Tag Archives: Bilston Robin 2

Crossroads?

I’ve passed this building many times on the way to and from Bilston Robin 2, but this was the first time I’ve been able to take a photo without a parked car blocking the view.

It reminds me a little of those Entrances to Hell, except this has to be one of the very poshest ones. Is this the one The Devil uses whenever a blues musician who sold their soul at the crossroads at midnight is playing a gig at The Robin?

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Mostly Autumn, Bilston Robin 2

Angela Gordon

Compared with the extensive touring of past years, Mostly Autumn have scheduled relatively few live appearances for the spring, summer and autumn of 2016, with a greater emphasis on showcase gigs and festivals. They came to the rock Mecca of The Robin 2 in Bilston a week after a high profile show in London, and like at that gig they drew the sort of appreciably sized crowd we’ve come to expect at this venue.

The last couple of years the band have been playing the album “Dressed in Voices” in it’s entirety as one half of the show, and over the course of three successive tours the other half went from an abbreviated greatest hits set, a collection of lesser played rarities, and finally the revival of their “Mostly Floyd” set. With “Dressed in Voices” now laid to rest for the time being at least, what they would play was a mystery for those who had carefully avoided spoilers, though we were told to expect one or two surprises.

They kicked off with the instrumental “Out of the Inn”, which starts off as a flute-driven Celtic-folk jig, led by Angela Gordon and Chris Johnson, with the rest of the band coming to stage one by one as the number builds into a barnstorming hard rocker. An unusual choice as an opener, but like “Distant Train” a couple of years ago, it worked well. After that came a fusillade of drums and Bryan Josh’s Blackmore-like spiralling guitar figure of “In For The Bite” from this year’s entertainingly bonkers Josh & Co album, which saw Olivia Sparnenn make her characteristic dramatic entrance. The huge smile on Bryan Josh’s face set the mood for the next two hours.

Bryan Josh

From then on it was songs from right across their career, played right through rather than taking a mid-set interval. There were standards from the early albums, such as “Answer the Question”, “Spirit of Autumn Past” and “Nowhere to Hide”. There were highlights from their more recent work’ a hard-rocking “Deep in Borrowdale”, “Drops of the Sun”, Olivia’s dramatic Nightwish-like “Wild Eyed Skies”, the drum showcase “Skin on Skin”, and the beautiful balled “Silhouette of Stolen Ghosts” from the bonus disk of “Dressed in Voices”. Chris Johnson sang lead on “Silver Glass”, one of his contributions to the band’s songbook from 2006′s “Heart Full of Sky”. But the highlight has to have been the epic “Mother Nature”, a song not played live for many years. They finished the main set with a powerful rendition of what has long been Olivia’s signature song, “Questioning Eyes”.

With the band still “in the zone” they took advantage of the lack of a strict curfew by throwing in an additional encore, a superb “The Last Climb” with its extended flute solo, before the obligatory “Heroes Never Die”. But even then they weren’t done. Bryan dismissed the closing recorded music and led the band into two more songs, both of them from last year’s Pink Floyd covers set, a monstrously rocking “Run Like Hell” and the guitar wig-out of “Comfortably Numb” with Olivia and Chris Johnson joining forces as the creepy doctor. You were left with the feeling they’d have been happy to play all night.

Olivia Sparnenn

On the evidence of this gig, they’re on top live form this year, playing a good mix of old and new taking in material from across eight of their ten albums. In recent years they’ve been at their best on stage whenever they’ve managed to keep a consistent lineup together for more than a few months. The current incarnation with Angela Gordon and Chris Johnson returned to the fold has been together more than a year now, and it shows. Their next live appearance is the big one, opening for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in front of sixteen thousand people at the sold-out Genting Arena, before gigs in Tavistock, Poole and Cardiff in July.

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Panic Room Weekend, Day Two

Anne-Marie Helder

After the excitement of the first day of the Panic Room convention, everybody was back for more at the next day. with perhaps a few more people who had one-day tickets for the Sunday to swell the crowd. There seemed significantly more people that there had been the day before.

Sunday began, as had Saturday, with an acoustic solo performance, this time from harper and folk singer Sarah Dean. She played a beautiful set combining original numbers and traditional standards, interspersed with some entertaining song introductions.

