Summer's End Festival
Steve Hackett, Godsticks, Quantum Fantay, Parallel Or 90 Degrees, RPWL, Pallas, I/O Earth, Mr So And So, Also Eden, Karnataka, Pendragon
9th - 11th October 2009
Lydney Town Hall, Gloucestershire, UK
The fifth installment of this homely little event sees it gathering steam and growing from strength to strength.
Lessons have clearly been learnt since last year’s return to the Lydney venue and from the audience perspective the whole thing ran very smoothly.
Timings were lenient but enforced with fairness and consideration to all the performers,
the few delays that did occur were all minor and the results were well worth waiting for with generally excellent sound for every single act on the bill.
As usual, the relaxed nature of this event spilled out making for a great atmosphere.
Audience numbers fluctuated throughout the weekend with Friday and Sunday particularly drawing punters who did not attend the rest of the weekend
but it was nice to see so many people turn out for the afternoon sessions featuring smaller bands.
Both Steve Hackett and Pendragon’s Nick Barrett asked if there were any locals in
– 3 for Steve and none for Pendragon leading to Nick being gently rude about the inhabitants of the Forest of Dean!
The global attraction of this lovely festival is clear with visitors flying in from Scandinavia, Italy and the U.S. amongst other places.
Every band got a good reception and a fair hearing and although there may not have been enough representation from the fringes of
the progressive rock universe the bands that played covered a lot of ground.
The format for the weekend was the same as last year except that a tighter rein was kept on timings – having a proper stage manager helped with that.
After Friday evening seeing Hackett as the sole act the weekend proper had five bands each day, three in the afternoon session with approximately 20 minutes between each,
a long break between them and the first evening band with another long break before the headliner.
The gap between the afternoon and evening sessions worked well but the gap between the last two acts was a long one.
The plus side however is that the sound for both was fantastic and overall I’d rather that than have the Special Guest band struggling with the main acts sound.
The first two acts on each day were not allowed to encore to ensure that overruns did not escalate but there was plenty of time for the other bands to come back for well deserved extras.
As usual the festival drew a few well known faces from the world of prog and many of the performers were visible and approachable throughout the weekend.
Rob Reed and Chris Fry of Magenta made the Hackett show and Christina Booth was also there on Sunday.
Mick Pointer (ex of Marillion and now with Arena) was there too, clearly enjoying a meet up with old mates Pallas in the bar.
The guitar legend probably stole the weekend before it had properly begun with a superbly pitched set of Genesis and solo classics.
To cap it all we also got the spectacle of the seemingly 7 foot tall Kajagoogoo bass monster Nick Beggs in leather dress, blonde pigtails and headphones playing a Chapman Stick.
Not something you see every day! Hackett and his band, which also featured Roger King (keys) Rob Townsend (sax/flute) and Gary O’Toole (drums),
were relaxed throughout and clearly enjoying themselves.
Class oozed from every pore as they played a masterful set.
On the Genesis tracks, which included Blood On The Rooftops, In That Quiet Earth and Los Endos,
O’Toole took the vocals and Firth of Fifth included a textbook rendition of the classic solo with King doing a very good Tony Banks impression.
Another highlight was a beautiful rendition of the acoustic Horizons from Foxtrot.
The solo material covered all eras of his work from Ace of Wands and A Tower Struck Down from Voyage of the Acolyte through Every Day,
Clocks and the title track from Spectral Mornings plus The Steppes and Slogans from Defector.
Later work included Darktown, Serpentine Song and Mechanical Bride which came across like a near cousin of 21st Century Schizoid Man
plus a preview of a track from his forthcoming new album Out Of The Tunnels Mouth.
The use of flute and sax added to many of the tracks and the whole band played with real enthusiasm.
The sound was great and clear, a good omen for the rest of the weekend which the organisers and crew managed to maintain.
Lighting was also more impressive this year than previously and although some acts appeared dark on stage the set up and use of lighting was much improved.
Hackett was the only act of the weekend to make use of strobes but did so to good effect.
The crowd lapped it up and the banter between audience and performers made for a very special, intimate gig.
It really was a pleasure to see a performance of this quality and what a coup for the organizers.
Saturday kicked off with a band that many, myself included, were there to see, Godsticks.
Now a quartet with the addition of guitarist Richard Davies they suffered from some sound problems and from the start singer/guitarist Darren Charles seemed ill at ease.
