The Enid – Birmingham Town Hall

Venue : Birmingham Town Hall
Date : Friday 16 April 2010
Date of writing this review : 5 May 2010

This promised to be a mighty concert.  I had seen The Enid at Bush Hall and at the Albion Festival since their return, and had been impressed both times.  This was promising to be something very special, though – a performance of the new album, Journey’s End, the magnificent Victorian pipe organ embedded within the venue, the ‘Bruckner’ brass and percussion section of the Chandos Symphony Orchestra, and Francis Lickerish, now of Secret Green, appearing as part of a rare performance of Fand, from Aerie Faerie Nonsense.  I had bought my ticket through my membership of The Enidi, and found myself in the front row of the circle, which was a great vantage point, and my aching back was glad it was a seated concert.

The band came on to the crowded stage, instruments everywhere, leaving room only for them to stand in place and play, and with a “something different this way comes” from the always charismatic Robert John Godfrey, we were off into the British premiere of the new album, Journey’s End, beginning with Terra Firma (and at this point I should make it clear that this was my first time hearing the piece, so I may well have put the actual song titles in the wrong places within this review – what I describe is what I heard).  The drums pound in from Dave Storey, and they are accompanied by the timpani from Nicholas Willes, a rumbling sound, echoing, building, coming across wonderfully in this vast venue, then holding as Jason Ducker’s guitar cuts against the pounding, and vocal sounds come through from Max Read as the guitar shrieks out in bursts, controlled, before riffing through and then flowing out.  The vocal sounds are pushing through and rising as the track rumbles along with an upbeat feel, the guitar riffing through sharp as the bass rumbles from Nicholas, the drums a constant pounding, and against the swirling vocal sounds the guitar cuts through and flows discordant in parts, screeching, and the keyboards from Robert flow with that sound.  The guitar riffs and trembles as the vocals keep rolling on, Jason playing around with the guitar sound as the rest of the track continues behind him, before the sound rises again and flows on, then settling into rolling drums and the guitar carefully sustaining parts.  The timpani come back in to thunder with the toms and it pushes into a big finish.  They continue straight on with Terra Nova, atmospheric sounds coming through, the keyboard sound flowing into that as the vocals come through briefly and float as the track drifts along, gradually building and developing the keyboard part.  There is the big bass drum sound from Nicholas on percussion as the keyboards and guitar now ease in gently, as the stage is bathed in blue light.  The keyboard sound grows and the guitar eases through and develops, it swirls and grows before surging out and then settling, going on in phases with the vocals, drifting along with an easy feel before the piano floats through with pointed notes.  The stage lighting turns red for Space Surfing and a more sinister sound comes through, effects on the vocals pushing against that as the sound surges, and the guitar cuts in sharply.  Bass sounds from the keyboards begin to grow with a wonderfully symphonic sound and then it kicks away upbeat, a little funky, the guitar riffing as the drums rattle and the vocals push through, before the guitar cuts through high and the track rolls on into surging keyboards and bluesy guitar, then it all collapses away into the keyboard sound.  The drums tap it on, the guitar cutting through sharply as the drums rattle away, the guitar surging on, a big, hard, rounded sound screeching high and driving on, before a sudden change into racing sounds as we move into Malacandra, then it holds, develops, spirals into an epic sound, a cescendo hits sharply into a gorgeous peak and then flurries down into a gentle piano sound, with the cymbals tapping with this, then the sound holding for the keyboards to circle and develop before it fades out.  A big sound hits through and rolls it on, the sound gradually spiralling up again as it develops and grows, rolling on to a plateau, fading out, and then pushing on again as the guitar cuts through melodic while sharp.  The sound holds again before the timpani hit in and push it on with a sinister feel, and it flows away as it develops another epic sound, Nicholas mixing together the timpani and the big bass drum as the sound swirls, the guitar scratches through the chaos of keyboard sound, then riffs hard and the track hits on before suddenly settling into the vocals, which flow through melodic and take it on some more as it bounces along, and then it crashes away with a big sound, before again settling and holding as the vocals dominate, and the guitar circles in high and flows out, moving in bursts inbetween the vocal sounds, with the keyboards swirling in high, and it eases along as the keyboards gradually develop against the guitar, pushing on into a harder sound, then kicking and flows into a maelstrom of sound, the bass thumping with the drums, the guitar cuts through sharp and melodic with the keyboards running under that sound.  The guitar develops as the track holds and the sound starts moving upwards with some vocals coming through before the guitar flows on out of it with crashing cymbals, and then it starts together again, and pushes on into a huge, epic sound which drives to an extended, crashing, sustained close, with lots of thumping and pounding, and it does not quite finish but flows on into Shiva, quieter and with vocal sounds coming in, and the vocal sounds suddenly race with sharp, cutting guitar flowing with them, producing a light, jumpy feel.  The drums rumble in with a deeper pounding as it moves in waves and the guitar flourishes are playing around, before it repeats and then settles, holds and then grows as it rumbles away with vocals added, growing with the sound driving upwards, flows out of the crescendo and hits into a sharp sound, before the keyboards take it on again into another sharp kick and it rolls away upbeat, working around the earlier themes.  It rumbles on out of that into a huge sound blasting along and the guitar slices through as the drums crash the sound higher.  It holds there, the vocals flow through and roll on, the track soaring high and then racing on into a big, sharp end which is greated with huge, sustained applause from the now standing audience.  Robert says, “that was a part from the very final track, which cannot really be played live”.

