As regular readers of this blog will know, Parade is the project put together by York-based singer-songwriter and musician Chris Johnson, who has played at various points with Fish and Mostly Autumn, as well as fronting a number of local York bands over the years. Parade also involves vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Anne-Marie Helder and drummer Gavin Griffiths, both members of the current Panic Room and Mostly Autumn lineups, and is completed with a couple of Chris’ long-term York associates, Patrick Berry on bass and on this tour, Chris Farrel on lead guitar.
Their one album to date, The Fabric, sounded like on the surface like indie with it’s sparse chiming guitars and clattering drums; but repeated listens reveal some real musical depth, especially with the multi-layered vocal harmonies. With it’s depth and sonic experimentalism it still (to me) falls within the broad spectrum of progressive rock while managing to avoid all the musical clichés of the genre.
I’ve seen Chris Johnson playing material from The Fabric in solo acoustic form quite a few times as a support act, but because different band members have so many other commitments, full band live appearances by Parade are extremely rare. This was why I was prepared to make the 400 mile round trip to see them play in their home town of York. Although the band have been in existence for over a year, this is only their sixth gig, and the three-date tour for which this gig marked the finale were their very first headline appearances. The Stereo, just outside the medieval city walls, is a cozy little venue with a capacity of just a hundred or so. It was pretty much full, if not quote sold out, with quite a few familiar faces in the crowd.
The setlist naturally drew very heavily from The Fabric; in fact I think they played the entire album. The five-piece band managed to translate the multi-layered arrangements from the record extremely well in a live setting, albeit with a lot more energy, with Gavin giving it some serious welly on the drums at times. Of the non-Fabric songs, the semi-acoustic country and western arrangement of one of Chris’ solo songs, “The Luckiest Man Alive”, featuring Patrick on stand-up double bass, was an unexpected highlight of the evening.
Compared with her lead role in Panic Room the previous weekend, Anne-Marie Helder is content to play a supporting role, playing keys and singing harmony lines, leaving the spotlight for Chris. Although when she does take the lead, such as the wordless eastern-sounding closing section of “High Life”, the result is mesmerising.
After a powerful rendition of the album closer, “Ending”, which left me wondering how on earth two vocalists could reproduce those rich vocal harmonies live, they encored with a brand new number, “Monochrome”, before ending the evening with a muscular version of “Science and Machinery”, a song Chris originally performed with Mostly Autumn back in 2007. I thought it sounded out of place in MA’s set. Here, enhanced by Chris Farrel’s E-Bow, it fitted Parade’s set perfectly.