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Synth and Software CD Reviews: Rick Wakeman, Carl Palmer, Steve Hillage, Damo Suzuki, Dave Gate



Streaming makes the heart grow fonder for discs

Perhaps it’s not surprising, but the word is that CD sales are now increasing worldwide. In the same way that a lot of CD owners started to feel nostalgia for the physical experience and more impactful graphics of the vinyl LP, now download enthusiasts from the last couple of years are starting to aim increasingly for CD ownership.

A lot of artists particularly from the field of thoughtful electronic music are responding. Experimental musician Dave Gate, who records in the UK as Hyberus, points out that the CD medium is now more flexible than ever before.

“It’s possible to factory press as few as 100 CDs now,” he points out,”and though that means an eight week wait for shipping from Taiwan, it’s nothing like the eight month wait for new vinyl pressings.”

Below we’ve looked at some electronic music artists still supporting the CD as a medium, and at a film producer combining screenings and download sales with the good old DVD.


It’s astonishing that people still exist who haven’t heard of Steve Hillage. Starting with obscure bands Uriel and Khan, he made his name with Anglo-French psychedelic rock band Gong, early signees to the Virgin label, and further developed his amazing range of guitar and synthesizer techniques on a series of solo albums starting with “Fish Rising,” “L,” “Motivation Radio,” and “Green.”

Hillage’s lyrical lead guitar sound (he stood in many times for Mike Oldfield) was coupled with a complex use of timed Echoplex delays, guitar synthesizers, and the eerie “gliss guitar” playing style. His live band before 1979 included drummer Clive Bunker (ex-Jethro Tull) and aptly named bassist Colin Bass for an archetypal English progressive rock sound.

After that time prog rock was in trouble as record companies caught on to the sales potential of simpler punk and New Wave styles of pop. On this album from the Paris venue in 1979 (the sleeve’s styled after that of the “Open” album current at the time) you can hear Hillage’s efforts at compromise – a new heavier, funky rhythm section of Paul Francis and Andy Anderson, and some short, snappy rhythm guitar led songs like “1988 Aktivator” (just 2m17s in the version here) and “Definite Activity.” Dave Stewart takes keyboard parts while Steve’s partner Miquette Giraudy adds fluid synthesizer sounds and patterns.

The album’s from a cassette master, but the sound quality is okay, and Hillage completists will want to own a copy. Starters may prefer to begin with the 1977 “LA Forum” release from the same label Madfish, and from there a journey through all the other Hillage titles (maybe even visiting the massive career retrospective box “Searching For The Spark”) becomes almost inevitable.


There have been several extensive sets of CARL PALMER’s music, but this is the most comprehensive to date. Of course he’s best known for years with Emerson, Lake & Palmer and is currently touring with a live-to-synchronised-video show featuring his two, very sadly departed band mates.

But Palmer has history before ELP with Atomic Rooster, and after with “3,” Asia, and various jazz-oriented lineups including the Buddy Rich Orchestra.

The ELP-oriented disc includes tracks all the way from the early albums to “Love Beach,” the last of the band’s original series of releases. Everything illustrates just how Palmer, as a rock drummer with extensive experience of classical and jazz, drives the music along but also punctuates it with little melodic phrases, a perfect match with Keith Emerson’s classically-influenced compositions.

The second CD allows Palmer to stretch out on tracks by Atomic Rooster, Mike Oldfield, Asia and “3,” while the third showcases the music of his “Carl Palmer Band” and “ELP Legacy” projects. These new arrangements of pieces like “Trilogy” and “Jerusalem” really allow the drum parts to breathe and will be appreciated by any aspiring percussionist.

But there’s even more to this set – a Blu Ray disk “The Rhythm of Life,” a booklet of notes, and a truly massive and dense autobiographical paperback generously illustrated with photos from throughout Carl’s career, including some of his own original art. 

The whole set’s available through BMG and is an invaluable purchase for ELP and Asia fans, drummers, and prog rock fans in general. Carl is on tour in the USA throughout July and August, dates on the website.

HYBERUS “Water Stories” CD

HYBERUS is a musical coalition led by DAVE GATE, who works in the UK for one of the leading music technology companies. He’s been on the slightly more experimental side of electronic music for a long time, with CD, vinyl, and download releases in various line-ups. In fact this new release “Water Stories” was originally available as a download only.

