Much like Fleetwood Mac, a band that still provokes endless discussion between fans of the Peter Green and Stevie Nicks eras over which was the best, Genesis were really two quite different bands appealing to different audiences. The 70s incarnation fronted by the charismatic Peter Gabriel saw them as one of the most innovative and influential bands from the British progressive rock movement, influenced more by baroque composers than the blues, with lyrics filled with English whimsy and Greek myths. The 80s incarnation saw their more commercially-orientated pop-rock fill stadiums, and for a while it was fashionable to dismiss their older music as hopelessly dated and worthless. Even the band seemed willing to disown their past in interviews. But in recent years progressive rock in general is being increasingly reassessed, and now it’s their 80s work that many consider ‘of its time’.
The watershed moment between the two eras of Genesis wasn’t Gabriel’s departure in 1975, but guitarist Steve Hackett’s departure two years later. His 1996 album “Genesis Revisited” and last year’s ambitious double-album follow-up have made him the keeper of the flame for Genesis’ 1970s legacy. Recent tours have seen Steve Hackett’s band mix selected Genesis favourites with highlights of his 35 year solo career, but with the release of “Genesis Revisited II”, he’s now taking the full Genesis revival show on the road.
Opening act was Anne-Marie Helder, best known in recent years as the lead singer of Panic Room. Acoustic singer-songwriters can often work well in small intimate settings, but Anne-Marie is one of the few in the business who can project strongly in much larger halls. It was amazing to hear the way her voice fill the venue. Her short-but-sweet set included a spellbinding stripped-down version of Panic Room’s “Promises” alongside some older acoustic numbers that haven’t been heard live for far too long.
The famous symphonic keyboard intro to “Watcher of the Skies” heralded the main event. Aside from Hackett himself, the six piece band includes Nad Sylvan on the majority of lead vocals, Roger King on keys, Gary O’Toole on drums and vocals, Rob Townsend on flute and clarinet and Lee Pomeroy on bass, with Amanda Lehmann joining them on guitar and vocals for a couple of songs.
For the next two and a half hours the band took us through the 1971-77 Genesis songbook, with so many highlights it’s difficult to single out individual moments. We saw “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” turn into a singalong of the opening section. “The Lamia” saw the first of several special guest appearances, with Nick Kershaw on vocals and Marillion’s Steve Rothery trading licks with Steve Hackett at the end, earning the first of many standing ovations of the evening. “Shadow of the Heirophant”, the sole non-Genesis song was simply stunning, with Rob Townsend pogoing at one point and some incredible liquid shredding from the man himself. A beautiful “Entangled” featured a three-part vocal harmony with Nad Sylvan, Amanda Lehmann and Gary O’Toole. John Wetton guested on “Afterglow” after the extended jazz-fusion instrumental workout of “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers/In That Quiet Earth”. And pretty much the whole audience shouted “A FLOWER” at that point in the epic “Supper’s Ready”.
The band gave the old songs something of a new lick for the 21st century. It wasn’t a reverential note-for-note reproduction of the original recordings, but neither was it a ground-up re-imagining that didn’t respect the original versions. Certainly the arrangements gave greater emphasis to Hackett’s distinctive and hugely influential guitar playing, and Nad Sylvan didn’t attempt to impersonate either Gabriel or Collins on vocals. The two songs Gary O’Toole sang from behind the kit,”Broadway Melody of 1974″ and “Blood on the Rooftops” were perhaps the closest to the originals vocally. Rob Townsend’s clarinet doubling or occasionally replacing Hackett’s original guitar lines added another dimension, resulting in “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” taking on a jazz flavour.
It’s all an unashamed nostalgia trip, with an audience disproportionately filled with people of a certain age. But after forty-odd years the music has stood the test of time in a way few anticipated a generation ago. So it’s great to hear this classic material played by a member of the original band, and the rapturous response from the audience with multiple standing ovations said it all. We’re probably never going to see the full-blown reunion of the mid-70s Genesis for which fans have been clamouring for years. But in the absence of a reunion, Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited tour is the next best thing.
The band will be playing Japan, Europe and the US before returning to the UK for further dates in October, including a show at the Royal Albert Hall.