He continues, saying we are “going to have a retro night now”, telling us that they will begin with Judgement and In The Region Of The Summer Stars.  “Now, are we ready ?” and the timpani roll in, building in stages.  The keyboards sway through and weave their melody, gently, gradually developing it as the snare taps in and some vocal sounds ease through.  The guitar gently riffs as it builds and then floats out echoing notes as the sound flows along.  And it is a wonderful symphonic sound, rich and full, with high, stacatto, pointed keyboard notes jumping through and repeating as the guitar riffs hard and the sound blasts open with all the drums pounding out.  It rumbles along, upbeat, racing with a hard sound, still developing that original theme and the guitar cuts through as the drums rattle, and then it holds as the guitar strums through melodic with a sharp edge, holding into the keyboards and the sound circles.  The guitar pushes through against the pounding timpani and drums, which hit into an extended crashing sound, then the guitar gradually moves into a flowing movement, with the drums rattling behind it, and the guitar screeches through high before settling.  Now the keyboards roll into the crashing drums and timpani before it all gradually settles with deeper parts pushing in, clashing sharply with the higher parts and then coming together, rolling into watery sounds and the initial burst of the trumpet signals that we are entering In The Region Of The Summer Stars, the trumpeter standing way up high by the side of the pipe organ, his sound shooting out and floating down, and drops of sound come through from the keyboards, they dance around with that wonderfully familiar melody and then roll out and float away, with cymbals tapping as the sound grows and then kicks away with the guitar rising high and flying, devloping its own hook on that original melody, the track holding as the guitar sound develops before the keyboards dance through with a pointed sound to reprise their melody and take it forward, before the bass rumbles from Nicholas and the guitar cuts through again to reprise its own part.  The wonderfully melodic sound continues to grow and the guitar rolls away, sharp and still melodic, building and flowing, as the cymbals tap in and light keyboards dance against the deeper guitar and it all comes together and rolls on.  Then the guitar cuts through sharply and with a deeper sound running underneath and against crashing drums Jason develops the theme some more, taking it higher with a screeching edge, before the track rolls away melodic developing the original theme some more.  Suddenly it is into something even bigger, a crashing sound with the timpani pounding, the keyboards flowing through with the guitar, before the sound crashes around again before settling into a pointed piano sound and it fades into melodic piano rolling to the finish, which signals the start of sustained cheering and applause.

“Thank you very much indeed”, says Robert before continuing with a “message to the British National Party who think that The Enid music fits in with their ideals”, telling us that his father fought in Burma in the second World War, when one and a half million from around the Commonwealth “saved our bacon” and then came to this country to make it their home, which does not cause any problem at all to Robert and he tells us that obviously “we have nothing to fear from them” and that he would say exactly that at The Enid’s St George’s Day concert in Burnley on the following Friday, 23 April.  And then we had a short interval.

