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Music Review: Lyrian – Nightingale Hall

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As ideas for albums go this one really got my imagination working overtime. Nightingale Hall is a concept album in its truest sense. Oxfordshire’s Lyrian take us back through a fascinating, sometimes enchanting, and sometimes disturbing journey written around the history and previous occupants of Nightingale Hall itself.

It’s a great idea and one that they certainly explored to its full and intriguing potential. What’s more they didn’t let the fact that this is a self financed project hold them back and came up with an album that clocks in at a huge and epic 75 minutes. Formed in Oxfordshire in 2006 by three librarians, Lyrian consists of John Blake guitars and vocals, Alison Felstead on bass and vocals and Paul W. Nash who covers keyboards, percussion, woodwind instruments and also adds his vocals and guitars to the overall effect. Not content with that, the albums cover is taken from one of Paul’s multi coloured wood engravings. Various other effects are added such as the banging of kettles, household objects and boxes.

So what have our librarians come up with? An extraordinary achievement, that ranges from prog quality to the endearingly quirky, that is both compelling and worth visiting.

Nightingale Hall consists of eight tracks ranging from its “Prelude” of one minute 55 seconds through to the epic “Nightingales” (17:38), “He Who Would Valiant Be” (15:29) and the album’s final track, “Lucifer” (13:34). There are unashamed nods to early Genesis among shades of early Fish-era Marillion. That combines together nicely with some quintessentially English tradition, including church organs meshed with some folk and even classical elements. The saga tells the colourful story of the previous owners of the hall and, in the bands own words, includes all the ‘harmony, brutality, tragedy, irony, lunacy, sanity, luminosity, and obscurity in unequal measure’. Intrigued? I was, and as I traveled back through Nightingale Hall’s gallery of characters they came alive, stepping off the canvass and into a nicely constructed piece of progressive rock.

As stated, Nightingale Hall is self financed and the band has released an initial run of 500 copies that can be ordered from their web site. They even offer a refund if you are not ‘progressively rocked’ but, dare I say, they won’t be sending many customers their money back. What they have achieved is a sprawling work that brings to life the hall’s past in a totally absorbing and atmospheric way. The dedication required to produce an album of this scope is as huge as the end result and conjures up an image of lengthy sessions in a country pub as the three musicians discussed their various ideas.

By the end of Nightingale Hall you feel as though you have actually visited the house, walked its corridors, explored the gardens, stood by the sun dial, and gazed at the portraits of the long dead occupants whose stories Lyrian have so enchantingly told.

Brave? Certainly. Indulgent? ‘Yes’, says John Blake, ‘we did it for pure pleasure. It is cream and whisky to us, pâté and red wine, a champagne breakfast, a quiet hotel room and a gentleman’s magazine, self indulgence of the best kind’. I couldn’t agree more – the best kind, indeed.

Visit Lyrian at Nightingale Hall at  their Official Myspace Profile.

About Jeff Perkins