. How did the pieces fall into place for that to happen?
Well what happened was, we were gigging in the UK. We did a couple shows at the same place that we played for the Live in England album. It was all going great. Ash Soan and Andy Hodge, who are on Halcyon Hymns and Skyscraper Souls, played with me at the Royal Festival Hall with Marc Almond, during the same month. It was all great, everyone was having a good time, and then suddenly this all happened.
I headed back to LA, and sort of worked out fairly quickly that things were changing. Everything closed down and no one was in studios. My studio was empty, so it was just me, and I had a folder full of ideas that Geoff had sent me a few months before. At that time I had thought: "I'll put this to one side and do something with it at some point". Now this seemed like the perfect opportunity, to give me a focus and get my head away from what was going on, which as you know, was pretty grim. I just got stuck into it, and it really was a godsend. I can't overstate that enough, because the songs just fell out and kind of presented themselves. It was really quite magical. It was the most fun I've had writing for a DBA project.
This being the fourth studio album, DBA has really become a musical brand at this point. When you and Geoff released Pictures of You back in 2012, did you see this partnership becoming such a prominent and successful part of your career?
No, I don't think so. I mean, it was great to meet Geoff in 2010 at the Buggles show that we did, at the Supper Club, but I never dreamt that it would last this long. We got on really well and I knew that I liked him and you just go from there really. We had fun doing Pictures of You, but that actually seems so long ago now, to be honest. I can't believe it.
It does. Well, 2020 kind of did that, in a way, to us.
I thought Skyscraper Souls was going to be difficult to outdo, but from start to finish, I really do feel that Halcyon Hymns represents your strongest song-writing with Geoff. In fact, in many ways, I feel like you two have developed that same sort of collaborative gift that he had with John Wetton. How would you say that your writing with Geoff has developed since the first DBA album?
Thanks! I suppose it's just confidence in what you each bring to the party. I mean, if I'm allowed to agree with you, I do feel the same actually, that this is the most coherent, strongest collection of songs that we've written. They feel natural to me. I listen to them and think: "These songs sound like they've always been around." It's a weird thing. Maybe it's partly because of what's going on in the world and where our heads are, but they feel familiar to me and they were really easy to write. I'm not just saying that. They weren't laboured-over and there's a flow to them. I absolutely love Skyscraper Souls and I agree, I couldn't imagine topping it at the time, but these songs just feel like they came naturally. I think that's what's changed with Geoff and me. We are relaxed now. What the heck have we got to lose? Let's just have fun making music. That's what music is about.
Sometimes, even with very good albums, full of great songs, there are times when a track or two will just be OK and take things down a peg. That isn't the case here. It is consistent in quality and flows perfectly. It really works in the true album sense.
Fantastic. That's really great. I mean, that's what I wanted it to be like. Going back to when I was a kid, the album as an entity is what it was all about for me. Singles were important. I would hear them on the radio, and they were almost like a Trojan horse for the album. The album was the great event for me, and that's how I approach the albums that I'm involved with. I want them to be heard in that way. You, the listener, give me an hour of your time and just hear it as an entire piece, because it makes sense if you do.
Somebody said to me the other day that one of their favourite songs on the album was the last track, Remembrance. I said: "But that track only makes sense if you listen to the album from start to finish," because it kind of ties up this world that, I suppose, is created with the songs on Halcyon Hymns. It is sort of a bucolic, looking back, wistful, kind of awakening of a world that I kind of want the world that we're actually in now, to be. At the end of the album, you get to Remembrance which kind of ties that whole thing up, and then you sort of say goodbye to that imaginary world. I find that final track to be quite emotional, actually.
Absolutely, and to that point, Halcyon Hymns feels like a very personal and reflective work. In fact, there are songs such as She'll Be Riding Horses which feel direct and personal but also that we can relate to. What really kind of moved me about that song, is that it's obviously about loss, but it isn't sombre. It feels like a celebration of the individual's life and it fits well with the nostalgic, more optimistic tone of the album.
