Venue : The Peel, Kingston-upon-Thames, London
Date : 27 April 2012
It had taken me the best part of 3 hours to drive down to Kingston from Northampton in the pouring drought, and now I was sitting in my car outside Norbiton station, waiting for Debbie, and beginning to type up this review in the hope I might then get it published within a couple of months of the gig. I was looking forward to getting to The Peel because most of the Fishtank was planning on being there, and it is always fun meeting up with them. If you are reading this review and are not a member of the Fishtank, then you
have to click on that link to nip off and join up now, by the way. It’s the law, and I should know. Not least because the news that morning had been dominated by James Allen being on the run from the police. Don’t approach me – I’m dangerous ! Tinyfish rehearsals had gone well, according to Simon Godfrey, so there was an air of excitement about this gig, and let me not forget that DeeExpus are also playing tonight to warm up for what I fully expect to be a triumphant return to RoSfest on the back of an excellent new album. Yes, this was shaping up to be something special and it certainly lived up to those very high expectations.
I notice two things on arriving at The Peel – Matt Stevens is here and so is Moo from Touchstone. You really cannot miss those two. And as predicted, most of the Fishtank are here too – I will not try to list everyone for fear of missing someone off the list. I should mention Mouse, though, because he has been here for some time already helping out with the setting up. By the time we get to showtime the Peel is looking nicely filled. And very white. “After a year away,” says Simon, and they begin with The Sarcasm Never Stops, the bass thumps in from Paul Worwood with cymbals from Leon Camfield, and then there is sharp guitar from Jim Sanders as it shuffles then settles, before kicking into a rhythmic riffing part, then edging along in phases with the grating guitar prominent behind Simon’s strong vocals. Leon is very active, as always, driving it all with great support from Paul. “Go on, Jim”, says Simon and a harsh solo flows as Jim eases it through and then winds it around. Simon sings in before the drums bite as it kicks away and then holds before shuffling to a sharp, sudden finish. Apparently that song contains lots of 9th chords. They continue with Rainland, my favourite track from their The Big Red Spark album. The drums thump in with the bass and it has a not dissimilar feel to the set opener, before the guitar wails and it drives hard against that then calms and swirls hard with lovely guitar parts edging through. It pushes with an edge until the vocals come in and then it eases back again. I shall not mention Simon losing his way with the words through the chorus. As it continues there is some echo on vocals, giving them another dimension, and it all adds to the really big sound, the very busy sound they are giving to the track. Sharp guitar behind the driving rhythms and the melody of the vocals. Leon is spanking those cymbals as the guitar weaves about before it all holds as Robert Ramsay comes on, takes a microphone and delivers his story monologue. There are some really good sounds going on behind the narrative, and it is nice to be able to hear them so very clearly, and as the monologue comes to a close Jim slides out of it and it takes off again, relentless to the finish. They carry straight on into I’m Not Crashing, although it sounds like there is more crackling than there should be at the beginning before it bursts open with guitar wah wah and then rolls away with floating guitar bursts. It truly is a brilliant guitar sound from Jim, staying controlled as the vocals soar and then the track settles and bluesy guitar notes mix with the rich vocals. It moves in phases, rising in bursts as the vocals soar, although it is not the main vocalist who suddenly adds, “here comes f***ing Leon” as he blasts it open, with the guitar flowing as it develops to drive the track to an echoing close. Leon compares Henry Rogers‘ brilliant, shiny, gleaming drumkit with his own, which is a “drumkit like a clown running through a minefield”. The onstage banter is an entertaining part of the show, and discussion of any forthcoming album prompts Jim to suggest that based on how long it took them to produce the last one, the “pre-order includes zimmerframes”. The Big Red Spark eases in melodic and soars away to float up high, before it calms and flows along with the vocals, and with nice riffing through the middle part. The guitar buzzes before the drums change the tempo into a shuffling phase, the vocals pushing out until it moves on with fast, repeating guitar. It holds until the guitar screeches out and it thumps on with powerful vocals singing into a staggered part and then a big finish.
