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Steve Rothery at Bush Hall

Steve Rothery at Bush Hall

Marillion’s guitarist Steve Rothery and his band came to Bush Hall on a wet Saturday night for a sold-out gig to mark the end of his short UK tour to promote his solo album “The Ghosts of Pripyat”. He bought the five piece band he put together to record the album, including Yatim Halimi of Panic Room on bass and Dave Foster of Mr So and So as a second guitarist.

Support was the Italian four-piece RanestRane, playing to a back-projection of first part of “2001″. They played melodic contemporary neo-prog, with effects-laden guitar and the occasional foray into Hammond-heavy hard rock. It had its moments, and it was all skilfully played, but much of the time it felt a little generic, and by the end you found yourself paying far more attention to Stanley Kubrick’s visuals that the music. The fact that the drummer sang lead which meant they lacked a proper frontman may not have helped here.

Steve Rothery and his band began with his new solo album “The Ghosts of Pripyat” played in full. They recovered from a slight hiccough early on with guitar problems at the end of the opening number “Morpheus” to deliver a very impressive first set. The material, all of it instrumental, comes over strongly live. It’s powerful and emotional stuff, built around Rothery’s lyrical guitar playing, but far more than just an excuse for extended soloing.

Rothery is one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, casting such a shadow over subsequent waves of progressive rock that other guitarists in the scene either end up sounding like him or must try hard not to. He’s equally at home supplying effects-laden atmospherics and textures, or soaring lead lines. His playing is always melodic, with a less-is-more approach that doesn’t waste a note, and the first hour demonstrated all of this.

There were times that resemble Marillion without vocals, but with two guitars the textures were often denser and darker. While it’s obviously Rothery’s show, Dave Foster still made his mark, sometimes playing muscular riffs while Rothery added atmospheric fills, and has a few spotlight moments of his own, his metal-orientated shredding contrasting with Rothety’s own distinctive style.

After the final notes of title track of the album died away, Rothery announced that they’ve be taking a short break, and would be back with some Marillion songs.

This is the point where it might all have gone horribly wrong; on a live album recorded in Rome earlier in the year the second half was something of an anticlimax, largely down to the guest vocalists not doing the material justice. Not so tonight; Steve Rothery drafted in Martin Jakubski from the tribute band Stillmarillion, a singer who knows exactly how to bring the classic early material to life on stage.

It started slowly, with the early B-side “Cinderella Search” and the reflective title track on “Afraid of Sunlight”, the only Hogarth-era song played. But things really caught fire with the dark intensity of “Incubus”, the disturbing song written a generation before ‘revenge porn’ was ever a thing. With “Chelsea Monday”, “Fugazi”, and the encore medley from “Misplaced Childhood” the band took the roof off.

This was material from the Fish era that the present incarnation of Marillion never play nowadays in regular touring sets, and sung with all the high notes intact rather than the rearranged versions Fish has performed in recent years. It was the closest thing to Fish-era Marillion in their mid-80s prime as you’re likely to get in 2014.

With the majestic first half and the strongly crowd-pleasing second half, this was a life-affirming occasion.

This review also appears in Trebuchet Magazine

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The news that Muse are to headline Download Festival 2015 has predictably drawn out the tribal idiots of the rock world. If The Prodigy can headline the same festival, and Metallica can headline Glastonbury, then a band as over the top and bombastic as Muse ought to go down a storm at Britain’s premier metal festival. Surely people can remember “Knights of Cydonia“?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

TILT Kickstarter

tiltTILT, the band featuring Steve Vantsis and Robin Boult, long-term collaborators with Fish and members of his current touring band, along with Dave Stewart, Paul Humphreys and Paul Dourley have launched a Kickstarter campaing for the debut album “Hinterland”.

This is their first full-length album, following on from their 2008 EP “Million Dollar Wound“.

To quote the band:

We have been working on our debut album ‘HINTERLAND’ for the past 3 years and have some fantastic music recorded. Now it’s your chance to get involved, help us get the album released and grab some exclusives in the process! In order to get the best sounding album we possibly can we have enlisted the services of legendary rock producer Chris Kimsey (Rolling Stones, INXS, Marillion). We are very excited about this and you should be too, Chris’s credentials speak for themselves.

