Today is Armistice Day. It also marks the launch of “Rain”, a new concept album by UK Midlands band Freedom to Glide. The album was inspired by first-hand accounts of soldiers who fought in the First World War, and in other conflicts throughout the twentieth century. With its atmospheric mix of prog rock, acoustic and electronic music, “Rain” creates a soundscape that will take you right to the centre of the conflict.
Freedom to Glide represents the coming together of two musicians: Pete Riley and Andy Nixon. Full disclosure: Pete’s a good friend of mine. I’ve known him for years, which is why I was lucky enough to get a preview of “Rain” in time to write about it here.
It’s tempting to compare the music on this album to Pink Floyd (Pete and Andy are also part of the live Floyd tribute band Dark Side of the Wall). Indeed, I’m confident Floyd fans are going to love it. Pete told me, “It’s best to sit back with a nice glass of wine and listen to the whole album, that way you get the full drenching of Rain.” Indeed, this is an intense, immersive experience. Stand-outs for me are the powerful title track “Rain pt.1”, the poignant “LU2” and the final acoustic number “Not a Broken Man”.
After listening to the album, I caught up with Pete and subjected him to a mini-interview. Here’s what he had to say …
Can you explain the concept behind “Rain”?
Rain is a WW1 themed concept album focusing on the 1914-18 war. Partly inspired by my grandad’s experiences at the Somme, the thread that runs through the entire album is the effect that war has on the very people who were there. The opening track – “Rain pt.1” – is set firmly in WW1 and sets the scene for the rest of the album, which meanders through the conflicts of the twentieth century as if to emphasize the naivety of the phrase “the war to end all wars”. It tackles the Cold War, the Middle East, WW2 (Andy’s Grandad was a Far East POW from 1942-45) but always returns to and focuses on the particular futility of WW1. The opening four lines of “Rain pt.1” sum up the commonly-held belief that young soldiers, full of patriotism and keen for glory, believed they were off to fight a war that would be “over by Christmas”. The rest of the album describes just how wrong they were.
That’s a big sound you’ve got there! Is it really just the two of you making all that noise?
The arrangements are written with a five piece band in mind, but there are a number of guest appearances by Elation Community Voices (100+ choir), my dad and grandmother, Sam Taylor, Andy’s daughter Ruby, Francesca Genco (female backing vocals) and Stephen Bell (trumpet player on the Last Post).
What are your main musical influences?
Musically: anything from Pink Floyd to Weather Report to Porcupine Tree, ELO and the classic bands we grew up with from that era. Lyrically: hundreds of first hand accounts, literature and war poetry from the likes of Wilfred Owen, Edmund Blunden, Laurence Binyon and Siegfried Sassoon.
How do you go about writing the songs? Do you divide up responsibilities, or is it more fluid than that?
There are no rules. If an idea sounds good then we work on it and see where it takes us. That can be anything from a keyboard part, a guitar riff, a bass line, a melody or a lyrical idea. We write together and individually, but we both have to be happy about the finished piece before we consider it as an album track. We live 40 miles apart but we both have our own studios, so ideas go back and forth via the internet until we have a finished piece.
What instruments/equipment/software do you use?
Electric, acoustic and bass guitars, keyboards and synths, soft synths, sound effects, samples, Cubase and Sonar X2. We’ve even used our iPhones to record sound effects such as rain storms and thunder!
What’s next for Freedom to Glide? Live gigs? One of those notoriously difficult second albums?
Right now it’s initial promo for “Rain”, including press and radio interviews. We’re also putting the live band together ready to take it on the road in 2014. Then we’ll complete the second album, which we’ve already begun and which will form the second part of a three-album trilogy – “Rain” being part one of course. And, as we like to put it, “The Wait” (our 6-track mini album) is our “Hobbit”!
“Rain” is available from today as either a CD (including a 20-page booklet of artwork and lyrics) or a digital download.