My satnav had decided to ignore the M40 and instead brought me down the M4 and through Wales to get me to Lydney for the Summer’s End progressive rock festival. So that was £6.20 I could have avoided spending if I had realised what was going on. It also meant I arrived at Whitemead far later than planned to meet up with everyone, though thankfully still in time to give the promised lift down to the venue.
And so the wait for the actual, real, factually-correct door-opening time began. We went to the pub next door for a drink and came back to find people going inside. Maybe we should try that trick more often. We only got so far as The Merch Desk, which may have been a cunning plan, but at least we got our weekend wristbands.
Once we did get into the hall Lambsie was there on stage to tell us, “There’s a raffle tonight.”
The music taps in at 1930 as Unto Us return to Summer’s End, still having not quite finished the album. They come on stage and I notice that Dave Roelofs is on drums, which I am not sure I was expecting even if it is a very pleasant surprise. Huw Lloyd-Jones prowls in the way that only he can as a melodic sound grows into Tower Of Babel. It moves along gradually, power progressive metal mixing with electronica, and feels like it has a fuller sound than the times I have heard it before. Alex White’s keyboard sound really comes through as Huw sings into the growing track with deep vocals, and the track thumps away, pulsing, as Tom Ennis’ guitar cuts through and it drives on as the keyboards rise higher. It holds as Lee Blu-Sky’s bass thumps hard, then the keyboards give us more electronica, while the drums tap, still holding us, and it feels really tight. The guitar echoes as the vocals come back in, the sound grows and breaks out large and circling, the guitar developing around it. The track holds again as the keyboards and guitar combine, before growing and kicking away rolling hard, swirling and atmospheric behind Huw’s forceful vocals, the guitar flying now as the fuller sound drives into a sharp end. What a way to start the festival ! They follow it with Boy as high guitar edges in. The song shuffles along with a sharp edge to it, a deep sound under the high guitar. For me, this track really suits Huw’s voice. Then the song explodes open before settling, then blasting out again, nicely complex in its variety. It closes with a piano sound and it has all been rather epic.
Huw introduces the band, including the new and yet very familiar drummer (Dave Roelofs) who has come in on one week’s notice. A musical box sounds leads in to the next song, In A Lifetime, and Huw sings along to that sound before the track opens up and flows, easing along as a ballad before blasting out and rocking. It becomes very heavy and driving, more of the progressive metal side, before it changes again and soars. The Human Landscape (title of the new album) is instrumental to begin with and grows out of that and leads into These Four Walls. It all sounds very epic in a great way, and I really need the album so that I can hear the tracks again and properly absorb them. Plan B is the last song and bites in with hard riffs, before driving away with that heavy riff pounding out, and the sound rises as Huw’s vocals soar. It holds for the keyboards to develop as the guitar strums through. The crowd clap along as it grows and blasts away, the guitar screeching higher as the massive sound powers to a crashing end. All in all that was a very satisfying set and it is interesting to hear how the songs are developing – now bring out the album !
You can see more of my photographs from their set here.
Haze arrived at the venue on time, which is something I am not used to having followed them since the early 1980s. Having said that, guitarist Paul McMahon tells us Lydney is a long way from Sheffield and only a few hours ago he was waiting to pick the drummer up from school. The drummer is his son, Daniel McMahon, aged 15, who I had seen put in an excellent performance at The Peel in August. Bassist Chris McMahon mentions that flautist Ceri Ashton used to be the young one in the band, but Daniel is half her age. Anyway, they open with one from new album and it is the title track, The Last Battle, with its stately sound which is a nice mixture of English medieval sounds and blues, its catchy hook and great vocals from Paul.
It drives to a fading close and as Ceri goes off the stage they carry on into The Ember, which bounces away with piercing guitar and still sounds great after all these years. Chris comes from behind his keyboards to centre stage, barefoot – it must be a Prog thing – and there is real life in their performance. Ceri comes back on for Over The River, which has a melodic opening as the guitar circles and Paul sings, with some flute and then piano. It really does have some wonderful bursts of sound. “Just when you thought the average age could not get any lower,” says Paul, and Catrin Ashton comes on to the stage to add another flute, while carrying her and Paul’s sleeping daughter in a sling on the front of her. I had seen her in the audience earlier without recognising her, and had noticed the massive pair of ear defenders being worn by the baby.
