Tag Archives: BigElf

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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2014 Albums of the Year – Part One

Every music blog must have an end-of-year list. 2014 has been such a great year that I could not whittle the list down to fewer than 25 albums without excluding something that deserved to be honoured.

One obvious caveat; this is the best-of list from the albums I’ve actually heard, taken from those I’ve either shelled out money for or heard as review promos. There are naturally going to me many great records excludes from this list simply because I’ve not had the chance to hear them.

The top ten records will be covered in later posts, but we’ll start with No 25 up to 11. Except it’s next to impossible to rank them all in order, so I’ll list them alphabetically instead. The first batch are A to E.

AlestormSunset on the Golden Age

Alestorm - Sunset on the Golden Age“Scottish Pirate Metal” doesn’t seem like an idea strong enough to last for four albums without the concept wearing thin, but Alestorm seem far from reaching the point of diminishing returns. Like their previous albums, it’s filled with tales of nautical adventure and booze set to music with a strong folk-metal flavour, though “Wooden Leg” is close to punk. It’s all entertaining stuff that doesn’t take itself remotely seriously, which is precisely what metal should be.

AnathemaDistant Satellites

Anathema - Distant SatellitesAside from the occasional dance/electronica touches Anathema continue in a similar vein to last year’s “Weather Systems”. Their emotional widescreen music combines a big sound with a minimalist approach to songwriting, using the power of repetition to create something that’s often more than the sum or it’s parts. The great mystery is why mainstream crossover recognition continues to elude them and they’re still relatively unknown outside of the prog scene.

AsiaGravitas

Asia GravitasNot many people would have expected a 1980s supergroup made up from 70s prog musicians to still be making albums in 2014. They’re now down to a trio of original members plus young guitarist Sam Coulson, not even born when the band first started. This is really John Wetton’s album; he’s on superb form vocally, with big soaring melodies throughout. It’s a far better album than Yes’ lacklustre effort.

BehemothThe Satanist

Behemoth - The SatanistThe Polish black metal band recorded this album just after mainman Nergal was given the all-clear in his battle against cancer. The resulting record is a heavy, intense and deeply spiritual work, which makes Satanism sound like an actual religion. A vastly better album than anything Venom could have imagined, let alone made.

Bigelf Into The Maelstrom

BigElf Into the MaelstromAn album where the title is a perfect description of how the music sounds. Bigelf combine the melodic ear of The Beatles, the hand of doom of early Black Sabbath, the theatricality of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the musical ambition of 70s King Crimson, and the lack of inhibitions of Queen. This record captures the intensity of their live experience in a way their previous albums never quite managed.

Curved AirNorth Star

Curved Air - North StarCurved Air reformed a few years back and have been playing the festival circuit for a while, but North Star is their first studio recording since the 1970s. With their quirky but fluid jazz-rock they’ve picked up exactly where they left off decades before, and Sonja Kristina is still on superb form vocally. The only thing that lets it down are some unnecessary covers, though they do demonstrate that they’re better songwriters than Snow Patrol.

ElbowThe Takeoff and Landing of Everything

Elbow - The Takeoff and Landing of EverythingElbow are one of those mainstream rock bands that owe a huge debt to 70s progressive rock, which is obvious if you listen beyond their hits. Peter Gabriel is clearly an influence on Guy Garvey’s vocals and composition, and Elbow sound like the band Genesis might have become if Hackett had left but Gabriel had stayed. Even though it might have benefited from a solo or two in the right places, it’s still a rich and ambitious record with a great amount of emotional depth.

Empty Yard ExperimentKallisti

Empty Yard Experiment - KallistiEYE are a multinational prog-metal band based in Dubai, with members from the Middle East, India and Eastern Europe, and this impressive work with shades of Anathema, Opeth, Porcupine Tree and Godspeed You Black Emperor is quite remarkable for a début with its mature composition and strong use of dynamics.

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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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Stage times for the Resonance Rock Festival

Resonance Festival

The Resonance Rock Festival have published the stage times on the festival Facebook page.

