Worlds of Yesterday

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Some History

The following information is taken (mostly verbatim) from the sleeve notes of Worlds of Yesterday, a compilation of Moonshot songs curated by Tim Bowness.

1967Moonshot emerged from the ashes of the Warrington skiffle band, Scouse Mouse. Led by Jeff Harrison on keyboards and vocals they recorded a couple of non-charting psychedelic singles.

1968 – 70: The band’s debut album, The First Moonshot was released in 1968. This and the unimaginatively named follow-up, The Second Moonshot (1970), were less psychedelic and a little more jazz influenced than the earlier singles.

1970 – 73: Over the next few years the band morphed into a more traditional progressive rock styled outfit. Two more albums followed in this vein: Third Moonshot (1971) and Sunshine and Storms (1972). Then, in 1973,  Before That Before, a single from the Rosewater album, became Moonshot‘s only UK hit.

1974: After releasing the popular live album, Live at the Rainbow, Harrison sacked “several members” and the band headed off in an art rock direction, taking their cues from Peter Gabriel, David Bowie and Brian Eno.

1975 – 89: As the gloomy 70s evolved into the shiny 80s Moonshot settled on a melodic MOR style which went down well in Germany. The single, Stupid Things That Mean the World, entered the top 10 in several European countries.

1990 – 2010: Now with Jeff Harrison as the only original member Moonshot‘s recorded output was minimal. They produced just two albums during this period, both of which were an attempt to recapture some of the band’s early fire.

2017 – 19: Early in 2017 Harrison announced a forthcoming album to be called The Digital Beyond. “A return to the conceptual heyday of 1970-1975” as he put it. Following a year long tour to promote the newly released album Jeff was hospitalised in December 2018 and on January 4 2019 he died of complications related to excessive rice pudding consumption. Shortly before he died Harrison asked Tim Bowness to compile his personal “best of Moonshot“.

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A Review

Worlds of Yesterday was released on 17th January 2020. The announcement was picked up by the Crotchety antennae that very day and the CD added to the birthday present list on the strength of the sampler video and the promotional blurb. It dutifully arrived on schedule on 31st January and it made old Crotchety’s day. (UK readers can’t have failed to notice that it was an important date here for a very different reason; it was, of course, National Hot Chocolate Day.)

The full title of the new compilation is Worlds of Yesterday (A Retrospective, 1971 – 1992) and it concentrates on the progressive rock songs that Tim Bowness feels are the highlights of Moonshot‘s career. There is none of the “melodic MOR” material from their late middle period. In fact, it sounds very much like vintage Genesis all the way through.

The vinyl album has 10 tracks; the CD adds one more. All the songs look back on the career of a rock musician, from when his musical persona was “brought to life by the sound of applause” to the inevitable fading into obscurity as he first came to believe he could do nothing wrong and then lost touch with his once adoring audience. It’s an old story but with a fresh new telling.

The album gets off to a very promising start. The acoustic guitar introduction to the first track, Moonshot Manchild, could easily be by Steve Hackett. You’d swear you hear the gritty tones and melodic lines of Mike Rutherford’s bass, too. The accent and intonation of the vocals are almost those of Peter Gabriel. And it’s not hard to imagine Tony Banks on the keyboards or Phil Collins on the drums, either. The Moonshot players seem to have Genesis in their blood.

After the upbeat prog rock of track 1 comes Stupid Things That Mean The World, a more laid back pop/rock song that would sit comfortably on one of Phil Collins’ solo albums. It’s pleasant enough but serves more as an appetiser for the title track than as a main dish.

Worlds of Yesterday is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the album. It is, perhaps, a little too conventional and melodious to be a genuine Genesis song from their heyday but it certainly ticks all the boxes in the committed prog fan’s checklist.

In this title track there is both fondness and a touch of regret for the lost worlds of fame and adulation. They were good times, but they left behind a heavily shop-soiled musician, battered, torn and trapped in songs of yesterday.

The psychological damage goes more than skin deep. It seeps into the suffocating nightmares of a man Lost In The Ghostlight of his former glory. This song pummels the ears and leaves a raw metallic resentment on the tongue.

The lyrics of Nowhere Good To Me have the even sharper taste of a well hopped beer.

They all cheered for the songs, though the notes you played were wrong.

Although the sentiment is angostura bitter the overall sound carries the crisp sweetness of an early Yes track, confirming Moonshot‘s place at the very centre of the prog rock spectrum.

Although the regret lingers its tartness quickly fades away and is replaced by the mellow sorrow of The Great Electric Teenage Dream. “Once a record, now an unpaid stream”, moans the singer while a lazy acoustic guitar and a distant flute mourn the passing of the days when success was measured only by the sales of vinyl and polycarbonate discs.

That is the cue for the nearest thing to a pop single on the album. Before That Before is a wonderfully atmospheric song that caresses the mind with its gentle textures and ends with some gorgeous female vocals. “It was all so different then”, it seems to say, although the words contribute little more than a carrier for the simple, sing-along tune.

In stark contrast, The Sweetest Bitter Pill is a rock opera song. This one smacks of King Crimson mellotron and Rick Wakeman keyboards. It tells us of “No star hotels … with buzzing lights in freezing rooms” – the necessary suffering that is the wellspring of great art. Without it there would be no songs to offer the fans, nothing for the record companies to market and no music business career to look back on.

Distant Summers celebrates the good times – the concerts and the festivals when “You lost yourself in sound”. Then You’ll Be The Silence remembers that the central songsmith caught the moment “just by chance” and a slide guitar wails a final tuneful farewell.

Owners of the CD are treated to a magnificent grand finale in the shape of Moonshot Shadows. This one piece has just about everything. It’s the jewel in the Worlds of Yesterday crown; it’s the cherry on the muffin, the icing on the birthday cake, the cream on the peaches, the star on the Christmas tree. It has resounding synthesiser chords, rolling piano runs, metal-rhythm guitar thrashing, pounding drums, gritty bass; it even has echoes of Bridge Over Troubled Water in the piano part. But there’s nothing for the singer. There are no words, no vocal parts at all. The central character of the story has completely faded away, drowned into silence by the indifference of faceless listeners. The man who once soared aloft in a moonshot has fallen deep into the Earthly shadows.

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