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.
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 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.
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.