Tag Archives: Mermaid Kiss

Breathing Space/Mermaid Kiss – The Robin, Bilston, 7-Sept-08

This was the eleventh time I’ve seen Breathing Space live, and the seventh time this year.

It’s amazing how far this band have come since I first started following them; I first saw them live playing in a pub in York last February; that night wasn’t a terribly good gig, as they struggled with serious technical and sound problems, but I could see they had potential. Towards the end of last year they released the superb album “Coming Up For Air” which surpassed my expectations. Then at a small club in Mansfield this June they played an absolutely spellbinding gig which for me was the point where it became clear they were playing in the same league as their fellows in the ‘York/Swansea scene’.

Bilston continued this progress. Having seen some small crowds at Breathing Space gigs I wondered what sort of audience they’d attract on a Sunday night. But while the place was by no means full, they pulled a healthy sized crowd.

As at the Mansfield gig, the support was a semi-acoustic set from Mermaid Kiss, this time playing as a four-piece without Jon Edwards on keys. While they were good, I didn’t think they quite had the edge they’d had the last time I saw them; the sound was a bit muddier and I missed Jon’s keys. Still, Evelyn Downing was on fine form, even though her distinctive vocal style is not to everyone’s taste, and Wendy Marks’ assorted woodwinds gave some excellent backing.

Breathing Space’s performance was up to the standards I’ve come to expect, everyone on top form as usual.  With only two albums worth of songs, there wasn’t much in the way of real surprises in the setlist (No return of “Shades of Grey”), except for the live première of a new song, “Butterflies and White Feathers”.   Difficult to judge on one listen, but it’s an atmospheric beginning and some great Hammond organ at the end.  It’s interesting different from anything they’ve done before, while still sounding like Breathing Space.  It augers well for their next album, which they plan to record next April.

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American Images

Mermaid Kiss explain their concept behind their current work-in-progress album American Images. Yes, they’re a prog band – an album’s got to have a concept.

Although I have never been to America, I have a good idea of what it’s like. In my head are cities, deserts, buttes, mountains, canyons, houses, cars, people, lakes, rivers, lots of empty space. And roads. Especially roads.

Evelyn’s never to been to America either. I harbor a desire to sling a couple of guitars in the back of a beat up Buick (it wouldn’t have to be a Buick, anything distinctly American would do) and play our way across the USA, taking our time, stopping off whenever and wherever we feel – staying as much as possible on the back roads where we believe the real heartland of America lies.

This fantasy, is, of course, fueled by watching far too many US road movies with evocative soundtracks… As we planned our imaginary journey from picturesque Boston to the bright lights of New York, down via the Appalachian Mountains where time stands still, and on to the steamy South (ours is to be no straight ‘coast to coast’ trip), it dawned on us that the America we were driving through is the America of films and of music – an America uncorrupted by reality.

They’ll be telling me they’ve never actually been to Etalis next.

I’ve only been to America on business trips to Atlanta, GA, back in the days before George Bush and the War on Terror. I have no desire to go there now. To me, America resembles a gigantic version of Milton Keynes. Not quite sure if that’s quite what Mermaid Kiss are after.

On the other hand, what about the HO-scale Americas built by various Americanophile railway modellers in Britain?  I’m thinking of things like the small crumbling small prairie town of Godinez, Iowa, featured in the July issue of Continental Modeller.  Or all those grain elevators (every layout seems to have one).

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Breathing Space + Mermaid Kiss, Mansfield, 24-May-08

I’ve been to some funny places for gigs this year. Last time I saw Mermaid Kiss was supporting Panic Room in a village hall in Gloucestershire. This time it was a working mens club in Nottinghamshire, walls covered in posters for dodgy tribute bands.

Seeing the low ceiling I feared the worst for the sound quality, but once Mermaid Kiss took the stage my fears proved unfounded; the sound was pretty-near perfect. They had the same semi-acoustic lineup as at Lydney, acoustic guitar and no drums, which means they can’t play some of the rockier material from the albums, but a lot of the more atmospheric came over well. Much of the set was similar to April’s gig, with several new songs from their as-yet unrecorded next album. High spot was an absolutely mesmerising “Seattle”, sung totally solo by Evelyn Downing.

And then Breathing Space came on and played an absolute blinder, certainly the best headline set I’ve ever seen them play, helped by the same crystal-clear sound. Something like a two-hour set, playing practically all of their superb “Coming Up for Air”, several songs from the first album, and three Iain Jennings-penned Mostly Autumn favourites. I have to say it was strange hearing Breathing Space playing “Distant Train” the night after hearing the Mostlies playing the same song at Bury Met (And I’m not going to get into arguments over which version was the best!). “Hollow” was lovely; Olivia Sparnenn has made that song her own now. So was the encore “The Gap is Too Wide”; in both cases they had to be the best live versions of those songs I’ve heard. Their own songs came over at wonderfully well too; with some interesting takes on arrangements in places, such as John Hart’s wind synth replacing the slide guitar on “Don’t Turn a Blind Eye” and the extended jazzy instrumental section in “Head Above The Water”. It’s difficult to find anything to say about Livvy Sparnenn and Iain Jennings I haven’t said before, they were both on great form. But I do have to say I’m finding myself liking Mark Rowan’s guitar playing more and more. He’s not flash, but his playing is always exactly what the songs require, never playing a note more than is needed, whether it’s the fluid soloing on the title song of “Coming Up for Air” or his really simple but amazingly effective solos on the big soaring ballads.

