Venue : The House Of Progression at The Peel, Kingston-upon-Thames
Date : Saturday 29 August 2009
Date of writing this review : 13 September 2009
This was Mattfest, a progressive rock all-dayer at The Peel to celebrate Matt Ellis 40th birthday (which happened last year). You should take a look at Ashleaze blog to see why the particular bands were on the bill (but in some cases you might want to avoid her own comments – she can sometimes be as cruel as a Classic Rock Presents Prog reviewer (though, as we shall hear, that is but nothing compared to someone from Kerrang!)). I shall try to lead you through the events as they unfolded on the day, featuring Matt in a Freefall jumpsuit, a couple of Tinyfishes and with the lineup of John Young, Primitive Instinct, Summer Indoors, Final Conflict, Casual Affair, Haze and Galahad.
Despite the worst the M25 could throw at me (including Oxford United fams), I managed to arrive on time, and they were slightly behind in setting up anyway. This was a John Young solo show, and not with his band. “Welcome to a day of undliuted prog,” says John, “It comes with an original music health warning”. He opened with Different, playing everything through his keyboard, and the drums crash in and sounds are weaving through, drifting along as his strong vocals come in. There is a solid beat to the track, a good melody and a swirling sound. The keyboard sound pushes through into a flowing, melodic solo, and then the vocals come back in, emotional. The sound holds, then drifts, before moving on again with a fuller sound, gradually building as a stronger keyboard part comes in, and it moves into a sharp sounding solo part. The vocals come back and it drives on, the sound screeches and soars, a wonderful keyboard part running under it, and it ends on his great vocals and fades. John continued with a new song, called Voice In My Head, a work in progress, featuring guest vocals (although there is no guest vocalist with him today). It begins with exotic sounds and beats, drifting as a harder keyboard sound comes in with his vocals, and there is a full rounded sound now as the beat hits in, the track rolling along with a deep melody from the keyboards. The sound builds and becomes harder, pushing into an expansive keyboard part, and the vocal track comes through under the music, the sound driving on into a rising keyboard part. The vocal track is in again as the keyboards soar, and the song pushes on, then eases down into the keyboards to close.
He wonders how much time he has left, and it is about 15 minutes. “Best do a 15 minute long number then”. A bouncy beat hits us into Unknown Soldier, a lighter feel as the vocals come in and the keyboards float through. The sound grows fuller and the vocals become more forceful, before it eases then picks up again with a sharp edge, then flows into a softer part. The keyboards pierce through as it drifts on, and it then pushes on into another shooting keyboard part and flows, moving on as a guitar sound comes through, considered, flowing, rising, more uptempo, before the track eases again into a trickling keyboard part, and the sound settles before picking up a harder edge. The vocals soar out. The track then eases along before bursting out again with another guitar part, soaring this time but with a gentle sound, then sharper as it hits high, and the vocals soar in to follow it. It settles and a piercing keyboard sound pushes on, the keyboards becoming more pointed and jumpy, then the track hits off with the guitar cutting in and the keyboards sending out a shrieking sound, with the emotional vocals strident as the guitar cuts in again. It is a bigger sound now as it bounces along with a hard edge, before easing down to the vocals and keyboards, the vocals powerful and the keyboards subdued underneath, and it fades to a close. It has been a very enjoyable start to the day.
John Young is playing another solo spot supporting Curved Air at the Buxton Opera House on 7 October.
I have to say that throughout the day there was some excellent incidental music playing in the main room – as John’s set finished it went into Indigo by Pendragon from their excellent album, Pure, and I came back for the next band to find that Time Flies, the new preview from Porcupine Tree, was playing.
I had seen Primitive Instinct quite recently supporting The Pineapple Thief here at The Peel (although, thinking about it, ‘quite recently’ was back in July 2008), so I was looking forward to seeing them again. Most of Primitive Instinct were here, but their drummer works as a sound engineer, and he keeps getting work…but we had guitarist Nick Sheridan, and bassist Pic, and a few boxes of tricks, by the looks of it, so everything was set to go (or so it seemed). They open with Hypnotic, a wonderful instrumental track from their Floating Tangibility album. Pic sets the keyboards going and Nick comes in on guitar, using an eBow to create a lovely soaring sound, and the beat comes in with a backing melody track. The drums kick and the guitar cuts through as it moves along gently, rolling, Pic’s bass thumping with it, and they build an expansive, flowing, melodic sound, the guitar now playing around within it. The sound is very atmospheric, drifting with a hard edge then pushing on into shrieking guitar before heading into an extended (like, really extended) finish. And Pic reveals they have just played that without the clicktrack because it would appear Nick did not turn it on. So now they really are set to go, and they continue with a new track, Solitary Man, easing in with melodic guitar before Nick’s forceful vocals push through. There is a lovely gentle circling hook from the guitar, before the bass builds up and the track kicks off, a fuller sound and a harder sound from the guitar as the vocals rise, and the bass has a heavy sound. It eases off and drifts on, with the guitar circling again, before kicking into the chorus, driving on with the heavier and fuller sound. It eases down once more, this time into keyboards, and pushes on to an end. Praying For The Rain is from their current album, Belief, and the drums tap in, the guitar riffs and it hits off sharp, keyboards flowing through, the bass rumbling, and it sways along uptempo. The track has a bounce to it, while retaining a hard sound, and it drives into a sharp, flowing guitar solo which rises, and then the track pushes on with a big sound, rolling to a close.
Shekhakim is also from Belief, the drums tapping in as melodic guitar flows and the bass gently throbs. There is a big circling sound as the vocals come in, and it eases along before the drums kick and the sound soars, the vocals crying out as the guitar riffs hard. It eases down into the drums tapping and the guitar circling, before the drums kick and it blasts away. It eases again, and guitar strumming takes the tempo up and it pushes on, growing again and a heavier sound rumbles on, the guitar then circling and it eases to fade to close. Nick questions Matt’s actual current age, given that his birthday was almost a year ago now and Matt replies, “I’m still 40, so it counts”. They move into another new song, Falling Down, melodic guitar rolling through and the vocals come in and it bounces away uptempo, the bass driving it on. The vocals soar into the chorus, with the guitar strumming, and there is a gentle, airy feel to the song, with a great melody running through it. Then the bass takes us off as the guitar strums harder, leading into a floating solo before it drops back into a harder part. The vocals come back in and it bounces away to end on a big riff. “That’s our pop prog”. They finish with Chosen Few, another track from Belief, high treble parts piercing through from the keyboards, the drums rumbling with the bass, and the guitar cuts across it all. The sound is floating through as the vocals come in, and then it all comes together and kicks off, now hard and heavy with big riffing as it moves along, and for me it has the sound of solo Peter Gabriel from around albums 3 and 4 (which is a good thing). The sound builds and the guitar hook really comes through, and there are lots of layers to the track as it flows through in waves, pushing into the chorus with forceful vocals, now a big swirling sound driving along, as it hits into a sharp end and they close an excellent set with the sound echoing and floating.
