Venue : Real World Studios, Box, Wiltshire
Date : Saturday 21 November 2009
Date of writing this review : 6 January 2010
Where to begin ? Well, I had seen the acoustic version of Magenta playing support slots before, and had then been lucky enough to be at RobH’s house gig in July, so when I heard they would be recording an acoustic performance before a select audience, of course I wanted to be there. When I heard it would be at Peter Gabriel’s recording studio…well, that just adds a bit more, doesn’t it. So I sent off my application to be entered into a ballot for a ticket, more in hope than expectation. You can imagine, then, that my level of excitement has been building since I received the email telling me I was one of the lucky 40 going to see Magenta @ Real World. The actual ticket came through a while later, size A5 showing a picture of Real World as the background with my name and the concert details printed on top – you can see a scan in the album for this gig on here. And a matching laminated car park permit. Little touches which make something even more special.
The drive down was about how I had expected it to be, given the weather of the previous week – wet and windy and very dark, but the journey itself was straightforward enough for me, and also shorter than many others were travelling to get here. The only tricky part was finding Real World itself as it is set back from the road and did not appear to have a sign to indicate where it was situated. So the first time I drove straight past, and I probably turned around in Peter Gabriel’s driveway before coming back and finding the place. I walked in to be warmly greeted by Amanda Reed (who kept us all remarkably organised and very well looked after throughout) with a welcome pack containing a pass and a key ring with artwork which continued the theme from the ticket, and a pencil with ‘Magenta at Real World 21st Nov 2009 – James Allen’ embossed on it. I’m smiling a lot by this time, and then I saw the ‘buffet’ – not a sausage roll in sight, but instead a very fine spread of middle eastern origin. I really should have gone back for seconds…but I knew I was about to go into the studio for the performance, so it was not a time for pigging out. I mention these ‘little’ details because I think they should be mentioned to show the attention to detail which had been put into this event, and to thank and commend those responsible for making even the smallest detail perfect within the wider scope. We were taken through to the studio itself, a stone structure with wooden floors and a mezzanine floor, and there was room for some to sit, some to stand, and some to occupy the upper mezzanine. And immediately on walking in I was struck first (but not literally) by the grand piano, and then by the number of seats and microphones for the band – this was clearly not going to be the usual ‘acoustic Magenta’ – though that thought did nothing to spoil the surprise(s) which were to come in that respect. Chris Jones took us through some house rules, including the need to “restrain from talking – zero tolerance, Tommo”, and then “welcome to Real World”.
“Good evening, and welcome to Prime Minister’s Question Time”, says Christina Booth as she, Rob Reed and Chris Fry come through to the studio, and for the first surprise of the evening she introduces Karla Powell on oboe. They open with Children Of The Sun, from Revolutions, Karla’s oboe flowing on top of Rob on the grand piano, Chris picking out parts on acoustic guitar. The oboe is flowing with a wonderful, deep sound, and there is a large, rounded sound from the piano, leading us into a treble piano part, the track swaying along as Christina’s vocals come in, and it then pushes along with the piano and guitar, before pausing into stacatto piano, joining with the guitar and oboe. Then the vocals come back in and it flows on, Christina also using a shaker as the oboe runs through again then rises, with the guitar and piano flowing underneath as the track eases along gently, before taking on a harder feel as Christina taps in with tambourine. The guitar strums harder with a heavier sound to the piano, before the track hits into a stacatto part, and the vocals come in with a stacatto feel to them as well, and it pushes on, the oboe flowing in as it progresses, an almost folk rock feel at times to the melody and rhythm, jumpy and growing, and the vocals rise and it pauses. Treble piano runs through, gentle but pointed in places, and the vocals come in again and it eases along, the guitar starting to strum in, circling, the piano sound growing while the focus remains on the vocals, then it pauses again. The piano comes in again, this time with some guitar parts pushing through, Chris picking out a gentle guitar part as Christina’s vocals flow in again. It continues to ease along, growing, rising, and as the vocals fade Chris picks out a sharp part on the acoustic, circles it, with the piano running under the guitar, before both Christina and Rob push through on vocals, and the track sways along with a rich sound. The guitar is cutting in as Christina’s vocals grow, and it is all very melodic, surging along now as the vocals soar through. Chris