“The very first time we played these songs in over a year was yesterday”, Simon tells us, before they slow things down to continue with Driving All Night. The story within the lyrics recounts a true experience, according to Simon. The man who wrote the lyrics, Robert Ramsay, would beg to differ. Slide guitar softly echoes in and the sound eases along before the track settles to Simon strumming as he sings, with bursts of slide from Jim, percussive tapping from Leon and gentle bass from Paul. It is a wonderful sound. Then it opens up and taps away with more slide, developing well into a harder sound, more direct. And the lyrics almost beg Simon to add “like Hen’s trousers” as Henry Rogers walks through the crowd. There is a little burst then we are back to the dreamy feel until it fades to silence, and Simon sings out of that. It taps on again, leaving the storm behind it, and flows along easily with excellent backing vocals from Leon, before a more direct sound to close it out. Simon then speaks in a Yorkshire accent when thanking DeeExpus. They should have played Fly Like A Bird next but leave that one out because of time constraints and go to one of my favourites, Nine Months On Fire. It has a wonderful build up and then blasts open with a sharp feel and pounds away. I love this song. It keeps driving with a real edge to the guitar, melodic and direct, the track bouncing along behind the vocals, hitting into stacatto bursts before the vocals soar out powerfully. It continues on upbeat, pounding along before the vocals soar into a sudden stop which Simon fills with “perhaps now might be the right time to mention the unique purchasing opportunities available with Nellie over at The Merch Desk“, before it flows on melodic with the guitar easing through and circling. It taps away again, floating around with subtle guitar bursts, holding as the vocals grow and then the vocals soar into rolling guitar and a big sound. It keeps pushing until the guitar suddenly goes sharper and wails as it flows away. It settles before the tempo picks up and it kicks to a sharp end and huge applause. Simon changes guitar. Andy Rotherham resists the opportunity to obtain a few of his plectrums as he hands him the new guitar (although he does end up with a couple of Jim’s after the set). Rob comes on in a lab coat and narrates Pagodas (“(wide awake mid bit)” according to the setlist) over floating, weaving sounds, which leads into Wide Awake At Midnight. The guitar strumming rolls out and circles melodic with the crowd clapping along, then gradually builds into soaring vocals and finally kicks away into controlled screeching guitar. It holds to big riffing then builds again against a busy shuffle before racing away behind sharp guitar with the rattling drums chasing and the bass keeping it all in check, and the track keeps developing in that fashion. It then holds again, this time to Leon’s box of tricks before Simon sings in. And as he sings “the terror that is him” he points back over his shoulder at Leon. “1 2 3 9”, says Leon and it kicks away, holds as it comes together and then soars, before driving on majestic. It moves into big strumming and the crowd are bouncing. Powerful vocals push as the guitar circles and it kicks with the drums, while the bass is thumping out the rhythm. Then it holds again, melodic sounds float, Simon sings and it bursts open with the guitar flying high. It drives relentless then settles to fade out before crashing cymbals blast it to a close. The crowd call for more, but sadly they do not play The June Jar and I suppose the setlist did say ‘if time permits’. Even so, this has been an excellent gig for the first time in a year. Tinyfish are a band who really should get out on the road more often. If you were not at this one, you should make sure you get along to see them at Celebr8.
And now we get to DeeExpus. I see Jim Murdoch, the Credo bassist, is here. I expect that is because in the absence of C3-P0 Mike Varty is on keyboards tonight with Mark Kelly not being available. Hen has his name on his drum kit and appears to have a drum roadie to do his soundchecking for him. Must be a rockstar now. At least he comes on to press the Intro button and we get the narrative soundtrack to begin King Of Number 33 (and I am almost misled by the setlist because it lists it as Part I and Part II – that is just how they split it to rehearse, and they do indeed play the whole thing tonight). The band come on and I see they have a new guitarist (Michael McCrystal) and a new bassist (John Dawson). Andy Ditchfield slices through hard into the start of the song and Michael strums on an acoustic as Tony Wright sings in with his rich vocals and Mike’s keyboards ease through, float and become more prominent. It eases along, building gradually and melodic, until the track hits into big riffing, thumping bass from John and