I will be looking forward to the new album and some more live dates – I really do not want to leave it over a year before the next one.
And there’s a bit of For Bumble by Also Eden.
I have to admit to absolute ignorance. I had never heard of Summer Indoors before seeing them listed on this bill, and having heard their set I curse my ignorance because I wish I had encountered them before – and go and take a look at their MySpace page because their blogs leading up to the gig are pure entertainment. You also need to bear in mind that I did not know any of their material, and they produced the review writer’s nightmare…songs running into each other – so I may have a few song titles in slightly the wrong place.Suddenly Fluff Freeman is speaking out to us from beyond the grave, an intro for Matt, an outline of the whole day, and leading us into what turns out to be a truncated Universal State Of Mind. Not ‘arf ! And Jon Dahms’ guitar screeches, Mark Jordan’s drums hit in, Chris Dempsey’s bass thumps, Andy Forrest’s keyboards flow through and they are back for the first time since 1996, with the track rolling away upbeat and rocking. Jon is playing his guitar on the neck and producing a reel sound, and around him the sound is sharp before it pauses and the guitar cuts through. It starts to build and rolls away again before easing as Chris’ vocals push in, then rumbles away again. It has a sound which reminds me of 70s Genesis and early Rush (which are both good things), and becomes hard and heavy, grinding along before the keyboards burst through, and the bass thumps along with the guitar screeching in bursts, and this big sound keeps pushing on, the keyboards now piercing through at times as it rolls to a close and huge applause from the crowd. Chris tells how they have not played for 13 years and he was “nervous as shit, but I feel better now.” (This also led into Time Spin Round A Circle, but I do not know where one track moved into the other.) And next up is a track “written by our original keyboard player – fuck knows what happened to him”, and this is PLC, soaring majestic keyboards which are joined by the drums and bass before the guitar runs through it all. The sound settles and eases along, the keyboards bursting through with a big sound, and the track rolls along into those majestic keyboards again, easing along with occasional bursts, moving into epic sounds, classic British prog (which IS a good thing). Then it pauses before the drums roll us off, racing with dramatic sounds bursting through, and it rumbles into a sharp, piercing guitar part. It hits off again with the vocals shouting out, a massive chaotic sound at times, the bass throbbing as the guitar screeches in, soaring and scrapping, and then the track races off again, the keyboards having some bounce in them, and it pauses before rolling into some flowing keyboards, the guitar cutting through, building and screeching, and it all rolls off uptempo into a big finish. They have had to cut down their setlist and leave out Truth Lies Thin On The Ground and Here It Is!!! at this point.
Some incidental music comes in, “we used to do this in the pubs back in the day”, and an advert-type announcement introduces the band in an irreverant manner, very Monty Python-like, and the drums tap us into Placebo, before everything crashes in and it launches off, the tempo rises and it really kicks away, the guitar riffing and the bass thumping. Then the guitar bursts through chiming, the keyboards adding substance, and the track eases along with a hard edge. The drums crash and the keyboards pierce through and then soar, wailing, as the guitar riffs, and the keyboard part pushes on, extended, as the track holds. Then the bass thumps us into a different beat, a floating sound with sharp, sustained guitar, and the drums kick in as the guitar circles, the track easing along, holding, before gentle piano rolls away, the vocals coming back in on top, the cymbals softly crash, the guitar slides in sharp, controlled then wailing, and the track starts to build and then kicks off, reminding me of the break in Marillion’s Cinderella Search, the guitar cutting through, and the drums crashing away then rolling, and it eases down into a guitar part again, the keyboards tailing off that sound, before the guitar chimes in circling to take us into New Sun Shining. Forceful vocals push out and the cymbals lightly tap in as it eases along with the keyboard sound flowing, and then the drums kick in with the bass thumping and it hits away with an ELP feel, for me. It pushes on with the guitar still circling that original theme, and the vocals hard and forceful, before easing down into sharp guitar with piano, and the vocals come back in and the drums hit to move it on. The vocals shout out and it kicks into a soaring guitar solo before pushing on from that into the original guitar theme, adding in some flourishes, and it closes with the cymbals crashing. Jon says, “well, I played all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”, but given the amount of pain he is clearly in following his recent operation I think we could forgive him any little slips.
Chris tells us the next one is the very last song they played all those years ago, and decides it should be dedicated to Harry Patch, the last Tommy, and a crashing opening with riffing guitar takes us into Men With Splendid Hearts, the bass thumping through with a thick guitar sound now. There is a martial beat from the drums with the keyboards flowing through, and the track drives away with a big beat, rocking along uptempo, the guitar cutting in before the song eases into melodic guitar, the sound still driven but floating. It hits harder again and the bass buzzes as the guitar riffs hard, deliberate, and the drums kick in very solid to move it on. The track holds as the martial beat comes in again, and then a harsh guitar riff takes us on, the drums kicking and rolling through it, before the track eases to a sharp finish. Jon shows us his leg and tells us that “underneath the bandage it’s all leaking” – I wonder if this came as part of the show back in the day ! There is a rousing start to Vanishing Point, which crashes away, sound very Rush-like, the guitar slicing in with a big sound to it, the keyboards flowing as the drums blast and the bass races, a full sound to the track as the vocals come through very forceful, and the keyboards push through more as the track drives on, the tempo easing into a sharp sound which runs into cutting guitar, before the bass rumbles through and it kicks off. The guitar starts to pierce through before it eases into Chinese Whispers, the drums picking it up again and it rolls on, pushing away hard and heavy before kicking into a loighter part, holding then rolling on again with the guitar cutting through, the guitar building into a circling sound as the drums drive it on and it flows on to a solid end, before the keyboards soar through to take us into Peak Time Boulevard and it rattles away. The vocals push through, powerful now, the drums are smashing, and they have created a massive sound to finish on, and a brilliant set crashes to a big, extended close. “Thanks very much for cheering – we like that”, says Chris, before adding, “It’s been good and maybe we will see you along the line”. I very much hope so.