picks out another part, flowing with it as Christina adds some tambourine and her vocals flow on, upbeat, with the grand piano running under it all. All three of them are singing now, pushing it along, before it eases into the three of them singing along with just the piano, then it grows again, flows on, pushing away with a big sound, and as the vocals soar a guitar part cuts through and they roll on into a big finish with flourishes, and the end is greeted with huge applause. What an excellent start to this part of the evening. They continue with Cold, “an old track about being in a coma with loved ones sitting over them”. Chris opens it with a deep guitar sound, some squeeking through the strings, and then Christina’s vocals come in hard on top and it eases along gradually, drifting but with purpose behind it. Rob is on guitar as well and he strums in with a lighter feel as Chris continues to pick out a part and develop it. Christina’s vocals are flowing on top with a determined feel as the two guitars combine really well underneath, and the vocals are growing, becoming almost urgent, and as the track pushes on with the vocals flowing along with the lighter strumming, the vocals are still growing and they soar at times, lovely and rounded, and they soar high before the track drops down into some heavier strumming from Rob and Chris picking out another part. The vocals become a whisper, very atmospheric, and then we feel the track going again as the vocals grow, and it pushes on before easing down again, then the guitars start to strum through harder as the vocals soar and it hits into a sharp end. “There’s some girls in the band”, says Christina joyfully, and they introduce Joanne Buckland and Tina Jacobs-Lim on violin, Aimee Bryett on viola, and Emma Bryden on cello (“it’s my favourite instrument”, says Christina). And they have added the string section for Lemminkainen’s Lament, from the Broken ep, with Chris picking out a part on the guitar and the violins flow in gently, before the viola and cello come in and provide a harder, fuller sound. It eases into the guitar as the vocals flow through, and it is moving along gently, softly, before the violins cut in with a sharp sound, and the oboe flows through. The piano rolls in and the viola and cello join again, and a rich, summery, airy sound pushes on, following the now forceful vocals. The strings are providing a big sound as the oboe flows above them, and the guitar picks out a part on top of them all, with the piano sound rolling under everything, the strings swirling behind it all, before it eases down into just the piano and the guitar. Then the strings flow through again with the oboe rising, and the vocals come in on top as the piano sound pushes through. There is a fluttering sound from the violins and viola before they flow with the cello, and the oboe pushes through. The vocals are rising as the track grows and surges, then eases to fade to a close.
Rob is on guitar again for Hate You, a “track off my forthcoming solo album”, says Christina, before becoming a little vague over a release date… Both guitars strum in with a stacatto feel, and Christina’s vocals push through strident, with an edge. Then the guitars flow fast and hard, and the vocals push with them, pushing along upbeat with a hard edge, the vocals running high as the guitars cut through under them. And Rob strums along as Chris picks out his part, which moves high and cuts through, as the vocals flow on. Then the track kicks away again, pushing on hard, the melodic parts hitting through, building and surging, and the vocals soar. It pauses into a percussive part on the bodies of the guitars, and comes to an end. They follow that up with Anger, Chris picking out an intricate part which is flowing in places, then Christina’s vocals come in and it moves on. The strings come through in a sharp burst, and the track pushes on with the guitar and vocals, with the violins and viola flowing in, pushing it on some more before moving into the strings with the piano, the strings still coming through in bursts, and now with the oboe as well. The piano flows through, rolling on, joined by the viola and cello, a little guitar part picked out, the violins flow in and the sound grows, with the vocals coming in on top as it continues along. The strings have a sharp feel to them and are very direct, dominating whenever they cut in, and the oboe flows in on top of them, before it all dies down to the piano rolling gently, then joined by the strings flowing under it, a guitar part being picked out as the oboe gently flows in on top. It has a peaceful feel, with some swirls from the strings, and they cut through to become more prominent before the oboe flows on again, the piano now pushing through more, the sound swirling along gently before the piano rolls through to close it, and there is a little applause before the track reaches its final moment. They call for Kieron Bailey on the drums, and Chris Jones calls for a time out for the video cameras. And as Kieron comes through from the back room he is accompanied by Martin Rosser and Dan Fry, and now all the performers are in giggles over a story concerning Kieron. They