the keyboards screech through piercing high. It all has a very tight sound as it rumbles, Hen’s drums really biting with some great fills. Andy is adding backing vocals and now it pounds into more big riffing, repeating in a part which is very reminiscent of Porcupine Tree, before the keyboards surge and develop, and they take on a Marillion feel – Fish-era Marillion keyboards, that is. It is racing and very loud as the vocals come back in with what really amounts to the chorus. Andy’s guitar circles to develop melodic and sharp, taking up the original theme, before it holds as the acoustic strums, and then Andy breaks out and pushes it. The track settles as Tony sings in again, before it gathers pace, rattles and rumbles as it grows, until it breaks open once again and blasts away with more big riffing, relentless as the keyboards now develop. It is being driven by the drums and bass, the keyboards moving to flow under it all, and then it settles as the vocals come back in, softer than before with a light, dreamy feel. It pushes to a big crash and the keyboards pulse through, then it all blasts together and a massive sound drives into more screeching keyboards. This is much louder than the album sound. And it keeps driving hard with a big, harsh sound, the guitars and keyboards combining so well as the bass and drums hold them in place, until the vocals break through. It settles to piano and then goes back to the chorus theme before Tony welcomes us with “good evening, London” and the keyboards roll out of that to lead us to tapping cymbals, the drums hit in against keyboard chords, both guitars riff and it bounces away developing that hook into the vocals again until it flows away, stomping along with the guitars piercing out before holding with the keyboards as the drums rattle. Then it is driving, bouncing along upbeat with the vocals pushing. It grows majestic and melodic, rolling on top of wonderful keyboards, following the vocals as they rise, and just a thoroughly pleasant listen as the keyboards keep weaving their magic. It rises up again until it fades to vocals and piano, gently easing along before the drums rumble as the keyboards float, the bass thumps, the sound grows, and Andy’s guitar pierces out of it and it flows majestic once more. There is suddenly a lot more bass as it thuds, then moves to a faster part, always a busy sound with the guitar screeching higher into a pulsing part, Tony’s vocals coming back in as it rocks along and then it is shuffling hard, pushing into a massive “I’m the King of everything” chorus again before it drives to a crashing crescendo with a great guitar shriek, then fades right out to piano and huge applause. And I think kudos are due to Mike Varty for his role on the keyboards in that epic. Now go and buy the album.
“We’re a bit pushed for time because of drummers”, says Tony. Yes, they swapped kits between bands. Not a bad call from Hen, to be honest, given the reputation that comes with Mr Camfield. Pointless Child begins with the keyboards coming through high and piercing before the drums shuffle in as Andy uses an eBow, and the track pushes along with the keyboards still high and Tony sings in. It has a swagger as the keyboards drop out against big riffing from the guitars. It is a pretty straightforward sound, direct, no frills, in your face. Which means it is so different to the album and I cannot help feeling that the sound is a bit mixed up for this one, which is shame because it is an excellent little song. I can still appreciate the keyboard melodies and the drum fills, and Tony’s vocals never fail to impress me. The guitar sound cuts through and pushes along before it crashes to a hold and the keyboards repeat with the bass to finish. One Eight begins with melodic keyboards coming through gently and considered. Andy strums as the drums tap in, the bass gently rumbles, and it sways along as Tony sings in. The track swirls and floats before riffing hard alongside the vocals, a staccato feel to it. Then the guitar cuts through and it drives with a hard edge before settling, circling, developing as the vocals come back in and it taps away. Tony goes off the stage and the riffing pushes into a screeching solo from Michael, who appears to be a real talent, and then blasts to a crashing finish and a huge cheer. The sound continues into the instrumental Marty And The Magic Moose and the crowd clap along. There is some excellent riffing with biting drums and thumping bass, the keyboards circling the melody behind all the rhythm, then it blasts away with both guitars developing the theme. It halts into circling piano, the hi hat taps, and Michael circles a part on the acoustic guitar before it smashes out to Andy’s shrieking guitar and the two guitars come together before it drives on again to a sharp finish. Not at all bad from this new incarnation of the band.
