There’s a lot to be said for getting your band name right. It’s hard to believe that the Floyd would have made such an impact if they’d stuck with The Screaming Abdabs, or that Radiohead would have been cool if they kept On A Friday. So Kent-based rising stars Bellerophon have surely won half the battle already. Their band name suggests mighty monster-slaying Greek heroes or famous ships of the line from England’s naval heyday. It indicates ambition and big ideas. And, with epic tunes likes White Whale and Slippers, it seems they’ve the music to match that ambition.
For a band that describe their oeuvre as ‘Neo-Electronica-Digi-Folk-Symphonic-Guitar-Prog’, they’re remarkably self-effacing. Part of the answer to this lies in the length of time that some of Bellerophon’s band members have been in the biz. Founder and guitarist Tobias Van De Peer has been playing since the 90s and bassist and keyboardist Iain Cobby paid his dues gigging with tribute acts. “In the 90s I was an acid jazz musician. I toured with Jamiroquai!” says Van De Peer, smiling. “You go where the work is.” After 10 years working in a post-Kraftwerk band together, Cobby and Van De Peer decided to play what they love.
“We met and bonded over prog,” says Van De Peer. The natural step for the duo was to create a band that made a joyous, mellotronic sound, and they found the group to help make it happen. Caitlin Merrison brings distinctive alto vox and songwriting skills to the mix, while Steve ‘the fox’ Sly supplies the guitar pyro. Genial, beardy drummer Mike Orvis brings influences from the techier end of prog. Indeed, Bellerophon create an impressive tapestry of influences, including first-wave acts like Yes, through to 80s neo-prog and more modern tech prog, with even a touch of old school hard rock.
“I’ve wanted to play in a prog band since I was 13,” Orvis says, before explaining how he heard Van De Peer and Cobby’s early demo of Bellerophon tracks and immediately phoned them up to tell them he was playing drums. “I hate MIDI drums on good music and I said, ‘I’m going to work after-hours on your track.’”
Perhaps it is the balance between their love of modern and classic prog which gives Bellerophon their live and recorded energy. When Orvis – who charmingly describes himself as a ‘fraud Mike Portnoy’ – mentions his love of Haken and Tesseract, Van De Peer and Cobby let out amused sighs. They all agree on the value of quality chops – and count Haken among the true gents of modern music – but Cobby speaks with almost misty-eyed wonder about England’s classic Garden Shed album and their insane Mellotron work. It’s a token of the skill and unity of the outfit that they’re unafraid to throw massive Gentle Giant style four-part harmonies against the pyrotechnics of Sly’s guitar.
Bellerophon are very conscious that it’s time for the full EP Hark! A Vagrant! to drop. Individual tracks have been drip feeding for months. Sadly, this reflects the constraints of cashflow (as Van De Peer bluntly puts it, “The main thing is money.”) as well as the sheer range of ideas they’re toying with. “We need four-hour band practices,” says Orvis, only half joking. “It takes an hour to set everything up, we play for an hour and then the rest of the time is spent sharing ideas and stories.” However, Van De Peer assures us that come late spring, the record will be good to go: “We’ve nearly got everything done except the drums.”
The other priority for 2017 is getting out on the road. “It’s very difficult for us to get bookings,” Cobby admits. “However, once people have seen us it’s a different story.” Van De Peer adds, “I think we’ve got our own character now.” And that character is big, epic and ambitious. Perhaps 2017 will be the year Bellerophon take that ambition on to the next stage.
|line-up||Tobias Van De Peer (guitar, vocals), Ian Cobby (keys and bass), Caitlin Merrison (vocals), Mike Orvis (drums), Steve Sly (guitar)||sounds like||Gentle Giant meets Yes with a modern tech edge||current release||Hark! A Vagrant is due out in Spring 2017||For more, visit the band’s Facebook page.|
|Tobias Van De Peer (guitar, vocals), Ian Cobby (keys and bass), Caitlin Merrison (vocals), Mike Orvis (drums), Steve Sly (guitar)|
|Gentle Giant meets Yes with a modern tech edge|
|Hark! A Vagrant is due out in Spring 2017|
|For more, visit the band’s Facebook page.|