Tag Archives: Live Review

Panic Room/Chris Johnson, The Peel, 27th March 2010

Anne-Marie Helder

The first time I went to see Panic Room at The House of Progression almost exactly two years ago, I never got to see them play. A power blackout plunged the entire neigbourhood into darkness twenty minutes into support band Jump’s set, forcing the curtailment of the gig. I even got a message on Twitter from one of the band remind us to bring some coins for the meter!

Since then, I’ve seen them quite a few times, the most recent being at The Duchess in York at the beginning of the month. Tonight, as at that show, Chris Johnson provided the support. Solo acoustic acts can be a bit hit-and-miss; without the power of a full band the set must stand or fall on the strength of the songs alone. Fortunately Chris Johnson has the songs, quite a few of which were already familiar. Stripped-down versions of songs from Parade’s excellent “The Fabric” made up a big chunk of the set, complete with that really nasty additional verse of “The Dogs” about hoping for the subject’s death and following the coffin. And I thought Chris was a nice person! He also treated us to a great version of “Gaze”, one of the songs Chris wrote for the second disk of Mostly Autumn’s “Heart Full of Sky”.

Panic Room have come a long way since the very first time I saw them, a week before that ill-fated power cut gig. They’re now amazingly tight, and with a high proportion of rockers in the set the energy level stays high. If you only know Anne-Marie Helder for playing a supporting role in Mostly Autumn it’s a revelation seeing her front her own band. She has a tremendous stage presence and her powerful and impassioned lead vocals easily the equal of any other female vocalist in the prog scene. The rest of the band put in superb performances too, for me it was the rhythm section of Alan Vaughan and Gavin Griffiths who really stood out on this night. The band now draw almost the entire set from their second album “Satellite”, including several songs from the EP “Little Satellite” that came with the limited edition release of the album, and it says a lot for the strength of the new material the whole of it comes over live so well. The ominous “Dark Star” with Jon Edwards’ Hammer House of Horror keyboards was one of many high spots, as was the rocked up version of Anne-Marie’s powerful solo song “Blood Red Sky”, and set closer “Apocalypstick”, one of only a couple of songs from their first album to remain in the set.

They’re on tour again in the Autumn, and are well worth seeing.

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Breathing Space, Southend Riga Bar, 20st March 2010

Iain Jennings

I think Southend is the furthest I’ve travelled to date for a Breathing Space gig. But with Olivia Sparnenn leaving the band at the beginning of April there are a limited number of chances to see the current incarnation of the band on stage. And with relatives in that part of the world, there was the opportunity to combine a must-see gig with a family visit.

I’ve not been to The Riga Bar before; it’s an excellent little venue, great sound, and a crowd who made up in enthusiasm what the lacked in numbers.

Olivia Sparnenn

Breathing Space were, as usual, superb. Over the past year they’ve significantly upped the energy level of their live performances, replacing the jazz-inflected ballads with tougher guitar-driven numbers. Although the setlist drew from all three albums, songs from last year’s “Below the Radar” featured heavily.

Livvy Sparnenn was on great form; lovely renditions of songs like “Dusk” and “Drowning” as well as rockers like “Clear”. Fans of Mostly Autumn have nothing to fear when she takes over in that band next month. And we were also treated with some excellent lead guitar from Bryan Josh, in much more relaxed form when he’s not leading his own band.

Paul Teasdale

It’s clear that this lineup of the band is determined to go out with a bang. Just one more gig to go now, at Bilston Robin 2 on Easter Sunday, April 4th. If it’s possible for you to get there, be there.

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Mostly Autumn Halloween Show, Burnley 31-Oct-2009

It’s the second year running I’ve been to a gig on Halloween – Last year it was Panic Room in Worcester, this time it was Mostly Autumn in Burnley, the eleventh time I’ve seen the band this year, and the 38th time I’ve seen them altogether.

The website invited people to come in Halloween costumes, although very few people did (I’m sorry to say I chickened out).  The band, on the other hand, really went for it.  For a few moments I didn’t even recognise Olivia Sparnenn and was wondering if they’d got a new backing singer!

Heather as The Evil Faerie

They replaced the normal intro tape something much spookier-sounding, before Iain Jennings played the opening bars of  Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in A Minor. Then the full band tore into their traditional set opener “Fading Colours“. Mostly Autumn have been a great live band all year, but tonight’s performance was as strong as I’ve seen them play all year; everyone on superb form. While they’re a very different band to the one I first saw in 2004, I’m of the opinion that the current incarnation of the band, with Iain Jennings on keys and Gavin Griffiths back on drums is the best live lineup of the band I’ve seen; the eight-piece band produce a huge multi-layered sound high on energy, atmosphere and emotional intensity.