Tony comes back on to the stage as Andy talks to the crowd, “sorry our banter is not as good as Tinyfish but they’ve been going 67 years. Ladies and gentlemen I would like to welcome on to the stage a very special guest, Mr Nik…no, only kidding…” and they go into Memo with Andy singing, and no Nik Kershaw. Someone in the crowd does later call for Nik Kershaw anyway. Presumably, just in case Andy was saving him for later in the set. It is a hard and heavy sound, with the keyboards pointed, the drums sharp, the guitars almost stacatto, and it is Andy who is singing this one. Tony joins in with Andy’s vocals for the chorus. It settles to the keyboards and Andy’s guitar strumming and both Andy and Tony sing as it rolls easy, which certainly gives it a different sound to the album version. The drums pick it up and it bounces along, pushing harder with Andy singing, his voice soaring out. Michael comes in with the solo, considered, easing it through before Andy takes it on, and then it settles to strumming on the acoustic and the keyboards pushing to crashing cymbals, which leads immediately to the pulsing for PTtee, dedicated to “Scott Higham from Pendragon, in the corner over there”. It ticks in to a soundtrack before both guitars riff in, and I love that sound. The drums bite and it kicks away. Tony sings in, narrative style, against a sound which is a lot more rhythm than melody to begin with. It is interesting enough just trying to pick out the snatches of Porcupine Tree songs. Meanwhile Hen has hit one of his cymbals the wrong way and it has fallen apart, requiring urgent attention from one of the road crew. Michael takes the first riffing part as Andy strums, then Andy adds eBow, as the cymbals are all tightened up. The track keeps driving, relentless, moving through phases and alternating between guitar and keyboards taking the lead. Michael comes through with a screeching, wailing part before the song settles down and Tony sings in again. Which is just as Moo comes past me to get to the front. And it rolls along melodic with high keyboard notes as it pushes, then pauses for a couple of those high keyboard notes (tap them out in the air) before driving on again into piercing guitar from Andy this time, developing those keyboard notes as that sound floods through. It is now a big sound rocking along with the vocals soaring and it drives to a hold with the vocals taking us to the finish. Andy changes guitar. Tony begins by saying “right we’re going to slow things right down now” and then explains the meaning behind Maybe September, how it was written about his late father. I remember how emotional this was at RoSfest two years ago. Both the guitarists have left the stage and the keyboards flood through. A piano sound rolls and Tony sings in. It is a wonderful combination – he really does have an excellent voice, and the piano melody is sublime. I notice that Hen is soaked up there, which is hardly surprising given how much he puts into his playing. He must be welcoming this short break. The track eases along melodic, gentle. The two guitarists come back on stage as strings come through in the sound. The vocals fade out, Tony goes to the side of the stage, the piano sound rolls, the drums tap into bursts of sound, the guitars and bass riff, and it kicks away driving hard and heavy with the keyboards bouncing on top. Andy develops a high part and then the keyboards surge again. The bass thumps and Michael picks a screeching part. It comes together and drives on into crashing drums, soaring as Tony sings in again, and they push the epic sound before it fades to Tony and the piano to finish to huge applause. Tony concludes with “that’s draining”. Me And My Downfall riffs in very hard and heavy with keyboards flooding around the rhythm. A brilliant opening, very catchy. It holds to circling guitar with some keyboard touches and Tony sings in. This is a tight sound and they really blast into the chorus before taking it on, developing the sound and then blasting again into Andy riffing, before he takes it higher, develops it some more, until it drops down to the original theme, and more rhythmic riffing with bursts. It is really pounding now and they are clearly all having a great time with this track, letting go. Tony introduces Michael to us and the keyboards surge through to squeal high before Tony sings in melodic and it stomps on, epic again. The track slows to a crashing finish, big cheers, calls for more, and, of course, they oblige.
“This is our last song. This is called Greed”. This song is beyond familiar to me and I am so glad it is still in the set ! Andy’s guitar mixes with pulsing keyboards, the drums bite, the bass rumbles and it drives buzzing into the vocals and riffs hard through that. Hard and busy. Now it is holding as the sound soars and pushes in bursts, some wonderful hooks running under the main sound, before it kicks on again with the guitars circling. It is another busy sound as it pounds along with the keyboards surging and Michael takes the solo, easing it through as the drums bite behind him. He plays on the neck to finish the solo in fine style. Tony sings in as it floats, and then there is hard rumbling bass with hi hat as the keyboards play around, the guitars riff through hard, before it kicks into melodic, piercing keyboards surging on. It is another powerful sound from them, and Andy goes with the keyboards as he and Tony sing, the vocals soaring out as it pushes on relentless. Then it halts into pulsing keyboards, circling guitar, drum bursts, moving into a big, crashing sustained finish to a huge cheer and clapping. Moo calls for more, and I am sure there would be more if we had any time left. And as I am walking away from the stage area I spot that Elkie from Touchstone is here too. So DeeExpus will soon be heading off to RoSfest, and on the strength of that excellent performance will go down a storm again. and a big hand to Michael and John for slotting in so well.
If you would like to see some photographs of this gig then Bo has his up here.
My next festival will be Celebr8, and I see that Geoff Banks is continuing his sterling work in handing out leaflets for the event – it should be perfect for tonight’s audience, so go and check out the website. At the very least go and check out something Simon Godfrey has written for it.