Tag Archives: Mr So and So

Best Gigs of 2014

Chantel McGregor at the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival

Unlike almost everyone else, I didn’t get to see Kate Bush’s already legendary shows at Hammersmith in the summer. But I did get to see plenty of other bands, from festivals to free-entry pub gigs, so many in fact that I lost eventually lost count. I do remember nine in thirteen days in December, after which I collapsed in a heap.

These are ten of the best of the year, listed in chronological order save for the gig of the year. Several of them are from festivals, where I’ve highlighted individual sets rather than the festival as a whole.

The Pineapple Thief, HRH Prog, March

The first day of HRH Prog was somewhat patchy, with rather too many rather one-dimensional acts. The Pineapple Thief were the exception, with a magnificently intense set that stood head and shoulders above anyone else on Friday’s bill, including headliners The Flower Kings.

Riverside, O2 Academy, April

Poland’s finest proved they’re every bit as good live as they are on record, the perfect band for anyone still missing Porcupine Tree, but with enough of an identity of their own to sound like any kind of pastiche.

Panic Room, Gloucester Guildhall, April

2014 saw Panic Room back firing on all cylinders again after a somewhat shaky 2013, with the new lineup with then-new guitarist Adam O’Sullivan fully bedded it. They kicked off with an impressive performance at HRH Prog in March, and were on consistently good live form thereafter. It’s hard to single out any one show, but this early one in Gloucester was as good as any.

Magenta, Trinity Live, May

Magenta were only added to the bill of the all-day charity gig very late in the day when Christina’s cancer treatment was progressing well enough to allow her to perform. It’s always remarkable how good Magenta are live considering how infrequently they perform; but this time they completely stole the show. And they deserved it.

Jeff Lorber, Swansea Jazz Festival, June

Most of this years gigs have been prog and metal, so the Swansea Jazz Festival was a change of pace. Among others it featured the veteran trumpeter Dick Pierce, the violin-driven gypsy jazz of Sarah Smith, and the jazz-rock of Protect the Beat. But the highlight of the weekend was Friday night’s set of jazz-fusion from pianist Jeff Lorber. The world of prog contains plenty of virtuoso musicians, but jazz can be on another level.

Mostly Autumn, The Box in Crewe, July

Mostly Autumn have bounced back very strongly after a hit-and-miss 2013, touring to promote the best album they’ve made in years and for the first time playing the new album in full on tour. Despite a fluctuating lineup in the early part of the year due some members’ prior commitments, which saw former flautist Angela Gordon standing in for a couple of gigs, they were back to the sort of live form they displayed in 2011 and 2012. An early highlight was their long-overdue return to Crewe in July.

Mr So and So, Resonance, August

Resonance was a strange festival, with an eclectic mix of bands playing across multiple stages, including a small room tucked away at up at the top of the building. One of the bands in that small room, Mr So and So, were an unexpected highlight, a band who have improved immensely over the past couple of years, with Charlotte Evans coming into her own as a singer.

Chantel McGregor, Cambridge Rock Festival, August

The Cambridge Rock Festival was another highlight of the year, with strong sets from Mostly Autumn, Mr So and So, The Windmill, Cloud Atlas and others. One of the highlights was the guitar-shredding set on Friday from Chantel McGregor, who simply owns the main stage at that festival.

Fish, Reading Sub89, December

Fish had planned to tour the UK in May but was forced to cancel due to Guitarist Robin Boult’s injury. The rescheduled shows in December looked in doubt at one point when the man himself went down with viral laryngitis on the continental leg. But in the end all was fine, and the band were on fire, with a completely new setlist compared to last year, with old favourites like “Big Wedge” and “Incubus” as well as the powerful High Wood suite from his newest album played in full.

It’s hard to narrow things down to just ten, so honourable mentions to Touchstone and IOEarth’s Christmas show in Bilston, The Tangent’s mesmerising performance at Celebr8.3 in Islington, Tarja rocking out the O2 Academy, Steve Rothery at Bush Hall, Opeth’s oldies-heavy set at The Roundhouse, and Alestorm’s booze and piracy in Reading.

It’s even harder to pick the best of the lot, but there can only be one, and this came towards the end of the year.

Marillion, The Forum, December

Even after more than 30 years in the business, Marillion never disappoint live, and their sell-out December Christmas shows were no exception. What was surprising was the number of real oldies they haven’t played for years; “Slàinte Mhath”, “Warm Wet Circles/This Time of the Night” and even “Garden Party” from the Fish era, and several song from “Seasons End” including the magnificent title track. It gave the impression of a band comfortable in their own skins and reconciled with their own past in a way they weren’t a few years back.

