It has been an incredible last four years for Martin Springett, who could never have thought the 2017 reissuing of his (it must be said) obscure 1983 album. ‘The Gardening Club’, would herald such a reawakening of his musical beast. His revived partnership and collaboration with Norm MacPherson has seen them release new albums, with this long-form version of “The Owl’ being made available on the same day as the limited-edition extended ‘The Time Trilogy’ EP (which is by A Gardening Club project, with very different sounds and personnel). “The Owl” was originally released as the B-side of “Strange Kingdom” last year, where it was a mere four minutes long, but it has now been extended and morphed into a suite which is more than 17 minutes in length and is worth every second.

I have long been thinking of Martin’s music as a combination between Camel and Roy Harper, and while that is still the case, here that is a base for a much richer palette. Norm is a key member of the partnership, providing some wonderful orchestral arrangements, dobro and slide guitar with Martin bass, acoustic guitar and vocals, James McPherson on drums with Peter Dowse and Drew Birston both providing bass on different sections. It is the combination of all the elements, especially against the delicate orchestration, which really makes this stand out. This belongs firmly in the Seventies, with Mike Oldfield, The Strawbs and Gryphon being the obvious references, and is delicate and light, dreamy and passionate, calling to the listener and bringing them in closer to be wrapped in a warm embrace. The sections are distinct, with wonderful slide on one, fretless bass on another, an oboe here, long instrumental sections or others dominated by Martin’s sweet tones. This is a timeless piece of music, and while it is being played nothing else exists or matters, it is all about the sound. The first time I played this was when I was washing the pet room floor, a task which is as monotonous as it sounds, and from the first gentle picked acoustic guitars I was transported. I had made the decision to play it on headphones and I am so glad I did as that is the only way to get the true benefit. Strings were introduced before the first minute was over, and I soon realised this was quite different to previous music I had heard by the band, and all for the better.

Martin has been invigorated by the awakening of his musical muse, and his output has been prolific (while also keeping up the day job of being an in-demand illustrator, he of course provides all the artwork for his releases). Part of me wonders what would have happened in his musical career if it had taken off back in 1983, but there again there is no use playing that game, and instead we can revel in wonderful progressive rock music of real depth, breadth and quality which is being delivered today. Long may it continue. This is essential listening for all lovers of quality music which is in no rush to get to the end, yet never wastes a note.

Kev Rowland