Talking with Jon afterwards he tells me they are trying to find a way to make their previous releases available again, and it certainly sounds like they intend to get some new material written and get back on the road – I am sure they will be very welcome back at The Peel. Jon just needs to get himself better first, and all good wishes for that to be a speedy recovery.
And I can hear the Narration single, Miracle – they played here as support to The Pineapple Thief, and are headlining at The Nag’s Head in High Wycombe on Friday 18 September. And it is at this point that I see the guys from Tinyfish – Simon Godfrey and Rob Ramsay. I think they deserve a mention because the band are fine supporters of The Peel, both in terms of gigs and being available at short notice (stepping in as support for Blind Ego (review (still) to follow)), and for turning up to see other bands – you will often see me mention them in other reviews. So come and see them supporting 2 Js And An A (Almost Frost*) on 7 November or, (and this would have made sense if this blog had got out when I planned it (but work got in the way)…but instead you missed an excellent gig if you were not there, and I’m not going to lose my accidental link) if this blog gets out in time, headlining on Saturday 5 September at The Peel, and if you have not already been convinced of how worthwhile that would be at this short notice, they are being supported by DeeExpus (in their first London gig), who have as their drummer, Henry Rogers. And in an honestly never intended until I actually got here segue…
I had heard a lot about Final Conflict before now but had never seen them live, so I was looking forward to this set a lot.Â I had also heard that Henry Rogers was the new drummer for DeeExpus but had not appreciated that he was also still with Final Conflict, so to see him there was a very welcome and pleasant surprise. They opened with Solitude, the same track they open with on their new dvd/cd live from Poland, Another Moment In Time, a heartbeat, the sound pulsing in, growing, atmospheric. The keyboards come in and the vocals float out, the sound still drifting, atmospheric, the vocals providing a harmony more than anything else, it is like an astral hymn at times, and then the keyboards flow and the drums kick and the bass rumbles, and the sound starts to build (and I may have heard a musical reference to the Close Encounters music in there) and some stragglers come in, “glad you could make it”, says Andy Lawton, and they have come in at just the right time because then Henry’s drums smash and the track kicks off with both guitars soaring through, and it is racing along now with Steve Lipiec’s keyboard sound flying. The guitars start to cut through, creating a big, piercing, whirling sound, and it pauses for more vocal harmonies between Andy and Brian Donkin, with the wonderful sound continuing under the vocals before it hits off again and continues the theme into a screeching close. “Good evening, The Peel !”, cries Andy after a storming start. They continue with Stand Up, the drums tapping away as the guitar pierces through a complicated keyboard part, Barry Elwood’s bass rumbling as the track holds. Then the drums kick in and it eases away, lots of sounds floating with the guitars soaring, forceful vocals pushing through, and they create an epic sound which drifts on with purpose as the guitars jump through, screeching and then piercing, and the vocal chorus takes us on before it rocks away into another floating guitar part with flourishes, a hard, heavy sound pounding now, the vocals still deliberate, the guitar skipping around at times and the guitar sound screeches through again as it storms on, and they certainly know how to build things up and then let them fly, the guitar sound rising with a Pink Floyd edge to it, and the drums come crashing through on top of a big rolling bassline as it hits into a sharp close. “Happy birthday, Matt”, says Andy, as they keep on into The Following. The keyboards are flooding through with a spacey sound and the rhythm hits off bouncy, the guitars riffing through gently as the bass rumbles. It flows along into a piano part before the drums kick in more and move it along, and they have created another big sound with an atmospheric background, which now moves along uptempo with the vocals flowing out. The keyboards keep sliding in with the original melody, switching with the piano part, as the drums keeps rolling through and the vocals are insistent, and then the guitars cut in and Andy flows into a soaring, extended solo, and the track drives on to a screeching close.
Next up is Miss D’Meanour, the keyboards flowing, the guitars circling, building that sound before the drums kick and roll us off into an upbeat, melodic number with a lighter feel. The guitars flow easily through their circling part and the vocals are also flowing through as it eases into a very tuneful keyboard part, and the guitars start to come through, bouncing, and then rise and fly, the solid rhythm from the drums and bass holding the track as the guitars circle and play around. It moves off again, still pushing along with purpose, and holds as the vocals come through for the chorus, the guitars sweeping through once more, the vocals coming through and the keyboards flowing in to bring it to a sharp end. And before they can carry on into the next track Brian has left the stage at a run, “I need the toilet”, but they continue on without him into Stop, Andy saying, “I wrote the lyrics to this when these two (Henry and Barry) were about 3”. The keyboards flow through with an electronica feel, and the vocals are almost urgent on top, as it continues along with just the keyboards and Andy vocals, building an expanded sound, an atmosphere. Brian returns to the stage in time, as the drums kick in and the track takes off, and Brian’s guitar cuts through, a very piercing sound. The track eases along with the bass thumping and guitar bursts sliding in, before the guitar sound gets harder and the overall sound grows, then easing as the guitar flows and climbs, melodic and smooth. And more than any of their tracks before this, it has a prog feel to it, and a definite Pink Floyd sound in some of the vocal passages and the guitar bursts. It continues on with a big sound, the guitar still melodic, then kicks away before the sound dies for the keyboards to flow through with a piano sound and the cymbals tapping, a voice track in the background, and it is racing along with flourishes bursting out, the vocals coming in subdued but insistent, before the bass thumps and it kicks off yet again, crashing away with the guitar cutting in, controlled, on the edge of screeching, pushing at the track, producing a wonderful neo-prog sound. It pauses, then the keyboards wail out with the guitars riffing against them and the drums roll off, and it eases away with the bass throbbing, the vocals coming back in as it pushes along, the keyboards pushing through again and the tempo rises, the bass thumping as a soaring guitar solo comes in, the sound flowing away with the rising guitar. The vocals come back in, stacatto at first, as it eases on with guitar flourishes wailing through, and the rhythm from the drums and bass is driving the track as the guitars and keyboards flow around it, the guitar sound building, soaring, extended and sustained, and it is a big floating sound which meets the repetitive stacatto vocals coming back in now, before it hits into a sharp “stop”. They tell us to shout “where’s your battery” at Mark Colton of Casual Affair (though by the time he comes on I think we had forgotten to…), and then there is a massive sound to open Rebellion, the vocals shouting out as it is crashing along, then it dies down in parts to let the drums roll and builds over and over with the keyboards, before shooting off again with the guitars soaring and the vocals flying. It pauses down into a different beat, harder drums and the guitars squeeling before shooting away in bursts, the keyboards shooting out as the bass thumps hard and heavy, pounding, the guitars scratching through. Then the beat changes again and it rumbles off with the keyboards flowing under and the guitars soaring, into another part taking us forward, building that sound. It pushes off again, but still with that hard sound kicking, and drives along with the drums rolling hard, the guitars screeching out in bursts, the vocals keeping us going and it rumbles to a big close.
