Venue : The Peel, Kingston-upon-Thames Date : 28 May 2011
For various reasons I had missed both days of Mega Daze, the launch event for the new Pendragon album, Passion, so I was very much looking forward to their return to The Peel for two dates over the Bank Holiday weekend. I was not to be disappointed. I had also completely missed the fact that Andy Sears of Twelfth Night was providing support on both evenings, so that was an added bonus.
Andy was trying out some new solo work and although there is no album due just yet, you can already buy a cd called Souvenir which contains the demos so far. This was an opportunity to hear some of those works in progress in a live environment, which is always interesting. “Gonna play you a little bit of parlour music”, and he opens with End Song, an instrumental piano piece. “Right. Piano’s working.” Next up is Satellite, his backing band being provided through his iPod as Andy delivers a dramatic performance, his powerful, evocative vocals working very well within the hard, rocking sound. He is back to the piano for another new track, Riverside, which begins high before it moves into a more gentle sound as he sings. It eases along with a rich, rounded feel, rising emotionally before fading out. The Craft is the first of five Twelfth Night songs in the set, simply Andy’s voice with fast rolling piano which builds to a soaring climax before fading down to close, and works very well. This is followed by This City, a very different arrangement to any I have heard before and a crowd singalong.
Alan Reed, former lead singer with Pallas and Abel Ganz and now a solo artist, comes on stage to a “you didn’t want him, we didn’t want him” welcome from Andy, and takes the opportunity to mention Mattfest 3 – which took place at The Peel on Saturday 4 June, featuring From Great Height, Unto Us, Matt Stevens, Grey Lady Down, Nerve Toy Trio, a headline from Touchstone, and a full solo set from Alan himself – it was an excellent day. Back to this review, and those of you who saw Twelfth Night on their recent tour may already have an idea of what happens next…a duet of Love Song. This time around Andy plays piano and most of the singing is given over to Alan, before it fades down and they both sing together without the piano, until it rolls through to take it to the finish, and Andy thanks Alan, “part of the ever-increasing Elfin singers club”.
Andy continues on the piano for Carapace, another new track, producing a full rounded sound with a hard edge and he sings with a voice full of emotion. It rolls along into a flowing piano part, before slowing as he sings again, and eases down to close. Blond And Fair (yes, I know) is “to show you what a nasty guy I am”, and he takes the glasses from a man in the front row to wear through the song. Again he is singing to a backing track, but it does not diminish the powerful performance of one of my favourite Twelfth Night songs, which fades to silence. The set closes with First New Day and Andy on the piano producing a very big sound, an extended melodic part moving into rich chords before he sings on. There is more audience participation, singing “Is it right ? Is it so hard ?”, and a wonderful version rolls on to a finish and well deserved applause for a fine set.
There is still a surprise to come before Pendragon, as Stacy, a regular at The Peel and a member of the Pendragon OCD, takes his place on the stage with an introduction from keyboardist Clive Nolan. And in a wonderful moment Stacy proposes to Kate, and she says yes.
