Tag Archives: Cambridge Rock Festival

Cambridge Rock Festival – Back to the 70s?

Touchstone at the 2012 Cambridge Rock FestivalTouchstone at CRF 2012, not exactly a 70s band

From reading various discussions online, I’m getting the impression I’m far from the being the only one who is more than a little underwhelmed by this year’s Cambridge Rock Festival lineup as announced so far. A good acid test of a festival bill for me is “How many bands would I travel 40 miles into London to see?”. While I know there are still bands to be announced,  currently the answer this year is “one”. Last year there were no fewer than five bands I travelled 200 miles to see in York.

Worse, I’m seeing people’s suggestions for the return of the likes of Stolen Earth, Panic Room, Chantel McGregor and Winter in Eden being shot down with patronising dismissals such as “You can’t have your own personal wishlists”, which makes it look increasingly clear that none of those bands are going to be on the bill. Maybe those of us who are big fans of those acts need to recognise we’ve been spoiled over the last couple of years, and this year it’s someone else’s turn. But I still think those of us who have expressed disappointment with the bill have some valid points, and the aggressive way the festival’s defenders try to shout down dissent feels like a subconscuous recognition of this.

For me, bands such as Panic Room, Winter in Eden and Kyrbgrinder were amongst the highlights of last year’s festival. What I love about them is that while they have nothing in common with mainstream indie-rock they all sound like something out of the 21st century rather than something from the 1970s, and having them play emphasised that the festival was about music with a future as well as celebrating music from the past. This was something I emphasised when I reviewed the festival for Trebuchet Magazine.

From what’s been announced so far the bill this year appears to have cut back significantly on both progressive rock and bands with female vocalists, leaving a festival with a far stronger emphasis on old-school four-chord 70s-style hard rock. It’s a lot more of a boy’s club, and it’s also far more backward-looking in musical style. It risks giving the impression the target audience is middle-aged rock fans who stopped listening to anything new somewhere around 1973, trying to re-live their youth.

I’ve attended the full weekend for four years now. It’s always been a great weekend with a fantastic atmosphere, great people and great beer. But a strong lineup has always been part of the deal as well. So for now I’m waiting until they announce the full bill before I’m willing to part with any of my money. It might be that the CRS stage on Friday comes up with a killer bill that transforms the festival.

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2013 – First Bands Announced

Olivia Sparnnen of Mostly Autumn at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

The Cambridge Rock Festival have announced the first few bands for the festival on 1st-4th August.

  • Thursday: Cregan & Co, The Pure Floyd Show, Are You Experienced.
  • Friday: Bonafide, Hazel O’Connor, Eddie and the Hotrods, Split Whiskers, Walkway, Luna Kiss, Loveless Luck
  • Saturday: The Quireboys, Caravan, Deborah Bonham, Pat McManus, Pearl Handled Revolver, Cornerstone, Afterlife.
  • Sunday: The Animals, Magnum, Mostly Autumn, Ben Poole Band, Hekz, Attica Rage.

It is a little “usual suspecty” this year, with most of the top acts on each day all having played previous festivals, in many some cases multiple times. One noticeable thing is that there’s nothing remotely “prog” on the main stage scheduled against the CRS Stage on Friday, avoiding a repeat of last year’s unfortunate clashes between It Bites & Focus on the main stage and Winter in Eden & Kyrbgrinder on the CRS stage last year.

As for Mostly Autumn, I know I’m a fan, but somehow it wouldn’t be quite the same without them. They do have their detractors amongst festival regulars, and at least this gives them something to moan about. No sign (yet) of Stolen Earth or Panic Room, but plenty more bands still to be announced.

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The Cambridge Rock Festival

My review of the weekend is now up on Trebuchet Magazine, here are a few of my photos from the weekend.

Virgil and the Accellerators at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Virgil and the Accellerators were an early highlight, playing some guitar-shredding electric blues.

The Heather Findlay Band at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Heather Findlay played her first full band gig on a big stage since November last year, and went down a storm.

Sankara at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Sankara, fronted by Gareth Jones, formerly of The Reasoning played the CRS stage, and made a strong impression with their mix of hard rock, metal and AOR.

