Tag Archives: Live Music

Mostly Autumn – York Grand Opera House, 2008

And so we come to the final chapter of November Gig Madness. And this is really the only possible ending.

The first time I travelled to York for the annual Grand Opera House was in 2007, when it was moved to the beginning of the month so that flautist/keyboardist Angie Gordon, who was expecting a baby in December, could make one final appearance with the band before going on maternity leave. This year it returned to the more traditional date of the last weekend in November. And I’d learned my lesson leaving it too late to order a ticket; instead of the restricted view seat I ended up in last year I purchased a ticket the day they went on sale, and scored the second row, just off-centre on Bryan’s side of the stage.

I’m usually one of those curmudgeons that complains that Christmas starts earlier and earlier, but walking through the medieval streets on the way to the gig with all the decorations out in near sub-zero temperatures meant it was starting to feel like Christmas. The famous Shambles rather beats the 60s grot of Crewe shopping centre as the scenic route to a gig.

Mostly Autumn gigs are known for their great atmosphere; this one, with many friends and family of the band takes that to another level. You could taste the anticipation in the hall. The last Mostly Autumn gig was the Cambridge Rock Festival four months ago, Heather Findlay’s last appearance before going on maternity leave. After four months in which many people wondered if she’d want to take a more extended break from the band, tonight’s was to be her first live appearance with the band on returning.

The band hit the ground running with the now-traditional opener of “Fading Colours”, no trace of the rustiness from having off the road for four months. The setlist started out much as the spring tour with ‘Caught in a Fold‘, ‘Flowers for Guns‘ and ‘Unoriginal Sin‘, although they varied things later on. Nice to hear another couple of songs from “Passengers“, ‘First Thought‘, which I’d never heard live before, and the old favourite ‘Answer the Question‘, which hasn’t been played for something like two years. And they debuted two more songs from this years “Glass Shadows“, ‘A Different Sky‘ and ‘Until the Story Ends‘, the latter featuring a guest appearance from Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes.

This was really Heather’s show, as much as Cardiff eighteen months ago, although this one was an altogether more happy occasion. She looked wonderful, and sang like a goddess. The sparse piano ballad ‘Above the Blue‘ was possibly the best version I’ve heard so far, and the epic ‘Carpe Diem‘, also augmented by Troy Donockley’s Uilleann pipes, was utterly spellbinding.

If the streets of York hadn’t started the Christmas season, the encores certainly did, with all the traditional Christmas covers, kicking of with their spine-tingling five-part harmony version of the traditional Carol ‘Silent Night’ with guest appearances from former members Angela Gordon and Chris Johnson.

Altogether a magical evening, and reminds me of just why Mostly Autumn remain my favourite band. And it was nice to meet half the band at the Old White Swan after the gig. I just hope I didn’t give one band member my lurgey; she insisted on giving me a hug before I had the chance to tell her I have a cold.

I’ll probably catch the band at least once more on the December leg of the tour.

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November Gig Madness – Opeth

Second part of my November gig spree was under the effects of a bad cold, which at it’s worst had me off work for two days. And I think I caught it at the Heep gig.

Sunday night was back to Manchester Academy 1, and Opeth, for night of Swedish death metal that goes ‘Grrrrrr’

I’ve afraid I don’t remember an awful lot about the two supports, Cynic and The Ocean. One was all cookie-monster metal, the other more proggy with 100% clean vocals. Both quite enjoyable at the time, but not terribly memorable at the a week later, although the combination of lemsip and beer that kept me going probably didn’t help.

Opeth themselves are a lot more than a pure metal band nowadays; either that or metal has developed tremendously as a genre since Tony Iommi first started playing tritones through a fuzzbox. Their sound has been described as ‘symphonic’ – not in the sense of big sweeping keyboards, but in their complex multi-layered song structures, with twin-guitar harmonies and strange time-signatures. They completely eschew anything as conventional as ordinary verses and choruses, and typically include piledriving heavyness, gentle semi-acoustic sections, and densely intricate instrumental passages, usually in the same lengthy song. Mikael Åkerfeldt lead vocals alternate between harsh growls and soaring ‘clean’ vocals.

The awesomely tight band reproduce all that dense swirling sound from their albums note-for-note, helped by a clear (and not deafeningly loud) sound. Their 90-minute set included just eight songs, including two, ‘Heir Apparent’ and ‘The Lotus Eaters’ from the new album “Watershed”. Difficult to single out a single high spot, but it was nice to hear ‘Deliverance’ and ‘The Drapery Falls’.

Opeth might just sound like a wall of noise to the uninitiated, and it took me a long time to ‘get’ them, especially Åkerfeldt’s Cookie Monster growls. Live, they’re just magnificent.

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November Gig Madness – Part 1

Three gigs in five days, in two different cities.

