Tag Archives: Luna Rossa

Coro94 at Christmas


As you all ought to know, I’m really a rock reviewer, so this isn’t a conventional review; I’ve written a lot more about myself that is proper for a typical rock review, but feels appropriate to set the rest of the review in context.

Before I discovered rock and roll in my late teens I listened to a lot of classical music. My mum was a member of an amateur choral society, and I sat through their concerts from an early age. I was probably too young to appreciate some of the seemingly interminable oratorios, but the Christmas carol concerts were always entertaining. In more recent years, while living in Cheadle Hulme, I always attended the very traditional Nine Lessons and Carols at the Parish Church, often the last thing I did up north before heading south to spend Christmas with family. That’s something I’m missed the last couple of years; very often I’ve found myself at a gig as a reviewer the last Sunday before Christmas.

So attending a Christmas concert by one of Britain’s top amateur choirs wasn’t so much a step outside my comfort zone as it was a sense of things coming full circle, especially when the choir in question includes Anne-Marie Helder of Panic Room and Luna Rossa, who needs no introduction to to regular readers of this blog.

The concert itself was as beautiful as the building it was held in. They put together a hugely varied program; with a lot of modern classical compositions especially in the first half, alongside an African-American spiritual, an Oregonian folk carol, a traditional number from Botswana as well as well-know carols and secular Christmas songs. Highlights of the first half included “Serenity (O Magnum Mysterium)” by Norwegian-born composer Ola Gjeilo, a piece accompanied by violin and cello, and works best if you close your eyes and let the music waft over you. They followed this with the completely bonkers “Christus Est Natus” by Slovenia’s Damien Močnik.

For parts of the concert, Coro94 shared their stage with a children’s choir in the shape of the Fulham Cross Girls’ School Glee Club, a reminder of Coro94′s origins as a youth choir. They performed some numbers on their own, including an arrangement of Sia’s “Chandelier”, and joined Coro94 on others, such as the traditional carol “O Holy Night”.

The second half was more up-tempo with an emphasis on traditional carols, with some audience participation on the ambitiously complicated folk carol “Come and I Will Sing You”. They ended with a couple of well-known secular Christmas songs which came over as something equivalent to prog bands covering 70s standards as Christmas encores.

It’s something a little different from your typical rock gig; as is common in events held in churches. the bar served wine but not beer. But much like some contemporary folk or jazz there was nothing that shouldn’t be accessible to a more open-minded progressive rock fan; the Gjeilo piece in particular had a strong Iamthemorning feel about it. It makes me wonder how much being steeped in classical and choral music from an early age has influenced Anne-Marie Helder’s subsequent songwriting, and whether that explains something of why I love her music.

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Cairo and Luna Rossa


To promote the launch of the album “Say”, former Touchstone mainman Rob Cottingham’s new band Cairo embarked on a short three-date tour taking in London, Rotherham and Leicester over the course of a long weekend.

The support for all three shows was Luna Rossa, playing as a duo rather than the expanded four-piece that performed a few headline shows last year. Playing a set drawing heavily from their second album “Secrets and Lies”, their stripped-down less-is-more sound was as beautiful as ever. “Fly Away” was still a highlight even with Jon playing the harp parts on piano, as was the cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Tiny Demons” with Jon teasing the audience with a couple of bars of “No Quarter” on the intro. They ended with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”, commemorating the legend who’s passed away just days before.

Luna Rossa

Cairo’s set began with an announcement from Rob Cottingham that there was bad and good news. The bad news was that vocalist Rachel Hill, who’d sung on the album, had stepped down from the band for health reasons. The good news was that a new singer, Lisa, had joined and had learned the set at very short notice.

You’d never have known. The whole band delivered a tight performance both on Friday in London and on Sunday in Leicester, a mix of melodic rock and metal with the odd touch of electronica. Lisa impressed as a vocalist given how recently she’s joined the band, sharing twin female/male lead vocals with Rob himself. Paul Stocker’s propulsive bass riffs drove many of the heavier songs, with the fluid guitar work of the youthful James Hards adding colour and textures.

The five-piece band played the album “Say” in full, though not in the album running order, rounding out the set with “Chasing Storms” from Rob Cottingham’s earlier solo album “Captain Blue”, and another song from his much older solo album from pre-Touchstone days. The older material fitted seamlessly into the set, which confirms the feeling that “Say” is closer to a heavier version of Captain Blue than to Touchstone’s sound. They saved the best till last, rocking out with the dramatic and dynamic “Nothing to Prove” and ending with their nearest thing to a single, the title track of “Say”.