Mostly Autumn played their first headline appearances of 2013 with four shows over the May bank holiday weekend. On the Sunday night they came to The Brook in Southampton for the last of those four dates.
The seven-piece band kicked off the two hour show with couple of oldies, beginning with the electric folk-rock tinged “Winter Mountain”, then rocking out with a very high-energy version of “Never the Rainbow”. “Unquiet Tears”, the first song from their most recent album “Ghost Moon Orchestra” was extremely powerful, building from a quiet but ominous beginning to an epic that recalls the symphonic metal of Nightwish. The moment where the full band come in and Olivia pulls out all the stops vocally is simply jaw-dropping.
Four dates in and they’ve had more than enough time to blow away any cobwebs, and the performance was both tight and powerful. They’ve made quite a few changes since the previous tour at the end of last year, bringing back a few other old favourites such as “Simple Ways” and “Nowhere to Hide” that hadn’t been played live for a while alongside the usual standards and highlights from “Ghost Moon Orchestra”. An interesting change of pace was “Rain Song”, a song Olivia Sparnenn wrote long before joining Mostly Autumn, later to be recorded on Breathing Space’s “Coming Up For Air”. Here it took a stripped-down form accompanied by just piano and flute.
Though the set was a good mix of old and new, since “The Ghost Moon Orchestra” is less than a year old, I can’t help feeling that they could have included more than three songs from the retail edition of the album. But my biggest quibble was the inclusion of two songs from Bryan Josh’s solo album “Through These Eyes”. That album had a very different style and feel, and the songs don’t quite work in the context of a Mostly Autumn set. “Appian Way” in particular came over crude and over-simplistic compared with the more sophisticated material from Mostly Autumn (or Breathing Space) albums.
The main set ended with an intense version of the epic “Questioning Eyes”, another number that first appeared on a Breathing Space album, but which has always worked as a Mostly Autumn song. After the obligatory first encore of “Heroes Never Die”, they finished with one more spectacular Olivia Sparnenn vocal showcase, “Tonight”.
Olivia Sparnenn’s and Anne-Marie Helder’s voices work extremely well together. While Olivia has always been able to do the older material justice, she’s really come into her own since the release of “Ghost Moon Orchestra” and a setlist containing a higher proportion of songs written to take full advantage of the remarkable range and power of her voice. Anne-Marie harmonises superbly, singing counter-melodies to Olivia’s vocal lines, particularly effective on “Passengers” and “Wild Eyed Skies”, enhancing the songs while never trying to steal Olivia’s spotlight.
It’s hats off to Alex Cromarty, standing in for the unavailable Gavin Griffiths. Despite a very limited time to learn the songs, on only his fourth gig with the band he managed to completely nail the material, and played with a tremendous amount of energy. Best known as the drummer for The Heather Findlay Band and Riversea, he will be playing live with Mostly Autumn for the rest of the year.
Great as the gig was, it’s an event tinged with sadness, because, as Bryan said at the end of the gig, it looks like this will be Anne-Marie Helder’s last appearance in the band for quite a while. Anne-Marie has been a part of the band for more than five years, and her contributions as multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist will be greatly missed. I suppose it was always on the cards that as her own band Panic Room grew in profile and status that it would get harder to continue combining her roles in both. Mostly Autumn have been fortunate in being able to retain the services of such a talented musician and singer in a supporting role for so long.
Mostly Autumn next appear live at the end of the month in Maryport, followed by extensive touring the following months, including several shows in the second half of the year with Chantel McGregor as special guest. Full details on their website at www.mostly-autumn.com.
Marillion are a band who have always had an especially strong long-term relationship with their fans, and the way they’ve made full use of this goes a long way towards explaining how they’ve prospered over such a long career. Weekend-long fan conventions have been a regular feature of the Marillion calendar since the first one at an out-of-season Pontins back in 2002. Such has been the demand that this year they held three separate events, the first in Port Zelande in Holland, the second in Montreal, and the third at The Civic in Wolverhampton.
