Sean Filkins was born and raised in Rochester, England. He grew up with the music of Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles and The Hollies. Later on he enjoyed bands like Yes, Uriah Heep, Pink Floyd, Rush, Hawkwind and Gentle Giant. After playing in several local cover bands he started to write his own songs just before joining the space rock outfit Soma. They made only one album and did two tours in East Germany. In 1992 he joined the neo-prog band Lorien, and in 1998 Filkins played shortly in a Whitesnake-tribute band before forming The Indigo Pilots in 1999. In 2003 he was asked by Big Big Train to be their main vocalist. At the time they were recording their new album The Gathering Speed followed by The Different Machine (2007). In 2009 he left BBT and after many sessions with Lee Abraham (bass, rhythm guitar), Gerald Mulligan (drums) and John Sammes (keyboards) and with the help of many of his old friends he recorded his first solo album War And Peace & Other Short Stories.
The short instrumental opening track Are You Sitting Comfortably contains some radio sounds with the English national anthem in the background. Most of the lyrics of the second track The English Eccentric were written in 1999, but the composition and the arrangements were newly written for this project. The song is partly autobiographical and forms a link with the line in the next track: 'daddy went to war; we'd hoped that he'd return.' Heavy pounding drums in the vein of Dream Theater soon change into a very melodic progressive rock rhythm. After five minutes you're suddenly in a typical IQ-ending with a nice electric guitar solo. The musical style and also Filkins' vocals are quite similar to the album Fragments by Parzivals Eye, one of the prog rock highlights of 2009.
One of the main pieces is Prisoner Of Conscience, part I, The Soldier which lasts for nineteen minutes. It's based on the life of Sean's grandfather who disappeared in World War II while out on patrol. Both his mother and his grandmother never found out whether he was killed or just wounded. His mother felt that he was alive somewhere either badly injured or mentally disabled. In the story the character returns to England, being wounded and slowly learning to live with all that has happened to him, but also with the pain, the suffering and the absurdity of it all. With the sound of air raid waves, flutes and sitar sounds Sean Filkins shows his musical fantasy in the beginning of this epic that also contains typical English folk influences, especially when he sings a solo part accompanied by a classic orchestra. You'll be amazed! After seven minutes the music changes into a typical up-tempo rock song with beautiful guitar and organ solos, an outstanding blend of the music of Genesis, Pink Floyd and The Moody Blues. In the middle-section the spoken words and rapid singing provide for a darker atmosphere. It's easy to imagine the desperation of the soldier. A brilliant, but short electric guitar solo is followed by a flamenco guitar, while the final part is dominated by a bluesy guitar solo in David Gilmour-style.
The second part of Prisoner Of Conscience is called The Ordinary Man that tells the continuing story of the soldier who finally realizes that there is light at the end of the tunnel. He now knows that he was an honest man who only tried to survive. Musically it sounds if Yes with Jon Anderson is back again. You hear beautiful singing and a nice and attractive beat during the eleven minutes with several excellent solos from the guitar, synths and drums! The last four minutes are more in the vein of Genesis during the Wind And Wuthering-era.
The 21-minute epic piece Epitaph For A Mariner was originally written as a poem for his grandfather William Pull, a boatman from Margate in the 1890s. This piece is about him and his fellow-boatman struggling to earn a living at sea. During a storm his grandmother was in labour and his father was helping her to deliver the baby. His closest friends were on the lifeboat while it capsized. All but two were drowned, but the baby survived. The epic starts with a female singing a kind of English hymn accompanied by a church organ and followed by sea waves and intriguing synth sounds in the vein of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. You hear a slow, but heavy guitar solo while the pace is raised very fast by the synths. The middle-section is also of a very high level; Genesis, Camel, Yes and Pink Floyd are never far away. After fourteen minutes there's a musical eruption with a fantastic Gilmour-like guitar solo ending with a dramatic piano outro.
Originally the last piece Learn How To Learn started as a new age acoustic instrumental track called Pastoral, written by Sean Filkin's good friend Geoff Webb. Sean wrote the lyrics and now it's a more positive song about coming to terms with one's past and that we all must work for a brighter future for all. Filkins added the mandolin, Mellotron, drums, bass and a great electric guitar solo. At the end he created an Asian atmosphere with a sitar, tablas and flute. The final song has an obvious link to the previous tracks; in my opinion a great way to end an excellent album. So far War And Peace & Other Short Stories is my number one album of 2011!
***** Cor Smeets (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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