Episode five in the increasingly inaccurately-named Trilogy from Alan Simon.
Release Date: 5th November 2021
Label: Cherry Red Records
Formats: CD / Digital
And so the story continues… Excalibur V – Move, Cry, Act, Clash represents the fifth installment of Breton composer/musician/writer/film-maker Alan Simon’s Excalibur trilogy – a series description that is becoming increasingly inaccurate…!
The story began back in 1998 when the first version of Simon’s “Celtic Rock Opera” made its debut stage appearance. The first Excalibur album was released in 1999 and, discounting the numerous offshoot projects, such as live recordings and Fairport Convention’s Fame And Glory compilation, there have been three further installments of the concept, culminating (until now) in Excalibur IV – The Dark Age Of The Dragon – released in 2017. The albums recount the legend of King Arthur, with numerous tributaries and diversions adequately accommodated, and have achieved particular success in Alan Simon’s home French market.
Over the years, the Excalibur project has featured a plethora (or even a Galaxy!) of luminaries and genuine stars, including the likes of Jon Anderson, Alan Parsons, Roger Hodgson, Jacqui McShee, Johnny Logan, Justin Hayward, Fairport Convention and others too numerous to mention. At The Barrier readers will particularly recall that rainy night in August 2010 when Alan and his all-star entourage graced the Cropredy Festival stage for a performance of highlights from the trilogy. In keeping with tradition (and, after a life of 23 years and counting, Excalibur surely qualifies for “tradition” status…) Excalibur V also features a stellar cast; this time the roll-call features John Wetton, Steve Hackett, John Helliwell, Jesse Siebenburg, Bernie Shaw, Martin Barre, Michael Sadler, Roberto Tiranti, Jerry Goodman, Shira Golan, Miriam Toukan and even elusive Child of God Jeremy Spencer.
Alan Simon himself has a mightily impressive record of achievements. Songwriter, director and author all feature in his list of skills and occupations; Excalibur has earned him awards, including gold and platinum records and even a Grammy and his films have starred the likes of Omar Sharif and Jean Reno.
Of Excalibur and, specifically, Excalibur V, Alan Simon has this to say: “ ‘Excalibur’ brought me a lot of happiness because by creating this musical round table, I had the great chance to collaborate with incredible rock and folk legends, pillars of mythical groups: Yes, Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, King Crimson, The Moody Blues, Alan Parsons, Asia, Barclay James Harvest, Genesis, Fairport Convention, Runrig, Jethro Tull, Saga, Uriah Heep… Since its creation 20 years ago, ‘Excalibur’ has represented 5 studio and 3 live albums including 120 original tracks. Offering a new album is not trivial. You have to give everything. So I made this opus V by investing myself 100% with an ‘old-fashioned’ production. No home studio but the joy of living in a large studio (Drums With Code Studios in Italy) with great soloists and a fantastic symphony. Then I contacted magical interpreters that I like. What a joy to hear the guitars of the legendary pillars of Genesis and Jethro Tull: Steve Hackett and Martin Barre, or the voices of Supertramp, Saga and Uriah Heep: Jesse Siebenburg, Michael Sadler and Bernie Shaw, not forgetting this incredible, talented singer, Roberto Tirani. We spent 6 months in a mixing studio, with an average of 100 tracks per title. …These 12 new songs underline the urgency to get moving for our planet. More than ever our destiny is in our hands. And everything is good to take. The concept of ‘Excalibur’ and its musical knights must contribute to this new start. Artists can (and must) get involved more than ever.”
Well – I’m sure you’ll agree – there’s quite a lot to take in there, but the general gist is that (1) Alan is proud to be able to attract the calibre of guest musician that always seems to relish a part in Excalibur; (2) That he’s justifiably proud of this latest addition to the project and; (3) That even a concept so deeply steeped in Celtic mythology as Excalibur is a valid opportunity to urge anyone involved in music to voice their concerns regarding the environmental knife-edge we all currently occupy. And they’re all fair points.
Anyone familiar with the world of Excalibur will know what to expect from this latest offering. The music is grand and widescreen, the instrumentation tight, expertly performed and well produced, the arrangements are BIG, and the soloing is awesome – particularly Martin Barre’s guitar and John Helliwell’s sax. Maybe the vocals can tend towards the “overblown” end of the spectrum – in some cases at least – but that’s a minor criticism – there are some excellent tunes on Excalibur V.
The “old-fashioned production” that Alan has employed for Excalibur V has resulted in an album that has an unashamedly 1970s feel. Martin Barre contributes lots of typically excellent choppy guitar, notably to opening track Move, Cry, Act, Clash, and to When Your Feelings Grow, both of which have, as a result, an overwhelming Jethro Tull feel. The crashing, riffy The Prisoner evokes a version of Deep Purple from around their halcyon In Rock period, the tight, slower tempo Messaline nods in the direction of Yes or Genesis, particularly when the organ and strings have their say, and the Celtic power ballad I Said Shout gives us a taste of what Meat Loaf would maybe have sounded like if he’d been born in Rennes, rather than Dallas.
Elsewhere, a clear Pink Floyd influence is detectable in the acoustic-flavoured Hey, a song that features some sublime sax from John Helliwell and it’s almost possible to imagine U2 covering the Celtic anthem A Brand New Day – for me, the best track on the album, with lyrics that alternate between English French and Breton(??).
Excalibur V is an album that seems to get better as it goes on. Indeed, my favourite sequence of tracks on the album is the closing set of Wake Up (Before the Last War), the aforementioned Hey and A Brand New Day and the John Wetton showpiece The Vision, which closes the album. Wake Up (Before the Last War) is one of several tracks on the album that makes apocalyptic references, but this time, instead of the seventies-flavoured bombast that otherwise dominates, the message is dressed in a lazy, jazzy costume – and it’s wonderful. John Wetton’s guitar and vocal on The Vision are divine, and the song is given a gloss finish with a wonderful string arrangement.
I know from experience that Excalibur isn’t up everyone’s street, but I also know that there are enough devotees and potential converts around to keep the wheels of the Excalibur bus rolling for a few more years yet. Excalibur V – Move, Cry, Act, Clash is the latest stop on the Alan Simon journey and, if you like your seventies rock with a sharp dramatic edge, this will be an album for you.
Watch the promotional video for Excalibur V – Move, Cry, Act, Clash, featuring a selection of clips from the album, here: