Look at the size of that heading ! That’s how much music I managed to stuff into my Sunday at Celebr8.2, and there was even more available ! The Saturday had been brilliant (and you can read about it here, or if you have had enough of reading my ramblings you could always head over to the excellent review (and far better photos) at GiggingForever here) and the Sunday did not let the side down at all. I had a fine old time getting there after taking a walk in St Albans in the morning, and found myself in a queue of traffic from the other side of Hampton Court. I eventually parked up near to The Peel and took the most direct route to walk to the Hippodrome, to find the doors had not opened and that Matt Stevens had not arrived yet. Not to worry, because he was on his way and I suspected he had been caught in the same traffic as me, because he and Steve Cleaton would have been travelling down from the recording studio in Northamptonshire, where The Fierce And The Dead were recording their forthcoming album. You can read some more about that here.
You can see my general photos from the Sunday here.
Matt Stevens arrived, rushed to get to the acoustic stage, and as the doors opened we rushed after him and as we waited for everyone to get in he noodled around with Enter Sandman by Metallica. If you have never seen Matt before then you need to know that he plays an acoustic guitar, makes use of looping, and uses no backing tapes whatsoever. Everything else is magic. “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends ! This is called Grendel !” and he is away, playing the magnificent Rusty, which I am not even going to try to describe in any detail, because it defies description. It has something of a Spanish feel to it, and is much, much more than you would expect from someone playing an acoustic guitar. And Matt is such a huge personality on stage (to be honest, he also is in real life) that you feel dragged along with it all in the nicest possible way. Suddenly there is drama as a bit of equipment breaks off and falls into his guitar. Matt does not notice immediately, and then he is pulling wires off the guitar and walking into the crowd to bring the track to a finish, and to be applauded by Simon Godfrey (among others). Matt returns to the stage area to sit down to fix the bit which broke off, with assistance from Steve, and in the lull Andy Tillison (of The Tangent) comes on stage and entertains us on the keyboard which is ready and waiting for his appearance later in the day.
Matt is ready again – hooray ! He continues with the brilliant Burning Bandstands which has something of the feel of Rusty about it, while not sounding like it at all. Anyway, this one goes down very well with the packed crowd and finishes to a huge roar of applause. Scapegoat has a different feel to it, a deeper sound at its core as other sounds float around it, a more sedate and rounded sound overall, before it opens up into something that you could imagine Hawkwind would do, and the crowd clap along. It is now a big, driving sound and the clapping has become a part of it, as it cuts to phasing and holds on the edge of feedback as Matt strums high before echoing it out to another big cheer.
“You are fucking great !” and there is just enough time for one more so he brings his set to a storming close with Big Sky, another one with that distinctive sound, another which is very familiar to this crowd, and another which brings huge applause at the end and calls for more. What a start to the day !
You can see my photos from the set here.
I quickly make my exit to the main stage because I want to miss as little as possible of Alan Reed And The Daughters Of Expediency, and I am in luck because they have not started yet and I manage to get myself into the second row from the stage. I have seen a few of Alan’s solo acoustic shows, am excited to see how his new album translates to an electric setting, and I might as well tell you now that I was not disappointed because you will realise it soon enough anyway ! Alan seems to have pulled a band together at very short notice, with Tudor Davies on keyboards, Matt GZ on guitar, Jennifer Clark on bass and some guy called Henry Rogers on drums. He looks familiar. Jennifer almost trips over coming on to the stage and then they launch into the wonderful Begin Again,
which rolls along upbeat with that Celtic feel, the crowd clapping along as it progresses, and it sounds so tight that it is hard to believe the band has not been together for years, but Alan says that he “can’t begin to tell you how shit scared we are. The first time we played together was 1130 yesterday morning. Today is the second time.” Just in case things were not complicated enough for the band, they now welcome Monique van der Kolk from Harvest on to the stage to take the Christina Booth part in Kingdom Of The Blind,
and Jennifer is using a bow on an electric double bass, and as the track flows along with a sharp edge Alan and Monique’s voices combine so well, before wonderful electric guitar comes through from Matt while Tudor’s keyboards underpin it all, and Hen already knows how very much I appreciate his drumming talent and his drums bite in to bring the song to a triumphant close. “Would anyone like to hear a really old song ?” brings a big cheer from the crowd, “Tough.” and so we get For The Greater Glory instead, a song from Alan’s past with Pallas. This version has been reworked from the acoustic version he has been playing, and in an electric format it blasts away hard and heavy before rocking to a pause then kicking on with a Celtic feel and driving away to a big finish, and we reach a point in the show that I know many people have been waiting for (and we later find out was much enjoyed by Simon Godfrey (who seems to be getting himself into my reviews of everyone else’s sets)) as Alan gets his electric guitar and they move into Sanctuary, while it looks like Hen is reading his notes. The track is echoing and melodic as it ticks along, Alan’s voice growing as it progresses before the bass and drums come in and it thumps away, blasts open with the guitar screeching, and it really is some stunning guitar work, and they produce an emotional triumph which receives the roar of applause it so richly deserves. “Any chance of a bit more on this ?” Alan asks the sounddesk as he picks up his 12-string acoustic guitar. “Ah, I’ve turned it down,” he realises, before starting Never Too Late, and it flows in nicely with him singing while playing the 12-string, Tudor’s keyboards behind that sound ready for the guitar and bass to come in, and the drums kick it into a lovely guitar break which screeches high and then flies away before the track drives to a sharp finish. The setlist reads Teardrops (Solo Acoustic) but that does not happen.
Now, if you read my review of the Saturday at Celebr8.2 then you will know I spent most of my time at the acoustic stage and commented on the strong songwriting ability being shown by the bands. Well, that is coming through loud and clear here – Alan really does know how to write a song, although you would begin to doubt that when you listen to him introduce The Real Me, “the end section has some interesting parts which don’t quite fit into the same space and we’ve got it right once. So if we get it right now it will be the second time” and it sets off deep and dark before piercing guitar slices through, and the bass rumbles as the track then holds and floats, before kicking on to a sharp finish, and Alan is pleased to announce that was the second time. It has to be said that Alan is clearly enjoying himself up there. I have seen him smiling many times already and there has been a bounce in his step, and now he is cheered even more by having a Caramel Wafer thrown at him. And it’s a Scottish thing because Jennifer wants one too ! “This is the long one from the album. This is a world debut” and Darkness Has Spoken moves smoothly through its various parts sounding very tight indeed, and rightly finishes to more huge applause. “This is our first gig and I don’t think we could have asked for a better audience,” says Alan, before introducing the band, saying of Hen “I’ve no idea who this guy is. I’ve seen him around.” They conclude a brilliant set with another Pallas song, Crown Of Thorns, written not only before Alan was in the band, but also 11 years before Hen was born, and the crowd clap along as the track rocks away and Alan is bouncing up there, all smiles, and it is a real pleasure to see him like this. “I never ever thought I would sing that again !”
The crowd call for more and it is a call that cannot be ignored, and as I am walking to the acoustic stage they come back on and I can hear them start into a cover of Peter Gabriel’s Biko. I really hope this is the start of many more gigs from this band because this set was brilliant fun, and Alan clearly has so much to give in terms of quality songwriting. Those of us who were here for this show can put it down as one of those fortunate occasions where we witnessed something very special.
You can see my photos from the set here.
The only reason I was leaving the main stage before the well-deserved encore for Alan Reed was because I did not want to miss a second of the acoustic set from Andy Tillison (you know, him from The Tangent). The first thing I notice is that Andy has put his keyboard and a stool up on the tables, to allow more people to be able to see him, and as we walk in, to a cheer he turns off the television screen which has been pumping out advertising which is completely irrelevant to a Prog audience. “I don’t know many of my own songs, but I do know a lot of Frost* songs,” he says. We can hear the encore from the main stage as Andy begins with Vision by Peter Hammill, just Andy’s voice and a piano sound, and it is beautiful. Certainly a lot more beautiful than Andy’s tale of his first memory of Kingston, which involves Preparation H, Brian Watson and Vagisil. This leads us into The Music That Died Alone, “an old Tangent song which I wrote in 1976, and then fooled you all into thinking I wrote it in 2003”, and the packed crowd which is now in the acoustic stage is transfixed, not a murmur from any part of the room as we listen in total silence, and I see that Matt Stevens is here enjoying the set.
I have to move because my camera battery needs charging already, and I find out that if you move back in the room it is difficult to hear what is being said between songs. Next up is I’m Obsessed With Gerschwin (if I heard that correctly), which is a song about America that Andy is playing for his friends in District 97. It has a light sound to it and at times slips into jazzy lounge piano before returning to the light, fragile feel and it is a joy to listen to. Andy tells us about Le Sacre Du Travail, the forthcoming album from The Tangent, and also tells us about the stellar array of talent he has playing on it – Theo Travis, Jonas Reingold, Gavin Harrison, Jakko M Jakszyk, and David Longdon – and each name gets a cheer. Andy now plays a shortened version of In Earnest, which begins gently and then grows, and there is a really good sound to it in this setting, which again just goes to show what you can do with the right material. And my mind goes to thinking that this is ‘piano music’ and there is no good reason why it should be pigeon-holed (and, therefore, restricted) into being Prog. It is also a pity that from where I am standing I can also hear some of the Harvest soundcheck, although I am looking forward to their set. Andy comes to the end of this delightful version and finishes with “thanks for listening, guys” before talking about the set he will perform later with Matt Stevens, telling us “we’ve never, ever played together” and that “we’re going to do a complete history of music in half an hour.” After this excellent set I will certainly be back for that !
You can see my photos from the set here.
I get to the main stage as Harvest were beginning, but there was no chance of getting down the front so I decided to walk around the venue while watching and listening to them, which turned out to be an interesting experience as I found so many people who had chosen to kick back and relax while listening to such wonderful music. I have to say that I have had their debut album from almost the time it was released and so it was a real pleasure for me to finally see the band live. I like the sound they make and there is no getting away from the quality of the wonderful vocals of Monique van der Kolk, which really lift it all to a higher level.
There is an upbeat feel to their songs, and always an infectious melody, largely based around the guitar sounds, and I am very interested to hear and feel the bass and drum rhythms they are laying down in some of the numbers in their set, which has something of the Sisters Of Mercy or All About Eve about it to my ears, which is a pleasant surprise. What is more noticeable is just how well all of the songs fit together, and we get back to my point about songwriting – there are some splendid melodies in the songs they are playing here, and the balance between the guitar and keyboards is just right, with a rhythm section which knows when to hold and when to drive it along, and above it all are the glorious vocals, and they are just perfect for these type of songs.
They also know when to cut back, and when it is simply the piano with Monique’s voice it is a truly beautiful sound. While they can be very atmospheric and floaty at times, they also know how to kick it up a notch and rock out, and they keep the set well balance in doing this. Monique tells us this is their first time in the UK and that they “want to invite someone else to this party”, and Alan Reed comes on to the stage for an excellent rendition of Time Lapse, and as earlier in his set, his and Monique’s voices combine so very well.
They then kick it on with a couple of livelier numbers and all too soon I am aware that I have to leave to get to the acoustic set because I do not want to miss the next act. It has been lovely to finally have Harvest in the UK, and they delivered a very enjoyable set, so I hope they will come back again very soon.
You can see my photos from the set here.
I could not possibly miss any of the Matt Stevens & Andy Tillison set, though, because it promised to be something unique and very special, as they are going to improvise their set. I think it is fair to say that it exceeded all high expectations ! Andy plays the first 1.5 seconds of Hyperventilate by Frost* before they introduce each other, and because Andy is up on the tables again and Matt is standing on the floor somehow we get a joke about ‘apart height’, before Andy helps out those at the back by telling them Matt is a cross between Marc Bolan and Syd Barrett.
