Tag Archives: Panic Room

Two Weeks to Go

Just over two weeks to go until the filming of Panic Room’s DVD at Islington Assembly. The music in the video is the title track of the third album “Skin”.

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Panic Room – Ten of the Best

Panic Room at South Street, Reading

Regular readers of this blog (all four of you) will know I’ve written a few “Ten of the Best” features for The Guardian Music Blog. I’ve done entries in the series for Yes, Black Sabbath and Ritchie Blackmore, amongst others, and pitched quite a few more suggestions (And no, I’m not going to say who they’re of, in case the editor comes back and accepts more of those pitches).

These things are fun to write. They’re explicitly “Ten of the best”, rather than “The Ten Best” which leave scope to include the odd personal favourite or overlooked gem at the expense of one or two of the all-too-obvious standards that everyone ought to know anyway.

So how about a Ten of the Best for a band a little closer to home? I’ve chosen an obvious favourite of this blog, Panic Room. Even though they’ve only recorded four albums so far, just about the minimum body of work to qualify for this sort of feature, it’s still a hard choice. They have so many great songs.

So, with no further ado…

Apocalypstick

Panic Room’s début album “Visionary Position” was the sound of a collective of musicians who’d survived the implosion of another band casting around for a new musical direction. It contained an eclectic mix of styles from stripped-down singer-songwriter material to sprawling prog epics. One standout was “Apocalypstick”, with lyrics about Helen of Troy and swirling eastern motifs in the music, featuring spiralling electric violin from guest musician Liz Prendergast. Anne-Marie Helder sounds both seductive and scary at the same time on vocals, which fits the song title perfectly. This was the song, more than any other, that pointed the way forward for the band.

Picking Up Knives

Panic Room’s second album “Satellite” was a far more coherent statement of intent, marking the point where the band found their musical identity, and this song was one of many highlights. Anne-Marie’s lyric takes the perspective of a mother seeing her son getting caught up in knife culture and fearing the worst, with music driven by Alun Vaughan’s propulsive bass riff and Jon Edward’s evocative shimmering electric piano with more than a hint of Ray Manzarek about it.

Dark Star

Panic Room’s music has always contained elements of pop, jazz, folk and metal, and this song, opening with a monstrously sinister organ riff, and with Alun Vaughan channelling Geezer Bulter on bass, represents the band at their most metal. It’s a big, dense wall of sound of a song, and shows the power of Anne-Marie’s voice, in absolutely no danger of being swamped by the instrumentation.

I Am A Cat

The strangest, quirkiest song in the Panic Room songbook, and one that seems to divide opinion. The ode to the archetypal mad cat lady is both humorous and tragic at the same time. Even if not everyone appreciated it, if you’ve ever seen the band include this song in their set, it’s obvious just how much they enjoy playing it live. There is an actual cat credited for additional backing vocals.

Song for Tomorrow

If the band found their voice with “Satellite”, their third album “Skin” took things to the next level. The album’s dramatic opener is a kaleidoscopic journey through much of what makes Panic Room such a great band. It begins with atmospheric keyboard washes, and when played live saw Anne-Marie playing guitar with a violin bow. Then it explodes into spiralling prog-metal guitars, before the guitars drop out for Anne-Marie’s emotive verse. Every member of the band is firing on all cylinders here, including new bassist Yatim Halimi.

Chameleon

Chameleon represents the opposite face of Panic Room’s music, that of sophisticated jazz-tinged adult pop. It demonstrates their versatility as musicians, and it’s a form that suits Anne-Marie’s vocal style especially well. The short solo section at the end features some delightful jazz guitar from Paul Davies. When they play it live nowadays Anne-Marie also throws in a flute solo, though we’ll have to wait for their upcoming live album before we can hear that on record.

Promises

The album “Skin” included a string quartet on several numbers, and they used the strings not just for additional colour but as an extra instrument in the band. The result is powerful arrangement for a very emotive song. Although on record it’s a big cinematic number, but the song works just as well as a stripped-down solo acoustic song, as seen when Anne-Marie supported Steve Hackett a few years back.

Nocturnal

This list contains now fewer than four songs from “Skin”, and to be honest the album is so consistently strong that just about anything from the record could easily have been included. We’ll leave this album with the slow-burning epic ballad that closes the record, starting with Jon’s delicate piano intro and ending with Paul’s evocative slide guitar outtro.

Bitches Crystal

Panic Room have played quite a few covers over the years. In the early days of the band before they’d built up such an extensive songbook of their own material they’d encore with things like Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” or a groove-based arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”. But the only cover they’ve actually recorded was this ELP number, which appears on their “Altitude” EP. It’s one of the rare cases where a cover vastly surpasses the original, rebuilding the song from the ground up and making it their own, reinterpreting it in swamp-blues style.