do not share the story. Spoilsports. And it is right up to date with Blind Faith from the excellent Metamorphosis album. Kieran taps in with the hi hat, Dan’s acoustic bass rumbles hard, Rob’s piano rolls through in waves and the two guitars from Chris and Martin cut in, before Christina’s vocals flow into the big sound. Now it is pushing along, upbeat, a hard sound with an edge, the drums kick and the piano rolls through hard as the guitars strum and there is some tambourine from Christina. The vocals push through high and guitar parts come through intricate and fast, the bass rolling with them, the piano coming through with the bass, and there is a sharp, pointed sound as the vocals flow in high. The drums kick in and it pushes along with a big sound, the vocals rising high as the track surges, and the piano comes through again and then rolls gently as Chris picks out a part on the guitar. The vocals flow in, the drums kick and the bass thumps, really reverberating around the room, and Martin strums through as Chris picks out another part. The piano rolls through, rising higher, and the vocals soar high, float and then fade, as the piano pushes on. Notes from the bass thump, both guitars begin to cut into the piano sound, and the track grows as the drums move it along, driving it into a massive piano sound, a whispered “wake up”, and then a sustained end, and it is clear throughout the room that the audience are having to physically hold back from applauding before they finally finish the track.
The drums tap and they move on into King Of The Skies, from the I’m Alive ep, a bouncy piano sound with strumming from the guitars and bass, and the vocals flow in with Christina also providing percussion through a shaker. It kicks along, upbeat, flowing, pausing into twinkling, racing piano, with the vocals growling out of that and pushing it on. The guitars are running with the piano sound, and it kicks off again with Christina now on tambourine, flowing along upbeat with an edge, pausing into the piano and vocals again, and the drums kick as the vocals growl once more, the track pushing on again with a sharp, hard sound, and Chris cuts through on guitar with intricate, flowing, piercing notes, as Martin strums and the piano rolls. The bass thumps with the drums before it pauses into just the piano, the vocals then flowing in with it, and Chris using a slide on his guitar as he picks out notes while Martin circles a part. The drums kick again and the bass rumbles with them, pushing the track along, with a guitar part from Chris then cutting through into the upbeat, rocking, full sound. It pauses into rolling piano with the vocals, then kicks away again, surging on with a big sound, moving into a jumpy part between Chris and Rob to close it out. And Christina says, “Who needs Jools Holland when you have got him ? He’s a lot cheaper as well.” Rob moves on to acoustic guitar for I’m Alive, with all three guitars now picking out the theme as the bass rumbles through, and the vocals flow in on top as it swings along. Kieron is on tambourine as it opens up and flows away, then eases down and Martin and Rob strum along, while Chris gently picks out a part. The vocals flow on top and it grows as the tambourine comes in again and the guitars strum harder, and the vocals soar and swirl as Chris picks out a part and develops it, the rest of the track pushing along below him, producing a hard sound with the tambourine coming through. The vocals flow in as the tambourine fades, and the bass is thumping as the guitars strum, but the vocals dominate and rise again as the track kicks on, flowing easily, filled with so many layers, the vocals becoming more strident, forceful, and it really hits into very powerful vocals as they soar high, and big strumming from the guitars takes it on to a sharp end. Chris is tuning his guitar, ready for the next track, and Christina points to the string section, “they’ve all tuned, they don’t have to mess around.”, and it is the strings which lead us into Speechless, the violins coming in sharp, the viola and cello flowing with them, and then the drums kick in and the piano pushes through to join the strings, both guitars strum and the bass rumbles. The strings fall out and the sound eases as the vocals come in, flowing on with a sharp edge, and then the strings are back to take us into the chorus, then pushing out with that sharp sound from the opening of the track, quickly dying as it moves into the verse, and Chris picks out a part on the guitar before the strings flow through gently, and continue gently into the chorus as the oboe joins them. Then that sharp string sound pushes out, and they flow again as the oboe comes in and the piano rolls through. The bass rumbles as the guitars strum, and then the vocals hit us into the chorus again and the violins strike into that sharp sound as the track surges along, big, loud, powerful, and the vocals screech out as the strings are really pushing, flowing hard into a guitar part from Chris, which itself develops into that sharp, stacatto sound, driving us on into a big finish and huge applause. “That’s the first part”, says Christina, as they depart for a break.
