The Far Meadow are a 5 piece symphonic prog rock band from London who’ve now been playing for five years. They’re a band at the mellower end of the prog spectrum. There’re no lengthy ‘for the sake of it’ guitar/keyboard soloing, or raucous instrumental histrionics, just plenty of virtuoso playing, some epic songs, plus a singer whose voice has been compared to Grace Slick and who was once described as sounding like Stevie Nicks’ feisty protégé! The band grew out of the remnants of Blind Panic, which featured Paul Bringloe (drums) and Eliot Minn (keyboards), Jon Barry (Guitar), who later played with Big Big Train, Paul Mallatratt (bass) plus Jon Nok on vocals. Under this name the band didn’t release any music and, soon after, the name changed to The Far Meadow. They released their first album, Where Joys Abound, in 2012 whereupon, not too long afterwards, Jon Nok, Jon Barry and Paul Mallatratt all left the band, to be replaced by Keith Buckman (bass), Dennis Warren (gtr) and vocalist Marguerita Alexandrou.
Whilst all the other members of the Far Meadow had had experience playing in bands previously, and it’s clear when you listen to them play each member of the band really knows his instrument, for Marguerita, fronting a band was a wholly new experience. ‘I didn’t actually start singing until I was 32, and I’d never sung in a band before. I made my stage debut with Far Meadow at the Resonance festival in 2016, and I was really very nervous, but the whole band helped me get through it’
The band released their second album, Given the Impossible in 2016, which was a nod to the prog of the ’70s but in no way a wholly derived pastiche. The band put their own stamp on the music and came up with some great sounds. Tracks like Seamless Shirt and Himalayan Flashmob contain some epic playing, particularly from Warren and Minn. These two tracks will take up twenty five minutes of your life but they’re worth every minute you spend listening. The album also features some very intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics, reflecting the world around us, rather than taking us on Jon Anderson type flights of fancy in the netherworld. The track Gentle Warrior celebrates the women who worked at places like Bletchley Park helping to crack German codes in WW2, with lines like ‘she doesn’t realisehow many lives she helped to save last night.’ They also nod towards the mania for league tables and efficiency… ‘performance indicators measure everything we do; shareholders expect to see results.’ Any names come to mind here ?
In April 2019 the band’s new album, Foreign Land, was released. This is another very strong piece of work and, if anything, raises the bar on their last album. Quite simply it’s a superb album. There are only five songs on the album but all of them are very commendable pieces of music, and it’s an album which’ll appeal to fans who like their music seeped in prog, well played and performed with style. The album opener, Travelogue, demonstrates some quite stunning musicianship. It’s classic modern prog but with influences from prog’s heyday included in the mix. The song is the longest they’ve recorded and it’s almost five songs in one, moving through several stages, from the exciting opening keyboard notes, through several changes in mood, key and tempo before reverting back to the opening notes again to conclude, almost nineteen minutes later. In this writer’s opinion, it’s is quite likely the best song in the band’s entire repertoire. Title track Foreign Land and The Fugitive both pay a little homage in places to the early 1970s ‘Canterbury Scene’ with their tinges of jazz-rock, and both are almost crying out for Richard Sinclair to sing them. So it was, in a Bromley pub, and later on the phone, Paul Bringloe and Marguerita Alexandrou expounded their views about the band, its music and other issues.
Marguerita Alexandrou said of the latest album’s release ‘This is a really exciting time for the band. It took quite a while to record and release the new album but we’re all really happy we finally have. It’s received some really good feedback from everyone so far‘. Probably a little early, but have The Far Meadow begun thinking about their next album release yet ? If so, in what direction will it be moving ? ‘Yes, we have,’ Paul said. ‘Eliot has already appropriated a lyric I wrote, as well as mangled something Marguerita wrote. Keith has teased one out and so we’ll be going into rehearsals as soon as everyone’s friction burns have calmed down a bit after we play Summer’s End. As for which direction, who knows? It’ll sound like The Far Meadow for sure, though whether or not we’ll be writing within a concept remains to be seen.’
Foreign Land and Sulis Rise are both new songs which we feel more accurately represents the band now, this incarnation of it, because we all contributed to the songs and they’ve kind of grown with us – Paul Bringloe
How does The Far Meadow approach the writing of their music? Does one or two persons dominate proceedings or are they all mostly collaborative efforts? ‘The new ones are quite collaborative,” Marguerita explained. “The situation could be I have some lyrics and I’ll take them to the band. But Paul writes lyrics as well. He wrote Sulis Rise, on the last album, and I wrote the lyrics for Foreign Land, but it really depends. The lyric writers are Paul, Keith and me so, when we take them to the band, sometimes they might have a tune in mind and we work around this. But tunes can come at us from any angle. A tune we like the sound of might come out of a jam session and we write the lyrics to fit around this. Anyone can kick it off but in the music department, Elliott tends to be quite a font for it. But, largely, we just tend to see what comes out of it when we play together and pool our ideas. The previous album had largely been written when I joined, whereas on this album, we’ve gelled more as a band, and Sulis Rise and Foreign Land feels like us as a band.”