While each one featured different support acts and other activities, the concerts at each convention took the same format. On each of the three days, the band would play one album in its entirety, with the other half of the show made up from complimentary material. Friday’s album was 1998′s Radiation. It would be fair to say it’s a much-discussed album which has divided fan opinion over the years. It dates from a time when each Marillion album was a reaction against the one before as the band tried to reinvent themselves in a very different musical climate from when they started out. It was a time when “prog” was at it’s lowest ebb, and some of Radiation adopted a more contemporary alternative rock sound with as much in common with the music bands such as Radiohead and Suede were making at the time than it did with the Marillion of old. Certainly the raw, lo-fi production was a bit of a shock to the system.
In completely contract, Saturday’s album would be Brave, the 1994 concept album inspired by a news story of a girl found wandering on the Severn Bridge. Recorded as a return to their progressive roots after the relative failure of its more commercially-orientated predecessor, the album was one of the most musically ambitious things they’ve ever done. Dark, intense, and utterly lacking in radio-friendly singles, it’s always been a firm fan favourite. Finally on the Sunday, they would play their current album, “Sounds That Can’t Be Made”, released at the tail end of last year, and never before played live in its entirety. On their November tour they only played selected highlights of the album at a time when a lot of fans hadn’t had the opportunity to hear the record.
There was a different support act on each of the three nights. Friday’s was virtuoso guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, accompanied by tabla player Dalbir Singh Rattan, who served as a complete rhythm section on his own; some of the tabla fills came over more as bass riffs than percussion. They began with a fifteen minute instrumental (very prog) with some amazing fluid guitar work and good use of effects, the two of them making as rich a sound as a whole band. The rest of the set was a little more song-based, and there were moments when it felt as if the singer-songwriter part of his act needed more work, as if things were marking time until he took off on another solo. But by the end of the set it was Aziz’ phenomenal guitar work that remained etched the mind.
There was a huge buzz of anticipation by the time Marillion themselves hit the stage. From the opening hard rocker “Under the Sun” to the beautifully melodic ballad “Three Minute Boy”, whatever Radiation’s merits on record, the material came over strongly live, and might even have prompted a few doubters to reassess the album. The closing two numbers were especially powerful, with intense takes on “Cathedral Wall”, and “A Few Words From The Dead”, retrospectively made relevant by the terrible events in America two days later.
They filled the second half with crowd-pleasers, drawing surprising heavily from pre-1988 material. “Slainte Mhath” has featured in setlists a few times in recent years, and Steve Hogarth’s raising a glass to Fish was a nice touch. But I doubt many expected the band to reach further back, with the hits “Lavender” and “Heart of Lothian”, and jaws dropped even further with “Script for a Jesters” Tear, the title track of their debut album as the first encore. They signed off with “Happiness is the Road”, the crowd singing the refrain over and over long after the band had left the stage. The whole thing was recorded as a DVD, and in a successful attempt to break the record for the time to produce a DVD had the finished product “Clocks Already Ticking” on sale the next evening.
On Saturday afternoon tribute band Stillmarillion played a charity gig at Bilston Robin 2. I don’t normally do tribute bands, but since I was staying two minutes from the venue, it would have been rude not to. Stillmarillion are a tribute to the 1982-87 era of Marillion, so this one was a trip down memory lane. The obvious highlight was when Marillion’s own Steve Rothery joined them for two numbers, “Chelsea Monday” and “Incubus”, but even without him they pull off the music very effectively. When the final notes of “Market Square Heroes” died away I looked at my watch and was amazed to realise they’d been on stage for two and a half hours, with a set including all of “Script for a Jesters Tear”, most of “Misplaced Childhood”, the highlights of “Fugazi”, selections from “Clutching at Straws” and quite a few non-album b-sides. No “Grendel”, but that did get played on the jukebox in The Old White Rose after the gig, which was fill of people dressed as jesters.
Then it was back to Wolverhampton for the second night of the convention proper. This time were two supports. First up was an acoustic solo spot from Marillion’s bassist Pete Trewevas, accompanied on some songs by Eric Blackwood of Edison’s Children playing some electric lead lines. Appearance-wise, if not musically, they gave me flashbacks to The Two Ronnie’s Big Jim Jehosaphat and Fat Belly Jones. Next up were Relish, a trio playing an energetic mix of rock, funk and soul. After a rather weak opening number, they got progressively better as the set went on, with some strong grooves and some impressive lead guitar.
