December 14, 2019

The six and half minute title track … evokes the laid-back effortless cool of prime Steely Dan

If the name The Gardening Club is unfamiliar to you, you surely won’t be alone. But banish any thoughts of Alan Titchmarsh or Percy Thrower, because this particular Gardening Club is a prog project courtesy of UK-born Toronto resident Martin Springett. Back in 1983, having swapped the UK for the delights of Canada, Martin recorded and released the first, self-titled Gardening Club album – it sank without trace in the aftermath of the musical landscape being ravaged by punk, post-punk and New Romantic, a time when there was a very small niche for a very English-sounding, whimsically charming prog album. However, it became something of a cult item over the years, which is what it remained until 2018 when, implausibly, The Gardening Club opened its potting shed doors to the world once again.

Just at a precise time when the world very much wasn’t waiting for a new Gardening Club album, it got one anyway, in the form of The Riddle, on which Martin was joined by guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Norm MacPherson. Those who had kept the reputation of the 1983 album alive in online prog circles were understandably delighted, as were the critics, who were by and large very kind to the release. More focused than the first album, it packaged its music into short, beautifully formed tracks reminiscent of the meticulous art-pop perfection of early 10cc, and was an excellent listen.

Now, only a year later instead of 35 this time (thankfully so, as we would all be dead by then), the third Club release has arrived in the shape of the oddly named Boy On A Bike. In fact, that name derives from the loose concept of the album celebrates the various wonders the world has to offer, as if seen on a metaphorical cycling tour. It’s definitely cut from the same cloth as its predecessor, only more daringly and adventurously, as the Springett / MacPherson axis spread their wings a little this time around to create what could be looked at as a sort of amalgamation of the first two records. First up, and probably the album highlight, is a collection of four tracks (Riding The Thermal, Ravensgate, Elemental and Circling) which together form the highly impressive 10-minute Elemental Suite. In fact, one wonders why they are indexed as four separate tracks on the CD, as they create a whole which is without doubt more than the sum of its parts, and really demand to be listened to en bloc, as it were.

Other highlights abound, however, such as the jazzy propulsiveness of Cycling Tour and Stitching, and the six and half minute title track which evokes the laid-back effortless cool of prime Steely Dan. In truth, there isn’t really a duff track in evidence anywhere here, with some short pieces coming over as charming vignettes joining the tracks together and gluing it all into easily the most cohesive whole that The Gardening Club has yet put its name to.

Music isn’t all the multi-talented Springett has in his creative armoury though, as he has also enjoyed a parallel career as an illustrator of some repute with his distinctive work gracing album covers and books through the years. Remember Ian Hunter’s striking debut solo album cover from 1975, with the abstract head illustration? That’s him. The first Coney Hatch album? Him too. As a result of this, Gardening Club albums are always as much of a visual experience as a musical one, and this is the case as usual here. The trifold digipak CD is festooned with some delightful images illustrating the metaphorical ride, and there is also a very nice accompanying book of illustrations and lyrics which can be downloaded from the Gardening Club website (gardeningclubmusicandart.ca).

Every Gardening Club album up to now has improved on its predecessor, which means the next instalment could be something to savour. Can’t wait!

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