Halcyon Days For Downes Braide Association
by Geoff Ford
Downes Braide Association return with another delicious slice of progressive pop, their fourth and most impressive studio album to date, on 5th February. Halcyon Hymns is also the follow-up their 2019 Live In England recording.
Between them Geoff Downes and Chris Braide have an incredible pedigree. Keyboard wizard Downes, from Stockport, was thrust into the limelight with the worldwide success of Video Killed The Radio Star in 1979. The single topped the charts chart in 16 countries for The Buggles duo of Downes and Trevor Horn (vocals, bass guitar). They briefly joined prog legends Yes before Downes became a founder member of the supergroup Asia. Heat Of The Moment was a world-wide hit in 1982 heralding many years of success for Asia with their FM radio-friendly brand of rock. Downes rejoined Yes in 2011 and remains with the band alongside fellow Asia founder Steve Howe.
British singer-songwriter-pianist Chris Braide, who hails from Warrington, has recently returned to UK shores after many years based in California. He enjoys enormous success writing and producing music for film scores, advertising campaigns and working closely with artists including Sia, Lana Del Rey, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Paloma Faith, Britney Spears and Marc Almond.
Together they formed Downes Braide Association as a studio-based project, to suit their, then, trans-Atlantic residential status and have produced three previous studio albums: Pictures Of You (2012), Suburban Ghosts (2015) and Skyscraper Souls (2017). The project draws on Downes’ and Braide’s rich musical heritage to create a delightfully accessible brand of progressive rock.
Following two successful shows at Trading Boundaries, East Sussex, in February of 2020, Geoff Downes returned to Wales and Chris Braide to LA but Braide says he struggled to find motivation as the world went into lockdown. Inspiration would return following a call from a close friend.
“These new songs just wrote themselves. It was so easy, so enjoyable and so meant to be. Like a gift.”
“Marc Almond suggested I ‘get stuck into another DBA record’ to lift the malaise,” says Braide. “Somehow It was hard to muster any enthusiasm for it. We had all been so upbeat at the recent shows and now here we were in a collective, creative void. It’s odd the way inspiration strikes, though, and it never ceases to delight and surprise me when the muse comes to play and it can happen at any time and without warning.
“I opened up a folder of new DBA ideas Geoff had sent to me a while back, which I’d listened to briefly, and had made a note to do something with them at a later date. I can’t say why it happened but one day in the studio, as I listened to the bits and pieces of ideas, suddenly the songs started tumbling out as if by magic. I’m not exaggerating or being melodramatic. These new songs sounded like personal reflections, they just wrote themselves. It was so easy, so enjoyable and so meant to be. Like a gift.”
The resultant album Halcyon Hymns takes their creative collaboration to new heights and the opening track Love Among The Ruins sets the bar high. A delightful and uplifting love song, Love Among The Ruins was the first track to be released from the album and reflects memories and pays tribute to a long-lost halcyon time in life.
“It was so great to witness Chris’s creativity making my fundamental ideas come alive,” Geoff Downes enthused. “He took the bare bones of melodies, harmonies and textures I sent him, and somehow crafted these into something way beyond my expectations or imagination. Love Among The Ruins is one of the many examples on the album of his rare genius at work.”
Through earlier albums and the live shows, DBA have gathered around them a quality group of friends and contributors. Dave Bainbridge (Iona, Lifesigns), who provides a wealth of tasty guitar breaks throughout the album, makes his presence felt with great solos on King Of The Sunset and Today, an anthemic celebration of life and making the most of what we have, something we have all come to appreciate in these unprecedented times. The album also features Ash Soan on drums, as DBA move away from synthetic drumbeats, Andy Hodge on bass and the rich, deep tones of orator Barney Ashton Bullock.
Your Heart Will Find The Way is an uplifting song of hope. “It has an almost Yes-like quality in that it’s very up and direct,” says Braide. “It’s also a great example of how Geoff and I will sometimes write. Geoff sent me the verse chord progression and the riff. I added the chorus chord progression and the melody just fell out on top of those two elements. The brooding verse and majestic riff, coupled with the uplift of the chorus, dictated the lyric which is about listening to your inner voice and trusting your gut instinct to navigate you out of adversity…It’s a positive self-affirmation of a song.”
“It was such a joy to hear the basic idea I sent Chris, for Your Heart Will Find A Way, turn into something of a mini-epic,” adds Downes. “The masterful development of the rhythm section of Ash and Andy really enhances the track and brings it to life. It has become something of a feature of mine and Chris’s songwriting where the verse (in the minor key) sets the mood of the piece only to climax into an upbeat chorus (in the major).”
“Here is a good example, I believe, of how we mix pathos with positivity – but ultimately delivering the overall message as one of hope and promise. It could be about a relationship, or indeed about having a belief and confidence in yourself that will eventually succeed. It’s for the listener to relate to and hopefully feel the strength of the message contained within.”
Genesis fans will love the Hackett-esque guitar intro to Holding The Heavens and the song is a perfect vehicle for long-time friend of DBA, Big Big Train vocalist David Longdon, to guest on lead vocal. The Gabriel-like timbre of his voice simply adds to the illusion that this could have been a cover of a track from the classic Genesis ‘70s era.
Marc Almond is another long-time friend of DBA, and worked closely with Braide on his own recent solo material. Almond’s vocal on Warm Summer Sun adds a reverence to the track and his vocal harmony with Braide, as the track draws to a close, evokes memories of The Beach Boys.
“With the virtual shutdown of the industry and tours being cancelled etc, it was very much a case of ‘right what can I do now then?’” Braide continues: “This album came out of that period. I chose to look at the world as it was when I was younger, the endless summer days, cycling around everywhere, pure rose tinted nostalgia for a world that had been but suddenly was not available to us now.”
Braide’s vision manifests into Remembrance, a romantic reflection of the joys of summers past. At 12 minutes this soulful epic is the longest and most progressive expression of the album’s theme, a mini-masterpiece that underscores the essence of Downes Braide Association. “Working with Geoff has reacquainted me with the kind of music I love, epic and euphoric. To be able to make music like this with my dear friend is a real pleasure and reminds me why I got into music in the first place.”
Halcyon Hymns is released, via Cherry Red Records, as a CD/DVD edition on 5th February with a white vinyl 2LP edition available from 26th March. The CD/DVD package also includes video footage of legendary artist Roger Dean’s painting sessions as he creates the album cover artwork for Halcyon Days together with lyric videos for the three singles from the album.
Halcyon Hymns track listing:
01. Love Among The Ruins
02. King Of the Sunset
03. Your Heart Will Find The Way
04. Holding The Heavens (featuring David Longdon)
06. Warm Summer Sun (featuring Marc Almond)
08. Hymn To Darkness
09. She’ll Be Riding Horses
10. Late Summer
Disc 2: DVD
01. Roger dean Painting Sessions
02. Love Among The Ruins
03. Your Heart Will Find A Way