Yeah. I think I agree, actually. I'm glad you feel like that, and that song is very personal to me. It is about someone that I was very close to, and yes, it is about loss, but to me, it was a way of just being close to that person. Also, when I think about that person now, I don't feel sad or melancholy. I think of them in a sort of celebratory way. I think they were a great person, and I wish they were still here, but they're not. It was a way to sort of celebrate them. Yeah, I found it very moving, writing that, I must admit. There were a few, kind of moments in the studio where I sort of tapped into something.
Yeah, it's wonderful and I think anybody who has experienced loss ... I mean, when I heard that song, it hit me, because I was thinking about my mother and other people I've known who have passed and all of the positive memories associated with them. It is very effective and moving in that way.
Fantastic. Thank you.
The album feels very cinematic. You've again utilized spoken word sections throughout and Barney Ashton Bullock, his narration at the end of Remembrance in particular, is brilliant. I am curious how you piece that element of the album together. Does he base his parts on the established concept, or does he hear the finished product and go from there? How does that all come together?
When I was in the middle of writing songs, I chatted with him and I said: "These songs are starting to sound like summer, or kind of late afternoon, summer. They feel yellow to me, and summery, and wistful, and remembrance." I gave him those key sort of words and stuff. Then, he would just send me things and say: "What about this?"
One of them was the monologue at the end of Remembrance. He sent that in its entirety and I said: "What do you mean, what about this? It's absolutely amazing!!" He said: "Okay, I've sent you the written piece, but I've also spoken it onto the iPhone”. I pulled that audio file that he sent me of the monologue that is at the end of Remembrance. I literally just pulled it into the session, and it just fell where it fell. I didn't move it. It just fell into place perfectly, and it's amazing to me. It's almost like a bit of magic, because it sounds like ... it's almost on the beat, like he was in the studio.
Absolutely. As I mentioned, that section at the end, the, "Goodbye, my love, Goodbye," moment, it fits so perfectly and it resonates. That was a “Wow” moment for me as a listener. To hear that it just fell into place is pretty amazing,cactually.
It was. It was really, it was a spine-tingling sort of moment for me in the studio, and he's just so brilliant. I say he's like Dorset's Richard Burton with knobs on. He's fantastic.
There is an increased use of guitars and other string instruments on Halcyon Hymns. The songs King of Sunset and Holding the Heavens are two great examples of that. To me, it feels very different than the previous DBA albums, in that and other ways. When you are working on a new DBA release, does the process just flow naturally or do you make a point to change things and not repeat yourselves?
I don't know if it that conscious, actually. When we did our very first gig, our debut gig that the Live in England album preserved, we used Dave Colquhoun, and that's the first time we'd worked with him. He was so fantastic. He obviously played on Skyscraper Souls, but it was the first time I'd actually stood next to him. The result of playing live, I think that really changed everything. Geoff and I were like: "This is so great!" They bring the songs alive! Andy Hodge, and of course, we've got Ash Soan on that live recording, though he wasn't actually there. He was there in spirit, and his playing was there, so it's just the idea of musicians just bringing the songs to life.
Unlike the first two DBA albums, which were predominantly Geoff and I in the studio. They were kind of studio creations, and they're great for what they are and I still love some of those songs. Vanity and Dreaming of England I still absolutely love, but I think they breathe now in a different way. That's what great musicians do. It just takes things one step further. It's like: "Well, we've got to use more guitars!!” The guitar parts on Halcyon Hymns that Dave Bainbridge played, I just love them. I really love them. They brought the songs to life.
I agree. Since I write for a prog website, I have to say that the 12 string guitar opening of Holding the Heavens, will immediately delight all of the old Genesis fans. The album is being released on February 5th and there's a vinyl edition to follow towards the end of March. The DBA vinyls are always really well done, and now with the last three being Roger Dean covers, they're really made for that format. Can you tell us anything about the vinyl edition of Halcyon Hymns?
