Widescreen prog, some disturbing recollections and a dose of black humour – there’s lots to take in on the new album from Airbridge.
Release Date: 13th October 2023
Label: Voon Records
Formats: CD / Digital
Airbridge – brainchild and baby of guitarist, songwriter and vocalist Lorenzo Bedini – came about, in and around Norwich in 1980. A musician determined to persevere with his admiration of the likes of Barclay James Harvest, Jethro Tull and Caravan, rather than succumb to peer pressure and attach himself to something “more appropriate for the times,” Lorenzo sought out similar-minded individuals and struck up a partnership with local bassist Sean Godfrey. Airbridge was born – although they probably didn’t realise it at the time.
Strengthened by the addition of other local musos including drummer Dave Beckett and multi-instrumentalist Edward Percival, Airbridge released their debut album, Paradise Moves in 1983. Perhaps the ultimate slow-burner, Paradise Moves earned Airbridge something of a cult following on the 80s prog scene; they played the legendary Marquee and their single Words and Pictures – a track from Paradise Moves – received a bit of airplay on national radio. But all wasn’t well, and the original incarnation of Airbridge fell apart before a follow-up to Paradise Moves could be recorded.
But, despite the pressures of marriage, fatherhood and the ties of a ‘proper job,’ Lorenzo never totally abandoned music – he continued writing and playing, if only for himself – and, some years after the dissolution of the band, a chance meeting with fellow founder-member Sean provided the spark that would reignite the Airbridge fire. Sean had spotted online that copies of Paradise Moves were changing hands at prices of up to £250 – a figure that exceeded the cost of making the album in the first place – and suggested that this might be an indicator of a market for the band – if only they could locate that market…
And then, almost out of the blue, an opportunity arose for Lorenzo and Sean, plus drummer Dave Dowdeswell-Allaway (who had been the sound tech for the original Airbridge lineup) to enter the University of East Anglia Studio (Dave was, by then, a lecturer at the Uni) to record a few songs. The result was the 4-track ‘comeback’ EP, Return.
The revived lineup recommenced gigging – in the UK and in Italy, to where Lorenzo had relocated – and eventually (8 years of eventually, in fact…) Airbridge finally got around to recording and releasing their second album, Memories of Water in August 2021. Sean Godfrey had, by this time, retired, and his place in the lineup was taken by Jason Compton, who brought piano, trumpet, synths and harmonica along to the party, with Lorenzo and Dave sharing the departed Sean’s bass duties. And now, just two years further down the line – mere seconds on the scale of the Airbridge continuum – comes album No.3, Openings. And it’s a smasher.
Anyone with a liking for quality 70s prog in the Genesis mould and for the psychedelic and avant-garde explorations of The Beatles, early Pink Floyd and the Canterbury bands will love Openings. It’s a collection of nine songs from three talented composers unashamed to reference their prog roots; the lyrics are occasionally hilarious, often disturbing and always highly imaginative and the musicianship is consistently stunning. And – durability is built-in; Openings is an album that will provide listening pleasure for a long time to come.
Openings gets off to what is, probably, an uncharacteristic start. Burning Sun is a glorious slice of hard rock, full of choppy guitars backed by crisp drums and a solid bassline. It’s one of the album’s more immediately accessible tracks and it’s perhaps only Lorenzo’s detached-sounding vocal – he sounds like he’s singing from another dimension – that gives a clue of the experimentation to follow. And that experimentation starts with Dave’s Hey There! It’s wistful, it’s nostalgic, it’s hilarious, and it will strike a definite chord with anyone who, like me, mis-spent their youth in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dave lyrics recall stashing fags and matches in a ‘special hiding place,’ making nuisance calls to unsuspecting adults from public phone boxes and spending whatever money was available on “fizzy flying saucers and Black Jacks.” And all that nostalgia is given an authentic edge by the brass band contributions of Alphonse Bongo’s World of Brass.
A story song in three parts, Lorenzo’s sprawling The Unwholesome Peregrinations of Erasmus Gloome is quite magnificent. Part One, Open Road is poppy, yet sinister, with Jason’s melodica adding flashes of brightness. The segue to Part Two, Exiles, moves the setting from somewhere in Transylvania to the deserts of Arabia; Lorenzo’s vocals become more and more English as the eastern flavours in the music increase in their intensity and Dave’s percussion patters and resonates, ushering in the desert winds that sweep us over to the souks of bygone Baghdad. Part Three of the epic, the instrumental Desert Djinn, is a magnificent piece of music that grows in intensity as Dave’s drums increase their presence and Lorenzo’s guitars and Jason’s melodica vie for prominence. You can almost smell the shisha!
Twighlight Worlds started life as a Jason Compton instrumental, but Lorenzo liked the tune so much, he couldn’t resist adding some lyrics. And what lyrics they are! Inspired by Lorenzo’s experiences working in psychiatric care, they explore the social division between physical and mental illnesses and the stigmas attached to the latter. It’s one of the more disturbing songs on the album, and it’s all delivered to a charmingly rich piano accompaniment from Jason.
And, if it’s disturbing that you’re after, then cock an ear to Dave’s terrifying Dead Man’s Porn. Described as “an autobiographical song,” the lyrics recall a period in Dave’s life when he was decidedly unhappy – to the extent that he contemplated suicide. He pulls no punches with his lyrics, which include lines like: “I can’t cope, I’m not responsible – Well, I am, but I don’t like it,” and the free-form delivery, with Dave singing the lyrics to a scattered drumbeat accompaniment is, really, quite scary. Comes complete with a panicked breathy ending…
The epic A Cry From The Deep is, maybe, the focal point of the entire album. Clocking in at over 12 minutes, it’s a prog/psych tour de force; in part, it’s lyrically and structurally reminiscent of Nursery Cryme/ Foxtrot era Genesis whilst awash with the avant-garde experimentation of Revolution 9 or Interstellar Overdrive, and both Lorenzo and Dave excel respectively on guitar and drums. And, if anything, things are just as weird, albeit in a very different way, on the a capella That Big Small Step. It’s another piece of autobiography from Dave, this time referencing a more recent period of his life. Dave is joined by guest vocalist Trudi Brunskill who brings amazing beauty and depth to the multi-tracked voices. This is a song that really can’t be adequately described by words alone; it HAS to be heard.
Lorenzo explains the story of Europa, a song he wrote back in 1983, as follows: “It’s primarily a celebration of the many peoples, cultures and histories that make up continental Europe. It was written at a time when the USA and the USSR were planning to have a chummy little war, to be fought – you understand – in other people’s countries. All these years later, despite the geopolitical shifts that have taken place, I feel that the song retains its relevance, albeit with a different interpretation.” In fact, it’s a rather jolly song, joyful and anthemic, and I’d agree; the sentiments that Lorenzo expressed forty years ago are definitely just as relevant today. Viva Europa.
This stunning album is brought to its close by the magnificent Dreams (Deus ex machina.) It’s a song that featured in the repertoire of the original Airbridge, brought up to date with new input from Dave and Jason. The song was originally inspired by Caravan’s In The Land Of The Grey And Pink, and it’s a wonderful slice of widescreen prog, with Dave’s drums, percussion and bass coming over with particular clarity. Lyrically, it’s as dreamy as the title suggests, Lorenzo make excellent use of his vocoder and everything comes together in a tingling crescendo to close the song and album on a resounding note. Openings is a fantastic album.
And, in a lovely touch, Lorenzo has dedicated Openings to the memory of his late sister, Arabella: “Great musician, great sister, great friend.”
Watch the official video to Dreams (Deus ex Machina – the cinematic closing track to openings – here: