I’ve rarely seen excitement from various Canterbury uberfans to rival that which has accompanied the airing of a single sampler track from this debut album, and having been in the lucky position to have had access to the entire release for a month or so now, I can confirm that Zopp is a significant event in the pantheon of new ‘Canterbury’ music even if it emanates from a relatively youthful individual from the East Midlands!
‘Zopp’ is almost a lost album in the Egg canon, albeit imbued with a fresh energy without some of that band’s austere and self-consciously classical reference points. Ryan Stevenson comprises the vast majority of Zopp (the only other ‘constant’ member is drummer Andrea Moneta). Whilst Stevenson acknowledges Mont Campbell as a reference point in conversation, and even more obviously so Dave Stewart in sound, there is a lightness of touch more in common with the expanded instrumentation of Hatfield and the North, the comparisons helped by the fact that Stevenson doubles (or triples) on guitar and bass respectively.
The opener ‘Swedish Love’, with its high plaintive wordless voice (from Caroline Joy Clarke), in unison with keyboards, could not be more of an obvious reference point to Amanda Parsons circa ‘Tenemos Roads’, but it is not long before ‘Before The Light’ sets the project’s stall out fully. Used as a taster introduction to the album (you can listen to it here – tasty indeed) – the blaring, weaving introduction eventually settles to a myriad of time signatures and keyboard sounds, instantly recognizable from the Canterbury idiom, before being topped off by cyclical Oldfieldesque guitar.
Possibly best of all is ‘V’ –, punctuated almost throughout by mesmeric pulsing keyboards. This also contains many of the classic Canterbury elements. Bass sounds wander around underneath keyboards which alternately ripple or fanfare stridently Dave Stewart style, in search of that perfect countermelody. This is also the track that Theo Travis is credited on for flute, although you could be forgiven for missing this in amongst the orgy of Hammond and Mellotron, whilst fellow Tangent member Andy Tillison, who guests throughout the album, is also credited here for piano. This is a piece which, ‘Newport Hospital’ style, returns time and again to base for its imposing central theme before noodling off for another fine solo.
Also right up there is the final track, the fanfarish, brilliant ‘The Noble Shirker’ where the main theme reprises continually, with keyboard soloing around it in more considered fashion – more Dave Sinclair than Stewart in its clinical quest for each perfect note. As this track develops, it’s clear that this is something of a statement, a triumphal squaring of the circle, an exultant conclusion that recalls Khan’s ‘Hollow Stone’, with the soloing sax of Mike Benson added to boot.
And for a while, those latter three tracks were all I listened to on this album, impossible as it was to wrench myself away from the repeat button. But there are hidden depths and slow burners elsewhere: ‘Sanger’, almost an outtake from National Health’s ‘Missing Pieces’ (or even Gilgamesh), with its dual guitar/keyboard dual lines recalling Alan Gowen and Phil Lee as much as Stewart/Miller, time signatures changing at drop of a hat – themes which are gentle but disquieting rather than soothing until drums help to ramp up the momentum. ‘Eternal Return’ chugs along with a series of heavy organ riffs competing for space with a National Health-like guitar line, and the lovely piano-based ‘Sellanra’ is a brief moment of reflection amidst the shifting sands of its surroundings. And I’m still discovering new elements on practically every repeated listen.
Zopp is a quite superb project and album, instantly recognisable in all its challenging glory for lovers of the Canterbury genre – how lucky we are to have such a fresh and innovative interpretation of familiar styles 50 years on.
Order Zopp at https://zopp.bandcamp.com/