WInter in Eden at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Winter in Eden, fronted by Vicky Johnson, played an absolute blinder as special guests on the CRS stage.

SIlverjet at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Silverjet. Because first thing in the morning, some back to basics rock and roll is what a festival needs.

Stolen Earth at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Stolen Earth were another band who rose to the big occasion to play one of the best sets they’ve ever done.

Panic Room at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Panic Room did what Panic Room do, which was to blow everybody away. They really should have been far higher up the bill.

Chantel McGregor at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Chantel McGregor delivered another incendiary set, great songwriting and some spectacular guitar pyrotechnics.

Flanborough  Head at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Flanborough Head played some delightful old-school prog. There is nothing quite like a flute solo backed by Mellotron.

Mr So and So at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Mr So and So impressed me a lot, they came over a lot better than last year.

Touchstone at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

The mighty Touchstone stormed the stage to deliver an impressive high-energy set.

Olivia Sparnenn of Mostly Autumn

Mostly Autumn, special guests on the Sunday night and playing their first gig since the end of last year did not disappoint.

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Cambridge Rock Festival Springfest Cancelled

Sad news today that the spring edition of the Cambridge Rock Festival, which was to have featured Chantel McGregor, Karnataka, Winter in Eden and Ebony Tower, among many others, has been cancelled because the site is waterlogged after the recent heavy rain.

As stated on the CRF website:

It is with deep regret that The Cambridge Rock Festival has had to cancel it’s Spring Edition Festival, which should have taken place 27-28-29 April (this coming weekend). Due to adverse weather conditions preventing the infrastructure being installed.

However The Cambridge Rock Festival 2-3-4-5 August will still take place.

Very disappointing news, although holding a festival on an outdoor site this early in the season was always going to be a bit of a risk. The August festival is shaping up to be a good one, though, with a very strongly prog-orientated lineup this year, with Caravan, Focus, It Bites, Touchstone and Flanborough Head along with virtually the whole Mostly Autumn extended family of bands.

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2011 – Part Three

Sunday began with wall of guitar rock and roll from Empire of Fools, who played some highly melodic hard rock, with plenty of light and shade, with a couple of Deep Purple and Free covers thrown in for good measure. Next up was Final Conflict, the first of many prog-rock acts on the bill. Nothing ground-breaking, but they displayed some tight musicianship with a good groove to many of their songs, and rocked out pretty hard by the end of the set.

Jebo weren’t quite as good; another melodic hard(ish) rock band they started well but soon got a bit predictable. Although good musicians with a great guitar sound, they suffered from weak vocals and a shortage of memorable songs. Crimes of Passion were a little better, but having seen Kyrbgrinder on Friday, their brand of 70s metal came over as very dated by comparison.

Credo, on the other hand, were a lot better. Again, there was nothing stunningly original about their brand of neo-prog, but they did it well. Their combination of very strong melodies, tight playing with a lot of fluid symphonic guitar went down well.

I enjoyed the John Young Band set too. I’ve seen him before as a support act, using just keys and backing tapes and was quite impressed. His full band including former Fish sidesman Robin Boult on guitar opens out the sound a lot more. He played another very prog-flavoured set, although this time more focussed on impassioned songwriting rather than showcasing instrumental virtuosity.

I was starting to suffer from neo-prog overload by the time Mr So-and-So came on stage. Yes, they too were good, but for me they suffered from sounding too similar to the preceding bands on the bill. One significant difference was the presence of Charlotte Evans on vocals, even though she largely sang harmonies and only sang lead on a couple of songs.

Good as many of the previous bands of the day had been, Mostly Autumn were in a completely different league, and it showed. This was the fourth consecutive year they’ve played this festival. Last year they’d headlined, though good, they didn’t really reach the heights that they’re capable of and special guests The Enid rather stole the show. Not so this time around. Now the band have finally manage some lineup stability they’ve been on consistently great form all year. Over the past year and a half Olivia Sparnenn has had time to grow into the role of frontwoman. Two weeks ago they owned the Classic Rock Presents Prog stage at the High Voltage festival in London and won over a lot of new fans; this performance had the same level of intensity, and finally showed the Cambridge Rock Festival just what this band are really capable of.