Yeah, the vinyl edition is going to be a tasty thing indeed, because there's the new painting by Roger, of course, which we're all just completely head-over-heels in love with. It's just fantastic. It's two white vinyl albums, yeah, so that'll be nice. Gatefold, again. It's got lyrics, and it's got a beautiful design inside. Mike Inns actually put the whole thing together and he's a really great graphic designer, so I can't wait to get my hands on it. I think it's going to be a really nice thing.
Also, I've got to say, the digi-pack CD has a DVD with it, that includes Roger's painting sessions, which is quite nice. It sort of shows how it's not just about the music any more. It really is about the artwork as well. Working with him was also another dream come true and I think he's also made things tie together, actually. We'll have Halcyon Hymns, Live in England and Skyscraper Souls, all with his covers, and it does really feel like a real band. It sort of ties it all up, I think.
Absolutely. In a previous interview, you and I talked about how the first DBA album sounded a bit like you and Geoff putting some music together. It had a bit of a demo kind of quality to it. Again, it seems like a long time ago, but eight years really isn't a terribly long time. To see how DBA has advanced into what now feels very much like a band is really pretty incredible.
Yeah, I'm so proud of that progression. It is the very sort of meaning of the word, isn't it? Progressive. You should be pushing boundaries with music, and with pushing yourself as well. Otherwise, you're treading water a little bit, and I think I can really feel that. With each album, it feels like we are progressing. Not in a contrived way. Not like we're saying: "We must be doing this now, to be different from the last one." It just feels natural, like it's growing.
I always felt like that with some of my favourite bands growing up. Bands like XTC. Every time they put an album out, I thought it was better than the last. When The Big Express came out, I thought: "Well, that's great." When I heard Skylarking, I was blown away, and I thought: "Well, they can't top that". Then they released Oranges & Lemons and they blew me away again. It feels like that a little bit. It feels like if you start at the beginning of DBA, you're going to have a nice ride, if you get to where we're at now. I hope.
I agree. Going back to vinyl for a moment. I'm encouraged to see a lot of young people getting into the same vibe that we had as young folks; getting excited about going and buying the new latest album. That said, on the other end of it, there are the streaming services. I was curious what your thoughts are on streaming music?
Are you meaning the revenue side of it or just the actual entity itself?
The entity itself.
I think it's a great thing. I think when I was 15, I would have just been totally out of my mind loving it. I would have probably been in my bedroom, staying up until three in the morning listening to millions more albums. I think it's fantastic to have the vinyl, have the artefact, and sit there, look at it, and have your headphones on. Also, there is also the option to play the digital version wherever you are, if you've not got a record player. I think the two things work really well together. I like the access it brings and the fact that I can go on holiday tomorrow, not that I can at the moment, but in normal times, yeah. I could go on holiday tomorrow and still have my record collection with me. That's fantastic!
I agree, and the revenue side goes without saying. Something has got to be done about that, but in terms of just being a music lover, it is great to have that immediate and complete access to so much music.
Also, there's one thing that people never mention that I think is quite key here, if they do sort the revenue thing out. If you think about buying your favourite album, you buy Dark Side Of The Moon and that's it. It's the last time that you buy it. Maybe you buy a re-issue, but you buy it once, essentially. With streaming, you spin it multiple times over and over and over again. As a model, that's quite good. It keeps the music chugging along. If we can get the revenue sorted out a little bit better, to be a bit fairer.
Allow me to say that I was happy, to see that the Chris Braide official website was recently updated to include a lot more details about your own work as a musician. There are some comments on there about how your initial years as a performer exposed how unforgiving, per se, the music industry could be. I was curious, after that initial experience, how rewarding has it been for you to see people embracing DBA and your solo material of the last decade or so?
I mean, it's absolutely fantastic. It's been quite a journey, from the start of my career to where I'm at now. I think with Halcyon Hymns, and I'm not just saying this because it's the latest thing, I've reached a point in my life and my age where I'm now making the music that I really love. I think that's a great thing for me. I would hate being one of those artists that is looking back all the time going: "Well, that was when I was really good, and now it's sort of survival." I think I'm actually still growing. I still prefer that trajectory in a way, the way that my career has gone. It's been sort of a slow-burn and I am now making the records that I really want to make. It's taken me all this time, but I'd rather be in the moment, feeling like that, instead of looking back.