Then came what many fans were eagerly waiting for, Marillion’s performance of “Brave” in full. They did not disappoint, and proceeded to play one of the most incredible live performances I’ve ever seen them do in 30 years of attending their gigs. Through the emotional maelstroms of “Living with the Big Lie” and “Mad”, the atmospherics of “The Hollow Man” and the title track, and the climax of “The Great Escape” the whole thing built in intensity, and the five minute standing ovation at the end of “The Great Escape”, really said it all. Many of the songs have featured individually in live sets over the years, but played as a whole it turns into something much greater than the sum of the parts. By the time the applause died down and the band played the coda to the album, “Made Again”, minds has been blown.
Following that wasn’t going to be easy, and for the second set they again they dipped back into the earlier days of the extensive back catalogue. We had fantastic versions of “Out Of This World” and “Seasons End”, encoring with “Warm Wet Circles/This Time of the Night” from “Clutching at Straws”, with that incredible solo from Steve Rothery.
Sunday’s support was Touchstone, a band best described as being at the rock end of prog-rock. Despite a poor sound mix that rather took the edge off things, they played a spirited set which still managed to make a strong impression on the crowd. Kicking off with the epic “Wintercoast” their short but sweet set took in all of their three albums, and it was nice to hear the Discordant Dreams/Beggars Song medley back in the set, something they’ve not played for a while. Kim Seviour, as ever, makes an engaging frontwoman and visual focus, and the three-part vocal harmonies with Rob Cottingham and Moo Bass were particularly effective when the sound mix did them justice.
Marillion took a slightly different approach for the third night, playing just a single set without an interval. “Sounds That Can’t Me Made” is more a collection of songs than a concept album like “Brave”. So beginning with the 17-minute “Gaza”, one of their most overtly political songs, they interspersed the new material with older songs. Even if it couldn’t quite top Saturday’s incredible performance it was still another great show. The crowd was more enthusiastic than ever, at one point singing the prominent guitar line at the end of the title track as a refrain, much in the same way as we’d sung “Happiness is the Road” on Friday. The band even went into a holding pattern on “This Strange Engine” waiting for the extended applause for Steve Rothery’s final solo to die down before carrying on with the song.
The main set ended with what may have been the best version of the epic “Neverland” I’ve ever heard them play. And for the final encore they took us back down memory lane with “Garden Party”, in which Steve Hogarth paid no heed to Heath and Safety and climbed via the PA stack to the balcony.
And so ended another Marillion convention. If you only know “Kayleigh” and their other 80s hits, and still ask if Fish is still with them (I got asked that more than once over the course of the weekend!), then you don’t know Marillion at all.
The Marillion of the 21st century is one of British music’s best-kept secrets. They’ve weathered a great many changes in musical trends. They’ve lived through a music business that’s changed out of all recognition and pioneered the art of staying afloat without the aid of a record company. How many other bands can rehearse and play more than seven hours worth of music over the course of a weekend? What band can omit their biggest hit, yet nobody cares? Who else can continue to make relevant and challenging music more than thirty years into their career? And who else combines that level of emotional intensity with such an incredible level of musicianship?
But above all, what makes an event like this is the fans. At it’s best, live music can be as much about the audience as it is about the people on stage, when the band feed off the energy they get from the crowd. So it was here; it went from being able to hear a pin drop in the quiet moments to mid-song standing ovations, and occasions where the crowd became a 2000-strong choir. Marillion plan return to the UK towards the end of the year. But as good as the tours can be, nothing can quite match the atmosphere of these fan weekends.
It was a last minute decision to go to this gig, at the end of what had been a rather rough week. A strong bill with three acts I was keen to see made it worth travelling to another country involving rail replacement buses and a stay in a cheap B&B. Sometimes it’s gigs like this where I’m reminded of the line in Mötorhead’s “We Are The Road Crew” ‘Another hotel I can’t find‘. But in this case I did manage to find the hotel, but got hopelessly lost in the decidedly non-Euclidian geography between the hotel and the venue. I was in a maze of small twisty streets, all alike. Fortunately I did eventually manage to find The Globe in time for the start.