They roar away with All Alone, the drums racing as the bass thumps, a sharp sound to the guitars, the keyboards running under it all. Then it pauses down as the guitars soar and then die, the drums kicking along as it drifts on with the vocals very melodic. The rounded guitar sound slides through and eases along, before the guitar riffing gets faster, the tempo rises with a fuller sound, more urgency in the vocals now. The track is growing with guitar bursts cutting through before it eases down as the vocals come in again, bouncing along with a sinister feel, moving into macabre nursery rhymes, and then it moves into a gentle guitar part as the drums crash behind it, and the guitar sound grows with a sharp edge to it. The drums pound in and it kicks off again, a big sound being driven along into a soaring solo, sustained, pushing on, and the keyboards and forceful vocals push into this big sound as the guitar sound soars again, both guitars pushing it now as it races on, and it hits into a big shrieking close, with Brian asking, “Is that loud enough ?” Sounded great to me ! The keyboards flow into The Janus with a piano sound, Andy’s vocals coming in as it eases along with a bounce to it. Then the drums hit and it kicks off, taking on a sinister feel with Brian’s vocals and the guitars screeching through, and it rolls away upbeat, with the whole band clearly having a lot of fun up there on the stage, and especially Brian with his vocal interventions. It drives on as the guitar cuts through, the keyboards flooding in and it kicks away again, uptempo and rocking, building a big sound, great interplay between the vocals, then flowing into a racing solo which is sharp and considered, rising before it finally pierces through and soars, the drums rattling along with it into another big finish. They close their set with Waiting For A Chance (time constraints not allowing them to also play a new song, Lonely Man, which was on the setlist), rocking away with a swagger and a bounce, loud and heavy, the guitars screeching through with something of a celtic feel at times. It settles and rolls away, a big rocker with the bass thumping, and the band are introduced as the keyboards continue to flow, before “here we go” and the guitars screech and the drums kick us off for real. They rock on into a false ending, waiting for the crowd to start to clap before blasting off again, with Matt down in the crowd doing some air-guitar with a walking stick, and the track pushes along bringing a big, sharp close to a powerful, impressive set. These were complex, interesting compositions performed with real skill, and it has left me wanting much more.
The new dvd covers the set they produced here and more, so I was glad I bought that on the day, and you can catch them next at the Autum NABD Ness motorcycle rally in Oxford, where they will be headlining the Friday night on 11 September, or go to their traditional Christmas event at The Rigger in Newcastle-under-Lyme (that’s the Newcastle near Stoke (oh, my mother, from Newcastle-under-Lyme herself, would kill me for making that geographical reference)) where they will be playing a 2 hour set.
All of Anesthetize by Porcupine Tree – not sure between sets gets any better than this.
I am not sure if this geographical reference belongs here, or before I start the part about the band, but given that it concerns Mark Colton I suspect it does not matter if it has crossed to the wrong side of the line. Anyway, Oxford United had played AFC Wimbledon earlier in the day, and a number of the Oxford supporters had returned to The Peel for an after-match drink. I have no idea what possessed Mark to let them know that he was from Swindon, but I suppose at least it gave them something to sing about. And something for him to warm up with as he sings along to a chorus of ‘we hate Swindon’. I had not seen Casual Affair back in the day, but through Credo and Paradise 9 have got to know Mark and Neil Mattars and Carl Sampson, and in recent weeks had been kept up to date with how rehearsals were going every time I met Neil at some gig or other. It all meant I was feeling quite excited about seeing them actually perform. And then Emma (Neil’s far better half) told me about ‘the review’. It is a review from by Chris Watts of Kerrang! from the 15 February 1992 issue, of a gig by Mentaur, Casual Affair and Galahad at the Royal Standard, Walthamstow on Friday 31 January. It begins “It is impossible to think of anything more ridiculous than progressive rock”, but goes downhill from there. Apparently, “Casual Affair play a poppier variation on the proggie theme. This means they’ve heard of INXS. Again, you cannot fault their musicianship” – so, with that in mind, and with Mark introducing matters with “Tonight, Matthew, we are going to be Casual Affair”, on to the performance itself.
They had a big opening for Learning To Fly Again, screeching guitar from Mike Mishra before Carl’s drums hit and it kicks off, uptempo and racing with the guitar cutting through, Neil’s bass thumping, a great rhythm driving it, but by now I have seen Carl and Neil working together enough to expect nothing less than that from them. The keyboards from Barry Nuthall push through high and Mark’s vocals come in as it blasts on with a light “poppier variation on the proggie theme”, the guitar slicing through and soaring into a blazing solo before it pushes on into a big finish, and Neil has a completely stupid grin on his face. It is clearly good to be back ! Mark asks what is black and 7 inches, and while Carl says that his is 8 inches, and Neil suggests a 12 inch disco remix, Mark tells us they are now going to play one side of their single. They continue with Reflections, the keyboards pushing through as it kicks off, upbeat with the guitar soaring through in bursts, the bass thumping along, giving the track a bouncy beat as the guitar keeps soaring through, and it races along with Mark on tambourine and pushes to a close. Mark mentions the Chris Watts review, and seems particularly put out by the “Fish-o-philiac bollocks” reference, while also mentioning the part which preaches that “prog is gross and ordinary and soporific and every fan looks like Jesus Christ”, and Mark gazes out at what must be multiple Jesus Christs in the crowd, before continuing to read, “prog is trite and twee. I thought it was dead”. He suggests we come and read the full article while we are buying the (remastered, repackaged, looks like a single, limited edition) Casual Affair cd album. But if prog was supposed to be dead, he muses, then where is Chris Watts now ? Apparently (allegedly !) he is now Christine Watts, living in Australia and writing for the People’s Friend (says the ever-reliable Mark Colton). [my own research would indicate that in the course of slagging off Iron Maiden, Saxon and Soundgarden, among others, he managed to drive off a huge chunk of Kerrang!’s readership and became universally hated]. Do not worry, we will get back to some music in a minute. Mark tells us the origin of the title for the next track – he is being asked for the name at a gig so it can go on the setlist, asks Neil what it is called, Neil replies, “I don’t know”, Mark passes on the information and the name stuck…so they launch into I Don’t Know, although it seems that the keyboards have blasted in before Mark has finally finished his song introduction, and then it kicks off with a big beat, the keyboards running through it, swirling around, while the vocals are forceful. It thumps along uptempo, with another great rhythm, before the guitar comes in wailing, intricate, sustained, and a big, solid sound pushes on, grows bigger, louder, the guitar screeches, and it drives on relentless into a sharp end.