Tonight’s two and a half hour show was very much a greatest hits set, seeing the welcome return of old favourites like “Shrinking Violet” and the epic “Mother Nature“, neither of which they’ve played for a while, along with “Winter Mountain” and “The Dark Before the Dawn” which they’d bought back earlier in the year. We were also treated to a rare appearance of “Ghost in Dreamland” from the “Storms Over Still Water” album. Probably the mark of a great setlist is there was nothing I’d really rather have heard at the expense of songs they played.

I’m very grateful to the band for allowing me to use my DSLR – I’ve uploaded many more pictures to my Fotopic.net photo site.

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Four Gigs

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been to quite a few gigs, and have been most remiss in reviewing them.  This post is an attempt to rectify that.

Kim Seviour
Kim Serviour of Touchstone

First up was Touchstone, promoted by the Classic Rock Society in The Wesley Centre in Maltby, just outside Rotherham, the latest of my “lets stay in a cheap B&B to see a great prog band play a small town in the middle of nowhere”,weekends. The venue is a quite small but modern hall; standing at the front, tiered seating at the back, with a capacity of I guess about 150 people. Wasn’t full, but the CRS are better at pulling in the punters than one or two other ‘promoters’, so there was a decent crowd.

Support was six-piece Dee Expus, who I’m managed to miss on one of the smaller stages at the Cambridge Rock Festival, but who played a great set of modern-sounding streamlined guitar prog. Hats off to their bassist for doing the gig despite suffering from a hernia (did he try to lift a Mellotron?).

A couple of months before they’d rocked the Cambridge Rock Festival main stage, and tonight Touchstone gave another demonstration of just how much they’ve improved since I first saw them support The Reasoning two years ago. Kim Seviour has matured from a shy girl who was little more than a backing singer to a self-confident frontwoman who dominates the stage. Their blend of melodic hard rock and prog manages just the right combination of tightness and energy level; their instrumental virtuosity sufficiently restrained that solos never outstay they welcome.  With a headline-length set they played almost all of Wintercoast plus a few highlights from their debut, lovely to hear songs like Kim’s very moving ‘Solace’ played live.  They ended with a prog-disco version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. On the evidence of this, they’re well on the road to world domination; in a year’s time I’m sure they’ll be playing far bigger venues than this one.

After all this prog, The Bad Shepherds on Wednesday night at the newly-reopened Band On The Wall are a bit of a change of pace. I’d had tickets for a couple of dates on their tour this time last year, with Mostly Autumn supporting. But that all went pear-shaped when the promoter ran off with more than just the money days before the start of the tour, leaving those who’s purchased tickets with no refunds.

The Band On The Wall is another new venue for me, since I’d never been before it closed for refurbishment a couple of years ago. Even though everything is new and shiny it’s got a character that featureless boxes like Manchester Academy can never hope to emulate.

The Bad Shepherds play celtic folk arrangements of 70s punk and new wave songs. They’re made up from former Young One Ade Edmundson on lead vocals and “Thrash Mandolin”, Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes and various other celtic instruments with funny names, and Andy Dinan on fiddle. The original limeup also had Fairport Convention’s Maartin Allcock on bass, but too many other commitments forced him to drop out, to be replaced on this tour by Brad Lang.

After a short but sweet set from Ade Edmondson’s daughter Ella, The Bad Shepherds hit the stage with “I Fought the Law, and the Law Won”. Much of the set came from their album Yan, Tyan, Tethera, Methera!; their covers of standards by the likes of The Clash, The Jam and The Stanglers were often unrecognisable until the vocals started, and sound quite different with added fiddle solos. Highlight was probably Kraftwerk’s “The Model” played on Uilleann pipes. A hugely entertaining live band, even if you don’t particularly like the original songs.

Three days later it’s over to The Met Theater in Bury to see neo-prog veterans IQ.

IQ play old-fashioned prog. It’s all swirling keyboards, liquid guitar solos and strange time signatures you can’t dance to, and they may wear some influences on their sleeves, particularly Peter Gabriel era Genesis.  But their distinct approach to melody and composition sets then well apart from just about any of their competitors.