Well, as a fan, I'm glad you are doing that. I discovered your work when The Producers album was released. From there, I jumped into your solo work, and then when you began to work with Geoff, who I'd been a fan of for 30-plus years, it was like a dream come true for a listener.
Fantastic. That's brilliant. That's very nice. Thanks.
You're welcome. One album that I wanted to chat a little about was the Hello Leo album, which was released kind of quietly in 2012. I've noticed that it's developed a bit of a following by people who love its nostalgic sound. What are your recollections of creating that album and is there a chance that you would revisit that eighties electro-pop sound?
I suppose it was sort of a homage to some of those early singles I bought when I was young. One of the bands that I really loved was New Musik. Not a lot of people know who they are. They were a kind of South London, new wave, electronic sort of band and they had a couple of minor hits in the UK. One was called Living by Numbers and the single that totally blew my mind was called This World of Water. I was obsessed with that record.
Hello Leo was kind of a fun project, really. It's a studio project and it was kind of like: "Well, I'm going to use all the synths and all the drum machines from that era. I'm not going to use anything new." It was fun to use the Fairlight, Prophet-5, the DMX Oberheim drum machine, the Linn drum machine, 808 and Solina string machine. Nothing later than, I think, 1983 (Laughs). That whole album is actually very authentic. It's not got anything new on it, and it was kind of fun just to do that.
Sometimes I just do these things, and managers will say: "What are you doing now? What bonkers project are you doing now?" I just have to do them, and then I get it out of my system. I'm not sure if there's any plan to revisit that project, but you never know. I think it was fun to get Theophilus London on it, who I was working with at the time on his own record. I thought he was great. He was a rapper from Brooklyn, but he would reference things like This Year's Model by Elvis Costello, and do a kind of copy of the sleeve and stuff like that. I found him really interesting. He was referencing things from British new wave, but he was a Brooklyn rapper. We got on really well and he did great rap on Human Fear, which some people have said reminds them of 90125, so there you go. That wasn't my intention. (Laughs)
What can you tell us about Piano Works?
Piano Works is just one of those things. I've got millions of these things. I've got a Yamaha C7, that I just play sometimes. Just hit record and see what happens. Sometimes they would be free-form improvisations. A lot of my writing starts that way. You'll be improvising and suddenly you do something and you think: "Well, that's nice," and you repeat it. I would record these things. Whilst we were here in lockdown number two, I just thought I'd listen to them and I really enjoyed hearing them. I thought: "People should hear these, because they're just stuck on a hard drive and I think that's a shame". There was no plan to ever release them, but then I heard them and I just thought: "Well, it is a side to me that is very much a part of what I do, when I'm writing with artists like Sia and people like that." I am the guy at the piano, and so it's kind of like showing that.
Is it due out soon?
I don't want to overstate this too much, because obviously Halcyon Hymns is the main geezer, but it's actually out the same day, digitally. It just fell onto that date. There was no plan. It's just one of those things, where they pick the Monday that works. So yeah, it's out the same day as Halcyon Hymns and some people might like it. Some progressive rock fans might enjoy it, because it's very un-pop, if you like. I mean, there's a track on there, track six, which is completely improvised. It's even interesting for me, because I'll listen to it and go: "Wow, why go there?"
You bring up a good point, because I think artists like you and Jem Godfrey from Frost bring a very exciting dynamic to the prog genre. You're both producers, songwriters and performers who've had success in the pop music scene. I know that the prog base can be a little bit reluctant or fearful of the influence of pop. Do you ever feel any pressure about that, per say, when you're creating for DBA?
I don't think so, no. I just make the records that I want to make. I think it's interesting, because I've known Trevor Horn for a long time now and I actually think he had the same experience early on. Before the Drama period, a lot of the progressive rock fans were a bit like: "What?!! That guy?!! From the pop band?!!" Now he's accepted, of course, because he's done such brilliant work. I think I'm starting to feel like that a little bit, from some of the fans. They're starting to go: "All right then. We liked that last album." It's kind of like they're warming up a little bit.