Dust

Panic Room’s fourth album “Incarnate” saw a change in direction. With Paul Davies leaving the band and new guitarist Adam O’Sullivan coming from a jazz background, the band moved away from wall of sound rock approach of “Skin” in favour of a lighter singer-songwriter style. One highlight is the evocative closing number, quite unlike both the rest of the album and equally unlike anything the band had done before, based around a simple repeating motif that gradually builds in intensity over the song’s seven minutes, and carries on playing in your head even after the last piano notes have faded away.

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Panic Room confirm live DVD gig

Panic Room Live DVD

With the Pledge Music campaign now at 98% of the target, Panic Room have confirmed that the recording of the live DVD is now definitely going to happen, and the band have booked Islington Assembly Hall for a gig on Sunday 16th October. They’ve also extended the Pledge Music campaign for another month to get that final 2%.

The band will be making two other live appearances this year. The first will be at Off The Tracks festival on Saturday 3rd September on a bill headlined by Ozric Tentacles, the second will be a Christmas gig at Bilston Robin 2 on Friday 2nd December.

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Panic Room DVD: Plan B

Panic Room Weekend

So near and yet so far. Panic Room have reached 85% in their PledgeMusic campaign for their live DVD. But the gap is still such that they cannot afford to take the financial risk of hiring a professional film crew to film the show this coming Saturday.

The gig itself is still going ahead, and the band have a Plan B in place

Please don’t despair, because we have worked very hard to put together a strong Plan B for you:

We have decided to KEEP THE PLEDGE CAMPAIGN RUNNING – and in fact we will EXTEND it by a few weeks, so that it will now close at the end of July. (Many Pledge campaigns run for several months, whereas we had aimed for less than 2 months here). We hope that by taking this step, we should hopefully reach our 100% target for sure in the weeks to come!

85% is very close…..

So we DO succeed in hitting 100% in the next few weeks – which we feel confident will happen – we will THEN book a brand new Live PANIC ROOM show for the early Autumn – September / October – and THIS will be the new filming date for the Live DVD to be captured!

So, if you haven’t yet pledged, and you still want to see a Panic Room DVD, now really is the time to do it.

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On Springsteen, Mostly Autumn and Panic Room

Good piece by The Guardian’s Michael Hann on the appeal of a Bruce Springsteen show

I can understand people who just don’t like Springsteen. I was well into my 30s before I could even tolerate much of his music, let alone adore it. And for a first-time attender, a Springsteen show can be a little like attending a meeting of some religious sect – intriguing at first, then slightly terrifying as you realise quite how long it’s going to last. But once the rhythms of the night seep into your soul – as you understand how you are going to be swept up, then brought down, then lifted again; as you come to understand your part in the liturgy – it becomes hard to resist.

I’m not a Springsteen fan myself, but that paragraph somehow sums up what’s so great for me about seeing bands like Mostly Autumn and Panic Room live. Some people wonder exactly why I’ll travel considerable distances and stay in sometimes dodgy B&Bs to see a band they’ve never heard of play before a couple of hundred people.

The comparison with religion is spot-on.

There have been times when I’ve seen Mostly Autumn and been on a high for the rest of the week, to the extent that work colleagues have noticed. It’s not quite the same as Springsteen’s universality, of course. Sometimes it’s knowing more about the backstories of deeply personal songs about love, loss and bereavement than has ever been put in the public domain that gives the music such a powerful emotional punch. And the dynamics of a small intimate club gig where you frequently get to meet the band after the show is different from the electric atmosphere of an arena show. But the parallels are still strong.

What about you? Who is your Sprngsteen, or your Mostly Autumn or Panic Room?

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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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The Panic Room Weekend – Day One

Panic Room Weekend

In addition to their regular gigs of 2016, Panic Room decided to do something rather different and far more ambitious at Bilston’s Robin 2. Taking a similar format to the successful and now legendary Marillion weekends, they booked the venue for two full days. They would play a headline set each night, with an array of support acts all of whom had some connection to the band. With an afternoon start and five sets each day, it amounted to a Panic Room-curated mini-festival.

Things kicked off with a solo set from Alex Cromarty, best known as a drummer in more bands you can count, but here performing as a singer-songwriter. He began with a great cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Dancing in the Moonlight” leading into as set of largely original songs from his forthcoming solo album.

Morpheus Rising have supported Panic Room many times, and were originally planning to play a full electric set. But unfortunately their drummer exploded in a freak gardening accident, or something like that. So Simon Wright and Pete Harwood instead played as a stripped down acoustic duo. It says a lot about the quality of their songwriting that material written for twin guitar metal works in this format, even though Simon’s vocals sometimes came over a little fragile. But the highlights were a couple of completely new songs, both of which came over extremely well. The band have both an acoustic and a new electric album in the pipeline, and at least one of those new songs is to appear on both.