Here are the final, definitive running times for Resonance. PLEASE NOTE: We now have an Acoustic Stage on Saturday 2nd August, as well as the Prog and Synergy stages. Luna Rossa are now playing on Saturday on that stage, NOT on Sunday 3rd/ Synergy stage. Due to unforeseen circumstances outside their control, both Parallax Faction and Mothers Ruin will no longer be playing. We wish them well, and they return the blessing!

Thursday 31st July – Prog Stage (only)
Doors @ 6pm

Kalamus – 7pm / 7.45pm
Robert Webb Masterclass – 8.15pm / 9pm
Mostly Autumn – 9.30pm / 11pm

Friday 1st August – All 3 Stages
Doors @ 6pm (All Stages)

Prog Stage (Globe)

John Mitchell – 6.45pm / 7.30pm
Lifesigns – 8pm / 9pm
Nosound – 9.30pm / 11pm

Synergy Stage (BallRoom)

Moheir – 7pm / 8pm
Fuzzy Nautilus – 8.30pm / 9.30pm
Thumpermonkey – 10pm / 11pm+

Jack Daniels Stage (Tavistock)

Stella+ – 7pm / 8pm
Red Letters – 8.30pm / 9.30pm
Also Eden – 10pm / 11pm +

Saturday 2nd August – 3 Stages (Prog, Synergy and Acoustic)

Acoustic Stage (Globe) – Doors @ Noon

Matt Stevens – 12.30pm / 1.00pm (Unplugged set)
Jack Arthurs – 1.15pm / 1.45pm (Unplugged set)
Guy Manning – 2.00pm / 2.45pm (Unplugged set)
Luna Rossa – 3.00pm / 3.45pm +

Prog Stage (BallRoom)– Doors @ 1pm

Halo Tora – 2.00pm / 2.45pm
The Tirith – 3.15pm / 4.00pm
Anna Phoebe – 4.30pm / 5.45pm

Break

Henry Fool – 7.45pm / 9pm
The Enid – 9-30 pm / 11pm

Synergy Stage(Tavistock) – Doors @ 1pm

The Far Meadow –1.30pm / 2.15pm
Triage – 2-45pm/ 3.30pm
Unto Us – 4pm / 5pm

Break

Trojan Horse – 7.00pm / 8.00pm
The Fierce And The Dead – 8.30pm / 9.30pm

Sunday 3rd August

Prog Stage (Globe) -Doors @ Noon

Maschine – 12.30pm /1.30pm
Synaesthesia – 2pm/ 3pm
The Gift – 3.30pm / 4.30pm

Break

Angalagard – 6.30pm / 8.00pm
Big Elf – 9pm / 10.30pm

Synergy Stage (Ball Room)– Doors @ Noon

Rat Face Lewey –12.30pm / 1.15pm
Kingbathmat – 1.45pm /3pm

Break

A Formal Horse – 4pm / 4.45pm
Francis Lickerish – 5.15pm / 6.15pm

Break

I Am Your Autopilot – 8pm /8.45pm
X Ray Quartet – 9.15pm

Jack Daniels Stage (Tavistock)– Doors @ Noon

HekZ – 1pm / 1.45pm
Babajack – 2.15pm / 3 pm
Mr So & So – 3.30pm / 4.30pm

Break

Jupiter Falls – 6 pm / 7pm
Aeon Zen – 7.30pm / 9pm

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Bigelf – Into The Maelstrom

BigElf Into the MaelstromWith a their unique mix of psychedelia, stoner-rock and pomp-rock combined with a love of vintage 70s gear, and a charismatic frontman in the shape of Damon Fox, Bigelf seemed poised to conquer the world back in 2010. A spot on the Progressive Nation tour supporting Opeth and Dream Theater won them a lot of new fans, and their fourth album “Cheat the Gallows” won much critical fame. But then, just as they seemed poised for bigger and better things, they disappeared.

Now Bigelf are back after an extended hiatus with a new album and a new lineup.

Only frontman and keyboard player Damon Fox and bassist Duffy Snowhill remain from the previous incarnation of Bigelf, with new recruits Luis Maldonado on guitar and the legendary Mike Portnoy on drums completing the band.