Luna Rossa were eagerly awaited. They’re Panic Room’s acoustic alter-ego, the core songwriting duo of Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards with a different supporting cast. The music clearly comes from the same place, but the stripped-down intimacy of the presentation is quite different from Panic Room’s widescreen rock, and showcases Anne-Marie’s remarkable vocals all the more. On their brief tour in December they were accompanied by Sarah Dean on harp and Andy Coughlan on bass, but for this gig Yatim Halimi stood in on bass, and Dave Foster also joined them for a few numbers on guitar. Even though it was four-fifths Panic Room in terms of personnel, the vibe was totally different, with songs drawn from the two Luna Rossa albums plus an emotive cover of Abba’s “Winner Takes All”. Dave Foster added some tasteful blues guitar to enhance songs like “Dark Room”. It was stunningly beautiful set.

That performance would have been hard for anyone else to follow, so it was probably a good thing that there followed an extended break in the music. What we did have was a Q and A session with the band, hosted by compère Dave Ormston. Questions included things like “If you had to throw away all albums bar one, which one would you keep”. Jon’s answer to that one was “Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert”.

Dave Foster on twin-neck guitar. There's Prog

Then it was back to the music. The Dave Foster band was another to feature more than half of Panic Room on the stage, with Yatim again on bass and Jon on keys, though with Ninet Poortman on vocals and Leon Parr on drums they had a quite different sound. Sharing the groove-orientated rhythm section with The Steve Rothery Band gave them a similar feel to that band, and Ninet Poortman impressed as a singer, Most of the set came from Dave Foster’s excellent album “Dreamless”, with “Paradox” from Dave’s earlier album “Gravity”. Anne-Marie joined them on “Brahma”, one of the high spots of the set, before Ninet returned to finish with a powerful “Black Sunrise”.

The supergroup Kiama are an interesting band. There’s a lot of talent and a lot of good musical ideas, but on record they didn’t quite manage to transcend the sum of the parts. Expanded to a six-piece with Magenta’s Dan Nelson on bass and a female backing singer they were a lot more impressive live. They went from Zeppelinesque hard rock to atmospheric balladry recalling latter-day Marillion. Dylan Thompson more than proved he’s got what it takes to front a band, including Rock God looks and some very heart-on-sleeve lyrics. Luke Machin is a phenomenal guitarist reeling off some jaw-dropping solos. They’re not quite the hard rock band they initially promoted themselves as, though the best moments were still the points where they did rock out, like opener “Cold Black Heard”. This may be another band from whom the best is yet to come.

Dylan Thompson fronting Kiama

And finally came Panic Room. The first night had felt like a greatest hits show, but a second set with just as many great songs showed just how strong a songbook Panic Room have built up after just four albums. Kicking off with the electric version of “Song for Tomorrow”, the set included a superb taken on “Picking up Knives” with some splendid electric piano, “Tightrope Walker”, the always bonkers “I am a Cat”, “Promises”, the spine-tingling set closer “Dust” and an anthemic “Satellite” as an encore. The band were absolutely on fire from beginning to end, and the atmosphere electric. It wasn’t the tightest Panic Room set of all time, but there was an exuberance about the whole thing that was amazing to be part of. This is what live music is all about.

The whole weekend was a wonderful experience, and there is already talk of a repeat event next year. It showcased a host of bands and side-projects that deserve wider exposure, topped with two spectacular sets from the band themselves. It was also a great gathering of the band’s most dedicated fans from around the country, with plenty of times between bands to catch up with old friends. It was also good to see Marillion’s Steve Rothery in the audience too. Panic Room as a support for next year’s Marillion convention, Rothers? You know you want to!

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The Panic Room Weekend – Day One

Panic Room Weekend

In addition to their regular gigs of 2016, Panic Room decided to do something rather different and far more ambitious at Bilston’s Robin 2. Taking a similar format to the successful and now legendary Marillion weekends, they booked the venue for two full days. They would play a headline set each night, with an array of support acts all of whom had some connection to the band. With an afternoon start and five sets each day, it amounted to a Panic Room-curated mini-festival.

Things kicked off with a solo set from Alex Cromarty, best known as a drummer in more bands you can count, but here performing as a singer-songwriter. He began with a great cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Dancing in the Moonlight” leading into as set of largely original songs from his forthcoming solo album.

