For fans of progressive music, England in the early 1980’s was an exciting place to be; a number of new bands coming through; lots of great gigs, national press and radio coverage and a real feeling that this nascent scene could develop into something quite significant. In the end, Marillion was the only band to achieve any long term success, although at the time they seemed to me to be an ordinary bunch of musicians with an extraordinary frontman. More interesting was Twelfth Night, who, along with Solstice, were arguably the best of the bunch. In Fact and Fiction, released in 1982, Twelfth’s Night potential seemed to be fully realised.
The album has recently been re-released on the Cyclops label, re-mastered and with a fistful of extra tracks. A good time, then, for a fresh listen.
Twenty years on, "We Are Sane", the albums first track still sounds incredibly uncompromising. The ferocious music, driven by Clive Mitten’s basswork, veers crazily around Geoff Mann’s Orwellian-nightmare lyrics. It is an awesome piece.
"Human Being" is much easier on the ears, with a mellow and very sparse musical backing to Mann’s humanitarian lyrics. There is a brief, punchy instrumental passage and some very expressive lead guitar playing from Andy Revell. "This City" is also very sparsely instrumented in its early stages, before the band adds additional layers of instruments as a setting for another strong melody and set of lyrics. "World Without End" is a gorgeous but too short instrumental track which, on the original LP release, finished off the first side of the album.
The title track is next up, a quirky, synth driven piece which shows a different side to Twelfth Night. Reading the sleeve notes to the CD re-release, it seems that the band was considering making an album with an equal balance between more commercial songs and their progressive side. The progressive material won the day and "Fact and Fiction" was the only out and out pop song to make it onto the album. Despite this, it doesn't sound out of place and helps the pacing of the album, acting as a useful breathing space amongst the more weighty material. At the end of the track, Mitten's lugubrious synth playing once again takes centre stage, leading directly into the second instrumental on the album, "The Poet Sniffs A Flower". Again, this is a cracking piece, the acoustic guitars adding additional textures to the music.
With "Creep Show" we are back in epic territory. In its level of intensity, this resembles Radiohead with Thom Yorke at his most angst-ridden. The band are at their best, showcasing the finest ensemble playing on the album, utilising a wide dynamic range. "Creep Show" starts with a gentle classical guitar motif and builds through some remarkable vocal and musical passages. The guitar solo at the end is too close to "Comfortably Numb" for my liking but that's a minor quibble; this is an astonishing track by anyone's standards.
"Love Song" ends the album in anthemic fashion. Again, Mitten's classical guitar leads things off before the track builds in familiar Twelfth Night fashion. If I close my eyes, I'm back again in the audience at the Marquee, or the General Wolfe in Coventry, singing my heart out…
So, nostalgia trip or genuine progressive classic? To my ears, definitely the latter; Fact and Fiction has stood the test of time amazingly well. Geoff Mann's extraordinary, impassioned and erudite lyrics are, in themselves, a towering achievement and with the bands ability to create some tremendous music to back up Mann's rage at inhumanity and inequality, there is no doubt that Fact and Fiction is a remarkable album. The remastering of the CD has been very successful, giving it a warm and powerful sound, and, if the additional tracks are of limited interest, well who cares; they're just the icing on a very rich cake.