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On the day //Prog// speaks to him, session gun and solo artist Ben Reed is re-shelving and re-alphabetising his enormous vinyl collection. He has around 10,000 records, only a few of them on CD, and he doesn’t do digital – he’s never downloaded nor streamed a song in his life. “I would never listen to music digitally,” he says from his cosy attic studio in West London. “One of the main incentives of making music for me is to see it spinning on my turntable.”
Well worth a spin, his excellent current album //Bandaged// is his fourth solo work after 2004 debut //Tall Story//, //Who Dreams Of Hyssop// (2009) and //Station Masters (2016). As a jobbing bassist Reed’s played for a diverse roster of hip artists on the XL and Domino labels, and notably appears on //Blond//, the smash hit album from progressive hip-hop star Frank Ocean, and David Byrne’s 2018 LP, //American Utopia//. There was a day in the studio with the “absolutely lovely” Peter Gabriel in 2016, and while that material never saw the light of day, it points to Reed’s own proggy leanings.
“All paths were leading to prog for me since I was a child,” says this music obsessive. “The first album I ever owned was //Moog Party Time// . My parents had Beethoven symphonies, Holst’s //Planets// and Geoff Love’s //Big Love Movie Themes//. Then my hippie uncle gave me the  Island sampler, //You Can All Join In//, and that’s how I discovered stuff like Fairport Convention and Traffic.”
At just eight his mind was blown by Floyd’s //Interstellar Overdrive//, Zappa’s //Hot Rats//, and //In The Court Of The Crimson King//. A cool teacher gave him //Close To The Edge//, and Yes has been the musical love of his life since – Chris Squire was his first bass inspiration, along with Bowie’s //Ziggy Stardust//-era sideman, Trevor Bolder.
All these ingredients – plus Reed’s degree in jazz music composition – can be tasted in //Bandaged//, a revelatory dive into his magpie imagination. With proudly English diction and laconic, melancholic vocals he delivers jazz-twisty lines, tight harmonies and smart, sometimes surreal lyrics. Two highlights, the insistently groovy //Tale Of Cleopatra// and dark closer //Smiling//, draw on works by the late poet Elizabeth Ardean.
Caravan/Soft Machine’s Jimmy Hastings performs some of the exquisite, Canterbury-esque horn lines, and while acclaimed pianist Ross Stanley (Steve Howe Trio) and pedal steel legend BJ Cole add class, Reed takes care of pretty much everything else. From sound to style, //Bandaged// is admirably analogue and likeably lo-fi. Reed’s bass amp’s from his former primary school’s PA, the speaker was salvaged from his parents’ now-defunct church.
“There’s unlimited amounts of digital jiggery pokery these days,” he says. “At the end of the day my favourite kind of music is a strong melody, chord sequence and structure, played and sung as well as possible by guys in a room, recorded as well as possible. I want to trust what I’m listening to.”
Line-Up: Ben Reed (vocals, bass, drums, guitars, keys), backed by an impressive roster of guest performers.
Sounds like: A jazz graduate who’s been mainlining Caravan, Zappa and Todd Rundgren while locked in the finest musical instrument shop, circa 1976.
Current Release: Bandaged, out now on Cherry Red.
— Grant MoonFrom "Limelight - Ben Reed" Prog Issue 144 Reprinted with permission.