image © Chris Johnson 2009
Anne-Marie Helder (vocals)
Parade at Bedford Esquires
14 November 2009
photo © Howard Rankin 2009
(14 December 2009) Parade is the band formed by Chris Johnson, guitarist for the former Marillion frontman Fish. Their first album is an eleven-track collection entitled The Fabric (Chris Johnson/Voiceprint (UK) 5 029385 988104, 2009). At the end of 2008, after eighteen months of touring for Fish's 13th Star album, and two years prior to that as a songwriting member of Mostly Autumn, Chris found himself back at home with a backlog of songs that would form the basis of this album.
Fronted by Chris Johnson (vocals, guitars, keyboards, percussion, programming and sound design) and Anne-Marie Helder (vocals, guitars, keyboards), the lineup is completed by Simon Snaize (guitar), Patrick Berry (bass) and Gavin Griffiths (drums). The album also features guest appearances by Mostly Autumn's Bryan Josh, Heather Findlay and Breathing Space's Olivia Sparnenn. Ex-Karnataka and now in Panic Room, Anne-Marie and Gavin have performed extensively with Mostly Autumn the last eighteen months. Simon and Patrick are long-time hometown collaborators with Chris. Having worked with him for more than ten years, the level of communication between them is evident on the recording.
Says Chris, "Some of the songs were originally intended for Mostly Autumn, others started life on tour, at the back of the bus or in various hotel rooms and dressing rooms. I've always got a guitar or a laptop or a scrap of paper to catch ideas on." Faced with the task of recording the album Chris, says, "I wanted these songs to be performed by the best band I could put together. People whose playing excites me and whose energies and ideas could come together to form something new and inventive."
The Fabric emerges as an innovative and concise take on modern progressive rock music, emotionally charged and skewered with sonic-gadgeteering. "We were always experimenting. Always. Trying to identify the emotional core of a song and pull it into focus. It could be with a delicate vocal, a demented guitar solo, or a backwards glockenspiel smashed to bits in a modulating filter and fed out through some old TV speakers," says Johnson. From such experimentation, the album has a filmic quality; like the soundtrack to a movie that hasn't been made. Elemental noise and distorted sounds emerge from the songs, linking them and shifting the mood of the album at each turn.
A short soundtrack-style intro entitled "In" opens the album blending seamlessly into "Come Alive," a bluesy number sung by Anne-Marie, her voice and vocal stylings immediately recognizable. Anne-Marie's layered harmonies and crisp percussion complete the guitar- and keyboard-based arrangement. Chris Johnson's guitar solos are especially tight, never overpowering.
Chris Johnson shares the lead vocal work in the Parade line-up. In the upbeat Mostly Autmn-styled rocker "Start Again" he takes the lead with Anne-Marie providing backing harmonies. The vocal arrangements have been prepared flawlessly. Parade's sound features especially crisp drum work by Gavin Griffiths, evident across the entire album. Chris also takes the lead in slow-paced "The Dogs," singing the song as a tremendous duet with Anne-Marie. Their voices work so well together. We loved the tempo change two thirds of the way through the track and the powerful instrumental break. The challenging arrangement of "Facing Down" is complemented by another stunning example of Johnson/Helder harmonies.
Backed with acoustic guitar initially before the rest of the instrumentals fill in, "The Diamond" is an especially well-produced track fronted by Anne-Marie's evocative vocals. The production makes her voice glisten atop the instrumental arrangements. Bryan Josh's guitar work is stunning. Chris' backing harmonies fill the landscape in the instrumental crescendo that develops in the last third of the track.
Chris' and Anne-Marie's lush vocal harmonies glide over the gentle progressive-styled arrangements of "High Life." Listen for the middle eastern undertones throughout and Anne-Marie's especially well-delivered vocalise. Shimmering electric guitar in "Feedline" provide a foundation for Chris Johnson's powerfully delivered lead vocal. Although the mid-section is especially adventurous, the chorus--listen for Anne-Marie's harmonies--contributes to the tremendous accessibility of the track. Johnson and Helder do vocal work together again in the bluesy duet "Cut." With heavy vocal processing contributing to the overall sound, the choruses build with guitar intensity and are especially catchy.
"All That I Wanted" is a tender, primarily acoustic guitar- and piano-backed, ballad sung by Chris Johnson with backing harmonies by Breathing Space's Olivia Sparnenn. With Chris' and Anne-Marie's lush harmonies backed with rich instrumental arrangement, the epic "End" concludes the album. We especially enjoyed the Mostly Autmn-style buildup to the powerful crescendo and instrumental break in the track.
The Fabric will be commercially released through traditional channels in January 2010 on Voiceprint. Until then the album is available at the band's website. With a proven lineup that have deep backgrounds spanning Fish, Karnataka, Mostly Autumn and Panic Room, Parade are already drawing significant attention in England. The Fabric is a well-produced album
that builds on the strengths of the individual artists as well as their cohesion.
Additional touring and publicity will bring this exciting new band the additional attention so well deserved.