It’s almost three years since I last saw IQ live, and I’d forgotten just how good they are. They’re both intense and impeccably tight, the complexities of the albums reproduced perfectly, the virtuosity of the band providing the perfect foil to Peter Nicholls’ theatrical delivery as frontman. It typical prog fashion, they started by playing the latest album, “Frequency” in it’s entirety, followed by just four older songs taking up the second half of the set, ending with the 20-minute epic “Narrow Margin” from their 1997 album “Subterranea“. Two encores, ending with a superb rendition of “The Wake” took the show to two and a half hours, playing (I think) exactly one song from every album featuring Peter Nicholls.

IQ don’t gig very often, but when they do, they’re well worth seeing.

The following Wednesday saw me return to The Band on the Wall for yet more prog, this time from legends The Enid, a band I hadn’t seen since The Reading Festival in 1982(!).  They’ve gone through many, many lineup changes over the years, but the central figure has always been the charismatic Robert John Godfrey.

With so many years since I last saw them live, I had no real idea of what to expect, but The Enid proved they can still very much cut it live. Ably supported by a band including a bass player doubling up on Timpani, Robert John Godfrey entertained us with an hour and a half of what can best be described as classical music played on rock instrumentation, interspersed with a lot of banter between songs. Not owning much of their back catalogue I couldn’t name many of the pieces they played, although I did recognise “In the Region of the Summer Stars” quite early on. Sadly they no longer play things like “The Dambusters March” or “Land of Hope and Glory”; as Robert John Godfrey say, he doesn’t want to be mistaken for a Tory nowadays.  While most their largely instrumental orchestral pomp isn’t really rock and roll, the powerful groove of last number of the main set rocked an absolute bastard. Naturally they got called back for several encores, RJG responding to someone’s shout of “Play some Chopin” by playing some Chopin, and they ended with “Something Wicked The Way Comes”.

With Progressive Nation 2009 two days later, that makes five gigs in thirteen days.

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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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What I did on my holiday, part 1

Been a while since I’ve blogged about anything much – been too busy doing things rather than blogging about them. So we’ll go back a few weeks to my week’s holiday in mid-September.

Paul Davies at Swansea

The week started with a gig, Panic Room at their home town in Swansea. On the previous tour I’d managed to get to several of the shows, but other commitments meant that this one was the only one of their short tour I could get to.

The Milkwood Jam is a funny venue, a sort of glass box on the top of the building.  The band were as tight as ever, with great performances from all five members, and the sound was as good as can be expected for a smallish club venue.

With their new album Satellite written and recorded, new songs made up the bulk of the set, interspersed with a few favourites from the debut album. When I say new songs, quite a few of them have been in the set for a while, with the likes of “Sandstorms”, “Black Noise”, “Go” and “Yasumi” already becoming live favourites.  The band are moving more in the direction of shorter, more direct songs rather than sprawling prog epics, and this material comes over very well live.

I took quite a few photos, but the lighting, with low levels and all the light coming from the side of the stage, meant the results were disappointing.

66204 at Newport

Monday was trains day, and a chance to use my new Sony 50mm Lens for action photography in full sun. I’d bought it for use in low light, especially for situations like Panic Room’s gig in Swansea.  In full sun you don’t need to stop the lens right down to f1.4, and I was amazed by the sharpness of the images I was getting – completely blows away the kit zoom.

Newport doesn’t quite have the volume of freight traffic I remembered from previous visits in the 80s and 90s, but there was still quite a bit of steel traffic. EWS class 66s seem to be ubiquitous nowadays; there weren’t any 60s to be seen. There were, though, a couple of loco-hauled passenger trains; an FGW Cardiff-Taunton top-and-tailed by a pair of 67s, and Arriva Wales Cardiff-Holyhead, complete with first class and a dining car, allegedly subsidised by the expense accounts of members of the Welsh Assembly (me, cynical?)

As with the Panic Room gig, I’ve uploaded some of the photos to my fotopic site.

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2009

I’m back from four days of superb music, amidst a bit of mud, at the Cambridge Rock Festival.

This is one of the many smaller festivals up and down the country, which contrasts with the big corporate festivals like Glastonbury and Reading. It started out as a beer festival with a few bands, but gradually the music side of things grew more important, eventually resulting in a name change from the old name of “Rockinbeerfest”.

The music is very much aimed at an older classic rock audience, with a bill made up of a mix of 70s veterans and younger progressive rock or blues artists. It’s like travelling to an alternative universe where punk never happened, and musical ability never went out of fashion.  This year they’ve moved to a new location. Rather than having the main stage in the converted cowshed in Godmanchester, we’d moved to the Haggis Farm Polo club just outside Cambridge.

