Live Reviews Blog

Concert reviews, with a very strong emphasis on the UK progressive rock scene.

Karnataka, Bilston Robin 2

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It’s been more than two years since Karnataka last toured the UK. Fronted by their third lead singer, former Riverdance singer Hayley Griffiths, the new-look Karnataka made a strong impression back in 2012. Extensive touring spawned the DVD “New Light”. Since then they’ve have spent most of the past couple of years in the studio recording a new album. But despite the length of time they’ve been away, they pulled an appreciable crowd for a Sunday Night on the fourth date of the “Secrets of Angels” tour.

The band the stage with a bang, opening the brand new “Road to Cairo”, a driving hard rock number number some people may have recognised since it appeared on the cover disk of Prog magazine ahead of the album release. Although Hayley promised they’d be playing the new album in full, for the first set the emphasis was on well-known favourites; a powerful “Talk To Me”, “The Right Time”, and an impressively rocked-up take on “Delicate Flame of Desire”, featuring some evocative guitar work from Enrico Pinna. A drum-heavy reworked intro heralded the lengthy “The Gathering Light” to bring us to the interval.

If the first set focussed on the familiar, the second half was almost entirely new, and this was where Hayley Griffiths really came into her own with material written to take full advantage of the remarkable power and range of her voice, as demonstrated by the operatic high notes of “Poison Ivy”. It was all very dramatic and dynamic, closer to the symphonic metal of bands like Nightwish than the ethereal sounds of their early days. They finished with the epic-length title track parts of which saw a return to the celtic atmospheric side of their music.

They encored with the lighters-in-the-air ballad “Feels Like Home”, with an a cappella ending, and it was all over, leaving you wishing for more.

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Karnataka were a great live band back in 2012, but this performance saw them raise their game to another level. Hayley Griffiths’ dramatic stage presence and stagecraft makes her the obvious visual focus of the band, and she’s more confident now in the role of rock frontwoman, even if her song introductions occasionally sounded a little stilted. Enrico Pinna has to be one of the most talented guitarists in any band of this level; reeling off magnificent cascading solos. And new drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi made a very strong impression; with his mop of hair and the storm he kicked up behind the kit he sometimes seemed to be channelling Animal from the Muppets.

Karnataka have gone through a lot of changes over the years; bassist and composer Ian Jones is the sole constant factor, and Enrico Pinna is the only other remaining member from the band that recorded their previous studio album “The Gathering Light”. But the way they reinterpret older material rather than attempt to faithfully recreate the originals should have long dispelled the idea that they’re any kind of glorified tribute band, and the emphasis on new material on this tour shows a band looking to the future rather than the past. While there were still one or two who preferred earlier versions of the band, finding this incarnation too bombastic, the newer harder-rocking Karnataka won over the vast majority of the crowd in Bilston.

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Best Gigs of 2014

Chantel McGregor at the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival

Unlike almost everyone else, I didn’t get to see Kate Bush’s already legendary shows at Hammersmith in the summer. But I did get to see plenty of other bands, from festivals to free-entry pub gigs, so many in fact that I lost eventually lost count. I do remember nine in thirteen days in December, after which I collapsed in a heap.

These are ten of the best of the year, listed in chronological order save for the gig of the year. Several of them are from festivals, where I’ve highlighted individual sets rather than the festival as a whole.

The Pineapple Thief, HRH Prog, March

The first day of HRH Prog was somewhat patchy, with rather too many rather one-dimensional acts. The Pineapple Thief were the exception, with a magnificently intense set that stood head and shoulders above anyone else on Friday’s bill, including headliners The Flower Kings.

Riverside, O2 Academy, April

Poland’s finest proved they’re every bit as good live as they are on record, the perfect band for anyone still missing Porcupine Tree, but with enough of an identity of their own to sound like any kind of pastiche.

Panic Room, Gloucester Guildhall, April

2014 saw Panic Room back firing on all cylinders again after a somewhat shaky 2013, with the new lineup with then-new guitarist Adam O’Sullivan fully bedded it. They kicked off with an impressive performance at HRH Prog in March, and were on consistently good live form thereafter. It’s hard to single out any one show, but this early one in Gloucester was as good as any.

Magenta, Trinity Live, May

Magenta were only added to the bill of the all-day charity gig very late in the day when Christina’s cancer treatment was progressing well enough to allow her to perform. It’s always remarkable how good Magenta are live considering how infrequently they perform; but this time they completely stole the show. And they deserved it.