“It’s straightforward and easy to make music available by download,” he explains, “but having a physical CD is still of more interest to a lot of listeners.”

“Water Stories” was recorded over the last couple of years. It couples Dave’s repetitive, cycling, often chime-like modular synth sounds with some sliding, smoothy chorused Mick Karn-like bass by Rob Andrews, distant reverberant guitar by Paul Dilworth, and others on flute, sax, piano, and gongs. 

The closest musical reference would be the earliest “krautrock” recordings of Cluster, that band’s co-founder Dieter Moebius, or famed producer Conny Plank. Certainly the very long pieces (two over 19 minutes in length) can create a seemingly invariant musical background, but listened to in more detail there’s a lot going on, from radio static sounds to subtle cello and bouzouki on “Riverwalker.” 

The whole album is a great example of acoustic meeting ambient electronic sounds.

Picture: Dave Gate


“Energy” is film maker Michelle Heighway’s tribute to DAMO SUZUKI, who very sadly passed away in February 2024. For over 30 years the Germany-based Japanese singer had been on a “never-ending tour,” forming scratch bands in each city and delivering improvised vocals generally without rehearsal or even a soundcheck. 

Suzuki had made his name in the early 1970s singing with Can on a quartet of albums that substantially helped to define the “krautrock” scene. “Soundtracks,” “Tago Mago,” “Ege Bamyasi” and “Future Days” remain gorgeous fusions of rock, experimentalism, electronics, jazz, proto-ambient and a dozen other musical fields.

Like Suzuki, the rest of the band would generally improvise, sometimes for hours, before bassist Holger Czukay spliced and duplicated sections of tape to create something like a conventionally structured song. With Damo – who I was privileged to perform with several times including at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall – you never knew quite what to expect, from German to English to Japanese to a glorious word salad made from them all.

Michelle Heighway’s film centers on Suzuki’s touring over a period of five years and his battle against colon cancer. He took a zen approach to life, contrasting sometimes with the manic nature of his singing, which could go from a whisper to a scream in seconds.

Heighway follows him as he undergoes more than 40 operations, finally regaining enough strength to perform again across several countries, including in the UK with members of The Fall.

Filmed in large part at Damo’s Cologne apartment, crammed with books, concert posters, and his own paintings, the movie’s a poignant tribute to positivity and the healing power of music. 

The crowdfunded movie has taken several approaches to marketing. There is a DVD available, but it’s also screened regularly at movie festivals, and there is a version at VimeoOnDemand. I wouldn’t be without the DVD though, which comes in a very slimline slipcase making it more practical to sell by mail.

RICK WAKEMAN – Live at the London Palladium 2023

A fulsome boxed set from RICK WAKEMAN, whose prog rock followers still seem to appreciate the CD medium over download. Wakeman had a recent solo album “A Gallery of the Imagination” in reflective mood, but this 4CD box is shamelessly celebratory covering his early solo albums “The Six Wives of Henry 8th,” “The Myths & Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table,” and “Journey To The Centre of The Earth,” plus a set of classic Yes tunes climaxing (as it would have to) with “Starship Trooper/Wurm.”

At age 74 you might expect Rick Wakeman to be slowing down, but he isn’t doing so either in terms of his concert schedule or of his keyboard dexterity. If you’re not familiar with his style, it can be described as classically influenced, very intricately ornamented and making great use of piano, organ, synthesizer and orchestral sounds. Wakeman was an early pioneer of the MiniMoog, and after trying various substitutes such as the Korg Prophecy is back to using the real thing.

In this performance, the “Six Wives” are arranged in chronological order and mark the most classically-oriented parts of the concert. But “Arthur” and “Journey” cover a vast range of styles from symphonic and contemplative to the crazed barrelhouse piano of “Merlin.” 

Rick’s son Adam is equally dexterous on second keyboards, while Hayley Sanderson delivers vocals in a prog rock style with just a touch of Broadway theatre. Some hardcore fans haven’t approved of the use of female vocals for these pieces, but I’ve always liked Hayley’s performances.

For this project Rick has worked with his own label Fragile in conjunction with Esoteric, and the CD format suits the work to a much greater degree than download. Rick Wakeman is on tour (he’s always on tour), with details on the “Rick Wakeman Communication Centre” website.

These musicians and many others are working hard to keep the CD format alive. With career-spanning photos to display, extensive sleeve notes, and long running times, the format still has a great deal to offer compared to vinyl, streaming, or download.

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