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2014 – Part Two

Olivia Sparnenn of Mostly Autumn at the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival

For those who’s tastes run towards progressive rock and metal, Sunday was always going to be the day to be looked forward to the most. Continue reading

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2013 Albums of the Year – Part One

It’s end-of-year list time again, when every music blogger is compelled to go back through the year’s record releases and try to pick out the best of them,

Let’s get the obvious disclaimers out of the way first. This is not intended to be a definitive list of the very best albums released in the year. For starters all preferences are personal and subjective. And secondly and more importantly, it’s restricted to those records I’ve actually had the chance to hear. There are no doubt a great many awesome releases I haven’t heard yet.

After many repeated listens I’ve managed to whittle the list down to 21 (Why 21? Why not?). The fact that it turned out to be very hard to restrict it to just 21 speaks volumes about how great a year it’s been. One or two big names ended up not making the cut.

So, without further ago, here’s the first half of my list,  Had I not abandoned trying to sort them all into meaningful order as an impossible task, they would be 21 down 11. As it is, they’re sorted alphabetically.

Big Big Train English Electric Part Two

English Electric Part 2The second half of English Electric follows in a similar vein to the first, with their very evocative and very English brand of pastoral progressive rock. The storytelling lyrical focus shifts to northern England and the twentieth century with tales of railwaymen, coal miners and shipbuilders, and it all sounds far more authentic than much 80s-style neo-prog.

Black Sabbath13

Black Sabbath 13Neither quite the masterpiece some hoped for nor the trainwreck some feared, the reunion of Ozzy Osborne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler still delivers a very solid piece of work that proves they still have something to say after all these years. If this does prove to be their final album, it’s a worthy addition to their legacy.

The Computers Love Triangles, Hate Squares

The Computers Love Triangles Hate SquaresThe best no-nonsense old-fashioned rock and roll record I’ve heard all year, by a band who sound as as though they have one foot in 1958 and one in 2013, full of short and punchy tunes that hit you right between the eyes. The end result somehow ends up reminding me of some aspects of very early Blue Öyster Cult.

CosmografThe Man Left In Space

Cosmograf - The Man Left In SpaceAn evocative and atmospheric album from multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Robin Armstrong. Though there are guest appearances from Matt Stevens and Nick D’Virgilio amongst others, Robin plays most of the instrumentation from guitars to drums to keys. The haunting title track is a standout, perhaps one of the songs of the year, and there’s a lot to like across the rest of the album.

The Fierce and The DeadSpooky Action

Spooky ActionMatt Stevens and his band in full electric mode mixing progressive rock, post-punk, indie/alternative and metal resulting in the instrumental record of the year. Narrow genre definitions cannot contain this record; it’s the sort of thing that ought to have a huge crossover appeal way beyond the narrow confines of the Prog world.

King BathmatOvercoming the Monster

KingBathmat - Overcoming The MonsterA powerful combination of grungy guitar riffs with progressive rock textures and melodies, sounding like what you might get if you combined Black Sabbath with Spock’s Beard. The end result is a record with a very contemporary feel despite its use of organic 70s sounds, old-school progressive rock reinvented for the 21st Century.

MaschineRubidium

Maschine - RubidiumThe long-awaited début from Luke Machin’s band combines some stunning instrumental virtuosity with a very mature approach to composition. Their complex and ambitious songs are a seamless blend of metal, jazz and rock into, with great use of dynamics and an ear for a good melody. This is the sound of a band from whom we can probably expect great things over the coming years.

Mr So and SoTruth & Half Lies

Mr So and So - Truth and Half LiesThe fruit of a successful Pledge Music project, Mr So and So’s fourth album is by far their most impressive to date. It’s a hugely varied record with some strong songwriting that uses their distinctive dual male/female lead vocals to great effect, and the harder-edged guitar-driven sound strongly captures the power and energy of their live performances.

RiversideShrine of the New Generation Slaves

Riverside - Shrine of the New Generation SlavesRiverside have always been one of Poland’s finest bands, and with the combination of 70s Deep Purple style hard rock riffs and Porcupine Tree style atmospherics they have delivered what might be their best album to date. They may wear their influences on their sleeves to some extent, but they have more than enough creativity of there own to be any kind of pastiche.

Rob Cottingham Captain Blue

Rob Cottingham - Captain BlueA solo album from Touchstone’s keyboard player, aided and abetted by a strong supporting cast including Touchstone guitarist Adam Hodgson and former Mostly Autumn vocalist Heather Findlay. It’s a concept album with a Gerry Anderson flavour, with music reminiscent of Touchstone’s early days, plus the occasional excursion into disco-pop.

