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Taken from LouderSound (Mar 01, 2024)

What Rob Reed learned by reinventing Cyan for the 21st century: 'In my head I wanted to be in Genesis; I wanted to be in It Bites. I was living the dream and there was no second-guessing. So there's a lovely innocence with these tracks'

The premise is simple: with a new line-up, rearrange, reimagine and rework an album, then record it on much better gear - but the Magenta mastermind didn't expect it to be educational too

by Chris Cope

(Image credit: Huw Parry)
(Image credit: Huw Parry)

In 2021 Magenta's Rob Reed relaunched his old band, Cyan, with a new line-up and a polished reimagining of For King And Country. They've now teamed up again to tackle Pictures From The Other Side. Reed and vocalist Peter Jones tell Prog about bringing a new lease of life to old material - and why there's more to come.

"I knew the songs were good back in the day," Cyan mainman Rob Reed says of his band's original releases, from back in the 1990s. "But they just needed to be reworked. A lot of people would go back and remix the album or tinker with it, but this is a major rebuilding, throwing out sections and writing new ones. Some of the tracks are unrecognisable, some less so. I just enjoy fixing things, and hearing them with the full production."

Reed is speaking down the phone from his studio in Wales on the cusp of Cyan's latest release, a reworking of their 1994 album Pictures From The Other Side. The premise is fairly simple: with a new line-up, let's rearrange, reimagine and rework the album, and record it on much better gear.

Reed and co already gave Cyan's 1993 debut, For King And Country, a 21st-century makeover a few years ago, and they've decided it's now time to have a bash at their follow-up record. It smacks of a job well done, with the album's evolution fascinating to see.

After three records in the 90s, the multi-instrumentalist stopped Cyan and locked it away in the filing cabinet while reaching to the stars with his ongoing project, Magenta. "I've always loved the tracks I wrote for the Cyan albums," Reed says now.

"I've always sort of thought, 'What would they sound like with all the modern production?' The studio I've got now is out of this world. And it's also to solve the mistakes in the composition as well. I listen back to stuff and think, 'Oh God, I wish I had written it like this.'"

Today's Cyan are a completely different proposition from the 90s version - not least in the line-up, which features Tiger Moth Tales and Camel's Peter Jones on vocals. Also on board are guitarist Luke Machin from The Tangent, and Magenta/ex-Godsticks bassist Dan Nelson. Drum duties are shared between Tim Robinson and Magenta's Jiffy Griffiths, who performs live.

"After being in so many bands, I can't cope with any egos," Reed says as he lauds his musical comrades. "I'm really lucky that we've got these players together. There's no ego there, but they're great players, which I love."

The spark that launched Reed's quest to rework the band's old material came when he heard Jones sing Cyan material for the first time. "That was the moment when I thought it was going to work," he explains. "Up until that point I was tinkering away. I had some of the files from the original recordings, I had MIDI files of some of the keyboards.

"People would say to me, 'When are you going to re-release the three Cyan albums?' I was tempted to repackage them, but I thought, 'What if I was to throw the kitchen sink at it, production-wise and technology-wise?' But the moment was definitely when Pete sang it - it just transformed it.

"For me, something that's neglected in prog in general is the vocalist. Everyone is far more concerned about how clever the guitarist is or the drummer, and how mad the music is. But, for me, the two things are melody and the vocalist because the vocalist is what connects with the listener. I've been lucky with Magenta to have one of the best female singers with Christina Booth, and now with Cyan with Pete, he's one of the best male singers."

For a bunch of kids from Rhondda Valley to go into a recording studio then hear it back on these big monitors... It was like, 'God, we sound like Genesis!'

Jones is just as happy to be working with Reed, whom he's known for around a decade. He was first approached about joining the refreshed Cyan back in 2018, and is now an integral cog in the machine. "It's been a long process to get it going, but here we are," Jones reflects.

"I think Cyan was kind of a bit of a cult thing when they came out; they had a really dedicated following. But this was in the 90s, when there wasn't much new prog getting off the ground back then. There's a lot of people that still fondly remember the originals. I hope that they think the new ones are good as well."

It's hard to believe early converts won't be won over; the grand sound and production of the band's reworked second album is a world away from the rather rudimentary set-up that underpinned the 90s original. Reed admits that his early gear was "so basic" - citing Casio keyboards as an example - as he couldn't afford high-range equipment.

