John Miles - A career retrospective.
John Miles receives the Outstanding Musical Achievement Award at the recent Prog Awards, 2018.
By Andy Rawll.
I'm amazed by the lack of subsequent press coverage for John Miles' Outstanding Musical Achievement Award at the recent Prog Awards. Although, ostensibly recognising 'that' song as an enduring touchstone in the pantheon of prog, there's so much more to savour from this Jarrow hero's back catalogue that's equally deserving of recognition. So here goes...
Following 5 years of largely unsuccessful soulful pop singles for Orange, his purple patch sprouted following his switch to Decca. His holy quadrilogy of commercial rock albums with Decca balance pop sensibility with prog elegance; fuelled by the presence of Alan Parsons at the desk and Andrew Powell on the baton on the still astounding debut 'Rebel' and 1979's under-appreciated 'More Miles Per Hour' (MMPH).
'Rebel's successor, 'Stranger in the City', suffered by comparison being less orchestrated, P&P-less and a more overtly commercial release, with spirited 'Slow down' ultimately a disco dud despite a great vocal and fabulous talk-box solo. However, Miles' songwriting remained exemplary with the two ballads 'Time' and 'Remember Yesterday' beyond reproach.
Although it would be another year before big Al and Andy would return to the fold, for many his third album for Decca, 'Zaragon', remains the apotheosis of this period. Taut yet atmospheric production, fiery lead guitar, that effortlessly soaring voice and, best of all, a set of songs that distil the essence of 'Music' into a cohesive suite of songs. From the superb Supertramp like 'Overture' to the killer mini-rock opera of 'Nice Man Jack' and sci-fi coda of the title track, this remains a personal favourite.
Finally, MMPH (AKA Sympathy) may lack the front-to-back consistency of its predecessor, but the return of Parsons and Powell pay real dividends on the two longer tracks 'Fella in the cellar' and 'We all fall down'.
Miles' departure from Decca in the early 80s, during the barren days of prog, marked a shift away from his sumptuous compositions of the 70s into simpler pop-rock with diminishing returns both artistically and commercially and a succession of short-lived label contracts.
As the door on his solo career creaked to a close, so did another open as his rich voice and impeccable musicality remained in strong demand as a session player and collaborator with The Alan Parsons Project, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker and, notably, with Jimmy Page during the 'Outrider' period and the longstanding (if execrable) 'Night of the Proms' concert series.
Estimable contributions to latter-day Parsons albums ('La Sagrada Familia' from 'Gaudi' in particular) aside, it's disappointing that 1993's 'Upfront' is that last full solo album from such a talent. Unlike 1981's insipid 'Play on', 'Upfront' is well worth seeking out.
Although, without a single prog bone in its body, it's a fine album of mainstream blues rock with great performances and some really good songs like 'Chains and Wild Horses', 'Now That The Magic Has Gone' and 'Body Of My Brunette'.
Here's still hoping that Prog Mag's recent recognition will inspire John's re-emergence as a solo artist; if only for one more tour or album. My guess is that there's still plenty more miles left in the tank.