Cardington! is it the name of a battle?, a place? or an historic event? Well, until Lifesigns latest album i simply didn’t know. Cardington is the location in Bedfordshire UK were the R101 airship was developed in 1929. Sadly it crashed over France on it’s maiden voyage in 1930 killing 48 of the 54 people on board. Local to founder of Lifesigns John Young, Cardington and it’s history regarding the R101 will have been a labour of love to write and compose a musical piece about. John is a gifted musician and a great composer and i can confirm that some of his best work is present here. Whilst fellow Lifesigns cohort Martin Frosty Beedle remains steadfast there have been some personnel changes due to other commitments. Nick Beggs being replaced by bass man Jon Poole. Guitar contributions by Niko Tsonev, Robin Boult and Menno Gootjes augment the talents of new kid on the block Dave Bainbridge. As a unit this version of Lifesigns represent a formidable force.
Utilizing images provided by the Airship Heritage Trust the album is nicely packaged and presented. For the purpose of this review i have elected as i often do to base my findings on the vinyl format as well as conventional CD. To assist those curious about who is playing guitar on any given son there is a guitar map downloadable from the bands website www.lifesigns.me as a PDF file. This adds to the experience and made my job a little easier to identify and credit individual guitarists. For tose who may have concerns or reservations about such genre as a concept album worry not. Cardington is an album of individual stand alone pieces the majority of which superbly written and composed by John Young.
Quick off the mark is N. An odd title for a song you might say? especially an opener. I am reliably informed that the song is about anything you want it to be IE Ndulgence, Ncounters, Ndeavour Nothing etc etc. I think you get the drift? Frosty Beedle sets out his stall early here laying down a powerful and lively punch which he maintains throughout the whole of the album. Dave Bainbrige proving to be a perfect foil for John Young’s complex keyboard patterns. I was pleased to hear John’s keyboard sound throughout Cardington differed slightly from th bands first album as i thought they sounded a little dated. Not so here with greater attention given to textures and sounds. John’s playing is without doubt the best i have heard him play.
Co written with Frosty Beedle Voices In My Head has a Roger Waters like opening with John Young’s vocal caught crisply in the mix. the growling bass line a credit to Jon Poole who adds a little more grunt to the sound than his predecessor. There are some great vocal harmonies midway through this song worthy of an Anderson / Squire comparison. Menno Gootjes and Niko Tsonev indulges some great guitar dueling here both of them adding to Dave Bainbridge’s already superb sound. I can’t help thinking that Lifesigns have set the bar high throughout this album especially from the writing point of view. None more evident than with the atmospheric Changing Rainbows. the instantly likable melody and pace i also found once again lyrically intriguing in much the same way as the rest of Cardington. Robin Boult adding great acoustic guitar (according to the map) whilst keyboards add depth and scale. Credit must also be given here to sound engineer Steve Rispin who’s talents also help to make these compositions shine.
Different finds Frosty Beedle at his percussive best one again pounding out a solid beat whilst adding some rather nice flourishes. Niko Tsonev placing his stamp all over this beautifully put together piece about those of us who dare not to conform to a perceived norm. I count myself in on this one! Great Mellotron sound within the mix and superb dynamics. At over nine minutes long Different is one of the longer songs on the album though countered by the jaunty Impossible being more in a pop vein. Upbeat, airy and a song to get your foot tapping. No pun intended but this shorter form missive takes the album off auto pilot steering it away from a completely Prog orientated collection of opus and whilst this song works here on so many levels i feel that it’s much better placed in the running order on CD than it is on the vinyl album. Which is why despite basing this review on the vinyl format i am reviewing the songs in the CD running order. Ultimately though the vinyl wins over on sound quality.
Making reference to the talent show culture and from what i can gather it’s flaws Touch finds John Young keyboards sounding the best they ever have. Not just from John’s excellent playing ability but from their tonality which with modern keyboards/plug ins etc can be a difficult thing to get right. Jon Poole’s bass playing out of the park here adding grip and impetus to the proceedings. With this thought provoking song in mind the title song Cardington is perfectly set up to bring to a close an album that in my view find itself in the pick of the crop of this years (2017) crop. Cardington is a great piece of musical story telling presented in full sonic Technicolor. As mentioned above this ten minute and forty second piece tells the story of the R101 airship and it’s all too brief history. Filled with nuances such as Dave Bainbridge’s Bouzouki playing and effects courtesy of Steve Rispin Cardington flows thanks in no small part once again to John Young’s awesome keyboard playing. Lyrically this piece will have you reaching for you phone or tablet to google the tale of the R101 which is testament to just how good it is. Cardington is one of those albums that you simply don’t want to end which is a firm indication that it struck all the right chords with me at least. I thoroughly recommend Cardington highly and consider it a worthy addition to your music collection. As the late Stanley Unwin used to say, “deep joy”.
Available from all of the usual sources and of course the bands website www.lifesigns.me