Chris Fry | Rob Reed | Christina Booth | Alan Mason-Jones | Martin Rosser | Matthew Cohen
image © Chris Walkden 2004
spring 2004 artist reflections and concert reviews
With their latest album Seven and new single "Broken" now released, Magenta have indeed taken the progressive rock world by storm. Our coverage of the band dates back to 2002 with a review of their debut album Revolutions, named by Musical Discoveries Best Of The Year, the first ever in the site's 900 reviews published to date. Reviews of the band's live performances have filled the gap between the debut album and their latest releases. A vast set of stunning photographs are available in our slide shows via the links above.
We are pleased to present an in-depth and all-new interview with the entire band conducted in Cardiff earlier this year as well as reviews of their two spring 2004 gigs--The Point, Cardiff and The Classic Rock Society at The HLC, Rotherham. We also cover the making of their "Broken" video below. As they find their own sound, Magenta are rapidly emerging as the definitive female-fronted progressive rock band of the new millenium. Our reviews continue to expose their tremendous talent to our visitors.
Over the weekend of Magenta's Cardiff and Rotherham concerts in late April 2004, associate editor Stephen Lambe interviewed each of the six performing members of Magenta as well as lyricist Steve Reed. In the resulting article that follows below, we begin with reflections from the delightful singer Christina Booth. We then continue with the making of the new album and including a track by track analysis from the album's key contributors. Our discussion with the band members addresses Magenta as a live act, how the live band came together and concludes with the artists' thoughts on the future of the band.
Musical Discoveries: What do you make of the new album?
Christina: I actually preferred recording it and singing it to Revolutions. I think that may be because I've got used to the "prog" way of dealing with songs. After being used to recording 3- or 4-minute songs, it was a definite culture shock to have to record 15- or 20-minute pieces. I think Seven is a lot more accessible.
I think it's a better album! But what do you make of singing prog then? You donít come from the same background as the rest of the band.
Christina: I've really enjoyed it. From a singing point of view, it's allowed me to explore avenues I would never have explored otherwise. It's made me look at music differently, as well. I came from an era that was dominated by punk, and now it's made me realise that there's more to music than commercial pop songs. I'm glad I've got involved--it's opened my mind a lot.
Have you listened to much prog?
Christina: I have and Matt--Cohen, the bass player--often records stuff for me. What I need to do is listen to what's going on now. I've been listening to a lot of old stuff.
Would you agree that your singing sounds a lot more confident on the new album?
Christina: Yes. It took a lot longer to record Seven. I was a bit worried, initially, about my voice. I had to see a throat specialist, because I thought there might be some nodules on my vocal chords. Rob Reed picks up on these things, and said my voice had changed, which it does as you get older anyway. I think that made me a bit paranoid, and then when we were recording I kept having coughing fits. That was a bit of a scare, but I think some of it was psychological. When I got into the studio, I kept thinking "I can't do this." But in the end I got through it and it turned out really well--I hope! I actually really enjoyed singing the whole album, and Steve Reed's lyrics are very clever.
Do you find that singing prog there are aspects of your voice you don't use? I've heard the Trippa stuff, and you sound really different on some of it.
Christina: I think this sort of music really suits my voice, actually. It's a better vehicle for it, but I do miss having a good old scream occasionally, so live it might sound a bit different--there's more energy there.
What do you make of recording backing vocals?
Christina: I think it's fun. There's not as much pressure on you--you can put on a kind of mask, so there's less pressure on you to "perform," like there is when youíre singing lead.
How involved are you in the creative process?
Christina: Not that much, apart from applying my own interpretation to the melody lines that have already been written. I was more involved in the single "Broken," though. There's some Trippa in that, I think.
What inspired you to write those lyrics?
Christina: One of my favourite authors is Anne Rice, who wrote The Vampire Chronicles, and when I heard the music to "Broken," it just conjured up those sorts of images for me. It's all about The Undead!
Would you like to be more involved in other aspects of the band?
Christina: I would--I do consider myself a singer songwriter, but I can't take that away from Steve who does a great job, and as I'm not from the same background I might find prog lyrics a little difficult. Maybe I should give it a go and come up with a solo album (laughs, modestly).
Are you involved in much else apart from Magenta?
Christina: Rob and I actually write for local Welsh-speaking bands. That's generally 3-minute pop songs, but the think I like about working with Rob is that he can turn his hand to anything. That's great for me, because it allows me to diversify in my own song-writing.