They finally get down to business with Matt on acoustic guitar and loops and Andy on keyboards, with a song that Andy names on the spot as Squash Ellis Beta (or some such) which is in the key of E. That turns out to be very important. They noodle about building it up and it is very atmospheric and spacey at times, and the packed room is listening in silent fascination as they improvise. Blasting each other with chords and then tinkering about before some more spacey keyboards really slice through, and it is edgy even before the keyboards screech through and give it a psychadelic feel as bursts blast out. Matt strums through hard, adding a proper rhythm to the piece, and Andy goes with it on piano, before they bring it to a close which is received with huge applause. “OK, mate, after four,” and Andy plays the beginning of Tubular Bells. After asking the crowd what they want, they go into the key of A, and Matt’s opening has something of the Alan Parsons Project to it, as the keyboards float through and then rise higher before a rhythm comes through hard, followed by a spacey sound and bleeps which moves into an electro crescendo. It holds and then fades down to larger bleeps, and there is a deeper sound to this improvisation as it grows again with Matt strumming. He takes it higher against a bass echo as a big keyboard sound phases through into big strumming, then chiming, and Matt strums it to an end. They decide not to try Yale key, and go with the key of A again, as Matt says, “we liked A, there’s a lot in A”, to which Andy asks, “are you sure that’s A ?” Andy opens with some jazzy piano and Matt runs with it, before Andy says, “OK, bass solo” and he leads and Matt copies with a bass guitar sound, and then Andy sings in and it moves to Roll Over Beethoven which they roll (naturally) to the end and a roar of applause.
The crowd are clearly loving this, and it is one aspect of what we might term Prog that I really appreciate – the fact that two talented musicians who have never played or rehearsed together can instantly produce music which people want to hear, and then find they enjoy so much. The room is alive. Andy thanks Jon (I thought he was called Twitch, or Twang, or something) and Geoff, and Matt gets them three cheers ! Then we get serious for a moment as Andy tells us that the festival is not making as much money as they need to break even, so if everyone just gave them the price of a drink on the way out it would make a huge difference. The other thing you can do is buy the excellent programme, and I will give you the details to do that at the end of this review. They continue in D minor, and it floats away with high notes, atmospheric with deeper sounds and an insistent beep, then a driving pounding sound and bursts of screeching keyboards, and some quite Pink Floyd keyboard sounds as Matt strums through, before it beeps into chaos and settles. There are bursts of sound against what has become a heavy wall of noise, a huge rumbling which then dies out but leaves us on the edge of feedback as sounds shoot around and it ticks over, the guitar building again as organ sounds push through on the other side, and the guitar chimes with those. The sounds die out again into Matt picking on his guitar, and that echoes with the keyboard sound as light notes bring it to a stunning finish. The crowd explode with applause, this has proved to be a highlight of the weekend for those present and as Andy says “shall we make an album ?” and Matt replies “OK, we’re on”, I am aware that not only do I know of a studio (which you can read about here) but that everyone in this room would want a copy of that album after this performance.
You can see my photos from the set here.
Unfortunately, I had to miss Haken because apparently Bad Elephant Music needed to have a meeting. I shall see them at Danfest instead. So I was still at the acoustic stage when Simon Godfrey arrived and began the Simon Godfrey Cabaret Hour (including an acoustic performance in support of Phil the Duck (the origins of whom are explained here)). First of all he had to get the sound working. First of all he and Robert Ramsay had to get the sound working.
First of all he and Robert Ramsay and Bo Hansen had to get the sound working. First of all he and Robert Ramsay and Bo Hansen and Pete Waite had to get the sound working. That was easy then. Simon had taken the Andy Tillison approach and positioned himself on a stool on top of a table for playing his acoustic guitar. People were starting to come in now and were greeted by Simon strumming through Garden Party on his acoustic guitar while singing it in something of a Cockney style, before moving on to Warm Wet Circles and announcing “Welcome to this Marillion tribute night”, and some wit in the crowd shouted out, “the good Marillion.” Simon continued, to explain that he was “going to play one track from Shineback, because it’s the only one you can play on an acoustic guitar.” “Ah, Mr Rob Henderson !” and the crowd cheer. Simon tantalises us with tales of a Prog festival in a galaxy far, far away (RoSfest), including recommending The Flower Kings, Jolly (“like a depressing version of It Bites”) and Riverside (“fantastic”), before Alan Reed shows up in the crowd, and then Keith Waye appears, which prompts “talking of after-parties, Keith…,” “Don’t say any more, my wife’s here !” And then Tim Lawrie joins us, “Hey, it’s Tim, co-producer of the Shineback album.” One of the conditions of getting Phil the Duck was that he had to be included in tonight’s set, so Simon goes to get him.
