Twelfth Night

Prog - - Contents - Words: Joe Banks

Sur­prise! The 80s neo-prog­gers find them­selves back in the stu­dio…

It’s only to­wards the end of Prog’s chat with Brian Devoil – drum­mer, man­ager and keeper of the flame for neo­prog he­roes Twelfth Night – that he drops the prover­bial bomb­shell: for the first time in 25 years, the band are back in the record­ing stu­dio. He won’t be drawn on the de­tails, other than to sug­gest the pos­si­bil­ity of new ma­te­rial along­side record­ings of old songs, but he does men­tion a tan­ta­lis­ing, though at the time top se­cret, project that re­lates to this news.

By now, the cat is out of the bag. On Ar­mistice Day (Novem­ber 11),

100 years on from the end of World War I, Twelfth Night re­leased a new record­ing of their anti-war epic Se­quences. “We’d never re­leased a stu­dio ver­sion of the track, some­thing that is true of a few other Twelfth Night clas­sics, so the idea had been in my mind for sev­eral years,” says Devoil. “It was the first time that the stars aligned and the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self to do jus­tice to the track.” Gui­tarist Andy Revell adds, “Al­though we kept faith­ful to the best-known ar­range­ment, we ex­panded some sec­tions, added some fan­tas­tic orches­tra­tion, and even re-in­stated some parts that ap­peared in ear­lier ver­sions of the track.”

t’s 40 years since the band first came to­gether at Read­ing Uni­ver­sity, and de­spite split­ting up in 1987, their legacy is stronger than ever. For many of us who first came to mu­sic dur­ing the neo-prog glory years

of the early 80s (this writer in­cluded), Twelfth Night re­main the most in­no­va­tive and enig­matic group of that era.

The roots of Twelfth Night stretch back to an in­stru­men­tal duo formed by Revell and Devoil in the mid-70s, ini­tially to en­ter a bat­tle of the bands com­pe­ti­tion, which they sub­se­quently won. The mu­sic was based around Revell’s ex­per­i­ments with a WEM Copi­cat echo unit, cre­at­ing a shim­mer­ing, propul­sive gui­tar tone that would be­come cen­tral to Twelfth Night’s sound. “I wanted to take the am­bi­ent at­mo­spher­ics and driv­ing rhythms of krautrock, but in­stead of us­ing synths, marry those ideas with the more or­ganic na­ture of the gui­tar and blues,” says Revell.

The ini­tial Twelfth Night line-up was com­pleted by bassist Clive Mitten and clas­si­cally trained key­boardist

Rick Bat­tersby. Artist and friend Ge­off Mann joined briefly on vo­cals in 1979, but de­cided it wasn’t what he wanted to do at that time. “He then spent the next two years bad­ger­ing us to get back in the band!” chuck­les Devoil.

The band re­cruited Amer­i­can singer Elec­tra MacLeod and self-re­leased their first sin­gle, but soon re­verted to play­ing as an in­stru­men­tal quar­tet, and in 1981 put out the Live At The Tar­get al­bum, neo-prog’s first sig­nif­i­cant re­lease, once again on their own la­bel. “One of the rea­sons I didn’t have any is­sues with per­form­ing at the same time as punk is be­cause we had that punk ethos in the sense that we did it our­selves,” notes Devoil. Some­what iron­i­cally then, a re­view of Live At The Tar­get in Mu­si­cians Only mag­a­zine de­scribed Twelfth Night as the best band in the world af­ter Ge­n­e­sis, which led to a re­think in di­rec­tion, and the de­ci­sion once again to find a vo­cal­ist.

Twelfth Night au­di­tioned po­ten­tial singers, but even­tu­ally re­alised that Ge­off Mann was ac­tu­ally the man for the job af­ter all. Devoil re­mem­bers, “He sent us our ver­sion of Se­quences from Live At The Tar­get, and he’d fleshed it out with a full set of lyrics and sung over it. And it was so much bet­ter than any­thing else we were get­ting. So we went up to see him in Man­ches­ter just be­fore the [1981] Read­ing Fes­ti­val and said, ‘You know we’ve been say­ing for months you can’t join the band… Erm, would you like to join the band?’”

