Forever associated with VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR – a band he had co-founded with Peter Hammill with whom he continued working for years, most notably on “The Fall Of The House Of Usher” in 1981, after exiting the ensemble fold in 1968 – Judge Smith most completely, when compared to other former members of that group, extricated his creative muse from their original template. Of course, there was 2000’s “Curly’s Airships” – a sort of rock opera and a prime example of what Smith defines as a “songstory” narrative, yet subsequent records, such as "Orfeas" and “Requiem Mass” from, respectively, 2011 and 2016, saw Judge further diversify his output. So stopping is the last thing on the veteran’s mind, and his new platter should confirm this.
Initially titled “The Cosmic Commodore” before the final tagline of “The Trick Of The Lock” set in, it comprises pieces which feature Judge Smith and the remarkable, in his words, pianist and arranger Robert Pettigrew, so the result is very much different from his previous oeuvre.
“I have long admired the ‘piano songs’ format,” says Judge. “Some of my earliest influences were Flanders and Swann, and many other ‘revue’ entertainers in the same tradition, and the sound of two persons and a piano has always given me pleasure. However, for this kind of album to work it needs a very special kind of pianist – it’s hardly what you call rock ‘n’ roll – and it was not until 2021, when I began working again with Robert Pettigrew – who I first met in 1977 when he led the band for a production of a co-written musical of mine, ‘The KIbbo Kift,’ at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh – that I realized that the time was now right for me to try my own hand at a collection of ‘piano songs.’
The songs themselves are pretty diverse, like most of my work, and include reflections on current world affairs, and a song based on my experiences in Scientology at the beginning of the Seventies. In addition to his playing skills, Robert has become a magnificent arranger and also possesses a beautiful singing voice, so I was in very safe hands. I made my own rough demos of each song and turned them over to Robert for him the weave his piano magic. I then added a lead vocal, Robert added his backing vocals, and the tracks were mixed by Pat Collier, at his Perry Vale Studio in South London. He’s been my go-to mix producer for years for the effortless clarity and musicality of his sound. An instant, ad-hoc photo session with photographer John Ellis – better known as a top rank guitarist – and a video, made in the medieval church of St. Benedict in Glastonbury, and the job was done.
It would be quite feasible for Robert and I to perform this material live, but the practicalities of us gigging in present circumstances have yet to be worked out.”
Read the review, while the video of the album’s title track can be watched below.
1. Mission Creep
2. The Cosmic Commodore
3. The Trick Of The Lock
5. Skin In The Game
6. Nothing To See Here
7. Here’s The Think
8. Best Before
9. The Little Flower
10. It’s Another Day