Cairo started their live career with a bang. For a brand new band theu have gelled extremely well, especially give the last-minute change in lineup. They were good even at their very first gig together in London, and even more powerful two nights later in Leicester, pulling appreciable crowds on both occasions. They have more plans for 2017, so watch this space.

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Panic Room Weekend, Day Two

Anne-Marie Helder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dylan Thompson fronting Kiama

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

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

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Luna Rossa Live in Wales

Luna Rossa

In the absence of the traditional Christmas Panic Room shows due to drummer Gavin Griffuths’ commitments with Fish, Luna Rossa, the acoustic duo comprising Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards, are playing three December dates. The first two were both in Wales, at The Gate in Cardiff, followed by The Chattery in Swansea.

As with their headline shows last year, they’re playing as an expanded foursome including Sarah Dean on harp and backing vocals and Andy Coughlan on bass, both of whom had guested on the band’s second album “Secrets and Lies”.

Sarah Dean played a short solo set as the support. It was a spine-tinglingly beautiful performance, featuring harp-driven folk numbers from her EPs “Blueprints” and “Cloudstreets”, ending with a superb spaghetti-western flavoured cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Man in the Long Black Coat”.

Luna Rossa at Cardiff

Luna Rossa are a complete contrast to the wide-scale cinematic rock of Panic Room, and the live experience has a quite different vibe even to Panic Room’s semi-acoustic sets. The songs are stripped down and intimate, the piano and vocal duo the heart of the sound, with the bass and harp as added colour, as is the occasional appearance of Anne-Marie’s flute. The emphasis is on Anne-Marie’s remarkable vocals, and we see a rather different side of her than we do when she’s fronting Panic Room.

Luna Rossa at Cardiff

The setlist ran through much of “Secrets and Lies” with a few highlights from the début. There were too many high spots to list them all, but they included the cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Tiny Demons”, the emotive title track of “Secrets and Lies”, and the evocative “Fly Away” which showcased Sarah Dean’s harp playing. They also threw in a remarkable cover of Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All”, and “La Clef” turned into an extended jam between Jon Edwards and Andy Coughlan in which they exchanged riffs and motifs from classic rock standards by the likes of Deep Purple and Yes. They encored with the stunningly beautiful new number “Christmastime” and the entertainingly silly “Happy Little Song” which included a few bars of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”.

Luna Rossa at Cardiff

The set was much the same for the two gigs, though a couple of songs were dropped the second night, one of them “Gasp” which relied heavily on backing tapes. But the vibe was quite different the two nights. The Gate is a far larger venue with concert-level PA; the band were blessed with a superb sound mix in which you could hear everything clearly without Sarah’s harp being drowned out by Jon’s grand piano. The Chattery in contrast was a tiny café, the perfect size for the audience of thirty or so. It gave a lovely intimate feel as if the band were playing in your front room. It was also wonderful to see the level of respect given to the band; you could hear a pin drop while they were playing, then the venue erupted into applause louder than the band at the end of the song. Just what we’d all like to hear far more of.

Luna Rossa have one more date on this tour, at The Robin 2 in Bilston on Sunday 13th of December.

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Luna Rossa – Christmastime

Luna Rossa, the acoustic duo of Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards, have released a Christmas single,which also features Sarah Dean on harp. You can download from the Luna Rossa Bandcamp page.

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Secrets and Lies

Luna Rossa have released a video of the title track of “Secrets and Lies” ahead of their mini-tour in December.

The band will be played The Gate in Cardiff on Friday December 4th, The Chattery in Swansea on Saturday December 5th, and The Robin 2 in Bilston the following weekend on Sunday 13th.

The band will again be a four-piece lineup with the core duo of Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards joined by Sarah Dean on Celtic harp and Andy Coughlan on double bass.

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2014 Albums of the Year – Part Three

Part three of the end-of-year album countdown, and we’re into the top ten. These are from 10 to 6, again sorted alphabetically because I can’t sort these into any sort of order. They’re all equally good.

Cloud AtlasBeyond the Vale

Cloud Atlas - Beyond The Vale newYet another York-based band (Is there something in the water?), Cloud Atlas is the band put together by Heidi Widdop following the dissolution of Stolen Earth. Their impressive début album is big widescreen rock with an epic scope, with Heidi’s distinctive bluesy vocals setting them apart from many of their obvious peers. But this album’s sound is as much about Martin Ledger’s soaring melodic lead guitar, with strong echoes of Marillion’s Steve Rothery.

