Cosmograf -
Official Bootleg, Live at the 1865

(CD 2024, 77:25, Gravity Dream)

The tracks:
  1- British Made(5:54)
  2- The Man Left In Space(10:10)
  3- Bakelite Switch(8:27)
  4- White Car(10:02)
  5- Regretful Refrain(6:57)
  6- Four Wall Euphoria(6:27)
  7- Arcade Machine(9:21)
  8- The Motorway(11:16)
  9- The Ghost Gets Made(8:51)

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On Sunday 14th June 2023, the popular 1865 in Southampton, venue to many great prog bands, played host to a rare live appearance by Cosmograf, Hampshire-based Robin Armstrong's musical project. Having heard a soundboard stereo mix made by the 1865's sound man Ben Jude, Armstrong was impressed enough to remix and master the live show in his home studio. This wittily entitled bootleg album offers a tantalising taster of Cosmograf's musical essence, featuring songs old and new.

They open with British Made from the most recent album Heroic Materials (2022), the gently strummed acoustic guitar complementing the laser sharp intensity of Armstrong's melancholic voice. Lee Abraham adds the first of many searing guitar solos, drummer Kyle Fenton keeping a steady tempo while Alistair Martin's bass rumbles away underneath.
The Bowiesque The Man Left in Space, title track from the album of the same name, was the song that announced Armstrong's arrival on the British prog scene. It still evokes an overpowering sense of claustrophobia and regret. It's a song in which to lose yourself right until the ethereal voice brings it to a close.
From his "official" first album, When Age Has Done Its Duty (2011, see review), there's 1970s nostalgia flowing through Bakelite Switch and wistfulness of childhood. A pre-recorded brass band, a kettle whistling, dog barking and a clock ticking ominously set the scene. A Mellotron comes in full throttle as Armstrong recounts all the major achievements of this decade together with a juddering guitar solo and swishing drums.
Spooky, ghostly White Car is about a sťance with a medium. Changes pace to something heavier and more menacing halfway through, with a Yes-like vocal shout-out and choir like voices and harmonies.
Regretful Refrain is the story of an old fighter pilot looking back on his life. It's a gentle, poignant lament that becomes very Floydian vocally.
Rockier, raunchier Four Wall Euphoria has a real lock-down vibe about it, its topic being about shutting out the world. A telephone rings, there's a lovely funky groove and heavy guitars from Abraham.
Whisked away to a fairground world. Arcade Machine has a more electronica edge to it, all narrated in a slightly threatening voice.
A scarecrow is the voice for The Motorway as he watches the cars go speeding past. Its gorgeous resonant melody and beautiful recurring acoustic guitar motif highlight the endless yearning of the hay-man and his impossible dreams.
It's a cracking way to end the set, but there's one more musical ace up the Cosmografic sleeve as they end with rocky The Ghost Gets Made from the Capacitor (2014, see review) album, its big classic riff pounding through your head.

It was a pleasure to have attended this gig on the night itself: it's even more of a pleasure to relive it here all over again.

***** Alison Reijman

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