Tag Archives: Islington Academy

Fish, Islington Assembly

To mark last year’s thirtieth anniversary of Marillion’s “Misplaced Childhood”, Fish played an extensive sold-out tour across Europe billed as “Farewell to Childhood”, playing the iconic 1985 album in its entirety. But handful of shows in France and Germany towards the end had to be postponed when Fish suffered a throat infection, and to turn those rescheduled gigs into a proper tour he booked a handful of additional dates including some further British ones, one of which was at the rather grand Assembly Hall in Islington. Like the British leg of the original tour, it was sold out weeks in advance.

The show kicked off with an impressive “Pipeline”, a number from the 1994 album “Suits” that hasn’t featured in live sets for a long time. The next few songs went from the title track of his most recent album “Feast of Consequences” to “Family Business” from his solo d├ębut. The hard hitting “Perception of Johnny Punter” came over a little thin with just one guitar, even with Tony Turrell playing the solo on keys while Robin Boult ground out the Zeppelinesque riff.

We had the usual monologues interspersing the songs, including one about his adventures earlier on the tour in The Netherlands that almost ended with the headline “Fish drowns in canal”. But for a large part of the crowd these opening numbers were just a warm up for the main event, and sadly some idiots insisted on interrupting his lengthy and heartfelt dedication for “Misplaced”. Why do they do it?

Fish’s solo career has taken him away from the neo-prog sounds of his days in Marillion. The approach has been looser, rawer and altogether more rock’n'roll. While he’s always thrown a few Marillion oldies into his live sets, his live bands have tended to reinterpret them in their own style rather than try for note-perfect reproductions of the originals. That approach has served him well, especially when it’s a handful of well-chosen songs. But when it comes to a dense, complex concept album like “Misplaced Childhood” it’s a different matter.

It’s not as though it didn’t have its moments, especially the anthemic “Lavender” and “Heart of Lothian”, the whole thing didn’t quite catch fire with the sort of intensity we saw on, for example, the High Wood suite on the Feast of Consequences tour. Even with the material played in a lower key but there were still one or two moments where Fish struggled vocally. And while the band aren’t attempting to be a note-perfect Marillion tribute act, there were times when you missed having Steve Rothery on guitar.

They ended with rousing encores of “Market Square Heroes” and “The Company” which finished things on a high note, but the gig as a whole seemed a curiously flat experience. The muddy sound early on didn’t help, though it sounded better from the balcony.

Fish has played some memorable gigs in recent years with sets focussing on newer material. This might just have been an off-night, and maybe the hecklers put the band off their stride and made it harder to get into “the zone”, but this was a long way from being the best Fish gig of recent years.

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Tarja – Islington O2 Academy

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Finland’s Ice Queen of Metal came to Islington Academy for the London date of her European tour. On previous tours the former Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen had played the larger Shepherds Bush empire; this time around it was the smaller O2 Academy. Nevertheless the venue was completely rammed, the busiest I’ve ever seen it, so much so that the bar ran out of beer.

And it was the first time I’ve ever seen a nun in a metal crowd.

The support was French four-piece Elyose, who played an entertaining set, more straight goth-tinged rock’n'roll than symphonic theatrics, despite their use of programmed keyboard parts rather than employing a flesh-and-blood keyboard player.

Tarja fronted a six-piece band including one-time member Apocalyptica member Max Lilja on cello alongside the traditional guitars, drums and keyboards. Her sometimes bombastic albums lack the emotional depth of Nightwish’s recent work, but by God she can rock out live, with a dramatic stage presence. Even in an age where female-fronted acts are increasingly common, Tarja’s crystalline soprano voice is quite unlike anyone else in the metal scene. It was helped by an excellent sound that gave Tarja’s voice prominence in the mix, and even sounded great from the photo pit.

