I have been writing songs since the age of 10 (although I would not defend my earliest attempts now)! As a young boy, I wanted to be Marc Bolan, then Bryan Ferry, then Freddie Mercury... But it was when I discovered early Genesis in my teens that I began a love affair with progressive rock which lasts to this day. I am a trained actor, and although I didn’t pursue a career on that stage for very long, I haven’t shaken off a sense of theatre. Whether I’m throwing myself around the stage (in a manner possibly unseemly for a 50-something) or sporting loud, ‘look-at-me’ jackets! It’s in my blood.
I write most of the lyrics and a lot of the vocal melodies for the band. Lyrically, the focus is on storytelling or issues which concern or even plague me. I enjoy metaphor and allusion. I love the sound a well chosen word or phrase, and am known for spending weeks on nuancing the words, trying to avoid clichè and hoping stand up on their own, without the music’. I’m not interested in the sword ‘n sorcery, cheap surrealism or ‘cosmic nothings’ which are so often associated with the genre. Real issues drive me, as does the song. I wrote commercial tunes first, and although a lot of that stuff lacks the sweep, ambition and emotional impact of the best progressive music, it is rich in hooks. What we try to do is push the song as far as it will go, but stay true to the hook principle. I hope we succeed.
For me, the music and the performance are a kind of catharsis. I can’t just stand, grip the mic and sing. I give 100% to every gig, and I’d like us to be known for our commitment, attack and our energy.
Music - is difficult to sum up, but I think of it primarily as a means of communication. This raises some basic questions such as: What will I use music to say or express? How can I use music most effectively to say what I want to say? And, of course, the idea of using a means of communication implies the intention of making contact with an audience. If our audience responds the resulting interaction will, I hope, excite us all.
Writing - I’m always writing, for The Gift and various other projects. I keep an archive of themes, musical and textual fragments, melodies, rhythmic structures and so on, some of which may evolve slowly into complete pieces. But just as often I take an initial spark and get a working draft into shape quite quickly. The starting point can be textual, musical or both. From that point there’s no blueprint or formula for how a piece is developed; it’ll be different in each case.
Guitars - I bought my first guitar for £5 when I was 14. I guess you could call it a Gibson - in so far as my mate Steve Gibson sold it to me... By the time Leroy and I started playing together back in our younger, hairier days I had graduated to a Les Paul Goldtop, but I don’t have a Gibson of any provenance these days. With The Gift I usually play one of several electric guitars made by UK luthiers (thanks to Graham Parker and Chris Eccleshall), though my Strats do get an outing now and again.
The Band - Playing in The Gift is tremendously uplifting - whether we’re writing together, at rehearsals, recording, on stage - the atmosphere is always generous and creative. It’s a great place to be!
My name is Leroy James and I’m a member of The Gift. I principally play guitar and sing but will add other instruments as the music dictates. I’ve been involved with this project from its inception as a multi-tasking founder member along with Mike Morton, its original creative force. Mike and I have dipped in and out of musical projects over the years and the 3 year creation of the ‘Awake and Dreaming’ album was one of the highlights. This then prompted a 10 year sabbatical till I was tempted back into the fold by the prospect of playing with Mike and my old buddy Dave Lloyd (who ably picked up where I left off with ‘Land of Shadows’) along with the hugely talented Stef, Gabry and Neil. This has now become a very powerful unit, sonically and creatively.
With The Gift as my main live and recording project I’ve also branched into composing music for TV, exciting! In between that I’m a supporting artist on TV productions and films (an Extra!) This can be very stimulating and varied. I’ve appeared in Star Wars, Harry Potter, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Mummy, Eyes wide Shut, Gullivers Travels, 24, Trance.....and EastEnders!
My musical influences are too many to make any sense of but they range from classical to punk, Floyd to Motown, Hendrix to Dubstep and everything in between!!!! I have written songs for International artists and I’ve have played extensively live both in UK and on the Continent in various bands,in various styles and I can find something interesting in most things either sonically, rhythmically or melodically. My musical equipment changes constantly as I seek out new aural palettes to compliment the evolving sound of the gift.