Jeff Lorber, Swansea Jazz Festival, June

Most of this years gigs have been prog and metal, so the Swansea Jazz Festival was a change of pace. Among others it featured the veteran trumpeter Dick Pierce, the violin-driven gypsy jazz of Sarah Smith, and the jazz-rock of Protect the Beat. But the highlight of the weekend was Friday night’s set of jazz-fusion from pianist Jeff Lorber. The world of prog contains plenty of virtuoso musicians, but jazz can be on another level.

Mostly Autumn, The Box in Crewe, July

Mostly Autumn have bounced back very strongly after a hit-and-miss 2013, touring to promote the best album they’ve made in years and for the first time playing the new album in full on tour. Despite a fluctuating lineup in the early part of the year due some members’ prior commitments, which saw former flautist Angela Gordon standing in for a couple of gigs, they were back to the sort of live form they displayed in 2011 and 2012. An early highlight was their long-overdue return to Crewe in July.

Mr So and So, Resonance, August

Resonance was a strange festival, with an eclectic mix of bands playing across multiple stages, including a small room tucked away at up at the top of the building. One of the bands in that small room, Mr So and So, were an unexpected highlight, a band who have improved immensely over the past couple of years, with Charlotte Evans coming into her own as a singer.

Chantel McGregor, Cambridge Rock Festival, August

The Cambridge Rock Festival was another highlight of the year, with strong sets from Mostly Autumn, Mr So and So, The Windmill, Cloud Atlas and others. One of the highlights was the guitar-shredding set on Friday from Chantel McGregor, who simply owns the main stage at that festival.

Fish, Reading Sub89, December

Fish had planned to tour the UK in May but was forced to cancel due to Guitarist Robin Boult’s injury. The rescheduled shows in December looked in doubt at one point when the man himself went down with viral laryngitis on the continental leg. But in the end all was fine, and the band were on fire, with a completely new setlist compared to last year, with old favourites like “Big Wedge” and “Incubus” as well as the powerful High Wood suite from his newest album played in full.

It’s hard to narrow things down to just ten, so honourable mentions to Touchstone and IOEarth’s Christmas show in Bilston, The Tangent’s mesmerising performance at Celebr8.3 in Islington, Tarja rocking out the O2 Academy, Steve Rothery at Bush Hall, Opeth’s oldies-heavy set at The Roundhouse, and Alestorm’s booze and piracy in Reading.

It’s even harder to pick the best of the lot, but there can only be one, and this came towards the end of the year.

Marillion, The Forum, December

Even after more than 30 years in the business, Marillion never disappoint live, and their sell-out December Christmas shows were no exception. What was surprising was the number of real oldies they haven’t played for years; “Slàinte Mhath”, “Warm Wet Circles/This Time of the Night” and even “Garden Party” from the Fish era, and several song from “Seasons End” including the magnificent title track. It gave the impression of a band comfortable in their own skins and reconciled with their own past in a way they weren’t a few years back.

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A Battleship of Gigs

November and December are always crunch times for gigs, when everyone seems to be on tour at once, and gig-goers talk of bands playing Battleships on their diaries. The beginning of December saw an actual Battleship; four gigs in four days. Since we’re nearly a month after the gigs, what follows aren’t reviews as such, but do give me an excuse to post some photos.

The first of those was The Pineapple Thief at the O2 Academy in London, a good gig even if it didn’t quite reach the mesmerising heights of their performance at HRH Prog back in March.

Chantel McGregor at Bilston Robin 2

Then it was up to Bilston Robin 2 for Chantel McGregor. With her long-awaited second album now recorded and due for release early in the new year, she’s completely revamped her setlist from that of the past couple of years. Gone are the reworkings of blues standards, and her take on Robin Trower’s “Daydream” was the only cover in the set. In their place she played most of the new album, going from hard rock to solo acoustic numbers. This album is going to be well worth the wait.

Richie Richards, Bassist for Chantel McGregor at Bilston Robin 2

Sadly this run of gigs marked the farewell for her long-term bassist Ritchie Richards, a talented musician who always made an excellent foil for Chantel’s guitar playing.

Olivia Sparnenn of Mostly Autumn at Bilston Robin 2 on 6-Dec-2014

Then it was two back-to-back Mostly Autumn Christmas shows, in Manchester and Bilston. With the venue booked solid with panto, there wasn’t the traditional hometown show at York Grand Opera House this year to serve as a gathering of fans, but these two shows made up for it. The set was much the same as earlier in the year, with the concept album “Dressed in Voices” played in full as the second half the the show. This year they’re shaken up the Christmas encores, with Chris de Burgh#’s “A Spaceman Came Travelling” and, of all things, the theme song from Frozen.