It's interesting, because I was always a progressive rock fan. I mean, my favourite band is Yes, so I haven't really changed. If I write Unstoppable with Sia, it's kind of like Geoff and Trevor writing Video Killed the Radio Star. It's not really any different to me. It's just that we've got the pop kind of sensibility, but there's also that wide-screen symphonic element. A musician is a musician. I like a great record that's three minutes thirty seconds, that's beautifully produced and written. I also like something that's 18 minutes long and takes me on a journey. Kate Bush is a great example. She is one of my favourite artists. She can write Babooshka and I'll go: "Yep, I'll have that". Then, she can also do 50 Words for Snow and A Sky of Honey, and I think: "Yep, I'll have that as well."
Well, I think what some prog fans don't take into consideration, is that if you look at the legends of the prog scene like Yes, they were all heavily influenced by pop music and it shows. There was always that sensibility in their music. That's one of the things that I really do enjoy about your work, and the music of DBA. It is adventurous, but there is that structure and melody there that sort of holds it all together.
Actually, Yes were always like that for me. Within those great big pieces, there was always that cracking kind of Anderson/Squire or Anderson/Howe pop song. I love Close to the Edge just as much as I love Sweet Dreams. Its such a beautiful song. I love the Time and a Word album, but it's nothing like Relayer. I still love them equally. I don't see a problem with that, really. If music is good, I'll take it. I'll put a seven-inch on and I'll put a double album on, and they both affect me in similar ways. If it's good, it's good.
When I was first listening to Halcyon Hymns, I was thinking about the big epic title track of Skyscraper Souls. Initially, I thought that the new album wasn't as progressive. Now though, looking at it as a complete work, it seems more progressive to me. Though each song works separately, as an entire album it's very much a conceptual work. It almost doesn't work as well, when you just go: "Hey, I'm going to listen to this song." The magic of the album truly comes out when listened to from beginning to end. To me, that's very progressive, in a sense.
Exactly, and that's the reason I'd like for people to hear the album, rather than some cherry-picked things, like taking out Remembrance and listening to just that. I mean, you can do that, of course. It's up to the listener, but it makes more sense if you hear it in its entirety, because it's like a movie. You don't watch scene three, and the end of the movie, do you? You watch the whole thing, and then the ending makes sense. Like a great book, there is the beginning, middle, and end, and so that's an album for me. If I listen to an album like Never For Ever, by Kate Bush. I'll listen to the beginning of it, yeah, of course. Delius, Babooshka, all the pop stuff, but I've got to get right to the end and hear Breathing for it to really make sense. Then it's like: "Whoa, that was a great piece of work!"
That's exactly my feeling about Halcyon Hymns. It works that way for me. I mentioned earlier, that sort of “Wow” moment at the end with the narration that transitions into the Epilogue. It's brilliant and is as effective as it is, because it closes up the whole album, which as a listener, absorbed me from start to finish.
That is fantastic. I'm so glad you feel like that. We've achieved what I wanted to. If everybody feels like you, that would be great.
Along with Hans Zimmer and Sia, you won the Best Original Composition in a TV Trailer at the 2020 Music and Sound Awards, so congratulations on that….
Thanks, yeah, it was great.
In recent years, you have continued to expand your footprint into the world of film. I am curious if we could expect more of that, and if there are soundtrack albums or composers that have been a particular inspiration to you?
Well, I'm a big fan of Ryuichi Sakamoto and actually, my eldest son loves him as well. We used to play him a lot in the house. I am also a huge fan of the Studio Ghibli soundtracks, and we've got box-sets full of them. They're very influential, actually. It's funny, I was playing this track the other day to my son Elijah, and he said: "That chord is very Studio Ghibli." These things just become part of the pool of influences that you draw from. I like beauty, in whatever shape or form and there's a lot of beauty in the Studio Ghibli soundtracks. It really does influence my piano playing.
