Touchstone & Magenta, Leamington Spa

Touchstone Farewell Gig

Touchstone made the sad announcement early in the year that frontwoman Kim Seviour was stepping down from the band for health reasons. Initially their scheduled appearance at HRH Prog in March was to have been the farewell. But there were many dedicated fans who were unable to travel at short notice to the far end of Wales. so the band made the wise decision to play a headline show later in the year to give her a proper send-off. In the end it turned out to be two shows, one in London and one at The Assembly in Leamington Spa. the second of them a co-headliner featuring Magenta, and these would also be keyboardist Rob Cottingham’s last appearances with the band, making it a double farewell.

The Leamington show proved to be a major gathering of the clans, and after some depressingly badly attended gigs by some other bands this year it was great to see this magnificent venue not far short of full.

Lonely Robot

John Mitchell and keyboardist Liam Holmes opened the show. Billed as Lonely Robot, they played an entertaining set, largely stripped-down arrangements of songs from the album “Please Come Home” plus piano and vocal version of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes The Flood”. John Mitchell introduced the latter by describing himself as a Tescos Value Peter Gabriel, but his spine-tingling rendition proves he’s far more than that. A beautiful “Why Do We Stay” with a guest appearance from former Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay was another highlight.

Magenta at Leamington Spa

Magenta are always an amazingly tight band considering the complexity of their 70s-sryle symphonic rock and how infrequently they play live, and tonight was no exception. They suffered some early technical problems, such as the rumbling bass feedback that Christina blamed on Chris Fry eating too many mushy peas. But they overcame them to deliver a stunning performance even by their standards. Highlights included “Lust” from the 2004 album “Seven” and a sublime “Pearl”, the evocative ballad from their most recent album, one of their simplest songs, before they ended with dense and dark epics “Metamorphosis” and “The Lizard King”.

Guitarist Chris Fry was on superb form on guitar, with the occasional not to Yes’ Steve Howe in some of his solos, and Christina Booth balances precision with emotional depth in a way few other singers can match. As always, there was a passion and intensity in their live performance which merely hearing them on record never quite prepares you for.

Immediately before the two shows in London and Leamington, disaster struck for Touchstone; Kim went down with a throat infection. The band had the choice of postponing the gigs at very short notice, going ahead and hoping for the best, or geting some backup. They went for the last option and asked Heather Findlay, who had worked with Rob Cottingham in past, if she would help out.

Touchstone Farewell Gig

Friday’s gig in London had been great, despite Kim saving her voice for the following night, and Heather having very little time to learn the songs. This second night, with Kim’s sounding more confident and Heather more familiar with the material, was just phenomenal. The effect was a kind of heavy metal ABBA. Much of the time Heather doubled Kim’s lead vocals and covered the high notes, though quite often Kim’s voice was in good enough shape to cope on her own without help.

Beginning with a thunderous medley of “Discordant Dreams” and “The Beggars Song”, Touchstone took us through most the high points of Kim’s eight years fronting the band, The emphasis was on the harder-rocking side of the songbook, keeping the energy at roof-raising levels throughout, and drawing heavily from “Wintercoast” and “Oceans of Time”, perhaps their two strongest albums. They did find room for one real oldie, “The Mad Hatter’s Song” from the band’s début EP from before Kim joined. She told us the song was her audition for the band all those years ago.

They encored with a monstrous “Wintercoast” and their rocked-up cover of Tears for Fears “Mad World” with John Mitchell guesting on guitar, and so ended what had to be one of the best gigs of the year. Both Touchstone’s and Magenta’s performances were in best-of-the year league on their own; having both of the same bill lifted things to stratospheric levels.

It made a great send-off for Kim Seviour and Rob Cottingham, and whatever projects they work on next will be awaited with interest. Meanwhile Moo Bass, Adam Hodgson and Henry Rogers will be recruiting a singer and keyboard player for the next incarnation of Touchstone, and begin a new chapter.

Posted in Live Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Ken Livingstone has a lot in common with Richard Dawkins. The recent public pronouncements of both seem to come from their unfiltered Id. Saying the July 7th bombers “Gave their lives to protest against the war” is at best grossly tone-deaf, and at worst something I really don’t want to think about.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Mantra Vega announce album release and launch party

Mantra Vega & Dave Kerzner Poster

Mantra Vega announce the release date of their long-awaited album “The Illusion’s Reckoning”

After almost 2 years in the making, Monday January 25th 2016 will see the release of The Illusion’s Reckoning from transatlantic project band, Mantra Vega co-founded by Heather Findlay and Dave Kerzner  (Sound of Contact).