If you combined the melodic ear of The Beatles, the hand of doom of early Black Sabbath, the theatricality of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the musical ambition of 70s King Crimson, and the lack of inhibitions of Queen, you might end up with something like this album. It’s got all the strengths of previous Bigelf albums, but with a new energy that pushes beyond anything they’ve done before. They’ve managed to capture the same sort of intensity as their live shows in a way previous records only hinted at. “Intro The Maelstrom” is a very appropriate title for the way this album sounds.

Like their earlier work, the production has an organic 70s feel, with Damon Fox’s Hammond organ and swirling Mellotron still dominating the sound. He’s also a great vocalist with a strongly theatrical approach, with Ozzy-style angst-ridden howls in some places and rich harmonies in others. Despite his reputation from Dream Theater, Mike Portnoy doesn’t spoil the songs by overplaying; his drumming here is more solid grooves than flashy fills. Likewise Luis Maldonado fuzz-toned lead guitar emphasises riffs as much as soloing, although the climactic solo on “High” is a thing to behold.

The album is a musical roller-coaster ride which feels like one continuous piece of music rather than a collection of individual songs, and the way many numbers take abrupt twists and turns underlines this. Despite this whole thing is filled with great tunes, with instrumental themes as well as vocal lines standing out some of the strongest melodies; the closing section of “Mr. Harry McQuhae” is a great example. With an album like this it’s difficult to pick out individual highlights, though the apocalyptic “Edge of Oblivion” towards the end of the album is one of many standouts.

It’s been a lot wait for this album, but the wait has been worth it. This has to be by far the best thing Bigelf have ever done.

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Bigelf – Control Freak

BigElf are back! Their new single “Control Freak” comes from their forthcoming album “Into The Maelstrom”.

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Progressive Nation – Manchester Apollo, 09-Oct-2009

The Progressive Nation tour is an ambitious package tour highlighting the best of prog-metal.  Effectively a double headliner of Opeth and Dream Theater, plus two support bands, doors opened at 5:30, with the music starting just after six, making it a real marathon if you were standing.  And the early start meant it was straight to the gig from work, without having time to have anything to eat.  The things I do for rock and roll.  Or rather prog.

Openers Unexpect were a completely bonkers female-fronted seven-piece including a fiddle player.  While they played with high level of energy, unfortunately poor sound meant a lot of the intricacies of their music were lost; the vocals especially being lost in the mix. Such is the fate of opening acts in large venues, but they still impressed enough for me to buy their album,

Four-piece BigElf took the stage with a Hammond organ, a Mellotron and an analogue synth centre-stage. They played a sort of psychedelic stoner-prog, very reminiscent of Atomic Rooster with elements of early Uriah Heep. Impressive live band despite poor sound.  Top-hatted lead singer Damon Fox playing the Hammond in one hand and the Mellotron in the other had to be the image of the evening.

The sound improved dramatically when Swedish death-metal/prog crossovers Opeth took the stage. Tonight they emphasised the ‘progressive’ emphasis of the evening by opening with “Windowpane” from their decidedly un-metal “Damnation” album. The six-song hour-long set mixed their progressive and metal sides, which a powerful rendition of “Deliverance” one of the metallic standouts. “Harlequin Forest”, not played live in Britain before, was stunningly beautiful, the highlight of the entire evening. Only downer was the constant buzz of background talking from Dream Theater fans that was audible throughout the quiet bits.

It’s seven or eight years since I’ve seen Dream Theater live.  Love them or hate them, Dream Theater have more or less defined the genre of muso prog metal, playing insanely complex music in wierd time signatures with plenty of extended solos.  Bassist John Myung in particular is as interesting to watch as to listen to, his fingers flying up and down the fretboard as if he’s playing lead guitar, and John Pettruci and Jordan Rudess played enormous numbers of notes. Only vocalist James LaBrie let the side down in places, and I have to say too much of his singing is rather ordinary.  The setlist drew heavily from the new album “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”, opening with “A Nightmare to Remember” and “A Rite of Passage”. They also played quite a bit from their superb “Scenes From a Memory” including the completely over-the-top instrumental workout “The Dance of Eternity”, and 80s-style power ballad “The Spirit Carries On”, complete with a sea of lighters in the air. They encored with a stunning rendition of the epic “The Count of Tuscany”.

Gig of the year?  It’s definitely a candidate.

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