We start in Manchester, with Marillion at their usual Manchester venue, Academy 1. Last year the place was still a building site with a temporary entrance, and festival-style portaloos. Now it’s finished, with a proper bar and cloakroom, so you don’t have to spend entire gigs clutching a wet coat.

The support band were so utterly forgettable that I don’t even remember their name. Marillion seem to be so determined to avoid any opening act with the faintest taint of ‘prog’ that all too often we end to end up with pretty generic alternative rock. As for this lot, I can tell you they were a four-piece, with one guitarist playing some pedal steel. But I don’t remember any of their actual songs.

Marillion, though, were excellent. Their two hour set drew heavily from their new double album “Happiness is the Road”, favouring the atmospheric first disk “Essence” over the rockier “The Hard Shoulder”, and interspersed with a few older favourites. The new material comes over very well live, but with a double album there’s no way they can play all of it in one set. I hope they tour again next year to play the other half of the new album. As for the oldies, it’s nice to hear ‘The Great Escape’ from “Brave” again, and while some people are saying ‘Neverland’ could do with a rest, it still makes a great set closer. As usual, there was nothing whatsoever from the Fish era. Steve Rothery in particular was on superb form – it’s not for nothing that I he’s possibly my all-time favourite guitarist. Nice one.

Then it was down south to London for Marillion’s former frontman, Fish.

Unlike Marillion, Fish always has good opening acts, and the support for the first part of the tour was none other than The Reasoning. With Fish’s own set timed for more than two hours, they had a short slot of just 30 minutes, not long, but just enough to make an impression. With a very good sound for a support band, they went full-tilt, just five songs (Dark Angel, Aching Hunger, Call Me God?, Awakening, A Musing Dream). A pretty storming set, and judging from comments on Fish’s forum, they went down well with the large and enthusiastic crowd.

Fish was on great form. Even though his voice isn’t what it was back in Marillion days he’s still a powerful live act, his sheer presence and charisma, helped by a talented backing band making up for any shortcomings in the vocal department. If this one didn’t quite match that legendary gig at Manchester last year, it still came pretty close. His set consisted almost entirely of his new album “13th Star” and old 1980s Marillion songs. Although he’s playing many of the same songs as last year, he’s made a few changes, notably including more of “13th Star”, and replacing some of “Clutching at Straws” with those two big hits from “Misplaced Childhood”. ‘Openwater’ in particular rocks as powerfully live as I expected it to. He went walkabout in the crowd during the cover of “Faithhealer”, and recognised me from Manchester; I got the “Oh God it’s him” look. Frank Usher, recovered from the health scare at the end of last year was on great form on lead guitar; his playing on his showcase number ‘Cliché’ was as utterly mesmerising as last time. Chris Johnson was great on second guitar; seeing him next to the 6’5″ Scotsman really does make him look Hobbit-sized.

The one sour note of the gig was that Fish insisted on telling that story about the Fairies. If Fish really wants to be known as the great lyricist and frontman he undoubtedly is rather than a bitter knobhead who can’t stop washing dirty linen and reopening old wounds in public, he really needs to drop that one. Yes I know what and who ‘Dark Star’ is about, and I don’t want to be reminded of it. There will be trouble if he tells it in York on Sunday, I tell you.

Back to Manchester again for the mighty Uriah Heep at Manchester Academy 2

Support was from a female-fronted five-piece Maccara, a pretty impressive mix of blues, metal and even a bit of reggae at one point. The impressed me enough to buy their album from the merch stand. We may be hearing more from this band in the future.

It’s several years since I last saw the Heep, at this very same venue. The last few times I’ve seen them they’ve played what amounted to greatest hits sets. This time, with their first album for nine years, they decided to take the brave step of playing their new record “Wake the Sleeper” in it’s entirely. It’s a ploy that could have backfired badly had the new album not been up to scratch, but with the strength of the new material it turned into a triumph. New drummer Russell Gilbrook has injected another level energy into this band, and they’ve become an unstoppable juggernaut of sound. The more guitar-driven new songs complement the Hammond-drenched older numbers well. Of the new songs, ‘What Kind of God’ was a high spot, as was Trevor Bolder’s “War Child”. The older numbers were without exception real crowd favourites like ‘Gypsy’, ‘Easy Living’ and ‘Sunrise’, dating from the 70s, all of which were rapturously received. This is a band that you can tell really enjoy playing live; Mick Box always has a huge grin on his face. That’s a possible candidate for gig of the year.

Three gigs, from three bands which are now well into the ‘veteran’ category – indeed their careers add up to ninety years in total. What’s significant is that not one of them has taken the easy route and become their own tribute band. Even if Heep and Fish’s sets included a lot of old material from the 70s and 80s, they also played a significant amount from their most recent releases.   I’ve heard people (mostly indie fans) who insist that nobody can make good music after ten years.  To which I say “Bollocks!”.

