Musicians of all stripes are regularly the target of hyperbolic praise but, against that, to describe Clive Nolan merely as a stalwart of the progressive scene risks downplaying his achievements over the last 30 years. Since emerging from university armed with a degree or two in music, the keyboardist’s track record is an extensive one within the neo-prog world.
In particular he has served as Nick Barrett’s right hand man in Pendragon for over a quarter of a century. But as well that project he has also found time to lead his own bands Shadowland and, more notably, Arena as well as being involved in myriad side projects and production work. All of which makes him prolific – and Nolan has maintained commendable quality control – but far from unique.
What does distinguish Nolan from the vast majority of his peers is the boldness of his artistic vision. This led him to found the Caamora Theatre Company seven years ago as a vehicle for his leanings towards big theatrical productions. After a couple of EPs, Nolan’s first full length outing under the Caamora banner was five years ago with She, a musical adaptation of Henry Rider Haggard’s 19th century adventure novel of the same name. Not content with releasing a ferociously complex double album, Nolan and his Caamora Theatre Company also performed She in locales as diverse as Poland, the Netherlands, Bolivia and, last year, the UK.
Nolan has gone one step further by writing his own Victorian adventure story for Alchemy, his second foray into the potentially perilous world of rock opera. The storyline has numerous twists and turns and is divided into two acts split neatly between two CDs. Once again, Agnieszka Swita takes the lead female role as Amelia Darvas and Nolan has recruited several notable performers from the progressive scene, including former Twelfth Night vocalist Andy Sears, ex-IQ singer Paul Menel and Threshold’s Damian Wilson.
One perennial challenge for bandleaders such as Nolan is how to differentiate projects such as this from the day job. While Alchemy has the odd musical nod towards Arena, for the most part it is readily distinguishable from both that band and indeed Pendragon. Perhaps wisely Nolan has largely eschewed using musicians from either of those bands, with only Pendragon drummer Scott Higham and current Arena singer Paul Manzi featuring.
Alchemy really is a remarkable achievement, and further confirmation that to call Nolan a prog stalwart is still to sell him short. If only he had the budget to match his musical vision, then he’d surely be a household name.