The band come back on with the brass section of the Chandos Symphony Orchestra, and also some of their percussion section, and Robert tells us we are “witnessing (his) rehabilitation as a composer”, and also tells us with some glee that there are “two conspiculously empty seats because Gerald Palmer should be here but he is stuck in Kuala Lumpa”, so the volcanic ash did some good.  Francis Lickerish comes on to the stage to add another guitar into the sound, with Robert telling us they “have a relationship like Churchill and Stalin”.  They will be playing Childe Roland, and then have another short break before Fand.  Playing the pipe organ is Sean Montgomery, the Senior Product Manager at Roland UK, and Roland have very kindly provided one of the keyboards for Robert this evening.  The sound comes in sharp and buzzes away, lots of bass sounds which rumble off and the guitars come bristling through as the drums rattle and the brass section blasts out.  It is a huge, upbeat, racing sound.  It settles into the keyboards with a piano sound, and cymbals tap with it before the guitar cuts through.  It flows on and eases into rolling piano, sprinkling with pointed notes and a bass rumble running under it, and then the drums bite in and the sound rumbles away off kilter, the whole track rolling on and playing around, drums rolling with the flowing piano, before it settles into a piano sound which gradually grows and then quickens as it is joined by percussion, including the big bass drum, moving on to blast away again with the guitars and brass.  The snare adds a martial beat as the sound grows and surges on with more from that big bass drum, and cymbal percussion from the orchestra.  It again eases into rolling piano and the keyboards flow with that until the piano rolls away uptempo with the brass and it crashes on with the guitars riffing in and hits into a sharp close.

Jon Beedle from Secret Green comes on for Fand, but before that they are going to perform a couple of chamber works, Ondine, which Frances has arranged for lute, and The Loved Ones (The Lovers), which had been specifically requested by someone named Angel, who had intended to come across specially from America at some considerable cost but is “not here because of the volcano I caused to stop Gerald Palmer.  Francis comes in on lute, gentle and melodic, and Robert joins on grand piano with some guitar added as well.  It eases along gently still, before the guitar flows through and the piano grows and flows with it.  The guitar is schoing through, floating as the grand piano rolls on with the lute and it fades to an end.  But Francis is straight in, “we made such a mess of that we’re going to do it again.  And nobody leaves.”  And they do play it again, the grand piano and the lute now flowing together to create a wonderful sound, the guitar easing in and flowing controlled with a high edge, and it certainly does sound much tighter, though to my untrained ear the first attempt sounded lovely as well !  “This is for Angel”, and Robert continues on the grand piano, producing a flowing, rolling sound with some pointed notes, a melodic sound with the melody stepping around the rolling notes, and it grows in sound and intensity before settling and easing along to finish a beautiful piece.

Grant Jamieson joins them on the stage and Robert introduces the band, “over there on percussion, Nic Willes”, “my oldest friend, Dave Storey”, “my closest friend, Max Read”, “my dearest friend, Jason.  If he had not found it within himself to step into the shoes of Steve Stewart none of this would be happening”.  Francis is looking as though Robert has forgotten something, and then Robert adds, “sorry, I wanted Francis to talk about Fand, of course I do.  Well, get on with it then !”.  Francis talks to us, telling us what Fand means to The Enid, including reference to “love, betrayal, transformation, death and orgasm”, saying that Robert told him he had to mention ‘orgasm’.  And he declares that this is the “finest collaboration between Robert and I”.  The sound eases in with a deep resonance and we are into what I suspect is the most eagerly awaited part of the evening – Fand, with the pipe organ and orchestra.  There is a most wonderful bass sound rumbling with the percussion and it gradually eases along, deep and dark, before Jason circles in on guitar with the lovely hook while Grant is on acoustic guitar picking a part, and it all flows on with Jason’s guitar sound developing.  It hits into a sharper, darker part, a huge growing rumbling sound before settling and Jason circles in smoothly again with Francis and Jon soaring out, steep, high, rolling the hook and clearly enjoying themselves, even if Francis does look like he wants a lot more space to be jumping around in !  It slumps into a darker, pounding part before bursting open with flying treble parts, shrieking out against the crashing sound, with the sound of the pipe organ flowing through it all.  Robert adds some treble keyboards and it builds and dances on with another familiar hook, with the guitars circling in and developing their themes, and right now we have 3 electric guitars, 1 acoustic guitar, 2 keyboards and an organ pushing it along, with the timpani from Nicholas and more timpani from the orchestra percussion rumbling through as Robert’s keyboards flow on into the soaring guitar sound, as it then holds as it starts to build again, with everything then coming in and it has a bouncy feel to it, moving away as the drums kick it on and it pushes into another keyboard part from Robert, with the guitars cutting into that again as it bounces along, upbeat, light, a flurry of wonderful sound, really springing along with occasional piercing screeches from the guitars.  It holds and then bursts and tumbles before kicking off again and rolling on into a huge, crashing sound, then easing gently out of that and deeper sounds come through.  And Grant is on electric guitar now as well.  It eases along with bursts from the tuba, the sound growing with a sharp edge and clattering out, screeching high before easing right down once again into Robert’s keyboard part, joined by the organ, and the organ flows through to lead us into silence.  The keyboard sound gradually grows out of that and the overall sound builds, the keyboards and organ gently swaying along as the brass comes in and Grant cuts through on guitar, rounded and melodic, as deep notes push out from the organ and keyboards, and treble notes play around on top, before it flows on again with Grant’s guitar dominating as he develops his theme and screeches it high.  The brass joins in with that and the other guitars do too as the huge sound is augmented by the orchestral percussion and it rumbles on with a mixture of the big bass drum and timpani from Nicholas, driving into a massive crashing thumping sound, stage lights blazing out as it pushes on into a huge, extended, unrelenting finish, and the audience are on their feet and erupt into loud applause.  “I tell you what” says Robert, “I need a wee.  We’ll be back in a minute”.