The audience clap as they come back on, Rob, Chris and Christina, with the string section and the oboe. “Has anyone escaped ?”, asks Christina, “You’re all here again.” She thanks, among others, the real World sound crew, the video guys from Pop Factory, Chris and Neil doing the photography (and I have put the two excellent photographs sent to me in my album on here), and “Martin for popping in”. “Part 2, I have written here. This Life”, and the piano rolls in gently, developing its theme to lead us into the first of a series of tracks from Home. The vocals flow in gently on top of the piano to produce a rich, full sound, which grows as the guitar comes in developing its own theme, before it all eases into the piano again. Then the violins and viola flow through as the vocals come back in, joined by the cello as the piano continues to gently roll along, the guitar now picking out a part under the strings, the vocals pushing against the strings with a big sound, then it all dies into the vocals with the piano, and fades to a close. They carry straight on into Moving On, the oboe coming in with the piano before dropping out as the vocals come in and continue on with the piano. Then the guitar cuts in, the vocals soar and the strings flow in as it pushes on, the guitar now strumming with the strings before picking out its own theme, and it all flows under the strong vocals until the oboe comes back in as the vocals fade out. The strings flow on with the oboe, then ease out as the guitar picks out a part, all the time with the piano rolling behind it, before the vocals flow back in again and soar, with the strings also coming back in as the track pushes on, and the guitar strums through. The vocals are moving on strongly, leading us along as the sound grows into the guitar, developing another theme against the piano holding and the strings flowing, and the guitar part is intricate, piercing, until it fades into the oboe, which flows with the piano. The piano becomes jumpy as the vocals come in strong and the guitar strums hard, and then the strings flow through as the sound eases, before piano flourishes push it on, hitting into more jazzy piano and Christina on tambourine, as the guitar strums hard with the sound. It eases as the strings flow through again, before the vocals push it on and Chris uses a slide as he plays, producing some squeeky peaks as the piano rolls, with gentle tambourine shaking as the track now drives along, the sustained guitar part now racing, screeching out as he holds the slide over the sound hole, and the vocals come back in as they close it out. They change over the tape on the cameras again, causing Christina to point at the guy and say, “Everyone…stare at him”, and Chris picks out Cavatina by Stanley Myers (the theme from the film The Deer Hunter), and Tina joins in on the violin, and Christina begins to sing along before saying, “ok, cut the crap. Demons.” “Not yet,” interjects Chris Jones, and the guitar continues to play along. Christina is having a drink, “it is water. Flavoured water. Flavoured with grapes.” And then they get to possibly my favourite Magenta song, Demons. The piano ticks in, and the violins tick with it using sharp strokes, then the viola and cello join in, the cello flowing more than the other strings. The guitar picks in and the track flows along with a rounded, full cello sound flowing under it, the viola then coming in with a big, deep sound as the vocals grow. The violins flow in, rising higher as the guitar develops a part, with the piano constant under it all as the guitar part itself gets higher, becomes pointed, piercing with little flourishes before it all dies down into the ticking piano sound with the vocals, the guitar then ticking along with them, then it eases to fading vocals with high piano notes, and, as always for me, comes to an end far too soon. Chris makes a change, “this is my strumming plectrum”, and strums in hard and thick to Morning