Tony Patterson and Brendan Eyre were both born in North East England, and both have a broad musical background. In 2012, they released an album Out Of An Ancient World, which was so well received it won them the Best Newcomer award at the 2012 Classic Rock Society Awards.
After this, they started thinking about a concept album describing their beloved North East England, which resulted in Northlands, an album that tells the tale of someone returning to the North East after so many years. The memories, good and bad, the beauty of the landscape and the unfinished business of the character are the drivers for the music. Without a story line to follow, and an album that is largely instrumental, it is hard to tell what the this character experiences exactly along the way. However, the music invites to sit back, relax and let your own version of the story unfold in your mind.
The opening track Northbound, with it’s 24 minutes and subdivision into 7 separate pieces already is a story in itself. There are some lyrics here, that indicate this is about the trip north, probably entering the North East. The complete epic builds up from a piano piece, a flute, to a choir and then a full orchestra with strings and a horn (I think). The two vocal pieces, Take the Safe Way and I Recall make clear why Tony Patterson once sang in the Genesis tribute band ReGenesis, yet he does not attempt to be a copy of Peter Gabriel here. The vocal harmonies on I recall, accompanied by a haunting keyboard are beautiful. At the end, the piece returns to the intro – had this been the full album we’d be heading south again.
After this one long track, 8 shorter ones follow, some instrumental, some with vocals, and although the basis is always in the beautiful keyboard and piano work of Brendan Eyre, they are quite varied. A Picture in Time for example builds up from a dreamy keyboard piece with female vocals in the background to a fully orchestrated piece with these vocals rising in volume as a less psychedelic Great Gig in the Sky. After that it goes back to the more dreamy keyboard pattern, but with drums and (very well played) bass joining in. This contrasts with the short piano piece And the River Flows (with slightly Peter Gabriel like vocals again), which is followed by a jazzy piece with excellent piano work by Brendan Eyre, A Rainy Day on Dean Street – with some nice saxophone and horn work by Fred Arlington added.
The following Legacy I described in my notes as film music. It starts with a piano that seems to mimic a clock, while a guitar in the background makes the noises of a long train rolling by. This suddenly changes into a dreamy (again!) piano and flute piece, which then powers up by the addition of percussion. The percussion keeps the clock/train pattern alive underneath the other instruments, mainly the flute of John Hackett. The final part of this track is orchestrated to the extend that it would fit under a movie of a flight over the North East English landscape. A sound effect at the end brings back the image of a train disappearing on the horizon.
I Dare to Dream is a mellow piece, with relaxed vocals and an undertone of happiness. The backing vocals are a bit Pink Floyd like, and the piano is in the instrumental lead once again. This is almost a relaxed prelude to So Long the Day, in my opinion the best track of the album, featuring Steve Hackett (John’s brother) on guitar. This track, features Peter Gabriel style vocals, with excursions to Pink Floyd (Roger Waters’ era), excellent bass playing, Hackett’s guitar work, but also a short piece of Spanish guitar, once again the piano and flute. All of this is used to divide the 6.5 minutes long song into short pieces, in Peter Gabriel era Genesis style, without making it a Genesis rip off. I love it, from the first piano note of the intro to the last note of the guitar solo that ends it.
To bring the listener, or at least me, back to his senses the album closes with a short, relaxed piano piece, A Sense of Place – the sound of seagulls at the end.
This album is not perfect, very few are, but it’s definitely a well executed piece of music. Everything fits, and it allows for intent listening, if not requiring it. A bit more vocal guidance through the story would help get the concept clearer, but as I said – dreaming up your own story is a good possibility now. Also a few more excursions from the evenly tempo of the music than just A Rainy Day on Dean Street and So Long the Day would’ve made the album a bit more exiting, perhaps also rockier.
All in all, I had never heard of Tony Patterson and Brendan Eyre before I received this album in the mail and I’m glad I know them now. This is one to cherish and listen again every once in a while, on a quiet evening, with a nice glass of wine and your feet on the table.