In my view, The Whispering Of The World is not only the best album released by the band so far, but quite possibly the best album released in 2020.
The pandemic may have sent many artists into hibernation but that’s not the case with multi-instrumentalist Peter Jones who under the guise of his solo project Tiger Moth Tales has released three albums (on the White Knight Records label) in the 2020 calendar year. He’s a prolific guy, also being a longstanding member of Red Bazar (as vocalist) and more recently Camel (on keyboards, sax and vocals). He’s a busy man then! Amazingly, he’s also blind, which makes his musical multi-tasking all the more remarkable.
First up is the live CD and DVD set A Visit To Zoetermeer which was recorded last year at the legendary Borderij venue in Zoetermeer, Holland. The line-up is basically Red Bazar – as well as Peter Jones, there’s guitarist Andy Wilson, bassist Mick Wilson and drummer Paul Comerie. The two bands often play gigs together with the same musicians playing two different sets under two different names! Since Red Bazar also released a live album entitled Live at the Boerderij 2019, there’s a good chance that the two live albums came from the same concert.
The concert opens with Jones saying ‘Hello You Fellows’ which could appear to be a strange and gender insensitive greeting to the audience but is actually the start of the first song in the concert, Toad Of Toad Hall. It’s a quirky synth-driven track which also introduces us to the bizarre subject matters that Jones sometimes selects for his songs. Following that, the mood changes with a run of three excellent ballads, of which the third, Hygge, is a fabulous song characterised by wonderfully delicate instrumentation, a memorable melody in the chorus, and a lengthy guitar solo to close this eight and a half-minute mini-epic. These ballads hint at one of Tiger Moth Tales’ primary influences which is Genesis. The strong melodies and extensive use of piano reminded me of the more serene material from the A Trick Of The Tail to Duke era, while the band’s more upbeat numbers often have the same storytelling style that both Gabriel and Collins adopted in their less serious moments.
Three ballads on the trot could be dangerous in a live environment but Jones clearly has the audience captivated. He then ups the pace and also ups the overtly prog content with a series of longer tracks starting with The Boy Who Cried Wolf which is a hilarious take on the well-known tale (screaming boys and all!) and followed by slightly funky The Ballad Of Longshanks John. Turning the notch up further, Tigers In The Butter and The Merry Vicar both rock along infectiously before the band close the set with the wistful A Visit To Chigwick which is a tribute to the trilogy of 1960s kids TV programmes that consisted of Chigley, Camberwick Green and Trumpton. Despite the trivial sounding theme, the lyrics have a vein of nostalgia: ‘Is there a way we can go back in time to the quiet little town in my mind?’ sings Jones. It’s a fitting end to a night of great entertainment with Jones being well supported by the band – on the DVD you can see the varied contribution of Comerie on drums and percussion while Wilson’s beautiful guitar playing is highlighted too, even if his solos are anything but flashy. There’s a similarity in Wilson’s solos to the effective way John Lees simply plays a restatement and/or variation on the main melody in Barclay James Harvest’s Live Tapes.
So, from a live album we move to a studio album which has a title that sounds like it should be a live album! Jones himself admits that Still Alive was unplanned and came out as a personal response to the pandemic and the lockdown. I’m not sure whether I’d call it an album, a mini-album or a long EP because it only clocks in at thirty minutes but it still packs a punch, most notably in the title track which both opens and closes the album. That title track is a typical Jones melodic composition with a tender set of lyrics which reflect on different aspects of normal daily life in the village where Jones actually lives. While lyrically simple, Jones infuses the song with a loving nostalgia for the simple things that we have at the moment lost. The chorus concludes with the line ‘Until those better days arrive, this is just another reason to survive; we’re still alive’ which I admit sounds like a depressing line but Jones somehow makes it tremendously uplifting and one feels like punching the air and singing along with him! There are plenty of people singing about the pandemic out there but for me but only Jones has gone to the heart of the matter and expressed it in such human terms.
The remaining four tracks on Still Alive represent very different moods and styles which Jones has himself described as follows: ‘From visions of a doomed world and a growing tone of madness, to a desire to see the positives and the spirit of endurance and survival.’ Perhaps the most interesting of the four is the instrumental The Mighty Fallen. There’s a strong fusion feel to the beginning of the track which is a bit unusual for the band. The track then gathers pace into an increasingly fast instrumental and is capped by a fine guitar solo. Those with a preference for the band’s longer more prog-based tracks don’t need to look further than this one. Pandemic or no pandemic, we can’t get away from Jones’ typical English quirkiness and that is delivered in the humorous Whistle Along which is truly bizarre – the helter-skelter main theme sounds like it wouldn’t be out of place as the backing music to Mario Kart!
And finally to December and the third release of the year, the beautifully titled The Whispering Of The World. This could almost be considered an Unplugged version of the band because fundamentally it is a piano and voice album with the band replaced by a string quartet. It is a deeply poetic album and it’s worth listening to with Jones’ own description in mind: ‘I started off with the nature theme in mind, but while writing these songs, I realised I was calling on memories of times which were deeply embedded in my mind. These were moments which inspired me, or which left a big impression on me. But in that year of writing, two people very dear to me passed away and I felt the need to collect my thoughts by writing them down. It developed into a reflection on mortality, how to deal with losing loved ones, and what impression we leave behind ourselves when it’s time to go.’
The opening track, Taking The Dawn, begins with a representation of bird calls by the string quartet (which also provides a neat continuation from Still Alive which concludes with birdsong) before Jones enters with delicate piano and an emotional vocal delivery singing about waiting to hear the first birdsong heralding a new day. There’s an intensity to the Zen-like attention to tiny details in the lyrics which is gripping. It’s a deeply poetic track with the string quartet fleshing out the sound stage beautifully. The mood darkens with ominous chords in the title track which tells of a person walking alone along a cliff looking out to the sea at sunset. The chorus concludes ‘The whispers of the world: the echoes of the past’ giving the album title a very poignant meaning. Those two tracks are introspective with a capital “I” but albums from Tiger Moth Tales are known for their variety and this one is no exception. Waving, Drowning is an excellent upbeat prog track, while the nine-minute Quiet starts with a slow piano section but builds up via a beautiful interlude from the string quartet to a stirring climax. That typical Tiger Moth Tales quirkiness comes out in a Town By The Sea which understandably is an instrumental (a full frontal humorous lyric would have definitely been out of place on this album).
The album closes with the quite stunning ballad, Lost To The Years. It has a fine melody and a gorgeous piano and string refrain. In other hands it might have been a short three-minute affair but Jones effortlessly stretches it out to nearly nine minutes. This is perhaps the most overtly nostalgic and emotional track on the album with Jones resignedly singing the chorus line of “I shed a tear for all we have lost to the years”. Really, anyone who can listen to this song without being close to shedding a tear themselves can only have a heart of stone.
2020 may well be looked on as a landmark year for Tiger Moth Tales. The live album is a perfect summation of everything the band had created through to 2019; Still Alive is a unique reflection on living through the pandemic; and The Whispering To The World takes the band to a new level in terms of creativity and the ability to dig into and communicate profound emotions. In my view, The Whispering Of The World is not only the best album released by the band so far, but quite possibly the best album released in 2020.