The following weekend turned out to be an aircraft carrier…

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Fish – Reading Sub89

Fish at Sub89 in Reading

Fish has had something of a troubled year gig-wise. First he was forced to postpone the whole of his May UK tour due to the combination of guitarist Robin Boult’s severe case of chicken pox, and a new keyboard player not working out in rehearsals. Then the singers’ nightmare, a bout of viral laryngitis, took out a big chunk of his extensive European tour including the entire French leg. At one point it looked as though his December UK dates, rescheduled from May, might be in doubt. But good reports from the early dates suggested things were back on track.

It’s a long time since Fish came to Reading; the appearance at Sub89 was an additional date, not part of the postponed May tour. His current touring band now includes It Bites’ John Beck on keys alongside Robin Boult and the long-serving rhythm section of Steve Vantsis and Gavin Griffiths.

They began with the lengthy and brooding “Perfume River”, the opening track from last year’s “Feast of Consequences”, building from Floydian keyboard washes and rippling guitar to a hard-rocking conclusion. Next came the more straightforward singer/songwriter-style rocker of the title track. The travails of Fish’s love life continued as the theme of the early part of the set, for next came a couple of songs from his bitterest break-up album, 2007′s 13th Star, the second of them introduced with a lengthy monologue about the way his story of his string of failed relationships left a therapist in tears.

But the centrepiece of the set was the five-song “High Wood Suite”, the very moving concept piece about the Third Battle of Arras in First World War in which both his grandfathers fought. In last year’s tour to promote the album they’d played the highlights, omitting the poignant closing song “The Leaving”. This time they performed the suite in its entirety, and it gains far more power when played in full. It says something that in a venue that’s often notorious for background chatter, you could have heard a pin drop during “The Leaving”.

After that tour-de-force it was crowd-pleasers from much earlier in his career; the rock workout of “Big Wedge” from his first post-Marillion solo album “Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors”, followed by the title track itself, introduced with a lengthy rant about the Scottish independence referendum and a call to political action, and sung from the middle of the crowd rather than from the stage. A crowd singalong of the Marillion hit “Heart of Lothian” closed the main set.

The encores were an intense “Incubus” featuring some impressive guitar work from Robin Boult, who doesn’t get many chances to play a big solo in this setlist, before the show ended with another crowd singalong, the drinking song “The Company”.

Fish was on superb form, with no trace of his earlier voice problems. It’s true that he doesn’t have anything like the vocal power and range of his younger days, sometimes meaning older songs need to be played in a different key. But his stage presence and force of personality is enough to carry the show. With Marillion themselves also on tour at the same time it’s interesting to compare the two; Fish’s band, looser but more energetic, are far more rock’n'roll, and have a quite different feel even when playing Marillion material.

The setlist made a great contrast with that of his last UK tour in 2013. Although the highlights from “Feast of Consequences” featured heavily both times, the rest of the set was completely different, without a single song in common. Like his former bandmates Marillion, and unlike far too many other 70s/80s veterans, there are no standards which you can expect to hear tour after tour. Nobody seemed to care that “Kayleigh” wasn’t played.

With Fish giving indications that this may well be his final tour of club venues on this sort of scale, it’s a case of “see him while you can”. He’s still got it, and still puts on one hell of a show.

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Bigelf at The Garage.

Damon Fox of Bigelf at The Garage

Bigelf returned to Britain after a long absence with a headlining appearance at the Resonance festival during the summer. In November they returned to these shores with their first tour since 2010, and drew a sizeable crowd when the tour came to The Garage in London.

As is quite common nowadays there was not one but two support acts. There is value in giving showcases to up-and-coming bands, and giving audiences value for money, But with more that one opening act you do wonder if it might have been better either to have had a longer set for the headliner, or perhaps a slightly earlier finish given that the gig was on a school night. The show began with Jolly, taking a modern approach to progressive rock with echoes of Haken and Muse, melodic in places and heavy in others, with an emphasis on angular riffs.

Bend Sinister were much more old-school, kicking off with a retro 70s rock’n'roll sound, with heavy use of Hammond organ sounds owing a heavy debt to the late Jon Lord. There was a point that sounded like Deep Purple covering Kula Shaker. They lost momentum later on with some rather less impressive ballads, but ended on a higher note with a cover of Supertramp’s “The Logical Song”.