Gazpacho Demon

Gazpacho - DemonNorway’s Gazpacho have come up with one of the darkest and most sinister-sounding records of 2014. It’s what Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden might have sounded like if Mark Hollis had spent a lot of time listening to Black Sabbath. Sinister violin-led pastoral soundscapes with are intercut with bursts of hard rock, motifs recur across the album, and there’s even an irruption of accordion-led central European folk at one point. An ambitious album which is by no means an easy listen, but one where you can keep finding new layers after many listens.

Knifeworld The Unravelling

The UnravellingA major step forward for Kavus Torabi’s eight-piece band, and reflects their current live sound far more than any of their previous recordings. It’s a record that takes psychedelia, jazz, hard rock and all kinds of other things, and puts them in a blender to produce something that sounds quite unlike anyone else. Fans of the late, great Frank Zappa should find a lot to like about this record, as should anyone who thinks there should be more bassoons in rock.

Luna RossaSecrets and Lies

Luna Rossa Secrets & LiesLuna Rossa started out as a side-project from Panic Room emphasising the acoustic side of Anne-Marie Helder’s and Jon Edwards’ music, but seems to have taken on a life of it’s own. Their second album is a logical progression from the first; perhaps not quite as eclectic, but with a slightly clearer musical identity. Luna Rossa still defy easy genre pigeonholing, though the album does show occasional hints of artists as varied as Goldfrapp and Renaissance. There’s some very raw heart-on-sleeve emotion, with the music revolving around and complementing Anne-Marie’s always remarkable vocals.

Steve RotheryThe Ghosts of Pripyat

Steve Rothery - The Ghosts of PripyatThis Kickstarter-funded project is Steve Rothery’s first proper solo album in more than three decades as lead guitarist of Marillion. It’s an instrumental album with a band including Panic Room’s Yatim Halimi and Mr So and So’s Dave Foster, Rothery’s lyrical and emotional playing both soars and rocks, the numbers building in intensity from slow-burning beginnings. The whole thing shows just why Rothery is one of the best guitarists of his generation, one of the few players good enough to pull this sort of thing off without descending into self-indulgence.

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Luna Rossa – Secrets & Lies

Luna Rossa Secrets & Lies Luna Rossa started out as a Panic Room side project, showcasing the acoustic side of Anne-Marie Helder’s and Jon Edwards’ music, but in the manner of such things has taken on a life of it’s own, leading to a follow-up album and a tour to promote it.

As with their début, “Sleeping Pills and Lullabies”, the emphasis is on Anne-Marie’s vocals and acoustic guitar, and Jon’s piano, supported with guests in the form of Sarah Dean on Celtic harp, Andy Coughlan on double bass and Tim Hamill on guitar. A string quartet also puts in an appearance, albeit rather more briefly than on the first album.

The album kicks off with “Aurora”, largely instrumental bar some wordless vocals towards the end, with Jon’s piano taking the lead. Then”Secrets and Lies” is a classic Anne-Marie Helder ballad in the vein of her 2004 EP “The Contact”. The bluesy “Disappointment” sees Jon switch to Fender Rhodes, and also features some excellent understated guitar from Tim Hamill, and even has a bass solo towards the end.

The shimmering “Flower In My Hair” quotes a very familiar traditional children’s song, but the following number has to be the strangest song on the album. “Happy Little Song” is the obvious successor to Panic Room’s “I Am A Cat”, sounding for all the world like the theme song from a surreal 1970s childrens’ TV show. This is a song that demands a surreal video.

“Tiny Demons” is the first of two covers on the album, and sees the return of Jon’s Fender Rhodes, giving a vibe reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”, and also sees an all-too-brief appearance of Anne-Marie’s flute towards the end. Straight after than comes an undoubted highlight, “Fly Away”, driven by Sarah Dean’s celtic harp. The rich layered sound with the interplay of harp, guitar and piano makes it the closest thing on the album to anything by Panic Room.

The second cover, “I’ve been wrong before”, isn’t quite as effective as the first. But if you cover Warren Zevon and it comes over as one of the weaker songs on the album, what does this say about the quality of your own writing? The album ends with the most emotionally powerful numbers on the record; “No Chords Left” is an achingly sad song, just Anne-Marie’s vocal and Jon’s melancholy piano.

