“There are so many ways to answer that question, but I guess you could say that there were some situations where there were a few communication problems,” says Mark Trueack, referencing the split of Aussie progressive rockers Unitopia, with just a hint in his voice to suggest he’s an expert diplomat.
Communication problems – alongside the rather cliché “musical differences” – can tactfully disguise a range of sins, but the singer seems convinced that the dissolving of the band is far from permanent.
“Then there were some things that Sean [Timms, keyboards] wasn’t happy with on the musical side,” he continues. “The good thing is that we speak to each other quite a bit, and last year we thought that we would have a rest and put the band to sleep for a little while. What’s important is that Unitopia will continue but it’s just a question of when.”
That split, albeit temporary, seems to have come at an unfortunate time, with the band’s last couple of albums being well-regarded and generating much-needed momentum. Unitopia seemed on the cusp of a breakthrough. With Timms now pursuing his own, heavier project, the issue over timing hasn’t gone unnoticed by drummer David Hopgood.
“Very much so from my point of view, as I thought that was a real step forward for Unitopia,” he says. “Sean came to a point where he felt a bit burnt out with the band and he had done a lot of work over many years with the band and wanted to explore something a bit different. There was talk about bands like Karnivool and other heavier prog bands and he really wanted to get that younger market.
“Initially he was talking to us as the rhythm section and the rest of the Unitopia guys about playing something different with him, but still doing something with Mark. That wasn’t really going to work and in the end, I wanted to be loyal to the big guy next to me here. So it’s a shame but we have two bands with two directions. I’m happy as we’ve made a pretty fantastic album as far as I’m concerned.”
That album Hopgood refers to is his venture with Trueack, boldly entitled the United Progressive Fraternity, who have completed their debut Fall In Love With The World. The music had its roots in an aborted Unitopia double album, with both parties amicably agreeing to split the music between them. It’s a logical step given that Trueack and Timms are joint owners of the studio where the material was recorded and provided both with the skeletal demos which could then be reworked. UPF quickly recruited Guy Manning to provide a fresh keyboard approach, away from the more traditional sound of Timms.
“We wanted something more guitar-driven and not the classic prog, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman influences and all that fancy keyboard stuff,” says Hopgood bluntly. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, we love Sean’s keyboard work, but the great thing about having someone like Guy Manning on the team is that he can add those colours and the sounds that are not overpowering. Sometimes the keyboards can overtake things and you don’t get to hear the other things that are going on. So for us now, it’s all about having a good blend together.”
Music aside, Manning’s role was also critical in assisting the pair in recruiting the other members of the band. Their search for a bassist was particularly arduous. John Jowitt (IQ/ Jadis/ Frost*) was originally involved but, as Trueack puts it, he “had some personal issues and was with us for about five seconds”. Landmarq’s Steve Gee was also approached, and initially accepted, before leaving due to workload pressures. Manning then put the band in touch with Jonathan Barrett (The Tangent), who performed on the title track before he too revealed he was unable to free up enough time to commit to studio and live work.
The band had assumed that Manning’s Tangent bandmate Dan Mash would also have a full diary and consequently didn’t approach him initially, but the bassist was available and, suitably intrigued by the project, accepted their invitation. Yet this core of musicians was only part of the grander, ambitious, all-inclusive vision Trueack had perceived.
“Back in 2009, I started to think it would be a really cool idea if we could bring in guest musicians from all over the world,” he muses. “I mean, I know it has been done before but this would be different as there was a reason for it and a belief in uniting people around the world. I thought about it and met up with a guy called Steven Layton, who was in contact with Jon Anderson. That was originally for a project called The Hope, which is yet to be finished and released. We hoped to involve Jon then but for one reason or another it didn’t work out, but he was kind enough to lay down some beautiful backing vocals on The Water on this album. I mean, here was a guy who I’d grown up listening to on the early Yes albums and it was so cool to have him on board.
“Jon’s done a lot of guest appearances on other albums but this is a little bit different as he’s a backing vocalist. So it’s really about the words and what they mean, and having Jon on there was always going to be great and his voice speaks for itself.”
“Our plan is to continue to work with the odd guest here and there,” interjects Hopgood. “So the whole idea of this fraternity is that we will bring in people to make a contribution but we’ll also always have a core band. We haven’t really figured out the writing process for future albums but there’s already a lot of material we can draw on.”
Aside from Jon Anderson, United Progressive Fraternity also managed – apparently after a lot of badgering – to persuade Steve Hackett to add his distinctive guitar sound to Travelling Man. Trueack has also been making preparations for a follow-up album, and has already sounded out a number of other musicians for the upcoming project.
“I’d contacted Steve Hackett way back in 2011 and asked if he would be interested in The Hope and he certainly was, but as always it was about time,” explains Trueack. “The thing about Steve is that he’s a machine and keeps making albums and touring. Guy Manning also has a communication with Steve and he made contact and got the ball rolling. It was still all about time, but I kept hammering away at him and he said that he had a window and it’s a great result on that track.
“But for the future, I have been speaking to people like Nick Magnus and Nick D’Virgilio. The thing is that these people are very interested in being a part of it, and in the idea. So these are just ideas that are floating around and we’ll see where we go.”
The lyrics for the album also feed into the concept of the unification of people, and, as Trueack explains, “about a peaceful world and hope”. It’s a concept that he has been working on for some time, and is audibly delighted that he also has the assistance and experience of Hopgood and Manning to draw on.
“Well, you have to tell a story and then it’s really about joining the story with the musical idea,” says Trueack. “A good example would be with Unitopia when Sean and I would come up with a concept and then basically start writing the lyrics down together. We would always have a definite idea. Guy is an incredibly good storyteller on his albums and it’s all about how you make the lyric come to life to send that message. With someone like David, he writes some really lovely lyrics too, and one of the lyrics he wrote for the defunct Unitopia album is going to be on Sean’s project which is called Hold. Having all these people that can write lyrics is very important.”
For those who are missing Unitopia, though, Trueack is confident that it won’t be too long before he and Timms reunite to begin work on a new album.
“A couple of weeks ago, Sean and I were talking and I think he has been quite surprised at the speed and way we have put this project together. From his perspective, what he would like to do is the same as us, in spreading our wings and let’s see where we go. He stated that he wanted to do some more Unitopia and of course we have some songs sitting in the vault that could certainly make an album, and we also owe our label an album. But we talk all the time, and I really want him to have success with his project and he wants us to be successful with ours.”
Fall In Love With The World is out now on InsideOut. For more information, see www.unitedprogressivefraternity.com.