September 7, 2023

One function of a band name is to give an indicator of the band’s musical style. Hence, it’s easier to imagine Iron Maiden and The Carpenters that way round; if they swapped names, something would be wrong with the universe. The same with, to pick a couple of bands at random, Weather Report and Cannibal Corpse. From this point of view, the bizarre and ambiguous Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, works perfectly – because it doesn’t tell you a thing about the band’s musical style, which is just as well, as it’s almost impossible to pigeonhole.

Mark Gatland (left) and Malcolm Galloway

Hats Off is the brainchild of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Galloway, along with his equally multi-instrumental musical collaborator Mark Gatland. Flautist Kathryn Thomas also adds a delicious, ambient texture to the album. The closest genre available for comparison is prog, but the band drifts in and out of folk, rock, experimental, space rock and electronica at will. Galloway’s soft vocals recall Al Stewart of Year Of The Cat fame, or Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys, which is slightly at odds with the often angry, even desperate lyrical content.

The Light Of Ancient Mistakes, their self-released 7th album, is a 67-minute epic that divides its time between angry rants and sci-fi fan fiction. The first theme sets out its stall right from the start with Sold The Peace, a Disgusted-from-Purley criticism about greedy commercialism destroying the gains democracy attained during the cold war. It powers straight in on a full-band groove that hinges on a fluid bass riff, adding a plethora of various layered keyboard and piano sounds, then drops completely towards the conclusion, restarting on a trancy, electronic beat before a tight ending. Following this, an ambient intro of multi-layered panning keyboard sounds opens the title track, confessedly based on Iain M Banks’ sci-fi novel Look To Windward. It has a definite flavour of latter-day Marillion, (Sounds That Can’t Be Made is the work that comes to mind), and some Pink Floyd-inspired guitar work.

From here though, it becomes almost a work of fan fiction, basing four tracks squarely on Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time sci-fi fantasy series, the first of which is a rapid-fire electronic instrumental named Avrana Kern Is Made Of Ants. It includes some beautiful piano and synth harmonies and another tight ending – the further instrumentals The Requisitioner And The Wonder and Gothi and Gethli draw their inspiration from the same series.

The angry rant theme is further represented by the dramatically sad Sixteen Hugless Years, referencing the tragic childhood experiences of thriller writer John le Carré, and The Glamour Boys, based on a book which bemoans the treatment of a group of homosexual or bisexual MPs in the 1930s. Also included is a sub-three-minute appeal directly from Galloway named imtiredandeverythinghurts (spelled exactly like that); a heavy rocker, almost punk, with a thumping fuzzy bass. The self-explanatory title and lyrics may resonate with sufferers of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, or indeed anyone with an invisible disability.

Artwork for Burn The World

The huge, gaudy centrepiece of this particular smorgasbord is the stunning, nine-minute prog extravaganza Walking To Aldebaran, again based on the work of Adrian Tchaikovsky. It recounts a horror sci-fi narrative in two voices, not quite in harmony, more like angry screaming in the background of already barely-controlled singing.  Highly complex, it includes some discordant jazz passages interspersed amongst sections of prog-metal, which paint a picture of a damned and doomed, clearly insane astronaut. It plays out with tasteful, slow flute provided by the excellent Kathryn Thomas, over a slow atmospheric rock backing – a genuinely brilliant piece.

Most of the remainder comprises ambient instrumentals that all merge into each other in a tapestry of ambience, before the final vocal piece, another eco-disaster lament named Burn The World. It was released as a single in aid of Prog The Forest, an environmental fundraising festival that donates to the World Land Trust, and is sung from the perspective of someone in the future looking back on what we are doing to the planet after it has become too late to change.

The album is punctuated at intervals by three short instrumental interludes titled The Anxiety Machine parts 1, 2 and 3, which as reminiscent of the industrial sound effects in between the tracks on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. No doubt about it though, the whole package is a tour de force, decorated with some equally stunning artwork.

The Light Of Ancient Mistakes by Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate is released on 9 September 2023