Opener was the solo acoustic guitar virtuoso Matt Stevens. Matt plays acoustic guitar through a series of looping pedals and effects enabling him to turn a single guitar into a multilayered tapestry of sound. At times he uses his pedal board as an instrument as much as the guitar itself, and at one point was on his knees pressing buttons and making Hawkwind-like electronic effects. For the second half of his set, he was joined by virtuoso bassist and former Panic Room member Alun Vaughan, who played some imaginative bass parts to Matt’s solo compositions and added an interesting extra layer to the music.
I first saw Sankara at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival when they were still a four-piece, and the recently-formed band showed a lot of promise. Almost immediately after the release of their début album “Guided by Degrees” they changed personnel, with a new bassist and the addition of a second guitarist.
They now sound like a completely different band. Having two guitars fills out the sound significantly, with Jay and new addition Paul having contrasting and complementary styles. While their music still lies somewhere on the hard rock/AOR spectrum, they’ve now got a bigger, tougher and heavier sound than they had either as a four-piece or on record.
Their lengthy set including the majority of both the album and their earlier EP “Enigma”. Gareth Jones again impressed as a frontman, switching between the front of the stage and the occasional number sung from behind the keys. High spots included a very emotive “Lullaby for a Lost Boy”, which Gareth introduced as inspired by his day job in housing; ‘A song about homelessness’. Sankara have come on a lot in a very short time, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here.
Also Eden are another band in the throes of lineup changes. They’ve got a new bassist since I saw them last, and their current run of gigs marks the farewell appearances of founder member, keyboardist Ian Hodson. And although he’s established himself as the voice of the band over the last couple of years, Rich Harding wasn’t their original singer.
His politically-charged lyrics recall Geoff Mann-era Twelfth night, some of his theatrical vocal delivery reminds me a lot of very early Marillion, and his dedication of “1949″ to everyone who works in the NHS was a nice touch. Musically, despite sometimes lengthy songs and rich arrangements they avoid most of the obvious clichés of 80s neo-prog.
Their set drew heavily from their third album “Think of the Children”. For the older “Skipping Stones” they were joined on stage by their original singer Huw Lloyd Jones. They also played a substantial amount of brand-new material from the forthcoming “[Redacted]“. On first listen the new songs came over strongly, darker and heavier than their older songs, with “Chronologic” a particular standout.
From this performance Also Eden came over as a band who have significantly raised their game, and provided they manage to negotiate the speedbump of finding a replacement keyboard player they look about to move up to the next level. Certainly “[Redacted]” is now one of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the year.
In these cash-strapped times shows like this are exactly the sort of thing more bands ought to be doing, putting together a bill of two or three contrasting but complementary acts that give audiences their money’s worth regardless of who is the nominal headliner. It works for audiences, and I think it works for the bands as well.
Crimson Sky have returned to the live stage with a couple of co-headline gigs with The Mighty Bard, each band playing an hour-long set. The first of these was at The Old Firestation in Windsor, and a week later the two bands came to The Railway in Winchester.
The Mighty Bard were on first. The six-piece could be described as “Morrissey covering Grendel” although to be fair they’re a lot more than that. Certainly some of the arrangements, especially the keyboard sounds and ornate soloing strongly recalled very early Marillion. There was a slight folk-rock edge at times, although 80s neo-prog was by the strongest flavour. They certainly had their moments, but there were other times when I wasn’t completely convinced. They were at their best when the material fitted the singer’s vocal style rather than pulling in a different direction. The electric violin added an extra dimension; too many of today’s prog bands don’t stray enough from the standard keys and guitars frontline, but I felt it was a little underused. Still an enjoyable set, despite a few areas that need work.
Crimson Sky are on an upward trajectory at the moment. The new lineup with Jane Setter on lead vocals and Moray McDonald on keys is started to gel nicely, and the new members are making more and more of a stamp on their sound. They’ve still got that 70s classic rock meets 80s new-wave sound, where you hear influences as diverse as Uriah Heep and The Teardrop Explodes. To my ears they still fall under the broad umbrella of progressive rock, but they avoid all of the worst prog clichés. Like most good bands, you can hear influences, but their sound is their own.