The Recording of Seven
So how did the concept for Seven come about?
Steve Reed: The first album was one long concept, with a running theme of "Faith." Four long tracks. Double album. They said it would never work, but obviously we proved them wrong. The second album we wanted to make more accessible, hence the shorter tracks. Not really short, but shorter! So Rob said: "What we need is seven or eight tracks. Hmm. Seven tracks Ö seven Ö sins!" It was as simple as that, really.
Did you change your approach to recording compared to Revolutions?
Rob Reed: Yes. I wanted to make it shorter, really. More instant. Also, on the first album I intentionally made it in the spirit of Yes and Genesis. The sort of music I wanted to listen to but isnít made anymore. The new album sounds more like "us," Magenta, really. Obviously, whatever happens, when you use things like a Moog and Bass Pedals, it's going to sound a bit like, say, Genesis, a bit "retro prog."
But it certainly sounds like youíre developing a "Magenta style," and with Christina singing it's always going to sound different! Tell us more about instrumentation. Your synth sound is excellent!
Rob Reed: Well itís a Moog! One thing I hate using is all those plastic-sounding 80s synths. I wish Rick Wakeman would burn all his keyboards and go back to using the Mellotron and The Hammond Organ. A lot of the 80s bands--including my band Cyan, I might add--have such a thin keyboard sound compared to Yes and Genesis. So that was the rule: No keyboards manufactured after 1975!
Chris, you're pretty much playing lead guitar on all of it.
Chris Fry: Well, Rob and both Martins have done some bits, but pretty much, yea. In the main I'm just playing what I feel with a bit of direction from Rob. Maybe 50 per cent is arranged--a case of "work around these ideas," in other cases we'd come up with an idea in the studio, and we'd keep some bits and change others.
Did you do much on the album, Martin?
Martin Rosser: Quite a bit. A couple of solos, and quite a bit of rhythm and acoustic, but because Rob's a multi-instrumentalist he can do a lot of it himself! He likes the separation between the band live and recording the album himself.
So tell us about the lyrics, then, Steve. What impressed me about them what that you have not gone for the obvious interpretation of the Seven Deadly Sins. In fact in some cases we arenít really talking about sins at all.
Steve Reed: No. It would have been easy to do that, but it's not prog, is it? It would have been too easy, and too simple. What I did was take a basic idea of what the sin was about, and then turn it on its head to make people think about what the lyric is about.
I think the lyrics work very well. Most prog lyrics seem either to be fantasy-based, a bit throwaway or even meaningless.
Steve Reed: We try to make our lyrics as easy for people to relate to as possible, and to get as much emotion from them as possible, so that you get a reaction from people.
How did the orchestra come about?
Rob Reed: It's something I always wanted to do, basically. The album was sounding so good we were told that we could pretty have whatever we wanted on it! It's amazing how cheap you can get an orchestra for, especially abroad.
That's one you've been playing live for a while.
Rob Reed: Yes, it was nice to go out and play that one before we recorded it. It's one of my favourite tracks on the album. It's based around the riff right at the start, and it's been suggested that itís based loosely on "Back in New York City" by Genesis.
It's one of those songs that never sounds exactly like any other band, though it's occasionally like Yes, especially the "Cha Chas."
Rob Reed: Well spotted.
Steve Reed: With "Gluttony," the character has no other way of living--she's a glutton for punishment, so it's not exactly "gluttony" as youíd normally think about it.
The next song is "Envy" which is the first piece youíve done where you've obviously gone for a track-long mood.
Rob Reed: Well it was written as a song. It originally kicked into a really fast section in the middle, but I took it all out. Itís the only track on the album that's verse Ė chorus Ė verse Ė chorus Ė middle eight. Just a very long middle eight! There's a bit like "Entangled," in there, a bit like "Awaken," and the chorus sounds to me like Shirley Bassey. (The Welsh diva that sang a variety of Bond Themes).
Steve Reed: "Envy" was based on the idea of some person that has lost their family. My wife always says I have depressing ideas! I thought of a divorced man seeing a young couple in a park. It's about trying to keep what you've got, because when you lose it, it's heartbreaking. I suppose, for a change, it's a standard take on envy.
Rob Reed: "Lust" is prog with a capital "p". It has a nice bit of Santana in the middle.
Chris Fry: I really like "Lust." The playing on that is right up my street!
Steve, "Lust" is "The White Witch" part two, isn't it?