It’s an album that feels like a logical progression from its predecessor; perhaps not quite as eclectic, but with a clearer musical identity. Again it defies easy genre pigeonholing, though it does show occasional hints of artists as varied as Goldfrapp and Renaissance. Luna Rossa increasingly feels not so much “Panic Room unplugged” as a separate parallel band in its own right. Yes, with Anne-Marie and Jon as the writers the music is coming from the same place, and there is a bit of musical overlap, but the presentation is quite different. Luna Rossa is stripped-down, with some very raw heart-on-sleeve emotion, with the music revolving around and complementing Anne-Marie’s always remarkable vocals.

Following on from Panic Room’s “Incarnate” at the beginning of the year, Anne-Marie and Jon have now delivered two excellent and very different albums in 2014.

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Luna Rossa, The Borderline

Anne-Marie Helder at The Borderline

Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards of Panic Room launched their acoustic side-project Luna Rossa in 2013 with the release of their début album “Sleeping Pills and Lullabies”. They made their first live appearances earlier in the year as a duo, playing support slots and acoustic stages at festivals. To mark the release of their second album “Secrets & Lies” Luna Rossa’s have embarked on their first short headline tour. For these dates they’re performing as an expanded four-piece band, with Andy Coughlan on double bass and Sarah Dean on celtic harp and backing vocals, both of whom also appeared on the album.

For Saturday’s gig in Cardiff, Sarah Dean played a short solo set of harp-driven folk-prog, which at times made her Celtic harp sound like the folk equivalent of a Chapman Stick. In contrast the opening act at The Borderline on Sunday was the four-piece Sky of Green, playing semi-acoustic west-coast rock featuring Anne-Marie’s brother Robert Helder playing some superb psychedelic lead guitar.

Luna Rossa’s eclectic influences makes their music difficult to classify. Without drums or electric guitars it’s not quite rock as such, and through there are elements of jazz, folk, and even classical music, none are strong enough to be defining. There are moments that echo Led Zeppelin’s acoustic side, but that’s just one aspect of many. But though the presentation is different, much of the music still comes from the same place as Panic Room, with an emphasis on Anne-Marie Helder’s distinctive approach to melody.

Andy Coughlan with Luna Rossa at The BorderlineIn contrast to the Cardiff show, where the band battled with technical gremlins and Sarah Dean’s harp sometimes got lost in the mix, Sunday night’s show at The Borderline benefited from a much better sound and a far more confident performance. The headline-length set took in most of both albums, including covers of The Magnetic Fields’ “Book of Love” and Todd Rundgren’s “Tiny Demons” alongside original numbers that went from hauntingly beautiful to bizarrely quirky.

Jon’s piano and Anne-Marie’s always remarkable voice are still the heart of the sound, but the two additional musicians add an extra richness. Some arrangements are interestingly different from the studio recordings, with Andy Coughlan’s bass replacing violin or electric guitar parts, for example his bowed double bass parts on “Heart on my Sleeve” or soloing on “Dark Room”. “Mad About You” took on a jazz flavour with Andy Coughlan on electric bass and Jon Edwards cutting loose with an extended piano solo. Only “Gasp” towards the end of the set resorted to a backing iPod for the strings and layered vocal harmonies, an essential part of the song that couldn’t otherwise be reproduced live.

Sarah Dean with Luna Rossa at The BorderlineThey ended with what might be the strangest song Anne-Marie Helder has ever written, surpassing even Panic Room’s “I Am A Cat”; “Happy Little Song”, featuring synchronised whistling, clucking, and a few bars of “Entry of the Gladiators”, sounding like the theme song from a surreal 1970s Czech children’s TV programme. It was a light-hearted and entertaining way to end a superb and varied set.

While it was initially disappointing that Panic Room were unable to play any live shows in the second half of the year because of drummer Gavin Griffiths’ commitments with Fish, this short Luna Rossa tour certainly makes up for it. But it’s not so much a lesser version of Panic Room as completely different project with its own distinctive strengths, stripped-down intimacy rather than full-on rock.

There is one remaining date, at Bilston Robin 2 on 9th November, and this is not to be missed.

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Luna Rossa Album and Tour

Luna Rossa

Luna Rossa are now taking pre-orders for their second album “Secrets and Lies“, following on from last year’s superb “Sleeping Pills and Lullabies”. As well as the all-round talents of Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards it also features guest musicians including Tim Hamill on guitar, Sarah Dean on Celtic harp, Andy ‘Wal’ Coughlan on double bass and the Luna Rossa String Quartet.

The band are also embarking on a short tour at the beginning of November.

  • Cardiff The Gate, Saturday 1st Nov
  • London The Borderline, Sunday 2nd Nov
  • Bilston Robin 2, Sunday 9th Nov
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