Jane Setter has now established herself as frontwoman, and has taken the older songs and made them hers. The setlist naturally includes the two new songs from last years’s EP “Dawn”, though the rest of the set comes from 2009′s “Misunderstood”. While they’ve got some great songs, especially the closing “Misunderstood III”, the band have now reached the stage where they could do with some new material in the live set.
While Martin Leamon’s superb fluid guitar playing still dominates, Moray McDonald’s often understated keyboard playing fills out the sound, and has gradually become more of an integral part of the band. He plays some great classical-style piano fills, some of his Hammond organ riffs recall Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley, and there’s a hint of Marillion’s Mark Kelly too.
Crimson Sky have matured into a strong live band who deserve a wider audience, and I hope the new album the band are currently writing will take them to the next level.
I don’t usually do covers bands, but since this one was just round the corner from me, it would have been rude not to. Swallow are the Reading-based classic rock covers band fronted by Crimson Sky’s Jane Setter, with Diane Fox (above) on bass, Nick Martin on guitar, and Ade Ogden on drums. Their repetoire includes songs from Blondie, Uriah Heep, Golden Earring, Jefferson Airplane, and expecially for this gig, Led Zeppelin.
It’s not many gigs where I end up with more good photos of the drummer than of the singer, but pub gigs of this nature can be a challenge to photograph. The “stage” was wide but not very deep, with everyone in the front row. I was impressed with Ade’s drumming, and indeed the tightness of the whole band, as demonstrated by a very powerful version of “Radar Love”, one of the high spots of their first set. As a basic guitar-bass-drums-vocals lineup some songs needed to be played in a stripped-down forum, but the band’s arrangments worked, even managing to do Uriah Heep’s “Easy Livin’” justice without keys. I liked the way Diane Fox played the piano intro for UFO’s “Doctor Doctor” on bass.
Most of their second set was Led Zeppelin songs, at the request of the venue. Having seen the likes of Karnataka and Panic Room play Led Zep standards as encores, I’ve always thought Led Zeppelin songs work extremely well with female vocals, and the half-dozen songs they played, drawn largely from the early albums proved to be a very good fit for Jane’s voice. Somehow I doubt that Robert Plant could hit the high notes on “Immigrant Song” nowadays. And if Jane Setter could do Robert Plant, Ade Ogden also did a very convincing John Bonham.
While I still prefer to see bands play original material, it nevertheless makes for an entertaining evening, and Swallow do what they do extremely well.
Blue Coupe comprise the brothers Joe and Albert Bouchard, the original rhythm section from the classic lineup of Blue Öyster Cult, and Dennis Dunaway, one time bassist for Alice Cooper. They’re a power trio, with Joe swapping the bass for his original instrument, the guitar.
I only got to hear about their “Hot Rails to Hull” UK tour at very short notice, and with a somewhat strange tour itinerary concentrating on the north and the midlands, with no shows in any major cities. Their appearance at The Mill Arts Centre in Banbury was the closest they came to me.
The Mill is a great venue; as the name suggests it’s a former mill converted into a modern multi-purpose arts centre, a quite different sort of environment compared with the more typical grungy rock club. No sticky floors here, although the bar did stock some excellent local real ales. While not full, they pulled a fair-sized crowd for a Thursday night, on a tour that saw some gigs sold out, while others were cancelled due to lack of ticket sales.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; Blue Öyster Cult were known for their multi-layered sound and I did wonder how well a three piece band would do the material justice. The start was a tease, opening with distinctive byrds-like guitar figure of “Don’t Fear The Reaper” before launching into the Alice Cooper hit “Elected”. What followed was a mix of BÖC and Alice Cooper standards, with an early highlight being Albert’s signature tune “Cities of Flame”, which saw Joe go walkabout in the crowd during his extended solo.
Joe’s guitar playing made a very strong impression. His playing filled a lot of space, especially when you consider than many BÖC standards had two or sometimes three guitar parts, and he more than did Buck Dharma’s original lead guitar parts justice. Bassist Dennis Dunaway threw most of the rock shapes, while Albert seemed to be enjoying himself a lot on drums; with a far stronger stage presence than most rock drummers. The whole thing was very rock and roll, playing raw, stipped-down garage-style versions of some much loved songs.