Growing up in the wilds of West London, I first picked up a guitar (well, my sister’s) at 13. To cut a long story short, I spent my first five musical years wanting to be James Hetfield of Metallica or Dave Murray of Iron Maiden and the following five years wanting to John Lennon or Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. Always attracted to the rhythm guitar players, it wasn't surprising that I gave up the competitive world of guitar twiddling for bass guitar about 10 years later, determined to play like a bastardised version of Steve Harris, Bootsy Collins and John McVie. Numerous bands followed. Some great and some not so great, until I decided that rock and roll stardom might not come a calling and hung up my trusty four string for history and archives.
Then, in 2014, something fabulous happened when I was asked to come and audition for The Gift. One listen of Awake and Dreaming and I was hooked by its power and, above all, amazing songs and melody! Luckily I got the job and have the privilege of making music with an amazing group of talented and awesome gents on a regular basis. I can’t wait to see what we band of brothers will achieve. Watch this space!
Istarted to play Drums at the age of six. My dad was a Jazz drummer and took me to see all the greats like, Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton and many others. This got me into the idea of being on stage. Playing like that to an audience was all appealing. I was taught to play by my Dad and then took off on my own when I heard Carl Palmer. Wow this guy was phenomenal, I was eleven and I watched him on the Old grey Whistle Test special with Bob Harris. My love for ELP music was born.
I studied all of his Drumming Techniques and played to every album, over 15 years I learnt every beat and to this day could play any track off of any album. I played for many Bands from covers to originals. Came into contact with many well known rock musicians who are either still about or who are long gone.
I have played premier drums through to pearl, Ludwig, and now my present PDP kit which I love in old style Mother of pearl finish. I have a rare finish pearl export which is my pride and joy. It’s the Ichiban rising sun finish. A real rarity.
I played with the guys from Konchordat the other band signed to BEM in 1983 we were a lot younger and egotistical but have matured like an old cheese. Playing with the Gift as well is a real pleasure I have been introduced to so many more musicians so although I’m not a famous rock star which would have been great, I am totally happy where I am. My drumming tastes have stayed the same but expanded to far reaching styles and players. This comes with age. Clem Burke, Stewart Copeland and Mick Tucker who was so underrated.
I am 53 and have enjoyed many musical experiences to many to include in this biog, but if anyone was interested I would be happy to talk about my memories.
Like many music is my life and I’m enjoying it now as much as ever.
Born in the sunny coast of Tuscany, my dad woke me up in the morning with King Crimson and put me to sleep with Chopin Berceuse. My favorite toy as a kid was an English 1864 upright piano that I “accidentally” found in my father’s lair. I started giving classical recitals when I was nine and, as today, I haven’t grown sick of it yet!
After travelling around the world for many years, I eventually accepted a professorship in London and I started to include some rock elements in my public performances to satisfy the “wild side” of my personality. As a result, I have invented a project called “Sheer Piano Attack!” as a tribute to my first love, Queen.
In 2015 I couldn’t cope with the fact that I was never part of a progressive band and in just a matter of days I was contacted by Mr Morton; even before I bought my first electric keyboard, I found myself jamming with The Gift. Needless to say, it was love at first sight, so today I live the schizophrenic life of a classical concert pianist who plays Beethoven on Monday, teaches Chopin on Tuesday and rock out with my bandmates on Wednesday. What do I do in the remaining days? Writing songs for The Gift and scripts for short movies, brewing my special Awake & Steaming Ale, cooking Italian food and cuddling my loving family!
(Stage Tech / Manager)
I have always enjoyed music from a very young age. The first song I remember was at playschool, ‘Penny Lane’ by the Beatles was on the radio and we also sang it. I knew music made me happy. I quickly became fascinated in how it sounded and the devices used to make this wonderful noise!
My first gigs were Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, Marillion, Queen, ELP and Genesis, where my love of progressive music flourished. I developed a varied taste in music, including metal and rock. I also listened to electronic music, bands like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, which started my love of synthesisers and keyboards. I worked in a synthesiser shop, where I learnt all about them and of course brought my first synth, an ARP Axxe.
After playing in several synth bands in the 80s, I started to realise that I was getting increasingly interested in the advancing technology that created music. I started working with bands, using my knowledge of synths, programming and a new technology at the time, MIDI. I also developed a knowledge of other stage and sound technology. I went on to study Music production, further adding to my knowledge of live sound, recording, mixing and mastering.
