It Bites are a band about whom it’s been said ‘They’ve dipped their toes into so many different musical areas, they’re difficult to categorise.’ It Bites came together in the mid-eighties, releasing a couple of well-received albums, then the band went on hiatus but got back together in the mid-noughties. Though now with Prog’s army of one, the mighty John Mitchell, a man whose elevation to Prog God status must surely be on the horizon, as guitarist and frontman in place of Francis Dunnery, and still with John Beck (keys), Bob Dalton (drums) and Dick Nolan (bass) in the line-up, and with The Tall Ships, the band’s first new music for nineteen years, it sounded like they’d never been away.
The Tall Ships is an album worthy of a place in anyone’s prog collection; packed full of good songs, accessible without having sacrificed depth and substance, and featuring the unmistakable imprint of John Mitchell, with his vocals and some epic guitar work, which isn’t a surprise given he and John Beck wrote the album. The music is rooted in prog but the band bring other influences to bear, such as on ‘Ghosts,’ which has a driving, heavy rhythm and comes over like a 1990’s synthesised dance tune with a superb Mitchell guitar break, whereas ‘Playground’ is graceful and hard rocking, and ‘Great Disasters’ starts with vocals sounding like Sting, and is probably one of the best eighties sounding tracks the Police never recorded.
That being said it’s the three longer tracks on the album which are the killers. Title track ‘The Tall Ships’ is a superb piece of music, prog with a pop sensibility and with a synth break which sounds like an Irish penny whistle. For the uninitiated, the Tall Ships are those which come to take your soul away after you die, and this is a beautiful song about passing on. ‘The wind that shakes the Barley’ is an eight-minute prog epic on which the band really stretches out, with an intelligent guitar riff, at least three different time signatures and some great middle-eight guitar-organ interplay between Mitchell and Beck. The album concludes with the thirteen-minute ‘This is England,’ which begins gently before the music kicks in with full-bodied prog all the way.
For this writer, The Tall Ships is the crowning glory of It Bites and, for its many fans, it’s the bands defining statement and its reissue should introduce It Bites to a new generation of fans.