Tag Archives: The Peel

Tinyfish/DeeExpus, The Peel, 27th April 2012

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.

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Panic Room, The Peel, 26th Feb 2011

I hadn’t originally intended to write a review of this gig, having already reviewed two earlier gigs on this tour. But in the end the gig was such a blinder I just couldn’t let it go without mentioning it.

Support was Matt Stevens, the “one man wall of sound”. I’ve known him through Twitter (he’s a friend of former Panic Room bassist Alun Vaughan) and seen him before, supporting the John Lees Barclay James Harvest last November. He plays looped guitar, playing acoustic guitar through loops to build up a bigger sound; he’ll typically play a chord progression, loop it, then solo over the top. It’s remarkably effective, and far more interesting as a support than the often mediocre singer-songwriters who are all-too-common as supports for gigs at this sort of level.

Panic Room were good at York, but tonight they were just at another level, and the band simply blew the roof off. Everything I’ve said about their gigs two weeks ago is still true, only more so. Without a strict curfew there was time for a couple of extra songs, so we got to hear the bonkers “I Am A Cat”, and “Go!”, neither of which were in the set for earlier gigs. The two new songs, “Song for Tomorrow” and “Promises” are already starting to lodge themselves in the brain, and the former has all the makings of a Panic Room classic.

Good crowd too; the place was at least three-quarters full, and everyone was really enthusiastic for the music. None of the loud talkers or oblivious drunks who marred the last London gig at the O2 Academy 2. And, as Anne-Marie herself said from the stage, it’s great to be in a proper rock venue, not some place that turns into a nightclub seconds after the band finish.

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Panic Room/Chris Johnson, The Peel, 27th March 2010

Anne-Marie Helder

The first time I went to see Panic Room at The House of Progression almost exactly two years ago, I never got to see them play. A power blackout plunged the entire neigbourhood into darkness twenty minutes into support band Jump’s set, forcing the curtailment of the gig. I even got a message on Twitter from one of the band remind us to bring some coins for the meter!

Since then, I’ve seen them quite a few times, the most recent being at The Duchess in York at the beginning of the month. Tonight, as at that show, Chris Johnson provided the support. Solo acoustic acts can be a bit hit-and-miss; without the power of a full band the set must stand or fall on the strength of the songs alone. Fortunately Chris Johnson has the songs, quite a few of which were already familiar. Stripped-down versions of songs from Parade’s excellent “The Fabric” made up a big chunk of the set, complete with that really nasty additional verse of “The Dogs” about hoping for the subject’s death and following the coffin. And I thought Chris was a nice person! He also treated us to a great version of “Gaze”, one of the songs Chris wrote for the second disk of Mostly Autumn’s “Heart Full of Sky”.

Panic Room have come a long way since the very first time I saw them, a week before that ill-fated power cut gig. They’re now amazingly tight, and with a high proportion of rockers in the set the energy level stays high. If you only know Anne-Marie Helder for playing a supporting role in Mostly Autumn it’s a revelation seeing her front her own band. She has a tremendous stage presence and her powerful and impassioned lead vocals easily the equal of any other female vocalist in the prog scene. The rest of the band put in superb performances too, for me it was the rhythm section of Alan Vaughan and Gavin Griffiths who really stood out on this night. The band now draw almost the entire set from their second album “Satellite”, including several songs from the EP “Little Satellite” that came with the limited edition release of the album, and it says a lot for the strength of the new material the whole of it comes over live so well. The ominous “Dark Star” with Jon Edwards’ Hammer House of Horror keyboards was one of many high spots, as was the rocked up version of Anne-Marie’s powerful solo song “Blood Red Sky”, and set closer “Apocalypstick”, one of only a couple of songs from their first album to remain in the set.

They’re on tour again in the Autumn, and are well worth seeing.

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Panic Room, Swansea and London

I started my live music for 2009 with two gigs on two nights by the same band, in two completely different cities.

While Friday night’s gig in Swansea was really a warm-up for the high-profile London show the next day, it also featured a one-off guest appearance from violinist Liz Prendegast, who’d played on several songs on the album “Visionary Position”.

The Garage is quite a nice little venue; capacity of perhaps 200, although it was nowhere near full. Unfortunately the gig did suffer from a disappointingly high level of background chatter which was noticeable during the quiet bits. And everyone hung at the back of the room despite Anne-Marie Helder trying to persuade people to move forward.