Sunlight, with the vocals flowing in with the guitar to produce an upbeat sound, rolling along. The guitar is circling as the vocals grow, soaring at times, with Rob also providing some vocals as it eases back into the guitar sound. The piano rolls in as Christina’s vocals push us on, and the guitar circles as the piano part begins to develop, the vocals now soaring through before the sound eases down while the track continues to push along, before gradually coming to a close with the guitar flowing into the piano sound. They finish off the tracks from Home with Reaching Out/Journey’s End, wonderfully big chords from the grand piano, flowing out, filling the room. The sound eases as the vocals flow in high and soft, then the piano rolls on with the vocals, a gentle sound drifting along, the vocals dominating. The guitar cuts in with a piercing, melodic sound, picking out an intricate, flowing part with flourishes, and the piano sound grows again as the guitar strums. It is a forceful sound now, dramatic as the guitar flows on, pausing as the vocals come back in, the piano pushing on, the guitar fluttering, playing around with fingers on the neck, the piano walking us on with the vocals pushing through, rising together as the piano grows, the guitar sound still fluttering as the vocals fade out. The piano trickles in, faster now, pointed, the guitar ticking along with it, hitting into a deeper part with a hard sound, and the vocals come back in, flowing on top, and the track swings along now with an edge to it. The piano is pushing through, rolling on as the guitar strums with it, and some tambourine taps in as the piano sound grows, driving on, the guitar cutting through in bursts. The vocals come back in, and it is a wonderfully big sound surging along now, with the vocals soaring and the piano pushing through again, circling and developing its theme, as the guitar strums hard and fast with it, strumming out a flourish as the piano pushes on harder, and it hits into a sharp, stacatto sound to bring the track to an end.
They move on to The Secret Wish, an excellent track from the ChimpanA album, the grand piano just perfect for the Tubular Bells theme running through the track, the guitar coming through with its own take on that theme, together producing a sharp, flowing sound, with the piano then cutting into it, developing it, pushing the track into a different sound altogether, rolling piano with the guitar strumming gently as the vocals flow in, the sound getting harder as the vocals push through, and the guitar strumming gets harder too, before the vocals and guitar pause as the piano returns to the original theme. The vocals come back in with the guitar and it moves on with the alternative theme, the vocals rising and pushing through, the guitar strumming as the piano returns to the original theme, and then the vocals and guitar die as the piano pushes on with the theme, the vocals coming back in, the guitar joining to develop the theme, the melodic sound rising, then a sharp hit, a pause, and the vocals flow on and the track kicks with the alternative theme. The vocals rise and soar, and the piano and guitar develop the original theme before it hits into a big chord close. They continue on with “the end section of one of the songs we will be playing in its entirety”, and it is Greed from Seven and it bounces in with all three of Christina, Rob and Chris on vocals, joined by stacatto piano from Rob, and the strings flow through with the oboe as Christina takes on the vocals and Chris picks out a pulsing part on the guitar. And it swings along before the vocals fade out and the oboe flows through with the strings, and the vocals come back in and it eases along, Christina, Rob and Chris all on vocals again, pushing on top as there is a big flow from the strings, moving the track along from phase to phase, before it gradually slows into a guitar flourish and high piano notes to finish to massive applause.