Steve Vantsis and Robin Boult wrote significant portions of Fish’s superb “Feast of Conseqences”, so there is some very solid songwriting chops there.

The Kickstarter ends on December 2nd.

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When Fleetwood Mac are charging £125 for floor-level tickets, you can assume their audience is predominantly 50-somethings who go to one gig a year, and haven’t listened to much new music since they got married and had kids. You could see many newer, better bands for a fraction of that money.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 1 Comment

Now Playing: Pink Floyd’s Endless River. There may be a full review along later, but for now I’ll say that the late Richard Wright was to Pink Floyd what Malcolm Young was to AC/DC. Unassuming and understated, but absolutely central to their sound.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 2 Comments

Mantra Vega Update

Mantra VegaIn a blogpost entitled “Beyond the realms of summer wine“, Heather Findlay gives an update on the progress with Mantra Vega:

I’m finding the creative themes behind the album are really mirroring a lot of my own personal journey this year, which in itself has had one or two rather unexpected twists and turns, leaving me with a lot of gratitude for the freedom I have within this project to have been able to explore this musically. Dave has had a very intuitive approach to working with me which has allowed for what will be I think a very authentic, heartfelt piece of life art. (If that’s even a thing!) The amount of times that just the right piece of music has been mysteriously supplied by Dave at just the right time is a work of art in itself! I hope you will agree and very soon you will be given the chance to decide for yourself.

Moving forward, the Mantra Vega shape of things is likely to take form via single being released in the very early part of 2015, closely followed by the album itself when we’ll explore the prospect of doing some live shows with the possibility of appearances on both sides of the Atlantic being discussed.

You can keep in touch with what’s going on by either liking the our MV Facebook page, or by joining my mailing list here

As well as that, Heather will be making a guest appearance of John Mitchell’s forthcoming solo album “Lonely Robot”.

2015 is looking like getting off to an exciting start with the long awaited albums from Karnataka and Chantel McGregor also expected early in the new year.

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Punk Warriors Strike Again

No, I don’t have particularly high hopes for the new Pink Floyd album “The Endless River”. When the two remaining members of the band have more or less made it clear that it’s warmed-up leftovers from twenty years ago, I think it’s unrealistic to expect something to rival “Meddle”. Of course there’s always the chance it will be a pleasant surprise; few people expected three-quarters of the original Black Sabbath to come up with something as strong as last year’s “13″.

But when I see a national newspaper review the thing, and the opening line is the hoary old cliché “This is why punk had to happen”, my hackles start to rise. I guess the reviewer deserves some credit for laying his prejudices on the line so openly, but with an opening line like that you know there is absolutely no point in wasting any time reading the rest of the review.

Now punk delivered some great back-to-basics rock’n'roll records that stood the test of time, and that ought to be its legacy. But the whole “Year Zero” thing was always total hogwash, and it’s still galling to see generations of music writers who were too young to be around at the time swallowing the narrative whole.

There are old punks for whom two minutes of adrenaline-changed stripped-down rock’n'roll is the peak of musical perfection, and more power to them. But I’ve always suspected that for some of them, it was all about the excitement of being part of a “scene” and they didn’t really like the actual music at all. Unfortunately far to many of the latter group ended up in influential positions in the media, and music has been the worse for it ever since.

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Luna Rossa, The Borderline

Anne-Marie Helder at The Borderline

Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards of Panic Room launched their acoustic side-project Luna Rossa in 2013 with the release of their début album “Sleeping Pills and Lullabies”. They made their first live appearances earlier in the year as a duo, playing support slots and acoustic stages at festivals. To mark the release of their second album “Secrets & Lies” Luna Rossa’s have embarked on their first short headline tour. For these dates they’re performing as an expanded four-piece band, with Andy Coughlan on double bass and Sarah Dean on celtic harp and backing vocals, both of whom also appeared on the album.

For Saturday’s gig in Cardiff, Sarah Dean played a short solo set of harp-driven folk-prog, which at times made her Celtic harp sound like the folk equivalent of a Chapman Stick. In contrast the opening act at The Borderline on Sunday was the four-piece Sky of Green, playing semi-acoustic west-coast rock featuring Anne-Marie’s brother Robert Helder playing some superb psychedelic lead guitar.