On form like this their mix of melodic hard rock with celtic-tinged progressive rock makes for a great festival band. The set was a mix of old and new, standards like “Evergreen” and “Heroes Never Die” alongside newer songs like “Deep in Borrowdale” and “Ice”. High spots for me were Anne-Marie’s flute solo in “The Last Climb”, and a very powerful performance of the former Breathing Space epic “Questioning Eyes”. Yes, I know I’m a big fan, and therefore biased, but I’ve seen them enough times to tell a great performance from a merely workmanlike one. That was truly memorable set, for all the right reasons.

Caravan, veterans of the 1970s “Canterbury Scene”, had also played an excellent set at High Voltage. Like Mostly Autumn before them, they were every bit as good as they had been two weeks ago, a superb set of jazz-flavoured progressive rock, keyboard-led with added violin, flute and spoons(!). They pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of sounding mellow yet full of energy at the same time, and lengthy instrumental jazz-rock workouts seldom sounded as good as this. Not that they don’t do pop as well, as the bouncy rendition of “Golf Girl” proved. High point had to be the lengthy “Nine Feet Undergound” played in it’s entirety.

And finally, headliners The Enid. Last year they played a mesmerising set focussing on their rockier material, and while not everyone really got what they were doing, some of those that did felt they were the band of the weekend. This year, accompanied by a male choir and a twelve-piece brass section they went for something a lot more challenging. For the first part of the set, Robert John Godfrey was behind the choir, visible on the large screens but hidden from view when you tried to find him on the stage, which was a little disconcerting. The sound was huge and symphonic, but came over as perhaps just too ambitious for it’s own good. I did get the impression it was the sort of performance, which while good, seemed to me geared more towards the dedicated fan rather than a festival audience. I can imagine a lot of people not familiar with their rather unique blend of rock and classical music struggling to make sense of it all. It certainly didn’t have the energy level than made the closing stages of last year’s set so exhilarating. Perhaps to compensate they closed with their famous “Dambusters March/Land of Hope and Glory” medley they used to play back in the 1980s, to end the set on a high.

And so ended another great festival, probably the best Cambridge Rock Festival I’ve attended to date. Although Saturday turned out to be by far the best of the three days bill-wise, there were more than enough good acts on Friday and Sunday to make the whole weekend worthwhile.

Although it’s never easy to estimate numbers, I thought attendance was well up on last year; certainly the main tent was very full on both Saturday and Sunday nights, and even Thursday night drew a big crowd. It shows a festival doesn’t need big-name headliners to be a success, and provided a far more enjoyable experience than a big corporate festival, a great example of the little niche festivals up and down the country that take place below the radar of the media. And while some may criticise the lineup for being dated and retro, that’s surely part of the appeal; a good festival is one that knows it’s audience. It’s got a great vibe; no rock star egos or VIP areas; you find many of the artists wandering around the site or watching other bands all weekend; I even spotted the lead guitarist of one band enthusiastically playing air-guitar in the front row at one point.

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2011 – Part Two

Saturday started with some semi-acoustic blues from Cherry Lee Mewis, with an energetic and enjoyable set, backed by a tight band including a stand-up bass and largely acoustic guitars, followed by The Steve Boyce band, who I found a bit generic, but did have a great guitar sound.

Ebony Tower impressed me a lot. With a female lead singer who reminded me a little of a young Sonja Kristina, and electric violin as a major element of their sound, you might have expected something like Curved Air. In fact they sounded nothing like that at all, bits of prog and goth, and a lot of rock and roll. Certainly a band to watch out for in the future.

There was a lot of anticipation for Stolen Earth, formed from the ashes of the much-loved York band Breathing Space. With four members of the final incarnation of that band on board including lead singer Heidi Widdop, it was clear that a lot of the spirit of Breathing Space was still there, and to me it felt less like that debut gig of a brand new band that Heidi’s debut fronting Breathing Space did on the same stage exactly a year before. Great to see some keyboard player John Sykes with some vintage instruments on stage including a big wooden-bodied organ.