“Someone nicked this one.” Mark tells us how they wrote this track, and another band nicked it, made it into a successful single and a track on their successful album, and I had seen the setlist and it was written as ‘Spirit’, and I am thinking, blimey, Mike Scott and The Waterboys nicked a song from Casual Affair…but then Mark continues, “we did not really write it, but we wish we had”, and the initial massive booming sound is very clearly The Spirit Of Radio by Rush, and it races away at a frantic pace, the crowd clapping along as the guitar flies, the bass rumbling hard and deep, aggressive vocals and the crowd are clapping along again as the bass bursts out and the drums crach, the keyboards flowing under it. The guitar work becomes more intricate, the bass is pounding, moving into the skanking phase before it rocks off again, the guitar screeching and it wails away, the keyboards bouncy as the track rumbles to a close, and the crowd erupt, leading Mark to say, “if we knew this was going to happen we would not have left it 17 years between gigs”. Next up is the first song they ever wrote, Auf Wiedersehen, with the guitar rolling through and the keyboards floating, the cymbals gently crash and the vocals drift in melodic. The drums kick and the bass thumps gently with the guitar circling, the sound swirling around the vocals as it continues to ease along, a very 80s sound to the melody (which could have fit in well within the film Breaking Glass, alongside Hazel O’Connor’s Will You) before the guitar cuts through and soars, some intricate finger work taking the sound higher, the track swaying along with a harder edge to it, pausing into thumping drums and the vocals shout out, the guitar riffing hard now, the bass pulsing and it comes together and rocks off to a close. Kerrang! did once say that their songwriting transcended comparison in the prog rock arena, but you will have to ask Mark whether that is a compliment or not. Mark’s current band, the excellent neo-prog Credo, play a cover of Whisper In The Wind, and here it is being played by the band who wrote it, the guitar and keyboards chiming in as the cymbals gently tap. The bass taps in too, grows a little and the sound floats, before the drums kick and the sound blasts away with fierce vocals coming in, a big hard sound now. It rolls on in bursts, easing for stacatto keyboards, then the guitar riffing gently, the bass rumbling along with it. It moves along again, the keyboards rolling in, the sound starting to grow, the drums driving it, but with subtlety, before it hits hard into a scorching, flowing guitar solo, a hard edge which soars, and the track drives on to a sharp end. Mark begins to cross a line, and the anguish is clear to see on Neil’s face – the two of them have a great rapport up there. He tells us what the ladies in the audience are thinking as they watch Mike Mishra’s left hand, and the reply from their other halves based on his right. I am not going to cross that line in any more detail here – suffice to say that Mike’s hands are pretty dazzling as he sweeps through his excellent guitar work. They got in touch with a record label at one point, who told them the last thing they wanted was a cross between Bryan Adams and Marillion, so they decided to sound like Def Leppard instead, and this is a bit of an anthem, some stadium rock. And in dedicating Play With Fire to Kerry Katona through a pun on Iceland he crossed that line yet again, much to the crowd’s amusement. The music – the guitar crunches in melodic, the drums thump, Mark bounces (that’s what it says in my notes), the bass rumbles and it blasts open, the guitar riff piercing through sharp, the keyboards running under it all, the bass pulsing along. And now the guitar has a scratchy feel as it moves into a wailing guitar solo and pushes along into another piercing sound and soars, the track rumbling off as Mark tells us to imagine…”this is Wembley. I’m Jon Bon Jovi”, and we clap along as it rocks into a big finish. But Mark is not Jon Bon Jovi – he is a much better frontman than that – get along and see him with Credo and be impressed.
“This is something new – we only wrote it about 17 years ago.” Blindsight has only been played about 5 times before tonight, and opens with gentle keyboards and guitar, the bass gently throbbing and some cymbal sounds. It taps off with the vocals coming in, swaying on with a mellow feel, a lovely melody within it, before the guitar takes off with a sharp buzz to it, melodic and soaring as the track eases on. It comes to a dead stop and the vocals slowly take it on again before the drums come back and the guitar screeches into a soaring solo, running into an intricate part, sustained, pushing, then dying down and the track taps on, some keyboards flowing through before the vocals take us into another dead stop, before it continues on into Perfect Timing, Mark wishing he was more Paul Rodgers than (with an expert 3-2-1 hand movement) Ted Rogers as bluesy guitar flows through, the drums tapping as the bass rumbles, and Mark’s excellent vocals soar out. The guitar climbs again with a sharp edge before the track eases along with guitar bursts coming through, screeching, wailing, the guitar continuing to build, introducing more intricate parts, flowing, piercing through, showing just how very skillful a guitarist Mike Mishra is. The track easing along now with the drums crashing in flourishes, swaying along to a close, the sound dying…but it is not the end and the drums kick again and the track now explodes away, a mellow ballad turning into a big rocker, the guitar racing, soaring again, drums pounding as the bass rumbles, the vocals forceful now, powerful, before it eases to a quieter part, the guitar echoing through with the keyboards flowing under it, and the guitar wails to a close. “That was the other side of the single”. Mark thanks Matt for being 40 and introduces the band, although he mostly forgets to actually tell us their names. He does remember to mention how gullible Carl can be, saying that he is playing a Pearl Export kit today, but they told him it was Pearl Expert, and because he did not have the right drumming licence he would not be allowed to play it. Too Late To Cry was written in 1991 and inspired by Thatcher’s Britain. Mark makes the point that it is more apt than ever in today’s world. The keyboards float in, building the sound as the cymbals gently crash through in waves. There is a sonar sound pulsing through, and a full melodic guitar sound cuts across it. The drums thump, the bass throbs, and the vocals come in on top of a rounded, full sound. It eases along and then holds, the drums and bass mixing with the keyboards, the guitar throwing out sounds. It picks up as the vocals come through again, frantic now, the bass thumps in and the drums race off, and Mark is putting in a very dramatic performance on vocals, as those who have seen Credo know that he can. The track launches off and rocks along uptempo before pausing for the bass to rumble through. The guitar has a gentle sound now as the vocals take it on, and the drums kick in to drive it. The guitar scrapes through now, building its sound, becoming more melodic, flowing, screeching out, more considered as the track thumps along, then soaring to finish its solo, as the track flows on with the keyboards and a great bass sound, the guitar now echoing through, and it eases down further as the guitar hits to bring a wonderful set to an end.
So, what now from here ? There are no definite plans for Casual Affair as a band. Mark has developed their sound with Credo (as can be heard on their new dvd), Neil and Carl are the rhythm section in Paradise 9 (and you really should check out their new ep), Mike is developing a new band in Panoptykon, and Barry Nuthall is teaching in a girls’ finishing school in Zurich (or was it Geneva ?).
The last time Haze played The Peel they had to make an unscheduled detour via Twickenham. On the same afternoon as a rugby match was being played there, and just as everyone was coming out. No such problems this time, but an overrun on timings meant that unfortunately they had to cut their set shorter than planned. Haze are the band from this bill that I know the best – I was at University in Sheffield and so went along to their gigs on a regular basis, bought all the demo tapes and singles and albums, all the mole and gnome related merchandise, but through all that I am not sure I have ever seen them without Twice Bitten in support. Even up to the moment Haze got on stage I half expected Twit Bison to jump out of a couple of flight cases !
Chris McMahon starts things going, “Hello, we are Haze. Been a long time, eh”, and the sound crashes in with a swirling, sustained, piercing high guitar as they open with The Vice, the drums kicking in and the keyboards flowing as the guitar sound continues on. And it really hits off with Paul McMahon’s guitar riffing away, then the sound dies for the guitar to push through, kicks then dies again, and now it flies off with the keyboards screeching through with the melody and Paul Chisnell’s drums are crashing, and it rocks on hard and heavy, pausing for guitar flourishes coming through before rolling off again, developing the melody, playing about with the guitar riff, and Paul McMahon’s vocals come in as the bass rumbles from Chris, and a great guitar lick cuts across it all. The drums are driving the track and there is a wonderful combination between the keyboards and guitar, some very expressive, powerful vocals, that guitar lick coming through again, the vocals really crying out, the guitar grinding the melody line before it holds as the keyboards tinkle through, then blasts into another sharp, sustained sound, and the guitar kicks us away again, the bass rumbling as the track races on into a big finish. Ceri Ashton joins them on stage for Dragonfly, “one we did for the first time here last year”, and it starts with a sharp guitar sound, the keyboards flowing, swirling, having an eastern theme to their sound, and Ceri’s flute comes in to continue that theme. The drums are tapping out the beat, and the vocals push through, almost stacatto. The drums crash with the guitar riffing, then it eases, with the flute coming in again, and the vocals come back in more forceful as the sound continues to swirl. The drums crash off as the keyboards flow sharply, and the guitar is ripping through as the flute flows in, and an aggressive sound drives on, the vocals joining again, growing still. The develop that original theme, the keyboards spiralling higher before the guitar cuts away with the flute and the drums come smashing through, the keyboards now flowing under it all, before the guitar cuts in again, a sinister, hard sound, and the flute flows higher. The vocals are very forceful now as the drums kick off again, and it is a big sound they are driving along, hard edged guitar, keyboards slicing through, with a sharp guitar solo building on the main theme and screeching out, before returning to the hard riffing to bring the track to a sharp end. The flute soars out for Over The River, with gentle guitar strumming. The vocals flow and it all has a pastoral sound to it, a melancholy touch, and the keyboards are flowing melodic with the vocals now, the cymbals gently crashing through in waves. The flute flows again as the track rolls on, keyboards, vocals and cymbal sounds, Paul’s vocals rounded but pushing, deep as the piano sounds run high. Then the guitar crunches in, the drums kick and they produce a far bigger sound with a hard edge, the vocals pulling it along, which leads into a wailing guitar solo, joined by the flute, before it eases down into the keyboards playing that wonderful piano melody and the vocals having an edge to them. The drums build it up again and it kicks away once more, hiting into a soaring guitar solo which eases along melodic, and the flute comes in as the sound grows again and they push it into a big finish. Chris says they have not been doing nothing since they were last here, “we have got one new song.” “Not on my setlist, matey”, replies Paul McMahon. “OK, here’s another old one,” continues Chris and the keyboards flow through rich, melodic and mellow into The Edge Of Heaven. The vocals join in, with the cymbals gently crashing and the drums tapping, to take us along, and it sways as the sound grows. There are lots of drum flourishes, and Paul’s drumming is top class as always, powerful when it needs to be and subtle at other times, and the flute comes in to make a very busy sound as it eases along, the vocals soaring now and really the force behind moving the track along, even if it is still just a drifting movement. The keyboards push in with the flute as the guitar sound gets harder, and the drums are very forceful now as the vocals become more powerful. It eases into a piercing, at times screeching, considered solo which soars, with the flute following it, and then the track pushes on with a massive sound to a close.