The set was drawn from across Tarja’s three solo albums with the odd Nightwish number thrown in for good measure. There is something inherently ridiculous about the melodrama of songs like “Anteroom of Death” and “Victim of Ritual” with their classical motifs and vocal gymnastics, but Tarja’s on-stage charisma makes them work, and neo-classical epics such as “Mystique Voyage” and “Medusa” came over well live. The more conventional hard rock of “Never Enough” turned into an extended jam featuring a shredding cello solo. Indeed, aside from Tarja herself, Max Lilja was the star of the band, his cello playing forming an integral part of the music, often playing lines played by other instruments on record, demonstrating just how versatile an instrument a cello can be.

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The encores included the Nightwish oldie “Wish I Had An Angel”, with guitarist Alex Scholpp handling the male vocal part; he’s no Marco Hietala, but it worked well enough. Such was the enthusiasm of the crowd the band came back for a final encore of Gary Moore’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”, a song that frequently featured in Nightwish’s live sets, and older than many of the audience.

Almost a decade after being sacked from Nightwish, Tarja is a dynamic live act with a remarkable and unique voice, and on the strength of performances like this doesn’t only reproduce her records live but exceeds them. And the world of metal definitely needs more cellos.

The review first appeared in Trebuchet Magazine.

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Mostly Autumn, Islington Academy

On Saturday October 5th, Mostly Autumn returned to Islington Academy, their regular London venue since the closure of the much-loved Astoria.

Mostly Autumn traditionally play a lengthy show, with two sets and an interval. But for selected dates on their Autumn and Winter tour they’ve decided to do something a bit different, playing a shorter and tighter set, with guitarist and vocalist Chantel McGregor as special guest.

Chantel fronts a classic blues-rock power trio. Opening with one of her most hard rocking tracks, “Caught Out”, Chantel played an intense guitar-shredding set, mixing songs from her album “Like No Other” with extended guitar workouts, including her lengthy cover of Robin Trower’s “Daydream”, finally finishing with a very heavy version of the instrumental end section of Yes’ “Starship Trooper”. With two talented sidesmen her band play an awful lot of notes for three people, and one hour went very, very quickly. She deserves to have won over a lot of new fans with that performance.

Last time I saw Mostly Autumn live back in July they were a little disappointing; while it was still an enjoyable show that impressed those who hadn’t seen them before, they didn’t quite have their usual magic. But tonight was a very different experience. The day before the gig bought the unexpected but very welcome news that Anne-Marie Helder would be performing with the band for the two dates over the weekend.

Maybe it was a large appreciative crowd who had been warmed up and then some by the superb support act. Maybe it was Anne-Marie Helder’s presence on stage that inspired the rest of the band. Maybe it was a bit of both. But whatever it was, the band pulled out all the stops to deliver what had to be their best show this year, possibly one of the best in the three years since Olivia took over as lead singer. The energy in the room was incredible, and there was something special about the on-stage chemistry; everyone, especially Anne-Marie, clearly enjoying every minute.

The set is much the same as they’ve been playing all year, with a greater emphasis on the hard rock side of their music than on their atmospheric epics. Olivia is singing lead a greater proportion of the time, much of it on newer songs written for her voice such as the Nightwish-like “Unquiet Tears” and the emotive closing epic “Questioning Eyes”. They’ve got the pacing right too; a high spot was “Never the Rainbow”, “Deep In Borrowdale” and “Nowhere to Hide” in quick succession raising the energy levels in the second half of the set.

Unlike their last appearance at this venue, rather marred by poor sound, this time a great sound mix meant you could hear every voice and instrument from the seven piece band clearly, Liam Davison’s understated guitar work complimenting Bryan Josh’s always great lead playing, and Anne-Marie’s vocal harmonies a great foil for Olivia. And it’s great to hear her flute lines on songs like “The Dark Before The Dawn”.

This was Mostly Autumn in full flight, a great show even by the standards of their best ones over the past couple of years, made extra special by a support act strong enough to make the whole evening feel close to being a co-headliner.

Mostly Autumn will be playing further shows with Chantel McGregor in December, including their annual home town showcase at the Grand Opera House in York.

Photos © Howard Rankin, used with kind permission

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