Aside from the two new songs “My Lips Are Too Dry” and “Silver Skies” which had been in the set for the short-lived final lineup of Breathing Space, all the songs were new, and suited Heidi’s soulful voice. They sounded if anything a little more proggy than Breathing Space, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Tuscany Sun”, released as a teaser on YouTube, came over very well live. Other highlights were “Unnatural Disaster” with it’s incessant bass groove, and “Perfect Wave”, backed by a huge wall of Hammond organ. Every bit as good as I’d expected them to be, and a band I’m sure we’re going to be hearing great things from in the coming months and years.

Swans in Flight were another discovery of the day, with some great melodic hard rock. They threw in a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Stone Cold” mid-set, the Hammond organ backing making it sound more like a Deep Purple song than anything else. With much of the crowd sunning themselves outside the tent, playing a familiar song was a smart move and encouraged a few more people to listen to their own songs.

What can I say about Panic Room? I’ve already seen this Swansea band five times this year, and this was well up to the very high standard of their gigs throughout the year. Opening with the as yet unrecorded prog-metal epic “Song for Tomorrow”, the played a their high-energy mix of rock, pop and prog drawing from both their albums, plus their superb swamp-blues cover of ELP’s “Bitches Crystal”. With another new superb and quite epic new song “Promises” in the set, their next album is already something fans are eagerly anticipating. As I’ve said before, Yatim Halimi and Gavin Griffiths are possibly the best rhythm section in any band in their scene. Paul Davies’ plays some shredding solos and melodic fills, and his playing really seems to have come alive in the last year. Jon Edwards’ keys add swathes of colour, and frontwoman Anne-Marie Helder is a genuine star who fully deserved being voted best female vocalist last year by the readers of Classic Rock Presents Prog. They laid down the challenge to the rest of the bill, “top that”.

Aireya 51 couldn’t really follow that. I wasn’t over-impressed with them last year, and they weren’t really any better this time. Without Keith’s more famous brother Don to help them out this time, I found their set rather dull. Sure, Keith Airey is a talented guitarist who played some shredding solos, but he lacked both the songs and the charisma to stand out from the crowd.

Not so with Chantel McGregor. She’d wowed the festival last year with a slot very early on in the day. Now much higher up the bill she seemed almost overwhelmed by the huge size of the crowd, and delivered a superb set, mixing blues standards with some of the rockier songs from her debut album “Like No Other”, including her mesmerising extended take on Robin Trower’s “Daydream”. Just how does someone that young get to play guitar like that? Her playing isn’t just technically skilled, but dripping with emotion too, and she’s more than talented as a singer and songwriter too. I think she’s going to be making a big splash in the wider world in the coming years.

Larry Miller blew the roof off with one of the hardest-rocking sets I’ve ever seen from a blues artist. He was great last year, this year he was even better. The high-energy blues-rock of his opening numbers reminded me a lot of Rory Gallagher. Then he slowed things down with an extended slow-blues workout with some brain-melting soloing. Finally he ended with his take on some classic standards, a medley beginning with “All Along the Watchtower” and ending with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”.

Finally, headliners The Quireboys. Although for me at least they were nowhere near as good as Larry, Chantel or Panic Room earlier in the day, their brand of no-nonsense party rock with echoes of bands like The Faces and The Rolling Stones was still a great way to end the evening.

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2011 – Part One

This is the fourth Cambridge Rock Festival and the third for which I’ve camped for the whole weekend. Held just outside Cambridge, it’s a small family-friendly festival with a strong emphasis on classic rock, progressive rock and blues. Sometimes it feels like stepping into a parallel universe where punk never happened and real musicianship is still respected.

Thursday night is really the warm-up, with a bill made up largely from tribute acts before the real business of the festival starts on Friday. I only caught the last three bands on Thursday night. The Pure Floyd Show were somewhat underwhelming, but The Ultimate Eagles, fronted by Danny Vaughan were a different deal. I’ve never been a huge Eagles fan, nor a fan of tribute bands in general, but I have to admit this lot were good – really tight and professional, and gave the impression they actually loved the music they were playing. The day ended with veterans The Hamsters with a great mix of originals and blues-rock standards; their entertaining set showed just why this hard-working band are so popular.