Steve Reed: Yes. It's about lust for life! She wants to live, she wants to help people, which is what she did on the first album, and even when they turn against her, she still wants to help them. At the end, she turns herself over to sister Luna, which gives us scope to bring her back on the next album.
Rob Reed: "Greed," I call the Doris Day track, because it's very like a show tune at the end. It's the only song with a story and itís the longest track on the album. It was originally going to be the opening track of the album, and it had a 5-minute instrumental section at the start, but I decided to cut it down. We're not playing it live because it's a bit hard, especially the last section, which is very orchestral. But we might pull it off one day! It was the hardest song to get right in the final mix, especially capturing the atmosphere. It almost came off the album because it wasn't working, but now I'm glad we left it on.
"Greed" is my favourite track lyrically. It's close to satirical, which you donít often get in prog.
Steve Reed: It's about an actress. Itís about greed for the limelight. She needs to have people looking at her, their adoration. She needs to be loved.
I like they way the lyric changes tone midway through. At the start she adores the limelight, but later on you see the down side.
Steve Reed: She thinks she is on the way down, so she starts doing ever more outlandish things to stay in the limelight. In the end she ends up in the asylum with all the angels and the damned dancing around in their white gowns!
Steve Reed: "Anger" is about anger against God. A man has lost his wife, who has died and it seems to him that God has taken her on a whim. It's a man's frustration at his loss.
Christina: I really like "Anger" because of its simplicity. It was really easy to sing, and I think it's a really lovely song.
And it's short!
Christina: (laughing) Oh no! I'm showing my true colours!
Rob Reed: "Anger" is my favourite track on the album. When we originally recorded it, we had the first four minutes and then it stopped without the guitar solo, but then we tried the solo and now I just love the atmosphere it creates.
Steve Reed: Pride is about my wife and my daughter. It's about being brought up by a single parent. It's more of a modern topic. Itís about doing everything you can to give your child a start in life.
Rob Reed: I worried about "Pride" because I thought it was going to be too commercial. Itís very "poppy" in places. You always wonder what people want, and it's very easy to start writing for the marketplace, and there was certainly more of that on the second album than the first. I wanted to make Revolutions as prog--and self-indulgent, if you like--as possible! Unlike all those 80s bands that said, "We're not really prog," I wanted to be able to say, "We are the proggiest band around." Double album--four songs--thank you very much!
Christina: I really enjoyed "Sloth" as well.
You do some Pink Floyd-style warbling on that one!
Christina: Actually one of the bands I did really liked in my younger days was Pink Floyd, which I suppose is why I veered towards that one.
"Sloth," of course, features a different guitarist, Martin Shellard.
Chris Fry: (Laughing) A decent player!
It's another mood piece.
Rob Reed: It is--quite Pink Floyd-like. It's very atmospheric, and Martin plays on it to get a different feel, in the main. Nothing that Chris can't play, though, so though we don't play it live now, we will do at some point. The end section could go on forever!
Steve Reed: "Sloth" is about a Native American tribe, whose members, when they know their time has come, go off and wait for death. So it's not sloth as such. I've given it a different slant.
How did the live band come together?
Chris Fry: I met Rob through a mutual acquaintance when he was booking some gigs for the Trippa band. He asked me over, and we found we had some common ground. We liked It Bites, and other sorts of proggy stuff.
It's amazing how often It Bites crop up when people talk about their influences. In the mid 80s I suppose it's as close as people in the UK got to prog.
Chris Fry: Yeah, they have some proggy bits, and nice guitar playing! Actually nobody around me was into that sort of stuff, but Rob played me something and I said it sounded like them and we realised we had some common ground. So I did a couple of solos for a Cyan album, then a bit more on Revolutions plus some of the nylon-string parts, and when he was looking to pull a band together around it, I ended up being part of that as well.
Matthew Cohen: I was doing the Erasmus album for F2, and Rob was producing it, and he played me Revolutions, which he hadn't quite finished, and I said I'd love to be involved in that. I'm really into heavy metal bands, but I'd also really got into Yes and that sort of thing. So the second Erasmus album didn't happen and I was looking around for a band, and Rob called me and said he was getting a live band together, and asked if I would like do the bass for it. So we started to rehearse and took it from there. The only member of the band I didn't know was Chris!
Martin Rosser: I've known Rob for years. I did the Othello Syndrome project for F2, and a second album didn't happen, so Rob asked me to be involved in the Magenta live band.