Luna Rossa’s eclectic influences makes their music difficult to classify. Without drums or electric guitars it’s not quite rock as such, and through there are elements of jazz, folk, and even classical music, none are strong enough to be defining. There are moments that echo Led Zeppelin’s acoustic side, but that’s just one aspect of many. But though the presentation is different, much of the music still comes from the same place as Panic Room, with an emphasis on Anne-Marie Helder’s distinctive approach to melody.

Andy Coughlan with Luna Rossa at The BorderlineIn contrast to the Cardiff show, where the band battled with technical gremlins and Sarah Dean’s harp sometimes got lost in the mix, Sunday night’s show at The Borderline benefited from a much better sound and a far more confident performance. The headline-length set took in most of both albums, including covers of The Magnetic Fields’ “Book of Love” and Todd Rundgren’s “Tiny Demons” alongside original numbers that went from hauntingly beautiful to bizarrely quirky.

Jon’s piano and Anne-Marie’s always remarkable voice are still the heart of the sound, but the two additional musicians add an extra richness. Some arrangements are interestingly different from the studio recordings, with Andy Coughlan’s bass replacing violin or electric guitar parts, for example his bowed double bass parts on “Heart on my Sleeve” or soloing on “Dark Room”. “Mad About You” took on a jazz flavour with Andy Coughlan on electric bass and Jon Edwards cutting loose with an extended piano solo. Only “Gasp” towards the end of the set resorted to a backing iPod for the strings and layered vocal harmonies, an essential part of the song that couldn’t otherwise be reproduced live.

Sarah Dean with Luna Rossa at The BorderlineThey ended with what might be the strangest song Anne-Marie Helder has ever written, surpassing even Panic Room’s “I Am A Cat”; “Happy Little Song”, featuring synchronised whistling, clucking, and a few bars of “Entry of the Gladiators”, sounding like the theme song from a surreal 1970s Czech children’s TV programme. It was a light-hearted and entertaining way to end a superb and varied set.

While it was initially disappointing that Panic Room were unable to play any live shows in the second half of the year because of drummer Gavin Griffiths’ commitments with Fish, this short Luna Rossa tour certainly makes up for it. But it’s not so much a lesser version of Panic Room as completely different project with its own distinctive strengths, stripped-down intimacy rather than full-on rock.

There is one remaining date, at Bilston Robin 2 on 9th November, and this is not to be missed.

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Morpheus Rising to support Graham Bonnet in December

Morpheus Rising at Bilston Robin 2, July 2013

Just announced by Morpheus Rising.

We are very excited to announce that Morpheus Rising will be tour support for Graham Bonnet on his December UK tour! Having supported Graham Bonnet at York Fibbers in earlier this year, we’re really looking forward to this! It’s going to be a great tour and one not to be missed – get it in your diaries!

This tour will see a slightly different line up, with Craig Hill depping for the injured Nigel Durham, who is currently off games and nursing a shoulder injury, and the irrepressible Yatim Halimi (Panic Room, Steve Rothery Band) filling in for Andy Smith on bass whose Mostly Autumn commitments mean he is unavailable for the tour.

The dates are London O2 Academy Islington December 1st, Sheffield O2 Academy 2 December 2nd, Liverpool O2 Academy 2 December 3rd, Glasgow O2 ABC 2 December 4th and Birmingham O2 Academy 2 December 5th. We’ve been dying to announce this for a while but now everything is signed and sealed so we can finally spill the beans.

Great to have the chance to get out on the road again, and even better to have a chance to support Graham Bonnet again! So dig out your MR shirts, come down to the shows and show us your support! See you down the front.

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Kickstarter for Howard Sinclair’s new album

Howard Sinclair - The Light Broke InSinger-songwriter Howard Sinclair is running a Kickstarter campaign for his second album “The Light Broke In”, a followup to his début “The Delicious Company of Freaks”.

Howard Sinclair ought to be familiar to fans of Panic Room having supported the band many times. More recently he’s played keyboards for Also Eden and appears on their album “[REDACTED]“.

The new album will be full band project, now including former Morpheus Rising drummer Paul “Gibbo” Gibbons on drums alongside Patrick “Patch” Sanders on lead guitar and Becky Baldwin on bass. It features cover art by Mark Wilkinson, known for his iconic artwork for Marillion and more recently for Fish.

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