I spent much of Friday watching bands on the smaller second stage, run that day by the Classic Rock Society. I did catch the opening band on the main stage, metal five-piece Neuronspoiler. They were entertaining to watch; high energy level with all the right moves and shapes. Just what’s needed to wake everybody up first thing in the morning.

Then it was over to stage two to see two bands I was looking forward to seeing. First of them were Also Eden, playing old-school neo-prog. With frontman Rich Harding previously having sung with a Marillion tribute band, comparisons with Fish-era Marillion are I suppose inevitable, though I could also hear echoes of Pendragon in there, albeit with a far better singer. And hats off to Rich, on stage on crutches, for being able to give such an impassioned performance. He was very badly injured in a terrible motorbike accident a while back, and is lucky to be alive, let along on stage fronting a band.

Following them were self-styled NWOBHM revivalists Morpheus Rising. Their great twin-guitar harmonies owe a lot to Iron Maiden, given something of gothic twist. Again, a tight band with a lot of energy.

Then it was back to the main stage for The Heather Findlay Band. There was a lot riding on this gig for her. The first solo EP since leaving Mostly Autumn last year, “The Phoenix Suite” revealed a stripped-down sound far removed from the multi-layered richness of Mostly Autumn, and gathered decidedly mixed reactions from many fans. Over the last couple of months she’s played a handful of low-profile gigs in very small venues, most of them as an acoustic duo with Chris Johnson. This set marked her return to a bigger stage with a full band after far too long an absence.

With a very talented band including Dave Kilminster on guitar and Steve Vantsis on bass, they began with two songs from the EP, “Phoenix” itself, followed by the spikiest number, “Cellophane”. Although the arrangements were still very close to the recordings, these new songs benefited from a meatier guitar sound, and the energy and dynamics of the live performance really brought the songs to life. Then Chris Johnson switched from guitar to keys for the Mostly Autumn oldie “Half a World”, and Dave Kilminster really let rip with some shredding lead guitar, which banished any lingering fears that Heather might be abandoning rock in favour of indie.

The rest of the eleven-song set was a mix of the remaining songs from The Phoenix Suite with some of her older numbers. Her choice of Mostly Autumn songs was very interesting. With the odd exception, rather than play her much-loved signature songs she chose songs which the band hadn’t been playing live for many years; overlooked classics drawing heavily from “Storms Over Still Water” and “Heart Full Of Sky”. There were some imaginative re-arrangements, like Dave Kilminster playing all the flute and clarinet lines on guitar. High spots for me were the really hard-rocking “Red Dust”, a powerfully brooding “Seven”, and a fantastic re-imagining of “Black Rain” with a very different vibe to the original. They ended with an electric version of “Yellow Time”, still recognisable as the same song, but the groove provided by Steve Vantsis and Alex Cromarty transformed it into something completely different from the acoustic original.

While Heather appeared nervous at the start, by the end of the set the whole thing had turned into a triumph. Her vocal performance proves she’s still one of the best female rock vocalists out there, backed by a seriously talented band. And the setlist, both old and new, shows she’s got more than enough songwriting talent to succeed as a solo artist. A real class act that upstaged almost everyone else on the bill that day. Heather Findlay is back, and means business.

After that it was back to the CRS stage. Godsticks were something of a disappointment. I’d seen this three-piece play a short support set for Chris Johnson’s Parade a year ago and found them quite entertaining. The intricate interlocking Zappa-influenced guitar and bass is great for a short while, but for a longer set the lack of variety becomes more obvious. The high spot was their excellent cover of Zappa’s “RDUNZL”, which highlighted their biggest weakness. Despite being supremely talented musicians, the compositional side of things really needs more work. Still, I’m sure there’s potential for the future.

Paul Menel was a lot better. He’d been described, perhaps unfairly, as “The Blaze Bailey of IQ”, fronting the classic neo-prog band for two albums in the second half of the 1980s before the return of original singer Peter Nicholls. Returning to the music scene after a long absence, He opened with IQ’s “Falling Apart at the Seams”, complete with a bizarre insertion of the Cadbury’s Flake jingle. Excellent set, mixing IQ songs from his time in the band with songs from his forthcoming solo album “Three Sides to Every Story”.

