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Rob Reed Discusses New Cyan Album
Cyan's completely re-imagined version of 'Pictures from the Other Side' dropped Nov. 17.
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. It’s fun to discover great music by diving into the past credits of the musicians in bands you already like. Sometimes there’s not much history to go on, especially with younger bands, but doing a little digging can produce some pretty cool results.
The subject of this week’s newsletter is a “band” I discovered that way. Magenta keyboardist and primary songwriter Rob Reed had previously released music under the name Cyan. I went back and discovered his earlier music and there were a lot of interesting moments in there and plenty of shared DNA between the bands, although Magenta was a more polished unit. There’s a good reason for that, which I’ll discuss further below while talking about the new Cyan album, Pictures from the Other Side.
Let’s get to that story.
I discovered a great progressive rock band called Magenta in 2004. The band had just released its second album, Seven, and I was doing an internet radio show at the time at The Dividing Line. That show eventually moved to ProgRock.com, but while I was enjoying Magenta, I was also in the midst of discovering dozens of new bands from around the world. During that period, I was busy trying to unearth as much as I could about the backgrounds of the musicians in those bands to determine where they came from and what else they may have recorded previously.
That’s how I came across a band called Cyan. At least I thought it was a band. It started as one, but in actuality, it was mainly composer, keyboardist, and producer Robert Reed doing songs he had worked up with his former classmates from school.
“It's a strange story, but it takes me right back to being in school when I was in the sort of sixth form of school and just about to leave school. And a couple of us had a band,” Reed said. “We had a band, a little bit of talent, and a huge dream of being Genesis and Yes. We put this band together, and we cobbled together a few bob and went into a local studio and made this real rough demo. But it was mind blowing for us to go in and play as a band and hear it back through the monitors.”
The demo paid off, but not until Cyan’s members had all gone their separate ways.
“Everyone left school and I sent it off to a few people,” Reed said. “And I sent it to Nick Barrett from Pendragon, and he loved it. He wrote me back a letter saying, ‘This is great.’ So, he sent it on to a label in Holland. And they said, ‘Yeah, we like it. We want to make a record.’ And I was like, ‘Well, everyone’s left now, the band has left and gone to various places.’ I was left on my own. So, with the Mike Oldfield influence, I thought, ‘Right, I’ll make the record myself. I’ll sing on it. I’ll play bass and guitar and I might have a drum machine.’ And I made this first record, which was For King and Country, and we put it out. And it did really well.”
The label wanted another album, so the original version of Pictures from the Other Side came out of Reed’s next recording sessions, and Cyan turned out three albums in all. By the time the third of those records (The Creeping Vine) came out, Reed had started working in pop music with a singer named Christina Booth. When that effort fell apart, Reed asked Booth to form a female-fronted progressive rock band. Despite Booth not having grown up on prog at all, Magenta was born. That band went on to great acclaim in progressive rock circles over the next 20 years, starting with Revolutions in 2001, and it’s still going strong today.
“I ended up putting Cyan to one side, really. I parked it all those years ago,” Reed said. “And I had 20 years of Magenta, but always in the back of my head I thought there were some great tunes back in the day I wrote in school. I had a real innocence about the way I wrote, which I’ve lost now, because I’m too much thinking about what’s the reviewers going to say, what are the fans going to say, what the record company’s going to say, and blah, blah, blah. Back in the day I was making music for myself in school. I just wrote it. So it was great to go back and re-record it with all this technology I’ve got, all the instruments. And then I put a killer band together.”
When I originally discovered Cyan’s music, I found that it shared some similarities with Magenta’s, but it was also very much its own thing. There were aspects about it I liked, but I didn’t fall in love with it. It seemed to me to be…somehow incomplete. That’s not the case now.
Cyan is back, but in a much different form. Many of the things I found lacking in the original music has been improved, as the band has been busy reworking old Cyan material. Reed found a group of musicians to revive Cyan and then set about going through his old songs. As a much more mature and experienced composer, he found the material wanting or lacking in some areas, and so he reworked those old songs and released a new version of For King and Country in 2021.
Just yesterday, Cyan released Pictures from the Other Side, which contained some of the more memorable tracks from those early Cyan releases. But Reed again has reworked his old songs, taking out bits that didn’t work and writing new parts that feature the strengths of his new bandmates, including vocalist Peter Jones.
