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Grand Tour: Heavy on the Beach

When my Facebook friend Joe Cairney, lead singer of the band Comedy of Errors, mentioned that he was going to be involved with another project that was going to release an album in 2015, I knew I wanted to hear and review it. The band he was speaking of is Grand Tour. They are a progressive rock project from Scotland that includes Hew Montgomery, formerly the keyboard player with Glasgow's Abel Ganz. Hew also who adds bass guitar to this new project. The rest of the band includes current Comedy of Errors members Joe Cairney on vocals and Bruce Levick on drums. Former Comedy of Errors guitarist Mark Spalding also participates on this debut album. Their first album is titled Heavy on the Beach and it will be released on February 2nd, 2015.

The Grand Tour project was started back in 2005, and is based on a concept "born from a long held fascination with the cold war years and the nuclear stand-off between the super powers – the film On the Beach was a huge influence to the music as well, and many of the musical ideas flowed from the visual imagery of the movie".

The album opens with plenty of wonderful musical fanfare including what sounds like a pipe organ and grand symphonic level synthesizers setting the stage rather nicely for some excellent deep bass and powerful lead electric guitar. You tell from the opening that this will be a special album. The Joe Cairney's familiar voice opens the story, "Here I am sitting all alone. Down on the beach. No one to reach out a friendly hand. Just the empty sand. I can't believe this is how it was planned". A stark and powerful image full sounds that compliment. Synthesizers, deep bass and supporting vocal echoes to open the album with "It's Come to This".

Powerful and deep lead electric guitar opens "The Grand Tour Part 1". This over eight minute powerhouse epic delves deep into the emotions of a nuclear weapons build-up during the Post – World War II era. The fear was constant during this period especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although the fear became part of everyday life over time, you never knew when someone would push the button by mistake or on purpose. A new zenith of fear ensued after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as a mad scramble for the nuclear warheads of the former Soviet Union began. To this day we do not know if all of those weapons were secured. The dark synthesizer music that surrounds Joe Cairney's vocals support that Cold War hysteria with dramatic effect.

"Time Runs Out" is full of more keyboard enjoyment for all fans of the instrument. Those deep sounds from Moog/Hammond and Mellotronic keyboards are utterly magical in creating a deep brooding mood to support the fear and anxiety most of us felt during the Post War Era. Joe's vocals drive home the story – line as intricate keys pulse the countdown. "Is it one step closer to Heaven or a slippery slide to hell? When the rockets fly in a clear blue sky. And the time runs out as well. As the wind blows deadly poison on eyes turned to the light. Watch the sun burn out in a mushroom cloud. Till the dust shuts down their sight".

Cairney captures the emotions well with "So here we are on the water's edge…Should I turn and run for shelter. Should I die right where I stand. Should I hold your hand and look into your eyes…hold the moment while we can?", as the keyboards and guitars rev on. Yes dramatic and powerful lyrics supported by music that matches the mood perfectly.

"The Horn Of Plenty" opens with more Alan Parson's level keyboard depth and power, as launching lead electric guitars and supporting bass fill the air. Cairney recalls the perfect harmony before the wars and the promise of the Post War Dream so well lamented in Pink Floyd's Final Cut. The Post World War II period was supposed to be a time of plenty for all. The Nazis had been defeated and many had sacrificed to create a more harmonious world. However, just the opposite effect was created with more anxiety and fear than even the second and first world wars could have staved off. The urgency is reflected well in the music and of course lyrics laid out well in this song.

"Little Boy and the Fat Man". Good title. After all…how can you possibly name or give human characteristics to two nuclear weapons? The inhumane nature of the weapons and their ability to destroy is dramatically represented with the powerful drumming, slicing guitar and keyboards in this awesome instrumental. The piano in this and some of the past tracks brings back memories of the sounds of the Who's Quadrophenia.

"On the Radio". Yes, listening for anyone who has survived the nuclear blasts. Cairney sings, "Like the still small voice in the silence of the night. Filling me with hope that there is someone else still free". More great lyrics and vocals set to perfect surrounding keyboards and guitar. One of the album's epic long tracks at over 11 and a half minutes provides plenty of excellent keyboards, deep bass, electric guitar and punctuated drumming.

The title track "Heavy on the Beach", has some of the best guitar and keyboard work on the album. The entire album is a course on great instrumentation using a keyboard, but Hew Montgomery truly turns it up another notch as he brings back so many memories of keyboard orchestration from some of your favorite '70s era keyboard players, while at the same time providing enough signature moments to make this another of my favorite tracks on the album. At over 11 minutes it is another excellent epic track.

At over 14 minutes, "The Grand Tour – Part II", is the closing epic on the album. I will not spoil the ending either. The moral questions and comments that fill the air from Cairney's vocals are enough to make anyone from any generation think carefully before acting. Suffice it to say that after all the great music performed up until now this may be the best track on the album. Just fantastic!

Wow, my first review of this New Year – 2015, and it starts with a rocket of an album. Get this album people! Especially those old enough to have lived through these times and can reflect on what has passed. I am trying to obtain the film On the Beach, to give it a watch. The dramatic nature and musical delivery on this album peaked my interest. That is what great music is supposed to do.

I think there may be a Comedy of Errors album later this year, but until then, this is a great alternative. Definitely it will make my end of the year top albums list.

Track Listing:

1. It's Come To This
2. The Grand Tour Part 1
3. Time Runs Out
3. The Horn Of Plenty
4. Little Boy and the Fat Man
5. On the Radio
6. Heavy on the Beach
7. The Grand Tour – Part II

Added: October 9th 2015
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
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Language: english

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Grand Tour: Heavy on the Beach
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2015-10-09 17:46:18
My Score:

I'm ashamed to say that while I'm aware of both Comedy Of Errors and Abel Ganz, I've never actually heard either. Hence the previous involvement in those bands of keyboard/bassist Hew Montgomery, vocalist Joe Cairney and guitarist Mark Spalding (the band completed by the excellent drummer Bruce Levick) doesn't really give me too much of an indication of what I could expect from the Grand Tour debut Heavy On The Beach.

What is obvious from the start though is that the previous experiences of those involved has allowed Grand Tour to kick into gear in confident fashion, an assuredness that many fledgling acts struggle to get near evident throughout. Mining the atmospheric, synth led side of Neo-Prog with some obvious Floydianisms thrown in for good measure, Heavy On The Beach is a grower which slowly seeps into the memory and makes itself comfortable through some unsettling lyrical themes. The music however is far more obviously reassuring, as sliding, scintillating guitar lines rush forth and ebb into the distance, while the synths continually unlock moods, colours and ideas. Cairney's vocals (surprisingly for someone from my native country, Scotland (and his Scottish lilt comes through strongly on the album's title track)) remind in places of Yogi Lang, his rounded tones soothing and cajoling a strong hint of RPWL into proceedings, although in a slightly less laid back fashion. However it is the confident (although never overly so) manner in which the likes of "The Grand Tour (Part 2)", "Time Runs Out" and "On The Radio" hit their intended mark, which really allows Grand Tour to make a lasting impact, even though their sound could hardly be described as "individual".

How I allowed this quite excellent album to slip so far down my reviews pile for so long (and apologies all round that it did so) I'm not quite sure, however it has made its impressive contents all the more exciting. If you're looking for a set of songs imbued with the easy, yet memorable style that David Gilmour has thrived with for many a decade and which challenges through intelligent lyrics inspired by growing up as a Cold War child and the constant psychological threat that often involved, then Heavy On The Beach will be an album you'll spend many a contended hour with.

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