Power-trio Kyrbgrinder played the main stage last year, quite low down the bill on the Sunday. This year they headlined the CRS stage, and simply tore up the stage with one of the most high-energy sets I’ve ever seen at a festival. Whether you class them as prog-metal, or just metal, they’re an amazing band to watch. I’m not quite sure Johannes James manages full-on metal drums and singing lead at the same time, and I can’t think of anyone else who fronts the band from behind a drumkit. He’s got such a magnetic stage presence it’s easy to overlook the other two guys, bassist Alberto Flaibani and guitarist Tommy Caris. Despite some tremendous virtuoso shredding from Caris, Johannes drums still come over as the band’s priciple lead instrument. Great audience too; the tent was packed, with several nine-year olds moshing down the front, and it was lovely to see Johannes invite them on stage to sing backing vocals.

The Cambridge Rock Festival has cultivated something of a retro 70s/80s vibe, which is part of the festival’s appeal. But it’s also great to hear a band who actually sound modern, and produce music which sounds like it comes from the 21st century. Kyrbgrinder are that sort of band.

And so ended the first full day of the festival. I missed the main stage headliners; the pub-rock of Eddie and the Hot Rods or the glam-punk of Bubblegum Screw really weren’t my thing. For me, the day really belonged to Heather Findlay and to Kyrbgrinder.

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Stolen Earth – Tuscany Sun

A taster from Stolen Earth, whose new website goes live any day now. This is the first new song we’ve heard from them, and I like it a lot. Very strong echoes of Breathing Space, with a hint of recent Marillion for good measure.

Can’t wait to see them live at the Cambridge Rock Festival in August now – they’re playing on Saturday along with Panic Room, Chantel McGregor, Larry Miller and headliners The Quireboys.

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2011

The 2011 Cambridge Rock Festival is looking like another good one!  Return appearances by Panic Room and Chantel McGregor following their great sets last year; hopefully both will be higher up the bill.  Mostly Autumn are on the bill yet again for the fourth year running.

And perhaps most significant of all, Heather Findlay will be playing with her new band, featuring Chris Johnson, Dave Kilminster, Steve Vantsis and Alex Cromarty, for what will be one of her first appearances as a solo artist.  I remember some rather heated arguments on her forum over whether she ought to start off her solo career with high profile headline sets or to play some supports to build up an audience; it didn’t occur to anyone that she’s launch her career as a solo artist by playing some of the summer festivals.  But it does make a lot of sense given that she won’t have a full album’s worth of material to promote.

Love to see both Stolen Earth and whatever Chris Johnson’s Parade (or whatever they’re renamed to now some “ciphers of budget rave-tinged Auto-Tuned dance muzak” backed by a lot of hype have stolen their name) on the bill.  Stolen Earth are certainly up for it, and most of Parade will be there anyway.

Update: Not on the CRF website yet, but Stolen Earth are apparently now on the bill!  Gets even better.

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A Year in Live Music

My musical year has been defined more by live music than by albums, with something like 40 gigs this year. It’s almost impossible to chose the best of these, but here are a dozen of the most memorable, in chronological order.

Mostly Autumn at Leamington Assembly

This gig on Good Friday was Heather Findlay’s farewell performance with the band she’d fronted for twelve years, the whole thing superbly captured on the DVD “That Night In Leamington”. It was a very emotional night for those of us who were there, but also one of the best performances I’ve seen by the band to date; certainly a fitting close for an era of the band.

Breathing Space at Bilston Robin 2

Two days later, on Easter Sunday, Olivia Sparnenn played her last gig with her old band Breathing Space before leaving to replace Heather in Mostly Autumn. The Robin is always a great gig and this was no exception; Olivia certainly ended her time with the band on a high. The whole thing had a great vibe and I can remember how positive everyone was after the gig.

Protect the Beat at the Mumbles Jazz Festival

When a gig is billed as jazz-fusion played by top rock and pop session musicians, one could be excused for fearing the worst. But the energy and enthusiasm of the five musicians made this instrumental set one of the gigs of the year. The key factor was that it was abundantly clear that they were enjoying every minute on stage, and that enthusiasm was infectious. This is what live music is all about.