Nowadays, I am active in my own right in the live scene. Along with The Gift, I work with several bands and artists as stage manager and band tech. I have worked at many festivals, tours and spent some time in Holland working on Ayreon’s Theatre Equation shows.
Affectionately known as the 7th member of The Gift, I can be found lurking in the background at gigs. Primarily, my role is the organisation of the band behind the scenes, augmentation of the live show, tour manager, stage manager, backline tech and sometimes sound engineer.
All Good Gifts…
The Gift are a symphonic progressive rock band based in London. They formed in 2003 when Mike Morton (writer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist) hooked up with Leroy James (guitarist, writer and producer). They had both been working throughout the 80s and 90s in mainstream rock projects, but discovered a shared love for prog (which they had supressed due to its supposed stigma). The Gift started as a duo, with the two partners sharing all instrumental and vocal duties. Their goal was simply to record a 45 minute epic called 'Awake And Dreaming', which Mike had written in response to the then current invasion of Iraq.
As Mike explains: “I was incandescent with anger about Bush and Blair's 'foreign adventure'. The story and music poured out in a matter of weeks”. For him, the piece was the offspring of two strong beliefs. One, that progressive music was a much maligned piece of beauty. Two, that Iraq was post 9/11 madness. “What started out as a straight anti-war message slowly morphed into an extended fantasy about an outbreak of mass pacifism which totally disarms the military.”
The music grew and grew, so Mike and Leroy brought in other musicians to realise its scope. They recruited session musicians Jim Thomas and Rod Haverhill on bass and keyboards respectively, and eventually appointed David Storey (The Enid) on drums, much to their delight. (In fact, the album was finally mastered at Robert John Godfrey's studio in Northampton. For Mike particularly this was a thrill. Godfrey had been a teenage hero of his).
The Gift was now a fully-fledged five piece.
'Awake And Dreaming' was completed by summer 2005, after 2 years of reworking, refining and recording. Mike sent a demo to Classic Rock's Nick Shilton and he really liked it, comparing the piece to Roger Waters' solo work in a short article. This amused the band, since they had never really listened to Roger Waters outside of Pink Floyd.
Nick Shilton's brief mention caught the attention of Malcolm Parker, owner of Cyclops Records. After one spin of the demo he signed the band, claiming the CD was the best piece of contemporary prog he had heard since Spocks' Beard debut 'The Light' in 1993. However, Cyclops felt that prog fans expected more than 45 minutes of music on a disc, so they asked the band to extend the piece. Feeling it was complete as it was, the five musicians refused. Instead, they wrote and recorded another epic called 'Fountains Of Ash'. Cyclops released their debut album in late 2006, and it now contained over an hour of music but just two tracks! Since 'Fountains Of Ash' told a tale of domestic abuse and recovery, the CD was quite a heavy listening experience, at least lyrically. Musically, however, it was as uplifting and emotional as prime Gabriel-era Genesis, but with a decidedly modern twist.
The Gift's eclectic approach encompasses Golden Era prog, hard rock, ambient, Celtic and folk elements, all supported by lyrics which refuse to dabble in cosmic nothings or sub Tolkein. The music might invoke the sounds of the '70s, but the words are firmly rooted in the now.
The Dutch loved 'Awake And Dreaming upon its release, as did the Belgians. They warmed to its complex time signatures, key changes and ambitious ideas, voting it number 13 in the Dutch 2007 progressive chart, higher than both IQ and Frost*.
Dave Ling called the album a 'really great record' and Martin Hudson of The Classic Rock Society said it was 'beautiful'. France's premier prog fanzine 'Prog-Resiste' claimed that The Gift had: “…distilled the very essence of symphonic progressive….right at the top of the ladder alongside Genesis and Yes.” In actual fact, the band's influences are very broad. Whilst they have clear echoes of the usual suspects they also display hints of Zeppelin, Lizzy, Nick Drake and The Waterboys, to name but a few. There is always a British feel to their music, but it is distinctly rural and often Celtic, not an urban sound.
With a quiet but persistent buzz building, 2007 looked set to be their time.
Alas, it was not to be. Although the best of friends, Mike and Leroy had different ambitions. Mike wanted to tour the whole of 'Awake And Dreaming'. Leroy did not. Mike had a vision for a stage show which would make full use of multi-media resources, and present the 2 tales in a theatrical fashion not seen since the 70's. Leroy loved what they had created but wanted to stop at the recorded product. He was motivated to earn a solid living out of music and was not convinced that prog was the way to do so. Added to this, the other musicians had been session players whose commitments elsewhere drew them away from the band.
