A couple of years ago I spent a Sunday afternoon getting very wet taking photos of a band in Witton Le Wear. The bass player in that band was Andy Ditchfield, and it is he who is the main man behind the DeeExpus Project. He’s had his chance at being a rock star with The Real McCabe; when that went west he quit music, then heard some Porcupine Tree and was reinvigorated. He’s been working on this album for some time now, as well as trying to recruit a band that could do it justice in a live setting. The album “Half Way Home” is released on June 1st, and I was amongst a select audience yesterday who attended the CD Launch and Listening party.
Now, I’ve listened and relaxed to my fair share of progressive rock in my time, but it isn’t my usual music of choice and doesn’t feature at all on my ipod. But I’d heard a few of these tracks in their nascent forms on the band’s website and MySpace page, and I liked what I heard. It is clear that Andy is a highly talented guy, also a guy who is passionate about music; passionate about this music in particular. In his home studio, with some help from a few friends – especially Tony Wright on lead vocals – but mainly on his own, he has crafted songs that are interesting in so many ways – lyrically, musically and melodically. These certainly aren’t 3 minute “verse chorus verse bridge chorus” throwaway tunes – there’s nothing throwaway about any of this – the songs certainly repay repeated listening – I’m hearing new things every time I listen to the CD.
At the launch yesterday Andy told the stories behind the songs – and that was interesting, but for me the best part of the day (apart from the food!) was being able to listen to the album at a great listening volume. (All I needed was a comfy chair and my favourite relaxant – Rooibos Tea, in case you wonder, and it would have been ideal).
The album opens with Greed, a synth line starts, soon followed by a mighty riff doubled on guitar and bass. There’s some great keyboards here and a great guitar solo by Phil Sloane. Tony Wright’s vocals are clear over the changes, soaring at times. A good solid intro to the album – confident, needing to be taken seriously.
Pointless Child follows – a little more relaxed tempo to start with in this tale of lost love. Some clever backing vocals help to give the song plenty of interest. There’s a Kershaw-ish melody in the middle of this song – Andy cites Nik Kershaw as one of his influences, and whilst I don’t know a lot of Kershaw’s work, I can feel that influence here. Another great guitar solo, by Andy this time, and another good song finishes.
Now I would guess that there aren’t that many songs written about t-shirts! But the next track, PTtee is one of them. It tells the tale of a Porcupine Tree gig that blew Andy’s mind, inspired him to start creating music again – and the t-shirt that he bought there. I’m not familiar with Porcupine Tree’s work, so can’t compare any influence that they’ve had on this track, but I do know that musically it is another excellent track – a great guitar riff and a glockenspiel line that I can whistle!
Track 4 is “One Eight” a piece written after observing a group of people in a hotel bar. Quite plaintive to me to start with, at times it sounds as if, despite the sentiments in the words, the writer actually might have liked to be a part of this group of 8 friends. But just for a little while. A blistering guitar solo from Phil Sloane moves this song along nicely at the end.
One Day is a short piano and guitar instrumental piece leading into Seven Nights, a song that Andy dedicated to his partner Hil. More good vocal harmonies here, great melodies (both vocal and instrumental) and the excellent, ever present rhythm section.
At the CD party yesterday singer Tony Wright told the moving tale of the album’s title track Half Way Home and a series of tragic events that surrounded him at the time he wrote it. It was a very moving few moments. The song tells the tale of a schoolfriend of Tony’s, Jill. The song starts with a great guitar riff, then another one (where do they get these ideas from?) before the lyrics, wistful and nostalgic for times gone by, start the tale.
We sit together in I.T. class,
Me and Her, in nineteen eighty something.
Bits and Bytes playing second drum,
To our own curriculum.
We laugh and we joke, we live on a Prayer.
So early days, no burden, no care.
Everyone is in awe of her.
Perfect Beauty, I swear.
Behind the smile and Beautiful eyes,
A pain lies dormant, a deep hurt resides.
She didn’t know it, couldn’t have a clue.
What lay in store, and what she might do.
The tragic tale unfolds around us, swathed in haunting strings, broken by a fabulous guitar solo by Tony’s brother, Steve, and a clever use of spoken word about tragedy, loss and stress. As we come to the denouement of the piece, it seems that the end result is inevitable – we know how this will end:
She stands broken on the viaduct, on a cold and lonely night. Holds her wedding band into her palm ‘til she feels the edges bite. Salt water and mascara, track the canvas of her face, A blurred painting in a gallery, she doesn’t seem to place.
The weather vane creaking to her right, suggests, persuades, directs.
The taxis drift behind her; a cortège of funeral guests.
She takes one last look into herself, what she’s become.
The penultimate rush of finality, here, yet only half way home.
As I said earlier, progressive rock isn’t my music of choice, but this is a very very good album. The standard of musicianship is faultless, the lyrics and arrangements are stunning, the whole sound of the album is exactly right – solid bass and drums, excellent guitar sounds and riffs, a wide and varied use of keyboards, and excellent lead and harmony vocals. This deserves to do very well, and I’m proud to say that I was there at the CD launch and know some of the folks involved.
The CD is released on June 1st and will be available from Amazon and itunes. There are plenty of samples and full tracks on the band’s website and myspace page too. I’m really looking forward to seeing this band play these songs in a live show.