Single Helix is the recording handle of British multi-instrumentalist, Rik Loveridge, and 2023 sees the release of Prog Gnosis, which you can listen to and buy at https://singlehelix.bandcamp.com/album/prog-gnosis Some of you might remember Rik for his involvement in jazz rock outfit The Kentish Spires, who he has sadly had to leave because of the important context for the production of this album. In 2021, Rik received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, a life changing event. The following morning, a thought told him that it was high time he got around to producing the album he had pondered on for so long.
Rik decided to reimagine and finish the Hengist Trilogy which was started on the first two Kentish Spires albums, Hengist being the first King of Kent. The album also includes a song for his wife, Jude, a warning of ecocide, investigating the death of Major Tom, and a homage to Colin Tully of Nuadha. Most of the instruments played here are Rik’s, but he has recruited some special guests, including Nick Fletcher, himself responsible for a highlight of 2023, Quadrivium, and erstwhile bandmate, Chris Egan. Oh, and his one-year-old granddaughter Willow! The album was mixed by Paul Cobbold & Dave Pick, with the latter responsible for mastering.
So, to the music on an enjoyable album. The trilogy itself is some twenty minutes long, split into Defending Hengist Ridge, Deceased Horsa Speaks, and Death of Hengist. Egan introduces the trilogy with his sax. I like the story told, and there are some very pleasing synths. Fletcher shows his class on guitar with some great licks, and the instrumental passage expands with a nice experimental flavour.
The second segment tells the story of Horsa, the brother of Hengist who, according to tradition, was killed in battle with the native Britons before Hengist subjugated the enemy and became the first Jutish king of Kent. This is just short of eight minutes long, and there are some fine grooves to open, a particular warmth to the music, with brass especially ringing in the ears, and some gorgeous orchestration accompanying Loveridge’s words. I think the lyrics, which are sung with particular feeling, of “seize the day, wage a different war” have as much relevance to Rik’s present situation as the history and this is a very thoughtful piece I enjoy, especially the exhortations to the living brother, which the guitar solo expresses very strongly as well.
We end the trilogy with the death of our hero. The piano and sax are quite lovely in the introductory passage, something to treasure in those quiet immersive moments all of us need in life. The mood is no less lush as the song progresses, a very nice piece of music with some great bass grooves, a fine guitar riff, and textured layers of keys with the live applause to close.
In this trilogy, Loveridge has brought us something different, in my opinion. He has avoided that very easy (and often pleasing) trap of going the “full Wakeman” in an overblown symphonic epic full of dragons, beasts, knights, and battles, but instead provided us with something which does tell a story well, but also provides a reflective set of tracks which repeated listening brings rich reward.
On Dark Matter, the opening flute is lush, adding a deep texture to nice bass grooves, the percussion also pleasing, before Fletcher enters the fray (and closes the piece) with a beautiful guitar passage in this seven-minute instrumental which serves as a sort of organised jam, if that makes sense with some interesting mood changes veering from the pastoral to the heavy to the psych, with passionate keyboard grooves in between.
Nature’s Eyes is an environmental paeon, an exhortation to live in the moment by appreciating and caring for the world around us, amply put to some lovely music with a distinctly 60’s feel in parts. Silent Spring follows this, another piece dealing with our beautiful planet. The lyrics are suitably dark dealing with ecocide. However, the musical feel of much of the piece is more upbeat than this, with some very pleasing notes and moods as if Loveridge believes that we can, despite ourselves, avert natural disaster, a sense displaced, though, by the far more dystopian final minute with him raging against the silent spring.
I mentioned above Death of Major Tom. There is perhaps no more iconic character in modern rock music, and there is some bravery taking him on, and I am not convinced by it, I am afraid. It falls in a strange place between whimsey and cover, although the mid-section instrumental passage is very good.
West Coast Journeyman is a shortish instrumental, a lovely duet between Loveridge & Fletcher, playing off each other very nicely and featuring well produced vocal effects above the notes in a piece evoking the spirit of a road trip along the sun-drenched coastal roads.
With A Glance is up next, a song reminiscing about that first glance, the moment when love becomes a tangible thing to hold and to cherish. There are some cracking world jazzy rhythms on this track, a very nice celebration of happy times, and, appropriately, Loveridge follows this with his Song For Jude. “Here We Stand, Take My Hand”, this is a very honest and minimal love song which has a touch of the Anthony Phillips to it, I think.
Colin Tully passed away in 2021. Readers here will best know him as the songwriter who composed the soundtrack for that wonderful exposition of teen love and angst, Gregory’s Girl. He played with John Martyn, his first outfit featured Maggie Reilly, and his final group was the highly regarded quartet, Nuadha. This is a suitable and fitting tribute. Egan plays a mean sax, and the whole song is gently layered with searing emotion.
Queen’s Gambit is the longest standalone track on the album. Smoky jazz and a feel with the keyboards especially of standing at a club observing the rum characters who venture in and out, passing their time with fellow humans for a short while, all of them pawns in a wider game of chess inflicted upon us by our so-called leaders. I think this is a deeply political observation, and it is very good, very intense, especially the extended instrumental passage which closes.
A two-part song, Entropy, follows. The bass melody on the first part is to die for, beautifully creating the mood underneath the reflective vocals, gentle guitars, and keys. Can we build a better world? Well, with music such as this leading the way, yes, I think we can. The second part is a restrained and interesting extended jam with a distinctly dark feel to it.
We close with Teed’s Lullaby. I like this, an experimental track at its heart, but talking to me of our common humanity swimming against the tide, deep breathing reflecting upon our plight, but in the final gentle chords, starting to get there.
Prog Gnosis is an album I have enjoyed listening to, thinking about, and setting words to those thoughts. Loveridge is a musician whose intelligence and craft leaves an impression. This might be an album born of adversity, but I have to say that its author has grasped that, and thrown back at us a work which, although dealing with some serious issues, leaves us with some hope as we move on into a common uncertain future.