So Celebr8.2 was finally here after what seems like months of excited anticipation, and the massed ranks of the Prog army
gathered at The Hippodrome in Kingston upon Thames for a weekend of whatever massed army ranks do, which I hope includes listening to a lot of excellent music because the weekend was wall to wall music, with no gaps scheduled on either day. Bad Elephant Music were there, handing out Shineback flyers to anyone who moved (and to those who did not move, because they were easier targets) and obtaining Prog celebrity endorsements when the Prog celebrities were not looking, so if you were handed a flyer you did not want it was probably David ‘The Amazing Wilf’ Elliott who gave it to you, and if you are a Prog celebrity and had your photo taken with a Shineback flyer, then thank you, and before you sue us you should have read the small print before letting us take your photo.
I took many photos of you lot and would be made up if you would tag yourselves in them. You can see my general photos from the day here.
The doors opened late, what with it being a Prog festival and all that, so I will cut the rambling and get on with it, with IO Earth opening the show on the main stage. I have liked them since the very beginning and their recent gigging has clearly not only brought a real tightness to their sound but also won them a lot of new fans so that by the time I got into the venue the first few rows infront of the stage had been snapped up. It gave some others the chance to marvel at Dave Cureton’s brilliant guitar work,
and the way he combines his sound with Adam Gough on the keyboards and Luke Shingler on flute and saxophone really does give them a unique sound with a lot of crossover appeal. What they produced here to begin the festival was very upbeat and melodic, and that sound is held together by the drums of Richard Cureton and Christian Nokes on bass, who seem to know precisely the right times to hold it in check as well as the right times to just let it flow and run away with itself. Those of us who already knew the band were waiting to hear how new vocalist Linda Odinsen would turn out, and the answer is very well indeed.
Hailing from Norway she has a lovely, rich voice with a fine range which suits this music perfectly. And as one person said to me after the set, “How does Dave manage to get such beautiful women into his band ?” They played a very balanced set in terms of content and IO Earth would appear to be going from strength to strength.
You can see my photos from their set here.
It was a great start to Celebr8.2, but I had to leave before the end of the set to make sure I got a good spot in the acoustic stage area for the Mark Spencer Trio, which was Mark and Dean Baker (from Galahad and Twelfth Night) and no-one else. It was lucky I did make the move to get there because the place was packed before they started. Clearly very popular chaps, which is not surprising because not only are they both very pleasant and agreeable, they can also play, and we were treated to an excellent set which was far too short.
I had got myself into a prime position, somewhere between Leon Camfield (Tinyfish), Stu Nicholson (Galahad) and Clive Mitten (Twelfth Night), as they began with a wonderful version of Twelfth Night’s Fact And Fiction, with Mark waiting for the drums to bring it to a close, despite there being no drummer. They then swayed into a lounge version of Twelfth Night’s This City, mostly Mark’s superb vocals with Dean’s excellent piano sound, and the backdrop of a rainy soundtrack which made it very atmospheric and effective, before Mark added some guitar to bring it to a close. I noticed that Brian Devoil of Twelfth Night was also in the crowd, and I know he enjoyed these versions of the songs. And then some moments I had been hoping and waiting for when they pulled out a couple of LaHost numbers, Mark indicating this would be a storming idea with the words “yeah, fuck it, let’s have a go”, before reminding us that “I’ve got no album to sell. I’ve got a day job” and they launched into Breathless (according to the setlist), uptempo, rocking, light, melodic, superb. Speaking with Mark after the set he told me there had been a chance that Stephen Bennett could have been here today, but sadly it was not to be.
Next up, according to the setlist, was Dreams… which Mark introduced in the same way he used to introduce it as a rebellious 19 year “this is another song about fucking” (and that really rang a bell from back in the day when he said it here), and we were treated to big riffs with the keyboards behind them before it settles until a bass rumble drives it on, settling again with piano rolling under the sound, a definite electronica feel to it, and as it comes to an end the back of the packed room suddenly clears because the music has started again on the main stage. I’ve seen the setlist, so I’m staying here. Another Twelfth Night song now, as they produce a lovely version of Love Song, encouraging the remaining crowd to sing along in the choruses (which they very willingly do), and the whole feel is calm and considered as it moves to an anthemic crescendo before the last vocal part and then fades out to the sound coming from the main stage. “Have I got time to do another song ? It’s 4 minutes long. It’s got fuck all to do with Prog.” and they roll out the most splendid version of Feeling Good, all brass and everything, rocking it with Mark’s truly awesome vocals, and he bids us goodbye with “buy my album that I don’t have !” Yes, I loved the set.
You can see my photos from the set here.
And then I was quickly off to the main stage to join District 97 part way through their set. Now, I am one of the lucky ones because I had seen them before at RoSfest 2011, so I knew how very good they were going to be, and how striking Leslie Hunt would be on stage. Let’s face facts – that girl can sing ! She knows how to work an audience and so would be an excellent frontwoman with the right music. So how fortunate we are that the band provide some excellent tunes. And she just happens to know how to look stunning at the same time, which pretty much makes it perfect.