The rest of the band played well but it appeared that Charles was suffering from some nerves.
Possibly not surprising as this was only their third gig but a shame as he fluffed some of his parts and, as the music is pretty intricate, it affected the whole somewhat.
They played most of the debut EP, including Puppy Gardner and Only When Provoked,
the quality of the material shining through with great performances from the rhythm section of Jason Marsh and Steve Roberts.
Charles’ good line in humour and honesty – demanding that nobody applaud the new track which they messed up quite badly – certainly won some over.
He also poked fun at bass players to the amusement of the crowd.
A high point of the set was the cover of Frank Zappa’s Echidna's Arf (Of You) from Roxy and Elsewhere which was thoroughly enjoyed.
With some more live work and a bit more confidence I still think this will be a band to watch but today they were a little disappointing.
Some felt that they aren’t prog but the material is excellent and I look forward to seeing them again and hearing a full album from them.
This young band from Belgium certainly got the crowd going mid way through a Saturday afternoon with their take on Ozrics flavoured space rock.
Very funny and entertaining, the spacey keys built up an enthralling background for the soloing and histrionics encompassed in their completely instrumental pieces.
I don’t know anything about them or what they played but I really enjoyed them and would gladly see them again.
This sort of stuff, if played well, generally sounds good and the groove that they built up carried everyone along.
They were one of the big surprises of the weekend for me.
Parallel Or 90 Degrees
The return of Andy Tillison after last years’ fantastic Tangent/Beardfish set was always going to be entertaining but with this much anticipated PO90 reformation
things took a more aggressive turn which was missing from most of the other acts.
The heavy, raw and political PO90 are the diametric opposite of the symphonic and jazzy stylings of The Tangent and no worse for that.
Mr. T seemed more at peace and in a happier place than last year – new love and an impending wedding seems to agree with him – but only Andy could dedicate,
Petroleum Addicts, a song about the fuel crisis, to his beloved!
I personally love his voice and delivery but it is certainly an acquired taste.
On the flip side his performance always has energy and passion and I’m sure everyone enjoyed it as much as they did his hilarious comments throughout; a very funny guy.
They played some new material from Jitters and classics such as Unbranded and Dead on a Car Park Floor.
A very rowdy cover of All Along The Watchtower was unexpected but very enjoyable.
The power present in the band of Tillison, guitarist Dan Watts, drummer Alex King and new bassist Matt Clark is tangible (ouch!)
and hopefully Tillison can carry on with both bands concurrently.
I had been looking forward to seeing RPWL despite knowing very little about them.
As usual for the weekend the sound was excellent but from the off I found the band’s live experience very bland and clinical.
The material they played was OK if lacking variety, performed with precision but just seemed to be missing a soul.
I didn’t enjoy Yogi Lang’s vocals at all and they seemed to have little presence.
I must admit that after a while I headed for the bar and found a spot from where I could watch Chris Postl as I’m a glutton for a Rickenbacker bass.
They played a number of covers, the most successful of which was Pink Floyd’s Shine On you Crazy Diamond (Part 2) and Biding My Time;
the bizarre medley of Status Quo’s Rocking All Over the World and Scorpions’ Rock You Like a Hurricane –
with the word "Prog" hilariously substituted for "Rock" – that they added to the end of the downright awful This Is Not A Prog Song was the nadir.
Despite my misgivings most of the crowd seemed to be thoroughly enjoying them and they got an excellent reception so what do I know!
For most of RPWL’s set Pallas were in the bar area getting some food after the long trip down from Scotland and, as is the method with this festival,
the hall was cleared after RPWL for the headliner to soundcheck.
From the bar the sounds coming from behind the (often opened) curtain into the hall sounded most enticing.
When the doors open I made my way to the front of the stage to await Pallas.
The first chord they hit was a definite "Wow!" and set the tone for the rest of their performance.
They played an excellent set of classics and new material and made full use of all the dynamics present in the music.
Probably the most traditionally prog act of the weekend they rocked from start to finish with an epic sound.
With fine performances from all, but particularly the front line of Alan Reed, Graeme Murray and Niall Mathewson, there were great moments of comedy and banter.
We got Ghostdancers, Crown of Thorns, Queen of the Deep and, of course, Arrive Alive.
They made good use of the back projection screens and the crowd lapped it up.
A fine end to a great days music.
One of the surprises of the weekend, Birmingham’s I/O Earth impressed a lot of people.