Morpheus Rising have supported Panic Room many times, and were originally planning to play a full electric set. But unfortunately their drummer exploded in a freak gardening accident, or something like that. So Simon Wright and Pete Harwood instead played as a stripped down acoustic duo. It says a lot about the quality of their songwriting that material written for twin guitar metal works in this format, even though Simon’s vocals sometimes came over a little fragile. But the highlights were a couple of completely new songs, both of which came over extremely well. The band have both an acoustic and a new electric album in the pipeline, and at least one of those new songs is to appear on both.

Panic Room Weekend

Shadow of the Sun were a very late addition to the bill. They’ve been away a long time and been through a few changes, with the departure of their original bassist, frontman Matthew Powell now doubling up on bass. and a new second guitarist Matt O’Connell bringing them back to a quartet. Unfortunately Matt couldn’t make the gig for urgent family reasons, so hats off to stand-in Lewis Spencer who came in at very short notice and played what must have been largely improvised lead guitar parts without any rehearsal. Playing a mixture of songs from their four-year old début “Monument” and brand-new material, their blend of metal and alternative rock is still something of a work in progress, though Matthew Powell is considerably less awkward on stage now he has a bass to play. Dylan Thompson is starting to look like a younger Mikhael Åkerfeldt, and the couple of times he launched into solos he sounded a little like Åkerfeldt too. It will be interesting to see how this band develop, and how they sound with their proper guitarist.

Halo Blind are part of the Panic Room family, since both Anne-Marie Helder and Gavin Griffiths were members of the first incarnation of the band, though they’re now one of the many bands with Alex Cromarty behind the drums. They impressed a lot supporting The Heather Findlay band back in April. Tonight saw them lift things to another level in intensity. Again the bulk of the set came from their most recent album “Occupying Forces”, and it was a thing of mesmerising atmospheric beauty, with fragile vocal melodies and swirling effects-laden psychedelic guitar. Anne-Marie guested on “The Dogs” from the first album, which proved one just highlight of many. This had to be one of the best sets they’ve played to date.

Panic Room Weekend

Then it was time for Panic Room themselves for the first of their two headline sets of the weekend. They proceeded to pull out all the stops with a spectacular set including material from across all four albums. There were many of the usual favourites; “Apocalypstick”, “5th Amendment”, the jazzy “Chameleon” with Anne-Marie’s flute solo, and the hard rocking “Hiding the World” An acoustic interlude included the arrangements of “Song for Tomorrow” and “Screens” from the unplugged album “Essence”. They finished the main set with an epic “Nocturnal” before encoring with “Sandstorms” and covers of All About Eve’s “Road to your Soul” and Led Zep’s “Kashmir”. This was a roof-lifting performance even by Panic Room’s standards, and with so many of the regular standards in the set it left you wondering what they were saving for the second night.

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Karnataka – Bilston Robin 2

A few photos of Karnataka’s recent gig at Bilston Robin 2. The band were on superb live form despite slightly poor sound early on, combining hard rock bombast with evocative symphonic celtic-progressive epics. Hayley Griffiths’ dynamic stage presence leaves the impression that they really ought to be playing far bigger stages.

The current incarnation of the band have fully gelled now, with the most recent recruit, drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi the final piece in the jigsaw. He does give the impression that Animal from The Muppets is his role model.

The setlist naturally drew heavily from the newest album “Secrets of Angels”, with a mesmerising rendition of the lengthy title track one of the highlights. They’ve given the rest of the set a big shakeup, with three songs from “The Gathering Light” incuding the Enrico Pinna guitar showcase “Forsaken” and an excellent “Moment in Time”. They finished with their barnstorming cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”.

They’re a very different band nowadays that Karnatakas past.  And with just a couple of songs remaining from the earliest incarnation of the band, maybe someone else should start a tribute act?

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The Heather Findlay Band – Bilston Robin 2

Heather Findlay at Bilston Robin 2

Although she’s played the odd acoustic gig and made guest appearances with other artists, Heather Findlay’s short run of gigs promoting the excellent album “The Illusion’s Reckoning” is her first tour fronting a full band for three and a half years. So naturally there was a fair bit of excited anticipation, and the Sunday night show at Bilston Robin 2 at the mid-point of the tour drew a sizeable and appreciative crowd.