All three shared vocals, with Joe Bouchard perhaps singing the lion’s share of lead vocals, while Dennis Dunaway did most of the song introductions. From where I was standing the vocals, especially Joe’s, got lost in the mix at times, which was one flaw in an otherwise great gig.
It wasn’t all oldies, as they threw in a few new songs for good measure. “Dark Boat” from one of Joe’s solo albums was particularly memorable, and they actually have a song called “More Cowbell”. The new material stands up well alongside the old, and marked them out as something far more than a mere nostalgia act, rather a band who still have something to say.
They ended the set with the biggest hits. First Godzilla (“Oh No! There goes Tokyo!”) with first a bass solo, then Albert going walkabout, drumming on the floor, the PA stack, the curtains(!) and finally returning to his kit for an actual drum solo, which, as drum solos go, has to be one of the more entertaining ones. Then it was “School’s Out”, and finally, after that tease at the very beginning, “Don’t Fear The Reaper”. They came back for no fewer than three encores, including a superb take on The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”, a song frequently covered in BÖC days, and of course, “Hot Rails To Hell”, before ending with “Under My Wheels”.
It’s a feature of today’s classic rock scene that some of the people who once played stadiums are now playing small venues in the most un-rock’n'roll of towns. But bands like Blue Coupe have still got it, and can still put on a great show. They’ve promised they’ll be returning to the UK, and when they do, go and see them. You won’t be disappointed.
Karnataka’s extensive Autumn/Winter 2012 tour came to the magnificent Leamington Assembly on the 17th November.
Winter in Eden, fronted by Vicky Johnson (above) made a very complementary support act,and helped boost the crowd by bringing along a lot of their own fans. A British take on the European symphonic metal genre, they were one of the highlights of the first day of the Cambridge Rock Festival back in August. This support set carried on where they left off then, and made a very strong impression.
Unlike some bands of their ilk they don’t rely on choirs and orchestras that can’t be produced live without backing tapes. Steve Johnson’s keys and Sam Cull superb fluid guitar give them all the instrumental depth the music needs.
The latest incarnation of Karnataka got off to a strong start when they toured in the spring, and their recent “New Light” DVD is a good document of that tour. Now down to a basic five-piece minus multi-instrumentalist Colin Mold, their sound has become rawer and rockier. Lead singer Hayley Griffiths has grown far more in to the role of frontwoman for a rock band, getting inside the songs far more than she did in the spring.
While most of the material naturally still dates to the Rachel Jones and Lisa Fury versions of the band, the set did include some brand new songs, at least one of which wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Winter in Eden’s set.
One of the big attractions of Karnataka’s music is still Enrico Pinna’s fantastic guitar playing, with the extended workout on the epic “Forsaken” a particular highlight.
Karnataka play one final show in 2012 at The Scala in London, again with Winter in Eden as the support. Tickets available online here.
The Heather Findlay Band took to the road with a short tour of UK cities, the second full band tour since Heather left Mostly Autumn in 2010. The band had a new look this time around; with Dave Kilminster and Steve Vantsis unavailable due to other commitments, they featured Simon Snaize on lead guitar and one-time Seahorse Stuart Fletcher on bass.
I got to see three dates on the tour, at The Brook in Southampton, The Borderline in London the following night, and The Robin 2 in Bilston a few days later, of which the London show was the best of the three.
A brief word about the opening acts. The main support for the whole tour was The Raggy Anns, an acoustic duo playing a kind of Americana-tinged folk. Not quite my thing, but they did perform with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and got noticeably better as the tour went on. And although I only saw them the once, Heather herself opened some of the shows as part of Odin Dragonfly, which really left me in two minds. On one hand, it was great to see Heather and Angela on stage together again, but their set was disappointingly short. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’d love to see them play a far longer headline set, even if it’s just a single one-off gig somewhere like York.