Bigelf have undergone a few lineup changes of late, with frontman Damon Fox and bassist Duffy Snowhill the only members who appeared on the their most recent album. For this tour they’re joined by Damon’s son Baron Fox on drums, plus Porcupine Tree and Fish guitarist John Wesley.

Unlike too many progressive bands who shuffle on, play the songs, and shuffle off again, and you’re lucky if you get a few stereotypical rock shapes, Bigelf understand the art of showmanship.
Their set began with an intro tape of John Williams’ Imperial March from Star Wars, and Damon Fox placing Yoda on top of his Mellotron when he walked on stage. He cuts an dramatic figure on stage, dressed as a circus ringmaster in a top hat, standing between a battered vintage Hammond and a genuine Mellotron, playing one with each hand.

The title of their latest album “Into the Maelstrom” makes a very good description of their live sound, which owes a debt to bands as varied as The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Queen. Damon’s swirling Hammond is central, giving a strong Uriah Heep feel at times, though Duffy Snowhill’s bass grooves also played an important role. Guitarist John Wesley, the quintessential unassuming sidesman best known for his role in Porcupine Tree, played more a supporting role, but did get the occasional moment in the spotlight.

The setlist drew heavily from “Into the Maelstrom” and the preceding album “Cheat the Gallows”, despite a lot of calls from the audience for the oldie “Disappear”, which prompted the band to tease by playing the opening bars. The anthemic “Money, It’s Pure Evil” turned into a singalong, and the 90 minute set passed in what seemed like no time at all, with the final encore of “Blackball” turning into an extended Doors-esque jam featuring some excellent soloing from Wesley.

This was one of those gigs that prompts the usage of words like “Progtastic”. But with their love of retro 70s sounds and vintage gear, and bombastic theatrical approach to performance, there is nobody else quite like Bigelf.

This review initially appeared in Trebuchet Magazine

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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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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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Resonance Festival, Balham

Resonance Festival

The Resonance Festival held at the very beginning of August was a four-day charity event held in The Bedford in Balham, featuring bands from all aspects of the contemporary progressive rock scene, everything from the traditional and the neo to the avant garde. I couldn’t get to the first two days, the evening only events featuring Mostly Autumn, Also Eden and Lifesigns. But I did attend the all-day events of Saturday and Sunday where the three rooms played host to a wide variety of bands.

The biggest room, the magnificent circular Globe was booked for a comedy night on the Saturday, but it was still available during the afternoon. So that became the acoustic stage for the day. First up was looping guitar maestro Matt Stevens, conjuring tapestries of sound from a battered acoustic guitar and an array of looping pedals. He’s a familiar sight on the prog circuit having opened for just about everyone, but he’s still an entertaining performer no matter how many times you’ve seen him.

After The Far Meadow, whose competent neo-prog was spoiled by terrible sound, it was back to The Globe for a beautiful set from Luna Rossa, the acoustic duo of Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards of Panic Room. They’re not “Panic Room unplugged”, but a completely separate side-project playing their own material rather than Panic Room songs. With Jon on piano and Anne-Marie adding some acoustic guitar and flute, their beautiful set featured songs from the album “Sleeping Pills and Lullabies”, a couple of interestingly-reworked covers, and one new number offering a tantalising glimpse of their second album that they’re currently part-way through recording.

Anna Phoebe and her band were the first all-instrumental act of the weekend. With lead instruments of violin and acoustic guitar for much of the set, they were the missing link between rock and gypsy jazz. Anne Phoebe is a stunning virtuoso musician with a dramatic stage presence to match.

Matt Stevens celebrated his birthday by returning to the stage a second time, this time in electric mode with a full band in the shape of The Fierce and The Dead. They’re not an easy band to describe, but their instrumental sound driven by interlocking guitars with a raw sound comes over as a kind of punk version of King Crimson. It was intense and Earth-shatteringly loud, and the audience staggered out of the room wondering exactly what had hit them.

Saturday ended with the symphonic majesty of The Enid. Much like their performance at HRH Prog back in March, the set mixed older favourites with newer material from “Invictia”, ending with a mesmerising “Dark Hydraulic” and a version of Barclay James Harvest’s “Mockingbird”. There is nobody else remotely like The Enid, and they, perhaps more than any other band embody the spirit of everything progressive rock is about.

So ended the first day, and that was just the highlights; there are also honourable mentions to Unto Us, who bravely playing their set with a laptop replacing their ailing drummer, and the avant-noise of Trojan Horse, a band with feet in enough different camps they do supports for the likes of post-punk veterans The Fall.

