In many ways it is hard to realise that up until the 2017 reissue of ‘The Gardening Club’, originally from 1983, Martin had only been recording a few albums over the years for his own interest, concentrating instead on his day job of illustrating. That reissue and consequent interest has lit a fire under this septuagenarian which puts many musicians half his age to shame. Since then we have had two more albums by The Gardening Club, multiple EPs by A Gardening Club Project, and now here is their first album. The line-up is Drew Birston (fretless, acoustic and Moog bass), Wayne Kozak (soprano saxophone), Kevin Laliberte (drum programming, keyboards, and gut string guitar), Sari Alesh (violin) and Martin (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass). Mention must also be made of the extensive wonderful illustrations Martin has provided for the 24-page full colour booklet which also contains the lyrics.
When I first read a review of the original ‘The Gardening Club’ I was incredibly intrigued, and soon got my own copy and consequently wrote a review saying just how much I enjoyed it. It was only after that had appeared that Martin tracked me down and we became friends, so I loved his music before I knew him. I need to put that out there, as many will be aware that Martin has since provided the wonderful designs which adorn my books ‘The Progressive Underground’, and I don’t want you to think I am biased. I have always believed in being honest in my reviews, as there is too little time in this world to spend on bad music, so I say what I think (although of course my opinion may change over time), and I know that Martin and I would have a private debate if I ripped this to pieces, but if that is what I felt then that is what I would say (I did once have a keyboard player tell me we were still friends after I had slated his latest release as he understood where I was coming from). However, this is not a debate I need to have with my fellow ex-pat, as to my ears this is the most complete album he has released to date.
When starting with Martin’s work I always think back to two very different artists, namely Roy Harper and Camel, as he manages to bring them together in an incredibly compelling manner. He also likes to keep pushing the boundaries, and by using different musicians to those in The Gardening Club he has done just that. For the most part this is Martin, Drew, and Kevin, but somehow, they manage to create the feeling of a much bigger band, and while everyone involved in this release recorded in different studios, there is a togetherness which defies belief. They bring middle eastern themes in when the time is right, slip into symphonic prog at others, back into singer songwriter, and that there are no real drums are not noticed just because there is so little percussion on the album at all. The a capella layered introduction to “The Turning of the Glass” is simply delightful, while the phased electric guitars in the background add to the acoustic picking in the foreground.
Throughout this album there are surprises, as the band move in different directions, staying true to their core yet also understanding there is a need to keep shifting so the listener never knows what is going to happen next, just that they are in the presence of beauty. The first time I listened to this I played it back-to-back three times, and each time I gained more from it. Since then, it has been a regular, as there is something magical about this, with a complex simplicity, or simple complexity, which means the listener is transported to a time and place where nothing else matters apart from the music.If you have never discovered the incredible music of Martin Springett, then now is the time to do so, if not sooner.
10/10 Kev Rowland