With her own band Heather played a full-length set. Although they played most of the 2010 EP “The Phoenix Suite”, including a punky version of “Cellophane”, the setlist was still heavily dependent on older Mostly Autumn material, including standards like “Caught in a Fold” and “Evergreen” alongside songs from “Storms Over Still Waters” and “Glass Shadows” that haven’t been in recent Mostly Autumn setlists. There were a few changes from last year’s set, and some songs that had been played before had new arrangements. One real highlight was the semi-acoustic “Bitterness Burnt” where Heather out-drummed her own drummer on floor tom, and it was great to hear “Carpe Diem” once more, a song I’d wondered if we’d ever hear played live again. The setlist did change slightly from night to night; at Bilston were were treated to an unscheduled acoustic “Gaze” played while two of the band repaired a collapsed drumkit.
The one brand new song, “Shine”, was very, very good, a Led Zeppelin style riff-based rocker with a real groove to it, and such a strong vocal melody that I had it stuck in my head the morning after the Bilston gig. I hope there’s more where that came from.
Heather was on superb form. She’s still a class act as a vocalist, with a combination of power, range and emotional depth few can match, and still has a dominating stage presence. There was a real intensity to her delivery, with The Borderline in particular being as good a vocal performance as I’ve seen from anyone this year.
Stuart Fletcher made a very strong impression on bass; more rocker than muso, and when combined with Alex Cromarty’s drumming makes for powerful rhythm section which gives a huge amount of energy to the band. Simon Snaize probably needs some time to grow in to the role. His playing got noticeably more confident as the tour went on, with added touches like some bluesy licks on “Phoenix”. I found I preferred his more melodic playing to his shredding, in particular he was excellent on “Carpe Diem”. One of the most exciting moments was when he went all Nile Rogers on a seriously funked-up version of “Flowers for Guns”.
Despite the absence of any rock royalty for this tour, these shows still have a rock energy and a dynamic sound that bears little resemblance to anything she’s put out on record since going solo. She does really need more new material rather than continuing to rely so heavily on the songs she wrote for another band, and the new song “Shine” is a definite step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see where Heather goes next.
Swansea’s Panic Room began their short UK tour in the capital, with a Saturday night show at The Borderline in Central London. As is typical for London gigs by bands in the extended progressive scene, there were an awful lot of familiar faces in the crowd; the regulars had turned out in force.
York’s Morpheus Rising opened the show with their old-school mix of hard rock and metal. Their set drew entirely from the début album “Let The Sleeper Awake”, with twin guitar harmonies that owe a lot to Iron Maiden. They proceeded to play one of the best sets I’ve seen them do. Damien James Sweeting was on particularly strong form with some spectacular shredding guitar.
Howard Sinclair was up next. He described himself as “the filling in the sandwich” and told us he’d been expecting to go on first. I find acoustic singer-songwriters need strong material and delivery to make much of an impression. That counts double if they have to come on straight after a high energy rock band. But Howard Sinclair had both the songs and the stage presence to carry it off, with a short but entertaining set, drawn from his new album “The Delicious Company of Freaks”.
As regular readers of this blog ought to have noticed by now, there’s no point in trying to pretend I’m not a total Panic Room fanboy, and there’s no point repeating eveything I’ve said in previous reviews. But even by their standards, this was a astonishing performance. The setlist drew very heavily from their most recent album “S K I N”, with just a couple of numbers from each of the first two albums, including a superb “Apocalypstick”. One surprise was the return of “Blood Red Skies” from Anne-Marie’s 2004 solo EP “The Contact”. But as with the handful of shows in the spring, it’s the new material that really shines on stage. “Chances”, played live for the first time was a highlight, as was an intense take on the album’s wonderful title track.
Anne-Marie Helder’s incredible voice and stage presence, the wonderful restrained virtuosity of the band, and the way they’re both amazingly tight yet play with an incredible amount of energy makes them a phenomenal live band. They ended with a barnstorming “Hiding the World”, by which time the band were already past curfew, so there was no time for an encore.
On Monday night I went to see Nightwish play to 4000 people at Brixton Academy. That was a great gig, as I said in my review. But this gig topped it. People still say there’s no great music any more. They say there are no great bands around today to compare with the great acts of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Those of us present at the packed Borderline know that’s nonsense.