A yodelling soundtrack alerts us to Pendragon coming on to the stage, and the electronica sounds take us straight into Passion, from the new album of the same name. It kicks off hard and loud (and actually too loud where I am standing at the front), and continues driving with a tight, aggressive and powerful feel. Bouncing along as it develops and then shouts out and really races away. A stunning way to open the set. Back In The Spotlight builds up and then breaks open and flies. Rattling away with the crowd clapping along before Clive’s keyboards flood through. It drives on into Nick Barrett’s riffing and the crowd clap along again, really getting into what is already a great performance from the band. Scott Higham’s drums push us on again, with the rhythm more than ably supported by the bass of Pete Gee, and we move into a crashing finish and a huge roar from the crowd. There is a big piano intro for Ghosts, and Pete is on acoustic guitar as Nick sings through with strong vocals, sounding better than ever, as it eases along gently and emotional, before it crashes along loud into rolling piano and develops, brilliant sounds floating around. It pauses down and flows along into more rounded piano before flying away, then slowing to fade out, a wonderful treatment of an excellent epic track. Next up is Comatose, the long middle section from the previous album, Pure, with Nick’s guitar cutting into Clive’s rolling piano as the first section of the track (View from The Seashores) builds gradually and emotionally, and after holding and swirling then rocks away hard. Pushing through riffing phases, surging keyboards, very sharp drumming from Scott, until it holds and pulses. String sounds break it open and as the track moves into the next section (Space Cadet) the crowd are clapping along yet again, and not for the last time before the song comes to an end. It rumbles along as the sounds circle, then holds as the sounds swirl and fade down before it takes on a harder edge, ominous, and the section ends with a silence. The final section (Home And Dry) gradually moves out of that and then sways along, drifting as it develops, until the guitar slices through and moves melodically, and it fades out to close. Sharp guitar from Nick and bass pedals from Pete take us into If I Were The Wind (and You Were The Rain) with an atmospheric feel, which holds before it kicks off with a shriek, blasting open and flowing on then roaring away with the vocals. It drives along hard and uptempo with a sharp edge, the keyboards flooding through at times, then pauses right down into gently moving piano, the vocals come back in as it edges along and fades to an end.
The Freak Show thumps away hard and heavy, rising and then driving with rounded guitar and some flourishes, a bigger more powerful sound than on the Pure album, and more crowd clapping as it holds before pushing on to a close. Tremendous stuff. And then we have more from the new album, Passion, beginning with another hard and heavy track, Empathy, really driving, repeating with a deep sound as it stomps along, dragging everything with it. The sound lifts with the keyboards for the chorus and the guitar edges into that. It holds and then changes, swirling along, floating, the guitar gently and melodically developing, before it pushes into a rap. Yes, a Prog rap, as Nick pushes another boundary. It then eases into twinkling piano before pushing to a big finish. “This is a song which pissed a few people off”, says Nick, continuing “I don’t care. It’s a bit Daily Mail, but what the heck” and they lead into the epic This Green And Pleasant Land, playing it so tight for such a new and complex track. It begins with a deep sound, easing along, simple, narrative as the deep sounds swirl, gradually building, the vocals adding a desperate edge, before the guitar flows on and develops. It opens up and rolls into the beginnings of an anthemic chorus, a theme taken up through the rest of the track and vigorously sung by band and crowd alike. Now a harder sound takes it on, pushing into a fuller, repeating version of the chorus. Suddenly the drums rattle it up into an organ sound and racing guitar and the crowd yodel along at the end, as Nick changes guitar. There is no let up as he riffs straight into Nostradamus (Stargazing) and the crowdpleaser bounces along, pushing into the wonderful part where the slide scratches up and down the strings before hitting a crashing finish and a huge roar from the crowd. They end the set with Indigo, “this is our last song tonight. Get a load of this bad boy”, and Nick riffs in hard and deep as it holds before thumping away, seemingly over as soon as it has started, despite its length, it is so wonderfully familiar now. And for such a complex song it could not be tighter as it pounds along, moving through different phases and feels, both harder and more melodic, and the rolling guitar solo at the end takes us to an excellent finish to the main set.
Of course, there had to be an encore after that. The sound circles in gentle and melodic to begin Paintbox and the crowd sing along through the beginning, then clap along as the guitar develops. It eases along melodic and flowing, the guitar moving higher and the vocals coming back in with the crowd joining in before it pushes into the keyboards and more clapping and then a crashing finish. They leave the stage again, but everyone demands more still, and the crowd welcome them back for The Last Man On Earth, gentle piano with easy vocals before some slide guitar shrieks. The crowd singing along at every opportunity. The drums kick it open and the bass thumps as the keyboards circle while the drums rattle. There is rhythmic clapping from the crowd as it gradually builds, the keyboards flying out majestically before it pushes into the vocals again. It fades down before gradually building again and then crashing into more clapping as it rocks away and develops. The track plunges on into screeching guitar then calms and chimes anthemic with huge crowd singing into a big crashing finish to a great gig.
Little did any of us realise what was coming the following night.