"Galahad have characteristically released rather a ‘different’ album in Quiet Storms, displaying a much more contemplative and mellow side to their persona, but with a barely concealed ‘edge’. Galahad is a band which has not been afraid to experiment and go off in different directions through their career.
The origins of Galahad’s name may strangely encapsulate the spirit of this unusual band. It is probably assumed by many that they named themselves after the purest and most noble knight of Arthurian legend, Sir Galahad, who eventually found the Holy Grail. Such an explanation would feed in to the commonly held misconception and rather lazy assumption that Progressive Rock is about myths, legends, dragons and capes. However, the actual origin of the name has nothing to do with Sir Galahad, coming from rather less poetic circumstances when their former guitarist Roy Keyworth was working for a fruit and vegetable business and noticed an invoice for ‘Galahad Produce’. This apparently inspired him to suggest it as the name of the band. In hindsight this decision could be considered to have combined the noble Galahad band ethos of remaining true to themselves in terms of their integrity, whilst creating high quality work from rather more mundane roots. From humble fruit and veg roots has grown a band which has produced a consistently fine and varied canon of music, never supported by or saddled with the double edged expectations of a major label. Anyone expecting Galahad to simply produce ‘sequels’ to their previous albums needs to keep a more open mind.
Quiet Storms follows on from the remarkable retrospective double set When Worlds Collide, from late 2015, which typically for Galahad eschewed the normal way of doing retrospective releases. They chose not to simply release a compilation but to re-record and re-imagine many of their older songs. Quiet Storms similarly re-records a number of older songs, but interprets them in a very different manner from their original versions, and certainly a long way from their brave fusion of bombastic heavy progressive rock and techno dance rhythms which so startlingly characterised their last two main albums, Battle Scars and Beyond the Realms of Euphoria, both released in 2012.
Opening song Guardian Angel lays out their stall with nothing but a lovely, simple piano motif from Dean Baker, underpinning beautiful and heartfelt vocals from Stu Nicholson. This crystalline interpretation could not be further from the original thumping, frenetic version from Beyond the Realms of Euphoria. What this approach does reveal is the inherent qualities of the underlying song as it is stripped back to it’s fundamentals. Nicholson’s voice shivers with emotion and lines such as “Preying on my vulnerability” are laid bare and conveyed with such honest simplicity. This song has been on constant repeat since receiving the album – outstanding.
Beyond the Barbed Wire, originally from Battle Scars, follows a similar path with additional acoustic guitars from Karl Groom. As the ambiguity of the album title Quiet Storms suggests, songs such as this may be conveyed in more subtle and pastoral ways but they still convey the intensity of the originals through greater clarity of the lyrics and with a sense of musical restraint, which has its own power. This is NOT a simple case of a rather sentimental ‘unplugged’ version of Galahad, as is probably exemplified most in Termination. The loud, angry original version from Empires Never Last is re-presented in a bitter sweet melancholic piano based duet between Nicholson and the fine voice of Magenta’s Christina Booth, reprising her rather less restrained contribution to the original. Despite its quieter approach, this is a case of ‘less is more’ as the emotion drips from every note, rather than being smothered in loud rock sounds.
Within the last year, long time guitarist and founding member Roy Keyworth has left Galahad, and this may partly explain why this album prominently features the keyboards of Baker and the voice of Nicholson, with much less in the way of guitars. Nicholson in particular seems to have taken the opportunity to display the remarkable versatility and rich timbre of his voice. This Life Could Be My Last departs totally from the rock growl heard on Empires… as Nicholson memorably re-fashions it to show a surprisingly soulful voice capable of resonant emotion over Baker’s finely judged piano. Dean Baker’s keyboards are to the fore throughout the album, and his orchestration skills are resplendent on Easier Said than Done, over which his vocalist pours a honey voiced version of a song originally heard on 1998’s Following Ghosts. Sarah Bolter adds a delightful clarinet to help turn this in to a chamber pop gem.
Quiet Storms also has some original songs, the translucent Willow Way shining a shaft of musical and lyrical sunlight into this often dark album. The sounds of the countryside are accompanied with a beautiful lilting keyboard sound and flowing gentle acoustic guitars, both from Karl Groom. Lovely pastoral words from Nicholson’s father Bob describe an optimistic perspective, Stuart singing his father’s words with personal warmth.
Even when you think you know where this album is going with largely piano led versions with gentle vocals, Galahad take a left-turn on Melt, a shimmering and echoing synth driven piece of dream pop with hints of ’80s Giorgio Moroder, or even ’90s Lightning Seeds – these are good things! This is perfectly followed by the floating and sparse Weightless, in which Baker beautifully frames Nicholson’s rich voice in subtle feedback synths, orchestration and a simple emotive rolling piano.
To the ears of this listener, not everything works so effectively. Iceberg and the lengthier Shine lack the subtlety and impact of some of the other songs, but that’s the nature of experimentation – it does not always work for everyone. These are minor personal quibbles and are more than outweighed by the positive experience of the vast majority of this album.
Some of the most notable features of Quiet Storms are the unusual choices of covers, indicating that Galahad is not a band constrained by narrow musical boundaries. Previously released as a single, Mein Herz Brennt (‘My Heart Burns’) was originally by industrial metal band Rammstein. Nicholson sings in German over Baker’s tinkling piano with Louise Curtis on violin… and I strongly suspect this is a galaxy away from the original version! Marz (And Beyond) is a new cover, originally by singer songwriter John Grant. Grant has described his song as “a melancholic longing to return to one’s favourite childhood memories”. Nicholson tastefully and touchingly gives the song a personal angle by replacing some of Grant’s imagery (including references to ‘Marz’, a childhood ice cream parlour) with verses based on his own memories, including adolescent and parochially Dorset mentions of: Bumbles, Sour Grapes, Knowlton, Horton Tower, Southern Comfort, Lemonade, Cherry Mead, Lager and Lime. In fact, a snowbound picture of Horton Tower in Dorset by Roger Holman features on the beautiful cover artwork for Quiet Storms. This is typical of Galahad – they don’t take the usual path. It’s a lovely song, and in my view probably should have ended the album, but instead we have a reprise of the previously released Guardian Angel (Hybrid). However, perhaps with the departure of Roy Keyworth it, is appropriate to hear one last contribution from him on guitar along with the now sadly deceased Neil Pepper on bass.
Some fans of Galahad’s historically more ‘Prog’ oriented offerings may struggle a little with the rather different direction that Quiet Storms takes, but they should persist and find more revealed in Galahad’s music by this more pastoral approach. Another album is intimated soon (similar to the two releases in 2012?) and may see a return to more rock territory, but who knows with Galahad?!
Have Galahad found their musical Holy Grail? Of course not… they weren’t ever looking for it.
As with that Quest, for Galahad it is not really about the end but what they find on the journey itself and Quiet Storms is another high quality and fascinating chapter in their ever changing journey." - The Progressive Aspect