Summer’s End 2013 (Saturday evening) : Lazuli plus Gordon Giltrap & Oliver Wakeman

You can read my review of the Friday from Summer’s End here.

You can read my review of the Saturday afternoon from Summer’s End here.

So we came back from the Prog curry to be greeted by a phalanx of the same tshirt.  It was not the Shineback tshirt which had been so wonderfully prevalent up to now, but rather was a tshirt from a 2005 gig by Gordon Giltrap with the Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra in the Symphony Hall…Birmingham.  So, that could only mean one thing – a whole group of people had turned up especially for the next act.

Gordon Giltrap & Oliver Wakeman

This was billed as Ravens and Lullabies, but if I use that as my heading I am likely to get far fewer hits on Google, so I am using the names of the artistes who put together the album of that name, and around which this evening’s set is to be centred.  And I should probably make the point that I do not have that album or anything by either artiste, which meant this whole set was entirely unfamiliar to me.  So this review should be fun.  It is worth pointing out that although they are not coming on last, this is the headline act for the Saturday and they have a two hour slot.  Naturally, we are behind time, and they kick things off at 1935 with Moneyfacturing, a rocking, upbeat start, an electric band with Gordon Giltrap on acoustic guitar.  And I think I should explain who are in the band.  Well, obviously, there is Oliver Wakeman on keyboards.  And we have Paul Manzi on vocals, who is familiar to me from Arena.  Then we have Steve Anderson on bass and Johanne James on drums, who are also familiar to me from Threshold.  And finally we have Nick Kendall on guitar, who might be familiar to me if I had been to see Rock Of Ages, apparently.  So I know most of the band, even if I do not know any of the songs they are playing.

The band

The band

The next song, which I believe is called Don’t Come Running, is driving away headlong, and, to be honest, I am finding this to be very electric alongside Gordon’s acoustic guitar playing, to the extent that I am wondering why it needs the acoustic guitar at all.  They follow this with a track from the album which was written for Benoit David (of Mystery fame) to sing and From The Turn Of A Card rocks away swaying then holds for Paul to sing with just the acoustic guitar from Gordon before it kicks on.  I will have to listen to the album version because Paul and Benoit are very different singers.  Then we have something from the Mother’s Ruin album and Paul has an acoustic guitar out for this one.  It eases along and is very melodic in bursts, and the Threshold rhythm section are as tight as you would expect them to be.  In fact, the whole band sound so together that it is very hard to believe this is the first gig for them, and just goes to show the level of their talent that they have brought it together so very well.  Elizabethan Pirates is a song from Oliver and Gordon’s acoustic set, but it has been completely rearranged for tonight’s performance.  It is an instrumental which sounds how you would imagine it to sound from its title, and it is great fun.

Gordon Giltrap on acoustic guitar

Gordon Giltrap on acoustic guitar

Anyone Can Fly from the Ravens and Lullabies album was written by Oliver for his baby daughter, and he says of Gordon, “this should allow you to better hear some of the acoustic expertise from his 40 year career,” to which Gordon replies, “Thank you.  This really is care in the community, being up on stage with these young guys.”  It rolls along upbeat and really does allow Gordon to show off his virtuosity.  Oliver, who is clearly running the show, introduces the band, but I did that earlier on in this review.  And now we get one of Gordon’s songs, from his 1979 album, The Peacock Party, and this is called Roots.  It features the band and eases in with crashing cymbals and wailing vocals from Paul, growing in stages, very much an instrumental in layers.

Gordon Giltrap

Gordon Giltrap

Everyone else leaves the stage as Gordon then plays a solo instrumental piece from 1981, called The Dodo’s Dream, and he is using a looping station for this.  He starts with the opening to Stairway To Heaven then goes into the track on his electric guitar, and it was fabulous.  They shift a keyboard into the centre of the stage and Oliver comes back on in a change of costume, saying “I thought I would break out a Yes jacket for you.”

Gordon and Oliver and a Yes jacket

Gordon and Oliver and a Yes jacket

A Perfect Day was written by him the day after he met the lady who became his wife.  It is played by just him and Gordon, as are the rest of the songs in this part of the show, and they are the only ones who remain on the stage.  They continue with Fiona’s Smile, before Oliver considers the life of a rock star and declares, “We’re more likely to decorate a hotel room.”  They move on to LJW, and then The Forgotten King which Oliver did originally with Steve Howe (of The Steve Howe Trio fame), although the first time he went round to Steve’s house to play him the song he forgot to take the disc, and ended up bringing in his keyboard so that he could play it instead.  Then we get Wherever There Was Beauty with Oliver playing the string quartet prelude, and a piano piece from the album, A Mayfair Kiss, which sees just Oliver remaining on the stage, both of which are very lovely.