This was their first time playing outside of the United States of America and they did not show any nerves at all as they played before a packed crowd, with the whole of the floor space in front of the stage taken by the time I got away from the acoustic stage, and all other decent vantage points also heavily occupied. This had been a much anticipated set and they did not disappoint those who already had the albums, and also appeared to be picking up a lot of new fans along the way. I did not get to see the setlist, but it sounded like they played a good mixture from their two albums, which meant we got to enjoy some hard and heavy progressive metal, some more technical bits which simply oozed with brilliance, some melodic moments which demonstrated not only how good a voice Leslie has but also how fine the band’s songwriting can be, and overall we received a set which was full of energy.
Sometimes I do wonder if they can be a bit too technical for their own good, and it is probably the more melodic side to them which often grabs my attention and stirs my interest. They were certainly a success here today, and I am sure they will receive the same response as they continue their tour of Europe. Let us hope they come back to these shores some time very soon.
You can see my photos from their set here.
Once again I had to leave the main stage before the end of the set so that I could get to the acoustic stage in time to ensure a good position, because there was no way I was missing Galahad. Well, Galahad Stripped. And not in that way, despite what the photo with Simon Godfrey and a Shineback flyer might suggest. This was Stu Nicholson and Dean Baker (from Twelfth Night and the Mark Spencer Trio), with occasional assistance from Mark Spencer (from the planet Awesome), and they had a setlist and clearly decided to ignore it, which is the bane of a reviewer’s life. Anyway, I can hardly complain when the set they do play is still stuffed full of gorgeous Galahad goodness, and they began with Guardian Angel, easing it along with vocals and piano, and the way it came over really demonstrated the strong songwriting which lies behind it.
“Unlike Mark, we’ve got loads of merchandise,” Stu announces, before continuing, “ah, this isn’t very acoustic, just to let you know” and they head off into a brilliant version of Bug Eye, which it would be fair to say is mostly the work of Dean on his keyboards as Stu takes the opportunity to pass out sweets to the crowd, before making the comment that it was “the most acoustic version of Bug Eye ever. Not.” They are joined by Mark for Beyond The Barbed Wire from the excellent Battle Scars album, which eases along gently, melodically, and it is subtle, effective, with a real edge to it in this acoustic style, and I notice that Kavus Torabi from Knifeworld is now in the crowd.
Stu introduces the next track with an apology, “If you speak German, I apologise. This is something a bit different” and it certainly is as we are treated to an acoustic version of Rammstein’s Mein Herz Brennt with Stu singing in German over Dean’s piano and guitar effects from Mark. It is earthy, brooding, and finishes to lots of wunderbars from the crowd. They finish the set with a rousing This Life Could Be My Last, and it is a wonderful end to another excellent set on the acoustic stage.
You can see my photos from their set here.
Having stayed to the end of the Galahad set, by the time I get to the main stage I have missed the first two and a half songs of the Frost* set. I also appear to have missed a memo because Jem Godfrey is playing the keyboards and Andy Tillison is not, despite all the talk of that in the lead up to the festival. I joined the set half way through Snowman (the Peter Gabriel version) and so had missed a new song (Heartstrings) and The Forget You Song. I always enjoy Snowman, and especially the Peter Gabriel version with the wonderful samples from his songs, and I spent my time during this performance walking around to see if I could find a good place to stand for the rest of the show. It felt strange to not be down at the front, and that seemed to take a certain edge off it all for me, so I ended up wandering from one vantage point to another instead, which did result in some interesting photos. If only my camera had worked better in the light. Anyway, it got to the end of Snowman and Jem explained to us how he had come to hurt his finger through a gardening accident, although there was still no mention of why he was on stage this evening. It was all sounding pretty good with him there, though. They continued with another new song, Fathers, with a child’s voice in the intro before it opens up and rocks hard all the way through to a sharp finish. “Right, good luck everyone” and we are into Hyperventilate, or was it Bergerac, and Jem takes the opportunity to read Your Herb Garden as the track drives on to finish to the usual huge applause. Andrew Connor’s banana makes its way up on stage, which is probably as rude as it reads. It has been up to fun and games all around the world. I need to stop that line of reviewing now. “This literally is going to hurt me more than it hurts you,” and indeed Jem does use a few fingers on his right hand during Saline.
I had to nip off to the acoustic stage to recharge my camera battery and ended up listening to most of Lanterns (another new song) from there, so my initial thought that is has something of Clannad sound about parts of it may be very wide of the mark. I was back for one of my favourite Frost* songs, Dear Dead Days, which blasts away so well and tonight featured a guitar solo instead of the usual keyboard solo. There was huge applause at the end of the song as they carried straight on into Falling Down, and one of the comedic highlights of the set as Jem reveals a John ! tshirt as part of introducing Mr. Mitchell to a crowd who must surely already know who he is. And they are into Black Light Machine, rocking hard as the banana gets another appearance on stage and is later seen back in the crowd, and the song drives to a big finish and they leave the stage to deserved cheers and applause.