There's a lot of beauty in Kate Bush's playing, as well. It's very tender and otherworldly. I suppose that I just try to play from the heart. There's a lot of that in Ryuichi Sakamoto's stuff. I just did the title track for Sia's new movie, which is called 'Music'. That was fun, with a 30-piece orchestra, so I dabble a little bit in film.
I haven't done a whole soundtrack yet, but maybe that's something that will happen in the future. I think the thing is, that you really have to commit to it. I'm still too much in love with pop and rock music to really say: "Right, I'm going to hang my Jupiter 8 up now and do soundtracks." I think you have to really put both feet in to do that. It's very time-consuming.
Absolutely. I remember reading the stories about Mike Oldfield doing the soundtrack to 'The Killing Fields' in the 80s. It was a very well-received score for a lauded film. He was proud of it and the recognition it received. In the end though, he said that he would never do it again, mainly for the reasons that you mentioned.
I remember talking to Trevor Horn about 'Coyote Ugly' and he was saying: "Boy, it was time-consuming." It is sometimes more fun to just make an album. I mean, it's not super-quick to make an album, because obviously you chip away and you have to make it as good as it can be, but there's a flow to it. Whereas, in the film world, there's a lot of: "Change this, edit that, we've changed this scene, can you just chop that out?" There's a lot of that and if you're not into that, it can be the opposite of the sort of creative flow that an album is. With an album, you've got the track running, you're overdubbing and there's a flow to it, which I love. You don't have that in the same way with film scoring, but some people love it and are brilliant at it. So, horses for courses.
All through this and the other couple of interviews that we've done, your absolute love of music is very clear, With that in mind, are there any artists, in any genre these days, that are particularly impressing you?
Last night, I was listening to the FKA Twigs interview that she did with Louis Theroux. She mentioned being a huge fan of Adam and the Ants and Blondie. It really surprised me, because of these new wave bands that she's a fan of. I am a huge fan of Adam and the Ants. I thought he was God. I thought he was the eighties Marc Bolan. He was sort of larger than life and a star personified. She was saying that she had run up to Adam Ant on a street in London, hugged him and wouldn't let go. She was such a fan and I thought: "I think we'd get on together. I'd like to have a conversation, at least." Maybe that will be something that I'll explore at some point, because I think she's very progressive, actually. She's kind of out-there, which I like, so maybe.
You mentioned the DBA shows that you played with Geoff right before the Covid situation hit, and as things move in a more positive direction, do you see there being any live shows for the Halcyon Hymns album?
Yeah. I really hope so, because I would love to play these songs live. I think they'd be great. With the Live in England album, it was nice to open with Skyscraper Souls. It was a perfect opener for us. At the time, it was kind of like: "Here's the new album." I can imagine opening in a similar way with Love Among the Ruins (from Halcyon Hymns). I like presenting albums. We mixed in a few of our other songs as well, but essentially, it was about playing the Skyscraper Souls album and I quite like that. Yes have done it with their album series and Sparks did it as well. They played a week of their albums, back to back. A lot of people have done it recently, but it's a fairly new concept to play the album in its entirety. That's a great thing. You make the album, it's a studio creation, essentially. Then you go and present it live. It's fantastic, so I'd like to do that.
Halcyon Hymns would work really well in that way. Some artists perform the album in its entirety, take a short break and then come back for a second half, doing a mixture of material, or vice versa. To me, it's a really effective concept.
Yeah, I really enjoy that. Kate Bush toured in 1979 and that was the last tour that she did for God knows, 30 years. When she was asked: "Why don't you tour?", she said: "Because I can't present the albums in the right way." Not then, anyway, when it was very much in the infancy of technology, but now you can. It's not difficult to make complicated, sumptuous-sounding albums and present them live. So yeah, I would definitely like to do that.
The situation with COVID really stalled us because that was our plan in February. We'd done the two gigs, we were going to go back to our respective work and then reconvene to do a good run. All the preparation for those two shows, and it's over in a flash. We were at least going to do a half dozen shows, back to back, and then it wasn't to be. That's not to say that we won't pick that idea up again.
I know that we are focusing on the new album, but just as a wrap-up, anything else that you are working on that you can share with us?