“Once I heard Pete Jones singing it, that’s the moment I thought, ‘Yep, this is going to be spectacular,’” Reed said.
Reed performs all the keyboards and some acoustic guitar in the new Cyan, and he is the band’s mixer, engineer, and producer. Jones (Tiger Moth Tales / Camel / Francis Dunnery’s It Bites) performs lead vocals and plays saxophone, Luke Machin (Maschine / The Tangent / Karnataka / Francis Dunnery’s It Bites) contributes guitars, and Dan Nelson (Godsticks / Magenta) is on bass. Additional musicians include drummer Tim Robinson, who previously played with Magenta on the band’s first couple of albums, Revolutions and Seven. Angharad Brinn contributes outstanding backing vocals, while Troy Donockley (Nightwish, Iona) lent his talents on the unique-sounding uilleann pipes.
Donockley’s pipes introduce “Broken Man,” the album’s opening track and they give both the song and the album a huge, cinematic feel right off the bat.
“It’s a big record,” Reed said. “I love the mixing side, and I love the recording, and I love it to sound lush and correct and cinematic and broad. And I love all the colors on it, all the little bits of detail. And that’s my favorite part, is making the record. Playing live is OK, but I love the studio work, when I can really go to town on the production and I can get it to work. But the songs are still there. It doesn’t get suffocated by the production and the playing. There’s still plenty of room on it.”
Reed said that for “Broken Man,” he added a new, five-minute middle section with lyrics and vocals. The track builds beautifully, with a superb keyboard solo around the four-minute mark, gorgeous backing vocals by Brinn supplementing Jones’ soulful lead vocal, and Nelson and Robinson laying down a delightful groove in the middle section under Machin’s standout guitar solo.
“It’s the best part of the album for me,” Reed said. “It’s a new part but it makes the song work better. The original song just had a terrible middle section on it. It’s like a standalone song in the middle. It’s got an A-B-A arrangement to it. So, you go into this new part with a different time signature and Angharad sings back and forth like a call-and-response with Pete, and it just transformed. When I originally did it, that was the weakest track of them all, but now it’s the best. And each of the songs have undergone this rewrite.”
The changes serve the song well. Donockley’s pipes return around the seven-minute mark and playfully take turns front and center with a keyboard bit that sounds like a young Tony Banks of early Genesis might be playing it.
Reed is correct in that the changes he made have transformed this song into a much bigger deal than the original version was.
The title track, “Pictures from the Other Side,” has the album’s best hook, and if “Broken Man” isn’t my favorite track from the album, then it’s probably this song.
“When I wrote it originally, I was inspired by Simple Minds and things like that. It was more a pop kind of thing, with a verse and a great hook chorus that comes in,” Reed said. “It was also very much inspired by Camel — the middle section. We’ve got a Hammond solo on it very much like Pete Bardens from Camel and The Snow Goose. It’s a lot more sparkly. The production’s much better on it.”
Jones gets to shine on saxophone on what is the poppiest song on the album. Of course, ‘poppy’ is relative, since the song is eight and a half minutes long. Jones and Brinn harmonize beautifully in the chorus, with their voices melting together. The Camel influence isn’t hard to spot, with the sax and Hammond organ taking turns in the spotlight. You can hear Magenta in the track, as well as some early acoustic Genesis influence.
“Solitary Angel” is a mellow track with a lush production that spotlights Jones’ vocals at his most emotional. It seems simple, but intent headphone listening reveals new layers and textures each time I hear it. Machin’s solo is a highlight in this one. He can play fast, but this solo leans on emotional heft, like something Steve Rothery of Marillion would come up with.
The album’s shortest track is “Follow the Flow” at just 3:40. It’s a gorgeous piece built over delicate piano playing from Reed. Jones and Brinn again harmonize beautifully.
“Tomorrow’s Here Today” was a song Reed said he completely stripped down from the original version, keeping only the vocals as they were (re-recorded by Jones). It begins with a slow, acoustic guitar riff, with Machin’s lead guitar delicately dancing over it. For me, the first section of the song illustrates that the album’s unsung (no pun intended) heroine is Angharad Brinn, who is brilliant throughout the record.