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Karnataka, Crewe Limelight, 26 Oct 2008

Two days after seeing Panic Room I found myself back at Crewe Limelight to see the new-look Karnataka.

Following the dissolution of the original band back in 2004, bassist and original bandleader Ian Jones put together a completely new incarnation of the band, including Lisa Fury on vocals, Enrico Pinna on guitar, and Gonzalo Carrera on keys. Some people seemed to object to the mere existence of this band, some hack scribblers dismiss them as ‘a glorified tribute band’, which I feel is a bit harsh.

When I first saw them at Crewe last year I thought they put on an impressive show, but I had a nagging doubt that what I was really seeing was Ian and Lisa plus some hired hands. Having seen powerful live performances by The Reasoning and Panic Room earlier this month, I felt they had something to prove this time around.

Typical of Sunday night gigs at Crewe Limelight, things started bloody late, and it wasn’t until ten o’clock before the band came on stage. Unfortunately the start of the set was marred by technical problems which rather spoiled the impact of the opening instrumental ‘State of Grace’, and caused intermittent problems later on as well. After that rather shaky start, though, they recovered momentum, and it was soon apparent that this was a far, far better band than I’d seen back in 2007. Although the set included plenty of old favourites, a good proportion of the set was new material, and the new songs had enough of the same feel and mood to justify keeping the name. They’ve gelled as a band now; confident enough to reinterpret the older songs and make them their own rather than the sort of note-for-note reproductions that you’d expect from a tribute band. Enrico Pinna played some amazing guitar, striking the right balance between fluid virtuosity and restraint where appropriate. Lisa Fury’s vocals were as impressive as last time. It’s probably not easy to take some very personal songs written by another singer and sing them as if they were hers.

Strangest moment came partway through the set when a Dutch fan dragged his girlfriend on stage in order to propose to her. That’s something I’ve never seen happen at a gig before.

A good gig, despite the technical gremlins. It’s a pity the sheer number of gigs by various bands in October meant I didn’t get the chance to see Karnataka more than once on this tour.

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Panic Room, Wolverhampton, 24 Oct 2008

Gaul was divided into three parts
– Julius Caesar

All three of the female fronted prog (or gorp) bands that grew out of the ashes of the original incarnation of Karnataka have been touring in October, making it a busy month gig-wise for those of us that actually like all three. I’ve already reviewed The Reasoning, who were on tour at the beginning of the month, the second part of the month was the turn of the other two bands, Panic Room and the new incarnation of Karnataka.

First was Panic Room at the Little Civic in Wolverhampton. I hadn’t seen this band since their very first gig at Lydney back in April, not counting the ill-fated gig at The Peel where I didn’t actually get to see them play because of a power failure. The Little Civic is one of those slightly tatty but loveable small venues, walls covered in posters. It’s basically just the upstairs room of a pub, with the stage at one end of a long narrow room. As is normal for this sort of gig, the place contained an awful lot of familiar faces, from the infamous HippyDave to Mostly Autumn’s Andy Smith, who was doing the lights.

Support was Quecia, playing with an acoustic lineup consisting of two female vocalists and two acoustic guitarists. I’m afraid they didn’t really do a lot for me; their lead singer has an excellent voice, but none of their songs were strong enough to be memorable, at least for me.

Panic Room have definitely grown as a band since I saw them last. They’ve got a very different sound live than on record; rather than the complex multi-layered approach of their album Visionary Position, on stage their music is harder-edged and more guitar driven; for instance, on ‘Apocalypstick’, Paul Davies’ guitar replaces the absent electric violin. They’re not resting on their laurels when it comes to material; the set included no fewer than five new songs written since the recording of the album. A couple of those, the quite poppy ‘Into the Fire’ and the very spiky ‘Go’ had been in the set in April, but the others were completely new, including the vaguely industrial-sounding ‘Black Noise’ written by Alun Vaughan. The strength of the new stuff is such that they could afford to leave out a couple of songs from the album.

High spot was the first encore, a full band arrangement of ‘Blood Red Skies’, a song from Anne-Marie’s solo album “The Contact”. This was a powerful song when I heard it 18 months ago performed as a solo acoustic number; backed by the whole band it’s an absolute barnstormer. The small but enthusiastic audience wasn’t prepared to let them get away with just one encore, and they were back again for their take of Led Zep’s ‘No Quarter’.

That was definitely a good one. Paul Davies was in fine form on guitar, completely recovered from his hand injury that caused him to miss the end of a gig last month. And Anne-Marie Helder, despite apparently suffering from a really bad lurgy, still gave a fantastic vocal performance, and looked extremely sexy (if I’m allowed to say something like that in these politically-correct times).

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