“The Illusion’s Reckoning album features lead vocals from Heather Findlay; keyboards and vocals from Dave Kerzner whilst at the band’s core is rhythm section Alex Cromarty on drums and bassist Stu Fletcher along with lead, rhythm and acoustic guitarists Chris Johnson (Halo Blind) and Dave Kilminster.

Joining the project for special guest appearances are Nightwish‘s Troy Donockley on vocals and lead guitar; Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) lead guitar; Irene Jansen (Star One/Ayreon) on vocals; Angela Gordon (Mostly Autumn/Odin Dragonfly) on recorders and vocals and Dutch woodwind player, Remko de Landmeter on Bansuri.

“The Illusion’s Reckoning is a concept album flowing more like a film score than a more typically linear piece. The album’s journey is painted with far reaching audio moodscapes which in their diversity, purposely echo thoughtful lyrical themes. The album is delivered in a predominantly progressive rock package, but at times takes on a hard rock, contemporary, retro, and even acoustic, folksy twist…”

And there is to be a “Moorland Gathering” the celebrate the launch

To celebrate the release, there will be a very special pre-release party gathering at The Lion Inn, Blakey Ridge (spiritual home of many of the band’s musicians) on January Saturday 23rd January. There will only 60 tickets available which will include a meal, one off acoustic performance from Heather, Chris, Angela, Stu and Alex (and may also feature one or two very special guests!) Slightly ahead of the scheduled release date, this event will be a chance to buy and hear the album for the first time!

Making this event all the more special is the fact that this will be a one off for the now retired, legendary moorland venue too!

Tickets for the event will be just £20 and will go on sale on Monday 30th November at 9am from

Depending on number wishing to travel via this option, there may be a coach/bus which will run from York across the North Yorkshire Moors and back for those wishing to travel from the nearest city.

Posted in Music News | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

This piece on “Why I Will Not Buy Adele’s New Album 25” has to be one of the most ridiculous pieces of sanctimonious hipster dribble I have ever read.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 3 Comments

More thoughts in the aftermath of Paris

Like many others I’m still struggling to make sense of what happened in Paris. It’s wrong to pretend this act of terrorism has nothing to do with the Islamic world, but it’s just as wrong to try to demonise Islam itself. Most of those killed by ISIS are Muslims. I’ve tried to make sense of things by looking a parallels in Christian history; the Thirty Years War is an obvious one, and you could see parallels between Wahhabism and Calvinism if you squint hard enough.

But unlike some people I’m not going to pretend I actually know what I’m talking about.

ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, call them what you want. They’re an apocalyptic cult masquerading as a throwback to a earlier, purer version of Islam. There are many similar cults and sects in the Christian world, particularly parts of the US, who hold broadly similar beliefs, with a warped and selective interpretation of The Bible.

The only difference is those sects not committing large-scale non-state violence at an international level. But it’s not impossible to imagine an alternative history where the American Civil War turned out differently and parts of the Old South are a patchwork of unstable failed states and oil-rich theocracies, subject to proxy wars and ham-fisted interventions by rival European powers. Such a world could easily spawn something looking very much like ISIS except for the religious symbols they display.

There are a lot of responses that would be completely wrong from a xenophobic backlash against Muslims to pretending nothing is wrong or blaming everything on the west. As someone once said on Twitter, it’s better to be a zero than a minus one, and one way to avoid being a minus one is to read up a bit more widely than blogs and op-eds that simply tell you what you want to hear. We may all need to absorb some uncomfortable truths and make some difficult collective decisions in the coming months and years.

Posted in Religion and Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Secrets and Lies

Luna Rossa have released a video of the title track of “Secrets and Lies” ahead of their mini-tour in December.

The band will be played The Gate in Cardiff on Friday December 4th, The Chattery in Swansea on Saturday December 5th, and The Robin 2 in Bilston the following weekend on Sunday 13th.

The band will again be a four-piece lineup with the core duo of Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards joined by Sarah Dean on Celtic harp and Andy Coughlan on double bass.