I don't know how much I should say about this, but a while back, I did make a second This Oceanic Feeling album in terms of demoing it and writing the whole thing. I just discovered it on a hard drive the other day and I thought: "Bloody hell, some of this is really good." I was talking to Martin Darvill who manages DBA, and I said: "That's literally five years old now!" That's how time flies, my God, and this second album that never was sat there in demo form, ten tracks.
It was provisionally titled The Will to Power. It was kind of a pleasant surprise, because you write these things and if you are quite prolific ... I have periods of being very prolific and things get stored on hard drives for a rainy day or for when it's the right time for the project. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of it, and it's a shame that it didn't come out as a second album.
I think This Oceanic Feeling really ended up, if I think about it, turning into Skyscraper Souls, and sort of the Mach 2 of DBA. This Oceanic Feeling kind of fell by the wayside, but this album does exist. Some of it is really good, so I don't know what to do with it, but we're going to have a think about it.
When I first spoke to you in 2015, you mentioned that you were working on that. As a fan, my advice would be to release it, but I don't want to be presumptive. That said, myself and I believe many fans would love to hear it.
How would you release it, though? I'm interested to know. Would you release it just as it is, and do a solo thing, or would you get the other guys to play on it and then ... ? I don't know. That's the thing.
Yeah, I guess for me, and I'd consider myself pretty knowledgeable of your work with DBA and solo, if you put it out in its current form, based on your description, I think there are a lot of people that would want to hear it.
Okay, interesting. Thanks.
I'm just going to wrap up by saying that I really enjoy Halcyon Hymns. From the first listen, I was like: "Man, this is just incredible." I want to say kudos for another great album…
Oh, fantastic. Thanks. Honestly, it's great talking to you. Your passion also comes through and that's what I'm all about. Music, and people's passion for it, so it's a pleasure. Cheers!
Downes Braide Association (DBA) — Halcyon Hymns
Almost exactly five years ago I reviewed Suburban Ghosts, the excellent second album from the Downes Braide Association. Since then the partnership of Geoff Downes and Chris Braide has gone from strength to strength, with four studio and one live album to their credit.
Outside of DBA, Braide has demonstrated his song-writing and production credentials with Beyonce, Christina Aguilera and Marc Almond amongst others, while Downes needs no introduction here. Despite his association with Buggles, Yes and Asia, the overlooked New Dance Orchestra album Electronica comes closest to the style of DBA (check out the song Forgiven on YouTube).
Like the previous albums, Halcyon Hymns combines inspired song-writing with impeccable production. Is all about melody, with a sound I would loosely describe as prog-pop (which is not meant as a slight). The songs adhere to the verse-chorus format, with Braide's voice front and centre. He has never sounded more assured, singing with a new found confidence.
The arrangements are colourful but uncluttered, with Downes providing piano, keys strings and organ sweeteners. The supporting cast of Dave Bainbridge (guitars), Andy Hodge (bass) and Ash Soan (drums) are ace musicians in their own right but they never attempt to dominate proceedings, instead they embellish the songs with sublime fills and rhythmic textures.
Halcyon Hymns is a concept album, harking back to long, balmy summers when we were all younger and more free-spirited. The songs have a nostalgic tone, occasionally melancholic, often uplifting. I'm sure we've all shared similar feelings during the 2020 lockdowns. Although the song titles and lyrics are self explanatory, Barney Ashton-Bullock's spoken narration underlines the concept.
There are twelve tracks and not a duff one amongst them, which is a minor achievement these days when so many albums fail to make good their promise. There are stand-out tracks however, not least the opening song which, appropriately, is also the first single.
Love Among The Ruins opens with gentle acoustic guitar, organ and piano giving a warm folky vibe which blossoms into a glorious earworm of a tune, lifted by Bainbridge's infectious guitar hook. The lead vocals and backing in Your Heart Will Find The Way bring a touch of 80s Yes to the table, while the catchy Holding The Heavens does likewise with Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Marc Almond and David Longdon from Big Big Train are credited as guest vocalists, and the exquisite, counterpoint harmonies in Warm Summer Sun are worthy of The Beach Boys.