And now we were in for some Icelandic folk with Balder And The Mistletoe, an instrumental with flute and tin whistle to open, with the guitar and keyboards taking it on, before Chris also adds some acoustic guitar to the reel. It would have been wonderful even without the family evening out that happened up on stage ! They continue straight on into The Barrister And The Bargast, a brilliantly thumping bit of folk rock with the excellent swapping of the vocal parts between Chris and Paul. It really is a fun song, and Ashleaze seemed to enjoy the lyrical content enough to come and mention that to me, so I pointed out I am a solicitor and not a barrister. Apparently, I have an answer to everything. Long, Long Gone blasts away and drives hard, and is as good a piece of classic rock as you will hear. They ease into The Edge Of Heaven, which was a World Turtle song, and it gradually builds with the keyboards, before tapping away and easing along with a beautiful sound and a comforting feel, the flute really adding to that sound and feel. It cuts into a piercing guitar part which builds and then soars out, before the track settles again to flow on to close. Anyway, I thought so ! Chris confirms that The Red Room is from ‘old’ Haze, but they never did a studio recording of it, which is why it appears on the new album, so that puts my mind to rest on that point because at the gig at The Peel I thought it sounded familiar. It blasts away with some masterful drumming from Danny.
Chris says, “This one is called Survive,” and there is a lone clap from the back of the hall. I presumed it would have been Trace, but it turns out there was someone else at the back wanting some of the older material too. Eastern themes take us into Dragon Fly, and this is a song which I am really enjoying at the moment. It swirls around the flute sounds before it breaks open and the keyboards drive it forward and it rocks hard with a great guitar sound. The sounds really flood in for the epic Seven Stones, and there is some wonderful interplay between the flute and the keyboards as it rattles along. The Vice crashes away flying all over the place and then pounding with the drums leading it. It bursts open and races to close a set which has been full of variety, enthusiasm and energy, and looking around the hall it has gone down very well indeed.
You can see more of my photographs (annotated by Chris McMahon) from their set here.
I had seen Sylvan before, a few years ago when they played support to a Pendragon gig at Leamington Spa, and I had enjoyed their set then. I had also had a close encounter with their bassist, Sebastian Harnack at a Blind Ego gig at The Peel,
so was looking forward to their performance tonight. And it really was tonight by the time they came on to the stage. Now, one thing I must confess is that I do not know their music so very well, which means as I did not see a setlist I can only guess at the names of the songs they played. Anyway, it all blasts away once they come on to the stage and it rocks hard. The track gradually comes to a pause and moves on in phases, full of emotion, angst, which really suits the vocals of Marco Gluhmann. The song is truly epic and as it comes to a close it deservedly gets a huge roar from the crowd. Marco tells us that the last few days have consisted mainly of driving, being on a ship, not sleeping, but it is “fantastic to be here and I would like to sleep tonight.”
The next track edges in with a melodic sound before it breaks open and drives away with a very solid feel. I am already enjoying the close play between Sebastian and drummer Matthias Harder (and what a perfect name for a drummer !), and a big part of what the band does comes from Volker Sohl’s keyboards, with his piano sound taking us into the third song. This is another of their songs which gradually grows and wraps you up in its atmosphere before it builds to finish with a screeching guitar solo from Jonathan Beck. Bird sounds open the next song before Marco sings in, and it is very anthemic, full of emotion again and the guitar solo slices through and soars out of the sound. They certainly know how to break open a song, and it comes to a massive finish to huge applause and Marco thanks Jonathan while making the point that he has only been with them six weeks. His excellent performance is even more special when that is taken into account. They blast into Follow Me and it shuffles along, straightforward and very effective.
Marco sits on the drum riser to sing This World, a soft one which he sings with the piano fromVolker and it eases along, gently swaying, before it taps away and develops, leading into another piercing guitar solo. The track continues and goes around again to reprise the solo. There are backing sounds before they blast into Force Of Gravity, which is at once melodic and hard, before it pauses for piano and then Marco sings again to take it on and it moves in phases. The last song of the set is Farewell To Old Friends, the final track from their latest album, Sceneries, and opens with strummed acoustic guitar as Marco sings. It gradually grows and bounces along with a gentle air at times. It then develops a truly majestic feel and as that part comes to an anthemic end they carry straight on with a faster, punchier sound before pausing that part and holding as Marco goes off stage. They develop it some more and it grows once again to drive to a brilliant conclusion and well deserved calls for more. It is 0010 we are allowed one more, so the piano plays in and Marco sings with it. The encore track gradually builds up and blasts open to soar, with a blazing guitar solo to bring their excellent set to a wonderful end.
You can see more of my photographs from their set here.
And then it was off to Whitemead to get some sleep before the Saturday, which I will cover in two separate blogs. The Saturday, not the sleep. Looking back over my notes it appears to have been something of an ‘epic’ day, and I wondered if Saturday would bring more of the same.