Oliver Wakeman

Oliver Wakeman

Gordon and Paul come back on for Picture Of A Lady, but as there is now a keyboard in the middle of the stage they have to decide where Paul can stand before they get going.  They bring the others back on for Maybe Tomorrow, which is a soft, gentle one.  The next track is the longest one from the album, Is This The Last Song ?  They follow that with Credit Carnival, and we are rocking along again, and anyone who has seen Paul perform knows that he can really belt out a rocking number.  Before they get to the next song Oliver allows Paul to tell us an anecdote from a session they did for Bob Harris where they were told where to sit, but that meant they had no eye contact so they were out of time with each other and had to rearrange the BBC office.  It is a shame for Paul that Gordon had already told us most of the story earlier on in the set.  Gordon comes in first with a shortened version of One For Billie and then they continue on into Ravens Will Fly Away, which sounds great.  “This is our last track, unless you invite us back,” declares Oliver, before adding, “that was subtle, wasn’t it.  We’ve rehearsed it so you’re getting it whether you like it or not.”  They close with I Don’t Believe In Angels, which rocks away with the crowd clapping along and takes us to a storming finish.  “Do you want us to walk off or just stay ?” asks Oliver, before he introduces the band again.  And it is a special encore because they play the full album version of Heartsong which has not been done for over 30 years and Gordon dedicates it to his wife Hilary.  I do not know the song as such, but it sounds very familiar, and after this set I feel like a lot of what I have heard should become more familiar to me.  I must admit I did not know what to expect and they have delivered something very enjoyable indeed.

A triumph !

A triumph !

You can see more of my photographs from their set here.

A quick changeover to the final act of the day was somewhat hampered by those 2005 tshirts remaining by the stage despite being asked to move out of the way, and I do wonder if they realised or appreciated that it was the next band who were actually bringing in their own gear.

Les roadies

Les roadies

Given the way that they dress, they could have been mistaken for being roadies…

Lazuli

And so we get to the big reason why I had to be at Summer’s End this year, together with a chick O, un deux trois soundcheck that has everyone laughing.

The soundcheck

The soundcheck

I was lucky enough to first see Lazuli at The Night Of The Prog festival in 2009 (when they had a few more musicians in their ranks), and they had such an immediate effect on me that during their first song I rushed off to their merchandise desk to buy their albums before they sold out.  I saw them again at Summer’s End in 2011, and, as expected, they blew everyone away.  So now I was very excited to be seeing them for a third time and had no worries that they would be anything but exceptional.  As it turned out, they were better than that.  Lambsie very quickly announces the results for le raffle, and then some time after the published starting time we get going.  Sounds wobble as we wait for the band to come on.  And finally they do come on through the dry ice and we have the light sound of the marimba being played by drummer Vincent Barnavol against a growing sound from the rest of the band as they build L’Arbre.

Wonderful vocals

Wonderful vocals

The vocals from Dominique Leonetti are smooth as always and note perfect as the song eases along with all the parts coming together, before it blasts away and they bounce and we clap.  It is beyond difficult trying to describe their sound because it is unique, not least because it features the wailing tones of the léode, the instrument invented and played by Claude Leonetti, and that is very prominent in this opening number.

Claude Leonetti and the léode

Claude Leonetti and the léode

They bring it to a close to the biggest cheer of the weekend and carry straight on blasting out Dans Le Formol Au Museum, which really stomps along.  It is worth making the point that they manage to create this sound without having a bass player, and that all the bass sounds are produced with one hand by keyboard player, Romain Thorel, while he plays the keyboard parts with the other hand, all on a keyboard which is slanted forward so that we can see everything he is doing, but leaves us still wondering how he manages it.

Romain and his keyboard

Romain and his keyboard

The song soars along with that massive, melodic, sharp-edged sound they always manage to achieve and finishes to an even bigger cheer.  “We are really, really happy to be here again.  I must make progress with my English,” says vocalist and guitarist Dominique, but he need not worry because we understand him perfectly inbetween the songs, although I doubt many in the crowd understand the songs themselves.  And on that point I realise I have not mentioned something which really charms me with the music of Lazuli, and that is the fact that they sing in French, and it is almost like another instrument in their sound even though my knowledge of French does allow me some understanding of the lyrics.  I know that will not be the case for many in the crowd but that does not seem to matter in the slightest judging by the reaction to every song.

Lazuli

Lazuli

Le Mirroir Aux Alouettes (‘decoy’ or ‘lure’ in English, in case you were wondering) bounces in with some more marimba and a lighter feel.  The wonderful rhythms really come through as it gently builds and there is a brilliant tone to the vocals as the other instrument sounds slide in and out.  It continues to hold itself under control as you imagine it could break open at any moment, instead allowing a striking sound to wail against the rhythm while still remaining controlled and the crowd clap along to the finish.  Guitar sounds circle into Festin Ultime, and the gentle start works very well following on from the previous song in the set.  The vocals become more pointed and after a pause the music has a more sinister feel as it continues and then grows into a soaring sound which becomes more rounded as it drives to a close.  Then they pick things up again and everything is full of power and energy as they pound in with Je Te Laisse Ce Monde.  It is stunning, stunning, stunning and there is more clapping from the crowd, even if Claude seems to be having problems with the léode.  Dominique uses something like a headtorch in his hand for a wonderful effect to bring us into Film D’Aurore as it starts softly with his vocals before the lights explode on as it takes things up a couple more notches in the dramatic stakes before the song gradually builds into a wonderfully complex sound which flows along relentlessly.