Last year I just went on the Sunday, but this year I decided to make a full weekend of it. This was the first time I’ve camped at a festival (or indeed camped anywhere) since the Reading Festival back in 1983.  I camped with group of fellow Mostly Autumn and Breathing Space fans that included Colin and Helen, Chriz (the cider monster), Andy Goodall, Roger Ashworth and Doogie Walsh.

Let’s get the one negative out of the way first. There was nothing anyone could have done about the torrential downpours on the Thursday night, which caused one of the stages to be shut down because the backstage area was flooded, and as the contractor supplying the power have stated, water and electricity don’t mix.  But I have to say the bands, audiences and festival as a whole were badly let down by the contractor providing the PA. We had long delays over the weekend, band after band complaining about lack of monitors, and things finally came to a head on Sunday.

The good points apart from the music were excellent food, some great real ales, and a fantastic vibe. With just a couple of thousand in attendance it felt more like a weekend-long private party than a festival.  It was lovely to see Mostly Autumn stick around for the whole weekend; plenty of opportunities to chat with them, and even watch some of the other acts with members of the band.

Johannes James of Kyrbgrinder

I missed the first act on Friday, so my day kicked off with a great set from Northsydes.  They sounded a bit like Led Zeppelin fronted by Janis Joplin, and what impressed me was the way all four members made an equal contribution; powerful vocals, tight drumming, some great guitar work and wonderful bass grooves.  I was also very impressed with Kyrbgrinder playing on the smaller Radio Caroline stage.  They’re fronted by Threshold’s drummer Johannes James. There are not many people who can sing while playing prog-metal lead drums at the same time. And he’s such a charismatic frontman you barely notice the other two guys on stage.  They were possibly the find of the festival for me.

Heather Findlay of Mostly Autumn

I know I’m biased, but Mostly Autumn were the band of the day for me.  After a considerable delay due to technical problems they delivered a very powerful 90-minute set in adverse circumstances, despite being forced to stop playing in the middle of “Simple Ways” when something broke.  The setlist was pretty close to the one they would have played last year had they had they been able to play a full set, with a very powerful “Unoriginal Sin” and a magnificent “Carpe Diem”, and a lump-in-the throat “Heroes” to finish. With regular drummer Gavin Griffiths have another commitment this weekend, it was hats off to Robbie Baxter, normally part of the road crew, for filling in on drums for such a high-profile gig, and doing an admirable job.

The following headline set from the John Lees Barclay James Harvest was good too – vastly superior to the disappointing Les Holroyd version of the band I saw a couple of years ago.  It may have meandered at the beginning, but as it went on, and the sound mix improved, it built in intensity, and I left the main arena with “Hymn” still playing in my head. While I don’t know that much of their back catalogue, they played a lot of the standards I recognised, like “Poor Man’s Moody Blues” and “Child of the Universe”, and it was great to hear plenty of real live Mellotron.  And who was that girl dancing next to me, and singing along to “Mockingbird”?  Sure I’ve seen her before somewhere…

I spent much of Saturday moving from stage to stage. Since most of the bands were unknown to me, I probably managed to miss some great bands while watching someone else on another stage.  I spent quite a bit of time in the smaller CRS tent, rocking out to the very metal Crimes of Passion, and also saw most of Manning’s set, very very prog, with no fewer than three keyboard players.  On the main stage there were some great sets by Deborah Bonham and Never the Bride. The latter gave us one of the quotes of the weekend, when Nikki Lamborn told the sound crew “Stop playing with their knobs”.  70s Veterans Stray also delivered an entertaining set, featuring some serious Stratocaster abuse. That’s no way to treat an expensive musical instrument!

The delays and technical problems which had affected Mostly Autumn the previous night were worse, when we waited, and waited for the mighty Uriah Heep. Finally they rolled the intro tape, the band came out, and… nothing happened. They stood around looking embarrassed, before shuffling off stage again.  It would be another half an hour before their set finally started, and like Mostly Autumn the night before rewarded the crowd’s patience with a blistering set, mixing 70s classics with selections from their recent album “Wake the Sleeper”.  Their classic Hammond-drenched hard rock sound and remarkable energy levels for a band of their age made them the band of the day without question.  Saying that, the following set by headliners The Quireboys went down well, a great party band to finish off the night. Or rather, morning, because it was gone 3am by the time the music finished.

