It seems surprising to me that so little has been written about John Simms, a truly British guitar legend, who, from the extremely early age of 15, made his mark as one of the initiators of heavy guitar blues-based progressive rock music with his band ‘Clear Blue Sky, (CBS) a band for which he still contributes musically and actually manages to this very day. The interesting thing is that most musicians undergo a kind of apprenticeship of treading stepping stones to the top and so it is quite astonishing that John, at such an early age, was the youngest ever signing to the British celebrated Vertigo Swirl label. Furthermore following this achievement began playing with bands such as Matuse, Tangerine Peel, The Ginger Baker Group, John Entwistle (The Who), Karizma, Separate Energy, Census of Hallucinations, Bernie Torme, and more.
However, John was inducted to the guitar whilst still at primary school, firstly playing covers especially those of Hank Marvin and the Shadows and then gradually being drawn towards the recordings of the then relatively unknown American blues guitarists. And so the early seeds for a band were sown when he and lifelong friend drummer Ken White formed, what was later to become, ‘Clear Blue Sky’. John naturally taking on the main role of composing new original music. In fact, so much material was produced, for that renowned first Vertigo album, that there is a whole host of unreleased music reserved for a possible retrospective look back in time at’ CBS. . Some of that material John cites as being better than those selected for the album.
And so almost fifty years on the very first John Simms Light Trails solo album entitled ‘Chromatology’ is released an album which clearly illustrates his love for experimentation with different sounds and the mixing and matching with the various genres. ‘Light Trails’ has certainly expanded John’s opportunity to do exactly that with a pretty mixed bag of music crossing over between rock, prog, stoner space rock, fusion, elements of soul and even little excursions that touch around the similarities of reggae .
There is certainly an abundance of different and fascinating soundscapes generated from, what is listed in the sleeve notes as a plethora of different guitars type, pedals and equipment all of which is magnificently supported with a background of industrious keyboards. The very important keyboards act as a firm platform, a preverbal magical canvas, to enable the guitars to express themselves fully as they soar and sway in their own copious way. The drumming too is perfectly aligned to the music, not exactly over ambitious but steadfast with a preponderance of varying rhythmical patterns that drive the music ever forward. Integrated into the mix the bass lines sing sweetly in the background, nice little patterns that are a delight to isolate and follow intently.
It could be considered that ‘Chromatology’ is predominately an instrumental album. However, the vocals, which are scattered throughout the nine tracks, are brilliantly administered. Especially enjoyable are the vocals on the track ‘Are We Nothing’ a sure single I would suggest. I must admit that I got slightly confused as to who was singing what, the sleeve notes helped a bit, but could be clearer.
Each of the nine tracks is in itself a separate adventure, a collective of magical journeys and a preverbal A-Z of electric guitar techniques and arrangements. It is certainly not first time listening and it takes several spins to get on-board with the sheer craftsmanship and compositional skills encompassed within this space spangled and sure to be classic album.
Summary: A must-have TOP SCORE album.
1- Night Star
2- Step Into The Light
5- Light Trails
6- The Mystery Of Light
7- Circle At Dawn.
8 –Are We Nothing
All tracks composed by John Simms
Additional Keyboards, Synths and by David Hendry
Lyrics, Vocal Arrangements, Backing Vocals and Percussion by Maxine Marten
Backing Vocals on Are We Nothing by Tim Jones
Artwork, Design and Layout by David Hendry
And from The Pen of John Simms:-
Light Trails represents the summary of my music studies throughout the decades, and I always try to maintain my own style and people have urged me to do a solo project for years. Never a day goes by when I don't play guitar or explore music.