Sunday’s bill was a day of clashes between the various stages, made worse by timings going awry which made it easier to wander from stage to stage seeing what sounded interesting rather than planning things too much in advance. Early bands included Rat Face Lewey, a very young power trio, at times verging on punk, at others playing some more melodic guitar lines, and Hekz with their strongly song-focussed prog-metal. Vocals are often the weak link in prog-metal, but Hekz’ Matt Young had quite a remarkable voice.

Maschine were the first band on the main stage, now in its rightful place in The Globe, and started late because of technical problems. Although to some extent they’re a vehicle for Luke Machin’s virtuoso guitar playing, there’s some solid composition behind all the flash. They’re the missing link between prog-metal and jazz-fusion. Quite a bit of their entertaining set was new, as yet unrecorded material alongside highlights from their début “Rubidium”. They’re not quite the same without Georgia, though.

King Bathmat were actually three-quarters of King Bathmat, since they were without their keyboard player and played as a power trio. In such a stripped-down form they sounded like a completely different band than they do on record, but nevertheless did make a strong impression, dominated by John Bassett’s psychedelic lead guitar. Because the two sets clashed I only caught the end of Synaesthesia’s set, but what little I heard it seemed like their set was something special indeed, a remarkable combination of youthful enthusiasm and compositional maturity well beyond their years.

Mr So and So turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of the weekend, with a really powerful performance. They’re a band representing the song-centric side of things with distinctive use of dual male-female lead vocals. Their set was tight and intense with both guitar crunch and soaring melodies, with Charlotte Evans giving a very strong vocal performance, and some tremendous shredding from Dave Foster.

Former Enid guitarist Frances Lickerish threw a complete curveball and had to be the strangest act of the weekend. He started out playing some solo instrumental pieces on, of all things a lute, before being joined by vocalist Hilary Palmer for some genuine medieval songs. It seemed like folk’s revenge for Prog taking over Cropredy this year, and made Blackmore’s Night look like the Dungeons and Dragons parody it is. He even played a few bars of Smoke on the Water. On a lute.

At this point things started to go really pear-shaped. Swedish proggers Änglagård, making a very rare UK appearance were due on the main stage at 6:30. But despite already being allocated a two-hour setup time, they were nowhere near being ready to go at the scheduled time, and were ultimately well over an hour late, throwing the rest of the timings into disarray. I appreciate that a band relying so much on temperemental vintage gear (including two Mellotrons) might suffer from technical problems. But I was told the exact same thing happened last year at Night of the Prog at Loreley, which makes we wonder if a band like this should really be playing festivals at all.

The delay did give the chance to check out the other two stages, with some in-your-face metal from Jupiter Falls, and an entertaining unplugged set from 70s veterans Gnidrolog. Änglagård finally did hit the stage very, very late with their largely instrumental and very retro classic prog sound. It was a swirling mix of flute, Hammond, Mellotron, Fender Rhodes, saxes and an array of percussion instruments including a massive gong. All very heady stuff, although there was always the nagging doubt at the back of the mind that this was all a Spinal Tap style parody of prog excess.

Headliners Bigelf came on very late, and played a truncated set despite the hastily extended curfew. But it all proved worth the wait, and they blew everyone away, sounding like a cross between The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and early Queen. Few people in the prog world have such a magnetic stage presence as frontman and keyboard player Damon Fox. He completely dominates the stage, playing a Hammond B3 with one hand and a Mellotron with the other while singing lead at the same time. With a setlist drawn heavily from “Cheat the Gallows” and “Into the Maelstrom” they bought the festival to a spectacular if somewhat belated close.

Resonance was an entertaining festival, and the variety of acts covered almost all corners of progressive rock’s increasingly large tent. The only failing was that the whole thing was probably a little over-ambitious with three stages and far too many bands to be able to see everyone. One thing that amused me was the way the bar kept running out of real ale; did nobody tell them what prog fans drink?

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2014 – Part Two

Olivia Sparnenn of Mostly Autumn at the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival

For those who’s tastes run towards progressive rock and metal, Sunday was always going to be the day to be looked forward to the most. Continue reading

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2014 – Part One

Chantel McGregor at the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival

The Cambridge Rock Festival is a four-day event on the first weekend of August, with a focus on blues, classic rock and progressive rock. 2014 is the festival’s eleventh year, and the sixth to be held at the current location just outside the city. Continue reading

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