|1995 is the year it all begins. The first album of Arena, then consisting of Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer plus Cliff Orsi (bass), Keith More (guitar) and John Carson (vocals), sees the light. This excellent piece of work, entitled "Songs From The Lions Cage" and released on Arena's own Verglas label, is very well-received and a new progressive rock legend has instantly been born.
Although some react by saying that Arena is a Fish-era-Marillion clone, with Mick on drums and a vocalist whose voice resembles that of Fish, the music is fresh and the album contains instant classics like "Jericho", the epic "Solomon" and the emotional "Crying For Help IV". Typical for the album are the short instrumental interludes (the "Crying For Help"-series) that separate the non-instrumental tracks; a format that returns on their next album.
Unfortunately, the band has to deal with the swift departure of two band members: singer John Carson in September 1995, and bass player Cliff Orsi in May 1996. However, Arena do not grieve for very long and introduce two excellent replacements: Paul Wrightson as the new singer, and John Jowitt (well-known for his contributions to both IQ and Jadis) on bass. This of course led to curiosity: what effect will this have on the new album?
In 1996 the answer is given. "Pride" is the new album, with renowned producer Simon Hanhart behind the mixing desk. The result is astonishing, and despite the changes in the line-up the music and cover feel comfortably familiair. Paul's voice is not totally unlike John's, but there is just a tad more power and agression, if you like, in it.
Besides proving that Arena has not lost the ability to write excellent songs, this album displays the musical capabilities of the individual band members, with perhaps the best examples being the a capella "Crying for Help VII", in which new singer Paul gets the chance to stretch his vocal chords, and the closing epic "Sirens" with its fierce instrumental mid-section. A tour follows, and the EP "Edits" (with a sing-along version of "Empire Of A Thousand Days"!).
However, again luck is not on Arena's side when in 1997 Keith More leaves the band. Keith wanted to be part of Arena on a session basis, which was not an option. New guitarist is John Mitchell, who immediately gets the chance to prove himself on the EP "The Cry". This EP consists of (mostly reworked versions of) the "Crying For Help"-collection from the first two albums. Also, the aggressive new song "The Healer" is featured on this EP.
In that same year, Arena's first live record is released. Produced by John Mitchell, "Welcome to the Stage!" (combined with the first fanclub release "Welcome Back! To The Stage") gives a good overview of Arena's music and captures the atmosphere of an Arena live concert very well.
Then, in 1998, the Arena classic "The Visitor" is released. Still the favourite Arena album for many fans, "The Visitor" is an intense package of music, lyrics and artwork that are almost inseparable. It grabs you by the throat and won't let you go until the CD stops, only leading to having you put it on yet again!
"The Visitor" is a concept album built around an idea Clive had while being abroad. The mind-boggling concept behind it has resulted in some pretty dark lyrics and intense musical fireworks. No more epics like "Solomon" or "Sirens" on the first albums, but an album being an epic in itself, consisting of relatively short songs telling a story (although many people consider "The Hanging Tree" the epic of the album) and building towards a climax. All of this accompanied by stunning artwork, designed by Hugh Syme (famous for his work with amongst others Rush, Fates Warning and Megadeth), that helps you to get in the right mood. Artwork like artwork should be. Individual highlights of the album are "A Crack In The Ice" and "The Hanging Tree". Needless to say, "The Visitor" is highly acclaimed everywhere and a successful tour followed, during which Paul proved to be a great actor by impersonating the characters from the booklet of "The Visitor".
1999 - a somewhat quiet year for Arena, as no album is released. Some of the members are working on side projects (John on The Urbane and Clive on the Jabberwocky project with Oliver Wakeman), which are all released by Verglas. Unfortunately, 1999 is also the year in which Paul Wrightson stops being a part of the band. Again the search for a charismatic singer starts, and this time the man for the job is Rob Sowden, a personal acquaintance of John Mitchell. Despite the fact that it is difficult for Rob to replace Paul, as Paul was considered the best Arena singer by many, Rob succeeds in convincing the crowd of his talents during an acoustic fan club gig in May 1999 - the day on which the new fan club CD ("The Visitor Revisited") was released as well, featuring the first appearance of Rob on CD.