Thea GilmoreRegardless

Thea Gilmore – RegardlessAn album of Americana-tinged songs with stripped-down arrangements that emphasise the fragile beauty of the Thea Gilmore’s heartfelt vocals, enhanced this time by a string section to add some extra colour.

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Mr So and So reach their target

Some good news about something I’d previously blogged about. Mr So and So have now reached their Pledge Music target for £20000 for their new album, live DVD and European tour. When people are trying to use the backlash against Amanda Palmer to discredit the very concept of crowdfunding, we must remember success stories like these. Bands like Marillion and Mostly Autumn have been using crowdfunding for years; it’s a successful and mature business model now.

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The Cambridge Rock Festival

My review of the weekend is now up on Trebuchet Magazine, here are a few of my photos from the weekend.

Virgil and the Accellerators at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Virgil and the Accellerators were an early highlight, playing some guitar-shredding electric blues.

The Heather Findlay Band at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Heather Findlay played her first full band gig on a big stage since November last year, and went down a storm.

Sankara at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Sankara, fronted by Gareth Jones, formerly of The Reasoning played the CRS stage, and made a strong impression with their mix of hard rock, metal and AOR.

WInter in Eden at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Winter in Eden, fronted by Vicky Johnson, played an absolute blinder as special guests on the CRS stage.

SIlverjet at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Silverjet. Because first thing in the morning, some back to basics rock and roll is what a festival needs.

Stolen Earth at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Stolen Earth were another band who rose to the big occasion to play one of the best sets they’ve ever done.

Panic Room at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Panic Room did what Panic Room do, which was to blow everybody away. They really should have been far higher up the bill.

Chantel McGregor at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Chantel McGregor delivered another incendiary set, great songwriting and some spectacular guitar pyrotechnics.

Flanborough  Head at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Flanborough Head played some delightful old-school prog. There is nothing quite like a flute solo backed by Mellotron.

Mr So and So at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

Mr So and So impressed me a lot, they came over a lot better than last year.

Touchstone at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival

The mighty Touchstone stormed the stage to deliver an impressive high-energy set.

Olivia Sparnenn of Mostly Autumn

Mostly Autumn, special guests on the Sunday night and playing their first gig since the end of last year did not disappoint.

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Mr So & So launch album fundraising scheme

From the Prog Magazine blog:

Mr So & So, have just launched an ambitious fundraising campaign on the Pledge Music platform. The band are seeking to raise £20,000 to fund their fifth studio album Truths, Lies & Half Lies, as well as a live DVD and a short European tour.

The band have already written nine tracks for the successor to 2009’s self-released Sugarstealer album, including Apophis and You’re Coming Home, both of which have been aired at recent live shows. “This will be a much darker album and a lot weightier than Sugarstealer. The reason that we are trying to raise so much money is so we can at last have a production that really shows off what we can do,” explained guitarist and band co-founder Dave Foster.

Interesting that they’re going down this road rather than the pre-order model that’s now well-established in the progressive rock scene ever since Marillion’s fan-funded “Anoraknophobia” a decade ago (And whenever a more fashionable band does the same thing, always remind them Marillion did it first!). Although it’s a variation on an established theme, it probably goes to show that there’s no longer a one-size-fits all business model for all bands any more.

The amount of money they’re aiming for says far more about the economics of the music business than the frequently inflated numbers you’ll hear from the major labels. I think we can guarantee none of that twenty grand is going to be spent on “flowers and chocolates”.

As for the album title, it’s a very appropriate one for those corporate sock-puppets who are still trying to insist that you can’t record a decent-sounding record without a six-figure advance from a major label, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

As for Mr So & So, they’ll be playing at the Cambridge Rock Festival at the beginning of August, sharing the Sunday bill with Mostly Autumn, Touchstone and Don Airey, on a weekend that also includes Heather Findlay, Panic Room, Chantel McGregor, Halo Blind, Stolen Earth, Caravan, It Bites and Kyrbgrinder. If you love real music played by real musicians rather than over-hyped corporate music, you really ought to be there.

Mr So & So’s Pledge Music page can be found here.

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2011 – Part Three

Sunday began with wall of guitar rock and roll from Empire of Fools, who played some highly melodic hard rock, with plenty of light and shade, with a couple of Deep Purple and Free covers thrown in for good measure. Next up was Final Conflict, the first of many prog-rock acts on the bill. Nothing ground-breaking, but they displayed some tight musicianship with a good groove to many of their songs, and rocked out pretty hard by the end of the set.