Paul had said Foreign Land was not the easiest album to make, though the band are happy with the result. What problems did the band have putting it all together? He explained ‘We’d been hoping to have everything ready by the time it came to mix the recording, but we didn’t have everything recorded. We were still doing recordings during the mix. The original idea behind the album was not to have an album at all, but to have an EP, featuring three of the songs which’d been in the set for a considerable while, release these songs and then go on to write another album. But the record company didn’t want to know about this so we ended up writing two further tunes’. Marguerita went on; “ We realised that there was some material we really wanted to include, for example, Travelogue, which is one of the epic tracks we play ‘live’ so we decided we might as well extend it, include those songs and turn it into an album. For the album, Foreign Land and Sulis Rise are both new songs which we feel more accurately represents the band now, this incarnation of it, because we all contributed to the songs and they’ve kind of grown with us. Travelogue is a really special one because, when I first joined the band, five years ago, it was one of the songs I started learning right from the beginning, and I always really enjoy playing it ‘live.’ Same with ‘Mud.’ ‘Fugitive’ is a song from before my time but we really liked it so we wanted to include it.’
Paul continued: ‘The happiness was that the theme of the two new songs fitted really well with the theme of the old songs, so we ended up with a suite of songs about whichever sort of alienation you liked, really, from the pretty literal alienation of a fugitive, through to the more metaphysical versions of this that you get in unrequited love, as on Travelogue, or the way you can be alienated even in a relationship, which is the theme behind Foreign Land. The track Mud is about Political alienation. So, for some reason, it all sat together really well in a Foreign Land kind of concept.’ I don’t know if subconsciously we were driving towards this but it fitted together nicely and it’s come out well. Under some kind of normal circumstances, we’d have planned things better than this, but maybe we were lucky. Maybe we got the result the songs deserved rather than the result a dithering band deserves.’
Given some members of the band have been around for a little while, and the way some songs on the new album came across, were any of the band influenced by the early 1970s Canterbury Scene? ‘We all fit into the Canterbury Scene’, Paul said. ‘Keith, for example, was into modern jazz for ages. Before he joined the band, it was the only thing he listened to. With Canterbury progressive rock being based more overtly in the modern jazz idiom, rather than the more classical one, you’re going to have this coming more from Keith. Elliott is more classically based, he’s more of a Keith Emerson fan, and he listens to Dave Stewart a lot. Dennis is Dennis so I don’t know what he’s thinking at any given time’, he laughed. ‘But for myself, I just love the stuff by Canterbury bands like National Health and Gilgamesh and Egg. National Health really break things up and they’re not afraid of a few funny time signatures. We love all this so it wouldn’t surprise me if some of this leaked into our music because we have a great fondness for that part of the scene. In a band like UK, for example, there was Allan Holdsworth, who’s a Canterbury jazzer, there’s also Bill Bruford who’s also a Canterbury jazzer even though he’s not from there, and Eddie Jobson, who’s more classical, plus also John Wetton. We like that band so, there you go, UK is where classical meets Canterbury. So, if any of this has rubbed off on us, it wouldn’t be a massive surprise.”
As a band operating in the prog genre, who would they say has helped take prog forward in the last few years? Who do they think is out there shining the light? ‘Hmm, I’m not really sure’, Paul began. ‘I suppose all the smaller acts are trying to do this, to try and take the genre forward. For my money, ever since we had the likes of The Cardiacs doing what they did, with a sort-of melding of prog and punk, it gave everyone a few new possibilities, and I don’t know how many bands there are sounding like this but they certainly did a lot for me. I was initially bypassed by them and I’d not really listened to them till about three or four years ago but, when I caught up with them, I thought this was amazing, and then I heard everything at once. But, apart from that’, he thought for a moment, ‘I suppose in any band you can find echoes from the past and new stuff as well, but it’s difficult to say, really. But John Young’s band, Lifesigns, are doing some interesting stuff, as well as Steven Wilson, though maybe not with his most recent album, but up to recently was doing some very interesting things. He also takes a massive interest in a lot of the older stuff and done some interesting remixes of classic albums. You can’t say he’s out of touch with any of it. I’ve seen him with Marco Minneman and with Chad Wackerman on drums, and that was quite an education seeingthese two play with Wilson. People like Steven Wilson are pushing the genre forward, and you never know what he’s going to do next.”
Marguerita was then asked which female vocalists she thought had something to offer and who she really admired for what they did? ‘I grew up listening to singers such as Alanis Morrissette, Tracy Chapman and Sheryl Crow, though the type of music I’m doing now is very different, and I was part of the Brit-pop era, even though I wasn’t in England at the time. I particularly admire Kate Bush and Sonja Kristina, but I also like Renaissance’s Annie Haslam and Christina Booth, from Magenta. I also saw Olivia Sparnenn from Mostly Autumn at HRH Prog and I really liked her performance, I thought she was a really good performer as she had real onstage presence. Heather Findlay did a solo set and she’s also very good. Prog’s now become more accessible for female singers, and it’s fed through into the audience, as there are a lot more females in the audiences now’. Would she ever think of going solo if for whatever reason the Far Meadow folded? ‘Well, it’s actually going really well with the Far Meadow at the moment, so I’m not thinking too much just yet about knocking Taylor Swift from her throne’, she laughed.
Finally, how important is social media to a band like Far Meadow? Paul; ‘Very important. We’ve built what we have as a fanbase through Facebook really, and where people have seen us ‘live, the word gets around as whether we were any good or not. Social media seems to be a good place to market the band. We generally direct people to Bandcamp for purchases unless we have merchandising at gigs.”
The Far Meadow performed on the Sapphire Stage at the Cambridge Rock Festival, Friday 26th July, to favourable reviews. They also performed at Summers End on October 5th and will be appearing at HRH Prog later in the year, which is the first time the band will have played both events in the same year. They’re also in the process of lining up a few more gigs during the rest of the year, which will include a London gig with The Gift in December and an appearance at Resonate 2020, as well as working on new material for the next album. Catch this band if they play near you, you will not be disappointed.