“I was right – there is a new song”, says Chris. “You were wrong last time, though”, replies Paul. And the new song, The Last Battle, kicks off with a massive sound. Chris is on a double-neck guitar, strumming the opening part, and the vocals soar through. The drums kick and the flute flows, and both guitars come in and the track rolls off, with Paul using a slide for his guitar sound. The vocals come back in again and Chris’ guitar is chiming, the flute still having that flowing sound as the drums tap along, before it hits off again. The flute building and flowing through as Chris moves on to the bass, and the great sound they are producing has a mixture of medieval and Americana, for me. Then Chris is back strumming a guitar part and Paul’s guitar is melodic again. The hi-hat taps as the flute still flows, and then it kicks off into the chorus part again, with a great melody, which leads into some flowing slide guitar as the track bounces along. Then picking out some dramatic, flowing guitar, which heads into blasting drums. The track eases for the flute to come in, giving that medieval sound again, and the guitar cuts through with the Americana sound, and it all rolls to a close. “We did not come via Twickenham this time”, says Chris, before they move into “a tale of Sheffield town”, The Barrister & The Bargast (which they first played with Treebeard), Chris using his double-neck guitar again, and Paul’s guitar cuts through as the track sways along with the flute. And I have to say that the flute from Ceri Ashton adds a wonderful extra element to the Haze sound from when I used to see them back in the day. The track has a folk feel to it and Chris sings as both guitars strum along, before the drums kick and it rolls on with Paul singing. It returns to Chris singing and the flute flows in, and now the guitars have a hard sound to them as Paul comes back in singing, and it has become a rock sound on top of a folk song in a very fun, enjoyable song, and the flute comes through as it sways hard into a piercing guitar solo. Chris sings along with the flute, before the singing passes back to Paul, and they do combine so well within the track, as it moves into a sharp sound, easing down into both vocals together, and very much a folk feel, before it kicks off into swirling hard guitar, with the flute flowing through the hard sound. Then the guitar pierces and it moves fast into the end. “We were requested to do this one tonight”, and they ease into the melodic sound of Seven Stones. The keyboards flow underneath as the guitar is picking out a wonderfully bluesy part, and the vocals come in as the track is gradually growing into a rounded sound, drifting along with a guitar part now running under it. The drums kick in gently and the track moves on, a lovely ballad driving along with the flute forceful, before it moves into a flowing guitar part. It eases down into tinkling keyboards, and the flute floats in high, a powerful sound, the guitar now playing around the flute sound. The drums roll and the guitar blasts out, the keyboards pushing through, swirling high, as the flute comes back in, a more deliberate sound. The drums start to pick up the tempo, the guitar cuts in and the track rocks away. It settles again, holds and then pushes into the flute sound, the drums driving us along. The vocals flow back in and it eases along into a sharp guitar sound before the flute flows again to bring it to a close. “Cds and tshirts at the back !”, says Chris.
Sadly, because time has overrun from earlier, they have had to cut short their set, and we do not get The Night, Mush (which I presume to be Dig Them Mushrooms) and Mountain, which is a shame. What we really need are Haze back at The Peel with no travel complications and a full time available so that they can roll out a full set, because they never fail to give the audience an enjoyable time, and I know there are more than a few of us who would very much enjoy hearing many more of the older numbers again. Until that happens, look out for Treebeard playing in and around the south Yorkshire area through September and October.I can hear Elektra City by Panic Room, who played a storming set at The Peel on 12 September, with something of a surprise guest on their closing track – review to follow.Galahad
Let us return to that Chris Watts’ review for a moment, because Galahad were also the headline act on that bill back in 1992. Even then they had “been around long enough to remember Pallas and Pendragon. [as a side note, Pallas will play The Peel on 5 December 2009, and I saw Pendragon most recently a couple of weeks ago at the Fish Convention (and a review will follow of that) – I will return to the Chris Watts’ review now…] They are probably the genuine article. The living museum. The shop dummies on stage are a budget relic from the golden era of Hipgnosis album covers and dozy Floyd songs about diamonds and cigars. Nothing, however – not even distributing chocolates amongst the crowd – can detract from the singer’s haircut.” Which leads to two questions – where were the chocolates tonight, and what hair ?
Galahad have progressed (did you see what I did there…) since the Chris Watts’ review, although given that he makes no mention whatsoever of their music it would be hard to tell that from his review alone. So let us move on to the music, and I will attempt to give you an idea of how they sound today. They launch in with a big sound crunching away…but it is just the nearest they will get to a soundcheck tonight. They really open with Sleepers, from the 1995 album of the same name, which advised “this album is best served on headphones at high volume” – well, it sounds pretty damn good live ! They come on to the stage at 2220 (so you know their set will be shortened as well) with a track playing the fast pulsing atmospheric introduction, before they crash in with big drums from Spencer Luckman and rumbling bass, the keyboards flowing majestic as the guitar riffs hard. The sound eases down, rolling along as it becomes melodic, the keyboards having a full rounded sound, before it crashes off again, kicking off with a sharp sound from the guitar, as ‘singer’ Stu Nicholson comes on stage (without much of a haircut (or chocolates), so far as I can see). The sound eases into Roy Keyworth’s piercing guitar as Stu’s vocals come in tuneful and forceful, with a bite to them. The bass is pulsing as the track pushes on, feeling a little restrained, then it bounces along, with the drums building, pounding. The guitar is riffing hard, and the sound then soars, shrieking on the edge of feedback, and the track ticks along as the sound dies, before the drums bash in and it thumps along, suddenly rumbling away with the keyboards flying. The guitar cuts in and the sound is growing, rising, before it dies down again and an atmospheric sound drifts along, as the whole story continues within the song. And at this point Matt will probably not want to be reminded of his ‘dancing’. The guitar circles and the sound lightens, picking up the tempo and rising, as the drums kick and it rolls off. They have created an expansive sound, the keyboards floating now, the bass rumbling gently. The keyboards become more pointed as the drums tap along, and the guitar cuts loose with the earlier theme and runs into furious riffing. The drums kick off again as the keyboards race and the guitar riffs and it then gently eases to a sharp close. A truly stunning opening to a set. Stu wonders if anyone has wished Matt a happy birthday. “Are you pissed yet ? You’re normally pissed early on…” The sound eases in from Dean Baker’s keyboards as they begin Sidewinder, from their excellent new album Empires Never Last. The guitar joins the keyboards as an atmospheric sound is growing, before the drums gently kick us off as the guitar theme grows and circles, the bass gently throbbing through. It jumps into a bouncy keyboard part and the vocals ease in as the drums rumble with the bass, the sound building, still very atmospheric, full of rhythms. The vocals become more strident before the track blows open and rocks on uptempo, interesting sharp flourishes from the guitar, the keyboards flowing, and the track soars on, full of melody, lots of interesting rhythms knocking off each other, the keyboards becoming very large within the sound. And it pushes on as the bass changes rhythm and the drums are crashing, the sound rising and still growing, the guitar cutting through a chaotic sound and pulling it together, before pushing on itself, circling, expanding the theme, holding, then piercing through gently. Stu is on tambourine as the track eases into atmospherics, the keyboards coming through with a pointed piano sound. The drums kick in, and the guitar part builds again, circling once more with that original theme, the bass pulsing and then thumping, and the track rolls off again, this time with the guitar having a fuller sound, but still sharp, the keyboards still flowing with it. The vocals come in strongly, and the sound has a hard edge as it pushes on, the guitar cutting through with a sharp melodic part, rising hard as the drums drive us on, the guitar pushing through some more as the track comes to a soaring close.
