Venue : secret location near(ish) Reading
Date : 26 July 2009
Date of writing this review : 3 August 2009
So, this is a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon – round at a friend’s house with a band they know playing a few of their tracks. Or, to slightly rephrase that, round at the house of robh for an acoustic set from Christina, Rob Reed and Chris Fry of Magenta, with less than 40 people in attendance, and the company of Prog royalty in the shape of Rob Ramsay from Tinyfish, and John Mitchell from, well, the list is too long for this blog, but the last band I saw him perform with was Arena at The Night Of The Prog in Loreley (review to follow), and for the purposes of this blog, he also plays with It Bites.
They open proceedings with Children Of The Sun, Rob on one keyboard, Chris on acoustic guitar, and Christina on vocals, and it is a glorious sound. A keyboard opening with gentle strumming from the guitar, leading into guitar notes being picked out before Rob continues alone, then is joined by Christina’s very clear, smooth vocals. I do not play the keyboards myself, but it is fascinating to be able to watch Rob from so close up, to see what goes in to making this sound. The track rolls along with a bounce to it, then settles and eases along with the guitar coming on stronger at times. The sound grows more substance, the guitar comes through, Christina adds some rhythm on tambourine, and there is a melodic, majestic sound to finish with. And it really is remarkable what a glorious sound three musicians can make in a room in someone’s house. Next up is Broken, the keyboard intro initially light and bouncy, with the guitar strumming along, but the sound becomes deeper as the vocals come in. It is an uptempo number, racing along, flowing away with a wonderful melody. They follow that with Cold, a guitar intro this time, Christina’s vocals coming in as it moves along easily, drifting on. Rob is on guitar as well and the track sways, while there is a subdued sound from Chris’ guitar. The vocals are full of emotion and the whole sound crescendos into a short guitar part from Chris, then settles and quietens as it continues, grows again and this time crescendos into the close. “I don’t know if you noticed or not,” says Christina, “but a lot of Magenta songs are very depressing, and we’re such a happy bunch. This is another happy one about loving someone, and hating them at the same time”. And this is Hate You from Christina’s forthcoming solo album, “ready by October”. Both the guys are on guitar again, and the upbeat strumming has a hard edge, a stacatto feel, and Christina’s vocals come in forceful and fervent over the top. The track pauses into a more melodic part then moves on again, before blasting into a percussive part on the frame of Chris’ guitar to finish.
“No, I want to do the happy song,” says Christina, and they go into This Life. The keyboards with the vocals gently ease the track along, and when the guitar comes in the keyboards continue to dominate the sound until the track fades to end, but they continue straight on with the keyboards into Moving On, the vocals then on top of the keyboard melody and it grows into a big sound and flows. Pausing into a keyboard part, with the guitar cutting into it, then the vocals come in again and the track moves on. It grows once more, this time into a lovely sounding guitar solo which leads into a keyboard part, then a harder sound takes us away, and for me this has very much a Pink Floyd feel to it. The keyboards bounce along, the guitar running with them, into the next part with the keyboards still bouncing and Chris using a slide on his guitar, creating a buzzing sound, the slide coming so low it almost touches his plectrum – “runaway train”, says Christina, “almost crashed”, he replies. Then the wonderfully familiar strains of Demons, the keyboards mixing so well with the vocals, the guitar floating in and picking out notes as it flows, the keyboards driving us forward through such a beautiful track, but all too soon it is over – and I always think that when listening to Demons, and simply wish it would continue forever. Morning Sunlight “is another one we have not done for a while”, and the setlist for this ‘show’ is turning out to be a delight in itself. The guitar strums out the melody with Christina singing with it, and the track eases along as the keyboards come in, playing around the guitar melody and then expanding it, before the keyborad part comes to an end and the guitar follows it. “This is the last song before the break, so put the kettle on. Nobody touch the chocolate cake – the chocolate cake is for the girls”, says Christina, before they go into “another happy one”, Journey’s End (written on one setlist I saw as Reaching Out/Journey’s End). The keyboard intro is melodic and yet sombre and eases along until the guitar joins in, the notes piercing, having a Spanish feel, before the guitar picks up the tempo, the notes go higher, the keyboards now running under the guitar melody. Christina’s vocals float in as the guitar ripples, Chris playing on the neck, the whole sound growing, then pausing before a very treble keyboard sound picks up the tempo once more and runs, the guitar coming back in, strumming. The vocals are more forceful now as the track is rocking along, being driven by the keyboards, guitar flourishes around it, such a wonderful combination between Rob and Chris, as always, and the sound has really grown as the song rolls to a close…with Christina getting on the wrong end of the microphone, “do you do that, John, smack yourself in the teeth ? I should get danger money”. And we take a break (I ate someÂ chocolate cake, and worse than that, was seen doing so by Christina – the shame of it all).
And we’re back. King Of The Skies opens the second half, the keyboards and guitar chiming in with a grand sound. The vocals come in and the track rolls away with a great beat to it, coming from the keyboard tempo, bouncy, upbeat, lively. The sound runs into the guitar solo, Chris picking out the part. The track settles, with flourishes from the guitar bursting through, before rolling off again, the guitar driving us on, the keyboards working around it to the end. “This is a nice little song”, and we are into I’m Alive, both Chris and Rob on guitar, strumming under the vocals, which soar at times. The melody eases along, with a strident sound from Christina’s vocals, moving into a lovely guitar solo which fades out, the sound quietening before growing again into a rounded sound, with some tambourine coming in towards the end. And then Christina tells us the story behind the track, “is He doing Mary”, before “moving quickly on”. According to Christina, the next one is “not really in my vocal range” and it’s Secret Wish from Chimpan A, a previous project from Rob, which featured Steve Balsamo on vocals. There is a Tubular Bells sound to the keyboard intro, and then the guitar joins in with the same theme, before the vocals come in and the whole sound changes, before the keyboards return to the original theme. There is a hard, melodic sound, and it has to be said that the vocal part is running very deep, but Christina more than copes with it. The keyboards pick things up again, with the guitar following, then a sudden halt before it continues on, the tempo rising, the vocals climbing, and the keyboards bring us to a sudden end. If you have not heard any Chimpan A before, then on the strength of this track I would say you should do.I had seen a copy of the setlist during the break and it very clearly read Ballad Of Sam followed by Prekestolen followed by Metamorphosis followed by Blind Faith. I looked at my watch and it was equally clear there was not enough time for an album which lasts for 53 minutes and 16 seconds. And so we were treated to Metamorphosis the album, in around 20 minutes. The keyboards and vocals are joined by the guitar strumming out its part, and when the guitar picks up the tempo the keyboards follow. Rob is playing the melody and Chris is working around it as this excerpt from The Ballad Of Samuel Layne eases along, the sound growing and then fading into Prekestolen, the keyboards continuing, Christina coming back in, another wonderful combination between keyboards and guitar, and truly a slice of brilliance from the album. They continue on into Metamorphosis, Christina’s vocals becoming stacatto, the keyboards sounding awkward, off-key, before it all comes together as the vocals soar, now bouncing along into the triumphant-sounding climax of the track, with a “join in everyone” from Christina as the three of them come together for the vocals, the keyboards driving us to the end, into another awkward keyboard part, followed by the guitar in the same manner, and then the close. Then Blind Faith, the vocals forceful, emotional, the sound growing as guitar and tambourine come in, easing into a guitar part as the keyboards run under it, then the tempo rises and the track rolls along. It settles into a keyboard part, with guitar flourishes coming through, Christina singing over the top of them both, her vocals soaring once more, filling the room with a glorious sound, and the keyboards continue to roll and flow, now the guitar running underneath, and gradually Rob slows to a close.”Nearly there now”, and the keyboards bounce into Greed, all three on vocals and sounding very bouncy too. It settles into the keyboards and flows away, Christina swaying as she sings, then the three of them come together again on vocals to take it to the end, and Christina cannot stop herself from laughing. “This…oh…please God of Prog, forgive me for what we are about to do”, but Christina has no need to fear the wrath of the God of Prog as Chris and Christina take us away into a lovely version of Wonderous Stories by Yes, Rob joining in and it rolls along, wonderful keyboard sounds rippling through, the sound gradually growing, moving into an intricate guitar part and we are into Still Too Young To Remember from It Bites (and suddenly my choice of bands for Mr Mitchell makes sense), and it fades to a soft ending, with Christina closing matters, “you can enjoy yourselves now”.
Magenta are playing a Classic Rock Society gig at the Montgomery Hall on 5 September, and are playing The House Of Progression Christmas Party at The Peel with Touchstone on 19 December – where their set will include a complete performance of their 2004 album, Seven, which is currently being re-released in a special edition. And as Mr Ramsay was there, I should mention that Tinyfish are playing the Cambridge Rock and Beer Festival this Saturday, 8 August.