The evening began with a short but sweet solo set from harpist and singer Sarah Dean, including her spaghetti western interpretation of Dylan’s “Man in a Long Black Coat”, and ending with the stunning a capella “The Traveller’s Prayer”.

The special guests were Halo Blind, led by Chris Johnson. They’re a band with feet in both the progressive and indie-rock camps; the shimmering soundscapes, fragile melodies and spiralling psychedelic guitars having echoes of Radiohead and Anathema. The entire set came from their excellent second album “Occupying Forces”, a record Chris Johnson describe as being about being pissed off but trying to do something about it. The whole set was impressive, with the evocative “Downpour” a particular highlight.

Heather Findlay’s previous solo tours featured a slimmed-down all-guitar band, but “The Illusion’s Reckoning” needed an expanded band to do its layers and harmonies justice. So the core of rhythm section of Alex Cromarty and Stuart Fletcher and multi-instrumentalist Chris Johnson, all of whom were doing double duty with Halo Blind, were joined by Mostly Autumn’s Angela Gordon on keys, flute and backing vocals. Sarah Dean on vocals, harp and recorder, and progressive rock legend John Mitchell on lead guitar.

The set began with “The Illusion’s Reckoning” played in its entirety, and the new songs came over very powerfully live. “Veil of Ghosts” and “Mountain Spring” built from gentle beginnings into big walls of sound, “In a Dream” and “I’ve Seen Your Star” were dreamy and atmospheric, the Fleetwood Mac-like “Learning to be Light” featured some excellent lead playing from Chris Johnson, and the title track made an epic conclusion to the first half of the show.

It all had a very different feel to previous incarnations of The Heather Findlay band; with the keys and woodwinds there was something of the spirit of Mostly Autumn past about it, although the vibe was quite different from the current incarnation of that band. John Mitchell proved himself the ideal choice as lead guitarist from the way he nailed the solo in the opening number “Island” which Dave Kilminster had played on the record. And Alex Cromarty proved himself a man of many talents by taking the lead vocals on a couple of duets, and even playing harmonium at the front of the stage on “I’ve Seen Your Star”.

John Mitchell

The closing part of the set comprised a selection of well-chosen older songs, beginning with a superb “Carpe Diem” with Angela Gordon playing the intro on flute and that spectacular climax with Heather’s wordless vocal intertwining with John Michell’s guitar line. There was a splendidly rocked-up version of Odin Dragonfly’s “Magpie”, and a stunning “Why Do We Stay”, a duet taken from John Mitchell’s Lonely Robot. Perhaps the only moment that didn’t quite work was a rather flat version of “Mona Lisa” which didn’t take off and soar in the way the newer songs in the first half had done. The night ended with a spellbinding “Shrinking Violet”, with a musical box playing “Swan Lake” at the close. No encore, because anything following that would have been an anticlimax.

Heather Findlay has been away for a long time, but this tour represents a triumphant return. The bulk of the set was new material, with just a handful of standards from her days in Mostly Autumn. For those oldies this band kept far closer to the originals rather than the radical reworkings on earlier tours, but they were really a victory lap on a tour that looked forward rather than back.

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Panic Room Weekend!

Panic Room Weekend

Panic Room have announced the Panic Room Weekend, a two-day event at Bilston Robin 2 on the weekend of 21st and 22nd May 2016.

Full details will be announced in due course, but the weekend promises two full-length headline sets from Panic Room themselves with completely different songs each night. There will also be performances from the acoustic side-project Luna Rossa and a host of yet-to-be announced guests with connections to the band. I would be very surprised if we didn’t see a solo acoustic set from Anne-Marie at some point. It all promises to be a great gathering of the band’s fandom.

Tickets cost £40 for the full weekend, with day tickets for £25, and doors open at 3pm each day, so there will be a lot of music. Tickets are now on sale from The Robin 2 website.