The ‘Punk Floyd’ of the neo-prog scene, Twelfth Night al­ways stood apart from the crowd. Now with the band back in the record­ing stu­dio, they’re set to play on once again. “I defy any­one to show me bet­ter lyrics in rock mu­sic. What Ge­off wrote was just as­ton­ish­ing, and so true – it’s ex­actly what’s go­ing on in

the world now.” – Brian Devoil

Mann would go on to make his live de­but with Twelfth Night in front of a fes­ti­val crowd of thou­sands, and quickly es­tab­lished him­self as both a rivet­ing per­former and supremely tal­ented writer. While still an in­ven­tive and ex­cit­ing mu­si­cal unit, the fo­cus of the band shifted to high­light Mann’s uniquely ex­pressed world­view and his rough-hewn, con­fronta­tional vo­cal style.

Back in June, the band re­leased a 3CD De­fin­i­tive Edi­tion of their 1982 al­bum Fact And Fic­tion. Lauded by this very mag­a­zine as one of ‘The Al­bums That Saved Prog’, it’s a still stun­ning show­case for Mann’s hu­mane yet acer­bic lyrics and the band’s stark, modern up­dat­ing of the pro­gres­sive rock tem­plate. Along with a remastered ver­sion of the orig­i­nal al­bum, the pack­age also in­cludes a disc of live in­ter­pre­ta­tions of its tracks, plus a disc of cov­ers from prog lu­mi­nar­ies in­clud­ing Pen­dragon, Gala­had and Tim Bow­ness – ev­i­dence, if it were needed, of Fact And Fic­tion’s en­dur­ing ap­peal.

And yet Fact And Fic­tion was an al­bum that only re­ally came about by hap­pen­stance. Look­ing to land a record deal, the band had de­moed a syn­th­based take on The Bea­tles’ Eleanor Rigby. “And that came to the ear – I don’t know how – of Andy Macpher­son who ran Revo­lu­tion Stu­dios, and he thought it had hit po­ten­tial,” ex­plains Deovil. “So he said come up and record this sin­gle, and we could use stu­dio down­time to record other ma­te­rial. And that’s how Fact And Fic­tion came about.”

Work­ing late at night in­jected the al­bum with a noc­tur­nal ur­gency, even if the in-house engi­neers didn’t al­ways share the band’s en­thu­si­asm. “Some of the en­gi­neer­ing is re­ally not up to stan­dard,” says Devoil. “In the end, [Macpher­son] spent longer mix­ing the drums for Eleanor Rigby than it took for us to mix the rest of the al­bum! We mixed it in two days, and of course, it was all hands to the pump and on the slid­ers, noth­ing au­to­matic. And then we es­caped with the tapes…”

Even if the fin­ished prod­uct wasn’t son­i­cally per­fect, the ma­te­rial on Fact And Fic­tion was stel­lar, with We Are Sane and Creepshow in par­tic­u­lar be­ing two of the stand-out tracks of the neo­prog pe­riod. Much of their im­pact was down to Ge­off Mann’s pre­scient words and im­pas­sioned de­liv­ery. Devoil con­curs: “I defy any­one to show me bet­ter lyrics in rock mu­sic. What he wrote was just as­ton­ish­ing, and so true – it’s ex­actly what’s go­ing on in the world now. One of the rea­sons I did the De­fin­i­tive Edi­tion was to fo­cus on the lyrics and to make Ge­off very much the cen­tral per­son in the pack­ag­ing and pic­tures, be­cause it’s the lyrics that mark that al­bum out.”

Suf­fice to say that nei­ther Fact And Fic­tion nor the Eleanor Rigby sin­gle set the charts on fire upon their re­lease in 1982, but Twelfth Night were rapidly be­com­ing one of the lead­ing lights of the neo-prog scene. A stun­ning per­for­mance at the fol­low­ing year’s Read­ing Fes­ti­val, sub­se­quently broad­cast on Tommy Vance’s Fri­day Rock Show, should have been a turn­ing point for the band – and it was, but not in the way they ex­pected.

Devoil ex­plains, “We had a lot of in­ter­est from CBS at the time. We did some demos with them in the sum­mer of ’83, and we thought that was go­ing to lead to a sign­ing. And then they dropped their in­ter­est lit­er­ally two days be­fore Read­ing, which I didn’t tell the rest of the guys in the band. They told me off for that af­ter­wards…” And if that wasn’t bad enough, soon af­ter­wards Ge­off Mann an­nounced his de­ci­sion to leave the band. “It was a shock ini­tially, but what we were be­ing told was that record com­pa­nies didn’t get Ge­off, and

“If I’ve got any­thing to say about it, then yes! I would love to be back on stage with the band.”

