You need to read where this story starts, and you can do that here.
I woke up and the weather had completely changed overnight but that did not stop me from going along to the parkrun at the Forest of Dean, and you can read more about that here.
I got back to the Beeches Farm campsite, got changed, drove down to the Castle car park in Chepstow, parked up, and walked round to the venue, The Drill Hall. Easy. I met David Elliott, my partner in crime in Bad Elephant Music, and we went to his car to get the rest of the merch. I am happy to tell you that the merch is left in his car overnight because the locking system on the car appears to be so complex you could never break in without setting off the alarm. Or maybe it is just David who cannot open his car without setting off the alarm. I was really looking forward to this morning because it was starting with The Fierce And The Dead, not just a brilliant band, but also a great bunch of guys (who I had once been lucky enough to catch up with at a recording studio, which you can read about here), and while I had met Matt Stevens yesterday, it was going to be good to catch up with Kevin Feazey, Steve Cleaton and Stuart Marshall today. Plus we had merch to sell in the form of the two cds they have released through Bad Elephant Music, the album Spooky Action, and the ep Magnet, and a whole range of tshirts. The band were all here and getting set up with great assistance from Graham Harris and Ralph Rea, except for Steve, who was travelling down himself from London on the morning of the show. Have I made that sound ominous enough ? He finally arrived after a nightmare journey I could certainly relate to after my own journey down the day before, and proceeded to get himself set up. As soon as he was set up he started up with the riff from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath by Black Sabbath, a brilliant track, whilst not your usual prog fare ! Matt joined in, and then Kev, and I was left wishing they would include this in their set. The soundcheck went very well and smoothly and everything was on track for a start on time. Possibly for the first time ever in the history of Summer’s End.
I was behind the desk covered with merch (copyright of the wonderful Nellie Pitts prevents me from calling it the merch desk), the guys from Light Damage who had soundchecked earlier were sitting next to us, people were coming into the hall, and I expect there were deer and bluebirds and cute little bunny rabbits frolicking in the car park. Something was wrong, this was all too right. And then the fire alarm went off, and order was restored to the Summer’s End universe. Everyone began to file out in an orderly fashion, very slowly, as is the English way while you wait for the alarm to switch off and find it was either a drill or a false alarm. This one kept going, though, so we and Light Damage finally decided to abandon ship, having made sure the women and children and prog fans had made it to safety first. The fire brigade arrived in good time, there was a rumour that a smoke machine had started an alarm, and The Fierce And The Dead were sent back into the hall as prog canaries, to make sure the venue was safe for the rest of us. The severity of the incident was very clearly illustrated by the DJ, who was playing Disco Inferno as we came back in.
We were now running a little behind time, and everyone was very comfortable with that. It was finally time for The Fierce And The Dead to get us under way, which they did by saying, “for those who don’t know us, there is no singer.” Matt Stevens certainly brings his solo antics to the show when he is playing as part of The Fierce And The Dead, seemingly playing his electric (rather than his solo acoustic) guitar while holding it all over the place, and he is able to do this because of the sterling work being done by Steve Cleaton, which largely goes unnoticed but is vital to these guitar-driven songs. Kevin Feazey and Stuart Marshall are keeping a tight rein on everything, and you could not ask for a more solid rhythm section. All that time spent gigging since the release of Spooky Action has really taken their live performance up a number of levels, and they look very comfortable up there, taking the crowd along with them through the opening tracks of Magnet, Ark, Pyramid and Let’s Start A Cult, the funky music of Flint even persuading Nicholas-John Dewez from Light Damage to literally dance his way through the crowd so he could get nearer the front. Before Flint we find out that Steve wrote the setlist on a paper plate. I suspect it is on eBay by now. There is such an energy to their set and they carry on with I Like It, and then it is product placement time before Spooky Action. That is another great thing about The Fierce And The Dead from the point of view of a record label – they understand the importance of shifting the merch to an unsuspecting public. We sold plenty on the day, for which we are eternally grateful. This is also when the truth comes out – they set off the fire alarm ! Playing the gig was always Plan B… “This one does have vocals,” and there is something of a sing-a-long to Palm Trees. Next up is 666…6 “not 999” and after they have powered their way through that, they pound their way through Landcrab, making sure to leave nothing in reserve as they hit the last track of their set, and as Matt puts his guitar face-down on the stage they depart to feedback and huge applause.
