Sean Filkins was previously better known as singer with Big Big Train on albums such as The Difference Machine. In fact it was through my discovery of BBT’s back catalogue that I got to know his work.
Solo albums are often mere vanity experiments or dalliances but here we have a major statement in both writing and vocal prowess. War and Peace is one of those albums that makes a big impression on first listening. Its a thoroughbred prog album with all the necessary ingredients and very strong writing and melody.
As you’d expect Filkins vocals are to the fore and showcased in spectacular fashion on the 30+ minute Prisoner of Conscience Part 1 & 2. The essential Englishness which so characterizes BBT is also evident here. From the Jerusalem sample and clinking tea cups at the onset of Are You Sitting Comfortably through the introspective English Eccentric, there’s a sense of cleansing some inner demons and a celebration, acknowledgement and catharsis of parts of his past. As well as being a seminal prog song Prisoner.. is also imbued with poignant lyrics: ‘I was their destiny, and I led them like a siren to the shore. Now i’m haunted by the ghosts of all the innocent, that I surrendered to death’s door’ The track has many subtle changes of mood from indian rhythms to Gilmour style riffs and Anderson style vocal passages. Interesting though that in my mind it is the musical structure that bears similarity to that of the Yes frontman rather than the sound.
Lee Abraham played a big part in the making of the album and his influence shows to good effect on the back of his own excellent 2010 Black & White album which is also well worth seeking out. I read that Epitaph For A Mariner was a tribute to Sean’s own grandfather William Pull and becomes especially moving in that context.
If the epic Prisoner stands at the fulcrum of this album then Epitaph provides the straddling spiritual energy. The haunting intro leads into a pulsating electronics/guitar passage (kind of Tangerine Dream meets 70’s Genesis) followed by a post frenzy ambience leading to a climactic finale with double tracked vocals and some monumental keyboard/guitar soloing. I’d go as far as to say this an essential album to own and a definite contender for album of the year. I’m already looking forward to the next album in what could be a very interesting solo oeuvre. Rating: 4.5/5 www.seanfilkinsmusic.co.uk