The volcano has had another effect, as Robert explains, “we have got a show in Portugal on Sunday, which means we have got to drive there non-stop from here tonight”.  “This is from my flirtation with dance music” and they continue with the excellent Dark Hydraulic from Tripping The Light Fantastic, with Grant Jameson also joining them on guitar.  The sound rumbles and piano comes in on top, and it is swirling, atmospheric and you can feel it growing, sounds twinkling through, echoing, a bigger sound pulsing as it taps along, the guitar cuts away and the bass rumbles as it buzzes around and comes through in waves with the drums, the sound still pulsing along and driving with many layers, a deep rumbling but also high treble on top as the tempo grows and it pushes on upbeat, with the guitar riffing through and crashing it open with an electronica-tinged melody feeding through.  Then the guitar is screeching out as the track holds and then rumbles away again, with Grant pushing his guitar part higher and the keyboards push through with him, pulsing, pushing.  The sound holds, gradually develops, and then blasts open and crashes on, bouncing along with the lead guitar screeching through sharply from Jason, before the sound settles, swirls into the keyboards and flows on deeply to hold with the timpani thumping, the vocal soundtrack running through the sound, the big bass drum pounding out from the percussion, as the guitar flows out with a flick, and the sound blasts on screeching and thumping, holding as the drums pound, with a deeper sound squelching through, and it rumbles into more of the spoken soundtrack, holding, trembling with treble sounds until the drums pound and kick us on, the guitar scratching through, screeching out before the track holds again, then riffing hard as the track plunges on with a massive sound, the guitars screeching and shrieking, and it holds as the guitars burst through, the big sound circling and then developing as the guitars riff into it and the drums are rattling behind them.  It then blasts open again and crashes on with the keyboards bouncing, the guitars once more screeching and shrieking together, and it holds as the guitars rise through the massive sound, as they screech higher, pushing it against the relentless drums, the keyboards flowing out their hook and developing it some more as the guitars scrape and scratch, with the timpani rumbling as the sound continues to rise higher and higher and then shoots out and floats on, holding, before kicking into a rattling end.

All six of them come together to bow to a standing ovation and huge cheers, as Robert tells us “don’t forget to listen to Invicta”.  They leave the stage and there are calls for more, and the five band members come back and take another bow to the well deserved applause, which maintains its intensity even when they have left the stage again, and keeps going until the lights come up.  A truly stunning performance.  You can still catch The Enid at the Irish Centre in Leeds, the Pavilion in Exmouth and The Stables in Milton Keynes in June before they head off to Nearfest in the USA.  They are also on the main stage on the Sunday at the Cambridge Rock Festival in August.

Secret Green are playing the Willowman Festival in Northallerton on 20 June.

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