What should people expect seeing Magenta live in 2004?
Rob Reed: Hopefully, not what you'd expect from a prog band. A lot of bands take it very seriously, looking at the floor. It's their art, they don't communicate with the audience, and it's a closed shop onstage. Because of the people in Magenta and their backgrounds, we try and project, and try to engage the audience in the gig. We try to show that we're enjoying it. Christina is from a punk background, so she's not prepared to just stand there and say how clever she is.
Tell us what's in the set.
Rob Reed: Well, it was a bit daunting after the first album, playing all of Revolutions live. There were a lot of orchestral arrangements--a lot of layers. We didn't know how much we could pull off, so we just played it from end to end. Now it's about half and half Seven and Revolutions, plus the single, "Broken." We also play a song from that called "Call Me" which is an old Cyan track. It was originally an instrumental, but we put my brotherís words back in, and Christina sings it.
What have you had to do to the arrangements to make the songs playable live?
Rob Reed: We use a guitar synthesizer to trigger keyboards from Martin's guitar, so he'll be playing strings and I'll be playing the keyboard parts. Before it was a compromise, but now we can pretty much play it as it is.
Martin Rosser: We thought we'd give it a go. It took a while to get it to settle in, and it's not at its final stage yet. We'll also go back and rearrange some of the Revolutions tracks with the guitar synth. The module on the guitar converts the notes to ones and zeros. I've got one box, which produces various guitar sounds, like acoustic and twelve string guitar, and even flutes, but for the strings I've got the midi module so I can trigger any synth I like.
Rob Reed: Also we add a lot more improvisation, and extend bits. It's a bit more powerful, really. The guitars are heavier. A couple of the new tracks are difficult to play live--like "Greed"--because they are so dense, but we're playing most of them!
Matthew Cohen: When you're recording you have to stick pretty rigidly to the guide track. Live we can extend and change things. On some sections you can take your parts elsewhere, and Rob's pretty free about letting you do that. Rob has his own style when he's playing bass. There are certain things weíll approach very differently, but the way the music's structured and the fact that it's very melodic means that you can't just go off into freeform jazz, or you'll lose the structure of what the song's all about.
Chris Fry: Rob and I have our moments when we can push it out a bit, and it becomes more spontaneous at gets more of a live energy.
Matthew Cohen: Like at the end of "Pride."
How does your bass playing differ to Rob's, Matthew?
Matthew Cohen: He plays a four-string bass with a plectrum. He's quite Chris Squire-like. The guy that got me into playing bass was John Myung of Dream Theatre. I'm a finger player on a six-string bass. The attack is very different, and the way he'll slide into things is also very different from the way I'd do it.
I noticed that you're playing the solo at the end of "Anger" live, Martin. Who played it on the album?
Martin Rosser: Rob, I think! Rob thinks I'm becoming the Snowy White of the band--I do the more laid back solos.
And how do you like being in the shadow of the "pretty boy" lead guitarist, Mr. Fry?
Martin Rosser: You've got to give him credit--he's a showman!
Allan, when it comes to the drums, are you actually playing what was played on the album, or your own stuff, or a mixture of both--or what Rob tells you to?
Allan Mason-Jones: A bit of both. I've listened to the album and used some of what he played, but Rob has asked me, no so much with Seven, but with Revolutions, to simplify the patterns. I've also added some of my own.
How does your playing compared to Tim Robinson's (the drummer on the album)?
Allan Mason-Jones: I'm reasonably close to his style; I'm quite a fiddly drummer, more like Bill Bruford than Alan White, whereas I guess Rob wanted more of the Alan White!
Is there anything you particularly like playing?
Allan Mason-Jones: Definitely the new album, but it all appeals to me, it's in my veins.
Was the drum arrangement on "Broken" yours?
Allan Mason-Jones: There was a guide track, and I added more to it. It's probably closer to what I'm doing with the band right now--more powerful.
So, any clues to what we are going to get next time, lyrically?
Steve Reed: Slightly darker, I think. A little heavier. More along the lines of "Broken." I don't want us to stand still.
Rob Reed: Musically, we might make the next album mellower and a bit darker.
So what's the role of the live band, now? When it comes to the next album do they record it? On the first two albums it's mainly you in the studio laying instrumental parts.
Rob Reed: I think as I write the material, weíve pretty much got a format now, and it wouldn't be Magenta if we didn't keep the same formula. On the singles though, everyone plays. It hard to tell, but I don't want to change the studio sound too much.
