Lifesigns – the story behind the story

Lifesigns – John Young, Nick Beggs and Frosty Beedle.

Throughout the year, I hope to be able to shed some light on the releases which are of personal interest and to this end, I want to start with Lifesigns which is out on Monday week (January 28).

One aspect of prog that I love the most is the way the musicians come together for specific projects – or should that be prog-jects?

Last year, we had Kompendium, Rob Reed’s project which brought us the glorious Beneath The Waves and Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited II both with a guest list straight out of prog central casting.

Now cometh Lifesigns, a project which has been in development for six years and is the work of John Young, Nick Beggs and Frosty Beedle with producer Steve Rispin the fourth man.

For John, this is the “arrival” part of a journey he began all those years ago when he thought it was time he wrote his own prog album. With a musical CV which embraces collaborations with other musical luminaries such as Greenslade, the Strawbs, Asia, Fish, Uli Jon Roth, his own band and Bonnie Tyler, it was a natural progression for him, so to speak.

So having moved to Leighton Buzzard, his path crossed with  Nick Beggs and also Steve Rispin who was once his next door neighbour.  Cutting Crew’s drummer Frosty Beedle was added to the dramatis personae and the project began to take shape.

And where is this all leading? Well in January last year, Martin Reijman and I heard an early version of the work in the music room at Nick Beggs’ house.

By way of explanation, Nick and I first met over 30 years ago when I was a cub reporter on the local paper in Leighton Buzzard where I wrote the entertainments page, reviewed albums and local gigs, (that is worthy of another post sometime soon).

As well as sharing a few evenings in the pub, I interviewed him and the three other very talented guys in Art Nouveau  when they made a single Fear Machine which I still possess. They of course became Kajagoogoo and I still remember my astonishment at witnessing them playing in front of 2000 screaming girls at the Southampton Gaumont in 1983.

Well, having had an emotional reunion with the ‘Goo again four years ago when they played the not quite so grand Brook in Southampton, seeing the ascent of Nick to now being a prog demi-god has been akin to a proud maiden aunt watching her favourite nephew pass all  his ologies at school!

Anyway, on the strength of that and having met John via Facebook and briefly at the Peel when he was supporting Credo, we had a long chat over a plate of Beggs-generated pasta.

Hearing the music too was quite an experience. Nick is also a very talented illustrator and artist. Check out his Dangerous Potatoes’ children’s story. Having asked my permission to do so, he started sketching me listening to Lifesigns as I do tend to glaze over when I am concentrating intently on something I want to appreciate and understand. The result is at the end of this blog.

What we heard on that day was the album about 85 per cent completed. They had put down the vocals, keyboards, drums and some guitar parts provided by the great Steve Hackett. Even then it sounded gorgeous, full of lush melodies, harmonies and instrumentation.

The whole premise of the album is for the listener to draw their own conclusions and find their own place in the music. It is about life, space travel, the quest to find who we are and why we are here via a fairground setting and a fridge of stars is also involved.

It was a wonderful day spent with Nick and John, two of the nicest and most interesting guys in the business. So, this day provided some valuable information for the interview I would be doing about the project for the Dutch Prog Rock Page.

Weeks turned into months with the occasional message coming out of Lifesigns Central about progress on the album and the other guest contributors consisting of Jakko Jakszyk known for his work with King Crimson, guitarist Robin Boult (who has worked with Fish) and the legendary Thijs Van Leer from Focus, one of John’s favourite bands.

So finally, JY got in contact again to say the album was completed and it was about to be released by Esoteric Records. Do come and hear it, he said, and see what you think. Unfortunately, Martin was unwell that particular weekend: so on a very cold and frosty day last month (December), I met up with John and followed him to Liscombe Park in rural Buckinghamshire where Steve Rispin’s studio is located. There I met Frosty, another thoroughly charming and affable character and we all sat back to listen……..

Trying to connect what I had heard earlier in the year to the final result was pretty mind-blowing to say the least. Without giving too much away, it is one of those albums that carries you away to some faraway places in your mind. You can hear it has been crafted with lashings of tender loving care and of course, the virtuosity of all the players is quite breath-taking.

All I will say is the opening track Lighthouse is imbued with the most extraordinary wall of sound which captures crashing waves beautifully. That is an abiding memory, that incredible sound, and the album I hope will feature in many people’s best of lists for 2013 at the end of the year. 

Followed by a visit to the local hostelry in nearby Soulbury, John recounted the most wonderful tale about his roundabout meeting with his hero Patrick Moraz at the Los Angeles’ Hilton Hotel. Well, prog is all about stories.

Anyway, this is the story behind the story of Lifesigns and there are more to follow – Cosmograf, Big Big Train, Also Eden, Frost*, The Tangent to name a notable few. Above all, it shows what excellent state of health the British prog scene is currently enjoying.

Nick's drawing