So The Gift remained an enigma, and a one man one at that. The debut may have raised expectations but it was never consummated live. In fact, The Gift weren't even seen in photos!
Just as Mike began the lengthy process of writing a follow up, the recession hit, and hard… The need to earn a secure living in suddenly harsher times, combined with the pressures of raising a young family kept him from music until 2010. The long layoff took its toll. Mike lived in 'dark doldrums' which he now knows were mostly caused by 'not doing what I was put on this planet to do.' In the midst of this unhappy episode he forced himself to write again. The music which emerged was both more musically complex and lyrically intimate. The outward themes of war and spousal abuse which had driven 'Awake And Dreaming' were replaced with more inner themes of loneliness, lost love and mortality. As he wrote again, so Mike recovered.
One day, whilst contemplating the Lazarus myth, he asked himself whether the man in question would really have chosen resurrection. This thought inspired a 21 minute, 5 part epic which was simply titled 'Lazarus' at first. On learning that Porcupine Tree had already used the name on their 'Deadwing' album, he retitled it 'The Comforting Cold'. The story was updated from its Biblical setting to the present. It now concerned a bored middle aged commuter who suffers a cardiac arrest on a train, has a near death experience and is brought back by medics, only to yearn for the eternity he has glimpsed before coming back. It is a provocative idea: “Would the near dead want to return?” Nonetheless, the piece is involving and hopeful. It is far from a horror story. It is also the backbone of the new album: 'Land Of Shadows'.
More darkness ? Well…yes and no.
As Mike says:
“I just lost my optimism and couldn't see the point. Looking back, it was a combination of a mid-life crisis combined with a lot of financial anxiety. I had a huge '5 O'Clock Shadow' upon me, to quote from 'The Comforting Cold'.”
He also lost his father-in-law, a man he was extremely close to. “The vicar conducting his funeral stated that (my father-in-law) came to see this world as a 'land of shadows' towards the end. That was not nihilism, just his belief that the next world would be more filled with light. This moved me greatly, and I wrote a bunch of songs exploring darkness and its opposite. In every case there is the move back to light, to hope. One song, The Willows ( a 12 minute, 3 part piece) refers to the UK today. It so often seems a grey, shadowy place, both climatically and culturally.
'The Latest Chapter'
The Gift is now a 6 piece.
First, after 10 years away from the project, original co-composer of ‘Awake & Dreaming’ Leroy James has returned to the band. He brings with him an impeccable guitar style, both melodic and aggressive. It complements David Lloyd’s warm, vintage tone and thoughtful playing perfectly. But above all, this cements the ‘soul’ of the group, as Mike had missed him a lot!
Another fine musician has also joined our ranks. Gabriele Baldocci, a world renowned classical pianist who also teaches at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire, is The Gift’s new keyboard player. With technical skills to rival Jordan Rudess, plus a composer’s tasteful approach to writing and soloing, he has added an element of true sophistication to the sound. He is also a very funny, warm and committed man.
Stef Dickers has been with the band for three years now. He is an exceptional bass player: rock-solid, creative and tasteful. He's also a warm hearted and funny man. His humour and optimism lifts the band's spirits, whilst his playing continues to drive the music to new levels of attack and power. He's great at puncturing pomposity, too, making sure they avoid too much 'proggy pretension', as he puts it.
Finally, we have a real powerhouse drummer (with Peart-like tendencies) with the arrival of Neil Hayman. Neil also plays in Konchordat, another BEM band, and he is a strong, creative player. Not only that, but his humour and humility make him a top bloke as well.
We are now a ‘band of brothers’. We love each other, and the music we make. Live, we intend to blow everyone away, so look out!
Lastly after helping us out with live sound at Resonance, Graham Harris was so enamoured with our stuff that he joined as our seventh member. Whilst not a player, he is to The Gift what Richard MacPhail was to early Genesis: Sound man, stage manager, tour manager, webmaster, head of PR, organiser and all round ally, sage and counsellor! This multi talented, supportive and tireless man also happens to be the kindest chap on the planet. We are privileged to have him in the team.'