You can see more of my photographs from The Fierce And The Dead here.
Light Damage had come across from Luxembourg for the festival, and I already felt a bond with them after we had survived the fire scare together from behind the merch desks. Which was good, because I have to admit that was all I knew about them before they began their set. For me, one of the brilliant aspects of Summer’s End is that you get to experience bands who otherwise you probably would never get to hear, let alone see live. They had a big sound, a very definite neo-prog influence with a continental twist, and they were clearly enjoying themselves up there, saying “the 12 hour trip to get here was worth it,” which is always good to hear. I mentioned how their vocalist/guitarist Nicholas-John Dewez had enjoyed The Fierce And The Dead, and now it was great to see him building such a good rapport with the audience, and if their brand of prog was not already engaging enough, they brought out an excellent version of Shadow Of The Hierophant by Steve Hackett, which guranteed an excellent reception from a very appreciative crowd. Of course, I was in a prime position to see how very well they did with sales of their merchandise, a testament to how well their set had gone down.
You can see more of my photographs from Light Damage here.
Having been sat behind the desk furiously selling merchandise all morning, unfortunately I found myself trying to find plug sockets to recharge the batteries on my camera and telephone during the set from 3rDegree, who were over from New Jersey. It seemed like they were having some fun and games up on stage with broken strings needing to be replaced (actually, it was the whole bass guitar which needed to be replaced, and Matthew Kennedy from Discipline stepped into the breach to help out), and Bryan Ziegler and George Dobbs filling the time it took to fix that issue with some wonderfully witty tales from their European tour, and especially one about some dodgy hotel in Leicester, before they continued to play some great songs. Their action in the face of adversity won them the full support of the crowd, but the quality of their symphonic prog material would have done that anyway. This is very intelligent music, with very clearly a lot of thought behind the storylines and the specific lyrics, and a complexity to the hook laden tunes. I just wish I had been in a better position to properly appreciate it all, rather than having to stand around with my charging electronic devices.
As I have said, I had to take the time to recharge the battery on my camera, so unfortunately I do not have any photographs from the 3rDegree set.
We decided to go for a late lunch or was it an early dinner, which most likely makes it tea. In a pub. Where no-one was drinking tea.
We returned to the venue in time for Discipline, another band over from America (Detroit, this time), and were very pleased to have done so. ‘Theatrical’ does not even come close to describing Matthew Parmenter, which is remarkable as he stays sat behind his keyboards, and it is not simply the very effective Magic Acid Mime makeup, but more so his vocal performance, the very precise delivery being very reminiscent of Peter Hammill for me. The crowd were gripped from the very beginning and there was no way the band were going to let go. Personally, I was particularly taken by some of the Americana sounds coming through, offering something different from your standard prog. Matthew Kennedy had reclaimed his bass and although he sat through the set there was nothing stationary about his playing, and he and Paul Dzendzel keep everything tight enough to allow Matthew Parmenter and Chris Herrin to do their thing, which they did with aplomb. This was a set filled with dark intensity, drama, power, and emotion, and I do not think it is an overstatement to say that it left the crowd stunned, in awe. Discipline were a triumph.
You can see more of my photographs from Discipline here.
I was starving by now, and somehow found myself going out for a curry with Magic Pie, which really brought the day to a brilliant end. You can read more about that here.
By the time we finished the curry and got back to the hall the set from Pallas was drawing to a close. It had been another brilliant day, with still another day to come.