It was a bit of a last-minute decision to go to this gig, following the cancellation of the Cambridge Rock Festival’s Springfest due to the weather. I may not have been the only one. With the huge crowd milling around outside when I arrived, it was one of the best-attended gigs I’ve seen at The Peel. A lot of the south-east’s prog glitterati were there; several of Touchstone and Crimson Sky, guitar-loop maestro Matt Stevens, and even the drummer from Praying Mantis. As well as what seemed like half of Twitter.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Tinyfish live. Last time was the now-infamous CRS Octoberfest way back in 2009. They proceeded to play an enthusiastic set of highly melodic song-orientated progressive rock interspersed with their distinctive spoken-word interludes from poet and “audience-frightener” Rob Ramsay. The latter reminded me a lot of “Fact and Fiction” era Twelfth Night. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but it is something that makes them distinctive, and Rob Ramsey has the dramatic presence to make it work. They drew heavily from their most recent album “The Big Red Spark”, from which the title track was a particular highlight.
I loved the band’s laid-back unpretentious style, exemplified by Leon Camfield’s line about his drumming being “like a clown ambling through a minefield”. Unusually for a prog band Tinyfish don’t have a keyboard player, relying on a mixture of programming and strange guitar effects whenever unguitarlike sounds are required. The folk-style fiddle sound coming from Jim Sanders’ guitar at the end was particularly effective. A nice set, and I’d have liked to have heard them play for longer.
DeeExpus are another band I haven’t encountered for some time; the last time I saw them live was again in 2009, supporting Touchstone at The Wesley Centre in Maltby. The band started out as a studio-based project from multi-instrumentalist Andy Ditchfield and singer Tony Wright. Now they’re a six-piece, who in the manner typical of the prog scene at this level includes people who are also members of numerous other bands.
They played heavy neo-prog that reminded me a lot of Grey Lady Down a few weeks before. Unfortunately they suffered from a rather muddy sound, with the vocals in particular not coming through clearly. I was told afterwards that the sound was actually better in the bar. There was much shredding from new guitarist Michael McCrystal, who sported an impressive 1980s-style perm and gave the impression he’d escaped from Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records. Credo/Landmarq keyboard player Mike Varty, standing in on a temporary basis for Marillion’s Mark Kelly, indulged in some very 80s-Marillion style solos. Henry Rogers, now also in Touchstone contributed some very powerful drumming. The downside was that all the undoubted instrumental prowess didn’t quite compensate for material that was a bit ordinary in places, and I found my attention wandering at times. To be fair the poor sound didn’t help them in that regard. Still, the set picked up towards the end, and did come to a strong finish with the last couple of numbers.
The whole evening felt close to a double headliner rather than traditional band-with-support. The number of Tinyfish t-shirts in evidence and way the crowd had thinned out noticeably by the time DeeExpus came on stage suggested that a lot of the audience had really come to see to see the support. While the headliners had their moments, for my money Tinyfish were the band of the night.