Posted in Music News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cloud Atlas – The Post Office Social Club

People always travel considerable distances to Mostly Autumn’s York gigs, and Cloud Atlas took advantage of many fans making a weekend of it to put on a gig of their own the following night at The Post Office Social Club, and they succeeded in pulling a respectable sized crowd containing a lot of familiar faces.

Sadly the advertised support, one-time Seahorse Chris Helme, had to pull out as short notice, but former Stolen Earth guitarist Adam Dawson was able to step into the breach as a late replacement. He played a mixture of originals and covers, ending with Stolen Earth’s “Mirror, Mirror” and “Silver Skies”, and finally the never recorded “Harlequin” recorded as a duet with Heidi Widdop.

Stolen Earth themselves began with an extended drone of keys, whistles and E-bowed guitar before launching into the distinctive riff of “Searchlight”. The proceeded to deliver one of the best performances I’ve seen them do, helped by an excellent sound mix. Dave Randall on keys was particularly impressive with swirling colours and textures, as was bassist Stu Carver; the band have a very tight rhythm section.

Set-wise it was much the same as at Bilston in August, drawn from the album “Beyond the Vale” plus Heidi’s solo acoustic cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and the Stolen Earth oldie “Soul in a Jar”. One change was a rearrangement of the middle section of “Let the Blood Flow” with an electronica element that worked far better than the original. This time the band remembered to save one song for the encore, ending the evening with the epic “Stars”.

Cloud Atlas have one more gig scheduled this year, supporting Lifesigns at York’s Fibbers, after which they will be working on their second album.

Posted in Live Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mantra Vega announce January album release

Mantra Vega & Dave Kerzner Poster

Mantra Vega have announced that their long-awaited album “The Illusion’s Reckoning” will be will be released on 25th January, with pre-orders taken from 7th December from the Mantra Vega website.

The album is a collaboration between Heather Findlay and Dave Kerzner, with a band featuring Dave Kilminster, Chris Johnson, Alex Cromarty and Stuart Fletcher, with guest appearances from Angela Gordon and Arjen Lucassen amongst others.

Posted in Music News | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Goldsmiths student union implodes

The saga of Bahar Mustafa takes another turn with  apparent implosion of the entire executive of the student’s union. President Adrihani Rashid has resigned citing bullying and a hostile work environment. Bahar Mustafa, the controversial Welfare and Diversity officer has also resigned stating her desire to clear her name of accusations of bullying.

Given previous controversies including refusing to commemorate the holocaust because it was “Eurocentric” and refusing to ban ISIS propaganda because that would be “Islamophobic” makes me wonder if the fallout from the terrible events in Paris was the final straw for some people.

And, presuming there’s some truth in the bullying accusations, it’s yet another example of social justice identity politics enabling a sociopath. It’s almost certainly the law on unintended consequences in play, but it’s almost as if some of the rhetoric and ettiquette was designed by and for people like her, bullies who dish it out but can’t take it.

Posted in Religion and Politics | Tagged | 1 Comment

Gigspanner – Reading South Street Arts Centre

I first saw former Steeleye Span violinist Peter Knight back in 2007 guesting with Mostly Autumn at the memorable launch gig for the album Heart Full of Sky at the late-lamented Astoria, playing violin on several numbers where he’d guested on the album. So when his current folk outfit Gigspanner came to South Street Arts Centre in Reading it seemed like a good opportunity to expand my musical horizons a little.

Gigspanner are a very different beast from Steeleye Span, an acoustic trio with Knight’s violin accompanied by guitar and percussion, playing a mixture of traditional-style folk songs and evocative instrumentals with influences from many different parts of the world. Once or twice Peter Knight dispensed with the bow and played his instrument like a ukelele, much of the time his emotive and lyrical playing was the heart of the sound. He is an undoubted virtuoso, going from folk jigs and reels to evocative classical melodies.

Roger Flack’s guitar played more of a supporting role, though the occasional Mark Knopfler-style lead runs were impressive. Vincent Salzfaas on Congas, Djembe and other more exotic percussion added a world music touch, and the uncluttered and crystal clear sound meant you could hear everything perfectly, which is more than can be said for a lot of noisier rock gigs.

Not a rock band of any kind, not quite a traditional folk act either, but for something well outside my usual comfort zone it was an excellent gig.

Posted in Live Reviews | Tagged , , | 2 Comments