"I would never have dreamt back then that I would have the gear that I have now," he says. "What these songs had was a real innocence, which I've lost having done music for so long and made so many albums. When I was writing this stuff I wasn't thinking about what the fans are going to think, or what the press are going to think, or what the reviews are going to be like. In my head, I wanted to be in Genesis; I wanted to be in It Bites.

"I was living the dream as a teenager and there was no second-guessing what I was going to write. So there's a lovely innocence with these tracks. I just did what I wanted really, and that's something I've lost, and it's really hard to get it back."

Jones agrees that there's a certain purity in the original Cyan recordings that reflects the period in which they were released. "There is that sense of, some might say, naïvety, but I'd prefer to say there's a very youthful quality to the songs, to the music - a very sort of innocent quality to it," he says, "because it was all written back when Rob was in his teens.

I do a Cyan album, I get exhausted and sick of it by the end, then I go and do a Magenta record because that's new and fresh... jumping from these things allows me to recharge my musical batteries

"It's refreshing to revisit that, and I find it very invigorating to perform the songs live as well. It's nice to keep that sense of the innocence of the originals, but to add our collective musical experience. You get the best of both worlds."

The history of Cyan goes back to the 1980s and school sixth form, when Reed had a sparkle in his eye and dreamed of a speckled career in progressive music. Rehearsals would take place in the school hall and Reed would write material on the piano there when there were no lessons on.

"I remember that we all cobbled together £5 each and borrowed the extra fiver to get 30 quid to go into a local studio that had opened up," he adds. "For a bunch of kids from Rhondda Valley [a former coal-mining region in south Wales], to go into a recording studio... and then to actually record something and then go back into the control room and hear it back on these big monitors... It was like, 'God, we sound like Genesis!' It was so mind-blowing."

It wasn't until they released their last album, The Creeping Vine in 1999, that Cyan began to make an impact, by which point the project had all but fizzled out. Reed had teamed up with vocalist Booth for the left-leaning pop act Trippa, who landed mainstream TV performances, before returning to his prog roots with Magenta. After the pop dream died it was with Magenta that Reed truly gained steam, pushing out a multitude of studio albums, live releases and DVDs.

With one Cyan album left to reimagine, Reed is unsure about when that may come to be, especially as he tends to flit between projects. However, there's another release in the pipeline of leftover material from the new Pictures From The Other Side sessions, which should help to keep things ticking over. There's also the prospect of more live shows.

"What happened with this new album was that there were eight songs on the original, and by the time I'd finished reworking them all it had gone from like 60 minutes to up to like 85 minutes," he explains. "Somehow I'd written an extra 25 minutes of material within the songs, and it was way too long to go onto one record.

A lot of people begrudge paying £10 for an album, but will pay for two cappuccinos in Starbucks. And someone spends a year and a half making an album

"So, we've taken two tracks off, and that's still running at 55/60 minutes. And then we're going to release a mini album in March that will have this epic 25-minute track on it that was way too big to go on the album.

"But I'm exhausted by it now. I don't want to do any more recording for a while and it's good for me, because doing all my various other projects... I do a Cyan album, I get exhausted and sick of it by the end, then I go and do a Magenta record because that's new and fresh. And then I do an album with that and get sick of it, and then I go and do my solo records. So jumping from each of these things allows me to recharge my musical batteries."

Another key part of Reed's busy life is releasing music through his two labels, Tigermoth Records and White Knight. He says that unlike some other "parasite" labels and distributors, his ventures give artists the lion's share of the income.

"Spotify is the final nail in the coffin for me," Reed adds. "I refuse to put my stuff on it, because it's so bad for royalties. What I've noticed is that music is undervalued. A lot of people begrudge paying over £10 for an album, but will go and pay for two cappuccinos in Starbucks. And someone spends a year and a half making an album. It's so undervalued, but it brings so much to people. The genie is out of the bottle, so there's nothing you can do."

Reed believes that £10 for an album is "scandalous" given that it's a work of art, but adds that the prog community are lucky to have devoted fans keen on paying for a physical product. However, despite the bloodsucking nature of the industry and the issue of many valuing coffee more than a CD or vinyl, Reed is thankful just to be making, and releasing, music as his day job.

"Every day I count my blessings," he says. "I'm so lucky to be able to make music 24/7. That's all I do. A lot of other musicians have got to do second jobs and stuff - but I'm lucky, and I appreciate it as if it's a contract between me and the fans that buy my music in whatever guise I put it out.

"Hopefully they know I'll put everything - financially and personally - into making a record as good as I can. That seems to work at the moment, and I rejoice every day for that situation."




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