Transatlantic at Manchester Academy 1

The prog-rock supergroup proved every bit as enthusiastic about being on stage as had Protect The Beat a couple of weeks earlier. The three and a half hour set comprised just seven songs of grandiose swirling epic prog, including their 70-minute “The Whirlwind”. The word “progtastic” is the only way to describe an evening like this, even if the song to set length ratio is enough to give Guardian music journalists the vapours.

Mostly Autumn and Panic Room at Shepherds Bush Empire, London

Just a week after those two farewell gigs Mostly Autumn took to the stage with Olivia Sparnenn fronting the band. I saw them a number of times on that tour; the best of the lot was when they and Panic Room supported Wishbone Ash in London in mid-May. Panic Room played a short and sweet opening set, then Mostly Autumn went absolutely full-tilt for a special guest spot of just under an hour. The headline act just could not follow that; the consensus was that they ended up the third-best band of the night.

Fish at The Band on the Wall, Manchester

After taking the best part of a year out, the former Marillion frontman has been touring with a stripped-down acoustic show in small intimate venues backed by just Frank Usher on guitar and Foss Patterson on keys. Despite having suffered from throat problems in recent years, Fish proved that he’s very much still got it as a live performer both as a singer and a charismatic frontman. Most memorable moment was when he looked me in the eye when he mentioned an earlier gig in York, and didn’t make any mention of his ex.

High Voltage festival at Victoria Park, London

While this big commercial festival had it’s downsides of long queues to get in, overpriced beer, and a yawn-inducing Saturday headliner, the upsides were some superb bands, of whom Touchstone, The Reasoning, Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash, BigElf, Zappa Plays Zappa, Opeth and Transatlantic stood out. The whole thing ended with a gloriously ridiculous show by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which was probably the only way to end such a festival.

Cambridge Rock Festival

This small friendly festival was a complete contrast to the commercialism of High Voltage. No big name headliners, but the vibe of the festival was such that it didn’t really need it. The best day was undoubtedly the Sunday, headlined by Mostly Autumn (them again!) and also featured great sets from Panic Room and Breathing Space, the latter being the début for their new singer Heidi Widdop. But it was the special guests The Enid who stole the show with an utterly mesmerising set.

Therion at Shepherds Bush Empire, London

I went to this gig having heard a couple of their albums, not really knowing what to expect. Seeing a band whose lyricist apparently heads a magickal order on Halloween night makes you wonder if they would attempt to summon Great Cthulhu at some point in the show, but what we got was epic symphonic metal with elaborate but hugely melodic multi-part vocal arrangements from four classically-trained singers. An amazing gig, quite unlike anything else I’ve heard all year

Steve Hackett at Shepherds Bush Empire, London

The Godfather of prog guitar gave us one of the most prog gigs of the year, mixing material from his excellent recent album with 70s Genesis classics like “Watcher of the Skies” and “Firth of Fifth”. Nick Beggs (of Kajagoogoo fame) on bass and Chapman stick managed to make himself the centre of attention as a cross-dressing steampunk Gandalf, but it was Hackett’s distinctive liquid guitar playing that reminded us just how influential his guitar sound has been in the progressive rock world.

Mostly Autumn at The Fleece and Firkin, Bristol

I got to see Mostly Autumn several times on their Autumn tour, when they laid to rest many of their old standards to play a set drawing very heavily from their superb new album “Go Well Diamond Heart”. Of the shows I saw, their return to Bristol after an absence of several years was the best; good sound, spirited and enthusiastic performance, and a lengthy set ending with some Christmas standards. I do love their rockier take of Greg Lake’s “I believe in Father Christmas” in particular.

Panic Room and Touchstone at Bilston Robin 2

Some people don’t like the idea of double headliners where both bands play 70-80 minute sets instead of a full-length headline set, but this one pulled a vastly bigger crowd than I’ve ever seen either band draw on their own. And they got their money’s worth; both bands pulled out all the stops and gave as good a performance as I’ve ever seen them play. High spot, if there was any single one, was Anne-Marie Helder’s spine-tingling rendition of “O Holy Night”.

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