Jebo weren’t quite as good; another melodic hard(ish) rock band they started well but soon got a bit predictable. Although good musicians with a great guitar sound, they suffered from weak vocals and a shortage of memorable songs. Crimes of Passion were a little better, but having seen Kyrbgrinder on Friday, their brand of 70s metal came over as very dated by comparison.

Credo, on the other hand, were a lot better. Again, there was nothing stunningly original about their brand of neo-prog, but they did it well. Their combination of very strong melodies, tight playing with a lot of fluid symphonic guitar went down well.

I enjoyed the John Young Band set too. I’ve seen him before as a support act, using just keys and backing tapes and was quite impressed. His full band including former Fish sidesman Robin Boult on guitar opens out the sound a lot more. He played another very prog-flavoured set, although this time more focussed on impassioned songwriting rather than showcasing instrumental virtuosity.

I was starting to suffer from neo-prog overload by the time Mr So-and-So came on stage. Yes, they too were good, but for me they suffered from sounding too similar to the preceding bands on the bill. One significant difference was the presence of Charlotte Evans on vocals, even though she largely sang harmonies and only sang lead on a couple of songs.

Good as many of the previous bands of the day had been, Mostly Autumn were in a completely different league, and it showed. This was the fourth consecutive year they’ve played this festival. Last year they’d headlined, though good, they didn’t really reach the heights that they’re capable of and special guests The Enid rather stole the show. Not so this time around. Now the band have finally manage some lineup stability they’ve been on consistently great form all year. Over the past year and a half Olivia Sparnenn has had time to grow into the role of frontwoman. Two weeks ago they owned the Classic Rock Presents Prog stage at the High Voltage festival in London and won over a lot of new fans; this performance had the same level of intensity, and finally showed the Cambridge Rock Festival just what this band are really capable of.

On form like this their mix of melodic hard rock with celtic-tinged progressive rock makes for a great festival band. The set was a mix of old and new, standards like “Evergreen” and “Heroes Never Die” alongside newer songs like “Deep in Borrowdale” and “Ice”. High spots for me were Anne-Marie’s flute solo in “The Last Climb”, and a very powerful performance of the former Breathing Space epic “Questioning Eyes”. Yes, I know I’m a big fan, and therefore biased, but I’ve seen them enough times to tell a great performance from a merely workmanlike one. That was truly memorable set, for all the right reasons.

Caravan, veterans of the 1970s “Canterbury Scene”, had also played an excellent set at High Voltage. Like Mostly Autumn before them, they were every bit as good as they had been two weeks ago, a superb set of jazz-flavoured progressive rock, keyboard-led with added violin, flute and spoons(!). They pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of sounding mellow yet full of energy at the same time, and lengthy instrumental jazz-rock workouts seldom sounded as good as this. Not that they don’t do pop as well, as the bouncy rendition of “Golf Girl” proved. High point had to be the lengthy “Nine Feet Undergound” played in it’s entirety.

And finally, headliners The Enid. Last year they played a mesmerising set focussing on their rockier material, and while not everyone really got what they were doing, some of those that did felt they were the band of the weekend. This year, accompanied by a male choir and a twelve-piece brass section they went for something a lot more challenging. For the first part of the set, Robert John Godfrey was behind the choir, visible on the large screens but hidden from view when you tried to find him on the stage, which was a little disconcerting. The sound was huge and symphonic, but came over as perhaps just too ambitious for it’s own good. I did get the impression it was the sort of performance, which while good, seemed to me geared more towards the dedicated fan rather than a festival audience. I can imagine a lot of people not familiar with their rather unique blend of rock and classical music struggling to make sense of it all. It certainly didn’t have the energy level than made the closing stages of last year’s set so exhilarating. Perhaps to compensate they closed with their famous “Dambusters March/Land of Hope and Glory” medley they used to play back in the 1980s, to end the set on a high.

And so ended another great festival, probably the best Cambridge Rock Festival I’ve attended to date. Although Saturday turned out to be by far the best of the three days bill-wise, there were more than enough good acts on Friday and Sunday to make the whole weekend worthwhile.

Although it’s never easy to estimate numbers, I thought attendance was well up on last year; certainly the main tent was very full on both Saturday and Sunday nights, and even Thursday night drew a big crowd. It shows a festival doesn’t need big-name headliners to be a success, and provided a far more enjoyable experience than a big corporate festival, a great example of the little niche festivals up and down the country that take place below the radar of the media. And while some may criticise the lineup for being dated and retro, that’s surely part of the appeal; a good festival is one that knows it’s audience. It’s got a great vibe; no rock star egos or VIP areas; you find many of the artists wandering around the site or watching other bands all weekend; I even spotted the lead guitarist of one band enthusiastically playing air-guitar in the front row at one point.

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