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 Judge Smith

British Rock Artist

The Climber 2010

Curly's Airships 2000




Judge Smith

The Climber - 8

Sometimes categorising an album is wrong, sometimes it is impossible and that's certainly the case with Judge Smith's The Climber. So let's get the basics sorted. Smith was a founder member of Van Der Graaf Generator (something that immediately goes in his favour). So where does a former prog rocker go when he heads off in a new direction? In Judge's case up a mountain.

The Climber is described as a songstory and that seems to be an apt description for a gem of an album. Don't expect it to hit home immediately, however. It takes a considerable amount of concentration and the tracks cannot be taken in isolation - you just have to sit and listen to the whole thing.

Basically it's the story of a British mountaineer who finds solitude in the Alps. As the story unfolds our hero in his arrogance begins his ascent of a peak viewed by locals to be highly dangerous. Gradually the climber comes to find himself through the intervention of others. The loner realises that he genuinely is alone and in many ways it becomes a frightening experience.

The essence of the piece for me is a celebration of life and freedom. As to the music itself. Well it's sparse but hugely memorable. Judge sings and is accompanied by a male voice choir and that all adds to the sparseness of the feel. There are some memorable lines and melodies as well and it's one of those pieces that enters your head - somewhere between prog, rock and classical. In lesser hands the amalgam would not have worked but in the hands of this composer it is little short of a triumph and one I will return to time after time. And that's exactly what you need to give it - time.


Curly's Airships

Wow. Take yourself back to 1930 and the R101 airship disaster. Throw in a sprinkling of some of the most famous names in prog/rock and turn it into a double CD and it gives you some idea of the epic proportions of Curly's Airships. Like the Climber its virtually impossible to categorise this release. Perhaps less immediate than the Climber, it nevertheless takes us to an age when things were much slower and aviation was in its infancy.

Airships features Peter Hammill (Van Der Graaf), Arthur Brown (Crazy World of Arthur Brown), Pete Brown (he of the extremely long album title "Things May Come and Things May Go But the Art School Dance Goes on For Ever), Paul Roberts (The Stranglers). Chuck in a dance band, organs and an Indian music ensemble and you get some idea of the scope of what is a remarkable work, although admittedly not to everyone's taste.

The packaging alone is worth an investment. An album put together with love and something that took six years to bring to fruition. Whatever way you view this and whether you are interested in the subject matter or not you just have to admire the scope and musicality involved.