Bryan, Paul and Olivia of Breathing Space

After some excellent glam-metal from Morph to rock away the hangovers, the first ‘big’ band on Sunday’s bill was Breathing Space. They’d gone down well last year with a ballad-heavy set, but this year’s CRF witnessed a transformed band.  They played a far rockier set, drawing heavily from the new album “Below the Radar”,  Now with Bryan Josh standing in on guitar  they delivered the best live performance I’ve seen them do all year, tight, energetic and highly emotional.  Set closer “Questioning Eyes” really brought a lump to the throat.  The huge crowd round the merch stand as soon as they’d finished said it all.

Touchstone too have come on in leaps and bounds since their appearance a year ago, playing another a really tight and high energy set drawn largely from their recent album “Wintercoast”.  The transformation of this band since I first saw them support The Reasoning in Crewe a couple of years ago is nothing short of phenomenal, especially singer Kim Servoir’s growing confidence as a frontwoman.  This band are going places.

I’d been very much looking forward to seeing Karnataka.  But as soon as I saw Ian Jones near the bar, the expression on his face told me something was wrong. He told me that the band would not be playing due to problems with the PA. It eventually transpired that Asia and Focus had demanded that they use their own PA and crew (and given the problems Mostly Autumn and Uriah Heep had suffered, I can hardly blame them). The changeover meant that the main stage needed to be shut down for two hours, and two bands had to be dropped, one of them being Karnataka. Bluesman Simon McBride moved to the blues tent, but unfortunately Karnataka’s stage gear was more than the smaller stage PA and mixing desk could have coped with.  So I got to meet the band, who were all very disappointed not to be playing, but didn’t get to see them perform.

Asia’s Geoff Downes

The weekend ended with Focus and Asia.  Focus took a long time to get going, with a couple of false starts while Thijs van Leer vainly tried to get his monitor to work, but ended with rousing versions of their hits, “Sylvia” and a manic “Hocus Pocus”, with Thijs conducting the audience for the falsetto parts.  The prog behemoth of Asia closed proceedings, with OTT amounts of drums and keyboards, and a rocking set drawn from “Asia” and “Alpha” plus a version of ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”. Steve Howe doesn’t half look old now, but he can still cut in on the guitar.

A great festival which survived the best attempts of the weather and the PA company to ruin things. There were many great bands, some very familiar to me, others completely new. But ultimately any festival is about more than just the bands; those people who came just to see one band are really missing the point of what festivals are about.  Assuming they fix the problems with the PA, I’ll be back next year for more.

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Breathing Space, Mansfield, 27-Jun-09

Olivia Sparnenn at The Intake Club, Mansfield
Olivia Sparnenn

On Saturday June 27, Breathing Space returned to The Intake Club in Mansfield, their third gig since Liam Davidson replaced Mark Rowen on guitar.

Although the gig was advertised as an 8pm start, thanks to a long tailback on the M1 delaying one member of the band it was almost ten before Breathing Space finally hit the stage.

Liam Davidson at the Intake Club, Mansfield
Liam Davidson

Changing just one band member has transformed the band’s sound far more that I’d expected. Mark Rowen’s economical jazz-tinged playing was a major element of Breathing Space’s sound, and Liam has a very different style. With Mostly Autumn he’s always very much in the background, but I’ve always thought he’s a far better guitarist than many people realise. Given the chance in the spotlight shows just how good he can playing lead. He doesn’t try to copy Mark’s solos note-for-note, instead using the basic structure as a template for solos of his own.

The result is a far rawer and rockier band. Many of the big soaring ballads and jazz-rock jams that epitomised “Coming Up for Air” have been retired from the set in favour of guitar-driven hard rock numbers, turning the overall energy level of the set up several notches. A surprise was the Mostly Autumn standard “Never the Rainbow”, which I’d not heard Breathing Space play live before.

The set included several new songs from the forthcoming album “Below the Radar”. The title track has been in the setlist for a while, but the standout of the new numbers has to be the encore, “Questioning Eyes”, a huge soaring epic in the same league as Iain’s “The Gap Is Too Wide” or “Carpe Diem”.

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Burning the Candle at Both Ends

The downside of having a very busy day is you feel completely shattered on the next. This is what happens when you go to a model railway exhibition and a gig on the same day, and the first of those is two hours travel away.