Panic Room Weekend

Shadow of the Sun were a very late addition to the bill. They’ve been away a long time and been through a few changes, with the departure of their original bassist, frontman Matthew Powell now doubling up on bass. and a new second guitarist Matt O’Connell bringing them back to a quartet. Unfortunately Matt couldn’t make the gig for urgent family reasons, so hats off to stand-in Lewis Spencer who came in at very short notice and played what must have been largely improvised lead guitar parts without any rehearsal. Playing a mixture of songs from their four-year old début “Monument” and brand-new material, their blend of metal and alternative rock is still something of a work in progress, though Matthew Powell is considerably less awkward on stage now he has a bass to play. Dylan Thompson is starting to look like a younger Mikhael Åkerfeldt, and the couple of times he launched into solos he sounded a little like Åkerfeldt too. It will be interesting to see how this band develop, and how they sound with their proper guitarist.

Halo Blind are part of the Panic Room family, since both Anne-Marie Helder and Gavin Griffiths were members of the first incarnation of the band, though they’re now one of the many bands with Alex Cromarty behind the drums. They impressed a lot supporting The Heather Findlay band back in April. Tonight saw them lift things to another level in intensity. Again the bulk of the set came from their most recent album “Occupying Forces”, and it was a thing of mesmerising atmospheric beauty, with fragile vocal melodies and swirling effects-laden psychedelic guitar. Anne-Marie guested on “The Dogs” from the first album, which proved one just highlight of many. This had to be one of the best sets they’ve played to date.

Panic Room Weekend

Then it was time for Panic Room themselves for the first of their two headline sets of the weekend. They proceeded to pull out all the stops with a spectacular set including material from across all four albums. There were many of the usual favourites; “Apocalypstick”, “5th Amendment”, the jazzy “Chameleon” with Anne-Marie’s flute solo, and the hard rocking “Hiding the World” An acoustic interlude included the arrangements of “Song for Tomorrow” and “Screens” from the unplugged album “Essence”. They finished the main set with an epic “Nocturnal” before encoring with “Sandstorms” and covers of All About Eve’s “Road to your Soul” and Led Zep’s “Kashmir”. This was a roof-lifting performance even by Panic Room’s standards, and with so many of the regular standards in the set it left you wondering what they were saving for the second night.

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Kiama added to the Panic Room Weekend

Kiama

Panic Room have added Kiama to the bill of the Panic Room Weekend, playing the penultimate set on Sunday 22nd May, joining Luna Rossa, Morpheus Rising, Halo Blind, Sarah Dean, The Dave Forster Band, and of course Panic Room themselves.

Kiama are the supergroup comprising Robert Reed of Magenta, Dylan Thompson of Shadow of the Sun and The Reasoning, Andy Edwards of IQ and Frost*, and Luke Machin of  Maschine and The Tangent.

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Panic Room launch live DVD crowd-funding campaign

Panic Room have announced a crowdfunding campaign for a Live DVD on PledgeMusic, which will be recorded at Islington Assembly Hall on June 18th.

Options range from £22 for the standard DVD though £45 for a signed deluxe editon of the DVD with your name in the credits to all sorts of exclusive extras.

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Panic Room – Start the Sound

Panic Room hit The Flowerpot in Derby and Sound Control in Manchester for the third and fourth dates of their 2016 “Start the Sound” tour. Last year they supported themselves by starting the show with a semi-acoustic set promoting their mostly unplugged album “Essence”, but this time it’s all-electric, with two lengthy sets and a brief interval. Even with no support band there was more than two hours of music, and at Derby especially they pulled a sizeable and appreciative crowd.

For this run of gigs it was close to a greatest hits set, drawing heavily from their strongest album, “Skin” as well as obvious highlights from their other albums, with a focus on the harder-rocking side of the band’s music. “Song for Tomorrow” got the full electric treatment and made a dramatic opener, and the jazz-tinged “Chameleon” with the flute solo was an early highlight. The blues number “Denial” from “Essence” made an appearance, and there was also a welcome return for their imaginative reworking of ELP’s “Bitches Crystal”. The highlight of the set on both nights was the absolutely stunning “Nocturnal”, a song not performed live for several years.

Dave Foster

With Dave Foster now well-enough established in the band it’s almost time to stop thinking of him as the new guitarist; much of his playing was spectacular. He’s starting to put his own stamp on the older songs, and it’s an amazing sight watching his hands fly up and down the fretboard during the solos, especially his shredding on songs like “Apocalypstick”.

After the two-day convention at The Robin 2 in Bilston in May, the band return for six more dates in June including a high-profile showcase gig at Islington Assembly in London. Then they’ll be heading into the studio to work on a new album for the rest of the year. They will be rehearsing a lot more material for the convention, so it’s entirely possible the June setlist will be different, but whatever they play, they’re on such great form at the moment that those gigs are not to be missed.

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