The next shock in 1999 is the fact that also John Jowitt has decided to leave the band, in order to pursue other interests. He is replaced by well-known prog bass-player Ian Salmon, who also played in Clive's other band Shadowland for ten years, and is an excellent (acoustic) guitar player as well. This new man on the bass guitar certainly is no stranger to the guys in Arena!
The first album on which both Rob and Ian appear 'officially', is the 2000 release "Immortal?", for which the writing sessions had started late 1999. Again, the album is an absolute killer and Arena has proven that they succeeded in turning the setback of yet another two line-up changes in 1999, into something absolutely positive! "Immortal?" is not a concept album like "The Visitor", but it is a 'conceptual' album, as Clive puts it. Food for thought again, thanks to Clive! The music contains very good atmospheres, and varies from partly-acoustic ballads ("Friday's Dream") to crunching epics ("Moviedrome"), thus leaving the fans not empty-handed. Both Rob and Ian sound very convincing, making it seem they have been part of the band for quite some time.
Again a tour follows, which results in the ultimate live Arena album: "Breakfast In Biarritz" which is released in 2001. A CD that also sees the light of day in 2001 is the third fan club CD "Unlocking The Cage 1995-2000", which offers exclusive material from all Arena-era's and thus offers a good overview for all Arena fans. Touring Germany with Saga is scheduled in 2001 as well, and the boys get busy with their side projects and other hobbies. Clive is busy touring with Pendragon, while Rob and John are working on solo albums.
Meanwhile, work on the new album "Contagion" has started. 2002, work on "Contagion" still continues and the release is now planned in September. First, however, the new Nolan/Wakeman effort is released, "The Hound Of The Baskervilles", based on yet another classic story. During the course of the year, the album gets closer to its final state, but due to 'various circumstances beyond the band's control' it also becomes clear that the release date will be hard to achieve, and thus it is decided to postpone the release until early 2003 - also to avoid the interference of the Christmas period with its flow of releases.And then...
The long-awaited moment has come, January 2003 brings the release of Contagion! Being the first subsequent studio album in the same line up, the album reflects the grown unity of the band. It's another concept album, this time based on a short story written by Clive, and offers 'a dark vision of the future'. Surpassing The Visitor with even better artwork by fantasy artist David Wyatt and an intense musical rollercoaster ride, the album leaves both fans and critics stunned. It's impossible to name any highlights - the album is one coherent whole. It gives Arena their first chart position in the band's existence, in both Germany and Holland.The band embark on a new tour, which coincides with the release of the "Contagious", the first of the two EP's that together fill the gaps in the "Contagion" concept.
Also, Clive's archive album "Skeletons In The Cupboard" is released. The live show, with a more or less integral live performance of the new album and an irresistible mix of classics from the previous ones and supported by stunning video images, also surpasses everything Arena have done so far. Furthermore in 2003 we saw the release of the the fourth Cage CD "Radiance" and Arena's first DVD "Caught In The Act"!
In 2004 the second EP in the "Contagion" tale, "Contagium", was released and...Arena will work on their next album, so there will be much more to come... October of 2004 sees the release of a double live album "Live & Life", a complete concert of the "Contagion" tour in 2003.
And now 2005. Arena celebrates its tenth anniversary year of existence by releasing "Pepper's Ghost"... and still in the same line-up. "Pepper's Ghost", a re-invention of Arena as Clive puts it. Arena makes a step forward by taking a bolder approach to the sound. Also Arena are proud to announce that they will be headlining on Friday April 29th 2005 at the ROSFest in America. This may well be their only appearance before the full Arena tour in September/October 2005, and it will double as a release concert for their new album, "Pepper's Ghost", as well as kicking off celebrations for their tenth anniversary year. So, watch out...