And while we're on the west-coast of America, the laid-back Today has traces of the Eagles andToto vocally and instrumentally, with sweet sounding slide guitar. It plays-out with a loose, jam-like coda that has a distinct Beatles influence.
The tranquil Hymn To Darkness on the other hand has Sting written all over it. Like Love Among The Ruins, the breezy She'll Be Riding Horses boasts an infectious chorus, driven by a buoyant shuffle rhythm. In contrast, Late Summer weaves ambient piano and keys around a superb, understated vocal to create a haunting, post-rock atmosphere.
The penultimate song, Remembrance, was I must confess a slight disappointment on first hearing but I'm gradually coming round to its charms. Despite its near 12-minute length, a prog-epic it isn't. Instead, it's a summation of the album's concept, a lengthy ode to British summers of times gone by. Braide croons over a slow-burning backing of acoustic guitar, sparse piano and rhythm. Elsewhere on the album, Ashton-Bullock's narration punctuates the songs but here, he provides a counterpoint to Braide's singing.
The DVD releases of Halcyon Hymns comes with a bonus DVD which features the Roger Dean Painting Session and music videos for Love Among The Ruins, Your Heart Will Find The Way and Today. It's also available as a double LP in white vinyl. Whatever your preferences, you will be rewarded with a wonderfully rich collection of songs that provide the perfect soundtrack as you sit at home and contemplate a return to those glorious summer vacations that seem so distant now.
Geoff Downes and Chris Braide return with their fourth DBA studio album, Halcyon Hymns. Created during the initial lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, the album counters the sombre nature of 2020 with an upbeat view of summers past. The nostalgic spirit displayed throughout its twelve tracks, provides a perfect soundtrack to the optimism of this new year.
Instrumentally, it is the most organic of their recordings. Downes' classic, symphonic keyboard sound is certainly there, but is tapered in favour of a stripped-back, but equally effective style. Also, an increased use of guitars and other string instruments instils the material with expanded variety and depth.
King of Sunset and Holding the Heavens, with its wonderful use of 12 string guitar, are two perfect examples of this. In fact, what once sounded like a collaboration between two talented, mostly keyboard-performing artists, now sounds like a full-fledged band. This is in large part due to the exceptional performances by guitarist Dave Bainbridge, bassist Andy Hodge and drummers Ash Soan and Tim Weller.
With this release, Downes and Braide further cement their reputation as a song-writing team of the highest order. Their penchant for creating accessible, yet complex compositions is in full display on tracks like Love Among the Ruins, Your Heart Will Find a Way, Today and the brilliant, Remembrance. The melodies are sublime and there is a significant emotional strength to songs such as She'll Be Riding Horses, Warm Summer Sun, and Late Summer.
On first glance, there isn't anything here that is as overtly prog as the epic title track of their previous release, Skyscraper Souls. That said, from a concept perspective and as a complete start-to-finish listen, Halcyon Hymns is their most cinematic work thus far. Utilising some truly effective poetic narration, these moments paint nostalgic visuals and tie the conceptual structure of the album together flawlessly.
Speaking of paintings, Roger Dean once again provides amazing cover artwork that matches some of the best illustrations of his career.
In this era of artists recording albums at home, increased release options and streaming services, there is a tonne of music available. I personally hear a lot of new releases, many of which I like. Ultimately though, I have to admit that it has become rare for a new album to hit me in the same way as some of my favourite recordings of the past. There are probably many reasons for that, but all of these superlative albums had some key essentials. Outstanding song-writing, note-perfect performances, impeccable production and amazing cover art.
Halcyon Hymns checks all of these boxes. It absolutely stands on the same ground as some of the excellent pop/rock/prog albums of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Not because it is regressive in any way, but because of the extreme level of quality that it presents. There are many modern bands and artists deserving of praise, but only a handful of them are creating music that resonates in the same way as the masters of the past. Along with their other excellent releases, Halcyon Hymns firmly secures DBA in this rare and esteemed category.