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Cloud Atlas, Bilston Robin 2

Martin Ledger of Cloud Atlas at Bilston Robin 2

Cloud Atlas don’t play live that often, especially outside of York, so it’s well worth catching them when they do. On Sunday 16th August they came to one of the temples of the grassroots rock scene, Bilston Ronin 2

Howard Sinclair at Bilston Robin 2

Support was singer-songwriter Howard Sinclair. He normally performs as a solo acoustic artist, but this gig was a rare opportunity to see him with a full band, which included Morpheus Rising’s Paul “Gibbo” Gibbons on drums.  The result was a highly entertaining set, the songs fleshed out with the addition of a rhythm section and some bluesy lead guitar but still retaining a stripped-back singer-songwriter flavour.  One highlight was “Bedsheets & Bad Luck” with Howard on piano and a great guest vocal performance from Wednesday S on the song sung by Touchstone’s Kim Seviour on record.

Heidi Widdop

Cloud Atlas began with by playing live what many other bands would have run as an intro tape, a long intro of low whistle and e-bowed guitar before Martin Ledger lauuched into the riff of “Searchlight”, the rock epic that defines Cloud Atlas’ sound; a huge guitar sound, soulful vocals, a strong rhythm section and great use of atmospherics. There were many moments where Martin Ledger’s melodic and fluid effects-laden guitar recalled the playing of Marillion’s Steve Rothery.

Heidi and Martin of Cloud Atlas

The set consisted of the album “Boyond the Vale” in it’s entirety plus the Stolen Earth oldie “Soul in a Jar” and a remarkable solo acoustic cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” so radically reworked that it wasn’t instantly recognised. The material comes over powerfully live, played with fire and passion, and benefitted from the sort of clear sound we’ve come to expect from this venue.

Martin Ledger,  Rock God

They finished with an impressive “Stars” with its guitar-shredding climax, after which the crowd weren’t willing to leave without hearing more. But the band had no more songs, so Martin Ledger put it to an audence vote on what song we wanted to hear again. The choice was “Soul in a Jar”.

So finished a great gig by a band who really deserve a wider audience. They’ve probably reached the stage when they need more material if they’re to play headline-length shows. At some point there will be a follow-up to “Beyond the Vale” and there will be new songs in the set. In the meantime, perhaps the band should consider rehearsing an interesting cover or two to play as encores?

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Cloud Atlas + Howard Sinclair at Bilston!

Cloud Atlas and Howard Sinclair at Bilston Robin 2 on Sunday August 16

The splendid Cloud Atlas headline Bilston Robin 2 on Sunday 16th August. It’s also a rare chance to see Howard Sinclair with a full band as support.

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Magenta, Bilston Robin 2

Chris Fry ans Christina Booth of Magenta at Bilston Robin 2

Magenta play dense and complex music with a heavy and unapologetic influence of 70s Yes. What sees them rise well above generic neo-prog is the passion and intensity of their performances, an award-winning vocalist in Christina Booth, and emotive and lyrical guitar playing of Chris Fry.

Now back in action following Christina’s serious illness, they followed up their appearance at HRH Prog back in March with a couple of headline shows, the first at The Borderline in London, the second at The Robin 2 in Bilston the following night.

News of Chris Squire’s death came on the afternoon before the gig, and the band paid tribute by starting with the spectacular cover of Yes’ instrumental “Cinema” before Christina joined them for “Glitterball” from 2011′s “Chameleon”. Hearing Magenta on record never quite prepares you for the intensity of their live performances, and the lengthy set spanned their entire career. One highlight was the soulful ballad “Pearl”, perhaps one of their simplest songs, a contrast to the dense and dark material that surrounded it.

The whole final section of the set was mesmerising, drawing heavily from their latest album “The Twenty Seven Club” before ending with the twenty-minute title track of “Metamorphosis”. “The Devil at the Crossroads”, never before played live came over powerfully. Another notable moment was the guest appearance from Big Big Train’s David Longdon for the reworked version (with words) of Steve Hackett’s “Spectral Mornings” recorded as a charity single. They ended by going back to the very beginning of their career with “The White Witch” from the first album as the encore.

What’s always remarkable is just how tight they always are, given the complexity of their music and how infrequently they play live. This was a band enjoying being back on stage after a long absence, Chris Fry going walkabout in the audience at one point. It’s great to have them back.

Magenta’s next live show will be as special guests for Touchstone’s farewell gig in Leamington Spa in November. That’s a show that’s not to be missed.

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