And here they had to drop a couple of songs from the setlist, namely Lady Messiah and Bug Eye. “We are going to do a brand new song, hence – words”, says Stu, holding up his lyrics sheet. Battlescars (BS on the setlist) opens with gentle keyboards and the vocals soaring melodic. The cymbals are gently crashing in, and the track eases along with the keyboards going deeper, becoming more pointed. The guitar cuts in with a big riff and the tempo picks up as the drums crash, the bass rumbles fast, the vocals become frantic and the sound arcs upwards, racing along with a hard sound to it, crashing into an aggressive part and the sound has really grown, is very powerful, and the guitar is riffing furiously. Then it eases, flows along, before the guitar now has a more pointed sound, then rips through more melodic, and the vocals soar out of the big chaotic sound they have developed, before the sound moves back to the pointed part and it pushes on. The keyboards are flowing through as it runs on, pauses, then kicks off with that pointed sound again. The vocals are dramatic now, both in sound and performance, before the sound turns stacatto, dark, strident, it hits out and the vocals are rising as the sound soars again, pounding along upbeat with a sharp edge, before it plateaus into a more melodic part, but still with a hard sound to it, and a guitar flourish finishes it off. They had said their new work could be their best yet (and said that after the critical acclaim given to Empires Never Last), and on the evidence of this track they may well be right. “Has anyone wished Matt a happy birthday ? Because I cannot be arsed”. And the keyboards flow through into Empires Never Last as the bass thumps through a wonderful circling bassline, and guitar notes are flying across as the cymbals tap and the drums hit, the sound building, swirling as the vocals come in. The drums kick off and pick it up as the track still holds, the keyboards gorwing, the guitar and bass circling, an epic sound growing hereÂ and then the drums roll and it finally blasts out and runs, the bass racing with the guitar. The keyboards flow high as the guitar is picking out a sharp part, then it eases down as the guitar riffs before taking on a fuller, more melodic sound, before the drums kick and it all blasts through. Then it eases again and drifts along melodic, the keyboards dominating as the sound is growing, rising, the smooth vocals pushing through, tapping along before suddenly racing, then dying down, easing along with the keyboards flowing and melodic guitar, then cutting back to just the guitar picking out a part, the bass gently rumbling in, the drums tapping. The vocals come back in and the sound grows again, bursts out as the track moves along, big, aggressive vocals now into the chorus, the guitar a lot sharper, the bass thumps as the track bounces along with a hard edge. It repeats through to another big chorus, still building as it goes, the sound majestic and full, lots of themes being explored, the vocals very expressive, soaring at times. And they push that full sound along, lots of flourishes within it, a wonderful sound. Then the bass rumbles fast and the guitar screeches through, rising, then flowing with the keyboards, and the drums crash in as the track rumbles on with the guitar soaring, then riffing furiously as the sound rises higher still, the hard riff coming back in to thump us on, as Stu bangs two tambourines together for percussion and the big sound that has evolved through the track now crashes on into a dark, epic guitar sound. The drums are crashing through, the bass is rumbling, the guitar is playing around all of it, and then it hits into a massive ending. Powerful stuff.They actually go off because of the time, but the crowd demand more. The setlist shows that we do not get the quite brilliant This Life Could Be My Last… but they do end with Termination. The keyboards pulsing through with a pointed piano sound on top before the track kicks off with a big guitar riff. The bass thumps as the drums kick and the vocals come in, flowing along with the guitar circling under it with the piano. Then it all dies down to the piano with the vocals, before the bass launches us off again with the guitar riffing along, and they produce a hard and heavy pounding sound. The vocals grow and rise, soaring high with the hard pounding sound before it eases down into the piano sound. The drums kick and the bass thumps and the guitar riffs away, and it pushes on with a sharp sound, crashing through in bursts, before the drums build and run, the piano running alongside with the original simple melody, as the guitar cuts through, expands that melody and flows on, the bass rumbling through it all, and the keyboards flowing under it. The vocals come in again, powerful and soaring, and the track is racing along, the keyboards and guitar combining within the melody before the guitar cuts away, developing that theme itself. The vocals force through and it all rolls away loud and hard, bouncing off with a sharp guitar riff, pushing the melody through, the guitar now riffing furiously, not for the first time this set and it does appear a big part of their excellent current sound, the drums pounding with that progressive metal feel and that pushes us on into stacatto vocals on top of the epic sound and a massive close to their set and to the day.What can I say ? I would have loved to have had a lot more of Galahad, and especially with the sound they are now producing. I will be looking out for more gigs. In the meantime, if you do not already have Empires Never Last, I would suggest you get hold of it and find out what you are missing out on.
And as I am leaving I can hear Metamorphosis by Magenta, who will be back at The Peel on 19 December with Touchstone, in what promises to be one of the gigs of the year – which is saying something, given the quality that has been through The Peel already this year, and what is to come – Touchstone and Crimson Sky on 19 September, Darwin’s Radio and Jump on 26 September, Oceansize on 30 October, Almost Frost* and Tinyfish on 7 November, and Pallas on 5 December.
This has been an outstanding day, so indulge me a while longer as I return to the Chris Watts’ 1992 review. He closes with, “One female proggie super-fan described tonight as, “The last act of desperate men”. Actually, it’s a freak show. Proggies know this and dig in deeper to spite the rest of us. Proggies, you’ll be appalled to know, are still doing it for themselves. Still dredging up the corpses of a bygone age and turning fond memories into turds. No one else could give a shit.” If Mattfest has shown anything, 17 and a half years on from that review, it is that there are many people out there who could give a shit – not least the likes of Matt, and Twang and Mick at The Peel. Mattfest has been a tremendous success because of the number of people in the audience who took the time to come along, because of the bands who either continue to do their thing or who saw this as an opportunity to get things going again. Hopefully this has produced something which can be built on and repeated next year, and in the meantime the list of progressive rock bands due to play at The Peel before Christmas shows just how out of touch with reality a review from 1992 has proved to be. Long may that continue to be the case.