Although “Tommorow’s Here Today” begins slow and atmospheric like “Follow the Flow,” it doesn’t stay that way. The middle section takes off into an up-tempo progressive rock feast of guitars, bass, and keyboards. It slows again around the six-minute mark, with Machin adding some delicate electric guitar that reminds me of vintage Peter White on an Al Stewart album. The band builds back up for a big ending to the track.
“Nosferatu” is the album’s dramatic, epic, theatrical piece that closes the record. Originally 14 minutes long, it has grown to nearly 18. Obviously things were added to the song, but they were also subtracted, Reed said.
“There was a section there towards the end. The track dropped and went into this like Vivaldi string quartet for about two and a half minutes,” he explained. “And when I came to it, I thought, ‘Why did I do that?’ At the time I thought it was great, but it killed the track. It killed the flow of the track, and so I took it out. And I can’t remember what I put in. I just completely rewrote the (song in a way) that the whole track built and didn’t disappoint to deliver on the end. It is prog. It’s over the top. For me, that’s what prog is about. You lose yourself in it. It’s a story. It takes you on a musical journey. The biggest thing I did on this version, I slowed it down. Because on the original it was like it was going a million miles an hour. It’s got much more gravitas now.”
Lyrically, as the title would suggest, the song tells the story of a vampire, incorporating Reed’s love of old horror films. As is the case with many Cyan songs, the lyrics were written by Reed’s brother, Steven, as Reed says he doesn’t enjoy lyric writing. The titular Nosferatu begins the song delighting in being a creature of the night, but the mood gives way to a more introspective, slower section in which he wrestles with the idea of turning his love into a creature like himself. It’s my favorite section of the 18-minute epic.
A funky, jazzy section follows, taking the song into an unexpected direction. It features a keyboard solo that mimics the Tony Banks sound, but not necessarily his style. The song builds into a bouncy, energetic, and urgent end section and then climaxes with dark choral vocals somewhere in between Jerry Goldsmith’s “Ave Satani” from The Omen and Carl Orff's “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana. Given the subject matter in the song, it fits the track brilliantly and gives the album a huge finish.
Two songs from the original album did not make the new version of Pictures from the Other Side. There wasn’t enough room for them with the way the songs were expanded. As a result, “The Guardians” and “All Around the World” no longer appear on the record, however, Reed plans to release the new versions of those songs on a mini album in 2024. He said that “The Guardians” has grown to 25 minutes after having an original run time of 12 minutes.
“It would have been too much of an assault on the brain to have an extra 25-minute track, so I want people to listen to that fresh as a little mini album,” he said.
I might not go so far as to say that if you love Magenta, you’ll love this new Cyan record, because the bands have differences, but I would think most Magenta fans would find plenty to like with Pictures from the Other Side. Those who didn’t like the original Cyan should give the new recordings a chance, because they’re much deeper and fuller now, with brilliant production and expert musical chops in the playing.
Meanwhile, those who did like the original Cyan albums, and who might be concerned about the changes, should still give the new album a chance. If you find you like the originals better because they are familiar and that’s the way you know the songs, you can simply think of the new versions as additions to the Cyan catalog rather than replacements.
In my opinion, the new Pictures from the Other Side fully captures what those original songs were meant to become, and the album stands alongside any of the great symphonic progressive rock records released this year.
Reed said there are tour dates planned for 2024, and he’d like to record and release a Blu-ray concert film from the tour.
The album is available in multiple formats. Fans can purchase the CD of just the proper album, but there’s also a special edition that includes a bonus CD and a DVD with a 5.1 surround mix of the album as well as some video extras. You can order it from this website.
Broken Man (11:07)
Pictures from the Other Side (8:31)
Solitary Angel (5:48)
Follow the Flow (3:40)
Tomorrow’s Here Today (9:50)
For my full interview with Rob Reed, check out the video below or download/stream Episode 126 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. In addition to discussing Pictures from the Other Side, Rob discussed the transition from Cyan to Magenta and, now, to a time of balance between the two bands (and his solo career), when the next Magenta album will come, his musical beginnings and background, working with Annie Haslam of Renaissance, the ProgAid “All Around the World” charity single, and more.
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