They do come back for The Other Me but I have made my own exit to the acoustic stage, which is a shame because even from my various vantage points this had been a typically enjoyable set. Even though Frost* are clearly crap. Obviously. Bloody Prog !
You can see my photos from their set here.
And go find the banana here.
I had made my exit to the acoustic stage because I did not want to miss any of the set from Knifeworld and I wanted to be in a good position to enjoy it. I could already see I was not alone in this, and the crowd were really pushed up very close to the band. It was almost the full band, featuring Kavus Torabi on acoustic guitar and vocals, Emmett Elvin on harmonium, Melanie Woods on vocals, glockenspiel and tambourine, Charlie Cawood on electric bass (yes, it is an acoustic gig and he brings an electric bass), Chloe Herington on bassoon and saxophone, Nicki Maher on saxophone and Josh Perl on saxophone. You just know they are going to produce a great sound ! Kavus is chatting away, and I think he is waiting for someone official to tell him that they can start. There is no-one official down at the acoustic stage, so finally the crowd shout PLAY !!! and we are off. They start with Pilot Her and a sharp, edgy sound which uses the three saxophones before we got some bassoon towards the end, and even though they are all seated there is a real energy in the performance. “Let’s play another hit single. For our first encore,” says Kavus as they go into Corpses Feeding Underground and we really are taken away in a whirlwind of sound before it closes with a wonderful bass part. The excellent issue I have with Knifeworld gigs is that I find them practically impossible to describe. I just do not have the words, but I can assure you that the sounds are more than worth being there for – this is truly progressive music.
In A Foreign Way includes a brilliant sound from the harmonium and I am really enjoying just how well that has fitted into the set. The same can be said of Kavus on acoustic guitar, which is so different to how he normally is on electric, and not least because we have him sitting down here, but as I have already indicated, there does not seem to be any lack of energy in despite that. The vocals from Kavus and Melanie also work really well in this acoustic setting, and it is a real pleasure standing so close to Melanie and being able to truly appreciate the quality of her voice. The song rolls along with little bursts and moves to a close. Kavus is doing a lot of talking between songs, before introducing them, and he suggests the more intimate setting of the gig is making him open up. Whatever is causing it, he is always very entertaining when he speaks. The Wretched Fathoms has a deeper sound and features more bassoon, with everything else seemingly playing around the bassoon sound. Time is moving on and it is getting too dark for my camera to deal with, which is disappointing (for me, at least). Next up is The Prime Of Our Decline, the scientific one, with the acoustic guitar strumming in with the harmonium, playing along with the three saxophones, and there is some glockenspiel, the bass rumbles, and it is a great sound overall made up of so many layers. And I may have already mentioned this in relation to the acts on the acoustic stage, underlying it all is talented songwriting, because we have the composition stripped down to its essentials, so if it can stand up here, then it can stand up in an electric environment. These Knifeworld songs stand up so very well. But back to the action, and it breaks into bursts from the saxophones then rolls on into a disjointed part, drives on discordant, always asking questions of the listener, demanding attention, rewarding consideration, and it comes to a close with a strum of the guitar. Torch is the mellow one, and Kavus sings on top of a lovely bassoon sound as he picks on his acoustic guitar, and gradually the harmonium edges in and the wonderful sound flows along easily to a close. “One more song and then I’m going to become a shopkeeper and you are going to be my customers. Let’s see how quickly the place clears now” and they leave us with the epic Me To The Future Of You, which is not mellow. It is striking and edgy as the bassoon comes in, the guitar strums hard, and the vocals float on top, and as it grows they move some things around the stage area so that Chloe can sit near to Melanie to share one mic, and Nicki ends up having to stand to share the mic with Kavus,
and now the vocals are really pushing through, and Josh is joining in on another acoustic guitar and they have produced a most wonderful sound which drives on whilst swirling around and seems to keep growing and growing, and standing so close I can really notice the individual vocal tones and it is a joy to behold and I do not want it to come to an end, as sadly it must do, and when it does it is greeted with a roar of applause which must have been heard in the main stage area, and the set is a triumph. If you have not already seen Knifeworld then you are missing out on something very special indeed.
You can see my photos from their set here.
As I was walking out of the acoustic stage area at the end of the set, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Mike Morton of The Gift, and then I had to make my way home, sadly having to miss the Threshold set. I was especially sad about that because I had managed to get the excellent Damian Wilson to pose with a Shineback flyer and now I was not even staying for his gig !
Anyway, it had been an excellent first day and I was very much looking forward to Sunday.
There are still some copies of the limited edition programme available, which includes 2 cds of exclusive tracks from the bands on the bill, so if you have not already bought a copy you should head over to The Merch Desk to buy one here.