I’d personally not heard of them before but they have a powerful sound with Dave Cureton’s excellent guitar to the fore.
Their material is varied and has depth with long instrumental pieces and the sporadic use of sax and female vocalist Clare Malin making for an entertaining set
played with an enthusiasm that most of the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy.
Guest vocalist Steve Balsamo was due to appear with the band but was unavailable due to apparently being in Russia with Jon Lord.
Because of this some of the material was transposed for female vocals, Dave warning us that it may not work. No worries though as the result was still excellent.
This lot are well worth hearing and I for am keen to hear their album.
Great start to the day.
Mr So And So
I was not familiar with Mr So And So’s music before this gig and unfortunately they were a bit, well, so so.
As with a number of the weekends acts they sounded "safe" lacking the dynamics and sense of adventure that most would normally associate with prog.
It might have been that they just paled slightly having to follow the exciting I/O Earth.
As the set progressed it became more engaging, the vocals of bassist Shaun MacGowan and Charlotte Evans playing off each other nicely
and some good guitar from Dave Foster but the songs failed to really grab the attention.
Although they received a good ovation at the end it was slightly disappointing.
Having seen Also Eden at the 2006 edition of Summer’s End at the Robin in Bilston I was not particularly excited at the prospect of seeing them again.
Then they were a solid band but not too impressive.
Things have certainly changed.
Their material has progressed in leaps and bounds and songs such as Skimming Stones are more than worthy of wider recognition.
The band’s craft has also improved with festival co-organizer Huw in particular becoming a very good singer and an engaging front man.
There may still be slight question marks in the keys and drums departments and this may hamper them from reaching the next level
but despite this the material is excellent and the set very entertaining with much banter and the by now standard relaxed atmosphere.
Near the end of the set the fire alarm was set off (possibly due to some over enthusiastic burger flipping from the kitchen!)
but everyone was enjoying themselves so much that no one made any attempt to leave the building.
The reception they received was very encouraging and they seemed quite overawed by it.
They shouldn’t have as it was well deserved.
I had not seen this band since the version that featured Rachel Jones and Anne Marie Helder and was intrigued to find out what had happened to them in the last five or six years.
That last gig was notable for some simulated yet steamy girl on girl action from the singers!
None of that tonight as "new" front woman Lisa Fury sang her heart out, her powerful voice not needing to rely on titillation.
The first thing that I learned was, much to my surprise, how to pronounce the name of the band – thanks Stephen!
The only survivor from the earlier band is bassist Ian Jones, the rest of the band being made up of Ian Harris (drums),
Gonzalo Carrera (keys) and Enrico Rinna (guitar) with another good female singer making up the numbers in trademark dual vocalist slot.
All played well and the band came across as well rehearsed and very professional.
The material was good but, again, a bit safe, not pushing any boundaries or getting overly varied.
That said, the set was entertaining and well performed and a good warm up for the festival finale.
And so to Pendragon.
Having not seen them live since the mid-eighties and being aware that they have changed direction somewhat on their later material I did not know what to expect.
I suppose I really wanted nostalgia but there was not too much of that on display with a much heavier than I remember Pendragon grabbing the hall
by the scruff of the neck and giving it a good shake.
Many people came specifically for this show alone, some dressed inexplicably in gold capes, and there was much singing along down the front.
This was probably a help to Nick Barrett as he professed to having a bad cold early on.
It seemed that he was lifted by the warmth of the crowd and put in an excellent performance despite his illness.
We got Indigo, Paint Box, Nostradamus (Stargazing), Voyager and many more.
Pete Gee looks much more dynamic these days and has lost the suit.
I’m not sure what Clive Nolan is for as he does nothing for me but star of the show is new boy drummer Scott Higham who added panache and punch.
They overcame some minor technical issues with a feel good set full of banter and humour and this was a great way to tie up a great weekend.
Overall, a great line-up and a fine weekends entertainment.
Established and new bands all gave their all and the crowd was supportive throughout.
Hats off on the organizational front to Huw and Stephen, the smooth running a testament to hard work and planning.
The roping in of the organizers family and friends helped make this a special event and I am really looking forward to see what they come up with next year.
Possibly in future there needs to be a wider spread of bands performing more experimental stuff but this was definitely a crowd pleasing line-up
that scored highly across the board and ensured that tickets sold in the required numbers.
Summer's End Festival Official Website
Parallel or 90 Degrees
Mr So And So