Two great bands, nearly three hours of great music. It’s a crying shame that they played to such a tiny audience, something like fifty people. Surely this beats watching the Eurovision Song Contest on the telly?

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Panic Room/Mermaid Kiss, Lydney

I never did get to see the original incarnation of Karnataka live; with impeccably bad timing I discovered their music just at the time the band split. While four members of that band soon regrouped as Panic Room, it would be another three years before they went back on the road for a long-awaited tour, starting at the Town Hall in Lydney, Gloucestershire.

Lydney is not exactly the rock and roll capital of the universe. In the late afternoon, Arriva Trains Wales delivered me to an unstaffed railway station called “Lydney”, surrounded by fields. Before the infamous Dr Beeching this station went by the name of “Lydney Junction”, where you could change to a branch-line train which might have taken you to the town itself. With no sign of anything resembling a taxi to be seen, it meant a lengthy walk through the Gloucestershire countryside to my B&B, which, although only a mile from the venue, turned out to be in the next village, a picture postcard place called Alyburton.

The Town Hall is on the road into the town. I knew I’d come to the right place when I bumped into the No 1 Mostly Autumn fan, Aniel Jangra. One of the next people I met turned out to be Jamie Field of Mermaid Kiss, who recognised me from my MySpace photo! After meeting HippyDave in the pub next door where I’d gone in search of food, we proceeded to the 300-capacity hall.

Support band Mermaid Kiss played what they described as a ‘semi acoustic’ set. The five piece band included keyboards and bass, acoustic guitar and assorted woodwinds, but no drums, and included Panic Room’s Jon Edwards on keys, who was on stage the entire night. The stripped-down arrangements certainly gave lead singer Evelyn Downing’s voice the opportunity to shine. Their confident set, including some songs from their most recent album “Etarlis“, the only album of theirs I’d previously heard, a few older songs, and some new material written for their next album, a concept album based on a journey across a mythical America.  With further support slots for both Breathing Space and The Reasoning in the coming months, we’ll be seeing and hearing more of this band, and that’s something worth looking forward to.

When I heard Panic Room’s excellent album “Visionary Position“, one of my first thoughts was “How on Earth will they reproduce that live?”. The album is a rich, multilayered work, with important contributions from guest musician Liz Prendegast on electric violin on several songs. Not that I should have worried; the simplified live arrangements, though harder-edged and more guitar-driven, still do the songs justice. The band were amazingly tight considering this was their first ever live appearance as Panic Room, and Anne-Marie Helder was fantastic as a lead vocalist. While I’d never really had any doubts about her abilities as a singer, this was still the first time I’d seen her fronting a band rather than playing solo acoustic sets or performing as an instrumentalist.

As for the setlist, they played the whole of Visionary Position, with Paul Davies’ guitar taking the place of those violin lines on songs like ‘Apocalypstick’. Filling out the set were two impressive-sounding new songs, “Into the Fire” and “Go”, a couple of Karnataka oldies and a short solo interlude from Anne-Marie while the rest of the band took a break. Final encore was an amazing Led Zeppelin medly, incorporating a groove-orientated cover of “No Quarter” and a few bars of “Kashmir”.

Panic Room have certainly started their live career with a bang.  I hope I don’t have to wait another three years to see them again.

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Mermaid Kiss – Etarlis

There seem to almost as many British female-fronted progressive bands as there are symphonic metal bands on the continent. I first heard of this band from a discussion on the Mostly Autumn forum, where it was recommended strongly enough that I ordered the album. After a few spins, it turned out to be a very worthwhile purchase indeed.

“Etarlis” is actually Mermaid Kiss’s third album. According to the liner notes, the songs are inspired by a fantasy adventure written over the years by Jamie Field and Evelyn Downing. It’s an epic tale of heroism and war rather than a parochal tale about fights outside the chip shop.

The keyboard-led music is strongly atmospheric and pastoral, with sparing use of lead guitar, significant use of flute, supplemented in places by oboe and cor anglais. The haunting melodies come from two distinctively different lead vocalists; Kate Belcher’s pure tones contrasting with Evelyn Downing’s more expressive style.

The closest musical reference point is probably the original incarnation of Karnataka, indeed Jonathan Edwards, formerly of Karnataka and now The Panic Room makes a guest appearance with a keyboard solo on ‘A Sea Change’. Troy Donockley.adds some uilleann pipes on the same track.

If you’re into celtic/ambient progressive rock with female vocals, you won’t go wrong by getting hold of this album. It’s available from the band’s website, www.mermaidkiss.co.uk.

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