“Is this duck going to steal my lines ?” asks Robert Ramsay. “He’s already stolen your thunder,” is the response from that wit again. “Take him out and have him shot,” says Simon, presumably talking about Phil the Duck, before he continues, “I don’t know where the whole duck thing came from…” And on a side note (like this part of the review is not one great big side note), when you buy the Celebr8.2 programme you should check out the duck references in the Simon Godfrey/Shineback section. Simon spots the Prog celebrity in the crowd, “Alan Reed is my Elvis ! By the way, you played a fucking brilliant set, mate,” and the crowd cheer. “I got semi-erect during Sanctuary.”
At 1906 Simon Godfrey strums on his acoustic guitar, the packed crowd cheer, and then clap along to Motorville by Tinyfish, although we can still hear Haken finishing their set on the main stage. Simon’s playing is hard, direct, thumping and lively, with great vocals, and he brings it to a close to huge roar from the crowd. Robert Ramsay takes off his hat and shades, having not taken any part in the song, and sits down. Myself and Pedro wonder if he will just wear a different hat for each song this evening.
Simon continues with another Tinyfish song, The Big Red Spark, strumming in hard and driving it, before pausing part way in, and as he continues the sound cuts out, “ooh, hello,” but it seems to just be the plug and he pushes on, before tapping on the guitar, “this is Leon’s bit,” and at that point Geoff Banks and Andy Tillison attempt to come in unnoticed to retrieve a keyboard, but we all notice them, and they provide an entertaining interlude.
“I need the lyrics for this one. I’m going to play a Shineback song.” But Simon did not put those lyrics in his book. He dedicates it to Tim, “so if you don’t like it, it’s his fault.” And the crowd get to hear a version of Faultlines which is very different to that which is on the album, as Simon strums his acoustic guitar and it is very melodic and tuneful, with his voice going high to push it on to the finish, “well, that was a crap chord” and he ends it with a big strum to cheers.
Alan Reed has gone, but Mark Spencer has appeared, and just in time to hear Simon playing Black Sabbath power chords. Or was it Spinal Tap ? It is a song about Phil the Duck ! And while it seems to draw heavily on Christmas At The Citadel it is actually a version of All Hands Lost, which Bo and I have seen retired twice already. Simon introduces us to duck wrangler, Mr Robert Ramsay, who also does some of that spoken word stuff (“ps sorry about the duck”) that he does when he is not duck wrangling, and the three of them (Phil, Simon and Robert) act out an epic which is only rivalled by the not quite so epic By-Tor And The Snow Duck by Rush.
Simon keeps strumming hard, then pauses, “fucking hell”, before carrying on, adding “it is at this point that Leon Camfield would say something,” and it pushes on to the conclusion, with Simon sending us off with, “my name’s Simon Godfrey, that’s Robert Ramsay, you’ve been the audience, thank you very much, good night !” and after a massive roar from a very appreciative crowd he adds, “now go away and listen to Mystery. Or I will taunt you a second time.” The crowd very reluctantly drift away.
The set has been a lot of fun, very entertaining, and not just because of the humour and the sense of joy that Simon brings to his music, but also because of the strength of the songwriting, which I know I seem to have been going on about all through my reviews of this weekend. Anyway, I had best bring this to a close before I start telling you what a very strong album Shineback is.
You can see my photos from the set here.
And that was the end of Celebr8.2 for me because I had to get home and be ready for an early start at work on the Monday. There was just a moment to say goodbye to David Elliott and Mike Morton (of The Gift), and it was a shame to have to miss both Mystery and Arena, but I was fortunate to have seen both bands before. It had been a brilliant weekend, brought to us by the blood, sweat and tears of Jon Patrick, Geoff Banks and Bob Hodds, and they deserve to at least break even for their endeavours, and this is where you come in. There are still some of the limited edition programmes available from The Merch Desk, and when they have sold out things will look a whole lot better for the possibility of Celebr8.3 – you must buy a copy while the limited remaining stocks last by clicking here.