Film d'Aurore

Film d’Aurore

They certainly know how to produce a balanced set.  “Don’t believe your watches, it is now twenty to four pm,” says Dominique, and this leads to something of a disagreement in French between him and Claude, so Dominique goes into the crowd to consult with Alison Henderson as the sound holds and ticks before they move on with the brilliant 15h40, which also takes its time to tick to a finish.  They have complete control of the crowd and we would wait for as long as they want us to before the next song, and now they give us another which blasts away with L’Azur.  It holds as it gradually grows and then moves on through a series of bursts of sound, full of life and enthusiasm, into hard riffing before a brilliant guitar sound flows out.  And it must be said that the band look very happy up there, and are joking around with each other too.  Now it is a new song, which the setlist has as Une Pente Qu’on Devale.  Guitarist Gédéric Byarr has his screwdriver, which I have seen him use before, and now he works it on the strings as the song begins.

Gédéric and his screwdriver

Gédéric and his screwdriver

It pounds away upbeat and melodic moving in bursts and with hard edges everywhere as it soars in places.  There is rhythmic clapping from the crowd to open the next one, On Nous Ment Comme On Respire (‘lying through your teeth’), and there are some really mad French horn sounds from Romain to accompany the bouncy rhythm and the whole world music vibe, before it all comes together to screech out and then drive away hard.  How is music like this not getting out to a much wider audience ?  Cassiopee may start softly and have a melodic theme running through it but it is also gritty, hard and heavy, and one of my favourites.  It is an absolute joy to hear it and towards the end it certainly becomes more eerie with the sound of the léode, then breaks open again and drives on.  It finishes with a keyboard part which turns into an extended solo as Claude leaves the stage and Dominique and Gédéric crouch down at the side of the stage to watch and enjoy everything that Romain produces, which is an awful lot more than just a keyboard solo.  He is throwing out melodies and rhythms and seemingly challenging himself to make it ever more complex and as near to impossible as is possible.

En attendant Romain

En attendant Romain

It is no wonder that Dominique greats the finale with a “Respire,” before adding, “It’s never the same thing with him.”  They continue with Ange and then finish off their set with the menacing and forceful Abime.  It creeps up on you and then smashes you every which way with the chorus.  Well, to the extent that something so direct can creep.  It finishes to a roar from the crowd and Lazuli simply have to come back for more.  It does not matter what time it is, this crowd have not had enough and there will be a riot if things are brought to an end now.  Personally, I will be disappointed because they have not played Les Malveillants yet and I have seen it is next on the setlist.  “People have two faces, the one we want to see and the one they show us.”  Yes !  It is Les Malveillants, and I am overjoyed (although we still do not get Naif).  Right from that opening riff it has me gripped, then the vocals come in and it shrieks away and soars, driving on in bursts until it crashes through the soaring chorus.  This is high octane stuff and you cannot help but be dragged along.  It is a storming finish with some superb guitar work to what has been a brilliant set and everyone is on a high.  But they tell Lambsie they are playing another !  He looks helpless and allows them to bring the marimba to the side of the stage for 9 hands around the marimba.

9 hands around the marimba

9 hands around the marimba

They all stand around the marimba and play something magical which includes an excerpt from Solsbury Hill for this performance, while not missing any opportunity to mess around and continue to enjoy themselves despite the lateness of the hour.  A huge thanks must go to Pedro for recording this special moment, and you can see it and enjoy it here.  And then Lambsie is on the stage with a more than worried look on his face as he urges us to leave, “If you want to get the bus then go now,” before he comes out with one of the greatest lines from a Summer’s End ever, “I’m not fucking joking – go now !”

Go now !

Go now !

It was a wonderful note to end on.  Or at least it would be if I had gone.  Instead I hung around to parler avec Lazuli for a little while, before getting a few others together and driving back to Whitemead, with my Summer’s End over for another year, but what a way to end it.  Lazuli had been exceptional, injecting their brilliant songs with an added enthusiasm and energy and a real sense of fun.  They can come back every year, please.

Ou, si vous préférez cette façon, Lazuli étaient pleins d’enthousiasme et d’énergie et de plaisir, et cela est évident dans chacune de leurs excellentes chansons.

You can see more of my photographs from their set here.

One thing you must also check out is Pedro’s 10 minute video montage of the whole of Summer’s End 2013, which you can see here.

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