“Here come the guys”, and Kieron, Dan and Martin are back. “This is our Metamorphosis section”, and the piano rolls in gently to begin the short excerpt from The Ballad Of Samuel Layne. The vocals come in with the piano and the track eases along, cymbals gently crashing through, before the strings join the sound as the guitar picks out a part, and the strings flow on as the drums tap in. The piano is rolling as the guitar sound develops and the notes from the bass thud out. And the wonderful vocals are flowing on top of the growing sound, with both Christina and Rob singing, blending very well together, and the big sound eases along before pausing into Prekestolen. The guitar part circles, the piano rolls in with it and the oboe flows on top while the viola and cello flow deeper. The vocals come back in as the oboe sound circles, swirling as the violins flow in, and cymbals crash gently. The drums start to kick and big sounds are now swirling round the vocals, the bass thumping through, the guitar circling, the piano rolling, before the drums kick again and it hits on, the strings flowing with the guitars, the oboe swirling in again, the sound rising before fading into the piano, joined by the violins and viola, and the oboe flows in on top to bring it to an end, and applause from the audience. “This is the last one”. An excerpt from the track Metamorphosis. The piano rolls in and the guitar picks out a part against it as the bass rumbles, with the violins and viola flowing with the oboe. The vocals come in and the track swings along with the cello running deep, then the drums tap to kick it on as Martin strums on his guitar and the strings flow on, the piano sound rolling, dominating, as the oboe comes in on top, circling, before the track pauses into stacatto vocals and piano. Then the drums kick and the sharp sound they have created blasts on, with striking strokes from the strings, both guitars strumming hard as the sound reaches something of a climax and the oboe flows out of it as Chris picks out a part on the guitar. The track is surging along now with a big, thick, driving sound, the drums pushing it as the bass thumps, sharp strokes from the strings as the track builds again and then kicks away, both Chris and Martin strumming hard on guitar, the piano rolling through, Christina’s vocals soaring out and the track now eases along with a majestic feel. All three of Christina, Rob and Chris are now on vocals, pushing through the sound as the drums kick again and the bass thumps with them, the strings flowing with the oboe, and Chris is using a slide on the guitar to develop a theme as Martin strums on his guitar, and the piano is rolling, the vocals now la la-ing on top as it flows on relentless. Some tambourine taps in as the track now jumps along, sharp strings and pointed piano notes as the sound races to a crunching close and the audience erupt with applause, and there is a very well deserved standing ovation. Christina thanks the girls in the string section for their wonderful contribution to the performance.
There are calls for more and much stamping of feet, and they come back…eventually ! It is Christina, Rob and Chris and the piano jumps in sharp to a cover of Hounds Of Love by Kate Bush, which is a wonderful surprise for me because I have loved their version of the song the couple of times I have seen them perform it before. The guitar riffs into the sound as the vocals come in, smooth and melodic, and the track flows along fast and sharp, the guitar giving it some rhythm alongside the jumpy piano melody. The vocals push through as the piano moves more into a rhythmic sound, and then it all flows out as it pushes into the chorus with a wonderful combination of sounds from the guitar and piano, the vocals flowing on top of that sound as it drives along and there are lots of smiles on stage as they push it to a close. Thoroughly enjoyable. “Any requests ?”, asks Christina, and of course there are calls for their chart-topping download single, the cover of Wonderous Stories by Yes. Christina begins to sing it in a deep, common voice, but I think much to the surprise of everyone there, they do not actually play it. Instead, Kieron, Dan and Martin come back, and Christina says, “King Of The Skies again then” and the grand piano sound comes in with the guitars, the drums kick it on and the vocals flow on top. The guitars are strumming as the bass thumps along and Christina adds some percussion with a shaker as her vocals push us on. It pauses into rippling piano with her vocals and then kicks on into a big sound, the piano pushing through, guitar flourishes from Chris as he strums on the neck of his guitar, tambourine coming in as the track pushes on, some piano flourishes as it drives along upbeat before pausing into the piano and vocals. It kicks away with the bass rumbling, then pauses, holds, before kicking on with a guitar solo, sharp and piercing, the guitar flowing on, circling a part before the piano rolls through melodic, the vocals flowing as cymblas gently smash, and it eases along now, drifting with Chris using a slide, before the piano comes in again and pushes through and it kicks on again. More tambourine as it pushes, then pauses again into rolling piano with the vocals. It builds then rumbles on again hard, driving with a full sound, kicking into a sustained finish with a sharp close, and another huge applause from the audience.
And they finish a brilliant evening by having their photo taken with each person who has been lucky enough to be there. They really pulled out all the stops to make this a wonderfully entertaining performance and something which I certainly will never forget. Now I simply cannot wait for the recording of the performance to become available. Words cannot properly express it, but my very sincere thanks to everyone who was involved in making this happen.