– Mark Spencer

we weren’t go­ing to get signed with him,” says Devoil. “Al­though there was a huge sim­i­lar­ity be­tween Ge­off and Fish, there was also a huge dis­par­ity. In ret­ro­spect, if he had stayed, I think we would have con­vinced the record com­pa­nies that he was vi­able, but at the time they said no. So chang­ing vo­cal­ists was a way for us to re­po­si­tion our­selves.

“We did the same as Mar­il­lion and Pal­las,” con­tin­ues Devoil. “We re­placed our the­atri­cal per­former with some­one who was a bet­ter singer. And Andy Sears was fab­u­lously tal­ented.” He stresses there were no bad feel­ings though. “When we started au­di­tion­ing for vo­cal­ists – sev­eral of whom came to those farewell shows at the Mar­quee, in­clud­ing Andy Sears – we took videos and sent them to Ge­off for his opin­ion, so he was in­volved in look­ing for his suc­ces­sor.”

Also present at Mann’s farewell shows was Mark Spencer, singer at the time with LaHost and sub­se­quently a ses­sion player for some of rock’s big­gest names. When Twelfth

Night re­formed as a live band in

2007, Spencer joined as a mul­ti­in­stru­men­tal­ist, and by the time of the band’s ‘farewell’ show at the Bar­bican’s Guild­hall in 2012, had grad­u­ated to lead vo­cal­ist. A Blu-ray, DVD and dou­ble-CD of that per­for­mance is due out by the end of the year, en­ti­tled A Night To Re­mem­ber. It cer­tainly was for Spencer:

“I’d just come off a mini-tour play­ing key­boards and bass with Alan Reed, sup­port­ing It Bites, and we’d all got re­ally ill. I’d done a gig in Glas­gow the night be­fore, lit­er­ally walked off stage, got in the car and started driv­ing back down, un­able to speak, and not en­tirely sure whether I’d be able to sing. So get­ting as close to singing as I did on the night is quite pleas­ing…”

Devoil adds, “One of [the Guild­hall] stu­dents was do­ing a fi­nal year in light­ing and pro­duc­tion, and blagged about a mil­lion pounds worth of light­ing equip­ment – ap­par­ently the com­pany he went to, the main guy said, ‘Twelfth Night, no prob­lem,

I used to see them at the Mar­quee, have what­ever you like!’”

There are other ret­ro­spec­tive re­leases po­ten­tially in the pipe­line: footage and sound­tracks from the band’s per­for­mances at Lore­ley in Ger­many and Tiana in Spain, plus video of Ge­off Mann’s farewell shows. In ad­di­tion, Spencer has recorded a solo ver­sion of the en­tire Fact And Fic­tion al­bum, which should hope­fully be re­leased in the near fu­ture.

But with the band (based around a core trio of Devoil, Revell and Spencer) now back in the stu­dio, the big ques­tion is: will Twelfth Night ever play live again? “If I’ve got any­thing to say about it, then yes! I would love to be back on stage with the band,” en­thuses Spencer. Devoil is more cir­cum­spect, but cer­tainly doesn’t rule it out: “If we were to cre­ate some new mu­sic, and there was clearly a de­mand, and some­body made us an of­fer we couldn’t refuse, then

I think it’s pos­si­ble.”

ANDY REVELL (LEFT) AND CLIVE MITTEN PLAY­ING READ­ING FES­TI­VAL IN 1983.

BRIAN DEVOIL PLAY­ING NEARFEST IN 2012. GE­OFF MANN PER­FORM­ING CREEPSHOW, 1983.MARK SPENCER, 2012.

LET­TING THEIR HAIR DOWN AT LON­DON’S MAR­QUEE IN 1983.The new ver­sion of Se­quences is avail­able from the Twelfth Night web­site. The De­fin­i­tive Edi­tion of Fact And Fic­tion is out now via F2/Fes­ti­val. A Night To Re­mem­ber is out soon. See www.twelfth­night.info.

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