The only thing that didn’t splutter or misfire during the creation of DeeExpus Project was Andy Ditchfield’s focussed determination to deliver. After all the ups and downs and trials and tribulations involved in the difficult process of the band’s formation, he can now look back and soak up the plaudits.
Half Way Home is the debut album from the County Durham prog rock band whose very formation seemed to take on a life of its own. Guitarist and keyboard player Andy had just about given up on music, until he saw Porcupine Tree. They provided the spark of inspiration for him to begin to lay the foundations of what became the DeeExpus Project.
Andy was originally planning a solo project, but while he was busy setting up his studio he bumped into singer Tony Wright at his local pub. Andy describes the subsequent events on the band’s website as being a period of ‘frustration, passion, dedication, and sheer hard work’.
That belief has paid off, and Half Way Home represents the aforementioned passion with an album of solid, well written, and sometimes epic prog.
Andy’s self described ‘epiphany’ moment at the Porcupine Tree concert is even referred to in the track “PTtee”. A tee shirt bought at a gig sounds like a dubious subject for a song. That is, until you hear the first few lines: ‘I couldn’t take in what I saw, couldn’t believe my eyes. Stage set, effects, the mixing desk were set to blow my mind’.
Fortunately Andy woke up the next day with the inspiration still strongly implanted in his mind. The result is an album that whilst paying homage to the Porcupine Tree influence also takes on its own personality and delivers a powerful and impressive debut. Tony Wright gives the band the perfect vocal presence, whilst their ability to write some dramatic and absorbing prog shines throughout.
The fact that this is a debut album is more than just surprising. However that fact alone represents a huge achievement that highlights just what can be produced through all that aforementioned ‘passion, and sheer hard work’.
A key element is that Andy’s vision never becomes overblown or overstated. Instead every track is built upon the solid foundations of well-written music and contains some memorable melodic moments delivered with massive wedges of excellent musicianship.
Half Way Home opens strongly with “Greed”. That position of strength is one that they embrace and keep hold of throughout. Sure, there are peaks, but absolutely no troughs. Confidence radiates from “Pointless Child”, a track brimming with melodic rock styling and excellent production.
“PTtee”, the unashamed acknowledgment of all things Steven Wilson and PT, unfolds in a way that has you believing that DeeExpus Project is a band that has been around for a lot longer. The keyboard work and its intertwining with the guitar are exquisitely done. Like the entire album, this track is both expertly paced and finely balanced.
“One Eight” underlines the band's ability to create memorable moments seemingly at will. It’s always tempting to make comparisons, but I can resist in the knowledge that any such ‘sounds like’ observations should quickly become redundant. I have little doubt in saying that soon we will be reading reviews containing the phrase ‘sounds like the DeeExpus Project’.
The lovely piano-led “One Day” gently introduces a sprawling key-soaked “Seven Nights”. Built around a central hook, it is yet another example of the solid craftsmanship on offer. This is one that could have fallen into that overblown trap, yet it doesn’t. As the track opens out, its discipline finally draws it all back together before returning to that central hook.
As if to underline the point, the album ends with the huge, epic, yet perfectly formed title track. Clocking in at just over seventeen minutes, “Half Way Home” is an excellent piece of prog majesty set amid a tragic love story. The need for those redundant comparisons has me thinking vaguely of H-era Marillion, particularly Mark Kelly’s keyboards and Steve Rothery’s guitar, and yet there is far, far more to it than just that. This track confirms everything that has gone before on the album. It completes the picture, satisfies any desire for the epic, underlines the band's intentions, and leaves you wanting a lot more.
When Andy Ditchfield walked into that Porcupine Tree concert it was clearly meant to be. That magical inspiration provided the spark that led to this exceptional debut. I am sure that this is a band we will be hearing a lot more of, and, I hope, a lot more from.
In the meantime all I can do is press play again and lose myself once again in the DeeExpus Project.
Catch up on just why DeeExpus Project have created some waves on the UK Prog scene by visiting their official website. Look out too for a DVD called Far From Home which is due for release this summer.