I missed the Derby show last year for family reasons. This year it’s moved a different date, and moved out of it’s old home at The Assembly Rooms become the latest show to move to a dismal sports hall on the fringes of town. If you’re one of the minority of visitors that travels to shows by train, this is almost always a bad thing; rather than a location within walking distance of the main railway station, you have an extra half-hour’s travel each way by bus to get to the place. It’s why I don’t go to the Nottingham show any more; that one always such a pig to get to I’ve decided it’s not worth the effort.

Saying that, despite the hall lacking the character of the old Assembly Rooms, they still had a good selection of layouts and traders. Derby always emphasises non-British modelling, and there was a selection of French, Swiss, German, American and Canadian layouts as well as British outline. The simple but effective “Glenrothes North Junction” flew the flag for British N, a slice of 1990s central Scotland.

The traders did my credit card too some serious damage, with a lot of continental rolling stock doing it GBH in the first few minutes. The long-awaited Kato Swiss RIC stock is finally out at truly eye-watering prices, and last years modern Minitrix wagons have finally appeared, including the long tarpaulin-roofed flat. This is one of those 1:160 models of a continental loading-gauge prototype that happily scales very close to a 1:148 representation of an equivalent British gauge version. And I also picked up a Dapol InterCity livery DVT. There was also a Dapol 66 in DRS “Compass” livery which lunged at my credit card but missed, because I’d spent enough money by then.

Then it was a three hour journey by bus, two trains, a tram, and a lengthy walk across central Manchester to Bury for the latest date of Mostly Autumn’s spring tour. I’ve seen this band so many times that it’s not just the band, but their siblings, parents and significant others who are greeting me by name!

Mostly Autumn have been on blindingly good form on this tour, and tonight’s gig was no exception. Having Gavin Griffiths back on drums seems to have lifted the energy of the live performance to a new level  And I don’t think I’ve ever seen Heather as enthusiastic or as animated before this tour; she’s also on spectacular form vocally, and dominates the stage visually. Bury has always been a good venue to see the band, great atmosphere and good acoustics; just about the best sound balance I’ve heard on this tour; every voice and instrument clearly heard in the mix, and nobody so loud that they drowned out anyone else.

Still another half-dozen dates left on this tour; the next gig is next Saturday at Bilston in the Black Country, followed by appearances at Southampton, Tavistock, Oxford, Gloucester and Norwich. I’m planning on going to three of these. If you like powerful 70s-style melodic rock with a bit of celtic-flavoured prog thrown into the mix, you really ought to go to one of these.

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Howard Sparnenn Memorial Concert, York, 3-May 2009

It’s difficult to imagine a video of a drum solo being the perfect way to end a gig.

But the charity concert in memory of Howard Sparnenn at The Duchess in York wasn’t any ordinary gig.  Six bands, all of which Howard had been involved with, with York’s finest, Mostly Autumn, topping the bill. This was as much a social gathering as a regular gig; many, many familiar faces in the crowd, and a lot of people I hadn’t had the chance to catch up with for ages. And the atmosphere for the whole evening was incredible; you did feel that it was really about Howard. And he was definitely there in spirit.

Smart Move and Freeway opened the evening with two entertaining sets of covers; Freeway were especially good with their mix of Thin Lizzy, UFO and Judas Priest songs, even though they made me feel old. I remember when too many of them first came out, and it was many years before Olivia Sparnenn was born. They were followed by Free Spirit and Flight, the latter reformed (again) for the occasion, with blues-rock sets made up of what I assumed was original material.

Breathing Space took the stage with a somewhat amended lineup due to some members being unavailable; Olivia Sparnenn and the Jennings brothers were joined by Bryan and Andy from Mostly Autumn, and Harry James from Thunder on drums.  With an improvised lineup this wasn’t the best Breathing Space gig I’ve ever seen, although “The Gap Is Too Wide” with Anne-Marie Helder guesting on flute was wonderful. I always find Livvy singing ‘The Gap’ incredibly moving. I know the song wasn’t originally about Howard, but it still fits.

Mostly Autumn are in the middle of their tour, and played a shortened version of their touring set. They rose above a few irritating technical glitches to deliver a tight but emotionally powerful performance. The band have been on superb live form this year, this one was well up to their usual standard. They finished in the only way they could, with “Tearing at the Faerytale”, the song written about Howard, and “Heroes Never Die”.

The evening ended with a film of Howard’s performing a drum solo, recorded in Matlock in Derbyshire some time in the 1980s. A reminder that Howard wasn’t just a great bloke, but a superb drummer as well.

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