Panic Room’s set suffered badly from technical glitches, the worst of which was Anne-Marie’s microphone not being switched on at the very beginning, resulting in a false start to ‘Electra City’. But the band managed to rise above the gremlins, and played an entertaining and varied set lasting not far short of two hours. While they played some  favourites from their debut album, such as the atmospheric epic ‘Endgame’ and the arabesque ‘Apocalypstick’, those amounted to something like a third of the set.

Some of the newer material they’d been playing at the end of last year have already become live favourites, such as the spiky guitar-driven rocker ‘Go’ and the industrial-sounding ‘Black Noise’, and they added another couple of brand new songs for their first live airing; of those ’5th Amendment’ was the most impressive.  Anne-Marie did her customary mid-set acoustic solo spot, of which the a cappella ‘Hadditfeel’ was the highlight. They ended with their groove-orientated cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘No Quarter’, including a few bars of ‘Kashmir’ for good measure. When she joined them on stage, Liz’s electric violin added an extra dimension to the sound, especially on the ‘Apocalypstick’ and ‘No Quarter’. I’d love to see her accompany the band for a whole tour.

Saturday’s gig at The Peel was the replacement for the show in April cancelled due to power failure, and this rescheduled gig attracted the largest crowd I’ve seen at a Panic Room gig to date, while I don’t think they quite sold out, the place was pretty much full. Support was prog veterans Jump, who delivered a highly entertaining set; a band I’m getting to like more and more every time I see them. John Dexter Jones is a great frontman; while he looks a bit like Morrissey,  he sounds more like Fish; you can certainly hear the influence of both Marillion and Fish’s solo material in their sound.

Panic Room then delivered the best performance I’ve seen them play to date. Playing a shorter set than the previous night, they went pretty much full tilt all the way through, high energy levels, fantastically tight, and hugely appreciated by the crowd.

What I love about this band is that while they’re all clearly virtuoso musicians, they always play exactly what the songs need and no more; they never descend into the sort of self-indulgent noodling that ‘prog’ is all-too frequently accused of.  And I think the fact that I’ve got several of their new songs stuck in my head means they’re capable of writing memorable songs that ought to appeal to mainstream audiences. And after many years as a backing singer to Rachel Jones in Karnataka and Heather Findlay in Mostly Autumn, Anne-Marie Helder proves she’s in the same league as either of them when it comes to fronting a band herself.

Their next gig is in Stocksbridge near Sheffield in March.

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Twelfth Night – The Peel, 17th May 2008

After their triumphant return to the live stage last year, 80s neo-prog veterans Twelfth Night are back for more.

(Photo © Jane Vincent, used with permission)

I caught the second of their two UK dates, at The Peel in Kingston. Not completely sold out, but the place seemed pretty packed. If this gig didn’t quite match the incredible atmosphere of the comeback at Deptford gig last year, the performance from the band themselves was on another level entirely. Gone was the hesitant start in the first half; this time the whole band were firing on all cylinders right from the very beginning. They didn’t look like a band who were playing only their fourth gig in twenty years. It was clear the band were really enjoying themselves on stage, Andy Sears prowling the stage like a demented uncle, showing incredible depth and range as a vocalist, both with his own later material, and his interpretations of the older songs by the late Geoff Mann. Andy Revell reeled off some incredible solos, and multi-instumentalists Clive Mitten tripled up on guitar, keys and prog-style lead bass. And yes, there was more than one bass solo.

The setlist was much the same as last year, with the bulk of the set coming from the Geoff Mann years. It’s difficult to point out the high spots from their two-hour set. The “Ceiling Speaks” makes for a dynamic opener, “Blondon Fair” never sounded more sinister and menacing, Andy Sears’ solo piano version of “First New Day” was spine-tingling and the epic “Sequences” was flawless. As last year, the second half of the show was taken up with the Fact and Fiction album played right through in it’s entirety. As Clive Mitten said at the beginning, this is prog-rock, and playing a concept album right the way through without any breaks or announcements is a very prog thing to do, right from the choirboy singing the falsetto parts of “We are Sane” to the Gilmouresque guitar wig-out at the end of “Creepshow”. They ended, of course, with the final encore of “Love Song”.

Easily in my top three or four gigs of the year, and unquestionably the best which didn’t feature female lead vocals. Whether this short run of dates is a one-off, or whether we’ll get to see them again is still an open question.

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