Is there any material left over that you might use on later albums?
Rob Reed: Not really. I cut out sections, or expanded them. The idea was to produce an album without any weak sections. If people were likely to get bored at any point, I took it out.
So what are the plans for the next year or so?
Rob Reed: (laughing) I'm going solo! No, we're doing a live album in the next few months and a DVD in October, which will hopefully have a surround sound mix of the album, then we'll do a second single at the same time. Then another album!
What are your expectations for the band?
Rob Reed: Not much in this country (The UK). People have been so beaten into submission by pop that most wont tolerate a new prog band. What we need to do is tap into the audience that goes to see Yes regularly. Maybe the single will help, but I donít want to spend days in the back of a transit van, so we're trying to bypass the constant gigging route. Getting the key gigs is the thing.
Spring 2004 Live Performance Reviews
Intrepid associate editor Stephen Lambe had the opportunity to see Magenta perform live Thursday 22 April through Saturday 24 April 2004. Editor-in-Chief Russ Elliot joined and has collaborated on the Friday 23 April performance. The first of the shows was the band's promotional video shoot, which like the first concert, was at The Point, Cardiff Bay, Wales. The final performance in this series was at the Herringthorpe Leisure Centre (HLC), Rotherham, England for the Classic Rock Society.
The set on Friday consisted of: "Gluttony," "Lust," "Envy," "Children of the Sun," "Call Me," "The White Witch" (edit), "Genetesis" (edit). Encores included: "Pride" and "Anger." The set on Saturday consisted of: "Gluttony," "Lust," "Children of the Sun," "Broken," "Call Me," "Pride." Encores included: "Genetesis" (edit), "Anger," "The White Witch" (edit).
It was a remarkably simple concept. Set up the gear for the Cardiff concert one day early, and record a promotional video to be sent to the press on the official release of new single "Broken." To the band's credit, they pulled it off efficiently and without fuss. With four video cameras recording every run-through, they mimed to "Broken" about a dozen times in a concert setting, using The Point's excellent lighting rig. Director for the evening, Magenta "chief fan" Chris Jones marshalled his troops with an admirable no-nonsense efficiency, despite band-leader Rob Reed's creative interjections!
In fact, the final cut should be an excellent representation of a typical performance of "Broken," with band showmen Chris Fry (guitar) and Rob Reed (keyboards) in excellent form. Singer Christina performed one take looking directly into a video camera held by her--a moment of possible narcissism that only she could carry off with such modesty and charm. A special word, too, for drummer Allan Mason-Jones who played the song live too many times to mention--including once on his own--and was the only band member to work up a genuine sweat!
So to Friday, and the first full-length Magenta concert of 2004. An early evening burger with most of the band provided an excellent opportunity to pin down Rob Reed for some fascinating chat, then on to the gig. Local band Ezra provided sterling support, before a slightly nervy Magenta took to the stage. The band were clearly a touch rusty, but, despite some onstage sound problems (it sounded fine out front) they soon settled to their task, and put on a fine performance. Set opener "Gluttony" features some great soloing from natural showman Chris Fry, and some rather heavier guitar than on the album version, while "Lust" really catches fire towards the end, giving Rob and Chris the opportunity to swap solos, and Christina the chance to let rip vocally.
"Envy"--sounding much less like Genesis than the album version--showed that the band can now pull off a single mood over one song with ease, while the full length "Children of the Sun" had the band in much more comfortable territory, before a shorter interlude and the lovely "Call Me." Excellent edited versions of two other songs from the first album "The White Witch" and "Genetesis" completed the main set, before a well-deserved encore of "Pride" and a lovely, rearranged version of "Anger" with Chris on acoustic guitar and electric solo by Martin Rosser.
Whether it was some slight controversy over the PA--it certainly didn't look great, and the band were concerned that it would not have enough power to bring out the complexity of their music--or just the benefit they gained from having one concert behind them, Magenta were on fire at Rotherham on the following night. Despite their concerns, the music sounded wonderful from an audience that greeted them ecstatically. They burnt through the set without any of the slight hesitation shown at times in Cardiff, with the newer pieces, in particular, gaining from a second playing. Added to the set was a rousing "Broken," and the band was called back for three encores--a first at the venue.
If this how good Magenta can be after two nights, then the promised live album and DVD should be something to savour!--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England and Russ Elliot in Endicott, NY USA
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